what to do when you are stuck with your painting

Right, I’ve got to the middle stages of a painting, and I’m stuck…

These days my paintings begin with no fixed idea of outcome. I may make early choices about colour or bold shapes to get the surface active, but as the layers build often the marks and decisions are fairly random. Occasionally I glue things in, I choose colours I really don’t like – just to rock the boat! And there is certainly a stage where it all looks a complete muddle and I wonder if I have any idea what I’m doing. Keep going. Keep adding, change scale, use hands, use glazes…

Next comes the most crucial part of the process

Early spontaneity is essential if a painting is to have a sense of life. Actually, keeping a feeling of freedom and spontaneity is important right until the end. But, if you only have spontaneity then you can all too easily end up with a painting which simply looks a muddle.

At some point you need to bring in a more conscious assessment. Don’t get me wrong – many of those early processes have thought involved, although perhaps these were more subconscious or intuitive. As my painting experience grows, the more I build an understanding of what is likely to work and these become almost instinctive.

My own personal response is changing all the time as I learn how I want to deal with the paint, but there comes a stage where I need to take charge over the so-called random marks.

At times it can be clear what I want to do; certain elements may stand out to me and I know what I want to amend. Other times, this involves a fair amount of sitting and looking – just sucking in the information already within the painting. It can help to turn the painting, or to reduce a photograph of it – anything which distances me from my experience so far and lets me take a more analytical approach.

Unfortunately at this point one thing usually becomes clear… some of it has to go.

That beautiful part where the yellow and blue overlap just so? It’s just in the wrong place.
The section with all those delicate lines – just too distracting.

This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to come to terms with in this more fluid approach to creating a painting. The loss of parts you love.

So a few things help:

Take regular photographs as a painting progresses

Sometimes I prefer how it was yesterday. Ouch. While I can never recreate (or should try to) what has gone before, it does help if I know I have a visual record. I can use this as a scrapbook of ideas, or just a reminder. Often it’s hard to identify HOW something was actuallycreated and I know I’m not alone in the feeling of looking at a painting and thinking “I made that?!” and next… “Can I even do that again?” But having photographs helps remind me that good things come from trying something new. Often a painting jump steps up a gear just at the point when you do something drastic.

Accept there is no one right answer

At any point a painting has so many options open to you. This is what makes creating art so challenging, and what makes looking at it so invigorating – hopefully you have a sense of what has been and an immersion just at the point the painting stopped…

Knowing that if you sacrifice one part, it will usually benefit the painting as a whole

Just knowing this helps. At first this was something I had to force myself to do because it is so hard to do something risky when you have already put so much time and energy into a painting. But if it’s not working as it is – then what do you really have to lose?

Visualise some alternatives…

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This can be as simple as squinting from a distance and simply using your imagination to project what impact changes might have. Would this dark area be better light? How about if this green shape was much larger?

Hopefully this gets easier, but I have three practical ways to help.

I often use sections of paper to overlay certain areas as a first stage test to see “will this work better?”  I can use coloured paper, pages from magazines or painted paper, or even torn sections from old paper palettes.

The other trick I learnt from the Nicholas Wilton course is to use Photoshop to make some adjustments. There are some limitations to this – you can’t ‘copy and paste’ whole sections of multi-layered paint. If only! That really does only exist in Photoshop world. But it does allow you to troubleshoot if you feel the whole paintings is not working and perhaps work out some ways forward.

This screen shows a recent change I thought through in this way. On the left you can see how the painting was. I had reached a stage where I had this off-set composition which I liked, and the bird shape had materialised. I don’t paint birds, but I rather liked the slightly surreal nature of the bird on the hill. (It reminds me of a Beatles song for some reason. I’ve googled “Beatles song bird on the hill” and it doesn’t exist so there’s another strange subconscious link!) Anyhow, I liked the bird but he was too obvious.

On the right you can see the changes I tested out. My aim was to let the complexity of layers in some areas show clearly – if it’s all complex, it’s all just too much. I wanted the soft green to be key, so I enlarged this area, I introduced some deep reds as the complementary colour to the green and I darkened the ‘sky’. This could have been deep blue or red, but I chose a warm mushroom brown. The destaurated colour lets the other colours take centre stage and the bird becomes slightly hidden.

Of course this now needs to be taken to the studio and created in paint! But having a clear idea helps me make adjustments with a similar clarity of approach. Is this part small and controlled or am I creating a large textured ares with subtle gradations of colour. Either way, better not to be tentative, but decisive.

This painting has now SOLD but you can see current available originals here.





When I first decided I wanted to commit to making art full time, instead of going back to my graphic design career, one of the first things I investigated was whether I should be applying to do an MA in Fine Art. Because that’s what you need in order to be a ‘proper’ artist. Without that, no one would take me seriously and I would have no idea what I was doing.

So, I looked into all the options and realised that an MA wasn’t going to give me what I needed. I spoke to students who spoke of little interaction with their tutors, lack of studio space due to  increased student numbers, the cost… and I realised that instead it was better to set my own intentions. To develop my own working practice. To decide for myself what I wanted to learn.

And I wouldn’t have to write a dissertation again!

Setting your own course

Since then I have made a continued practice of reading endlessly: artist biographies, books by art historians and others in the art world, books about the creative process.

I’ve also been building my own creative network of other working artists and looking for people I can learn from. I think I first came across Nicholas Wilton’s blog in the summer of 2015 and enjoyed his whole approach to art making. He was open about his practice, his struggles and his practical solutions and that is rare in the art world which can be very closed and sometimes secretive.

In April 2016, in the middle of packing for a holiday I somehow realised he was just about to run a 3 month online programme. At the start of that year I noted how much I would like to do a workshop with him – but getting to Mexico from the UK could be a bit of a problem. So here was the perfect alternative.

The most expensive course I had ever taken, but put in comparison with an MA it was a bargain. Still, I was nervous about signing up.

It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

If you’ve been following me for a while you will have seen how my art has changed in this time. Initially it disrupted my ongoing work as I could see what we were learning was too powerful to be ignored – I couldn’t just continue with what I was doing, but I needed time to integrate it with my own path.

The connection with other artists restored my faith, and everyone worked hard on their art and behind the scenes to make this the most helpful and response place to be learning. Truly inspiring.

For the first time, I didn’t feel like I had to play a game. Simply keep working, but this new framework of ideas helped to give me confidence, understanding and a structure. I had a way to review my own work, which is invaluable as you get so close to what you are working on it can be hard to be objective.

When they asked if I would give a testimonial I agreed without hesitation and you can see it below. (Look how much I wave my hands around!)


As an artist the moment you stop learning and exploring is the moment your art dies.

There are many ways you can continue to develop your approach. Later this year I shall be taking a residential course with Lewis Noble which I’m looking forward to. But this CVP course I know I shall always see as a turning point. If you are interested in enrolling in CVP for 2017 you have until 8th Feb to make your decision. You can find out more about it by clicking here.

Let me know below if you have any questions about it, or if you decide to go for it!

PS. I seem to have replaced a dissertation for blog posts, but I know which I prefer!