Reflecting Back To Move Forward

There are themes and techniques in our work that will persist and continue through out our creative lives. Finding some paintings, drawings, collages or other art forms from years back can sometimes cause head-scratching, gasps, and overall feelings of regret. But there are learning experiences that can come out after some investigating. If you have found these old paintings or drawings and are wondering why you framed them, or what to do with them, I have ideas. 

I was talking to my students and almost each one told me that they found work from other times. We talked about what to do with them, like they were some sad, abandoned toy. Do we tear them up? Do we un-frame them? What can we do with work that seems to no longer reflect the way we paint now, or that we think is not frame worthy.  I too have these questions because I’ve been sorting and organizing my garage and storage room. As I did, I came across photographs from college, old drawings, and designs from my 2D and 3D design classes.  I dug deeper and found paintings from not too long ago, that I created in watercolor classes as an adult. I framed some of those. Oh boy, what was I thinking? In my eyes now, they are not frame worthy. 

Looking Back

I decided to un-frame the paintings and look at each piece closely. I was amazed to see that there were elements in each painting that had bits of me there, and things that I still use as inspiration. I thought this was a revelation for me. The first thing was to look closely for what was me. I am drawn to the places that still speak to me and I could pick them out of a what I thought was a failed painting. Hidden in these long forgotten paintings and drawings was me. Even a few of the newer pieces reflected colors, markings, and texture that I love today. It was like looking in a mirror of the past and also the present. 

How can I keep and use these techniques I found to help me as an artist now? The things I saw that remind me that there were passions then, and  still excite me now, opened my eyes to who I am as artists. I found there were painting techniques that I had forgotten. I also found drawings where marks, lines of charcoal, and even the left-over dust sparked ideas to use now in a mixed media painting. I had played around with photography in college also. I was learning how to develop my own film and create enlarged prints. There was nothing about them that I would use in my work now, but it was a nice trip down memory lane. I remembered loving that class and it rekindled my passion for taking photos, which is something I have been doing for a long time. With the watercolor paintings, I found not only colors that I used that I still love, but also a technique that I loved and the effects that I’d get. I noted in an art journal these found ideas with a sketch or two and listed colors to go back and try again.

Tree Creek

My suggestion to you is to look back at your past work. Look at it closely and see if you see yourself. Look at details and see if there is a technique you used to use and see if it stirs something in you. If it was a watercolor, do you see colors or some drips or splashes that excite you? As you look at your old work, inspect it like you are looking for tiny spots or holes. You will be amazed at what you find. Try to keep from judging the work if it’s good or bad. Don’t put labels on any of your artwork that would diminish the artist’s endeavor that went into your work. I like to think of my work as something my kids might have done. I wouldn’t tear up their work or be so judgmental, but offer love and kindness because they are dear to me. Treat your work the same way. 

Leave a comment here and let me know if you have tried this and what you found. Do you find any reflections that will move you forward?

1 Comment

  1. Laura BrayL says:

    These are really great tips! I’m definitely going to try this!

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