When It All Goes to Hell

This week, I hit "The Middle Uglies." (I got that term from my artist mentor Stan Moeller.)  If you're a painter, you know what I'm talking about. If you're a collector, you might as well know the ugly secret all artists struggle with. There are no exceptions. Even the masters grappled with it. It's that stage of the painting process where you suddenly realize all the excitement you had at the beginning (you know, when the world is going to discover just how great an artist you are because SO MANY brilliant things are happening), well, that completely went to hell because somewhere along the way, you  made some marks or added some colors or tried a new thing, and now the painting will not work no matter what you do. You look at the ugly mess you've created, and you begin to despair.

Not again, you think. What kind of real artist DOES this?    It always ends up with you wondering why you ever thought you could be a painter in the first place. So you find yourself slinking into miserable, self-doubting, I'm-just-a-wannabe artist despair. 


You have, without even knowing it, invited a most unwelcome visitor. I call it the NLIC--the Nasty Little Inner Critic--pronounced ENLICK.

In my mind, the NLIC looks like something that scared the bejesus out of most kids during the 1970s. It appeared in an episode of Trilogy of Terror that featured Karen Black.

It was a horrid evil doll that came to horrid evil life.

It ... had ... TEETH. It stabbed little stabs with its evil little knife.

And it made little evil noises I still hear to this day in my head.

Karen Black and the evil doll from Trilogy of Terror

That's the NLIC. It feeds on The Middle Uglies.

Here's the good news

With all its evil little bites and stabs, the NLIC can really do a number on an artist's psyche. But we don't have to end up like Karen Black in that episode. The trick to dealing with it is threefold:

Be aware of it for what it is

Thank it (yes, thank it--stick with me on this one)

Wish it well, and let it go

Be aware of it for what it is

The NLIC is really nothing more than the reptilian part of our brains (aka the amygdala), which acts on animal instinct and will fight to the death to protect us. So, in a way, we can be grateful for it.

The only problem is, it's kind of stupid. It doesn't know the difference between a tiger lunging at us and the fear or discomfort we feel when we make a mess of our painting.

We might know intellectually that The Middle Uglies are a normal part of the process. But the NLIC finds all kinds of wily ways to make us run for our lives.

Like tell us we effed up. Again. We just don't get it, and we shouldn't be painting. Because if we did get it, we certainly wouldn't be looking at yet another ugly mess, now, would we.

See what I mean?

Thank it

Now that you know the NLIC wants to protect you but is inept at doing so when it comes to The Middle Uglies, you can take your power back. The best way to do that is to thank it--it's like a little child, and it is needy and wants to be appreciated. Tell it how much you value its input, and let it know you've got this. Take some deep breaths, close your eyes, and say some good things that will help get you where you want and need to be.

Wish it well and let it go

With a bow and prayer hands to the chest, wish the NLIC well, and envision it floating on a leaf down a lovely little stream, far, far away from where you are now.

Moving Forward

When you encounter The Middle Uglies (I won't say "if," because no act of creativity escapes them), you can ask yourself some questions. Three good ones to start with are:

  1. What do I love about what I've done here? Focus on this and not on what you don't like. Steer clear of what others may think and focus on what feels right to YOU. See what you can do to put more of what you love into the piece. It helps.
  2. Is there a dance of differences, or is everything the same? Often, we inadvertently paint similar shapes spaced evenly apart, or use too many strong colors, or make everything light, dark, or in-between. Group different sized shapes together with different spaces between them. Put some dull colors next to bright. Lay down a light color next to a dark one. See what happens.
  3. Do I need a break? If you can't find anything you like, or you find yourself feeling too stressed or overwhelmed, simply move on to another painting. You're in charge here, no matter what the NLIC tries to tell you. Sometimes, putting a piece away for a while and working on others helps you see new possibilities when you revisit it.

If you paint and struggle with The Middle Uglies, I go more in depth about how to break through them in my upcoming course, BASICS OF BEAUTIFUL, EXPRESSIVE PAINTINGS. It is chock full of engaging videos, helpful mindset meditations, and actionable exercises you can put to use right away. Plus, we'll have an active community forum where you can get to know and be encouraged by other artists, and a weekly Zoom Q&A where I'll answer your questions, celebrate your victories, give feedback, and address any struggles you're having.

Even better, I'm offering a BIG discount to those who sign up before June 1. Make sure you enroll soon to take advantage of it!

I'm really excited about this new, improved course, and I can't wait to share it with you. 

Here's to continual learning that never gets old. It's what enriches life and feeds the soul. 

Your NLIC buster in arms,