The blind spot

Dear Artist, At a recent soirée of old friends and colleagues there was a politician whose acquaintance I had made back in high school. He was a jerk then and, as far as I can see, he’s a jerk now. I found myself pleasantly moving around the room and not making eye contact with him. As a matter of fact, through the whole party I was blind to his existence. To my last Scotch I successfully avoided the renewal of our acquaintance.

Complex and difficult environment?
Jaana Woiceshyn at Cobalt Lake

A few days later, outdoors with friends in a complex and difficult environment, I realized I was doing the same thing with my painting. I disliked some areas in my work and avoided them. Other areas held my attention and kept me busy. Checking on my fellow painters, I was happy to note that some were stuck with the same sort of blind spots. This was a sophisticated “avoidance syndrome” and a previously unexplored mind trap, I thought, slipping into my irregular Freudian bonnet. It’s as if an area of the painting turns on you and alienates you. And you don’t see it properly because you don’t want to recognize it. For some of my fellow painters the background held their rapt attention while they neglected a difficult foreground. For some others, certain small areas around the painting became lost in the shuffle. For a few there was a big, blurred elephant. I figured the condition is probably caused by one’s experiences with previous successes and failures — parts that have previously given trouble. How do you defeat the blind-spot syndrome? First, I rationalized, you need to accept that you will naturally favour some parts of your work more than others, and that’s okay. While your work is in progress, you need to move between confident, intuitive brushing and rational strategy. It takes both sides of your brain to find the blind spots. Ideally, let a few days pass before final decisions. When the time comes, cruise objectively as if through the eyes of another artist. The fixable blind spots will more readily appear. Leave the unfixable ones alone. A different workplace and lighting aid in this part of the process. If in your most lucid and confrontational moments your whole work strikes you as one big blind spot — bad design, bad composition, bad form, colour, stroking, etc. — and you find the condition persists through many consecutive efforts, you might give consideration to another profession such as politics or psychiatry. Best regards, Robert PS: “I have the feeling that I’ve seen everything, but failed to notice the elephants.” (Anton Chekhov) Esoterica: “Seeing is a gift that comes with practice,” says earth-lover and simplicity advocate Stephanie Mills. It seems to me that the evolved creative eye is capable of putting problematic patches aside in the full knowledge that a gentle return will be made when other items are further resolved. Learn to squint. In the words of Henri Cartier-Bresson, “One eye looks within, the other eye looks without.” Above all, be patient. “One looks, looks long,” said Joseph Campbell, “and the world comes in.”   Facing up to mediocrity by Gaye Adams, Sorrento, BC, Canada  

“Freshly fallen”
oil painting, 24 x 30 inches
by Gaye Adams

This letter articulated something I already recognized but never really sorted on a conscious level. Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the same is true of a painting. By failing to address areas that are not working, we doom ourselves to mediocrity. It turns out in the end that the energy used to avoid working out a problem in a painting is greater than the energy it takes to fix the problem — at least in my experience. It takes nothing more than some objectivity, a good work ethic, and perhaps a little courage.   There are 4 comments for Facing up to mediocrity by Gaye Adams
From: Nancy Cantelon — Sep 15, 2011

Gaye, your snowy forest painting is warm and rich, due to the light and choice of deep copper hues. It appeals to my eye very much!

From: Dottie Dracos — Sep 16, 2011

I find this painting very appealing.

From: Ron — Sep 16, 2011

I do agree with Nancy…

From: Jeffrey J. Boron — Sep 16, 2011

Wonderful painting Gaye…filled with light & mystery!

  Unpleasant advice by Esther Rogoway, Tubac, AZ, USA  

original painting
by Esther Rogoway

Your letters have helped me in many ways to be a better artist, although I am an abstract, contemporary painter, very different from plein air. I have been reading your letters out loud in our Critic class Monday mornings. All of the students enjoy discussing your comments. So I was a little surprised to read the last paragraph in this week’s letter “The Blind Spot.” We all have bad days and some of us need to work harder at painting than others. I don’t think that it is your place to say, “If in your most lucid and confrontational moments your whole work strikes you as one big blind spot — bad design, bad composition, bad form, colour, stroking, etc. — and you find the condition persists through many consecutive efforts, you might give consideration to another profession such as politics or psychiatry.” You have a lot of influence over your readers. Some of them might be having trouble painting, but that is not a good reason to quit. One should always try harder — the breakthrough will come eventually. If not, keep trying, but only if one is having fun. There must have been a good reason for painting in the first place. (RG note) Thanks, Esther. Every time I write a paragraph like that I wonder if I’m going to bother someone. That one slipped by the editors partly because they know I have this ridiculous and unfounded antipathy for certain professions and can be relied upon to get off a cheap shot. This is bad of me, and I apologize. My consolation this time is that you are the only one to complain so far. Sometimes there are hundreds of complaints in my inbox, especially when I slur the accounting and taxation subculture. On another note, I was reading where every year tens of thousands of children sign up for ballet lessons. And every year tens of thousands give up ballet because they are not graceful, have the wrong kind of body, lack the pluck to get good, or simply because it’s not fun anymore. Yes, I agree with you, people should do what is fun. We generally have the most fun doing what we do well. There are 6 comments for Unpleasant advice by Esther Rogoway
From: Anonymous — Sep 16, 2011

I have never sumbitted a comment, but have to support Esther and let you know others probably were thinking the same thing. I am not really an artist, but appreciate and I am an advid reader of your creative writings and input from others. Once I overheard a relatively good artist say to one of her friends, during a local art show, “just criticize some local artists and that will reduce our competition in area”. So, lets let whomever gets gratification in doing art, enjoy it at their level. If they want to improve, be there to support and encourage them.

From: Tikiwheats — Sep 16, 2011

I agree w/Esther – it was a hurtful comment for many artists, me included, have sensitive egos when it comes to our art – it takes a certain amount of courage to put our work ‘out there’ where critique is the mode. I’ve read you for years & understand your quirkiness; and I appreciate your time, energy & wisdom & great paintings that you share with us.

From: Dana Whitney — Sep 16, 2011

Having a sharp tongue myself, and believing that the truth should be told, I don’t have any problem with the idea you were trying to get across. Part of what it takes to be an artist is obstinate confidence. When we get knocked down, it behooves us to look for second, third or tenth opinions and THEN decide. (You, for example, haven’t seen the work from most of us, so why should we take you all that seriously?!) That said, are you picking on all mental health professionals or JUST pill pushers? I’ll bash politicians with you most of the time, but they AND the rest of us could use some healthy intervention.

From: Sheila Minifie — Sep 17, 2011

Huh? Now that’s interesting. I read that you were talking about blind spots – which we all have, whether creating artwork or living our lives – so I was puzzled about the unhappy comments. Your post didn’t seem to be any big deal – isn’t it normal to subconsciously avoid some areas that aren’t working? That’s what an artist does – to try to get to those patches and correct them. When you find them – there’s the great Aha! and then you do your best to make them work. I then re-read your post, to discover your last paragraph. I had completely skipped it. Heh. Blind spot indeed. I shall have to work harder!

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Sep 17, 2011

This is for tikiwheats and all of you with sensitive egos. You poor things! I’m going to cry. Now I actually believe in ‘right crying’ but you will never get anywhere in life or art until you are able to get over your sensitive egos and face reality. NOW. As there is no other time to do it.

From: The PY — Sep 18, 2011

For years I did not seek help from a psychiatrist because I was ashamed that someone would find out I had mental health issues. I secretly cried a lot and could not handle criticism. I rarely socialized. I could not sleep. I spent days feeling afraid to get out of bed. Entering the psychiatrists’ office was the hardest thing I had ever done. They helped me and without them I would not be here today. They encouraged me to paint and to enjoy all the wonderful things that life has to offer. I had severe depression and chronic fatigue. I was that there is no such thing as being too sensitive, that sensitivity is a great asset. I was never put down for crying. Medication helped me to get through the Dark Nights. Gentle therapy helped me to see my blind spots, to recover and to live a full life. Today I am well.

  Practice the bad bits by Leonard Skerker, Ann Arbor, MI, USA   In Arthur Rubenstein’s autobiography he tells the story of a student he had once. He taught piano to make money and develop social contacts. The student was not very good, and he recalls watching her approach the part of a sonata that he always had trouble with and she soared through it, flawlessly. He figured that he had some kind of mental block there (like what you describe). Rubenstein warmed up for each performance (offstage) by playing a series of many of the bits that he had found most difficult to play. I wonder whether we might profit from, once recognizing our little bad places, doing preliminary warm-ups of them.   Filling the blind spot by John Crowther, Los Angeles, CA, USA  

original painting
by John Crowther

In both my cartooning and painting I long ago had an epiphany that obviates the “blind spot syndrome.” Uppermost in my mind as I work is that I must always be learning something, which demands I actively look for the weaknesses. For a few years I kept this painting on my wall, aware that something was wrong. It reminded me aggressively on a daily basis that it needed something, and it finally hit me what it was. The figure (me, in the “role” of the homesteading Maine fisherman). Adding the figure suddenly gave it both the narrative and focus it lacked. There are 10 comments for Filling the blind spot by John Crowther
From: Sharon Cory — Sep 16, 2011

Love the whole painting, probably because of the fisherman.

From: angie — Sep 16, 2011

the man looks very angry

From: Dottie Dracos — Sep 16, 2011

Makes me think of a recent newsletter which talked about mystery – what is that guy thinking? I can’t imagine this painting without the mysterious fellow in the foreground. Just what is he thinking . . .

From: Bill Hibberd — Sep 16, 2011

well, look at the condition of his boat

From: John Crowther — Sep 16, 2011

Thanks, all, for these comments. The responses are exactly what I would hope for. I wanted the painting to leave unanswered questions.

From: anonym — Sep 16, 2011

The man stands there, rigid as a board, looking away from the house and clenching his fist, looking very angry. And then there are 2 half boats visible on one side of him. Lovely work, but very strange composition. I can’t say that the man fits in very well at all.

From: Susan Santa Cruz — Sep 16, 2011

Ah, anonym – the composition is marvelous for all the anomalies and “shouldn’ts” that it contains. The question that comes to me is what is he looking at. Then it has the soft, familiar title of Homeplace. Bravo, John.

From: Sheila Minifie — Sep 17, 2011

I love it. I think it works perfectly in a psychological way.

From: Barbara — Sep 17, 2011

The man doesn’t look angry at all. Look closely at his hand and you’ll see it’s relaxed, not balled up into a fist. The prominent veins simply reveal a life of hard work. He has the type of face that people often determine to be angry when he most likely is focused on something, curious, assessing the weather, or just thinking.

From: Anonymous — Sep 18, 2011

The figure looks like a person who is comfortable with life, who has projects on the go, who loves the outdoors. The mystery of what he is looking at or what he is thinking adds to the picture. The angles on his cap integrate nicely with the angles on the roofs and on the top of the boat. Without the figure the picture would be forgetable.

  Solutions pop out by Ann Davis, Springfield, VA, USA  

mixed media
by Ann Davis

Even though I’m a silversmith I try to work around drawings that aren’t exactly working in the 3-dimensional world, so I bring out the flex shaft with a titanium burr and just reduce the offending part to dust. Or, if really frustrated, I bring out the torch and reduce the whole thing to melt, and remake. Artists of every calling must think alike. That is so fascinating. That is a very comforting feeling; we are all going through the same thing. I so resonate with this letter and my poor attempt at watercolor flowers don’t stand up to close inspection. But get me to make a silver flower… ahhhhhh. When I’m stuck, something like that, a flower — easy… therapy making just hits the spot! Or I just go paint a wall with the color I feel. I ‘need’ to ‘ingest’ that day and after a couple of hours of mindless rolling… I have gone deep inside and worked my problem out. Don’t understand the process, but just the physical act of doing and the color… just pop out solutions. I guess at least I’ve tamed my bête noir but I have such a multi-colored house!   Take as long as it takes by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“The sleeper”
oil painting
by Rick Rotante

When I was a young painter I avoided those areas that I could not resolve, which of course meant the work didn’t get finished. When I look at older paintings from my formative years, I’m amazed at the daring I possessed to even attempt the subjects I did. True areas need work, but overall the results thrill me even today. I no longer close my eyes to problems. Time and experience is a wonderful thing. Now when I work, I move forward with little thought of problems. I let the work evolve naturally, mistakes and all. While working I don’t want to interfere or limit my creativity with critique that may slow or stop the process. When the session ends, I look at the work to spot areas that need reworking or need more ‘finish.’ No area is too sacred that it can’t be fixed. If I can notice a problem and have a solution, I work the area until I am satisfied. If not, I leave it for another day. These days I don’t rush to judgment about whether a work is good or bad. I’ve come to understand a work of art is like a good wine and needs time to sit and come together. Today, I take my time while working and if the work needs more time, I take it. I take as long as it takes to create something I hope will stand the test of time and be noticed as a great work. There are 2 comments for Take as long as it takes by Rick Rotante
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Sep 16, 2011

Rick, very nice painting. And, I agree with what you said here. I have had a hard time learning to let paintings sit around for the time it needs to tell me whether something needs more attention … or not. I have learned to enjoy the brushing off of pastel, wiping of oil or painting over acrylic spots. I feel in control when this happens.

From: Tikewheats — Sep 16, 2011

I love your figure painting and your philosophy- not to be in a rush can be challenging when there are show deadlines that can keep us so busy. I don’t want to feel that pressure/stress so I shall heed your wisdom. Thanks!

  Problem areas first by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Evening at Newland Farm”
pastel painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Paul deMarrais

Years ago I did a short apprenticeship with a wonderful sheetrock finisher in Hoboken, New Jersey. One of his theories was that you should do all the problem areas first. If you encountered such a problem, you should stop what you were doing and address it right then rather than putting it off. I didn’t have that discipline at the time and still don’t. Henry did, and once finished the sheetrock in a ten story building entirely by himself! He was disciplined in all aspects of this trade. I was assigned to keep his tools clean and to never let him run out material and to mix the sheetrock mud in a certain way and to keep it absolutely free of contamination. Some artists are disciplined. Others are not. Some are disciplined only to a degree. That’s me. We all gravitate to what we like. My wife always remarks how hard I work… if it is something I enjoy doing! Conversely I am not as hard a worker with a vacuum cleaner or a lawn mower! It is our job as painters to know our strengths and play to them, to identify our weakness and try for improvement. We must accept, even embrace our limitations. There is 1 comment for Problem areas first by Paul deMarrais
From: Anonymous — Sep 16, 2011

I really like the many contrasts in this painting: warm/cool, dark/light red/green, and yellow/violet. Plus the compositional contrasts.

  Understanding our visual world by Tiit Raid, Fall Creek, Wisconsin, USA  

acrylic painting, 11 x 33 inches
by Tiit Raid

I was interested in reading Cartier-Bresson’s… “One eye looks within, the other eye looks without.” …and Campbell’s… “One looks, looks long, and the world comes in.” The Cartier-Bresson quote suggests that there are two aspects we need to be aware of when we observe the world: the inner and the outer. The inner being our personal territory, that which only we fully experience, our thoughts, emotions, feelings, memory, beliefs, and expectations. The outer world, that which we share with others, is the physical world around us. But, there is another aspect to the outer world which is not often talked about, and that is the visual world. Which, basically, is the appearance of things. In order to observe and see clearly we need be aware of both the inner and the outer. We tend to see the world through our beliefs and expectations, in other words, our inner world has much to do with how accurately we see what is going on around us. From an early age on we are taught to identify and name things we are observing, but, recognizing something and knowing what it is called is not seeing. And thus, we only see partially and never completely because our inner world ‘colors’ and distorts what we are observing. The visual world, the realm of the artist, as mentioned, is the appearance of things. The only way to seeing it clearly and accurately is to pay attention to how we look at something. Taking Joseph Campbell’s advice to look long, you may find that we become satisfied too soon. In other words, the visual world tends to appear quite clear and detailed soon after we begin to observe it. Yet, when we take a second long look we most often notice things we totally missed. This should be a clue, to never assume that we see well enough. Often, what we believe or think is going on, is, in fact, a figment of our mind and is not what is actually taking place, or what we think we see is a small fraction of what something actually looks like.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The blind spot

From: Susan Holland — Sep 12, 2011

What you are describing is what I have nailed as a type of “suicide,” or “homicide!” When I blank out, reject, refuse to deal with, all of which is a sort of “letting it die,” it is a red flag to my conscience. If this is such a terrible matter that I take pains to avoid it, either I should bury it forever (killing) or quit doing what I am doing (suicide.) I have several paintings sitting within eyesight right now which I have allowed to be sick for a long time, maybe hoping they will self-destruct and save me some angst. One of them is a commission half done. Yikes. It’s already someone else’s, and they are waiting. I can’t kill this. Money down is money down. I long ago decided not to go the suicide route (I am way too curious to miss tomorrow), and so I shall have to just confront the hard part. What drives me nuts is that it’s the eyes…and eyes are usually good for me. What is it about this painting that is not-eye-like? I’m glad you hit the nail on the head, Richard. Moves me off square one. Curious to know what your “jerk” was thinking at that gathering. Was he avoiding you? :)

From: Jeanean Songco Martin — Sep 13, 2011

Ah yes, the blind spot. Very familiar with it. I find an easy solution is to always strive to work all over the canvas in unison. Bringing up the painting with equal concentration to form, color and value encourages a healthy objective approach. It helps to avoid developing one area only to find other areas in the painting are underdeveloped and when you finally get around to working on these other areas the relationship to the first area of concentration is affected and must be changed. When too much time and work is invested into one area, one is probably reluctant to make changes and the whole painting looks disjointed. This is a self defeating way of painting and very rarely produces good results. The “blind spot” prevents us from “seeing” the problem because we don’t really want to see it and the entire painting suffers.

From: Jackie Knott — Sep 13, 2011

Blind spot? Not at all … those places on my canvas glare at me with demanding insistence. We normally are not blind to trouble spots – we simply would rather paint the easier places. Some elements of a painting are more fun to do and others we labor over. The harder areas may be held at bay for awhile but eventually you have to confront the bugger and fix the painting or abandon it … and sometimes that’s not a bad thing.

From: Fredericks — Sep 13, 2011

I am occasionally so oblivious to the blind spot that I never see it until it is pointed out to me and when it does, it hits me like being trapped in an avalanche of awareness. And the weight of that blind spot becomes so overwhelming that I cannot live with myself or ‘it’, until I paint it out.

From: Robert Bourke — Sep 13, 2011

I agree that we view or works through a personal filter. I have struggled with this and even wrote you earlier this year about the same situation. The term I used to describe this was “Maker’s Blinders”. I have run into this in both painting and photography. I’m a member of a photo club where judging is conducted frequently. Many times a judge will key in on some detracting aspects of an image that the maker had subconciously filtered out of their view. Current digital photography can have many creative similarities to painting considering the ability of an image to be modified through digital processing techniques. In my attempts to overcome the blind spots, there are a few things that can be done. Set the work aside for a period then revisit it with fresh eyes. Try to look at the whole piece not just the portion you get the most pleasure from. Try to imagine what others might key in on. Try to look at it with a critical eye. If you have a friend that can provide objective feedback they can often alert you to something you are not sensitive to. Some people say looking at a piece in a mirror can reveal things you have come to ignore. In the case of a photo image sometimes looking at in a reduced size allows it to be seen differently. This same thing can be done if you take a photo of a painting. Look at the image on a computer screen in different sizes. I believe the ‘blind spot’ phenomenon is a human weakness. It cannot be overcome without firstly realizing how our emotions create a selective visual filter then secondly taking concious actions to counteract it.

From: David — Sep 13, 2011

Have another Scotch, and eventually the blind spots go away.

From: Tinker Bachant — Sep 13, 2011

Why is it so easy to spot others mistakes but not our own????

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Sep 13, 2011

Yes, we need to deal constantly with our “personal filter”, as Robert Bourke points out. A neutral, detached objective view of what’s going on in our work is key. Looking at the piece in a mirror, in different lighting (inside, outside, in another room) works for me. Then, when I discover the “blind spot”, I feel a “Duh” moment, as it suddenly becomes obvious.

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Sep 13, 2011

I agree with Jeanean Martin above, we should get into the habit of painting all of the painting, all of the time. This is what I preach when I teach. If one area of you canvas is becoming more developed than the rest or if one area is underdeveloped you know you are heading into a blind spot. Instead work your paint brush through all the quadrants of the canvas this practice also solves the unification problem as well.

From: John Ferrie — Sep 13, 2011

Dear Robert, I got invited to my high school reunion a few years ago. I responded by telling them I was “deceased”. I told my friends about it and they all encouraged me to go to this reunion. Imagine if you will, 1980, in Calgary, being gay with the last name FERRIE! I didn’t have a chance back then and I didn’t care to relive it today. I was teased and beaten, tormented and picked on. The word FAGGOT was spray painted on my locker and it remained there for three months. Bullies and mean girls grow up to be bullies and mean girls. People don’t change! As my art career has had some notoriety and I have done TV and radio interviews, I suppose people might remember me from those harrowing days. They don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call me. “See any of the old gang?” they say…I’m like, “what gang?” I hung out with the janitor who drank Kahlua out of his thermos. When it comes to painting, we all have our blind spots. They are usually the area of the painting we are looking forward to the least. And usually, this is the last area we want to paint. As a painting moves forward, we see or don’t see this area. When it finally comes to this part where we don’t have a clue what to do, it stirs something in our creative juices. Painting beyond what we know is a sign of true creativity. In my case, this is where something magic happens and I paint something that turns out really cool. What was the part I was dreading the most, is the part I enjoy the most when it is all said and done. BTW, I don’t tolerate bullies for one second in my adult life. Blind sided or not… John Ferrie

From: Barbara in AZ — Sep 13, 2011

The post from John Ferrie made me laugh-out-loud! But he’s right. Don’t tolerate bullies or anyone who points out “blind spots”. Most of the time it’s just not obvious to anyone but the artist. And we meant to put it there, right?

From: Patricia Godvin — Sep 13, 2011

A great teacher told me time and again…”work the entire picture equally with each pass”. When I work this way, I avoid the elephants. They get swept up in the process of revealing the painting.

From: Jutta Woodland — Sep 13, 2011

Your last letter “The Blind Spot” made me laugh so hard, it put me into a good mood for the rest of the day! now I know why you have such a large following! I also love your paintings [ without the blind spots of course].

From: Barbara Youtz — Sep 13, 2011

Your closing lines here made me laugh out loud as I have had blind spots in my paintings over the years. Some paintings just don’t work out and when I first started to paint I always tried to fix them and use them as a learning process. The older I get the more I just want to paint for fun as well as to make works of art. After all what fun is working on the same bad painting day after day and ending up with a muddy mess. I should mention that I work in WC rather than oil or acrylic which would be easier to correct. How freeing it is to look at a pile of those looser paintings and say goodbye…and go on to something new. I always think of the song “You got to know hold em, know when to fold them, know when to walk away when the day is done…” Some can be fixed and some just take time away from moving on to making a wonderful new painting.

From: Diane Overmyer — Sep 13, 2011

The majority of my paintings are done plein air in one sitting. So those blind spots don’t always get noticed when I am racing the sun and changing shadows. One trick that works for me in spotting them is to sit my paintings right in the busiest part of my home. This happens to be right next to my large roll-top desk that holds my computer. I find that as I am doing other things, such as talking on the phone or waiting for photos to upload on my computer, I often will be subconsciously making evaluations of the paintings sitting beside my desk. I have learned to pay attention to those little inklings because they normally turn out to be spot on, as to what I need to do to bring the painting up to a higher level. Sometimes I can’t even put my figure on what exactly bothers me about an area, but I know I need to deal with it before the painting is released to the public. In reverse, sometimes I fall more in love with a painting as it sits there and those pieces turn out to be some of my strongest pieces.

From: Caroline — Sep 13, 2011

I have been receiving your letters for more than a year and enjoy them more today than when they began. I can only hope you get half as much as you give. Invariably your art messages become metaphors that are incorporated into my life.

From: Aleta Karstad — Sep 13, 2011

I find that when I cease to be able to see the problems in a painting, viewing its image reversed in a mirror helps me to see it as if for the first time. Of course, sometimes the dynamics are different because of habitual left-to-right patterns of eye movement, but reversing it breaks the habits I had established during the process of painting it, and surprises me out of my acceptance of its faults. It also helps to photograph it and view it on my computer, as that somehow gives me some ‘distance’.

From: B J Adams — Sep 13, 2011

You are so right about blind spots although to me they are spots that look wrong and I haven’t got a clue how to fix them. And, having another artist look helps, but having a really honest and truthful friend or relative look. They can often spot the problem…………not solve it but point it out. The other trick for me, as you mentioned, is to wait three days and keep the work hidden and then early morning put it up and back away to look and sometimes it pops out. One other solution I’ve found if background or foreground is the problem, and I know many others have as well, is to leave parts of the canvas blank, feathering off the main or important image to nothing. However it is hard to do that in the middle of the work. A complaint I have about some of my work is “just making do” usually for a time constraint. Is that giving up? Thank you for your descriptive and often humorous writing that I look forward to twice a week.

From: Marie Adam — Sep 13, 2011

Sometimes, the whole thing just isn’t recoverable. Sometimes, you just have to take your biggest brush and slather fresh paint all over the old stuff, and start anew. Surprisingly, there’s an odd feeling associated with knowing that underneath a spectacular, successful painting, is a whole other painting which was the pits! It’s very satisfying somehow. You should try it. At least you should try it before changing careers!

From: Marie Turner — Sep 13, 2011

Isn’t it amazing how effective a shot of “Scotch” or in my case a glass of wine; will bring you back to reality and your get your eye sight back of what you were doing wrong on your painting. We all are plagued with selective seeing and hearing.

From: Leslie Anderson — Sep 13, 2011

For me, it’s not so much blind spots as avoidance of what I find daunting (usually the foreground or anything involving detail). An astute teacher noticed this tendency, and gave me a directive for the remainder of the workshop: “start with what you fear most.” My training is to work the whole painting but you do have to start somewhere.

From: Andrea Pottyondy — Sep 13, 2011

We all have blind spots don’t we. My husband is a politician and a great guy…he has always enjoyed helping people and his creative side is writing poetry. If he wasn’t good at what he did he would probably become an artist! “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” Jack Layton

From: Hank — Sep 13, 2011

I always have had an area that I found more difficult to paint and this letter put a name on it. Keep up the good work.

From: Margot Hattingh — Sep 13, 2011

It’s those blurry elephants in the middle of the room that get me stumped sometimes. I often see the wood but have difficulty with the trees. Can you please send Joe Blodgett to me for a short holiday?

From: Kelley Diener — Sep 13, 2011

I am an ex pat American who lives and paints on Waiheke Island off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand. The twice weekly letters help me stay connected and ponder some pretty interesting essays.

From: Tamara Temple — Sep 13, 2011

Thanks for this. I find I, too, easily develop blind spots about my paintings. To combat this, I’ll turn the painting sideways or upside down and work on it for awhile. It also helps me to put my painting on a wall and step far away from it. (I’m typically painting on 9×12 watercolour blocks, so it’s never anything big.) There’s sort of a built-in factor in watercolour that you have to sometimes let something dry and go work on something else for awhile. Taking a break always seems to help.

From: Don Charbonneau — Sep 13, 2011

“There’s times when you just have to stop thinking about it and just paint…for the fun of it!”

From: Alana Dill — Sep 13, 2011

I’m a body painter; so my blind spot can literally turn around on me. Some body paintings are meant to be seen and photographed from one POV only; others are meant to move with the body in a wraparound fashion. I’m grateful for this article because it helped me put a finger on a problem I had with my last painting. I’m still so new at this, I’m more interested in the learning process than the outcome, but I do want to develop a portfolio of different approaches to body painting. Something I learned from a wonderful teacher, Sabina Yates of Benicia, CA: Look at your art in a mirror, or upside down. Errors in composition or rendering will be starkly apparent when expectations are out of the way. I’ve been known to bend over from the hips and look upside down at a piece of art from between my knees. I don’t know if it actually improved my art but it changed my perspective and gave me a good spinal stretch…! ;-)

From: Nicole Lavoie — Sep 14, 2011

I have experienced on a regular basis the `blind spot`syndrome`. I also have the other one which is `falling in love with an area` that keeps me from advancing in the painting. I have been painting and exhibiting for many years and this is still happening. Nevertheless knowing it is part of the solution.

From: Allan Wong — Sep 14, 2011

Maybe some of those blind spots need to be left as empty spots to create those mysteries and paucity you mentioned in your excellent recent letters. Thanks for the insights. Always brilliant and very useful.

From: Gins V. O. Doolittle — Sep 14, 2011
From: Susan Burns — Sep 15, 2011

Right now, I feel like I belong in the category of “one gigantic blind spot.” I do believe we all already have our own answers but need each other to bring it out as we open our minds to the splendor within and without. I will accept and be as patient as I can, knowing that this too shall pass. Have you ever thought of having a place on the Painter’s Keys website where artists could post images and be critiqued by others? Maybe it is too labor intensive. I think it would be great. It would be nice to have an outside opinion.

From: Dimitri Boskowski — Sep 15, 2011

The confident painter knows when to leave well enough alone–for a while.

From: Claire Remsberg — Sep 16, 2011
From: mars — Sep 16, 2011

Funny–U should mention -how the eye follows certain spots as one paints——with me it is the lips that move sort of in a– licking-way—– fashion as I paint– but do not realize it!!! Perhaps it goes back to the old days when I painted in oils–used 2 like the smell of them –& sometimes the painting turned out so well- I could almost taste it!!! Excellent letters—but– what exactly do U mean –are the blind spots??? I work all over the canvas–go 2 whatever area I see needs doing! When I find a painting misses something– it’s usually the –mystery –of it–or it needs another subject added. thanks mars.

From: Jeffrey J. Boron — Sep 16, 2011

But don’t allow the trees to obscure the forest…let the magic happen and the joy flow.

     Featured Workshop: Francesco Fontana
091611_robert-genn Francesco Fontana Workshop   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Moody Winter Day I

oil painting, 12 x 12 inches by Birte Hella, Toronto, ON, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes David Graham of Estelline, SD, USA, who wrote, “As a retired pathologist and passionate lifelong artist for over 60 years, I’ve been motivated and inspired by the insight of Alphonse Bertillon, the French detective and anthropometrist, to wit: ‘We see only what we observe, and we observe only that which is already in the mind.’ ” And also Anne W. Nye of Omaha, NE, USA, who wrote, “When I work, I hear this mantra: ‘Work the painting as a whole. Don’t get too careful too soon.’ It’s the voice of one of my art school professors ringing in my ears after all these years.” And also Tom Pirozzoli of Goshen, NH, USA, who wrote, “In art, trust only two things. Your eye and… your other eye.” And also Linda Archinal of Woodacre, CA, USA, who wrote, “This astute observation reminds me of a drawing I did when I was 8 years old. I drew a face and was stunned at how much I liked it. I proudly showed it to our maid ‘Lillian’ who said in a very kind fashion, “That is so nice honey but where is the nose?” So from that day forward yes I included the nose and forevermore have attention on it.”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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