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the BOOM! and enchantments of boring painting

by | Mar 2, 2024 | Uncategorized

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of boring and being bored. One definition of boring I came across described it as “the state of feeling weary because one is unoccupied.” [OED]

That kind of weariness is something I’ve rarely experienced in my adulthood. Always there’s something on which to focus my eyes or my mind; something to look at [notice], something to contemplate, something to compose, something to hum. Even just sitting in stillness, without actively thinking about anything, rarely is boring for me. I tend to think people who complain a lot of “being bored” simply lack imagination.

Wilson, artist Dawn Chandler's late great studio mascot and sentry letting out a huge yawn as she impatiently waits for Dawn to finish her plein air painting. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Yet one area where I do experience something akin to boredom is with painting. Not the act of painting, but boredom in the outcome of painting. I’ll be working away just fine on a painting thinking, even, that it may be close to completion, when a little voice inside me whispers This painting is boring.

That’s what happened recently when I was nearly finished with a traditional landscape painting of a scene at the Bosque. The painting was pretty. Early on I’d painted several of the clouds “just right,” and had painted the rest of the scene carefully around them. I touched up a few more details and, just before signing it, stepped back to admire my work. The painting was complete, but… it seemed too careful. Nothing about it excited me; nothing drew me in and held me there.

That’s when I heard a quiet voice in my head:
This painting is boring.

Uh-oh. When that voice speaks, I know to listen. Always it speaks up to tell me I need to do something bold, something daring.

Left: c.2016, Wilson, my late great studio mascot and sentry, letting out a huge yawn to let me know she’s bored with having to wait for me to finish my plein air painting.

I had a tingly feeling … and then that voice again:

Kill it

I loaded up a palette knife and smeared yellow ocher across the sky.


I laughed out loud.

I plunged my palette knife into more colors, smearing them across the original landscape. Soon most of the original landscape was covered over. I turned the painting on its side, then took a cloth and wiped away some color, then turned it again. The quiet voice spoke again: Add a color you’ve never used. A friend had recently given me a huge box of her old oil paints, including many colors unknown to me. I closed my eyes, reached in the box and grabbed a random tube. It was a green I’d never consider adding to this painting. Yet there was that tingly feeling and that voice again: Do it!

Just what the painting needed.

That little inner voice — that voice of daring and imagination — had transformed my “boring” painting into something unexpected and exciting. It had urged me to leap from the safe into the unknown. To dwell in possibility.

Detail of artist Dawn Chandler's semi-abstract New Mexico landscape painting, New Mexico Enchantments, 01, oil on canvas.

The first time I remember hearing this inner voice when painting was as a young artist in my 20s. I was working on a giant canvas, nearly twice as tall as me. It wasn’t boredom that summoned the voice, rather preciousness. There was an area in the painting that I just loved, so I was pussy-footing around it, being careful not to ruin it. Which meant I was being too cautious. That’s when the little voice spoke up: You need to let that go — it’s holding you back. Destroy it.

Stephen King put it well in his advice to writers: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

It’s scary to do this. Because of course the fear is that by destroying what you love, you’re going to ruin the whole thing. But in my experience that rarely, if ever, happens. Always when that voice arises urging me to “kill my darlings,” what emerges from the flames turns out to be far better than what had been.

Rick Rubin, in his book The Creative Act (essential reading for any creative) speaks brilliantly of this:

There are times during the Craft phase when you hit a wall and the work isn’t getting any better. Before stepping away from the piece, it’s worth finding a way to break the sameness and refresh your excitement in the work, as if engaging with it for the first time.

“If we’re paying attention, we may notice that some of our most interesting artistic choices come about by accident. Springing from moments of communion with the work, when the self disappears. Sometimes they feel like mistakes.
These mistakes are the subconscious engaged in problem-solving. They’re a kind of creative Freudian slip, where a deeper part of you overrides your conscious intention and offers an elegant solution. When asked how it happened, you may say that you don’t know. It just came through you in the moment.
In time, we grow accustomed to experiencing moments that are difficult to explain. Moments where you give the art exactly what it needs, without intending to, where a solution seems as if it appeared without your intervention at all.
In time, we learn to count on the hand of the unknown.
For some artists, being surprised is a rare experience. But it’s possible to cultivate this gift through invitation.

One way is through letting go of control. Release all expectations about what the work will be. Approach the process with humility and the unexpected will visit more often. Many of us are taught to create through sheer will. If we choose surrender, the ideas that want to come through us will not be blocked.
It’s similar to writing a book by following a detailed outline. Set aside the outline, write with no map, and see what happens. The premise you start with could develop into something more. Something you couldn’t have planned and would never have arisen if you were locked into following a particular script.
With your intention set, and the destination unknown, you are free to surrender your conscious mind, dive into the raging stream of creative energy, and watch the unexpected appear, again and again.
As each small surprise leads to another, you’ll soon find the biggest surprise:
You learn to trust yourself—in the universe, with the universe, as a unique channel to a higher wisdom.
This intelligence is beyond our understanding. Through grace, it is accessible to all.

~ Rick Rubin, The Creative Act

New Mexico Enchantments, 1 ~ oil on canvas ~ 24″ x 36″ ~ available on my Etsy shop

Going through my studio today, I find I have stacks and stacks of old paintings that now bore me. That quiet inner voice is stirring.


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Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website Shop my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. Find other ways to keep tabs on me via my connect page.

Stay safe. Be kind. Notice what you notice.

~ Dawn Chandler
Painting, writing, photographing, hiking, noticing and breathing deeply in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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