When you start out in watercolor, you’re carried along by the excitement of discovery and possibility. Then you hit what I call “the ick stage”, when the novelty has worn off a bit and watercolor is showing its ornery side. The same thing often happens with individual paintings. The challenge at that point is to find ways to just continue.
When you start a watercolor, those first few washes almost can’t look bad. And this time, you tell yourself you’ll resist the temptation to fuss.
And then you hit what I call “the ick stage”. You’re far enough into the painting that it’s no longer just a few fresh washes against lovely white paper. The possibilities don’t seem so endless anymore. You’re constrained by the choices already made, and you’re a lot more aware of limitations, yours and the medium’s.
The challenge at that point is to find ways to just continue. Continue to practice, even though you are past the point where you see big leaps in skill every week. Continue to work on that painting, even though you can’t tell if it’s going to turn out to be anything you like. Continue to refine your skills and your creative vision, even though you’ve reached the point where you have to mostly be your own guide, because you’re no longer in well-charted territory.
And most of all, continue with care and attention, even if you feel uncertain, frustrated or discouraged.
What do you do to help you continue when the excitement wears off, and you reach a point of uncertainty, frustration or discouragement?
Is it just that you’ve reached a tedious part of the painting? Perhaps you’ve reached a bit of a plateau in your learning and you just need to keep practicing. What tricks do you use to keep yourself going in those situations?
Or maybe it’s time for a course correction. Perhaps you shouldn’t continue. At least, not on this piece of paper, or this painting, or even this creative medium? How do you decide when it’s wise to push on and when to change directions or start fresh?
What do you do to insulate yourself from giving up due to discouragement, or drifting away because “you don’t have time”? How do you make sure you keep making time? If you do drift away or get interrupted, do you have a plan for how bring yourself back?
When the initial fast learning slows, and you no longer see dramatic improvement every day, how do you keep yourself from concluding “I’m not any good at this, so I should quit”? (And is that a reason to quit making art, even if it’s true?)
How do you separate everyday, ordinary procrastination from the times when you really need to let an idea sit in the back of your mind to germinate for a while? Is there value to deliberate pauses (“fallow time”)? Should you actually build them in?
What do you do to renew your enthusiasm and confidence, over and over, through many years of painting?
If you have another practice (yoga, meditation, journaling, a musical instrument, a sport or hobby) that you’ve kept going in the past, what helped you keep it going?
I hope by now you have some pages that you abandoned work on because you didn’t know what to do next, ran out of time, or weren’t happy with how things were going. It’s time to continue!
Pausing when you’re pressed for time, uncertain how to proceed or feeling frustrated can be a good strategy. Sometimes, simply coming back when you have more time or energy is all you need. Sometimes, a pause allows you to see with fresh eyes. And you never know when some little, seemingly unimportant experience will be the key to moving forward again.
Your studio notebook is an excellent place to practice returning to previous work, to “finish” a sketch or to embellish, transform or even partially or completely cover it up.
I allow myself complete freedom to use opaque paints and collage in my studio notebook, even if I wouldn’t use them in a watercolor. After all, if I decide to use something from my notebook as the basis for a watercolor, I can plan to reserve the light or white areas in the watercolor, even if I used opaque materials in my sketchbook.
Some things to try:
Don’t use your good watercolor brushes with any of the following!
Most of the materials you might use to “cover up” portions of a page to re-work it are not totally opaque. You can apply multiple coats, or you can push your creativity by trying to work with the ghost image of the previous work.
(The best way to totally cover something is to glue a piece of watercolor paper over it, e.g. a postcard or color study.)