One Painter’s Process to Create A Painting

by | Jul 13, 2008 | Blog | 7 comments

Someone once asked me if I go to my studio every day, or do I wait until I FEEL creative. It got me thinking and I came up with an idea about my creative process. I discovered that there are three different cycles in my process: Beginning, Continuing and Completion. (This may seem oversimplified – but identifying them really helped me get more productive in my studio.) The trick for me is that each cycle requires a different type of energy. Beginning requires an energy about freedom, continuing requires faith, and completion requires an energy about healing.

So, in answer to that first question, I do go to my studio (almost) every day, regardless of how I feel. BUT, when I get to my studio, I decide what to work on depending on how I feel. So the feeling of creativity takes on many guises. Sometimes I want to try out all new things, or I have lots of active energy and feel like doing many experiments. I always have lots of extra canvases and surfaces around (even a stack of cardboard will do) and I may launch several to a dozen new underpaintings or start-up paintings in one day.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed that I have too many projects, and just want to get into a sort of meditative or hypnotic type of working state. Then I turn all my canvases around so I can’t see the images, pick one of these to work on, and just focus my attention on that one particular painting. I can stay in one spot and just concentrate. This “continuing” phase is the toughest for me. Often the work has lost its initial surprise excitement, and hasn’t yet become something cohesive, so I just need to trust and have faith that by working on it one step at a time, one area at a time, it will start to form. Therefore, this stage requires faith.

Let’s say in a typical two month period of time, 60% of my painting days are spent doing beginnings (most of my energy loves fresh starts and new experiments), 35% of my days are spent doing the “continuing” part, and only 5% does the finish. That’s the last of the three, the completion phase. This takes a very particular type of energy. On these very valuable and rare days, I can see clearly what each painting needs to make it really soar. I will give that last finishing touch to several on one day – finishing them all! Then I go out and celebrate. It’s more difficult for me to work on one painting through all its cycles by itself. For me, having lots of other paintings to work on simultaneously takes the “attachment” factor out of working on just one. And then I can put my energy to its best use. When I have a commission to paint, I will paint it all the way through, but still take breaks to play on some other ones to keep the juices flowing. I find it easiest to work on one cycle for the whole day, and not switch. For instance if I spend several hours flinging paint in a freedom engaged session of “starts” I will not be as adept on that same day to try to finish a painting or two.

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Hand painting pink wall with sponge.

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  1. Gill Martin

    I am a starter too… though I have been working on a commission and have been feeling that I should 'get it out of the way' so I can start something else with a clear concience. Big mistake, I have faffed around changing the background about three times and have felt miserable and under pressure. Having read your blog I think it might be a good idea to start something new and hopefully the commission with 'happen'… Thanks

  2. Donna

    I too, identify with the idea of working in cycles, but I’d like to add something. I find that I cannot finish a painting, until I have a new one started … because the excitement of starting something new recharges me. At the end of a Continuing cycle, I’m just drained … and if I don’t even have reference photos etc. chosen for the next painting, then I hit a lull, where it’s easy for famly life etc. to creep in and suck up my painting time! I have had long blocks of time w,out painting, and I find that I know I’m getting ready to start painting again when I start writing a lot, journalling my thoughts and creative ideas, until I’ve figured out what I want to paint next, how to get there … and I have NO energy left for words .. it’s time to PAINT!

  3. Anonymous

    Thanks for your description of how you work. These are things I now realize I experience now that you’ve put voice to it. Although, in my case, I can really get stuck and stuck on the 2nd part — continuing.

  4. azcarey

    Well said. I identify strongly with your creative process. (I’m a starter, too) It does take faith to continue, as you suggest and your words remind us that it’s worth the effort. Thank you.

  5. Peggy Stermer-Cox

    I enjoyed your description of your work day; it takes a lot to be creative and produce artwork. As usual, well written and interesting.

  6. Deb's Artful Journey

    I love this description of your process… it is really helpful to me too! Thank you.

    Debbie L

  7. Regina

    Thanks for sharing this. I think my method is similar to you. It’s great to have surfaces prepared for that spontaneous surge that just wants to put down color freely & it makes a lot of sense to not be finishing a piece when more control & thought is needed while in the spontaenous mode. I think your post will help me to have more awareness of this. Thanks, again.


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About Nancy

Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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