The Art of “Percolating”

Some advise to other artists, and our worst critics, ourselves.

In my previous blog I mentioned that I was letting a new painting “percolate”. It’s my personal expression for letting it sit, and me digest it for a few days, months or maybe years. Yes, I have sat on a painting for years before deciding it was finished.

I didn’t always let my art sit. I was quite willing to instantly rip apart anything I was dissatisfied with. Growing up, our neighbor and friend Judy Hatch was always quite horrified when I would do this. I’ve always been my worst critique, as is true with a lot of artists.

About ten years ago I decided I needed another method. I decided that if I was unsure or thought I really hated a painting I would sit on it and let it “percolate”. Sometimes the piece will sit for a few days. If I still can’t make up my mind, a little longer. Sometimes I put it away in a closet and won’t look at it for a very long time. In one case for almost 6 years. Sometimes my first instincts are wrong, sometimes they are right.

I still try not to throw them out, especially if they are easily stored. In one case, I sat on a watercolor for almost a year. After looking at it over the year, I still hated it. But, because it was a watercolor, it was easy to slip into a drawer. The painting sat for another year or so until I had a group showing and needed art. I pulled out the piece and examined it again… Nope still hate it, but I really liked the top right hand corner. In the end, I tore out the piece I liked, had it framed, and it appeared in the show. What was once an 8×10 fall landscape turned into a small 3×3 abstract that is hanging in my living room.

I also like to let a piece sit and percolate when I don’t want to overwork it. Sometimes a piece with just scream stop. And sometimes I could spend forever knitpicking it to death. Once again if I’m unsure it is done, I will let it sit for a few days, come in and check it out at various times of the day. Get a real feel for the painting, and then decided if it needs just a touch more or if it done.

As many artist know sometimes a piece is easy and it flows and its done before you know it. Others you work on for a long period over months or years. I finally finished my sisters 2007 Christmas present just in time for Christmas 2008. The delay was caused by over-zealous planning, some procrastination, some of it was simply percolating. It was a large piece, paying homage to her magnificent quilting artistry. It was also a huge challenge since I painted the entire piece is 1/2 inch squares. It was a slow piece to paint, I had to spend a lot of time stepping back and examining the overall piece, since I was painting in such little pieces. Finally after a year and a half of painting I did finish it and was thrilled and relieved to give it to her.


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