yellow canoe on a lake
The reference photo. I took this picture while in Missouri a few summers ago.

There is an old saying that literally hit home with me recently, “When nothing in life goes right, go left.”

Over the past few months, I had been busy painting a new body of work for last month’s Kneeland Gallery Plein Air Exhibition. The last few weeks leading up to the event were extra busy and the ‘stress’ was starting to show up in my latest painting!
Have you ever battled with a painting, but you just can’t seem to get it right? Even though I had great expectations for this painting the results were falling short. I was trying to portray a peaceful scene, yet everything looked tight and wrong.
At times like this, artistic temperament tries to creep in and I will hastily wipe off a whole canvas and start over again. However this time, I wasn’t about to give up. I really needed this painting to be a success for my show, and I didn’t have time to paint a lemon.
Here is what I did…
I concentrated my attention on the positive aspects of the painting and reminded myself of its original concept. Then, I recognized my mistakes in order to solve them.
I used a few helpful techniques.

  • I looked at my painting through a mirror. Viewing the backwards painting really helped.
  • I also turned it upside down.
  • I put the painting in a frame.
  • I also took the painting into a different room in the house and viewed it for a while.
  • Lastly, I asked a fellow artist for advice. (I was ready to cut the painting down from an 18×24” to a 12×24”…I wanted to zip off the trouble area to solve the problem. My friend encouraged me to keep painting on it instead.)

With all of that new information, I had regained my focus. Then with a new sense of empowerment, I grabbed the paintbrush with my right hand, like I always do. But, this time I paused. Then, almost without thinking, I switched the paintbrush into my left-hand and began to paint!
Now bear in mind, I am not an ambidextrous person, but somehow the paintbrush felt really good in my left hand. Before I knew it, I was creating beautiful paint strokes that I had never before achieved with my right-hand! This was exactly what that stress-out, tight painting needed. I had fun and loosened up my brushwork.
The final results were amazing. Ironically, the painting turned out to be the star of my show and the first painting to sell!

Yellow canoe oil painting
“The Water’s Edge” ©2011 Lori McNee

I learned a lot from this experience. Most of us do everything with some sort of expectation, and sometimes it might even be unreasonable. When the results fall short of our expectation, we assume everything has gone wrong. In this story, I am grateful I went through the struggle because I have grown into a better painter because of this unusual painting experience.
The American poet Emily Dickenson once said, “The capacity to terminate is a specific grace.”
This quote rings true within the many facets of our lives, including relationships, jobs, goals and even painting. It took a renewed sense of composure and grace to successfully edit this painting. I had to decide upon which passages were good and which needed termination.
In the end, it’s not about giving up, and fixing it can be as easy as simply moving from the right to the left!


I hope to meet you on TwitterFacebook and now on Google Plus ! If you want to see my paintings, please visit 

You might find some of these other articles helpful…

The Importance of Value & Tone in Painting
When Are You Ready to Call Yourself a Professional Artist?
On My Easel #3: From Lemons to Lemonade 
How I Destroyed a Painting to Make it Better
Water Soluble Oils: Facts, Tips & Why I Use Them
How to Use the Rule of Thirds: Composition in Art
Focus and Plan to Paint! 
10 Ways to Overcome Mental Blocks & Boost Creativity
Feeling Unproductive in the Studio or Office? How to Combat Spring Fever
 5 Common Traits of Successful Artists
How to The Right Paintbrush for the Paint Technique 

Privacy Preference Center