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You know when you’re painting and it just isn’t working out? Then perhaps you get a sudden impulse to do something, make a mark for instance, but your mind stops you saying, “No, no! not a good idea.” I want to encourage you to trust your impulse! 

Let me tell you my story of doing just that.

It was while I was working on the 31-in-31 Challenge (our annual October event in the HowToPastel Facebook group). I was visiting family and so didn’t have my easel. (I’m most comfortable working upright at an easel.) Also, I only had a very small set of Unison Colour pastels with me – 16 colours, many of which I definitely would not normally choose! 

As a challenge within our Challenge, we were all doing a self portrait on that day. So, I was working small – 6 x 6 in  – with a strange mix of colours and flat rather than upright. I decided I could still make it work in spite of the constraints. It’s only colour, values, and shapes on paper after all. So off I went. Well. That it was a struggle is an understatement!

I put colour down. Hmmmm…..it didn’t look good so I wiped it off. I put more colour down. Ugh.

Finally in total frustration, I grabbed a red pastel and slashed it on my lips and over part of the face and hair. And I called it quits and walked away. I had a gut feeling to make the mark. Instead of being held back by rational thought or judgement, I chose to trust the impulse and make the mark. 

Let’s have a look at the progression of the piece. 

First the thumbnail. Small - only  a couple of inches and done in pencil.
First the thumbnail. Small – only a couple of inches and done in pencil. You can see the main value areas pretty clearly.
Vine charcoal sketch on UART 400 paper. You can see I didn't take time to make a detailed drawing!
Vine charcoal sketch on UART 400 paper. You can see I didn’t take time to make a detailed drawing!
First layer of colours applied in the three main value areas.
First layer of colours in the three main value areas. You can see I haven’t applied much pastel on the right side. I’m applying the pastel with light pressure so can adjust as I go along.
Lots of colour on now!
Lots of colour on now!
Trust your impulse: Still lots of colour but some subtlety of volume now appears.
Still lots of colour but some subtlety of volume now appears.

It actually doesn’t look too bad at this point but I wasn’t thrilled with at the time. Probably because I had a certain expectation about the way it should look! This is something that can really trip us up (but that’s for another blog!!). Anyway, I continued….

In trying to reach a more "realistic" representation of myself, at this point, I'd gone too far! Certainly I felt that at the time!!
Uh oh. In trying to reach a more “realistic” representation of myself, at this point, I’d gone too far. Certainly that’s what I felt at the time.
Trust Your Impulse: Unhappy with the results, I took paper towel and brushed off the bulk of pastel.
Unhappy with the results, I took paper towel and brushed off the bulk of pastel.

I’d brushed off much of the pastel but I wasn’t ready to give up. I still had a base of ‘portraiture’ to work on and so I picked up pastels and began to work again. I knew I had to trust my impulse!

I started building up the pastel again. Now it looked even further from the 'truth' of who I am, who I feel I am in essence. Frustration roared!!
I started building up the pastel again. Now it looked even further from the ‘truth’ of who I am, who I feel I am in essence. Frustration roared!!

And all of a sudden, in the midst of my disappointment, anger, and frustration I suddenly had an impulse. I trusted it. I wanted to declare these emotions in the piece itself and red seemed appropriate as a colour. Red lips yes and also some red marks energetically applied in an unnatural way over part of the hair and face. The colour was nicely echoed in the red shirt and the hints of read by the eyes.

Done. Walk away.

Trust Your Impulse: Gail Sibley, "Grumpy Me With Red," Unison Colour pastels on UART 400 paper, 6 x 6 in.
Gail Sibley, “Grumpy Me With Red,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 400 paper, 6 x 6 in. Available.
Pastel Painting still attached to the board. Pastel box beside it.
Thought you might like to see the painting still on the board with pastels close by.
The nine Unison Colour pastels I used in the piece.
The nine Unison Colour pastels I used in the piece.

It’s funny because now I wonder why I didn’t like the first impression I had. I’m glad I didn’t though as a) it’s a bit innocuous and b) my frustration presented the opportunity to trust my impulse and just go for it.

At the point where I was fed up with the piece, there was nothing to be lost by taking the risk of trusting my impulse and picking up the red pastel and slash it over the painting. Where the pastel landed was where some gut instinct told me to put it. I just did rather than think. I tested the impulse I had to see what would happen.

In the end, now that I look at the piece, I can see the final version says so much more than a mere outer representation of me would have done. What it has going for it is a powerful sense of emotion which I think is expressed to the viewer. 

And so I encourage you to trust your impulse when it arises. 

And now I’d LOVE to hear from you. Tell me, do you ever trust your impulse to do something you might not normally do? Can you share a time when you absolutely trusted your impulse?

Until next time,

~ Gail

PS. If you need a little motivation on DOING, have a read (and listen!) of this blog 🙂

PPS. I am delighted to say this painting was juried into the current Pastel Artists Canada (PAC) online show. No link yet but as soon as I have one, you’ll find it here!

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Comments

16 thoughts on “Trust Your Impulse!”

      1. Gail,
        If you recall in the old format a watercolor of Backcountry Sunset that I did as a relief from tediously painting a 36×46″. As I started I thought it would go nowhere but I pushed on and ended with a lovely fresh painting. (Sorry I worked without a thumbnail.) The same with my Pebbles painting done first with pastels, followed by w/c although I sketched 8 thumbnails that time.
        Looking forward to learning more about pastels and your new web format.

        1. Thanks Harry. And yes! I remember that very fresh painting you posted in the IGNITE! membership community! (And sometimes, we create art in the moment from a spontaneous desire and often that means going with the impulse without a thumbnail. We can always use the critical mind to make changes as we move forward with a piece.) AND, love hearing about eight thumbnails – whoo hoo!!

  1. Hi Gail, great article. You express so well the anxiety and frustration of trying to get something right. There’s no set formular either. I always think you have to sometimes ruin something before you can pull it back. You have to be brave sometimes. It’s never easy but rewarding when the artist is is happy with it. Happy accidents!
    – All the best Sue Leach

    1. Sue you are so right about sometimes needing to go as far as ruining a painting before you can make it work. It’s a funny thing that. Sometimes we’re afraid of going to far, afraid of spoiling what we have even though it’s not as good as we’d like it. It’s not easy but yes, sooooo rewarding!!!

  2. I was sort of shocked when I saw “grumpy” you during the 31 in 31 because I never imagine that you would ever be that way :). I think your mastery of color still shines through the “grumpy,” and makes us smile nonetheless. I’m intent on becoming more impulsive with my paintings. Hope I get there!

    1. Hah hah, I was sort of shocked too Ruth. But yes, there’s definitely a grumpy me in there. Pops out once in a while to add some balance. Lol!!
      And you WILL. Get there Ruth. Just keep the intention and one of these days…. POW!

  3. I always love it when accomplished, working artists show us their bad times, and how frustration can lead to results. It’s actually very Zen…letting go of expectations.

    1. Thank you Pam. We ALL have our not so good days painting that’s for darn sure and it’s easy to get in a funk about it. But knowing that this too shall pass certainly helps with letting go and seeing what will happen when you do so!! Zen indeed!

  4. I did this while working on a painting of Monument Valley at was warm to HOT, with some cooler dark shadows. I grabbed a Terry Ludwig electric blue and began putting tiny slashes here and there. Why? There was no call for a brilliant blue at 5:30 AM in desert sun. But it worked. You wouldn’t see it from 5 feet away, but it brought vibrancy to the scene. I don’t often trust my instincts yet. I’ll try it some more.

    1. And your response touches me Ruth.
      Yes, give yourself permission. Soar and see where it takes you. You just never know where your flight will take you!

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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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