Working on a variety of paintings at the same time can be beneficial

by Robert Conway

    I have been finding out through years of trial and error that sometimes you are just not going to be able to finish one a painting all in one shot, focusing on completing on a single painting at a time can mire you down towards the end and when this happens I find that it is a healthy thing for your psyche to be working on a few paintings all at the same time. One of the traps I used to fall into in my earlier days was that all my energies would be so focused on one painting it would be like tunnel vision, I would be so driven with the idea of finishing the work I would most of the time get so frustrated and I would eventually end up destroying it due to a sense of urgency to complete it.


“The Mind Brothers” 2004 24 x 8 oil painting on canvas

    Over time I learned to be patient and realized that there has to be a balance in your approach to being able to produce a work of art that you can be proud of, so jumping around from painting to painting makes total sense to me because it is good just to step away and refresh your brain, sometimes all the answers aren’t there on the first run, why risk burning yourself out? The theory I like to go by is that by alternating your painting projects the answer to finishing that painting that you have been struggling over may lie in what you learn in the next painting you go to then you can just come back and finish it with a renewed perspective.

March 8, 2014


90 thoughts on “Working on a variety of paintings at the same time can be beneficial

      • This is such an inspiration. I have adopted the idea that the art if for me. It is a process. If I finish it I finish it. If it goes through its ugly stage and I can come back to it and tweak it and it works then I am happy. Also I like to let one dry while I am working on the other and I always have sketching to do in the meantime. Thank you again for sharing this Robert and Lesliepaints. Stellar. I am self taught so I really have no idea what I am doing!!!

        • I am glad you enjoyed it, I like to hear from other self-taught painters, what I like too is that you don’t have to put all that pressure on yourself to finish something, save it for another day. I also like to have a variety of styles going on at the same time too, like what am I in the mood for today serious detailing or filling in some background. its like going to the gym, you don’t spend your whole time on one machine, nice to hear from you – robert

  1. I just tried that with 9-8″ square canvases. Got thru a couple pretty easily but found the last 6 hard to finish. Guess the approach doesn’t work so well for me. Thanx for sharing your approach!

  2. Wonderful to hear about your process. As a young dancer, I used to feel overwhelmed working on several pieces of choreography at once. As a more mature performer, I felt working on a variety of works at once kept me from overthinking any one endeavor, and each would inform the other. Cheers!

    • yes indeed, I think it is just a great way to stop burnout, also you never want to put all you chickens in one basket. Thanks for the Futurist fix, love that Boccioni, whenever I go to the MOMA I always got to look for “The City Rises” my fave painting over there. take care – Robert

  3. Agree with having more than one painting on the go at the same time for all of the above reasons. In my art practice it helps me to understand what it is that I want to achieve and communicate.
    I like the light you have in your painting.

    • thank you Jenny, In my early days I used to just focus on one painting and if that one painting was not going well it would just sink my boat, it was like tunnel vision. it is nice to have options and your ego does not have to live and die on that one thing. – robert

  4. First, Thank you for the like to my Blog “Journey to Ukazoo”. In response to working on a couple of paintings at the same time, when I worked with watercolor most of my projects were done one at a time. During the past two years as I have been learning to paint with oils, I have found I have been alternating behind two to three paintings. The advantage “for me” is when I come across subject matter that I haven’t learned an acceptable solution for, I can leave it for a while. Working on second one has given me a break that sometimes allows me see a fresh method of approaching it. Also working on the second might have a different enough technique that helps trigger a solution to the first. If I can work just one from start to finish so be it, but I have no issues working back and forth between the two (or sometimes three) till I have a finished painting. Nice article and will enter my name as a follower. Thanks again.

    • thanks for getting back to me Craig, I really like your work, yep I used to just focus on one painting at a time and I would burn out a lot of the time, I think mixing it up keeps you sharp and on top of your game, keep up the great work, nice to hear from you – robert

  5. Wise words! The trap you mentioned in your earlier days is what I am experiencing now. I feel the urgency to complete something to build a body of work, but I also know it takes time to produce something I’m proud of.

  6. Hello Robert … thank you for liking my work. As I get older I find that each piece is like an adventure (I always work on one piece at a time) … I am never sure if the end will be a tragedy, comedy, of visionary. Amazingly, I am never disappointed with the results but rather find that occasionally the adventure has a surprising extra bit … like another chapter … and that becomes another challenging painting, drawing, print. You produce some fine work.

    • I like that, “surprising extra bit”. Since my paintings take months to finish because I am so busy doing other things I get a little stir crazy trying to figure out the same problem over a long span of time. So what I do now is I will put a painting aside for a while before the finish and start another just to get away from it for a little while and recharge my batteries and then I come back. I really like your work, looks great, thanks for getting back to me. – robert

  7. I’m just learning this myself. I couldn’t manage at one time. I was always pouring all the energies into one piece. Then I would leave it for a few days to see how I felt each time I glanced at it. I find I end up wasting time this way.
    Your website looks good by the way and I love your work. Do you have your work on another website? A portfolio?

    • Thanks Lola. thanks for the kind words. Its the old adage about keeping all your eggs in one basket, If you are just focusing on one painting then you will live and die with it, pass – fail. But if you have a revolving set of options you will have a better chance at succeeding, if you are working on one that is turning into a stinker then you can just jump to the next one.
      hmm the closest thing I have to a portfolio at the moment is my fine art america profile ( I have to get organized one of these days. I have this other site that I am phasing out so I an not even going to mention it. – robert

  8. I completely agree, I don’t seem to have the attention span to do just one at a time. I always have at least 3 or 4 on the go so that if one needs to dry I can have something else to work on. Great blog by the way 🙂

    • thank you so much Nicolette. yep when I used to just work on one painting at a time I was a very dull boy, having a variety of paintings to be working on just keeps you sharper. nice to hear from you – robert

  9. Hi Robert,

    first off, nice painting. I certainly wouldn’t be able to do something like that right now (Oil paintings and I were never the best of friends).

    Secondly, I myself usually work on 4-5 projects at the same time. I believe it’s actually even more at the moment. It definitely keeps you going. Not only does is provide a fresh eye, you’ll also won’t be so easily fed up with a project as you would normally, since you can just jump to another one anytime you please.

    All the best,


    • Yep, it is like most of the time you can’t finish it off in one shot so you have to be moving around all the time. Now I go by the formula that all the answers on how to finish the painting I am working on at present lie in the next painting, then I will just come back. plus mixing it up keeps you from becoming a dull boy. thanks for the kind words – robert

  10. This is just what I needed to hear! I feel pretty burned out because I am so busy trying to finish a painting and every time I get to it I feel as though I am blocked and my mind and my hand can’t seem to work simultaneously! Then like you mentioned I just get frustrated and feel bad for not painting “more”. You just confirmed my thoughts because I wanted to start another project to see if I can take the edge off from my current project. Thank you for your post and just would like to tell you that your paintings are beautiful!

    • oh yeah, I was working on this latest one for 3 months straight and it is still not done. that is why I wrote the article I somehow got so focused on this one painting I just got carried away. you can get cabin crazy if you are trying to solve the same problem everyday. thanks for the kind words about my artwork, I really enjoy your blog – robert

  11. Thanks for the “like” and I agree with you, I have a couple of paintings or embroideries going on at once and it really does help to step away from one and work on the other.

  12. I often times write bits and pieces of several poems at the same time, and even illustrations. With the writing, it might be due to a simple one liner that comes to mind that I need to set aside and build on accordingly. With art, sometimes simple doodling or smearing of introduces new subject matter. Toughest part: saying it’s done. Thanks for visiting my blog and have a wonderful day.

    • yes the toughest part is saying when it is done. I met someone that knew the great fantasy and science fiction artist Frank Frazetta and this guy told me that when he knew Frazetta he would still go around his house and touch up all those paintings that he made famous years ago, he couldn’t stop. I think about that all the time. nice to meet you Arthur.

  13. So true. And I often find that when Im working on a project, be it art, jewelry or pottery, I often get discouraged at some point and wish to chunk it. Instead I walk away and do another project for awhile. When I return I see the piece through new eyes.

    • yes and it keeps you from getting super frustrated with a painting. sometimes you can fall out of love with a painting and you have to put it to the side for a while just to build a renewed appreciation with what you are doing. some may see it as kicking the can down the road, however most of the time when you are working on a painting all the answers are just not there for you at that moment. nice to hear from you, I hope you don’t put “Lapdancers and Clients” aside for too long, I want to see the finish. 🙂

  14. Totally agree. I’m a newbie , just started a year and half ago when I retired and found if I only work on one I totally destroy what I was trying to portray. Plus half the time I have no clue on what I’m doing. 🙂 By working on two or three at a time I can step back and actually see where I want to go. Thanks for visiting my blog

    • great to here from you. yes I think this is the right formula to avoid crashing and burning when you are working on a single painting. also you are putting less pressure on yourself to whip up a masterpiece right away and frame it. In this way I think it makes the journey a more enjoyable one. 🙂

  15. Interesting, this approach doesn’t work for me. I have what I may describe as an ‘outbreath’ of painting, of the moment. I’m never the same if I leave it and return . . . so, warts and all.

    • hmm that is interesting, I can’t finish a painting in a day, I wish I could it takes a long time for everything to sink in. Maybe someday I will learn to leave a painting with warts and all, I do think I spend a lot of hours trying to get rid of them. ‘outbreath’ I am going to remember that.

  16. Great perspective, I go back & forth on this. I recently had 3 projects in various stages and got to the point where I had to finish them in order to feel accomplished. There are times where I need to have the flexibility, guess it only matters that the work gets done? Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    • sure thing, yes the pressure you can put upon yourself to finish a painting can make you lose interest in it or it may make you compromise your work. sometimes you just have to kick it down the road.

  17. I love “Mind Brothers”.
    I think multiproject is like, well, raising kids all at once and one at a time. My painting doesn’t finish… they start when I stop. I change, they speak. My old words are heard by my new eyes. I forgive and amend.

    In young years, I’d abort, tear, burn… my work.
    I started leaving it on corners to be taken. Hoping it would be adopted… a BETTER chance others enjoy it if it is free.

    The average show sells about 20% and the gallery gets 50%. So making $2000 every 6 months? Sold to a socialite? At that rate… ugh… I… think one sells themself hard…

    I think if you are multi-producing, you are ready to assault the market! Psyche them OUT, friend. Making 10? Up it to 30, 40… stop when it stops you.
    Think of what you would spend $50k on… aim for $200k in sales. Have perpetual shows.

    #1 to me… I love that painting! Damn. I love Japanese style, ocean, koi…

    Keep it up!!


    • thanks, It sounds like we have the same type of painting history, about ten years ago I left a few of my early works at the curb too, raising kids, wow that is a great one, I definitely treat them all differently that is for sure, glad you like “The Mind Brothers” that one just came out perfect, I have always been proud of it. I will keep it up, hopefully in the future I won’t be showing my paintings at the curb side gallery any time soon. 😉 glad to hear from you.

  18. Oh, I’d HAVE to work on multiples if I still worked in acrylic – but not as a matter of strategy. More of a ‘crap, I dislike acrylic!’ and desperately need a break. Ha. I need LIKE color gradients too much and just couldn’t manage the things. So, off I trotted to watercolor. You, however, own a gorgeous touch. This is such a beautiful piece!

    • thank you very much, yes gradients are a little challenging in acrylics I agree, down the road I am going to experiment with watercolor too, it sounds very chill and low maintenance. great to hear from you, happy holidays – robert

  19. I also work on multiple paintings at once. Usually with a theme to them . . . I just read travelosopher’s comment and am also trying my hand at watercolors and india ink . . . totally different. Thanks for liking my blog!

  20. I very much agree, and I tend to have several categories as well – traditional, digital, ‘serious’, whimsical and very rough sketches. I love going from the computer to my studio and vice versa.

    • nice to hear from you Rosy, having several categories makes it more of a pleasure because it can suit what particular mood you are in on that day. what did they say in the old commercial? “sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t”

  21. I find that I somewhat compulsively do 1 at a time… something about the need to stay focused and the pleasure I find in the finishing process, which is adjusting and tweaking everything! I often need to just put it away, and decree it’s done, to get on to the next. Different strokes…..

    • I would love to stay focused on one piece and finish it straight through however that is never the case for me, just like in life I guess I like to put things off till another day. different strokes indeed. thanks for sharing.

  22. Reblogged this on The Art of Joe Blanford and commented:
    Thanks for the positive feedback re “New Stuff!!!”. Took a look at your blog and noted the piece on working more than one project at a time. Couldn’t agree more. It helps sometimes to step back so you can objectively determine where a painting is and where it needs to go!

  23. Glad you hit my blog today, Robert! I am enjoying your site and the archives. Too true about having more than one painting going at one time. Of course I also write and quilt so I have a variety of projects to work on. Jane C

  24. My art is limited to pencil. I enjoy drawing “detailed” pencil pictures. I usually only work on one piece at a time but I find myself “getting that tunnel vision” and falling in love with the picture “I think I see” while I am drawing, then when I am finished it looks like crap. This method would help me break that barrier. Thanks!

    • alright priceless, here is to breaking the barrier. My thing is that I will work on a painting at night and go to sleep feeling really good about it, but when I wake up in the morning I will be thinking “meh”. I don’t know if this is because of the change of light or that I gave my brain a rest. my goal is to look at one of my paintings in the morning and be really happy about it, that would be like a really zen moment. I hope it works for me, I am still working on the pool painting that is what is on my rotation at the moment and I am loving it, a month ago I put it aside because I was stuck on it but now I can’t wait to get in there and finish it.

  25. Thank you for visiting my blog! I have enjoyed looking through your site. My favorite art print of yours is “Peaceful Orange Goldfish.” Your art is beautiful.

  26. I agree with you. I am always working on more than one project. I always have multiple photo projects I juggle and also writing. I’ve found when one project bores me I move to another until that boring project isn’t boring anymore. A semi-retired life allows working without deadlines most of the time.

    • now I wish I added more in my post about the boredom factor, I have that dilemma right now and I am juggling 4 paintings and I am barely into it. no deadlines wow! that is something to look forward to. thanks for sharing 🙂

  27. That is so true. For me if I don’t have something else started before I finish the painting I’m working on I’ll sit and play facebook games instead. So I like to have two or three in different stages of development going at once. It keeps the momentum going.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s