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Why have Multiple Works in Progress?

abstract acrylic drawing figures ink and watercolor life as an artist miscellaneous nature orbs watercolor Jul 20, 2020

 The above video is one I made a number of years ago showing a watercolor technique I still love to use.  Over the next few months I'll post videos of current studio techniques as well as en plein air easel painting.

Many of you know my travel sketchbook work, my Dala Art, Morning Scribbles, Pub Paintings and the botanical illustrations in my Perpetual Plant Journal. The work I don't often speak of or show online is my studio work ... nor my studio work in progress. I've received emails from some of you who have asked if I'm frustrated by not being able to travel, as I normally do, because of the current pandemic.

It's a coincidence that travel restrictions came at the same time I had scheduled to be home in New Jersey, the first six months of 2020. I wanted an extended period of time in my studio to work on larger pieces, both old and new. 

For eight years, my travel/teaching schedule has made it difficult to focus on studio work.  As soon as I unpacked, it was time to pack again for the next delightful adventure. Before each trip, I sifted through studio work in progress to keep the paintings fresh in my mind ... even the ones I hadn't worked on in many years.  If the painting hadn't yet ended up in the dumpster, it meant my mind and heart were not yet willing to give up on it. 

I hadn't thought to write about this until I watched Kerry Harding's recent, two-part webinar hosted by St. Ives School of Painting.  The focus of the webinar was Banish Fear of Failure.  She spoke about the aspect of housekeeping to keep creativity flowing by maintaining a workspace that functions well for you in your own unique way as well as developing habits that keep your energy high and prevent creativity blocks from occurring. The St. Ives School of Painting is well worth checking out.  Here's a link:  St. Ives School of Painting.

One of the habits Kerry discussed was having multiple projects going at the same time. She was talking about multiple, unique paintings, not stapling twelve canvases to the wall, painting the sky on all twelve, then painting the field on all twelve followed by the hedgerow on all twelve, making each one a little different and possibly painting a fence on a few and not on others ... signing your name and hauling them off to a gallery ... one that represents your work and expects a plentiful supply of the landscapes, seascapes or still life paintings, whatever genre is currently selling well at the time. Everyone involved knows exactly what to expect in that scenario ... more of THE SAME, unoriginal, paintings that are sold as art.

No ... this is not what Kerry Harding talks about.  Her focus is expanding creativity not manufacturing paintings

Sidenote: I mention the difference between the two, very different approaches to working on multiple pieces because of a personal experience I had in the late 70's with a gallery in a local mall. I was asked to crank out sand dune seascapes, a dozen to be delivered every week on a Wednesday for which I would be paid $25 a piece.  The paintings had to measure 18" x 24" and be painted in oil on primed, unstretched canvas. Because of the drying time,  it would be a month before the first delivery was expected and payment received. Desperate for money, I agreed to the proposal.

As an artist, I've never been as miserable as I was while attempting to fulfill my obligation to the gallery.  After two weeks and twenty-four paintings later, I called the owner and backed out of the dreadful agreement. He didn't care.  There were plenty of other starving artist who happily supplied him with the generic paintings he wanted. I was happier again, even while eating yogurt for breakfast, lunch and dinner until my next authentically created painting sold and I could add veggies and fresh fruit to my diet again.

I'm in total agreement with Kerry's suggestion to have several pieces going at the same time.  Every artist will have a slightly different reason that this habit is beneficial.  My reasons are:

1. My paintings often need time to dry, sometimes for an hour, overnight, or for a week if I'm using a glazing technique in oil.  While one or more paintings are drying, I can work on another painting.

2. When at a standstill, not knowing what to do next, if I have other pieces to work on, I'm more likely to put the painting aside for a few days so that I can look at it with fresh eyes.  Because my thought pattern has been interrupted by a break from the painting, several options for moving forward will present themselves.

3. While working on one piece, I might stumble across an idea to use in another piece.  This happens ALL THE TIME!  I'll be sketching a plant in my garden when I realize that the lines I'm making are exactly what is needed in the large, abstract canvas lying on the floor drying in my studio. 

4.  I never run the risk of becoming bored with what I'm working on.

5. I enjoy exploring different techniques both loose and controlled.  I enjoy working in different sizes, both small sketchbooks and canvases larger than I am.

6. Regardless of what mood I'm in, there's always a painting waiting for my marks to be added.

7.  I have more opportunities to experiment with different tools, techniques and color schemes.

8. Switching back and forth between two-dimensional thinking and three-dimensional thinking strengthens my drawing skills and my visual memory.

9. I get to work en plein air and in the studio depending on where I am and the weather.

10. I never have to wait for the perfect time or situation to sketch, draw or paint.

BONUS! ... The failure of a painting is not paralyzing because it's only one of several that I'm working on.  It doesn't feel like the end of the world or that I've wasted the last day, week, month or year working on it with nothing else to show for my time.  And ... I learn more from failed paintings when I'm not feeling depressed about the failure.  Just because a painting fails doesn't mean that as an artist I'm a failure.  Sadly, I've known artists who stopped painting because of a failed work of art.  That's less likely to happen when there are several works in progress.

Below are a few of my current works in progress. I'm not including Morning Scribbler Daily sketching nor the miscellaneous sketchbooks scattered around the house within arms reach.  I'm listing projects in progress. My Perpetual Journals and the Orb drawings I definitely consider projects in progress because they are ongoing and constantly evolving into something beyond what they appear to be. The projects that have been dormant for a long time, remain within reach and are reviewed on a regular basis ... generally while enjoying a glass of red wine at the end of a long day. Of the twenty eight projects that are currently "in progress" in my studio, I will show you twelve of them and indicate whether they are actively in progress or dormant projects.

Works In Progress

1. Actively in progress - 48" x 60" acrylic and collage underpainting to be glazed with oil paints, accented with lines drawn with hemp string and three dimensional elements created with some sort of textural materials.

2. Dormant Project - 40" x 25.5" watercolor on Arches Paper - portrait of Rachel Brice.

3. Actively in Progress - 8.5" x 5.5" Perpetual Plant Journal - mostly ink and watercolor or direct watercolor.

4. Actively in Progress - 22" x 30" watercolor on paper

5. Actively in Progress - 38" x 32" oil on canvas 

6. Actively in Progress - 22" x 30" watercolor on paper

7. Dormant Project - 30" x 22" watercolor and carbon pencil on paper

8. Actively in Progress - 8" x 11" graphite on paper - Orbs Meditation Drawings

9. Dormant project - 30" x 22" watercolor on paper - Sailboat Race

10. Dormant Project - 12" x 16" Acrylic on canvas primed with cement.

11. Actively in Progress - 30" x 22" Watercolor on Paper

 12. Actively in Progress - 12" x 16" inks, watercolor and acrylic over cement and acrylic watercolor ground on canvas.

 . . . . . .

You can see that the size, medium, style and subject matter is quite varied.  This allows for flexibility and efficient use of studio time both in active painting as well as in contemplation.

I'm interested to hear what you think about having multiple works in progress.  Is this something that you, too, have a habit of doing?  If so, why do you do it and how does this habit effect your work and your progress?

If you wish to respond or comment, please do so in the Projects and Discussions Community under the topic Comments & Questions.  It will be easier to access and share feedback, ideas and questions within the discussion group rather than here on the blog post.  If you are registered for one of the online classes on, you have free access to the community discussion group.  If not, and you would like to participate, you may join by clicking here and registering to be a member of the group.


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