Working in a series: Gail Sibley, "Scissors 4 - Dressed in Yellow," Unison Colour pastels on UART 800, 6 x 10 in

Working in a Series – Unlocking Creative Potential for Artistic Growth

Have you ever found yourself stuck in the limbo of creative indecision, unsure of what to paint next? Or perhaps you’ve grappled with the fear of making mistakes and end up not painting at all?? If these challenges resonate with you, then diving into the world of working in a series might just be the process your artistic soul needs.

As the theme for June in my IGNITE! Membership, it was aaaamazing how this idea of working in a series brought forth a mass of effort and fabulous work from members! 

So let’s have a look at what this all means. (You’ll see paintings from my Scissors series scattered through the post, illustrating the idea of working in a series.)

Working in a series: Gail Sibley, "Scissors 1 - Splayed, "Unison Colour pastels on UART 400, 6 x 11 in.
Gail Sibley, “Scissors 1 – Splayed,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 400, 6 x 11 in.

Exploring the Art of Working in a Series

The concept of working in a series entails a profound artistic journey—a voyage that transcends the creation of standalone artworks. It revolves around the development of a collection of paintings that share a common thematic thread and that build one on top of the other, moving from one to the next within an undefined timeframe. 

In essence, it’s a pilgrimage of discovery that unfolds over time. Unlike the fleeting exploration of a single piece, working in a series allows you to delve deeper into your chosen topic, exploring its facets and nuances comprehensively.

Working in a series: Gail Sibley, "Scissors 2 - Wide Open," Unison Colour pastels on UART 280, 6 x 11 in.
Gail Sibley, “Scissors 2 – Wide Open,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 280, 6 x 11 in.

Crucially, there’s no predetermined quantity of pieces, nor a rigid timetable to guide the process. And the decision to conclude a series is rooted in your intuitive sense of completeness—a culmination of exploration, energy, and passion. 

A series, fundamentally, should form a visual narrative when viewed together, with each piece complementing the others. This cohesiveness will enable you to articulate and convey the essence of your exploration with clarity and conviction.

It’s essential, however, to clarify misconceptions. A series should not be confused with recurring themes within an artist’s body of work. Themes like my Gallery Goers and Dog Walkers are distinct from a series in that they do not coexist within a singular timeframe nor do they build on each other. A series thrives on continuity and progression, with each painting building upon its predecessor, even if subtly.

Gail Sibley, "Facing Fragonard (Gallery Goers series)," Unison Colour pastels on UART 500, 10 x 10 in. Available. $625.
Gail Sibley, “Facing Fragonard (Gallery Goers series),” Unison Colour pastels on UART 500, 10 x 10 in. Available at Peninsula Gallery.
Paint Anything With This Set of Soft Pastels: Gail Sibley, "In Unison" (Dog Walker series), Unison Colour pastels on UART 400, 7 x 7 in.
Gail Sibley, “In Unison” (Dog Walker series), Unison Colour pastels on UART 400, 7 x 7 in. Available at Peninsula Gallery

Lastly, it is crucial to emphasize that working in a series is not synonymous with production-driven work. While it may yield an inventory of artworks, the primary focus remains on experimentation and the creative process. The eventual outcome may indeed yield pieces suitable for sale, but this is not the principal intent of embarking on a series—it’s all about nurturing artistic growth and exploration. And getting you painting!

Working in a series: Gail Sibley, "Scissors 3 - At the Ready," Unison Colour pastels on UART 600, 8 3/4 x 6 in.
Gail Sibley, “Scissors 3 – At the Ready,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 600, 8 3/4 x 6 in.

The Bounty of Benefits

  • Direction Amidst Doubt: One of the immediate benefits of working in a series is the eradication of the question, “What should I paint next?” Instead, you’ll greet yourself by the exciting challenge of “How am I going to paint that?” This shift empowers you to get painting rather than spending time wallowing in creative uncertainty! 
  • Motivated Momentum: The anticipation of uncovering new possibilities within your series fuels your motivation to step into the studio each day. With a clear sense of purpose, distractions and procrastination fade into the background.
  • Escaping Creative Stagnation: If you find yourself stuck while working on a piece, move on to the next one in the series. Transitioning to the next artwork not only renews your creative flow but also encourages you to dig deeper, exploring the emotional essence of your subject matter.
  • Depth and Discovery: While a single painting might capture initial impressions, working in a series enables you to go deeper, unearthing layers of meaning as well as new visual possibilities. Each piece builds upon the last, revealing new insights about your chosen theme. 
Working in a series: Gail Sibley, "Scissors 4 - Dressed in Yellow," Unison Colour pastels on UART 800, 6 x 10 in
Gail Sibley, “Scissors 4 – Dressed in Yellow,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 800, 6 x 10 in
  • Restriction Compels Exploration: Counterintuitively, the constraint of a series liberates your creativity. Focused exploration allows you to experiment with different perspectives, compositions, colours, mark-making, and interpretations, all the while fostering artistic growth.
  • A Way for Growth: The more you paint, the more you learn. Every stroke adds to your artistic journey. The series becomes a fertile ground for breakthroughs, where each artwork serves as a stepping stone towards improvement. As you engage in the process, your skills, confidence, and understanding of self evolve.
  • Power in Numbers: When displayed together, the artworks within a series amplify their collective impact. Each piece in a series informs the other and so adds more meaning to it. Basically what you have is strength in numbers – an unforeseen benefit to work in a series. The visual cohesion communicates commitment, discipline, and focus. This unity not only enhances your artistic narrative and clarity but also aids in presenting your work to galleries and committees.
Working in a series: Gail Sibley, "Scissors 5 - All in Red," Unison Colour pastels on UART 600, 6 x 10 in.
Gail Sibley, “Scissors 5 – All in Red,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 600, 6 x 10 in.
  • Overcoming Perfectionism: Working on a single painting can often overwhelm from self-imposed pressure to achieve perfection. This may lead to fear and ultimately, to avoidance of your studio! In contrast, painting in a series liberates us, offering the freedom to express, make mistakes, experiment, and focus on the artistic process rather than the result. It provides respite from the unrealistic expectation of creating a masterpiece each and every time we go to the easel, acknowledging that disappointments are part of the artistic journey.
  • Unveiling Your Unique Artistic Voice: Working in a series engenders a profound self-discovery journey where your distinctive artistic voice flourishes and becomes more pronounced.
Working in a series: Gail Sibley, "Scissors 6 - Green On Pink," Unison Colour pastels on UART 800, 5 1/4 x 10 in.
Gail Sibley, “Scissors 6 – Green On Pink,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 800, 5 1/4 x 10 in.

Embrace Freedom, Embrace Growth

Ultimately, working in a series is a testament to your commitment to growth and exploration. It’s an invitation to immerse yourself fully, to evolve alongside your creations, and to experience the profound rewards of an artistic journey well and truly explored.

So, whether you’re seeking to escape the uncertainty of “what’s next” or silence your inner critic, the practice of working in a series offers a clear path toward artistic transformation. Working in a series is my favourite way of getting out of an art slump!

Have you worked in a series? I’d love to know what your subject was and also, what was the main thing you learned from doing it.

And if you’ve never considered working in a series, are you inspired to start a project? Do let me know!

Until next time!

~ Gail

PS. You’ll see pieces from my Scissors series scattered throughout the post. They were all painted from life. The first three were about changing the positioning of the pair of scissors in relation to me as well as in their opening. The next three are more about how colours reflected in the shiny metal. Initially, I was inspired by a Diebenkorn painting of scissors that I’d come across.

Related Posts

Subscribe to the HowtoPastel Blog today!

Take a course

Like my Blogs?

Do you like the blog?

Support HowToPastel and help me to keep creating content to instruct, inspire, and motivate you with your pastel painting. Although I’ve been asked, “How much does it cost to subscribe?” HowToPastel will always be free. Your financial support is completely optional but does go a long way in helping with the cost of running this blog. Thank you!


9 thoughts on “Working in a Series – Unlocking Creative Potential for Artistic Growth”

  1. Magnífico post. Refleja palabra por palabra el sentimiento que he experimentado en el mes de agosto. Durante dos semanas he retomado una pintura al pastel abandonada hce año y medio. El reto fue demasiado ambicioso. Es la imagen de mi hija buceando bajo las aguas cristalinas de un cenote en Yucatán, México. Los reflejos brillantes blancos sobre su cuerpo me abrumaron y lo he vuelto a abandonar tras dos semanas de pintar, borrar y rehacer sin éxito. Una frustración que superé de la forma que describes exactamente. Tomé el óleo y decidí pintar pequeños proyectos de frutas: un plátano,nuna pera, una manzana… El resultado es revelador, edificante, motivador… tal como expresas en tu publicación. No puedo estar mas de acuerdo.
    Enhorabuena por tu blog y tu trabajo, que sigo hace tiempo. Siento escribir esto en español, espero que Google te ayude a traducirlo. Saludos desde España.

    1. Sonia, thank you so much for sharing your experience of this magic of working in a series! (For my English-speaking readers to appreciate your words, with the help of Google Translate please find them below.) I LOVE that you found a way to move past the frustration you experienced while working on a painting you so wanted to do. And after all the small paintings you’ve done, why not set up two or three versions of the painting you want to do, maybe one in oil and another in pastel and the third in…charcoal perhaps? That way, you have more chances to learn AND have a wonderful outcome (or three!).

      Sonia, ¡muchas gracias por compartir tu experiencia de esta magia de trabajar en una serie! (Para que mis lectores de habla inglesa aprecien tus palabras, con la ayuda de Google Translate, encuéntralas a continuación). ME ENCANTA que hayas encontrado una manera de superar la frustración que experimentaste mientras trabajabas en una pintura que tanto deseabas hacer. Y después de todos los pequeños cuadros que has hecho, ¿por qué no creas dos o tres versiones del cuadro que quieres hacer, tal vez una al óleo, otra al pastel y la tercera a… carboncillo tal vez? De esa manera, tendrá más oportunidades de aprender Y de obtener un resultado maravilloso (¡o tres!).

      Magnificent post. It reflects word for word the feeling that I experienced in the month of August. For two weeks I have taken up a pastel painting abandoned a year and a half ago. The challenge was too ambitious. It is the image of my daughter diving under the crystal clear waters of a cenote in Yucatan, Mexico. The bright white reflections on his body overwhelmed me and I have abandoned him again after two weeks of painting, erasing and redoing without success. A frustration that I overcame in the exact way you describe. I took the oil and decided to paint small fruit projects: a banana, a pear, an apple… The result is revealing, uplifting, motivating… as you express in your publication. I could not agree more.
      Congratulations on your blog and your work, which I have been following for a long time. Sorry to write this in Spanish, I hope Google will help you translate it. Greetings from Spain.

  2. Hi Gail,
    Once again a very interesting post. I find that working in series is sort of a peeling off process, whereby one eliminates the unnecessary, or inharmonious. Often when compared, the first one is less interresting than the final one.
    Keep them coming and thank for all your hard work to animate this post.

    1. Oh my goodness, YES Nancy! So well put! I love that metaphor of peeling away…because it is so like that when you allow yourself the time and effort to commit to a number of paintings that build one from the next. As you say (and I’ve just experienced that with a new set of pastel painting experiments!), often you find your way to the heart of it all by the final piece.
      Thank you!

  3. Hello Gail what a lovely post following on from ‘paint what you love (and ignore the naysayers)’

    Firstly Hooray for today- after that post I spent each day in studio 1st thing. The first day I felt faint after half an hour but I wasn’t discouraged….  my goal was to show up each day despite how I felt and I had achieved that. (I gave myself permission to rest and take care of health.) I invited God to come energise me each day too. Thank you for that post Gail, I go to looking forward to studio time, I wake up itching to get into studio and some days my desire to paint got me back into studio for short bursts.

    Yes I have worked in a series before, I wanted to paint a pet portrait for a friend and had 5 in mind and too little time. I found I managed more time in studio, if I felt stuck or overwhelmed I could procrastinate productively by switching between projects. I was really happy with 2 the 3rd was OK and the other 2 got as far as underpainting. The 2nd painting was better than the first the 3rd one just needed more a few more days with me.

    Since then I’ve set up my desk with 2 easels so I can escape into a 2nd project if I want to give myself a confidence boost I think it works for me. The all your eggs in 1 basket kind of painting is stressful.

    I’ve also done a study of a Robin in different media when I was trying to decide which medium would work best for me.

    Thank you for this perfectly timed encouragement- I have so much I want to paint that I generally end up all over the place and not painting at all or wanting to choose the best of each. These posts have encouraged me – my next goal is to spend time sketching birds from life again (superfast) and having 2 or 3 studio paintings from photo reference (once I finish the poor pet portrait that has sat on my easel alone in my studio for months).

    This past week I could feel the enjoyment and I need to get this pet portrait gift right but my focus has shifted to enjoying the process and not hyperfocussing on outcome. I even did a little bit of reorganising in studio.

    Thank you so much Gail for motivating me to get going again and letting go of expectations.

    1. Thank you so much Melanie for sharing your own experiences with not only painting series but also your creative process. I’m sooooo happy that these posts are motivating and encouraging you. I LOVE that you go to your studio, no matter how you feel. I find just being there makes me feel good. And often, being there means something will happen, no matter how small.

      I’m glad you’ve been able to shift to process rather than result. I know this is difficult when there’s a specific painting to be done – like your pet portrait gift!! So ahhhh, breathe, and welcome in the creative muse and then just let go and paint. I know I know, easier said than done!

  4. Gail, thank you for sharing your series of scissors. I am new to pastel. I haven’t even had a chance to try it yet! I’ve been reading and watching everything I can about it. Have been away from studio for over a year with painful back pain and surgeries. I “was” a printmaker, drawer, and did watercolor and acrylic. Friends teased me because every time I tried a new medium I would do pears. ( Grew up picking them on my parent’s farm.) Now, I thought pastel might be a good fit if I have to take rest breaks from working on a piece. (brain doesn’t like that, but paint really doesn’t like that).
    Your scissors series was so inspiring and really gave me initiative to get back to work when health permits. I found it so interesting how you even used different grades of paper. I wouldn’t have thought to do that. And the different color combos were so interesting.
    So thank you, thank you for giving me a starting place! Your enthusiasm is contagious.

    1. Lee, I’m delighted that this post has inspired on your new pastel journey! Thank you for sharing your story. (Love that you always go to painting pears – me too!). I hope your health allows you to get to your pastels soon!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Other Related Posts

Headshot of Gail Sibley

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!

Join the mailing list today to receive exclusive tips, resources and inspiration directly from Gail:

Scroll to Top

Welcome Artists!

Online Courses

Pastels 101

Use this link if you bought the course AFTER Sept 2022

Use this link if you bought the course BEFORE Sept 2022

Pastel Painting En Plein Air

Art Membership

IGNITE! Art Making Members

Love soft pastels?? Then join 7000+ other subscribers and get my tips, reviews, and resources all about pastels... it's FREE! Just enter your name and email address below.

Your information will never be shared or sold to a 3rd party. Privacy Policy