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What do you do with discouragement?

I’m relatively new to painting and just getting back to it after a hiatus of about two weeks. Before the break, I was full of enthusiasm and couldn’t wait to pick up a brush every day. Now I’m discouraged and really have to push myself. I’m dissatisfied with almost everything I do. Are you affected this way sometimes? If so, what do you do when this mood hits?

When I’m in “that” frame of mind, I still paint…sorta! I’m trying very hard to be sure I paint daily. I prepare canvases or varnish recently completed items. That can sometimes get me in the mood. I will look through reference photos to see if something grabs me; or I make a trip to one of my favorite spots and set out collecting more reference photos. Happy Painting!


For me, with many paintings, there is a point where the work seems hopeless but I find if I ignore my doubts and push through, it often works out in the end.

I try to remember that being a professional means working whether I feel like it or not. Then I go check my email and facebook again. :smile:

After a pause full of intense thought on my part, I asked: “But if one hasn’t always emotion. What then?”

“Do not paint,” he quickly answered. “When I came in here to work this morning I had no emotion, so I took a horseback ride. When I returned I felt like painting, and had all the emotion I wanted.”

Interview with Clara T. MacChesney (1912), in Matisse on Art (1995) edited by Jack D. Flam, p. 66

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I’ve found that my level of enthusiasm or discouragement is affected (positively and negatively) by my attitude and expectations. I just started painting again after a LONG hiatus ( 3 decades). I’m remembering how to paint and sometimes it is very frustrating.

I’ve noticed that my enthusiasm has spiked when I receive positive feedback or sell a painting. And my discouragement has grown when there’s less traffic on my work than the “average.” When I thought about this, I decided that I really paint for myself because it makes me feel good to paint–even when the outcome falls short of my vision.If I’m painting for myself, then I’m not depending on others to make me feel good or motivated.

Having said that, I’ll add that I do pay attention to what is selling and what people like to buy, because I want to sell paintings. I just don’t want to ride the emotional roller coaster and be dependent of “fleeting” approval.

Painting is a discipline. It requires a lot of practice to learn how to manage the technical aspects. It requires mental discipline as well. Emotion might actually be the undoing of many artists.

Keep painting. When you’re not “feeling” it, practice one of the technical skills.

That’s my 2 cents worth of advice.


Thank you all for your prompt and encouraging replies. I’m using some of your suggestions and getting back to work. It’s good to know there is a community out there willing to help!

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For myself, whenever I feel discouraged I need to have a chat with myself about expectations. Almost always, I hoped to or expected to do better, improve faster etc. But painting is a complex skill and it takes a lot of practice, Furthermore, whenever we tackle something new it can seem like we’ve taken a few steps backward until we gain experience at that new skill. So that’s the talk. Practically speaking I continue with some activity I can expect to be successful at. Preparing canvases perhaps, painting a subject that I feel confident about or I give myself permission to just play at pushing paint around. In any case, I believe discouragement is common for most of us from time to time. There’s various versions of the expression, but I think it was Picasso who said that inspiration exists, but it expects to find you working.

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I am returning to art after a long break (several decades) and am having to re-learn a lot. Thankfully, I’ve met some folks who live nearby who have become friends who also like to paint (and are very good at it). Whenever I’m feeling down about my work and progress, I give one of them a call, tell them I’m feeling frustrated and we end up working together… perhaps plein air or in one or another’s studio for a day… just for fun and with no intention of making a finished work… sometimes the fun leads us to trying new techniques or resolving problems we are having. But I allow myself to understand that while I have talent, I need time to polish my skills. I will also wander between sketching, to pen and ink, to pastels to oil painting depending on what seems to be working best for me at the moment and how much time I have available. I also work a full time, highly stressful job, so I do not want my art work to also contribute to my stress. Someday, when I am retired from this current maker of money, I will be able to spend the time I want to spend. I hope.

With art it is quite simple, just make art, do not think. If this is an excessive leap then at least attempt to make art and attempt not to think. Though there is certainly some practical value in self critique, however this should already be an intrinsic aspect of your art making. You do not like something you made, fine, ascertain why and make something else.

Exercise. Get out, take a hike, ride a bike, play a sport. Go find a place in nature by yourself.
If that doesn’t work, go to a library or a bookstore and look at art books. Visit an art museum.
If all the above fail, take an expensive art class where if you don’t paint you’ll feel like your not getting your money’s worth. Works every time.