If you’re like me, at some point during your latest work in progress, you hit the dreaded “ugly phase”. For those of you that are not familiar, this is the point at which in you step back from your work and with a gasp of horror, realize that your work is looking like either a hot mess or something a hot mess would be friends with.
In works that require a lot of layering and rendering this is common. For some inexperienced artists, they might stop at this phase altogether. They fear that they’ve either ruined the piece or feel like it’s just not working, but maybe aren’t sure why. The truth is you might be half way there and just need to keep going to get your work where it needs to be.
Most ugly ducklings are swans waiting to happen.
Anyway, I digress, but the point is that no matter how you are currently perceiving your work in most cases you’re just not quite there yet. One thing I learned from years of painting is that although I was trying to achieve realism in my work, I wasn’t always rendering it far enough to get there. After years of essential being self-taught in this area, I started to study my reference more and realized I was essentially stopping at the under painting phase and calling it a day.
The most important thing to remember if you feel you are stuck in the ugly phase is the stop and analyze where you are at. Identifying what the problem might be is half the battle here and pushing through is the other half. If your proportions are correct, your composition is balanced and color choices are on point, you may just need to add additional layers to get where you need to be. If one of those other elements is off, however, you may be heading down the road of no return. Painting is relatively forgiving in this matter since for the most part mistakes can be painted over. But if you are working in a relatively unforgiving medium like colored pencil you may need to abort the mission post-haste!
If the stars are still aligned artistically speaking and you still don’t know what’s wrong, it might be time to step away for a bit. Whenever I have been looking at a piece I’m working on for a long time, at some point I start to dislike things about it. I usually know that means it’s time to stop for the day or that I’m tired and need to look at something else for a while. What usually happens is that when you return the next time to look at it, you either don’t see what was bothering you anymore, or you have found a solution to resolve it.
Being an artist is a life-long learning journey. We all get stuck in the “ugly phase” now and then, but the point is to find a way through it. Take time to analyze your work, step away for a while if you need to. Don’t be afraid to ask the opinion of someone you trust to help set you on the right course. Maybe your piece was a cute fuzzy gray duckling all along.