What is The Most Difficult Aspect Of Creating An Art Work?

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What is the most difficult aspect of creating an artwork? Well I guess that’s a question that is open to interpretation and the answer quite probably depends on what stage of your art career you are at. Sometimes it would seem that the most enjoyable part of creating an artwork can be the conceptual part. During this phase, there is an excitement, a yearning to explore the new and uncharted regions where you have not been before.
To some, however, this can be quite scary because it means leaving behind the tried and true and dipping your toe into perhaps, murky waters you have not ventured forth before.

I find this beginning phase of the work quite wonderful full. I love to play with ideas and images. It has been a part of my art practice for some years to put an image into Photoshop and really explore it, do all kinds of things to it, before I decide on how to paint it. I might create several layers of the same image and subtly alter the colour on each one give me a brand new image. The concept of layering itself is something that has always fascinated me in many, different ways. This is quite clear when you look at my body of work because through most of it,  you will find the concept of layering turning up in one form or another.

Painting Elements

I digress, however. To get back to the most difficult aspect of creating an artwork lets consider the different elements required to complete a painting.

  • Choosing the subject
  • Conceptualizing that subject
  • Gathering your materials
  • Deciding how you will do your underpainting if you do one
  • Doing the underpainting
  •  Deciding on what technique you are going to use for the work
  • Figuring out which part of the work to paint first
  • Painting the work
  • Assessing the work

Choosing A Subject

I think for me, yes over the years, I have found the most difficult aspect of creating an artwork is often, choosing a subject. Once you know what you want to paint and you have the skills necessary to do so the rest is all pretty enjoyable. It’s not that it’s a piece of cake however because no matter how long you’ve painted there is always going to be challenges within every work that you do.
One of the great artists once said, ‘the best painting you will ever do is your next one.’

I have found one thing that makes this aspect of the work easier is to work in a series of paintings about one subject. There are a couple of reasons why this makes choosing your subject easier. The first one, obviously is that you have some idea of what you will paint next because you already have the subject. The other advantage to painting in this way is that it is a method of developing your work to a deeper level. Each painting can evolve from the previous one. This is particularly valuable when you are working with abstracts. You can actually take a small area of a painting that has worked particularly well and blow it up into a bigger painting. 

You then take the best area of the second painting and in turn expand that into a bigger painting and so on. It is quite amazing where this journey can take you. There is a series painted by Georgia O’Keeffe which began with a shell, a leaf and a wooden roof shingle. After painting four or five images she ended up with a really stunning abstract work, which she couldn’t have arrived at without her working through the previous paintings. You can see the beginning and finished ones here.


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Shell, leaf and shingle, Georgia O’Keeffe – beginning work


Georgia describes, how she came to paint this, indicating that she too had trouble with inspiration at times.

“We were shingling the barn and the old shingles, taken off, were free to fly around. Absent-mindedly I picked up a loose one and carried it into the house and up to the table in my room. On the table was a white clam shell brought from Maine in the spring. I had been painting it and it still lay there. The white shape of the shell and the gray shape of the weathered shingle were beautiful against the pale gray leaf on the faintly pink-lined pattern of the wallpaper. Adding the shingle got me painting again.”


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Shell, leaf and shingle, Georgia O’Keeffe – final work

Conceptualizing The Subject

So if choosing a subject is difficult, conceptualizing it can be even harder. The two seem to go hand in hand and are really separate parts of the one thing. However, you can’t work with the concept of something until you actually have that something. So for example, relating to the series on refugees I painted last year, I had to come up with the idea in the first place of doing some works relating to the refugee situation. Once I had decided to work on that, it was then necessary to think about what angle I wanted to come from. There are so many different things I might have chosen from, I could have made the series about:

  • the impact on children
  • The trauma of leaving one’s country forever
  • The trauma of being in a war torn country and having to come to that decision of leaving one’s homeland
  • The hopes and dreams of someone who becomes a refugee
  • The political climate in this country, Australia, regarding refugees, which incidentally has an appalling refugee track record I’m saddened to say

And the above are only a few ideas about this topic. Interestingly enough what made me choose to work on this topic was a news bulletin I heard while visiting New Zealand, which related to how wonderfully a planeload of refugees was welcomed and treated in Dunedin. This contrasted so much with the way Australia treats refugees that I felt moved to paint about the subject. 

Then, of course, the challenge was to figure out how I wanted to put that into visual images. I found that inspiration from a highly unlikely place,  a photograph of the mist over some hot pools in Rotorua. The first painting I did of this was quite abstract but grew from there and then the series itself evolved from that. I found that I also wanted to make a comment in the series about the way in which people lose not only their birth place but so much of their culture as well. We often find that the aggressors in wars will try to completely obliterate the cultural heritage of the country they are invading. This has been happening in Syria, with places like Palmyra being vandalized and priceless artifacts and art works being destroyed. Some of the paintings in my series addressed this issue.


From Palmyra to a New Land

In conclusion, I would suggest that we have so far only examined the tip of the iceberg and regard to what might be considered the most difficult aspect of creating an artwork. I will continue this discussion in a further blog post.


Pix Credit: ElisaRiva