Do You Have What it Takes?

Which Is Harder: Starting a Painting or Finishing a Painting?

by Linda Riesenberg Fisler

One summer when I was first starting out, motivation to paint was coming to me sparingly. I couldn’t find the inspiration or enthusiasm to pick up the brush. My goals seemed simple enough—hone my skills, increase my understanding, make my paintings better and more desirable. Add to this that master artist Kevin Macpherson was mentoring me, and let’s say there was pressure (I put on myself) to continue to improve.  Still, improving our skills is something we should keep in front of us. Without improvement or curiosity to try something new, painting becomes too formulaic for me.

I am probably hardest on myself when judging my art and where I want to go with it—nothing new there. I’m sure you are the same way. But this particular summer, I saw many of my fellow artists making wonderful strides in their careers, and my painting was still floundering. After several years of mentoring, I felt as if I had failed.

Bent Creek at NC Arboretum 20×24 Oil on Canvas, painted with Palette Knife by Linda Riesenberg Fisler

The thoughts of maybe not being able to paint the way I wanted to, not being talented enough haunted my days. Each new white canvas staring me in the face was intimidating and frustrating. Was I to fail again before I even started?  Did I even have the talent to pursue this journey? Who was I kidding?


Oh—the doubt was the worst thing! I wondered if others went through this, even if there were days when Kevin (or other master artists) couldn’t find the inspiration. Dare I even ask him?

That summer, I headed to Taos feeling incompetent and with no confidence in my painting process. That summer was the worst of all the workshops I attended except for one thing that I observed on the workshop’s final day. I was in Kevin’s studio helping to solve a computer problem needed for the afternoon demonstration. As I worked on the issue, I observed procrastination. Kevin was finding a million other things to do before starting the foundation of his demo painting. He stood in front of the canvas for a few minutes, then walked away to something else that caught his attention. This procrastination happened several times.

I quietly watched this for a while.  Observing Kevin had to be one of the best gifts given to me.  We all struggle with our painting process from time to time, regardless of where we are in our careers.  I reflected on this after the workshop and discussed my apprehension with Kevin.  Kevin’s advice and the answer came in one word:  Perseverance.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,”  Kevin confirmed. “Being successful at painting isn’t an overnight thing. First, you must continue to paint and challenge yourself to grow. Then, achieve that with perseverance.” As any mentor would, he went on to coach me into finding the confidence to pick the brush up again and face the daunting white canvas.

Below is a little survey we are conducting.  Tell us which is harder for you–starting a painting or finishing it.  You can also tell us why. We hope you take the time to answer the survey.  Knowing the struggles can help us direct some future blogs to help you.

Whichever it is, keep in mind that perseverance is required to continue on our journey.  Having doubts and starting with enthusiasm and zeal only to lose it halfway through the project is human nature. So start with the intention of finishing—whether that be a painting or your art journey. We hope you’ll join us as we persevere together through this artful life. Maybe the knowledge of knowing you are not alone on this journey will inspire you to continue. We hope so!!

2 thoughts on “Do You Have What it Takes?

  1. I agree Linda! My medium in metal jewelry struggles the same challenges. I find that while perseverance is a virtue, I also need desire and inspiration to start and finish a piece. When I am blocked I stop and go do something I know how to do easily, this boosts my confidence (in case I’m also suffering from imposter syndrome) and then come back to the challenge.
    Thank you for sharing your challenges! It will help us all feel better about our own. 🙂

    1. I probably should have said starting or finishing a project. Thank you for posting about your process with jewelry, Jeni. One thing John and I have noticed is the similarities in the creation process. So while my fields are novel writing and oil painting and I feel most comfortable discussing those, we find that we all have the same struggles and successes! Glad to hear that you have developed a process to help you succeed!

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