The Ugly Painting Phase

Hi friends, today I wanted to talk about something that can hopefully help any beginners to painting/drawing with some frustrations that are really common. There’s something that many beginners are unaware of, and it’s something that can really hold them back in progressing with their own artistic skill development. It’s something that many artists don’t like sharing, almost like it’s a little secret that the experienced artists keep from the newbies.

I’m talking about the ugly phase of a painting (or a drawing).

What is the Ugly Painting Phase?

The ugly phase occurs fairly soon after the main elements of a painting have been fleshed in.  Maybe you’ve transferred your sketch to a canvas and have begun colour blocking where your darks, midtones, and lights will be.  Maybe you’ve even started to add some colours here and there, judging their tones and deciding if you want to make them lighter or darker. You feel pretty good about the progress you’ve made, and you take a step back to have a look at your overall piece so far.

Then you see it.

Suddenly your work doesn’t look like your sketch or preliminary drawing. It’s somehow…not as detailed. More unrefined…UGLIER. What the hell happened?! You didn’t lose any form while you were painting, you kept your lines and tones in tune with your plan…why does it look worse???

the ugly phase of a painting
Seeing this on your canvas might make you want to give up, but you’re right on the verge of a nice painting.

The fact is, the ugly paiting stage is very necessary.  This is where you’re blocking in where all of your colours and tones and shapes will be.  It’s painted thinly so you can still see your lines or even the background/ground underneath. It’s also thin so it will be easily covered with thicker paint. It’s the underpainting of your image.

The problem is that many beginners see this and don’t know why it happened or how to “fix” it.  The thing is, it doesn’t need fixing.  This is supposed to happen.  Artworks go through many ugly phases before they start to become something pleasing to the eye.  Many beginners are so used to seeing finished works, however, that when they see this come from themselves they assume their painting skills are not good enough and get discouraged.

Here’s the same image with only one more coat of thin paint overtop the dried “ugly” stage:

It’s starting to look like an actual person and not a blob.

And here is it with another coat on top of that, with some glazing to add more vivid colours and white highlights:

acrylic painting for beginners
It’s still not done, but you can see that it’s much better than when it was in the ugly phase.

I still have more to do on it, so it’s not done, but if a beginner could see that building on the ugly phase can get them to a more finished looking stage, hopefully they won’t give up. It’s generally right where the painting looks the ugliest that it starts to become prettier with each layer after that.  The problem is the ugliest stage is pretty much right after you’ve worked so hard to get your form right and have layed out your tones. Seeing the ugly phase after your hard work can be frustrating, but try to remember that with each new layer, it will get better, so stick with it!

Many artists (including myself!) don’t like showing their work until it’s either done or at least past the ugly phase. I hate when we have unexpected company come over and I know I have a painting sitting on my easel in the ugly phase. I quickly run and either hide it or close the door to my art studio.  If they see that ugly thing they’ll think I suck!

This problem of hiding the ugly phase is what frustrates beginners, though.  They see a “work in progress” and think it looked that pretty from the very start because the artist is so amazing.  But I can assure you, every painting goes through some degree of ugly stage at some point in its creation.

So I hope this little peek into my own ugly painting stage has shed some light on the matter, so next time you’re working on a painting and are starting to get frustrated, just remember that with practice and persistence it will improve.

Thanks for stopping by, an till next time, keep creating!

-Ashley <3

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