I suppose it’s been a long time coming but I’ve finally hit a watercolour wall of disillusionment!

For a few weeks now I’ve been struggling to get excited about my painting. Subject matters that I usually look forward too now hold no appeal whatsoever and when I do see an image or view – I can’t imagine that I’ll ever be able to paint it.

I think part of it is a crisis of confidence and what’s worrying is that I’m struggling to prevent it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve started a number of paintings recently and haven’t got close to completing them before just plain giving up. I think in part it’s because I’ve generally been painting a little less over the past few months as a couple of exhibiting opportunities have taken precedent. Also those opportunities provided me with a certain focus – I needed to have work to show. I don’t have anything else planned at the moment so feel am perhaps feeling a little aimless?

Despite me abandoning some of my recent efforts, I still think that I need to paint through this barrier, but maybe I need to shake things up a little. This sketch is my first effort along that path. It’s based on a photo of a delivery cyclist that I took when I was in Barcelona.

A watercolour sketch by John Haywood
Waiting for instructions…

I still don’t like it, but at least I stuck with it until it reached some kind of conclusion! I decided to focus on a detail rather than a whole painting, to try to keep it ‘sketchy’ and to paint it big, so I could use big brushes and there’d be space for the colours to blend together and mix on the paper. Ha, so much for those best laid plans! The only thing that remained true to these aims was its size. It’s painted on a half imperial sheet. Aside from that, the colours are muddy, and the handling heavy and overworked.

As I painted, I imagined this courier was hanging around waiting for instructions or directions to his next pick up of drop off, which is just like I feel: waiting for some kind of instruction or direction as to what to do next. It really brought home to me how much my painting means to me, manifested by the heaviness of the cloud that’s hanging over me all the while that things aren’t going right.

Fortunately, we’re off on holiday later this week for a few weeks’ camping. Based on previous experiences, I never manage to squeeze in as much painting as I’d like to when on holiday but this year, that might not be a bad thing! I’ve decided to only pack some sketching materials, my Frazer Price palette box, a small selection of brushes and a couple of sketchbooks. We’ll be spending most of our time in the Loire valley in France so I’m hoping for some rather splendid landscape scenery which will be a complete and hopefully refreshing change of subject matter from my recent city based material.

I’m also completely open to any advice that anyone may have to help me out of this hole. What’s worked for you? Do you think my plans may work for me? Should I be considering anything else? Should I just pack it all in!?

20 thoughts on “Art imitating life

  1. I suspect the slumps are normal, but because painting is so personal, they feel especially wrought. I know that the longer I’m out of the habit of painting the harder is is to get back in. Maybe doing some watercolor sketches just for fun while camping will help you be less critical and jump start a more positive process. Good luck!

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    1. Thanks so much Jean. Having a bit of distance, and doing something slightly different has proven really helpful. I suppose in the same way that painting is so personal, we all have different ways of overcoming our slumps! For some, maybe not doing anything is the best approach. I think I’m a bit more like you however and find that the longer I stay away, the harder I find it to start again. The sketching has really helped take the pressure off, and allowed me to work more freely and more quickly which has been really refreshing. I’ve come back eager to try out a few things on a larger scale too which also feels great. Many thanks for your comments and support Jean, I really appreciate it!

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  2. I’d say you have simply reached a level of skill that makes you just a bit more critical of your own work — I’d love to be at the level where you are and I bet a younger you would also be thrilled to be where you are now as well. Sometimes it’s wonderful to take a break, step away from where you are, and then refocus with renewed energy. There is a collection of letters from the Canadian painter, Robert Genn, called The Painter’s Keys which addresses many topics of this nature and today’s letter brought me back to your question. It’s called ‘Know your Value’ and it’s about Genn’s encounter with Stan Laurel: http://painterskeys.com/know-your-value/ “That’s just one of the reasons to sit back every so often and take a look at where this thing is leading. Trust your own value.” I think you’ll find many of Genn’s letters provide wonderful guidance and encouragement. I love your work so keep on going on!

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    1. Hi Lisa and thanks so much for this, and apologies for not replying sooner but my holiday rather got in the way of keeping up to date with things! Thanks so much for your kind words – they really helped put my creative slump into perspective. Thanks too for the introduction to the letters of Robert Genn – I could easily lose myself for a few hours amongst those! That letter in particular is very relevant to my current dilemma (although that paled to how sad I felt at the fate of Stan Laurel – he was a comic genius and Laurel and Hardy were a formative part of my youth!) Thanks again Lisa, I really appreciate your comments and your support – all best wishes, John

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  3. Nice painting, John! Sorry you’re going through a bad patch with it, lately….It happens to us all! Maybe your vacation will be just what you need! I often find I can get myself going again by having a switch of medium for a while, try something new, do something that’s a lot of fun. Listen to Margaret – she knows what she’s talking about! Oh and one other thing you might try dipping into the book, “The Artists Way”, that’s a very inspiring work and some artists I know swear by some of its practices! Above all, don’t give up, your mojo will come back SOON 😉

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    1. Hi Hilda – thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful response and apologies for taking so long to reply! I’m now back from my vacation and feeling creatively refreshed and reinvigorated. I also took your advice and had Margaret’s wise words in my mind whilst I was away. I have also heard of ‘The Artists Way’ but am not familiar with it. I’ll definitely have a look out for it though as I’m sure this won’t be the last time I find myself in this situation! Thanks again for your thoughts and support, I really do appreciate it!

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      1. Thanks Hilda – quite so! the support from others has been really helpful, much appreciated and I’m sure has contributed to what I hope will prove a speedy recovery!

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  4. Thanks for sharing your feelings about your current predicament with us, John. I recently got out of a slump by taking a workshop with a watercolourist whose work I admire very much, and it’s really done me loads of good. That’s the practical thing I have to say. Other than that I like what Margaret says – this is probably part of growing. And: I always think it’s best to paint subjects that get you excited for some reason, and if that doesn’t happen for a while, well, so be it. Just because you *could* paint doesn’t mean you *have* to.

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    1. Thanks Antje. I can see how doing a workshop with someone that inspires you could really help. My fear of not painting anything is that all the while I’m not painting, my abilities are waning! Crazy I know but I feel I really benefit from a certain momentum. Hopefully a change of scenery and surroundings will help (and I’ve got one of my favourite watercolour books with me too for a bit of additional guidance and inspiration! Thanks so much Antje

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  5. Oh I got carried away and forgot to comment on your painting. Your sense of dissatisfaction might be coloring you being able to analyzing your own painting. I see more color in this, I don’t see the muddiness that you refer to. I can pick out the blue within the subject matter along with the warmth….esp. in the shadow. Love the flicks of color. Be encouraged! it is well worth the struggle. okay, done, sorry. I get on a roll and don’t know when to quit. Cheers!

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    1. Thanks again Margaret and please don’t apologise, your enthusiasm – despite the ups and downs that our creative pursuits throw at us – is always uplifting, a great source of inspiration and much appreciated!

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  6. You know I understand perfectly what you are referring to. I see it in a different light. I think that even though it feels like a wall, I think that it is a corridor of opportunity and growth. It might seem and feel like a block or wall. I often find that throwing caution to the wind and trying new techniques, new subjects stirs up my tendency to want to remain safe in what I know. Maybe your lack of enthusiasm is your creative self wanting to venture out and be more daring and creative, imaginative. Be careful that you don’t focus on the “whys or wherefores” of where you are at, it perpetuates that feeling. This camping trip might jar your imagination and enthusiasm. I would say stick it out, it is an opportunity of creativity! That is all I have to say about that…. 😉

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    1. Thanks so much Margaret. Sadly, focusing on the whys or wherefores is exactly the trap I’ve fallen into! I shall try to view my current predicament through your positive lens, throw my caution to the wind and loosen up a little! Thanks so much Margaret, really appreciate your analysis and advice!

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      1. I feel I’ve struggled with it often in other areas of my life, but not so much with my painting! Seeing some of the comments and advice I’ve received today has been really positive. I feel increasingly that this is a blip. All part of the process of learning and developing. I’m already beginning to look forward to coming out of the other side! Thanks again Margaret 🙏🏻

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