The 5 Stages in Making a Painting: From Start to Finish

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1: Anything is Possible

Stages in making a painting
In the beginning... anything and everything's possible!.

While asking how long it takes to make a painting is rather like asking "How long is a piece of string?", I believe there are five identifiable stages every painting goes through during its creation. I call them:

  1. Anything is Possible
  2. So Far So Good
  3. The Ugly Stage
  4. Don't Mess It Up
  5. Are We There Yet?

The first stage is simultaneously stimulating and intimidating. Where you overcome the fear of a blank canvas and start transforming it. The step where it moves from pristine white (or a colored ground) into something where you've decided on the composition and started translating the image in your mind into paint.

At this stage, anything and everything is possible. It's about narrowing down the options, choosing from all the possibilities, to decide what this painting will be about. In the painting shown in the photo, which was to be a landscape background with some large sheep dominating the composition, I've got some pink-red as a ground, roughly brushed in something for the sky, and started to decide where the sheep will go and how big they'll be on the one meter canvas.

• Next: So Far So Good...

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2: So Far So Good

Stages in making a painting
Make decisions, move things along... that's how a painting progresses!. Photo ©2013 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.

When you've blocked in colors or worked on establishing shapes (or whichever of the techniques for creating a painting you prefer) you quickly get a feel for whether the composition is a solid one. Whether the foundation for the painting you've in your mind's eye has been laid, or not. So far so good... though exactly how far this is varies from person to person.

• Next: The Ugly Stage...

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3: The Ugly Stage

Stages in making a painting
At some time you'll begin to wonder the wisdom of what you're doing. That's what I call the Ugly Stage of a painting!. Photo ©2013 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.

At some point, every painting looks hideous. You doubt your vision, what you've been doing, and wonder whether it will turn out okay. Accept it, and keep going!

It can be ever so tempting to give up at this stage. To throw your brushes down in despair at the mess you've made of things. But don't! It's by continuing, pushing on through this, that you develop your artistic skills (and endurance!).

• Next: Don't Mess It Up...

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4: Don't Mess It Up

Stages in making a painting
Once more things are going right than wrong, the fear that you're going to muck things up and ruin what's already there starts to creep in. Photo ©2013 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.

This is the most stressful stage of a painting's creation for me. Where lots of things are working well, you're satisfied with a lot of what you've done, but there's still some way to go to bring all aspects of the painting to the same level. The potential for ruining it looms overhead, intimidating you into hesitation. You second-guess your color choices, your brushwork. You desperately try to preserve "the good bits".

In the painting shown in the photo, I'd got the background and bodies of the sheep working to my satisfaction. What I still needed to do was turn them into black-faced sheep (which are the "typical" sheep found on the Isle of Skye). I knew what color I would use (answer: perylene green). I knew what style I wanted to make the faces (answer: like some other paintings I'd recently done). But still I stressed about doing it "wrong", about the acrylic drying before I'd got it "right". About accidentally dribbling some paint and not noticing until it was too late. Stress!

The solution is to either stop completely (which if you do every time means you'll never finish a painting!) or to be bold. Trust in your ability, in what you've learnt and your experience, and work on the whole painting. Don't try to protect bits, but work overall as if there were no "good bits".

• Next: Are We There Yet...?

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5: Are We There Yet?

Stages in making a painting
Knowing when to down brushes and declare a painting done remains tricky, however experienced you are, as the temptation to tweak is always there. Photo ©2013 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.

When trying to decide whether a painting is finished or not, always remember it's better to stop too early than too late. You can easily add something tomorrow, or next week. It's far harder to undo something!

If you find yourself repeatedly asking "Are We There Yet?" then it's time to take a break and look at it afresh again later. If you're fiddling with small bits, fussing about tiny changes, then it's time to stop. If you're uncertain about what to do next or what else to do, it's time to stop.

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