The Painting Purge

Getting rid of studio clutter to achieve new directions.

The Painting Purge - Cleaning the studio to achieve fresh ideas.

For some artists, the studio becomes a dumping ground for unresolved artwork and everything else that doesn’t seem to have a home. Although you may not be conscious of it, the clutter in your workspace competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress.

When you are surrounded by unresolved paintings, your brain can’t help but continually try to work out possible solutions instead of focusing on fresh possibilities.

Finding ways to un-clutter will give you a sense of power and a freed mind, leaving more room for you to be creative...


Unfinished, underdone, unrealized, over realized, overworked, overdone, exhausted or bedraggled, paintings don’t spoil like eggs in the fridge. Chances are they were rotten to begin with. Let them go!

Sometimes it can be the “I’m not finished yet” syndrome along with the old “I’m still working on this one” that leads to the mounting pile. Remember friends, paintings are never really finished, they just present interesting places to stop.

Another condition is the constant and perennial need to achieve perfection. This tendency leads to a lack of vision and to possibility for self-improvement. Growth is stunted when the artist works from an ivory tower of perfection.

The opposite of this can be a factor as well. The “nartist”. The narcissistic artist is one who loves everything they make and treats every work as a special child and thus keep’s everything they make and the pile just keeps getting bigger.

Let the purge begin...

One way to start is to purge any paintings over two years old. By this I’m talking about unfinished, unfulfilled, undeveloped, incomplete, fragmentary paintings. Not the work you’re storing for sale. If you have a pile of half-baked and confused paintings that are over two years old, get rid of them. You are not the same artist you were two years ago. You are wiser and more seasoned and full of new tricks. All your newfound skills will clash with the old paintings anyway. Paint from the leading edge not the rear-view mirror.

Another way to purge older work is to crop. Look for well painted passages that might make a smaller painting. Try putting a smaller frame or a mat around select areas and see if anything sings. If something does, you may have a new painting to frame!

Fact is, you will not generally improve by misguided analysis of your own efforts. Brutal honesty is what’s needed here. Divorcing yourself from the majesty of your efforts and seeing your work as it really is can take time, mileage and a lot of wine but it is an essential task.

Compare the work in your portfolio that has met the standard with dubious work that is unfinished. Ask your self a few hard questions like:

  • Will this ever meet my standard?
  • Am I ever actually going to work on this painting?
  • Do I really even like this painting?
  • Might this idea work better if I had a fresh start? 

If you’re still unsure, use the Robert Genn patented “three bins” technique by sorting the work into IN-OUT-MAYBE categotries. Then take a second pass and you will find that the work in the “maybe” bin will often tip to the “out” bin.

Another invigorating way to get rid of work is to T.O.D. it. “Time of Death.”  Play a coroner, take a big black marker and write TOD 10:15 am. right on the painting in big bold letters. This is a very euphoric and liberating experience.

burning-paintingLastly, one thing that’s always fun, is to have a ceremonial burning. Throwing unrealized paintings in the fire releases the bad energy and evil spirits that blocked you. Doing this in a group with other artists is very tribal, ethereal and freeing with lots of good karma all around.

How wonderful it feels when this thing is out of you life! Once you rid yourself of all the clutter in the studio and have freed up some cranium space, new work will begin to bloom. A good cleaning will spawn growth, fresh ideas and new directions. 

For me it was spring that brought it on but anytime can be springtime in the studio. :)

Happy fresh painting! 

Your friend in art,

Doug

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