The Ugly Stage in Art and Grief

Dec 10, 2022

A couple of weeks ago I started a new painting and as I go through the stages of painting, I’m being reminded in every studio session about “the ugly stage.” The words themselves are roiling around in my brain over and over: the ugly stage, the ugly stage. As that’s not normal for me, I began to tune in a bit to those words and why they were repeating themselves to me.

The ugly stage in art happens at least once and sometimes many, many times within the birth of a painting. Back when I only worked in colored pencil, the ugly stage would mostly happen just once. I think part of the reason for that was my insistence on painting the eyes first, in high detail. I always said they were the most important part and now, I realize, that partially I just wanted to see the beauty right away and partially I wanted to get something right to start off. As a younger artist, I needed the validation of something going right in the beginning!

My colored pencil portraits were all highly detailed and meticulous. I spent about 20 years immersed in the many layers of a colored pencil portrait and loved it.

But there was a part of me that always loved the big, bright, bold, and loose too. For that time in my life though, the smaller and more detailed work gave me the control I craved.

Fast forward to now, 30+ years into being an artist and life’s many curve balls and the constant realization that we as humans, don’t have a ton of control. Oh, I totally believe in manifestation and I’m always actively dreaming up what I want to do, have, be, next.

But, you know, people die. We get hurt and sometimes don't bounce back as expected. We don’t have the control we wish we had.

Back to my studio today—I no longer do eyes first anymore. I need less control and I have more trust in my abilities. I find myself constantly tweaking a painting now, moving eyes up or down, erasing ears and reworking nostrils. I have less control and more trust.

I trust myself to handle whatever comes up.

That’s new.

And what a lovely realization.

I trust myself to handle whatever comes up.

Wonky eyes. Body parts that don’t add up. Colors that don’t look right together. Oh sure, I still step back and eye the painting from 15 feet back and wonder what the heck happened (today I had a Picasso eye on a horse, it was disturbing!) but I’m able to go back in and adjust without freaking out.

And I relate that all to the grieving process for my Mom too. I have abilities now that I didn’t have the last time someone very close to me died (her mom.) I trust myself to handle whatever comes up now.

It's not always pretty either. Sometimes it's an icky ugly stage in the day. But nothing bad happens because of the ugly stage. Sometimes something beautiful happens. And sometimes you come through the other side and just knowing that you can, and will, is enough.

Plus, I have access to her spirit and wow, does that make a huge difference for me. Yes, I miss her human form, her hugs, her human voice, her human emotions, her big laugh. But whenever I reach out, she’s there. From a conversation down to a quick, “Judy Johnson!”
And her quick, “Julie Boolie!” Sometimes that’s just enough.

I thought I'd share the stages (good, bad, and ugly) for my last painting, Infinity Blue:

I love to see artist's work, I hope you find it interesting too!

Meanwhile out on the ranch and in my world:

My gorgeous Japanese Maple is finally losing the last of her amazing leaves. I want about 50 of these!

My trimmer came out this week. He goes out into the field and the horses walk up to him. Rayn was so relaxed she just rested her head on a fence slat and let out a big sigh. (Sweetness the mini donkey is another story...)

I looked around for the Polar Bear and found her in this little hollowed out spot, watching the animals in the pasture:

And last week I got to snuggle this beautiful 12 week old Golden Retriever puppy! Her name is Daisy and she's just so wonderful!

And a just because one of my Mom with baby ManChild and my magical Border Collie Onya:


Prepare yourself. This is my quirky sense of humor rearing it's head. It's likely if you've been around awhile, you've seen this from me before! Every. Single. Year. People. I can't help it, it makes me laugh so hard!

This is probably true. But I just can't tone it down. I don't want to. I find the weirdest things funny. I think a lot of you do too!

Let me give you a big ol' hug!

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