On The Painting Front

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If you asked me September 1st, I would have told you I would be posting a new painting on my blog every 2 days.

Boy was I delusional!

With that said, I’ve been suffering with some major disappointment.  Reality is nothing like what I have rolling around in this head of mine.  Don’t get me wrong, I have been painting just as feverishly as a person who would post a new painting every 2 days, but the results have been hmm… what’s the word…. Let’s just say not matching up to the amazing-ness I find in my daydreams.

I saw my artist/painter aunt at Christmas and she asked me how the painting was going.  I told her I was failing miserably.  She said “what makes you think you are failing?”  I said “the fact that I wouldn’t hang a single piece of my work on a wall”.  She said “Ohhh, you’re learning.”   what?

Duh, why didn’t I think of that?

I get SO serious and I try SO hard, that I forget I am trying something I’ve never tried before. Why on earth would I think the first experiment would be a masterpiece?  Well, we know the answer to that one. It’s the ugly “P” word.  – perfectionism.  I am telling you, me and perfectionism are like Dory from Nemo, swimming around in that fishbowl.  Every lap, I forget I’ve already been there!

Then, the universe sends me a loving message, like it always does.  These quotes came up in my Pinterest feed just as I was thinking these thoughts:

So let me explain what I am trying to achieve through painting.

These are my personal beliefs OK? Please disagree with me.  It makes the world a more interesting place.  That and I am likely to believe the complete opposite 3 months from now ;)

OK.  My current thought – Why bother painting exactly what I can see?  In an age where every phone has an amazing camera attached to it and every human is recording at least 5 beautiful observations a day, why on earth would I want to waste my time carefully constructing a painting that looks similar to a photograph? What is it communicating to the world?  Is it simply an observation?  Isn’t there more out there than that?  More inside me?  What can I communicate through a painting?  There has to be more to it than simple observation.

My second thought is – What do you personally gravitate towards Mary? There are SO MANY styles of artwork i.e. still lives, landscapes, abstract, old school vs. new school.  When I answer the question, what am I attracted to?  It’s folk art and outsider art.  I love its color, humor, and simplicity. Now many people  think of these genres as naive, simpleton, and not serious art.  Let me tell you, I am trying to cultivate my own folky-outsidery-style and it is hard as hell.

These paintings above have been plaguing me for about 3-4 weeks now.

There are a ton of layers of paint involved. At least 10.  You start with the complete disorder of mark-making and then you are supposed to edit, negative paint and control what’s on your canvas. I can mark-make, but that’s about it!  The controlling, editing and simplifying is really difficult.  I feel like my canvas is a bull and it keeps knocking me flat on my behind.

I know what I have to do to get there, but I now realize it is going to take a hundred tries, not 3 .  Getting over my lofty expectations has not been easy. With this style of mixed media painting, you have to very confidently paint over 75% of your marks to give the eye a rest.  I find the experience paralyzing.  What if I paint over an area and then have second thoughts?  I can’t get it back. What if I screw up??? With these thoughts, I am leaving too much uncovered and it leaves the paintings really chaotic.

Now I consider myself the color queen.  I know I have a gift of color-combining that  has served me well over the last 20 years.  However,  with this chaotic mark making technique, there is so much untamed everything that it is throwing me off my color-game.  I have absolutely no control.  I finish a painting and think there is not one single color in this entire painting that I would have chosen!

__Untitled-1 One day I took photos of my work and the used the photo-editing app called Aviary to mess around with color combos.  I had a lot of fun playing, but I haven’t figured out how to exactly to implement it.

At this point in the process I started avoiding painting.  I would rather pay bills, clean, reorganize  – anything else I could think of. Christmas gave me every excuse I needed.

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Then I had the idea to abort ship. Why not ditch these paintings and move on?  Let’s call them what they are, experiments, and not waste another minute on them?

It worked.  I hung them on my studio wall and cleared the space.  Just the thought of starting over was enough to get me back in the arena again.  I have been working on new paintings and it feels pretty good. I’m already at the “hang-up” phase with the new ones, but now I have had a little bit of time to look at the old paintings on the wall and see some areas I can fix/alter.

So, At least I’m back in the game.  I have reset my expectations and I’m hoping by the time I get to painting 35 I can stay up on that bull for at least 2 minutes!

My own personal style is in there somewhere and I am going to find it damn-it.  I can’t wait to look back at this time in my life and laugh at all my worries and woes.



  1. I love most of the paintings in this entry, Mary, so I’m not sure if these are the ones you’re referring to as “un-hangupable.” I’m fascinated by the composition, detail, gestures that create the forms, and of course the colours.

    I think you may want to consider this, which I learned from experience: when I use glazes on my pottery pieces, I have certain expectations of the results. But glazes, heat, and kilns are tricky as you know, and things I’ve worked hours glazing come out looking awful or blah…to me. Then I thought to bring one to a show one day and guess what…that awfully blah piece sold first to a very delighted customer!

    Another exercise I learned to do is, when I don’t like a painting I create, I put it away for a couple of months then take it out again so I can see it with “fresh” eyes. A lot of times, I can then see the positives in it.

    Whatever you do, KEEP ON painting!

    1. You are SO right on all fronts. I totally hear you about the pottery glazes. Glazing is my least favorite part. Yet with pottery I don’t take it personally. I just chuck it and try again. So why am I so hard on myself about painting? I think it’s just I have visions in my head and I cant find away to physically manifest them. That is so frustrating! Moving on seems to be the best method. You are right, a month later all the angst is gone and things don’t look so bad. I am sooooo stubborn I will never give up!!! It will be in my will for my family to paint with my ashes!!! Wait. That’s gross. Maybe went a little too far!

  2. Oh, Mary, you are so hard on yourself. I suppose all artists go through this kind of self exam. But I love that your are sharing all your feelings and explaining the process. Wow! I am so proud of you. And I love all you paintings. You are an amazing artist. Thanks for sharing. And never stop working toward your goal. You have a gift.

  3. We are our own toughest critics Mary. I have at least 15 paintings that I consider “un-hangable”. Last month I submitted one of my “un-hangable” oil paintings to an open call by the Museum of Modern Art – I submitted it because it was the only painting I had that fit the criteria. I fully expected it to be rejected – it wasn’t. My “un-hangable” painting is now part of an exhibit at MoMA – the show runs from – 1/5/2018 – 1/22/2018. To think that I was considering “recycling” that canvas to create a different piece.
    Anyway, the point I am trying to make is – get out of your own head. Create without pre-judging your work. I hope this helps. :)

    1. Congrats. That is fantastic news! My frustration is not so much in the judgment as it is in having something in my head that i can’t figure out how to manifest. The going easier on myself is allowing the “un-hangable” to exist. It will be that or reworking the same canvas over and over again for a year! Now that would be the definition of insanity :@ BABY STEPS…

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