Work in Progress – the Hard Part

February 10, 2009 at 8:33 pm 4 comments

All the planning and prep work and the initial sketchy “roadmap” painting is done. Now the real work, the meat of the painting, begins.

This is, for me, the hard part. A lot of decisions come up. What color to make this area, what value for that shadow, will they contrast sufficiently, is the sky going to reflect the colors in the foreground, what shade of blue to use, whether to make the grass yellow, isn’t that tree a little too bright, maybe should tone down the green, and on and on.


Sometimes things get so messy and complicated, I call it the “ugly phase”. I can’t take credit for this phrase, but it sure is apt (at least sometimes). A few lucky paintings glide effortlessly from prep to finish, and I’m always grateful for them. Most, however, at least briefly (and sometimes not at all briefly) pass through the “ugly phase”. Lots of artists use this phrase, so at least I’m in good company. It’s the stage when the painting looks hopeless, ugly, patchy, too contrasty or too muddy or too dull or too bright or whatever it is that ails it. (By the way, “too dull” is rarely the problem for me. But you get the idea.)

This stage, by the way, is the reason I don’t normally post work-in-progress photos. It can be a little like watching sausage being made.

Sometimes I have to set the painting aside and leave it alone for a few days (or even weeks). Usually I’ll leave it out where I can see it all the time and mull it over. Sometimes, if I’m badly stuck, I’ll turn it to face the wall so I can’t see it most of the time. Then when I do look at it, it’s a fresh look.

I suppose things would be easier if I had an exact plan of how I want the painting to look when it’s finished. Most of the time I don’t have a specific plan. I don’t know which direction I’m going to take the painting until it happens. Even if I do have a plan, sometimes I’ll change my mind partway through based on how it’s going. These decisions mostly have to do with the color scheme of the painting, since the composition is pretty much fixed ahead of time.


Next: finishing the painting.


Entry filed under: Landscape, Painting, Process.

Work in Progress – the First Dabs of Paint Work in Progress – Finishing the Painting


  • […] filling in the gaps. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Work in Progress – the GridFreeware Friday: Tag: […]

  • 2. Brittany  |  February 11, 2009 at 9:31 am

    oh wow. really great colors. excited to see the finished product.

  • 3. Work in Progress - Finishing the Painting « Barbara J Carter  |  February 12, 2009 at 12:12 am

    […] 12, 2009 After I’ve filled in all of the obvious gaps and gotten past the worst of the hard part, the next question comes up: is the painting done yet? What more does it […]

  • 4. New Painting: “Satwiwa” « Barbara J Carter  |  February 17, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    […] 17, 2009 If you read my “Work in Progress” posts (here, here, here, and here) you’ll recognize this painting. "Satwiwa" by Barbara J Carter, […]

Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

I invite you to sign up to receive my free email newsletter, in which I list my upcoming shows and talk about my latest work. I send it irregularly, a few times a year.

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Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

A bunch of my abstract dot paintings

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