Updated: Oct 7, 2021
Every project starts with hope. A blank canvas sits on the easel with the full potential of becoming something beautiful. We dive in with careful choices and the best intentions. Then somewhere along the way, the work becomes challenging. Something is not going as planned. We are left with two difficult choices: put the project away or power through to the finish. No one likes to throw out their efforts and their expensive materials. So here are some tips for powering through whenever possible.
Shift Your Focus
Sometimes the work isn’t going well because we are focused on small problems. At a recent watercolor class I attended, there was a student in the class who labored over one small area of his painting. It wasn’t going well, so he continued to try to fix the problem by adding more details. The instructor advised him to stop working on the area and move to another part of the painting. If the rest of the painting started to work out, he could come back to the trouble spot at the end. His painting eventually came out beautiful, with the trouble spot hardly noticeable.
When you’re in the thick of a project, it’s easy to lose direction. This is a great time to step away to find inspiration and guidance. You might not have a critique group or even a nearby mentor for advice, but guidance can come in many forms. Look through a museum or online gallery to see how the masters might have handled your problem. You can also browse the works of your contemporaries at nearby galleries. Visiting a library to find solutions for technical problems from art books and magazines, can also result in renewed energy.
Make a Plan
When problems arise, we tend to lose steam on a project. It’s sometimes helpful to make a detailed plan for how to overcome a lack of motivation. One painting, that gave me many technical problems, sat untouched in the corner of my studio for weeks while I determined a course of action. In order to power though to the end, I had to write down a step-by-step plan for how I would accomplish each of the remaining parts of the painting. Adding clarity to the work by creating a plan, helped me to push forward and finish.
We’ve all heard the story of the Little Engine that Could. However, just saying “I think I can” over and over will not help to finish a daunting task. Finding a way to build your confidence midway through a project helps you to regain energy. Take time to admire your past successes. Writing down what made each of those projects successful helps you to focus on your strengths. Spend time with people who boost your confidence. Ask a friend to only tell you what is going well with your current project. Keep failed projects out of sight and out of mind as you work.
Working on a large project is like taking a very long hike in the mountains. Somewhere along the way you become focused on your next steps, it becomes hard to move forward and you begin to forget why you even started the journey. This is a great time to stop and remember your inspiration for starting this journey in the first place. What did you hope to accomplish? Look back to your preliminary sketches and reference photos. Re-center your focus on your goals. Try to visualize how you would like for your project to turn out when you finish.
At times, it is definitely okay to just ditch everything and move on. If you have given it your full effort and nothing works, make the conscious decision to start anew and learn from your mistakes. Every painting is not going to be a masterpiece. Just be sure that you don’t give up on your best work too soon.