An often overlooked, though really beneficial, aspect of the creative process is to look…. really LOOK at your work while you’re making it.
Why do you need to do that? Because when we’re in the thick of creating, we tend to be very close to our work. We’re smack up against the canvas as we paint, and while it’s a very necessary and enjoyable part of the process, it doesn’t give us a very good overview of what’s going on.
That’s where ‘stepping back’ comes in. By this, I literally mean taking several paces back from your work, and I absolutely encourage you to do so many times during the painting process. The simple reason for this is that, every time you lay down some paint, the painting changes.
Depending on the type of work you do, it may be necessary to step back every time you lay down a brush stroke. For others it may not be needed nearly so often. I apply lots of layers in my paintings and during the early layers I’m feverishly applying paint without any need to vet what I’m doing. But, somewhere along the line, whether early on or later in the piece, you’ll want to stop, step back and take in the entirety of your work. Only then can you see how it’s coming together in terms of its overall composition and visual impact.
And, on that note, can I give you a tip? When you’ve taken a few steps back, look for a few seconds at something else altogether. Look at the trees outside, or at the mess in your studio. Perhaps close your eyes for a few seconds. Then look back at your work. This mini break relaxes your eyes (which are often strained) and helps you to see your work, and particularly its colours, afresh. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard students say ‘wow’ when they’ve done this humble little exercise. It’s as if they’re seeing their work for the first time.
Just as stepping back helps you to get a wider perspective on your work, so too does ‘sitting with’ your work – whether it be a 20 minute studio break while you sup on a cup of tea, or a two week break between painting sessions. The beauty of sitting with your work, versus simply stepping back, is that you get to indulge yourself with a good long look. There’s no pressure to do anything. You’re simply observing (hopefully without judgment) and considering what works and what doesn’t. And, if you do this over a number of days, each day encountering it with fresh eyes, you’ll undoubtedly feel more confident about what it needs when you next pick up your paint brush.
By the way, you can ‘sit’ with your work anywhere. It doesn’t have to be in your art studio. I can barely swing a cat in the garage space that functions as my studio, so I tend to bring my painting into the house once it’s dry and prop it up in my living room. Not exactly ideal, but it works. And, as evidenced by the photo above, you can see that as we speak I’m ‘sitting with’ my latest half finished painting, cogitating on my next move!