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"I Thought I Had Lost You" - Finishing A Good Start

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

By Chantel Lynn Barber

I love teaching workshops. I love getting the opportunity to share my passion with others, and in the process,  I learn so much from the students. They offer me visuals in areas I know I myself struggle with. Seeing them work through these issues has helped me develop certain practices in my own studio. In painting, it is easy to fall into bad habits. The main issue that arises time after time is "finishing a good start" or keeping an initially successful painting from ending poorly.

Here are some invaluable suggestions:


Allow 20-30 minutes to begin a painting and then step back and evaluate your start. If I don't force myself to do this, I inevitably end up ruining a strong start. I am not saying this is easy. In fact, I believe every artist should have someone standing behind their easel who can drag them away, by force if necessary, after the 30-minute mark has passed. What exactly are you looking for in this evaluation? Look for areas that are already reading strongly. These may still need minimal work or no work at all to remain strong. If minimal work is needed, write down exactly what you feel needs to be done in order to help you think through it. Next, look for areas that are weak or unfinished. Ask yourself why these areas bother you and what can be done to improve them. When you pick up the brush, begin making these improvements rather than muddling in areas already strong. 

Wipe off any stroke that is offensive. This is a biggie. Don't continue to blend away the stroke hoping it will improve. More often than not it will become more muddled than it already is. In I Thought I Had Lost You, that is exactly what happened. This painting is aptly titled because I actually did think I had lost her. I allowed several areas to build up in not only an unsightly fashion but also a confused mess. In order to save the areas that remained strong, there was only one option available. I had to wipe, scrape down, and sand the areas off. It was not easy to remove strokes I had laboured to put there, but it was absolutely necessary. Why? Because I had allowed a good start with strong, energetic, fresh brush strokes to decay into a garbled mess.

Constantly check and see how your painting is reading from a distance. Looking at your work from a distance reveals mistakes that you cannot see when you are nose to nose with the piece. My grandma gave me some of the best painting advice - and she wasn't even an artist. She asked why was I so close to my painting, it seemed as if I was suffocating it. As a young artist, I took offence and promptly replied that that was just the way I painted, thank you very much. Afterward, I began to think about what she had said. It actually made sense. Why was I right on top of the painting suffocating it? How many of my viewers would look at the finished work nose to nose? I began to wear a path in front of the easel always moving back to see how a stroke was reading from a distance. Did the stroke make things look stiff?  Was the value correct? Did it create the nuance I was working to achieve? One of the greatest compliments I have received as an artist is when a student offered this up - "You are like a cat circling the easel, you analyze it, and then rush forward and apply the perfect stroke." I hope that at some point that can be said about all of us who struggle with finishing a good start.

Chantel Lynn Barber

Chantel is currently the Tennessee State Ambassador for the Portrait Society of America, and is also a member of The Chestnut Group, and the American Impressionist Society. She is past President of Artists' Link in Memphis, Tennessee.

This comprehensive three-day workshop is designed to share tips and techniques learned from over twenty-five years of working in the acrylic medium. Chantel’s gentle teaching style will enrich the painting skills of beginners and advanced artists alike as she demonstrates painting the portrait from reference photos, without losing the energy and [...]

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