On Not Being Good Enough to Paint

“I like that.” I’m standing behind a woman who is diligently following my instructions in one of my classes.

This painting is not perfect but it's still beautiful.
Our inspiration, Roses in the Sun demo painting.

So of course I like it; we are painting together, sharing inspiration. I feel a warmth for each painting even more than my own. My little idea of a picture, all grown up and being shared with the world and interpreted differently by each pair of eyes.

“But it doesn’t look like yours-” Her face twists up because she can only see the shortcomings, the place where her brush isn’t practiced. “I’m not good enough,” she says;

But she ignores the little zip of red that looks like the edge of a petal, the transition from blue to sea glass green. Those little beautiful moments that I’m looking at. Or even the way that she held the brush that’s different from mine- a little more of the corner, that I’m going to try myself next time I’m experimenting at the easel. That’s what I like and that’s what I tell her.

Sure, I can recommend using more paint or a little more white (seriously, it’s always a little more white paint) or use the edge of the brush. But clarifying those things doesn’t diminish the loveliness of what’s already been painted. And a few wayward marks doesn’t ruin the paintings future.

And I know that nasty voice, I’ve heard it in my head. Wandering through art galleries, where just a brush stroke looks like a shadow, where scribbles look like scudding clouds, that voice says to me “you’ll never be able to paint like that…” I’m sure that voice is why Van Gogh cut off one ear. 😜

I hear it whenever I’m looking at artworks which have credibility because of the wall where they hang and the people who talk about them.

I remind myself that the Salon des Refusès was full of marvelous artists who experienced rejection also, that perhaps there was a time when not even the artist holding the brush believed in its brushstrokes.

There’s no way to know the life the painting will take on once it leaves the easel. Because those rejected works are now the post Impressionist masters.  Or maybe your little masterpiece will become a beloved heirloom. You never know.

The factory that turned out urinals never knew that one particular urinal would one day be signed ‘R. Mutt‘ by Marcel duChamp (to say nothing of the fourteen! replicas) And if that counts as priceless art than I think our charming two hour tipsy flower paintings count as art, beautiful art, at that.

I think when you put your happy feelings into the paintings they take you somewhere happy even when the lingering sadnesses of the world are at your door.

Magic carpet painting called floating through the clouds
Floating through the clouds acrylic on canvas. 18×24″ – it’s a painted over demo painting with many more hours invested.

Thats my favorite part of this painting “Floating through the Clouds” – it takes me somewhere else when I look at it.

It’s not perfect. It doesn’t look like Dali painted it, and it doesn’t look like either Manet or Monet were involved. James Gurney could have made it in half the time and twice as real. Khalo would have a better brow game and O’Keefe wouldn’t have painted a magic carpet at all, ever. The eyes are too small for Keane but so are my own. I painted it, and it has a piece of my soul in it. It’s a dream.

I’ve painted many things and had to practice appreciating my own work, looking at it and finding what I like about it, even when my blending isn’t smooth or my colors are too loud or the proportions are wrong. I’ve had to hear that voice saying “it’s not good enough” about my own work many times. Every time.

One day I was sitting looking at my paintings. I was annoyed that the clouds were too symmetrical and they were dividing the sky in half instead of leading the eye up the canvas to the stars.

But then–!

My perspective shifted. Casteneda would say my assemblage point moved. Suddenly I could see they were beautiful.

The stars twinkled, the colors were beautiful. It really shone. And I could see what I needed to change in the clouds to help them sing with the canvas.

Siver Lining Galactic Sunset Acrylic on Canvas - the sunset rises into the night sky where the stars come out. Fluffy white clouds lined in silver speak to the magic of the universe. Mountains rise on the horizon.
Siver Lining. This is about the point I was really frustrated with it. This painting is lost. It was being shown in San Luis Obispo and then the hair salon closed while I was away. So I never got it back and I don’t know where it is.

That’s the artist eye: being able to see what’s beautiful while still imagining an improvement. That something can be beautiful and not finished yet. It’s both.

That’s what I see when I look at my Paint Nite students/partygoers. I can see where their painting has beauty and where they have let the muse hold the brush for a bit- and I can see where just a little more paint would help it sing more clearly. And that, being able to see both the beauty and the room for growth, is why I’m never bullshitting when I say I like someone’s painting.

I am still wondering, How is it possible that this beautiful painting has appeared in front of my paintbrush? That’s the great mystery that artists are after- Like Van Gogh’s high yellow note and Bruce Nauman’s Divine Truth.

I think that, like the people who paint them, every painting contains beauty, regardless of technical skill. I’m not looking for skill- I’m looking for feeling.

At the end of Paint Nite the woman I spoke with poses for photos with her finished work. The photo gives her some distance to see the truth of the painting, separate from the physical paint marks on canvas. Then she realizes it really is beautiful and the negative self talk evaporates into a joyful giddiness over her beautiful painting.

She’s laughing, I’m laughing. It really is beautiful.


Author: Katana

Katana Leigh is a professional international artist with her paintings at home in Canada, the USA, Costa Rica, Australia, and more. Find her on Artist Katana Shop, Google! and Instagram

2 thoughts on “On Not Being Good Enough to Paint”

  1. I’m finally checking out your web site Katana! I love it! It’s in my favorites so I can visit it whenever I want.

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