Paint Like No One’s Watching (Or Cares About What You Are Doing)…. In Zagreb

You know that saying, dance like no one’s watching? Well I think you could also say, paint like no one’s watching!

I’m in Croatia to teach a 7-day workshop (very excited about that!). And it’s time to write a blog for you. I was going to pastel some landscape or townscape. A good plan until I suddenly realized that within an hour I was to hand over my pastels to Mario, the workshop organizer. (He’d bring them with him when he drove to Istria for the workshop. Cam and I were trying to relieve ourselves of a lot of luggage so as to travel light over next few days before the workshop.) But this meant I had to paint something in an hour!

OK something in the apartment. But at this time of day the lighting wasn’t great. Look around Gail, what can you see to paint? You always say there’s something if you look hard enough. Okay, there’s a chair with my hat. That’s it! Make a quick thumbnail, and get on with it.

I decided to use Pastel Premier buff, a new-to-me paper. To make it a bit easier on myself I went to the Sennelier package of 40 half sticks which I’m pretty comfortable with. I drew up the pastel in charcoal and went to work. And soon, very soon, I was in the ugly stage and wishing I had more time and wishing I was painting something else and wishing I could do a better job and wishing I could remember how to paint. So at this point I hated it so much I decided to wipe the whole thing. But I didn’t have time to do something else so I kept working on it. Paint like no one’s watching!

Let’s have a look!!


Paint like no one's watching: the subject
The subject


Paint like no one's watching: The wee thumbnail sketch in three values.
The wee thumbnail sketch in three values.


Paint like no one's watching: First three colours down in dark, middle, and light values.
First three colours down in dark, middle, and light values. 


Paint like no one's watching: Added more layers. Really NOT liking this! I'm feeling distressed about the drawing, and about the whole look. Ugly stage!!!
Added more layers. Really NOT liking this! I’m feeling distressed about the drawing, and about the whole look. Ugly stage!!!


Paint like no one's watching: Took the piece and blended and blurred with my hands. Felt the need to get physical! Now breathe and continue.
Took the piece and blended and blurred with my hands. All the light spots coming through were bugging me. Now all gone. Felt the need to get physical! Now breathe and continue.


Paint like no one's watching: What have I hot to lose? Be bold! So that's what I did. I worked heavily into the negative space and made mark-making a priority especially on wall area.
What have I hot to lose? Be bold! So that’s what I did. I worked heavily into the negative space and made mark-making a priority especially on wall area.


Paint like no one's watching: Gail Sibley,
A few more tweaks all over and I’m done. Time’s up and I need to call it a day. Gail Sibley, “Hat and Chair in Zagreb,” Sennelier pastels on Pastel Premier paper, 12×9 in


Paint like no one's watching: Feeling good with the way I followed the value map. Gail Sibley,
Feeling good with the way I followed the value map. Gail Sibley, “Hat and Chair in Zagreb,” Sennelier pastels on Pastel Premier paper, 12×9 in, black and white version


Paint like no one's watching: Painting with pastels used
Painting with pastels used

So this is the result of pushing through. Yup paint like no one’s watching. Not brilliant by any means but I did the work. And like I always say, doing is better than not doing. I think that’s a big part of being an artist. Not everything comes out the way you want it to or expect it to or hope it will. By painting you can always learn something.


So what did I learn?

– I learned that pushing yourself can result in psychological discomfort! But out of discomfort comes possibilities, like different pastel applications.

– Paint like no one’s watching (in this case that means you and not worrying about what you might think of it!!)

– I prefer working at an easel. (I painted this with board on lap.)

– I don’t have don’t to paint everything ‘correctly’ (think Matisse, Cezanne etc!)


That’s it for this time. I think I’d like to hear your comments….  Yes I want them!


Until next time,

~ Gail


PS. Please forgive all mistakes. I wrote and created post this entirely on my phone!


Me in Zagreb, Croatia
Me in Zagreb, Croatia

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64 thoughts on “Paint Like No One’s Watching (Or Cares About What You Are Doing)…. In Zagreb”

    1. Thanks Ruth! I do feel rather vulnerable but still, I think it’s important to say that whatever stage you’re at in your artistic journey, there will be struggles at times!

  1. I too hate the ugly stage. However, as I moved along with each step I found that the hat and the wall behind it were never ugly, in fact they were always beautiful. Something about the light and the marks, but I guess that is what this is all about. Thanks for sharing. I will remember this when I don’t have a lot of time, or a proper inspiration for a masterpiece.

    1. Patti thanks for your kind remarks. I now think that the painting and its path are not so bad, but in the middle of painting and the ugly stage we can be incredibly hard on ourselves (as you read!). And if this post gets you painting when you have excuses not to, then it was worth it!

      1. HI Gail
        I totally empathize with you… For the past two paintings (as you have recalled, my soda boy portrait) and the one that I have just finished (Gotta Tango), I hit the stumbling block/ ugly stages and there were times that I just wanted to give up. But, pushing through helped! Just keep trying different things till they work! The soda boy has become one of many people’s favorites and I am pretty pleased with the tango piece so far. I think for the past 6 years of painting pastel, there has been only one painting that I had given up and discarded:).

        1. Thanks Susan! Good for you pushing through the ugly stage and any stumbling blocks. Work can be resolved if you push through and take the time to look at it (and time away from it). It also helps to look to advice from others (as you have done with me – thank you!). I have been impressed by your tenacity and applaud your efforts to bring your work to a successful place.

  2. Hi Gail, So great to read this as I am so result oriented and it’s nice to have permission to ‘just do it’! I think you have a great design here and a still life that is not stiff or still at all. when you get home definitely try this design again!
    Wishing you a safe and wonderful travel experience and journey! Karen Israel

    1. Awww thanks so much Karen! There is something about the hat and chair which is appealling so good suggestion to try it again. It will be from a photo and in controlled and comfortable environment of my studio so it will be interesting to see the results! And yes, just go for it (and I feel that you do!).

  3. Hi Gail. The best posts from artists whose works I admire are the honest ones.
    ” This is what drove me mad but I worked through the ugly stage and look what happened” post. Your post is a gem.
    We all see finished paintings with beautiful balanced shapes, tones and colours.
    We dont often read the behind the scenes frustration of highly skilled artists. Thanks so much for posting. I will print out your comments and stick them on my studio wall to remind me to simply keep going!

    1. Thank you so much Ute! It’s difficult sometimes to know what to share but I think it’s helpful to see what others go through and that not everything is roses! I am honoured that you would think enough of the post to print it out. That was worth the price of honesty!!

    1. Thanks so much Sally. Vulnerable was definitely how I was feeling with this post but I can see it was a good call with so many kind comments! Glad you like the composition. That was something I was really playing with.

  4. Well done! You are such an inspiration, Gail! So, many thanks for all that you give us.
    Have a wonderful time in Croatia–we can hardly wait to hear all about it!
    PS What will Elaine post without her doggies??? Can’t wait to see!

    1. Aw Wendy your words are such motivation to do more!I’m now in the Hotel where the workshop will be held and getting super excited!
      PS. I know! We will have to wait and see

  5. Hi Gail, I loved seeing your finished hat and chair in Zagreb. I followed your process and so much appreciate your written support, energy and eagerness. I love the idea of PAINTING LIKE NO ONE’S WATCHING. I’m such a beginner; today I did three tomatoes and a knife on a yellow background. The shadows were atrocious so I cut the painting in half and of course now it’s half the size but I like it better.

    Do you ever teach on the Central Çoast of California…? Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel??

    1. I think you do much for your kind comments Shalom. These are the words that fill me up and keep me going!
      Cropping is such a great way to hone in on the good stuff so I congratulate you for doing that. You can still work over the discarded bit too. You never know what can happen!
      I have not yet taught in the area you mention but would be happy to do so if someone sets up the possibility!!

  6. Hi Gail!
    This is exciting, you can be sure that you will have a great week. Sorry I could not get there but I don’t
    have the best health at the moment. I follow your adventures and always enjoy your insights and methodology it has enhanced my learning and helped connect me further with the world of pastels.
    Have a wonderful course!
    Kind regards

    1. Hi Nigel, sorry you can’t be here especially because of health issues but thanks for your encouragement and good wishes.
      Also thank you for letting me know that my blogs have enhanced your life with pastels. This is what makes me happiest to hear!

  7. i love this sentence: “ wishing I could do a better job and wishing I could remember how to paint. “ Oh, how I love knowing …you think that too!!

  8. This post is such an encouragement to me! I paint like everyone is watching…stressful. I love your use of the primary colors and the way you layered color over color til the whole painting vibrates. I really like your variety of marks. I love the energy these lines bring to the wall on the left. I also need to learn from your example of pushing the color limits and deviating from the local color. This post, as well as your last post, has given me plenty to think about concerning punching up my color schemes and taking more risks with my paintings. Thanks! Enjoy your class and your travels!

    1. Yay Patricia!! I love that this post and the last have encouraged you in the colour risk-taking department!! The thing with pastels is you can always grey or calm them down from a colourful start. So go for it!
      Glad you liked the marks in the wall area. I felt it needed some energy and pizzaz and that was my answer. 🙂

  9. Hi Gail..firstly, great to see your positive nature and perseverance in whatever art you do despite odd circumstances. That expresses your deep yearning for art. I enjoyed your work. I like the values. Yes, painting for oneself as if no one’s watching is superb attitude. We all need that zone.
    Enjoy your stay. Thanks for posting and sharing your experience

    1. Thanks do much for your comment Sujanith! And yes, if we can just remember we aren’t trying to impress anyone and therefore not worry about the way the painting looks along the way or the outcome, we will be free to express ourselves more fully!

  10. I actually like to see work where the artist feels things have gone wrong. It makes me feel better about my own! (grin). There are so many blogs out there full of beautifully manicured paintings, I often wonder whether the artist is genuinely perfect or just covering up the fact that they’re human. I’d agree we don’t all like to show our struggles but in fact it is a truthful and honest face presented to the world. I like the bold red and purple colours and also the scribbly marks, they add extra zing to what might otherwise be a so-so scene.

    1. Thanks so much Chris. I think we all have our ups and downs in art as well as life. After all we are only human right? But sometimes it feels very exposing to tell the truth about what is happening, the struggles and frustrations anyway.
      And yes, it was those final lines I added in a kind of desperation that make the painting more interesting I think.

  11. Thanks, Gail, for another super post. I could feel your energy as you described your hunt for a subject, your game plan, and no nonsense follow through. The result vibrates. Your progress shots and descriptions are so helpful to me because they illustrate beautifully how sticking with it, pushing and tweaking, pays off. Mostly I marvel at how you show that concentrating on value first rather than color can turn a plain jane, vanilla subject into an electrifying work of art.

  12. Really, really good lesson for me — I have a drawer full of “ugly-stage” paintings that I had given up on. Now they no longer look hopeless. You’ve inspired me to go back and Just Do It! I didn’t suppose you ever felt discouraged mid-painting. Thanks so much for your honesty! Best wishes for everything good!

    1. Oh believe me Ruth, it happens more often than not, that ugly stage feeling. But generally I know it’s going to happen so I’m ready for it. But this time it was rather overwhelming as I shared. So yes,get those uglies and see what happens when you work on them!
      Thanks for your good wishes 😊

  13. My first thought when looking at your painting was, “Man, why can’t I paint like that!!. Really, really really appreciate the honest struggle and the step by step pictures. One of the most inspiring things I’ve read about painting . Very HELPFUL!! Thank you and keep the blog coming.

  14. Thank you for posting your triumphs and troubles! It’s nice to know that not all paintings are going to work and with a little more persistence and pushing through ~ success !

    1. Pushing through can really test you but think of the ugly stage as the first draft. I know all the great pieces of literature didn’t emerge fully formed as we read them! So go ahead and paint on Jane

  15. I love that you’re freely discussing the ugly stage! I guess every painting has one. But you pushed through– and that’s inspiring. Thank you for writing about it! For me, the ugly stage comes when I realize I’m adding lots of pastel over an inaccurate drawing. My promise to myself is to slow down and go through the stages, starting with a thumbnail. Have a wonderful time in Croatia!

    1. MaryLee thanks for sharing your own ugly stage. What you describe about building over an inaccurate drawing would be incredibly frustrating especially when it’s something like a face or a building where correctness matters. Let us know how your promise to slow down goes!

  16. Thank you Gail for showing your “ugly stage”!! I have such a hard time continuing when I reach it! This inspires me to push forward until……!😁

  17. I can appreciate that! I’m often too concerned with how my work will look to others. I love working with pastels. Sometimes, I can’t get inspired, even looking through pictures…but the idea of just looking around the room I’m in is a good start.

  18. Thanks. I needed this. I think I will post it on my wall to remind me to just keep pushing and pushing. No matter if I hate it, even if I am still not happy at the end. thank you

  19. Reading your blog will help restore my confidence on days when I wonder, “Why did I bother?” I guess I’m not alone, but I always seem to feel like whatever I’m working on has to be my next “best piece”….and THAT can set you up for a hard fall! But I AM learning….
    Thanks, Gail

    1. Oh my gosh Curtis you are so right about a set up for a fall. And you are by no means alone! Perhaps best if you can ask, “What will I learn in this next piece?” Or perhaps “The next piece I’ll try this [insert some experiment with colour or line or intensity or subject or…].

  20. Painting everything ‘correctly’ is something with which I can identify. The tendency is to keep pushing(shoulder and neck pain notwithstanding!)…..it might just work out right. Glad to see that you pulled through; you are such an inspiration!

  21. Thank you for sharing your process Gail it’s so insightful! That dam ugly stage – why does it go on for so long!!! Your painting turned out beautiful particularly love the mark making on the wall behind the chair. Also in such a short amount of time – personally I find it a good thing having a deadline it makes you find choices.
    Safe travels
    Michele x

    1. Thanks so much Michele! And yes, that damn ugly stage!! At least with experience, we know what it is and can push through it rather than giving up (even though sometimes I still feel like doing that!!).
      And yes, totally agree about deadlines and limited time factor – soooo useful and motivating!

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Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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