Monday, June 8, 2015

Giving Yourself A Push

-By Dave Palumbo

A challenge that I face regularly is momentum.  Once I start into my work I can usually find a rhythm that keeps me focused, but that first step of sitting down and picking up my brushes often feels like sitting down to do my taxes: uncomfortable, scary, and oh hey maybe somebody posted something funny on Facebook...

Setting a specific time to start working might help, or doing pre-work rituals like selecting a bunch of movies to keep me company while I paint.  Once I actually sit down though, I need battle plans.  I can’t just… start.  I need to go in with a strategy.

Start with the focal area – the “do the most important thing, followed by the next most important thing, until there’s nothing left to do” plan

This is my favorite way to work.  When I concentrate on the most critical problem to solve, I know I’m always working on something important and not just moving in circles.  It also helps me predict how much time the piece still needs and, if time runs short, it ensures that I won’t be rushing through the key focal areas because they were taken care of first.  When this is my motivator to begin, I think I tend to have more confidence in making the most of my work day.

Get busy on the big areas – the “cover a huge area of the surface quickly so it looks like I’ve got way more done than I do” plan

If I’m feeling overwhelmed by the scale or complexity of a piece, this is a good mind game to lift my spirits.  I generally think of painting as a loooong series of things that need to be fixed.  You make marks or correct marks, but you need something to react against in order to gain any ground.  When I want to throw myself into something fast, it means big brushes and large areas should happen right away.  Once there is some paint on the surface, all I have to do is start correcting and shaping it until it looks right.

Start with something fun – the “I don’t want to work but I like doing this part and maybe it’ll warm me up” plan

Sometimes I’m just not in the headspace and I need to eat some desert first to get going.  More than likely this would mean working on a little study or personal piece to get the motor running.  I just need to make sure I don’t end up neglecting the piece I’m actually supposed to be working on.

Start with the least fun area – the “once this part is done I can just enjoy the rest of it” plan

There is something to be said for getting that boring or really complicated junk over and done with first.  I don’t know if a painting goes faster when I clear away the less appealing areas early, but it sure seems to.  I almost never do this unless I realize that those un-fun areas are what are causing me to procrastinate.  If that’s the case, they need to go.

Pick one little thing to worry about – the “I only have an hour but that’s no excuse” plan

Seriously, you don’t need a guaranteed six straight hours to sit down and work.  Every painting is finished one little piece at a time, so finding little passages to tackle in short bursts is a good habit for when the day is riddled with interruptions.


  1. I also enjoy consuming barren areas of land that lack in precipitation before doing my work.

  2. Thanks Dave- totally needed this.
    p.s. -I love this painting.

  3. My "day job" is teaching chemistry... I think this advice holds for Organic Synthesis or preparing for finals as well... Thanks... my students will be hearing about this on Wed and Thu...

  4. That's sounds really helpful! Thank you : )

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  6. Thank you for posting this Dave. It's great to hear a master reiterate more or less the same practices I've developed to help me make it through my pieces. Reading this just reaffirms it! Again, thank you!

  7. I've been having such a rough time starting on even drawing...It's been years since I've painted or drawn anything. I am terrified of doing anything, but I think this advice will really help me just jump into it and screw it! Thanks for these words of wisdom...

  8. I did a 365-day art challenge and never looked back. It changed my habits forever. I now understand that it takes just 36-48 hours of inactivity to make me slide, so I just never let it get to that point.