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The artist can’t leave well enough alone

By May 15th, 2022No Comments2 min read

I wanted to leave well enough alone because my painting was just fine! Only that little scratch on the surface needed to be fixed. I thought I would just touch up the scratch and yet I ended up reworking most of the painting. My willpower to stop after the scratch disappeared disappeared. Basically, and I might be exaggerating, this just means that I simply never finish a painting.

Yes, we can call them done — they’re dry, they’re framed, they’re sold, sure, but when given half a chance to re-touch or re-think or add a “finishing touch” — or any of those excuses — I just dive back in.

Re-Retouch of Houseghost, oil on canvas, by Michael Chambers

Oh, and why is that?

The main reason is that there are many reasons:

  • The painting is never quite right, is it. It can be slightly improved!
  • In the process of painting, another solution comes to mind that deserves thought. It’s time for a do-over!
  • This thought sticks in my craw: “If you DON’T make this small improvement, then where’s your sense of craftsmanship?”
  • Giving myself permission to “Just fix this one little thing, ” I fix the thing and then step back and say, “Hmmm. I never noticed it before, but here’s another wee thing that needs a dab of color.” An hour later, I see I’ve fixed a dozen or more of heretofore inconsequential problems and I start to see that the whole painting has more things that now need to be brought up to the same level of perfection that I just achieved by resolving all the itty-bitty problems.
  • The miracle of seeing the piece with “fresh eyes.”

Did you say Fresh Eyes?

Yes! The miracle of fresh eyes happens when you work on something — anything, really — then you leave it for a spell.  That first split second when you see it again’s akin to seeing it for the first time.

For me, arriving in the studio the next day, the errors are glaring at me. Why were they invisible yesterday? Fresh eyes instantly lead me to take the painting in a new direction that was not visible before because I was “too close to it.” Too “in the weeds.”

Lesson learned

To rework or retouch or re-retouch a painting leads to fewer, but more thoroughly accomplished, works of art.

A simple trick for seeing the world through fresh eyes

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