Did I Turn an “Almost Good” into an “Almost Ruined” Painting?

Know when you’ve a painting that’s not where you want it to be overall but has parts you’re pleased with and would really like to keep? When the temptation is to paint around these “good bits”, and you end up tweaking and fiddling but things never get better overall? Leading to the temptation to give up or, perhaps worse, settle for “almost good”? That’s where I was yesterday when I finally braved the wind, went out to my studio and confronted a red roses painting I hadn’t looked at for about 10 days. It’s in water-soluble oils which I’ve started using when my studio’s too cold for acrylics (under 10?C).

Rose Painting-in-Progress
The day’s starting point.

After staring at it for a bit, I decided it needed drastic action otherwise I’d tweak and tweak and tweak go nowhere. First I spread a layer of light pink to subdue everything. There’s always a moment or three’s panic hesitation doing this; the key is to remind myself it wasn’t right anyway, so I may as well. Then I took a rigger brush and a dark purple-blue, dancing it around to re-establish some darks, then again with a lighter blue.
Rose Painting-in-Progress

I do have a plan doing this, but it’s more a map seen from a distance than detailed GPS co-ordinates for every brushstroke. This video clip will give you an idea:

There’s always another moment’s hesitation panic about whether I’ve gone too far, whether everything is irredeemably ruined, and oh no what have I done. The key is to remind myself, again, that it wasn’t right anyway and that past experience has taught me this is the route to take. And to keep going.

Rose Painting-in-Progress
Yes, I was working with the canvas upside down at one stage. Makes me see it differently.

Next step was to take a flat brush and add some wider brushmarks to calm the hectic, spidery markmaking somewhat. Repeat with lighter tones of pink.

Rose Painting-in-Progress

Is it totally ruined? It’s certainly no longer “almost good”, more like “almost destroyed”. But I like parts, feel good for having tried, and when it’s surface dry I shall continue. Still a way to go, but the road feels open again.

Rose Painting-in-Progress
The day?s stopping point.


6 Replies to “Did I Turn an “Almost Good” into an “Almost Ruined” Painting?”

  1. Marion, I like what you accomplished with this painting by the day’s end. I think the light pink and the blues over top of the the earlier red/pink and green are visually interesting and more harmonious than the colours in painting at the day’s starting point. You are brave to make such a major change. I have to say I can seldom do this, but instead I just pick, pick, pick until the painting looks overworked and dead.


    1. Thanks Jude! It’s got easier with practise!! I think it’s a bit like jumping into a swimming pool: I stand and stand and contemplate, then tell myself “go for it” and jump, but there’s always that moment(s) where I question the sanity of what I’ve done and I have to push to work through this. Of course, doing it on dry paint means I can always wipe it off if it goes completely wrong (which it has). Using transparent and semi-transparent colours rather than strongly opaque means that’s what’s beneath isn’t obliterated but adds colour/tone/depth.

      WIth a painting that’s been overworked, or not gone anywhere, I sometimes glaze over with a transparent dark (often Prussian blue) to subdue everything, then start again, sometimes the same composition, sometimes new. “Listening to Bluebells” was one such, and has a wonderful depth and richness to the darks it wouldn’t have otherwise.

  2. I’m loving the new version and all of its layers! For me, the green bits in the original were a distraction. Now, everything blends pleasingly together. I need to get brave and try this with some of mine 🙂

    1. Thank you Maddy! It’s very liberating in many ways doing this, deciding that it wasn’t right anyway so may as well be drastic. No guarantee the result will be an improvement, of course, but then it wasn’t right anyway so nothing truly lost and experience gained for the next time. Go for it!

    1. Similar to a small round brush, but with longer bristles. Also called a script or liner brush. Useful for long lines. Name comes from it being used to paint rigging on sailing ships, apparently. Rosemary & Co do them with long handles, which I like (see here)

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