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Acrylic painting of various colored flowers

How To Get Past The Ugly Stage Of A Painting

The Ugly Stage

Have you ever been in the middle of a painting and thought to yourself, “this is really ugly“? Well, you are probably right.

I know that sounds mean, but just about every painting has an ugly painting stage. It is usually right after you have done your under-painting and blocked in your lights, darks and midtones.

There is no colour and very little form but remember, you still have to add those things. Your painting is probably not ugly, it just isn’t finished.

You are at the ugly stage of a painting.

painter at easel

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Tips To Help You Work Through That Ugly Stage In Your Painting

1. Step Away From the Canvas

Sometimes when we are too close to a situation we can’t see the big picture. The same is true for a painting.

Step back, get some perspective and see where you need to add colour, shadows and highlights and smaller details to make the painting balanced and complete.

Often a painting looks much better and closer to the effect you intended when you step away from it. After all, a viewer will not be looking at your painting as closely as you will.

2. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Strokes

Use your cell phone to take a picture of your progress. For some reason you get a better view of your painting from a picture.

I take multiple pictures while I’m working. Pictures not only help me see where adjustments need to be made, but they also act as a visual record of my progress.

Progress photos are also a great way to engage your fans on social media. People love to see the artists work in progress and this could lead to more sales of your work.

For more information about taking pictures of your artwork see Simple Tips to Photograph Your Art

3. Turn That Frown Upside Down

Turning your canvas upside down helps you to see the actual shapes you are painting rather than be overwhelmed by the whole scene.

Now, instead of painting a landscape, you are painting angles, ovals, circles and squares. Everything is a combination of various shapes cohesively put together.

painting of a field of yellow grass with black birds and dark sky

4. It’s Time for a Coffee Break

Sometimes the best thing is to step away from a painting for a few hours or even a few days. Come back and view it with fresh eyes.

You may see it differently after a little time away and have new ideas and a new perspective on what you are painting.

Your body needs a break too. Stiff necks and cramped hands make the whole process more difficult and less enjoyable. A few minutes of stretching or a walk around the block will make you feel refreshed and ready to tackle your painting again.

coffee in a white coffee cup, a plate of macaroons and a vase of flowers on brown tray.

5. Look at Your Painting in Black and White

Take a picture of your painting and edit it to make it black and white. You will be able to see if your darks and lights are correct when compared to your reference photo.

 If you take a picture on your phone it is easy to use your cameras photo editor to edit it quickly to give you a black and white photo.

A little adjustment in value can make all the difference in a painting. ( See my post on Value)

photo of red poppies with a greyed out background

6. Start Something New

Working on a new piece gives you a break from worrying about getting the first one right. You may get new ideas or new inspiration from working on something else for a while. 

I often have several pieces going at once and usually in different mediums. I find it keeps my creativity flowing and keeps the frustration down.

7. You are Painting the Wrong Piece

That sounds a little odd, but sometimes the painting we have in our head is not what our hands produce.

One of my most popular paintings, pictured below, started out this way. I did not have this idea in my head when I started but it turned into something wonderful.

Sometimes you just have to let a painting happen.

painting of a girl carrying an umbrella in the rain with a dark tree behind her
Orange Umbrella by MarilynO @Trembelingart

8. Last Resort

If your painting is done in acrylics and you absolutely cannot salvage it, you can always gesso over it and start again. Do not use acrylic gesso over an oil painting.  Acrylic gesso is water based and oil and water do not mix. Instead try using a neutral colour or earth tone to cover what you have already done. You could also use an oil based gesso to cover your original painting.

Make sure your oil painting is dry before painting over it. You don’t want to have weird mud toned surface to paint on. It is probably best to store an oil painting in a closet for a few months until it is reasonably dry before attempting to paint over it.

I have posts on How to Gesso a Canvas and What to do With Practice Canvases if you want some tips on how to salvage the canvas.

Remember, even the great masters painted over their paintings.

acrylic painting of rocks and bamboo

I hope these tips helped you get past the ugly stage of a painting. All artists go through this and as you get more experience you will realize this is what is happening and not stress over it.

Painting should be fun and relaxing. A way to escape into your own artistic world. 

If you would like more inspiration and ideas join out Facebook group Trembeling Art Creative Corner. It’s a great place to chat with other artists, post your work, ask questions and get tips and ideas.

Thanks for reading.

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly

16 thoughts on “How To Get Past The Ugly Stage Of A Painting”

  1. Although I have been painting for some years, I found your suggestions to be good reminders. I agree, sometimes you need to step a way from the project to get a different perspective. I try to look at my composition in terms of what I want it to say or what I want to show. However like a trip, sometimes I start in one direction and I take a detour, but it works out in the end. Be Patient with yourself that’s my moto.

  2. I am just a beginning in painting but love it as long as I. Do not look at a professional which reminds me how far I have to go. Therefore this information you have given has helped a lot Thank You so much for sharing

  3. Sometimes you just need to edit out something, too much detail on non focus points.
    Cheers
    Anna

    1. Although I have been painting for some years, I found your suggestions to be good reminders. I agree, sometimes you need to step a way from the project to get a different perspective. I try to look at my composition in terms of what I want it to say or what I want to show. However like a trip, sometimes I start in one direction and I take a detour, but it works out in the end. Be Patient with yourself that’s my moto.

  4. Doreen Wosar

    The best tip I ever learned was to look at your picture in a mirror. You will see all your mistakes.

  5. Thanks, I too have started off with a mountain scene, with a full idea, but end gesoing out ending with a seascape. Or starting to paint with no idea where I’m going and end up with something good.
    Thanks for the advice.

  6. I’ve done a few of your tips but I am stuck on what to do with the other half of my painting. Gesso it is… 🙂 Thank you!

  7. I am painting a cemetery scene with a castle in the background. The stone crosses are at a 45 degree angle and I can’t get it right. Any suggestions?

    1. It is difficult to advise without seeing the piece. Maybe use a protractor to get the angle right or draw the stone crosses on a piece of transparent paper (tracing paper) and move them around on your painting to see where they will give you the look you are going for.
      It sounds like it will be an awesome painting. 🙂

  8. Pingback: How To Gesso a Canvas to Ensure Frustration Free Work

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