The struggle is real


Is there a painter out there that hasn’t struggled through the start of one painting or another?  Or struggled through the middle of it to push through the awkward teenager stage?  Or lost steam towards the finish and petered out?  Have you felt the let down of finishing a painting, even one that turned out better than expected?  The let down of finishing and then looking ahead to a scary new blank canvas?  Uncertain about whether or not you can do it again?

I read a post yesterday about a watercolor artist that painted the same image 6 times to get it how he wanted it.  I understand that so well.

The struggle is real.  2 days ago  I started this beach scene.  I struggled with the composition moving one of the figures to 4 different locations until it finally felt right.  When I first drew it out I was sure I wanted the girl with the light blue shirt to stand on the far left front and center.  But when I had it all sketched out with the initial blocking in of color, something wasn’t sitting right with me.  The 3 figures across the front were perfectly spaced and creating a diagonal eye line off in the wrong direction.  The diagonal feel of the water moves from bottom left up to the right.  But their heads created a line from top left to bottom right.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but something just wasn’t right.  Also, she was too close to the edge and blocked you from moving into the painting.

Composition is like that isn’t it?  When you see a good composition it just feels good and comfortable, you move right in, your eye moves to the intended objects, and all is well.   But when something is off, it’s off and it’s hard to put your finger on what it is.

So then I moved the little guy in yellow in the back over to the other side and put my girl back where he is.  Then moved her down an inch.  Then moved her to where she is currently.  I’m going to keep her there for now to see if she gels.

What do you think??  More breathing room now?  More space?

I always take pictures along the way because I can see the whole composition better and all at once when the image is tiny on my phone.  So here she is in the other locations.


I talked with my friend who is a wonderfully well respected artist about the composition and we decided that this is a good placement of the figures.


My son is playing a beautiful piece by Dussek right now.  He practices the piano every morning while I write my new posts.




27 thoughts on “The struggle is real

  1. There is something so freeing when someone else puts into words the feelings that I feel! It normalizes them a bit. It’s crazy how terrifying it can feel to paint! Like you said, the awkward teenage stage, facing the blank canvas, self-doubts about composition. Thank you so much for this post!


  2. I loved hearing about your process and your difficulties which helps me because I forget that it is a part of getting a painting to work. I liked the comp that you decided upon, nice movement and a “togetherness” of sorts even though they are doing their own thing. This inspires me to show more of the stages of my paintings rather than go for the finished painting. 🙂


    1. I’d love to see your process. I think all painters struggle through areas and then display their finished pieces making it look like a piece of cake. Musicians go through the same thing, they practice, struggle, play slowly and repeatedly, and perform a masterpiece like it’s nothing. But they know the work they put in, just like we know our own struggles with our pieces. After I finish a piece I usually don’t like it much because the struggle is too fresh in my memory. But if I put the painting away for a few months or a year and then look again, I like it. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Jill,
    I completely understand your struggle too, I have experienced it on many occasions. Its most frustrating when you know something needs to change but cant decide what it is. I think the composition you settled on feels right though. Having the girl on the left makes it feel like she will walk across the painting rather than exiting the painting on the right. Look forward to seeing it finished, its a great piece.


    1. Thank you Laura! The feedback on composition is much appreciated. When something isn’t sitting right or “bothering you” about a painting, it’s good to bounce ideas off someone else. I have a good friend that’s a great artist and he helped me work through this one. He told me that he always consults with other artists about his painting. Sometimes it’s nice to know it’s not just me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely. I wish I had friends in the arts, its an invaluable resource I’m sure. something I need to work on… scientists aren’t much help with art 😉


  4. I mostly do thumbnail sketches to sort out composition before I start…however I never have figures in my paintings! If I did, I’m sure I’d be going through your process. Great you worked through it and it feels right.


  5. I like your final composition. I keep 3-5 paintings going at the same time all in different stages. So when I finish a painting, there isn’t just a blank canvas waiting for me, there are several started paintings waiting. Switching between paintings when I hit road blocks is really convienant too.


  6. For me, there always has to be struggle, whether in in conception or execution. The struggle means I am pushing myself. There is always a point where I look at a work in progress and go, “How do I get past this.” (though usually the wording is much more colorful) And just like you say, it’s almost always about composition. You obviously have a good intuition for it being whole and complete. Nice job.


    1. Thank you! Yes, I agree, the struggle means you have taken yourself out of your comfort zone and are thinking and making progress. It would be easy for me to paint the same thing over and over, I probably wouldn’t have as much anxiety in my life, but that wouldn’t be any fun. I’m going to head over and check out your stuff now…


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