“It is not enough for a painter to be a clever craftsman; he must love to ‘caress’ his canvas too”. Pierre Auguste Renoir
Spontaneous, fresh, natural, clean, vibrant, those are good qualities to have in your artwork. They are also things that we all struggle with, because we overthink! We’ve all been there, but we also know that it’s in our best interest to stop. Research has shown that overthinking makes it more difficult to solve problems and sometimes to even start our work. But, how do we stop it and why do we do it?
When we are starting out, it is good to have a basic skill set to work with, so we need to get that first. Everyone needs to know how to use their materials and know what they can do with them. This is where we need “book learning”, videos, classes, and a lot of play time. That way we can see what we can do with the materials we are going to use. Before we start, we also should have an idea of what our painting is going to be about, or what message we wish to convey to our viewer. We also want to know how we want to present it: realistically, abstractly, or non-objectively.
If you are a realistic artist you will want reference material, if you are an abstract painter you need to know what you want to abstract, and if you are painting non-objectively you need an idea about what you want to express. It might be a feeling, the interrelationship of shapes, how colors work together, or how different lines meet and cause tensions. But knowing your intent is important!
However, once we start painting, overthinking everything can be destructive to our work. My rule of thumb is, get an idea, pick a palette, set in the big shapes, figure out where my values are going. Then I let the inner artist take over and stop thinking and second guessing everything.
We over think when we:
- don’t know how to use our materials.
- we are using the wrong material for what we want to do.
- we don’t have an idea and keep going around in circles.
- our palette does not reflect what we want to say, so we get mud.
To start, know yourself. Know what style you like and what materials will work best to achieve the results you want to see. For example if you like bold colors and sharp lines, watercolor should not be your first choice. Playing with our art materials, without expectation, is important to our artistic development. First it helps us find the right medium for what we want to achieve. Second, we get to know the medium; what it can and can’t do.
A little knowledge and a little planning allows us to create without becoming obsessive about what we are doing. I think Matisse said it best: “One gets into a state of creativity by conscience work.”