Action is the antidote: A wee break and when I came back, I could see that the light patches with darker purples surrounding them gave a feeling of sunlight coming through even though the light was showing cool. As it was this coolness of an overcast day that was the main attraction, something that made the distant light patches stand out, I wanted to make sure we could feel it wasn't a sunny day but rather, a bright overcast one. And I could fuss this to death so time to call it quits!! Gail Sibley, The Light in the Distance, Unison Colour pastels on UART 320 grade paper, 6 x 9 in.

Action Is The Antidote To What Ails You!

I don’t know about you but for the past few days, weeks even, I’ve been feeling a bit listless, a bit blah, a bit draggy. Sure I have work to keep me occupied, for instance, the work I need to do preparing classes, critiques, and demos for my IGNITE! membership, and the work I’ve been doing to help my partner Cam and his colleague Julia get their website for On Conflict Institute up and running. But when it comes to studio work, I feel unmotivated and so basically, I don’t make art. Yet I know it will make me feel better to do some creative work. I know that action is the antidote to these feelings. 

A few days ago, there came a tipping point. Despite having work that urgently needed doing, I basically said, screw it, all of it can wait. I need to do this for my own sanity. Rather than dithering about, I need to take actual action. And like I always say, it’s the process of painting that will both help us grow as artists and also soothe our yearning soul.

And sure enough, when I committed an hour each day for three days in a row to being IN my studio, to looking through photos and choosing one image, to creating various thumbnail options of it, and finally, putting pastel to paper, my joy indicator skyrocketed! Oh my, the process of pastelling, of feeling the texture of pigment go down on paper, of being immersed in the creative flow, there’s just nothing else quite like it. And truly, taking action is the antidote for those mopey apathetic feelings!

Since it’s nice to have some visuals, let me take you through a few of my painting steps.

Action is the antidote: Photo of Ontario landscape on an overcast day - the drive to Sherwoods
Ontario landscape on an overcast day – the drive to Sherwoods
Action is the antidote - Three compositional thumbnail options I tried.
Three compositional thumbnail options I tried. I felt all could work but I chose to try the middle option.
Simple vine charcoal drawing on UART 320 grade paper.
Simple vine charcoal drawing on UART 320 grade paper, 6 x 9 in.
Action is the Antidote: Three first layer colours in in three values creating my underpainting.
Three first layer colours in three values creating my underpainting. It was an overcast day yet in the wooded area, there was a feeling of warmth so I chose a cool underpainting. It just happened to end up being monochromatic! I wasn’t sure about adding more light value on the road. You can see I didn’t include it in my thumbnail but I’ve applied the pastel very lightly so all sorts of change are possible.
Adding the next layer of colour. You can see I am using warmer colours over the cool purples.
Adding the next layer of colour. You can see I’m using warmer colours over the cool purples.
Action is the Antidote: Adding layers as I choose how to build the painting.
Adding layers as I feel my way along in building the painting.
Adding more details. You can see how I warmed the foreground, giving the drive a more red-violet blush.
Adding more details. You can see how I warmed the foreground, giving the driveway a more red-violet blush. I’m using colour temperature to help with aerial perspective, in other words, to help with the illusion of depth.
Action is the antidote: I scumble a bit of mid-value purple over the middle upper greens to push them back a bit. I realize it's all got a bit fussy and that it's time to walk away. I leave it until the following day.
I scumble a bit of mid-value purple over the middle-upper greens to push them back a bit. I realize it’s all got a bit fussy and that I wasn’t working with care. It was time to walk away. I left it alone until the following day.
Coming back to the pastel the next day, I realized I'd lost my main focus, the reason I'd chosen to do this particular composition, namely the small patches of light coming through the trees onto the driveway in the distance. So I rectified that!
Coming back to the pastel the next day, I realized I’d lost my main focus, the reason I’d chosen to do this particular composition, namely the small patches of light coming through the trees onto the driveway in the distance. So I rectified that! I also wanted to create the feeling of being closed in by the trees above my head.
Action is the antidote: A wee break and when I came back, I could see that the light patches with darker purples surrounding them gave a feeling of sunlight coming through even though the light was showing cool. As it was this coolness of an overcast day that was the main attraction, something that made the distant light patches stand out, I wanted to make sure we could feel it wasn't a sunny day but rather, a bright overcast one. And I could fuss this to death so time to call it quits!! Gail Sibley, The Light in the Distance, Unison Colour pastels on UART 320 grade paper, 6 x 9 in.
A wee break and when I came back, I could see that the light patches with darker purples surrounding them gave a feeling of sunlight coming through. But I wanted to make sure we could feel it wasn’t a sunny day but rather, a bright overcast one so I adjusted for that. Soon though, I realized I could fuss this to death so it was time to call it quits!! Gail Sibley, “The Light in the Distance,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 320 grade paper, 6 x 9 in.
Unison Colour pastels used in the piece
Unison Colour pastels used in the piece

And, there you have it!

If you’ve been avoiding the studio or just feeling listless and uninterested in doing much, then I promise, taking action is the antidote. Really. You will feel better just for having done something, and in the doing itself. This applies not only to art but to life in general.

Sooo, do tell me if this action-is-the-antidote idea makes sense to you. Is this something you know, understand, and DO already? Or are you unfamiliar with this concept?

And how are you feeling these days, two months into the global pandemic? How is COVID-19 affecting YOU? I’d love to know so please do leave a comment.

Until next time,

~ Gail

PS. Need a bit more taking action encouragement? Check out this blog!

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42 thoughts on “Action Is The Antidote To What Ails You!”

    1. I thoroughly enjoy your “ do tell me if this action-is-the-antidote idea”. I learn so much seeing your step by step along with your thinking,,,
      Yes it makes sense to me.
      I do hope you do more if this as it’s a great teaching technique. Thanks.

      1. Hi Sandy, thanks so much for your feedback on this blog!
        I do try to take process photos as I work so hope to have more step-by-step in future blog posts 😀

  1. I had the same experience today, Gail. My studio is not where I live, so it’s hard to do any of the exercises you so kindly and effectively prepare for us in IGNITE! Besides, I’m afraid to make a mark on paper! Today after my husband and I did our mowing chores at the house where my studio is, I said to myself, I AM GOING TO BEGIN DOING THAT LAYERING EXERCISE (am I running seriously behind, or what?)! I began it, using a piece of gray Canson Mi Teintes paper and IT WAS SO REWARDING. I feel like a brand new person. My yearning heart is stilled, for now. 😉

    1. Liz, Liz, Liz!! Oh my, I LOVED this!! Thank you so much for sharing that FEELING, that extraordinary feeling of blissful satisfaction when you DO something, when you make some marks on the paper and just go for it!! And the heart is happy 😀

      And no, you’re not behind. You are just going at the pace that is your reality right now!

  2. Gail!
    You are so inspiring! It’s hard to keep motivated in this crazy time! I love your work and am new to pastels! Wish I could take a class from you. I live in Southport, NC.
    Stay well.
    Nancy Young

    1. Awwww Nancy, thank you!
      This whole inertia thing is strange because for many, there is more time, more time to paint, to do things long put off. And yet, this time has a different quality about it. Hmmmmm…

      I’m delighted you have taken up pastels and found this blog! And one of these days, in-person workshops will be back!! Until then you might consider getting on the Waitlist for the IGNITE! art-making membership. Being on the Waitlist means you’ll be alerted as soon as we reopen late summer. (And who knows, there may be a flash opening to Waitlisters before then!)

      I also recommend taking my Pastels 101 course. If you have questions, feel free to email me.

  3. Thanks for your admission of inertia. I am also afflicted with inertia. You are the 2nd person in as many days to bring it to the forefront that tiredness, and inertia are best dealt with by pushing thru and just STARTING to do the thing you love. Just start, no matter how exhausted you are. Activity is the antidote for this hopelessness or inability to function. Just start, you don’t have to finish , just start. Thank you, your painting turned out lovely, again. 😀

    1. You got it Marie!! Just start. No matter how you feel, you will feel better for having done something, anything! Even sorting your pastels or cutting paper or tidying up the studio or painting area can make you feel like you’re moving forward which then makes you feel good. Creating a few thumbnails in preparation for painting is particularly rewarding!
      And thank you for your compliment 🙂

  4. Thank you. You hit it on the head! I have a commission I should be working on (oil), but keep putting it off. I also love seeing your process, putting a piece together. And, that it doesn’t need to be large. I always think I have to do something ‘substantial’, 12×14, 16×20……. and I don’t!! Thank you for all the reminders and encouragement.

    1. Ahhhhh I totally understand about getting going on your commission Virginia! I’m sure it needs to be a specific size but maybe prior to starting, you could play a bit by doing a colour sketch of it on a small canvas or board. Just allow yourself to doodle with it. In the doing of that, you’ll be reminded of how gooooood it feels to release into art-making and you’ll be primed and ready to get into the main event! So go have some FUN!

  5. Ah Gail I can relate to every word and nuance of your experience! Two weeks ago I did exactly the same – and spent 3 days in a row with my pastels in the garden. It was one of the closest experiences to heaven I can imagine.

    I’m sorry your work and travel plans have been swept aside, but also I’m relieved – because I’d like you to be around a lot longer – staying as well as possible! I’ve followed some of your posts on Facebook and love them but am still a newbie to Instagramland, just hovering aimlessly if I venture there but leaving with a sneaking suspicion of missing something if I don’t keep doing it. When I followed your e-mail link to THIS page it wanted me to sign up to your weekly blog. I think I’m signed up to something but not sure what as sometimes it says ‘How To Pastel’ and occasionally it says ‘Ignite”.

    Most of all I want to say that I adore your painting. The light on the pathway looks almost ethereal – as it often does through trees. If there is a road to heaven, this is how it looks. Thank you for sharing your sparkles of energy and fun and zest for life. Ignite is a good word as it’s what you do! (Now if I press the ‘post comment’ button, is it going to be public somewhere out there, or is it coming to you? Ah well…here goes…!)

    1. Angela, I thoroughly enjoyed your comment – thank you!!! I’m delighted you got into your garden to paint and how wonderful to describe that experience as pretty much a heavenly one! I think we all totally get that!

      Sounds like you found your way to my blog from the link in my Instagram profile – that’s awesome to know. Regarding the emails, sigh, I remember once (or is it twice now!), I forgot to change the “from” to say HowToPastel. (IGNITE! is my art-making membership so only members get those emails.) So apologies for the confusion! Mea culpa.

      And thank you so much for your lovely compliment and reading of my painting. Its title matches up rather well 🙂 (The title, in this case, is all to do with us coming through this pandemic, and also, to say that action is the antidote!)

      And thank you too for your kind words about me 🙂

  6. Well, you know that’s exactly how I have been feeling: bothered, blocked, and bewildered! Trying too many new things at once. Plus the existential angst caused by this horrible pandemic. Yesterday I did just what you suggested: Get over yourself and DO SOMETHING. So I did a simple video lesson; didn’t have to think too much, make too many decisions, just do. It felt so good. I can move forward again. And a friend wants to buy the simple thing. Thank you Gail.

    1. Thanks for sharing your own experience Marsha. And yes, an existential angst I think is deep in all of us, underlying how we approach and live our days during this pandemic. Everything is so unsure – we really are on unstable and unknown ground.

      I am soooooo glad to hear you DID SOMETHING. It’s magical the way action can soothe our soul. I’m glad you feel good again. And that whooo hoo! you’re making a sale as well!! You go girl!!!

  7. This is lovely — a good example of a painting with an overall cool temperature. I was intrigued with how you didn’t just copy the photo verbatim, but used it as a springboard for expressing a feeling of being “locked in,” but with hope at the end of the tunnel. I had to squint extra hard to see that middle value sketch.

    As for the pandemic, it’s shown me how bad I am at handling uncertainty. Now, all I can do is “swallow” it and just get through one day at a time. It’s gotten somewhat easier. I don’t usually think of doing art to feel better; I usually take a walk outdoors or listen to a relaxation tape. Will attempt art next time.

    1. Thanks so much Ruth! Love that you got the idea of ‘locked-in’ with light at the end of the tunnel. I was going to include something about temperature being as that’s our current theme this month over on IGNITE! but didn’t. So I’m also glad you pointed that out 🙂 I’m not sure what you meant about squinting hard to see the middle value sketch – do you mean it’s too small on screen?

      Thanks for sharing your experience with the pandemic. Yes, day-by-day we get through it. I too take a walk to feel better. And I am lucky and grateful to live in the temperate and beautiful city of Victoria. Walks around my neighbourhood are a delight as the gardens and trees are always changing. I hope you’ll turn to art-making once in a while as a way to tune out the rest of the world and just be in the flow of creativity.

  8. Really useful thankyou Gail! 8 weeks in and still painting but also reading lots about the old masters! Surprising how much you can learn by really studying paintings we’ve really glanced at before. Stay safe.

    1. Glad you found it so Sue!
      And YES, looking at, really looking at the work of the masters can teach you soooooo much. And of course now, so many galleries and museums are online so we can cruise about. What I suggest is finding one painting you like and running through various elements and aspects – colour schemes, value, intensity, colour temp, edges, dominance, texture, movement, composition, analysing how your eye moves about the painting. And if you copy it (I like using a different medium eg do a pastel of an oil painting), you will put some of that learning into practice and feeeeel the lessons learnt.

  9. Thank you, Gail, for doing this. After all these years, I still struggle with doing thumbnails and setting the values. I just want to get right into doing the initial drawing and getting down to the painting. Also, to see you laying in purple when I see no purple in the original photo … (An artist friend is always telling me about colors I don’t see.)

    So, I really appreciate seeing your steps here. Thank you for doing this,


    1. Sasha you are so welcome!! And listen I totally understand the impulse to move quickly into the painting! I have found though that doing a bit prep work before painting gives me a lot of freedom to go into colour possibilities. It also gives me confidence that I am starting with a good design. Over the years, I’ve come to realize the HUGE benefit of doing thumbnails.
      As to the purple, I wanted to create a cool underpainting to set the tone for the whole piece. I could then build warmer colours on top and still return to those same purples, continuing to use them as I built the painting.

  10. Thank you Gail! I couldn’t agree more about taking action. I was painting every day during the first month of lockdown but have fallen off a bit in the last week or two (and watching more tv, which seems to be an action killer).

    It definitely feels better to paint, since for me I cannot paint and worry or zone out at the same time… This painting is gorgeous; it’s always so inspiring to see how someone interprets a photo and makes their painting more evocative, more alive, and much more interesting than the photo ever was! I especially like how you played with cools and warms, which is something I never think about (but possibly do instinctively?)

    1. Leslie, YES! I was all gung-ho during the first month but I too have dropped off this past month. It really shows how continued distancing from other human beings affects our psyche, our whole being!
      I don’t have TV but I feel the same way about scrolling endlessly through Facebook or Instagram – definitely an action killer!

      Thanks so much for your kind words about my pastel. I was purposely playing with colour temperature (as we are covering that in IGNITE! this month) so I’m delighted that you picked up on it 😀 And yes, you probably do use colour temperature instinctively. However, I do think that being aware of temperature and how to work with it can be beneficial to our work.

  11. You are so right about action being the antidote!

    So far I’ve remained healthy, and I’ve spent this quarantine in two different places—Arizona & Alaska. Restrictions were loosening a bit when I left Arizona, but I had to quarantine solidly for two weeks once I flew back north. I’m one week into that part of quarantine now.

    Both places I went through a wobbly week of adjustment where I was irritable, unfocused, stuck and frustrated. But each time something would pull me up short, and I’d get back on a self-imposed schedule, and it always included scheduled time with my art. Always, always that helped my thoughts to straighten out, hope to rekindle, plans to resurface. Accessing creativity is like getting an IV of fluids when you’re dehydrated.

    Your studio step-by-step examples are inspiring. I especially like your snapshot at the end of each demo of what colors you used. So helpful! Thanks for encouraging us, for posting the upcoming workshops (hope! Light at the end of the tunnel!), and for prodding all of us forward in our creativity.


    1. Ohhh Gina, eek to your quarantine both places!! That first wobbly week – I love your descriptions of the feelings you experienced (although I don’t much care for those feelings myself). I forgot to mention that irritable one in my blog! I definitely have a shorter fuse than usual and am surprisingly snappy (was-that-me-who-just-growled??), bitchy even, gasp!!

      Also, LOVE that you scheduled in your art time – such a gift to yourself! And ohhhhhhh, your analogy of creativity to IV fluids!!! YES!!!

      Glad you enjoyed the demo and the prods 😀

  12. I seem to, unconsciously, have a few steps that guide me into the studio. I usually start in my living room while watching TV. First, the idea, of course. Something usually grabs me without too much effort. I am excited to paint many various subjects, and generally, one grabs me at some point and and says “paint me!” Then, I prepare a thumbnail (thanks Gail!), sketch, maybe a couple of each…. Next, I print out the reference photo so that I can make a grid if I need to, consider the rule of thirds (looking to learn more about composition), or just ponder. Then finally, sketch it out on the final surface (all still in the living room) and voila!! Ready for the studio. Always excited to lay down color…. So, I think, taking a casual approach while relaxing around the house, before I get serious, helps me just to go with the flow and end up happily in the studio.

    1. Ahhhhhh Ruth, thank so much for sharing your relaxed yet intentional process of getting from idea to the studio. So good! I am sure others will be inspired by it while others may relate to it.

  13. Gail, I loved the way you used those warm/cool colour combinations in this – you make it look so effortless. I paid particular attention to the use of colour after this morning’s Ignite ‘Looking at Art’ conference. Amazing how the effects of the warm colours in the foreground bring it alive, even though the overall mood is cool. Beautiful scene- we have plenty of autumn foliage around here at the moment (being on the other side of the world from you) and we have a path near us that looks similar, so I might try something similar.

    I agree that art, or anything creative, is certainly an antidote to those bored, frustrated and unhappy feelings a lot of us at the moment- I think it’s not just the isolation but anxiety about the state of the world that causes it, as well as frustration with cancelled plans – I was supposed to be on a trip to South Africa now (sigh!).

    I have to thank you for ‘Ignite’ – I think I’ve been lucky in joining at the start because it’s kept me motivated through this time (sometimes to the point of being obsessed with something that isn’t working in a painting). But I’m loving it – great that there is always something new to discover- even though I was familiar with some of the concepts, I am learning to look at these in a new way, and in greater depth. Being involved in art is a wonderful antidote.

    1. Ah hah! I actually started this blog talking about using colour temperature very intentionally but for some reason (who know why!), I didn’t. And then I thought…hmmmm….I wonder if IGNITE! members will pick up on it. And you did!! So pleased 😀 Glad to know it may inspire you with your own work on a similar topic.

      I agree with you about the feelings swirling around – of uncertainty and anxiety – and how they are affecting our general being. So much has changed and so much is in flux without any known outcomes. A strange time indeed!

      I am sooooo happy to hear that IGNITE! has helped to motivate you through this time to get on with art-making! I want to help you, and the other members, to move forward and feel good about your progress. And I can see it happening already. And thank you for jumping in as a Founding Member!!

  14. i agree this is the kick in my butt i needed..I have been like everyone else ,stuck in here..but i was force to retire last Sept due to medical issues..I am stuck here , without a vehicle , all day everyday,while the wife works.Stuck where i wanted to be , in the middle of the woods…feeling a bit down from that.Then the virus and all that ….and i KNOW i should paint..so i am going to take this as my kick in the behind, to get going..Thank you! and thanks for using the photo you did..i take many photos here,middle of the forest really!, and dont see much in them..Your process has helped immensely!..

    1. Timothy, I am soooo glad to hear this was a kick in the butt!!

      Sometimes, when we look at our photos, we think, why did I photograph that?? And yet there was some impetus to do so – a feeling, a colour, a sliver of light, a path, something! The thing is to try a few sketches and think about what was that thing that attracted you to take the photo? And focus in on telling a viewer about that.

      Use the gift of time to paint. Go go GO!!! 😀

  15. I picked up Feck Perfuction once again( I had ordered all the 10 books you had recommended from your cruise) and found new inspiration from it .
    Until then, one would wake up in the morning and receive a quick one- two from the 42*Centigrade ( 107*F) searing hot wind and be sluggish the rest of the day.
    Well, what the hell, it doesn’t matter what rubbish I come up with but I’ve been playing with whatever paints pop into my hand. Feck it. The results are quite interesting…and refreshing!
    Now that the Richard McKinley workshop in France is put off by a year and I’ve lost my April coaching by Jeanne, I’m relying only on you Gail.
    Bring a painting tour to India…someday!

    1. Ohhhhh So glad you picked up Feck Perfuction again Siddharth. It’s just the injection we need sometimes! And YES, it doesn’t matter what “rubbish” comes from the doing because guess what? In the doing comes greatness!! And it sounds like this is what happened for you. You said Feck it and did!! Whoo hoo! (And for those of you want to see the booklist Siddharth is referring to, click here.)

      I’m here for you Siddharth (and also one-on-one mentoring always available!).

      And believe me, I would LOVE to do a painting workshop in India!!! I have never been to India and it would be amazing to be there with someone who knew the place intimately. Let’s make it happen!!

  16. Thank you so much for step by progression I a complete beginner and desperately want the course,but budget gets in the way right now. I n the course do I have to use the exact pastels you suggest or to start can I use what I have until I can afford better? Thank you this is very exciting for me!

    1. Hi Judith, so glad to know this was helpful!!
      And I’m delighted you are interested in the Pastels 101 online course 😀 You don’t have to use the pastels I use (which is a small box of 40 Sennelier half sticks). Use what you have and build from there! I go into the materials which I am sure you will find useful.
      Do email me if you have any other questions!

  17. I don’t know if you read out-of-date comments. You wrote this two months into the pandemic. It is now December and although there is a vaccine in the (very soon) offing it is still dark night here in Fairbanks most of the 24 hours of a day. And getting colder and I am feeling blah because I am so unhappy in what I am trying to paint. So your sentence about scumbling and “I realize it’s all got a bit fussy and that I wasn’t working with care. It was time to walk away” really resonated. Sooooo (as Gail Sibley would say) I will take your advice and commit to three days, at least an hour a day, even if it is just straightening my room and putting my pastels back in order. BUT I promise, I will do three thumbnails of a potential (Very challenging) painting I want to try. Thank you for sharing the lows as well as the highs.

    1. Hi Jennifer, oh yes, I read and try to reply to ALL comments no matter how long after the original blog publication. I’m just glad you found it. And that it’s inspired you to make a commitment to your art practice. Just being in the studio WILL pay off!
      And YAY!! to thumbnails 😀
      Sooooooo (heh heh) I’ll look forward to seeing the results…perhaps in IGNITE!…😄
      (And ohhhh I don’t envy you the darkness – it’s drk enough here in Victoria, BC – or the cold…)

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Gail Sibley

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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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