Conquering the Ugly Stage of Painting

Conquering the Ugly Stage of Painting
8×8 oil on canvas “Sweet, Savory, Stingy”


Sometimes a painting is just horrible. This one was particularly bad right up until the moment it wasn’t. Funny how that works. I had to remind myself over and over that it would eventually start to look better if I just kept working. It had a particularly bad case of ugly that I just couldn’t shake. So bad, that I really wasn’t sure I’d have a finished painting to present this week. I was seriously down to the wire with this one. I wasn’t done painting it until yesterday evening and was still editing photos this morning. I usually have a little more wiggle room than that.

I’ve been super distracted with the new puppy and the kids heading back to school, but I forced myself to make time for painting this week. It’s a fact: Doing is the seed of motivation. I’m much more motivated to get back to painting now. And now that I have my painting motivation back, hopefully I won’t be so rushed with the last two paintings in this series.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen a couple of progress photos of this painting. Since I only post a handful progress photos for any given painting, the many, many hours of frustration spent on this painting doesn’t really show. In fact, when I look back at my progress photos, they are exactly that, progress. In most of the photos I can see that I did in fact make progress. Especially in the last few photos, I definitely took a few steps back before finally pulling it together. The ugly stage isn’t as bad as I imagined it in my head while painting.



There was a time in my life when I would stop painting at the ugly stage. These paintings were so ghastly and horrible, that they didn’t survive the test of time. Looking back now, I realize that they were just unfinished paintings. I got frustrated with the “ugly stage” and gave up. Nowadays, I can see it for what it truly is, an unfinished painting, and simply a step on the road to a beautiful painting.

Occasionally, I still get really frustrated at this stage. Some paintings are so hideous that I question my abilities while others somehow almost skip the dreaded ugliness. When I go back and look at progress photos however, all of my paintings appear to progress at the same rate. With the ones I struggle with, the ugly stage is never as bad as I think it is. With the ones I like, the ugly stage still exists but I can’t always see it until after the painting is finished.

The best thing about the ugly stage is that you eventually learn to see it for what it is and largely ignore it. If you know you’re at the ugly stage, just set that painting aside and work on another one for a while. When you come back to it, it won’t be quite so ugly and it will get finished.

This original painting is available for sale on Etsy and prints can be purchased through Redbubble.

6 thoughts on “Conquering the Ugly Stage of Painting”

  • There is always a stage (for me) where a painting is moving in the wrong direction. Once in a while I opt for a paint-over in gray but usually I power through. Taking photos along the way is a fabulous way to go. Especially with figurative painting my photos often reveal defects I can’t see with the naked eye.

    • I think all painters struggle with it. I’m glad you power through it. I think too many people give up at that point. I’ve seen some really beautiful paintings painted over because of some perceived wrong turn. It’s a shame.

      I love using progress photos to see corrections. Honestly, I probably look at them more than the actual painting.

  • Thank you for this reminder, I too struggle with the ugly stage and have given advice on this. I usually take pictures as I go along too, especially when I am stuck and looking at the painting through the camera’s eye often leads to a AH! moment that gets me moving in the right direction. Thanks for stopping by and liking my blog . Best to you!

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