The benefits of working on your painting upside down

robert conway artist at work by Robert Conway

– Are you continually painting the same areas over and things are still not making sense?

– Is your painting turning into that impressive work that you had envisioned? Or is it just “meh”? -Are you tilting your head to one side and squinting when you are looking at your painting? – Are unsure as to what your next move is going to be? – Are you just jabbing away with your paint brush like a punch drunk boxer just hoping by chance that you are helping the situation? These may be a signs that things are not moving along as planned. You may have to change your battle plan. And it is a battle indeed, a battle in your brain. When they refer to modern warfare in the twenty-first century they always refer to an “ever-changing” strategy to meet the evolving tactics of the enemy. I like to apply this ideal when it comes painting. I want to be open to change as it all goes along. Each piece does create its own unique set of problems because each one is a lesson in itself. Also, as you are painting, you are going to run into challenges and discover things along the way that will alter your original approach anyway, so why not? This method will make you start reevaluating your approach and that is the most important thing. Tilting your head when you look at your work may be a non-verbal signal from your brain telling you to just rotate that thing. You may want to take the whole painting and your reference materials(layout) and flip them all upside down. To add another military analogy, just think of it as a possible exit strategy from the quagmire you presently find yourself mired in. I am always turning my paintings around. I just would not be able to finish one if I didn’t. To me there are just not enough clues there right side up to make it all work, no pun intended, I just never see the whole picture. Solutions to obvious problems right in front of my nose elude me because I am only studying everything from one vantage point. Here are some of the benefits I have found from turning my paintings upside down: • It will make you perceive everything differently. When you have to refocus, you are naturally going to pick up on different things, and the more visual clues the better. This exercise will force you to update your plan of action even though this means that you are going to have to burn up more brain cells than you had originally intended. Isn’t that always the case? • You are most likely going to find a lot mistakes that would of never occurred to you. Now in the end this is a good thing because you know where the problems lie, the bad news is that you will have a laundry list of things that need to be fixed. • You get to approach the painting with brushstrokes from a different angle. This can breath new life into a work that has been turning into a burden for you. I am most comfortable with a brush stroke that goes from left to right as opposed say from top to bottom, so by turning it upside down you will be able to take advantage of brush strokes that you might feel more confident with. • Elements start to make more sense. It will increase your understanding on how your composition functions as a whole. It will alter your perception as to how the elements in your piece interact with one another. You might suddenly realize that your favorite area in your painting is the one single thing that is screwing up the whole works. That happens to me all the time. • It breaks you out of a routine. The same old same old is never a good thing. • It challenges you out of your comfort zone. It may help push you to greater heights as an artist by waking up your survival skills. This may me be the thing that renews your excitement in your painting. Also, why go down the same road? Why not cover new ground? As artists don’t we always want to be improving? • It may aid in you in finding that one crucial element which has been eluding you that would tie everything together. Wouldn’t that be the bee’s knees? • You will have better access to those hard to reach places that you have been ignoring. You have to face them sometime and now would be the time to give them your attention. That may be the whole problem right there. When you are fine with the way you have painted upside down, turn it back right side up to check your progress. Hopefully your composition will have tightened up and you have got a better understanding of how all elements in your painting work together. May 22, 2014

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16 thoughts on “The benefits of working on your painting upside down

  1. I do this all the time! In fact I probably work more often upside down that right way up. I find my paintings become an abstract composition upside down, and all of my reality based preconceptions go out the window. Another trick I employ is to use a mirror – a quick and easy way to see my work with a “fresh eye”

  2. Thanks, Robert. Happen to be struggling with a couple paintings currently, so will give your advice a try.

  3. Excellent tip. I do this with small pieces but never thought to do with my larger works. I’ll definitely try turning my painting around the next time I get bogged down.

  4. this is how i figure out if i’m “done”. with my abstracts, sometimes…well, *most* times, it is hard to tell.

  5. I’ve been doing this for a long time (as well as painting/drawing from either side of the painting), thinking I was an iconoclast! I’m glad to know there are others out there!

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