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5 reasons oil painting had me quaking (and how I overcame them)

I’m kicking off my blog by sharing some thoughts I’ve had about facing my fear of oil painting. Hopefully it is interesting if you are also facing a creative fear… Here goes.

If someone was interested enough and asked me to pick 3 words to describe my personality one of these would definitely be “Arty”. I have always made STUFF, and been highly visually influenced. Early memories include the drawing a cartoon strip with a sexy Betty Boo type cat, and begging mum to help me make a pill-box hat (?!) In general I get stuck in, and enjoy seeing what happens creatively without too much prior thought or worry, I think I have always been like that.

And like everything we invest time and love into, I found I grew in confidence in my abilities and started to like my results.

At school, I was praised for my daring and confidence in exploring new mediums and for producing some interesting pieces. That is with the exception of painting.

1. Self – doubt

In 5th form we had a month long still-life project involving a set up with favourite objects brought in from home. Mine included an arabic metal pot, some feathers and a silky magenta scarf. (as I write this I can see how innocent I was to the difficulties these particular textures might present). Anyway the project was a disaster from start to finish. Firstly, I failed to mix anything resembling the magenta with our art room poster colours and quickly grew disheartened. Next I found the more I added to my painting and tried to fix, the worse the image got. My fragile artistic confidence eroded and I wanted to hide. The project made me see that painting was a completely different kettle of fish from drawing (where I was now quite comfortable) and so reluctantly I concluded it was just not for me.

This was depressing to say the least as my favourite artworks and artists were ALL paintings and painters.

2. Over-whelm

I LOVED paintings. I’d drag friends to London to see exhibitions as soon as we were allowed to take the train into London – around 14 years old. My favourites were Picasso, Matisse, Rothko. These were serious masters and underlined painting as the epitome of being an artist for me. I began to think if I can’t paint like these guys I will never be a bona-fide artist. So I hid my thoughts and beliefs and carried on drawing. But the strange and powerful belief that only by painting would I be a true artist persisted malignantly at the back of my mind.

And the solution to this over-whelm for me has simply been to let go grasping so tightly to that idea. The masters expressed themselves in paint, and now I believe by learning to paint I will learn to express myself without the pressure to measure up. This is my new mantra.

3. Perfectionism

Yep, that old enemy of progress. My teenage ego was very attached to being seen as “good at art” so I stuck to my comfort zones of drawing (large expressive pieces) and 3D. Looking back the power of praise and other peoples opinions about my practise has always been too important. Bloody hard to combat though!

So I am learning to play again. Yoga says to approach practice with the mind of a child – a fun-loving explorative child, so I’m now trying to bring this happy thought over into my studio.

Rose oil painting. Facing the fear of oil painting, Beginning oil painting
New Dawn Roses – Sara Sayer 2020 – Facing the Fear of Oil Painting

4. Too little time.

There was always a reason why I thought I had too little time to start painting and this was the reason I told myself I wasn’t doing it, despite having every art supply known to man on hand! The truth was I didn’t prioritise it. Attachment to results and praise meant that whenever I had creative time I picked something “easier” to do.

Now I plan my creative time carefully and prioritise painting. My week looks like this.

3 hours 5 times and week for painting or drawing,

2 hours 5 times a week for promotion, sales and administration of my creative practice.

5. Finding a Subject

This is a real toughie and has taken me a long time to figure out, but now I think I understand something of it. From the very beginning I was attracted to Expressive Emotional painting, Colour vibrations, Majesty of size. This is how I wanted to paint, and has been something I have always instrinsically known.

However I now see before bringing about these big ideals, I needed to find the subject which made me feel something close. That was my missing step. At the moment its native flowers, birds, nature and folklore, these are the subjects which make me feel the big things I want to say. Now I am authentically trying to tap into my emotional response to nature when I lay down the paint. And it’s making me content. My skills are nowhere were my drawing skills are, but they are much closer to what I have always wanted to do, so I am pleased. For now.

Iceberg rose oil painting, facing the fear of oil painting, beginner oil painter
Iceberg Roses – Sara Sayer 2020 – Facing the fear of Oil Painting