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My Biggest Art Mistake

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

Laura Higgins Art

An acrylic painting of a chickadee and some birdseed on a tree stump in its early stages where the artist, Laura Higgins, has painted only using yellow, orange and white paint.
Two layers of underpainting are seen in this piece: the initial yellow layer and the orange overtop.

Up until a couple months ago, I was convinced that my painting technique had a tragic flaw, a flaw that would make it impossible for me to make art-making a successful career.

And it wasn’t just something I saw in my painting. It was something that appeared in many areas of my life. What was that flaw?

It takes me a long time to do some things. To cook. To write emails and articles. To meal plan and grocery shop. To do dishes by hand and clean the bathroom. To get ready to sleep at night.

And to create paintings.

For a mid-sized painting, it can take me anywhere from 25-50 hours to create a piece, and if it is a portrait it could be 65 or more. As an example, I have already invested over 28 hours into a current piece, “Seeds of Love” which is 9x12” in size (pictured below).

An acrylic painting by Laura Higgins of a chickadee and some birdseed on a tree stump in the winter. The painting is in-progress and still shows some of the yellow and orange underpainting.
Here I have nearly finished adding the 3rd layer of paint - realistic colors - but not the last!

Other artists I know can create pieces of the same size and similar subject matter, in their own technique, in half the time or even less. Some can create a painting within a day.

In doing research on how to create a sustainable and profitable art business, one message that came through loud and clear was, "You have to paint faster." Meaning, I’d have to change my technique. When I thought about that, I would get discouraged and feel like perhaps I could never make this my primary career.

It wasn’t until I was talking with Art Coach Teresa Haag that I realized my mistake. She helped me to see how these thoughts and beliefs about my painting process were creating big obstacles for me. The amount of time it takes me to make a painting, is the amount of time it takes, and she reminded me that I can choose any thoughts I want to have around my technique. That I can choose to love how I paint instead of judging it as flawed or substandard. And as I create from that place of loving my process, I can paint with more peace and joy. There may be times when we all judge how we do things as being not good enough. Sure, experimenting with new strategies and skills can be helpful, *and* sometimes we just need to stop and discover that how we are doing things may be absolutely perfect for us. And that there are many amazing, beautiful, and valuable aspects to our processes even when the world may appear to hold us to different standards.

To reinforce what I learned, a few nights ago I wrote a list of reasons why I love my painting process exactly how it is.

1. Spending many hours on a piece means I am in relationship with it. I see its subject more fully in all its detail and beauty, and put a lot of caring attention into bringing that scene or person or animal to life on canvas.

2. The early layers of underpainting are like a foundation of color and brushstroke that adds strength, depth, and glow to the final creation.

3. I have fresh eyes on the piece numerous times which allows me to see what it needs next more clearly and solve challenges more effectively.

4. I am continually practicing my focus, patience and trust as I build something beautiful over time using both visual acuity and instinct. Each painting is an act of vision, faith and hope.

Although I will continue to learn other ways to grow my art career, it has been empowering to realize more deeply the value of my current process and the benefits of my painting practice not only for me but also for the hearts and homes my paintings will touch.

So, when we begin to question why we can’t (or don't want to) do things in the same way others do, or like the world expects, rather than judging ourselves, let's focus on what's good about doing things in our own way, at our own pace. And as a bonus, perhaps we can reflect on what's wonderful about how someone else in our lives (a child, spouse, parent, friend) does something their own way, even when we may think our way is better?

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Kailey Hawkins
Kailey Hawkins

I am very, very behind on reading and commenting on these beautiful, introspective and insightful posts. My original plan was to read them at my leisure and have an opportunity to comment thoughtfully on each one. But now I am weeks behind and, with a broken arm, it makes it difficult to catch up properly, and it's hard to type. Voice to text is OK, but also a bit tedious to go back and continually correct misheard errors.

So often I find myself in your writing, my friend. Here in this post you were talking about painting technique, something I have very little experience with, and yet...I see myself. I agree with your thoughts and, for me, if I substitute…


Yes! Exactly Kailey. We are our own harshest critics. And I find that when others' advice or standards or expectations (perceived or real) play into our perfectionist thinking or critical thinking then it can seem to validate our thoughts. Which just adds to those obstacles. We are indeed works in progress. I have been on a long long road myself with grief, with self-acceptance, with a "short fuse", with many things... Sometimes the most powerful changes and creations come from small incremental steps or shifts. I need to remember that and as you say, learn to let go of unhelpful thoughts and get out of my own way. Do things at our own pace because that's the only pace that…

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