In my experience, an artist’s most scathing critic is themselves.
Back in the day, when I did all my work with pencil, paper and paint, there were lots of times when I’d tear up near finished pictures because they didn’t look like the image I had in my head, or they weren’t going in the direction I hoped. It could be utterly frustrating and probably made me look a little mad.

Nowadays destroying near completed artwork is a thing of the past, and not just because tearing a monitor in two is as difficult as it sounds.
Digital art software allows me to re-edit and redo my work to my hearts content. If I don’t like a particular colour I simply move a slider bar and change it. If  there’s part of a picture that needs better placement I simply “cut” it out and reposition it. Fantastic!

Sometimes, however, being able to adjust things to an infinite degree gives me a new problem; knowing when to stop.
Occasionally I get caught in a vicious circle of chopping and changing things so much that I end up wondering whether what I’m doing looks any good anymore.

Here’s a case in point.

Recently, after doing art for other people for years, I wrote two stories of my own and did a couple of illustrations for each (just as a taster for any commissioning editors*). Everything was going swimmingly until I started on a particular picture of a Grandma
“Not much problem there”, I’m sure you’re thinking.

This is the first picture I did. I wasn’t commissioned to do it, I did it for my own portfolio, but it gave me the idea for my entire first story.

I went away and wrote the story, then took another look at the picture.
On the whole I was pretty happy with it, but thought the angle could be a bit more interesting.

So I did this.

A different angle this time, and I replaced the grandchild with the family dog; but I started worrying that the whole thing looked more like a big title page, a picture at the beginning of a book before the story starts properly.

So I did this.

I went back to the original image, brightened Grandma’s colours and put her at a tilt to give the whole thing a bit more movement and quirkiness. Then I decided the family dog just didn’t work. In the story Grandma has a grandson, so I completely redrew him to make him look more “boyish”. I also added much more scarf, and gave the picture a subtle “painted” look by overlaying a photo of some actual, real-life brushstrokes I’d done.

Then I looked at it again. “Oh God!”, I thought.
The whole thing looked too “stiff”. The overlayed brushstrokes made it look too muddy, and I thought the boy looked terrible.
I liked the look of Grandma sitting in her chair, but changes needed to be done.

This is where I’m up to at the moment.

I think Grandma and her chair look much better; more rounded and friendly. I prefer the little boy too. I think he looks good with no movement at all, just a look of complete resignation. Maybe he’s a little too serious, and perhaps his nose needs changing, but on the whole I think it’s better…for now at least.

Of course, I didn’t just do the obvious changes you can see between each picture, there were dozens of little changes too. Walls were first patterned and then made plain, balls of wool were stacked and then removed completely, eyes were made bigger then smaller, mouths were moved this way and that, and budgies were perched all over the place.
I think, for some of my pictures at least, I’ve got a form of illustrating  OCD.

If another artist had this problem I’d tell them to stop doing the picture immediately, and move onto something else. They should forget about it for a while and try not to turn it into some sort of ongoing project that eats up days and days of their time. Then, when they go back to it, they should be able to look at  it with clearer eyes and see exactly where changes should be made. Otherwise they might end up resenting it, and if there’s one thing that shows in a painting it’s whether the artist enjoyed doing it or not.

Then, this hypothetical “other artist” would be well within their right to turn to me and say,
“Andy, you should bloody well practice what you preach”

*Note: In my humble opinion, commissioning book editors are amongst the most attractive, humourous, and intelligent people on the planet (just in case there are any reading)



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12 responses to “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

  1. I’ve been asked the burning question before too: how do you know when to stop? There certainly is not a cut-and-dry answer …no matter what medium you’re working in = )

  2. Sarah, you’re not wrong. However, I’m lucky that my other half (Tori) is also an Art College Vet’, so if I’m really going round in circles with a painting I’ll ask her advice..
    Her suggestions are usually spot on, but occasionally I disagree with what she says so much that my addled brain immediately sparks into action and I come up with a solution, seemingly out of the blue.
    Weird, but I’ve learnt not to question it.

    All I can surmise is that I’m an idiot.

  3. Ben

    Juan change is plenty! But when you’ve poured over something for so long its hard to be subjective about it, thats when outside input becomes useful..

    • Every time I see that “Juan Sheet” ad, Ben, it’s like looking in a spooky mirror.
      (He does look like me in days gone by though doesn’t he!)

      • Ben

        I aint seen you in a while, but he certainly looks like the Andy I remember, except his pantone is slightly more George Hamilton and the lower mandible is not an exact fit! Im not going to comment on similarities for the bizarre, lingering buttock shot! ha ha!

  4. I love all the images but it is amazing to see the difference subtle changes make. The last image is my favorite–the boy’s expression tells the whole story, doesn’t it? Great work!

  5. Harvey

    Interesting post that Andy, seeing the progression of your piece of artwork. Must be maddening being such a perfectionist though. I like them all personally, but then, what the frig do I know?

  6. Bas Waijers

    Hi Andy, great post. I try to figure it all out before I go into final art because then I waste so much time. Sketching, sketching and more sketching. Usually that works for me and I can finish it with only minor changes here and there. When I go into final art too quickly I run into problems. I love those illustrations by the way, my favorite is the last one for sure!

    Cheers, Bas

    • Hi Bas. I sketch too, believe me, but every now and then I do something that I just can’t help “messing” with…and “messing” with…and “messing” with; and end up losing sight of it completely. Luckily it’s more of an inconvenience than a real problem 🙂

  7. RB

    First rate Andy.

    You’ve inspired me to redo my blog and get serious about it’s upkeep.

    Well done.


    • I’ve inspired someone ! Thanks RB, that’s really very kind of you 🙂
      I specifically set out to do a blog that included some stuff about art but also some of the everyday things that pop into my head; so it’s great to read that it encourages others to blog too.
      More power to your pen.

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