Overcoming self doubts is part of the creative process


Published on August 5, 2014

People enjoy watching artists paint on location in the open air or what is called En Plein Air.

Joy Snihur Wyatt Laking, one of the artists featured in the upcoming “Across the Surface” art show in Truro, has written a wonderful description of the process:


“ As a child, I would go painting on location with my mother, Owen Sound artist, Joyce Snihur. I was always embarrassed when people looked at my work, feeling it was mediocre compared to hers. There are many challenges to painting outside and not the least of which is experience and expertise.


Now at aged 64, I still paint en plein air and still find the experience physically and mentally challenging. The first hurtle is to find some spark of inspiration so I usually set off in the early morning, my car fully loaded with art supplies, water, sandwiches, sweaters and coats, sunscreen and bug repellant. I drive along just thinking, looking and hoping that something will call out ‘Paint me.’


Once I have my subject, I take a good long look at it.  I evaluate the lighting, the angles, and what makes this subject of interest to me. I take a bunch of photos and usually do a small ink and watercolour sketch of the image and by doing this I internalize the subject. Most of the big decisions about the painting fall into place at this stage; the composition, the tones and values, the hues or colours and the medium, watercolour or acrylic, that I want to paint in. 


The start of the painting usually goes easily, if I have found an idea that interests me and if I have done the necessary planning. Once the entire canvas has an underpainting, I start establishing the lights and darks. I find all of this process engaging. 


After the underpainting is finished and tonal values are set I begin the actual finished painting. At about the two-third mark, approximately five or so hours into an en plein air painting, the usual crisis of confidence returns. I worry that the painting will be mediocre.  I wonder why I ever thought that I would be a painter. No matter how many times I experience this hump or crisis, it is never easy. At this point I must engage my mind enough that I can relax and carry on painting.


Hopefully during the last third of the painting, the sizzle of life begins to show itself in a painting. I catch myself thinking, ‘I am going to be a painter when I grow up!’ I begin to love what is happening and I continue until everything that needs to be painted is painted. I pack up and drive home, elated and totally exhausted.”

            Using a combination of reference photographs and En Plein Air is common for most artists, as is overcoming self doubts during the creative process. The finished paintings serve as a reminder of what can be accomplished through inspiration, imagination, skill and determination. Laking's masterworks and those of the other realist artists, Tom Forrestall, Paul Hannon, Ed Huner, Gordon MacDonald, Shelley Mitchell, Susan Paterson and Steven Rhude, will be in Truro Sept. 5 to 25 at the NSCC's McCarthy Art Gallery.



Janice Guinan is a local artist who passionately believes in the importance of visual art. Her About Art column will appear each week in the Truro Daily News. Guinan also writes a weekly column for the Colchester Weekly News. Both can be viewed online at www.trurodaily.com.