When It’s Time to Start Over

Frosted Light White Poinsettias
Frosted Light White Poinsettias, 12X12, oil

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I received a note from a flower friend this week feeling discouraged about a painting in progress. She had worked on it for quite a while, and the canvas she used was pricey. In the end, the highlights were not highlighting, the improvements were not improving. She felt lost and asked, What would you do?

When this happens, my advice is to wipe the canvas or assign the painting to the rubbish bin. Walk away and start fresh on a new canvas with the lessons learned. Using canvas paper pads helps with studies, especially when trying something really outside your comfort zone. I complete about four paintings a week, and every now and then, there is one that just eats my lunch. Currently I have an impressive stack that began with great expectations, and ended on the cutting room floor. This heap is especially notable, since some of these are paintings I literally halted in the middle of painting videos, with two paid videographers on the clock. It’s almost like calling off the wedding halfway down the aisle. It just happens sometimes. The grand vision doesn’t match what the brush produces. Is it because I was doing the grocery list in my head again? Okay, you’ve got me on that one. You all know by now, I don’t do the grocery shopping, so really there’s no excuse, right? Sometimes we are painting when we are tired, distracted, or unfocused.

Sometimes we are learning. Sometimes when we are painting, we are learning. Here’s what I tell myself: Allow yourself the possibility that the painting is a study – a stepping stone to a future better painting. This frees you from the pressure of producing an opus every time. Next, I tell myself EVERY painting is a study. Because true artists are practitioners, they never lose that joyful, gorgeous curiosity that causes them to invent and reinvent color and shape. We are always, always learning.

I’ve noticed something interesting that happens when I fail. When the painting does not turn out how I wanted it to. When I’m failing, I am paying attention. I’m analyzing, (ie, kicking myself), deconstructing, observing, cogitating. (Why, why, why, did that not look how I imagined it would look?) On the other hand, when a painting leaps onto the canvas, and looks just fine and dandy, I’m off to the next project without another thought. There is no further analyzing or reflecting. Not that I don’t love when that happens, but if this painting thing were easy all the time, I’m pretty sure I’d take up piano.

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Nancy Medina

Nancy is a master signature artist and instructor with over 1800 online students from around the world. She has worked with Disney, served on the art faculty of the Dallas Arboretum, and teaches workshops in France, Italy and across the US. More about Nancy

Reader Interactions


  1. Thanks for sharing – I haven’t painted since I messed up the peonies and strawberries. Something just scares me – the fear of failure. Well, seems like I just need to grow up, drink wine and get started again 🙂

  2. Shweta you are most welcome. You are so VERY talented, I hope you will pick up that brush again soon. We all go through those fearful moments, I do think we need to start a support group or something… with wine – and chocolate! 😉 big hugs!

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