Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dealing With "The Blahs"

“The Blahs" was a term I first read about in Edward Aldrich's book, Drawing and Painting Animals. In his book, he discusses an onset lack of motivation for completing a painting — caused by any number of factors — and terms this loss of enthusiasm, "The Blahs".

This generous confession regarding his difficulties as a painter really struck a cord with me because The Blahs is something I’ve experienced many, many times. In fact, I would say I get The Blahs with probably 80 percent of the paintings I complete.

This feeling seems to most often occur when I'm working on a painting and reach roughly the midway point where things are either moving very slowly and I'm struggling to maintain focus, or when the painting just doesn't seem to be going the way I intended. I then begin to feel like the painting is a loss — that it's just a steaming pile of art doodie. I feel like I'll never get it to come around and begin to consider scraping the painting and moving on to something new where my enthusiasm hasn't yet been tainted by being confronted with my limitations as a painter.

It can be difficult to push through The Blahs.

Far more often than not, The Blahs are just a cruel trick of my insecure artist mind and not a symptom of a poorly executed painting. It's easy to get bored with a painting. It's easy to loose focus when I am consumed by the sometimes tedious nature of developing a work. This boredom can lead to me being prematurely critical of my uncompleted painting. It can also be used as an excuse to start something new (so I can again feel the warm and fuzzy feelings that come with an idea and a blank canvas) and abandon the work before it’s truly realized.

As I’ve aged a bit, I’ve found there are ways to lessen the effects of The Blahs. First, I understand that when they occur, it's time for a break. I relax. Get out. Move around. I maybe have some lunch or walk Brutus (my Boston terrier and trusted studio companion). I can then come back to the painting refocused and with fresh eyes. Second, I sometimes work on more than one painting at a time. When I find myself becoming bored with a painting, I can switch to another. And finally, I know and acknowledge that I’ve felt like this before and have made it through — if sometimes just barely. This understanding is often just enough to help me refocus, take a breath, step back and figure out what needs to be done. It’s amazing how when I manage to not let The Blahs get the best of me, how quickly my excitement for the painting returns.

If you sometimes get a bad case of The Blahs, remember that you’re not alone. Just take a moment to refocus (however you do that is up to you) and return with a renewed sense of purpose — to make the painting work, to push through those parts you find boring, and to give the painting an opportunity to be great. In the end, I suspect you’ll find as I have, that sometimes the paintings that come hard are the ones that teach us the most and are often the most successful.


  1. I "stall out" on almost every painting that I've done over the last few years in this way that you've described. This didn't used to happen to me when I was younger. Maybe it is because in the commercial environment, I was in "speed painting" mode most of the time and didn't have the time or luxury of thinking about whether or not I was still "interested" in a painting. Or maybe as I've gotten some years under my belt, I've become less and less patient with the tedium of tight painting. Or maybe even, it was because I was not constantly pushing myself out side of my comfort range as I do now.
    I felt pretty alone in this at times. It is good to hear that others experience this too. I often have this very phenomenon in mind when I describe my "love / hate relationship with painting. GOOD TOPIC!

  2. Love it. "The Blahs" would actually make a good painting title - let me know if you ever use it!