Painting quickly, bypassing the inner critic

September 14, 2013

A friend recently commented on my paintings and recognised the 37 minute one (see previous post) as a turning point. It feels that way to me as well. I’ve done 2 more and intend to continue at least for awhile.

What painting fast does:

  • It launches me out of attention to detail and forces me to concentrate on large forms
  • Painting quickly encourages me to mix on the canvas instead of the palette, resulting in fresher colours
  • Not having time to constantly correct or blend strokes leaves the rendering rougher but fresher
  • The painting tends to capture the essence of the subject rather than getting lost in surface details
  • Painting fast is scary to the perfectionist in me but it forces me to let go enough to really risk
  • Accepting the ‘mistakes’ is liberating  and prevents focus on ‘getting it right’
  • It silences the inner critic because it feels like it is just a study, not a ‘finished’ painting

Painting fast is scary, but it shoves me so far out of my comfort zone that change is allowed to happen! I’ve been striving to loosen up ever since I picked up my painting again 2 years ago. But it is hard to not go on repeating familiar habits, and you rarely reach new ground without some kind of aha! or shock. Once I had something jolting enough to shift my perception – with permission, a workshop leader slashed a great stroke of thick paint on a landscape I had been stuck on. My perception changed, but on ce I got back to my studio, I didn’t know how to get to that freedom on my own. It is a process and you need to have patience.

Having to get a lot of things down on the canvas in a limited time, you have to choose what the priorities in the painting are. And then you set the timer and paint like crazy, picking up gobs of colour on the brush and just getting them down in approximately the right places, then moving on to the next area. It is very intense to work this way,

I’m outside my comfort zone most of the time. But that seems to be the magic zone where the painting can come alive in its own right without me imposing all kinds of preconceived notions onto it.

(See Cat Lupton’s recent post on Losing perspective, for a personal musing on the kinds of decisions that are made in a specific painting, both artistically and historically) .

The last point in the list, accepting mistakes,  is probably the key to how I need to approach painting from now on.  Up until now I have been caught up in making beautiful paintings or simply getting things to look right. All of this is necessary but doesn’t create living work. I am not discounting my more precise, realistic work, but a lot of it didn’t have the potential to soar, and I sense in this new step, that the work is taking on the capacity to surprise, and delight me. And to somehow bypass the overly concerned,decision making, limited, directing, left brain part of me.

And obviously this has implications for my life outside of painting. How could it not? These are important developments which can’t help having impact on how I think and live. If, in the world of the canvas,  I can let go, accept mistakes, accept things as they are, delight in imperfection, follow my intuition, let the world speak to me without imposing my view of things, wouldn’t that mean a gentler, less worrying, more relaxed me? With or without paintbrush in hand. 🙂

10 Responses to “Painting quickly, bypassing the inner critic”

  1. doronart Says:

    Interesting post and interesting approach, it is not only about the little lines but expresing yourself and accepting the results. Beside I feel that quicker here make you even better. No doubt you concentrate better and learn from mistakes.

    • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Doron. Yes, quicker does seem to improve things for me, anyway. cheers, keep painting.

  2. I love this idea of painting fast and more freely as I too have a tendency to be a perfectionist.. Happy painting!!!

  3. I definitely think you are on to something wonderful! You go, Girl!

  4. Really interesting post, great work as well. I have very recently returned to painting after several years of working in other mediums. I find I am enjoying the spontaneity painting after making lino cuts, screen prints and textiles. It’s been liberating… now I shall be taking a leaf out of your book and trying some timed pieces. (Hope mine work as well as yours).

    • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

      Hi pp, thanks for dropping by and commenting. I like your work in other mediums. Glad you are finding painting liberating. If you do do some timed pieces it will free it up even more,probably. I started out quite tight. So see where it leads you. have fun, S

  5. […] is exactly what it is I would like to give a shout out to Sarah Zoutewelle-Morris whose article Painting quickly, bypassing the inner critic from her blog Art Calling has been such an inspiration in this new […]

  6. Thanks for this great post! It liberated me from my own inner critic!

  7. nexi Says:

    Thanks, this is a great post, but if I could make a suggestion, a blog theme with a larger text size would make it more accessible to those of us with varifocals!

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