A self-critique can be excruciatingly thought-full

I’ve been invited to show a series of paintings in an upcoming GAGA exhibit, which should be good news, but I haven’t done any painting in quite a while and am feeling rusty. Unlike riding a bicycle, you can kind of forget your two-dimensional painting skills if you don’t do it regularly. Or at least it stops being as intuitive as it once was. Take a look at my steps and thoughts as I try to make this piece work.

First, here’s a little snippet from my concept for the series, which will be called FULL-NESS:

“I’ve given a lot of thought this past year about the resilience of the collective human community. The result is this series of six 24×24” mixed-media paintings on wood, each one based on the idea of Full-Ness, which is the quality or state of being “filled completely or to utmost capacity.”

I have always incorporated words in my work, and for this series I’m adapting six words for the six works that describe positive resilience and balance: Hope-Full, Peace-Full, Play-Full, Grace-Full, Joy-Full, Thought-Full.

The first step was to prepare six 24x24x2″ birch cradle boards. I taped the edges, then divided each one into roughly three sections – two sections were painted textured “rust” and one section is gold leaf for contrast.Then I stenciled the word “FULL” on each one.Here’s a detail. It looked pretty good! But  couldn’t just leave it like that.

Next, I looked for random non-copyright  photos of faces that would give me a clue as to what “FULL” word to use. The face below, transferred with Silkspan tissue to the substrate with adhesive and acrylic varnish, looked suitable for the word “thoughtful.”

In this first stage (above) you can see the gold leaf, the rust texture, and the face – none of it really hangs together, but it has potential.

In this version (above), which took me quite a while to get to, I am at that horrible in-between not-finished stage which looks good enough but NOT good enough. I liked the parts, but again, it needed unity. So I did a mental inventory of what worked for me and what didn’t – it’s hard to do a self-critique, hard to be objective.

What was working: The face, the diagonal paint lines, and the white circle were good, all keepers.

What was not: The white “thought” letters weren’t working – they looked like a title and not part of the painting. I wanted to incorporate letters like Jasper Johns did, but these looked too contrived. The white spatters added nothing but empty technique. I also was determined to keep a bunch of the gold leaf showing, which wasn’t really helping. Sigh.

So with all of this in mind, you can see what I finally did, below.

First, I painted completely over the letters “thought” and then started adding layers of color veils over the painting, including some areas of stencil patterns. These translucent layers unified the girl’s face with the lower third of the painting by suggesting a figure. 

I brought in more white and repeated the white circle on the right. That helped me realize that  the letters that said “thought” shouldn’t be white, but should reflect the colors of the layers and look much more random, like shapes in their own right. And I painted over most of the gold leaf, although it shines through very subtly. Yay!

It takes a relatively short time to describe this process, but there was a lot of cussing and fussing in the studio as I went back and forth with this for many hours. Art is about problem solving, and while there are many “right” answers, finding the “right” right answer is sometime like looking for needle in a haystack.

This completed piece doesn’t look a lot like I imagined it would when I began, but I like the result. And the next five paintings should be easier and a lot more fun since I’ve got a “thoughtful” prototype! Self-critiquing should be easier going forward.

These six finished (I hope!!) FULL-NESS pieces will be on view in the Main Gallery at the Kerrville Center for Arts in Feb 2022, details to follow.  There are 16 of us in this group show, including amazing painters Roberta Buckles and Mary James. Wow, the pressure! 🙂

In the meantime, stay joyful and thoughtful and hopeful this holiday season!!

14 thoughts on “A self-critique can be excruciatingly thought-full

  1. I understand that thought process. That is my favorite part but also the frustrating part when I create art. You did a great job!!! I can’t wait to see all of them together. Lv Cindy

  2. Your vision is amazing and adding each element has made it grow into a piece that defines a story and gives the observer a vision as well.


  3. Lyn, Thank you for sharing your artistic process step-by-step! Your artwork turned out extremely well! It is always such a struggle getting back into the rhythm of creating in one’s medium of choice. Have a wonderful Holiday Season!

  4. I think your paintings will sell out immediately. The first painting you’ve done is amazing and I loved hearing about your process. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Hi Lyn, I love the description you gave to the painting process…so kind and gentle on oneself, despite the pressure of producing 6 large pieces! I looked up the Silkspan paper, and I see that it comes in three weights: light, medium and heavy. Which of the three do you use? Thanks as always, Linda xo

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