Overcoming Ugly Painting Phase

It’s after 6:00am and I’ve just finished a painting of Cthulhu destroying a ship. I didn’t mean to stay up this late. Around midnight, I set YouTube to auto play, got a beer and a glass of water, and just worked.

Me holding a beer
Thanks to whoever left this at our house!

The reason I lost track of time is because of ugly painting syndrome. Danica Stills discusses this in her video “The Ugly Painting Phase — Working Through Art Problems”, but basically the idea is that there’s a time when you’re working on an art piece and it looks like shit. It’s just awful. Younger you would have quit, but years of experience say be patient and keep working. Sometimes this doesn’t help, but in most cases the ugliness melts into a stronger piece.

That’s what happened to me tonight: I was painting away, then realized I kept forgetting to turn on the camera between layers. I turned the screen around so I could see when it was on, and I suddenly realized the painting looked fucking amazing. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I couldn’t just stop because it was looking great. I couldn’t believe I’d actually pained it. I felt like I’d had a breakthrough. I kept going, and I’m glad I did. Hopefully it still looks awesome when my eyes aren’t exhausted.

Cthulhu destroying a ship
“Shipwreck” ink and watercolor on paper

once I could see that it was looking better than I thought, I could add details to enhance what was looking right. The viewfinder made a huge difference. I needed to see it from a new perspective to appreciate what was working and what wasn’t.

I’m taking this as a sign that I need to stop discrediting myself partway through (and also use the viewfinder), because sometimes I’m too close to the piece to see how good it looks from a distance.

The original is listed in my Etsy store.


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