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Getting through the “Ugly Stage”

The Ugly Stage: every painting has one. I watch students struggle with this part of the painting process, as they grimace at their work and debate whether the trash bin would be a more appropriate place for their half-finished work. I’ll tell you a secret – every one of my paintings goes through the Ugly Stage too.

This is the point of the painting process where the canvas is mostly covered in paint. It’s been worked on, so it looks like a painting, but details haven’t been added yet. More importantly, the parts of the painting that will really make it come together haven’t been added yet. In addition, there are probably decisions to resolve design problems, which an artist has to make on any artwork, that still need to be made. Usually, the artist hits the Ugly Stage wall when a particularly challenging decision needs to be made. The uncertainty of how to take the painting to completion causes the artist to either overwork the area in question or to throw the brush down in frustration.

This is all normal. Breathe.

Put the painting away for a while. Work on something else.

In time, pick up the painting again. With fresh eyes and perhaps a bit more experience, try to work through the problems you were having.

Most importantly, try to make yourself work through these Ugly Stage walls, because in any case, you will learn something from the challenge.

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