Vanessa Turner - Artist & Coach

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Overworking Artwork

It really can happen so quickly, before you realize it! All is going well with your artwork and then suddenly you see that for the last hour you’ve been overworking your piece and now it’s not what you envisioned. Overworking artwork is a problem known to artists of all levels. We have all been there!

What is ‘overworking’? Overworking can look like ‘over-blending’, having too many unnecessary strokes, too much detail and no specific focal point (I’ve been guilty of this one!),  and sometimes it looks like painting/creating until your support starts to fall apart…

Whilst we have all been there, we don’t want to make it a habit. So to help you out, here are the 6 strategies I use to help prevent overworking artwork:

Overworking Artwork – 7 Ways to Avoid It!

Shorter Painting Session More Often

I have always been a fan of frequent short paint sessions as oppose to long less routine sessions. I try not to work on any particular piece for more than 2 hours at a time and this has become part of my creativity practice. Any longer and my attention becomes more focused on ‘finishing’ versus ‘progressing’. I tend to stop ‘seeing’ the painting as my eyes are less ‘fresh’. By limiting session times, my creative energy doesn’t burn out and when I return to the painting again it is with more excitement as oppose to paint sessions feeling like a burden. This is one of the best approaches to prevent overworking artwork. Perhaps it’s also a great fit for you.

Work on Several Pieces Simultaneously

This one of my mantras! I love working in series and on several paintings simultaneously. By switching back and forth between pieces over time, you avoid having to focus for too long on a single piece. When your energy or interests in a particular piece shifts, you can move to another. One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t use this method as a form of ‘avoidance’. Otherwise, it can also work against you.


Rethink & Redefine Your Strategy

Often when we create without a strategy in mind, we simply put strokes down on the paper. The strokes have less and less thought behind them as we go. However, it’s easy to end up with an overworked painting after 50 random paint strokes. This can happen when you are not sure about what you are doing or where you want to go with the work. You’ll likely encounter this situation when trying to fix a mistake but not knowing quite how. Sometimes we tell ourselves to keep going in hopes that the solution will come to us in due course. When we find yourself in this situation, slow down your process. Step back from the painting and think your approach through a bit more.

Know Your Materials

It takes time and years to develop a level of mastery in your medium. The more you work with a medium, your tools and supports, the more you will understand about them. It is during this process that we begin to truly understand the capabilities and limitations of our materials. Without paying attention to this, there is a greater chance of overworking an art piece. Be mindful of when your support can no longer hold additional medium, be mindful of when you’re spending more time fighting with your materials versus working with them. Many materials and mediums are forgiving, but only to an extent!

Paint What You Love

As much as possible, I encourage fellow creatives not to paint ‘just any ‘ole thang’. Try to paint what you are called to, that which interests you. It doesn’t need to be a masterpiece but it needs to be something your heart is content with. When we work on artwork outside of this realm we tend to do one of two things, abandon it way too early, or overwork the piece to compensate for our lack of interests.

Monitor Your Energy

When things are going right, we have a high level of positive energy. We feel great about the painting and all is good in the world! But when things start to become difficult and there are unfamiliar challenges, our energy begins to shift and decrease. This lower state of energy may be felt in the form of frustration, boredom, a sense of failure etc. When you sense that shift and those low energy levels creeping in, thats is your cue to STOP so that you can avoid overworking artwork.

Take A Day Or Two Off

Sometimes we need a complete break from painting and it’s important to recognize that. Forcing yourself through the process of creating can be mentally draining and easily lead to overworked artwork. If you can take a day or two off, then try doing so. Simply observe the artwork over these days, but do not work on it at all. When you return to creating, you will hopefully feel a greater sense of clarity and have greater insight.

How do you know when to stop? Please leave your comments below.

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