Essential Questions: Self-Criticism in the Studio

by Jane Guthridge

Graceann Warn recently opened this stimulating discussion in ProWax:

“Writers talk about a concept called ‘killing off your little darlings.’ For me, that means that once aware of the ‘hook’ in my work, the thing I rely on to finish the piece, the thing that was once fresh but now may be stale (although still tasty), the thing that is perhaps a little lazy on my part or might be too often repeated – this is a ‘darling’ that needs to be retired. I either have to stop cold turkey and come up with something new or be super conscious and critical of each use. Is my little darling an element (technique, color, manner, whatever) that is germane to this painting, or am I being lazy? Am I losing the ‘here and now’ of my process? What are your ways of being self-critical in the studio?” 

Several of our members responded:

Nancy Natale‬: The term ‘little darlings’ does not refer to making work of a similar style, approach, or genre but to little features in our work that we fall back on all too regularly and almost without thought.

Cheryl D. McClure‬: I think just the fact that you seriously consider this off and on is the first step in getting yourself away from the box or little darlings or whatever you want to call them. Some people never question themselves this way. I just do little things now and then like take a color off the palette or start in another way or switch to another medium for a time.‬

PWJ8_Jan_2015_EQ_WagnerElise Wagner‬: Determined to take a minimal approach and make a white on white painting – I’ve reached my darling moment. I can’t help but want to add color! I am looking and letting it tell me what to do next, to reveal the next move. Will it be a hook? That remains to be seen. This painting is at that juicy stage where it is going to take a turn. ‬To answer your question, I am always thinking of ways to shake it up slightly and often turn to different colors and scales for this. My biggest problem is that I don’t stay anywhere for long and am always revisiting ideas to bring them more fully into focus.

Shawna Moore‬: Elise, it’s so crazy that you mention the white on white as those have become some of my most redundant darlings of late. They come really easily and I love the comfort. But, I also have also been stuck on a big red painting. It is quite formal, minimal, and I am having a really hard time finding my way in. So I keep thinking if it were only white, then I would know what to do. Solution? I may start a white painting that I have going simultaneous to Big Red. The hope is that the ease, comfort, and darlingness of Big White acts as a roadmap to find my way into this new territory of more saturated color. So, I guess I find myself babysitting my darlings this week instead of killing them off completely. Thoughts?‬‬

PWJ8_Jan_2015_McCGraceann Warn‬: Shawna, it sounds like you are trying to do the ‘sneak up on it’ approach. I like it! I will also say that sometimes I just slap my little darlings, not kill them off entirely.‬‬

Elise Wagner‬: That’s a great solution, Shawna‬. Having something familiar around to jump from adds comfort to the unknown waters.‬‬

Graceann Warn‬: Sometimes it is absolutely painful to go through the process but it’s good to see some light here and there. Once the thought comes into my head that I should revisit a trusted idea, I feel a certain hesitancy to go down that road. But once you think it, you know there’s truth there to be dealt with and so onward you go into that dark abyss!‬

Deborah Winiarski‬: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about emotional vulnerability. I think the little darlings begin to show up when we protect ourselves from or put up our guard against our own authenticity. It’s hard not to do that, but it’s vital. It’s so important to give everything we have each and every time we walk into the studio – to risk it all.‬

Elise Wagner‬: I think the little darlings show up as a safety net to soothe the fear of the unknown.‬

Graceann Warn‬: So much truth there, Deborah.‬ Somehow it’s getting easier as I get older. Probably knowing that time is ticking makes me more willing to embrace the authentic even if it feels like being up on a wire without a net.‬‬

PWJ8_EQ_N-FKaren Nielsen-Fried‬: My little darlings are often, as Deborah suggested, something not truly authentic, but rather are defensive maneuvers. Sometimes my darlings are the crutches I pull out when I’m lost in the middle of a painting. They can be very beautiful; I love them because they might have worked in another painting but I hate them when they show up in this way and block me from getting to the authentic stuff of the moment. Even so, it is hard to kill them. The worst studio days are when I’ve got a ‘live little darling’ in one painting that has become way too precious and I’m beating dead horses in whatever else I’m working on. My husband can tell when I come in from that kind of studio day, “Beating the dead horses again, are we?”

Graceann Warn‬: I know those days, Karen! I look like I’ve been in a fight – which I have.‬

Karen Nielsen-Fried‬: Exactly, Graceann!‬

Deborah Winiarski‬: A mentor of mine would refer to this as the guy hiding behind the rock, always waiting to jump out and say, “Gotcha!”‬

Graceann Warn‬: It’s comforting to know that so many of us experience the same things.‬

Tracey Adams‬: So apropos of where my work/head is at the moment, it is a conundrum that we artists deal with constantly, but is so important! ‬

3 thoughts on “Essential Questions: Self-Criticism in the Studio

  1. anntracy51 says:

    This comes at a great time as I’ve just taken a creativity workshop which is photo based…but will share this post. I’m experimenting combining digital-photo work with encaustic.

  2. Paula Germond says:

    someone recently suggested taking photos of the work and putting them in a photo program and tweaking them/reversing the colors or make them black and white or whatever. This gives a very different view and, perhaps, could show the pathway through. Just a thought.

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