Step Back From the Canvas

Stop, Breathe, See the Whole Picture

Photo by Raspopova Marina on Unsplash

I was working on a painting yesterday. 

I seem to reach a point with every painting where I get discouraged, frustrated, and want to cover the whole canvas with black paint and just start over on a fresh canvas. I talk myself down from this ledge every time, as experience tells me things will look differently in a bit.

So I step away and leave the canvas for a while . A few hours. A day. A few days. And lo and behold, it doesn’t look so bad when I come back to it. In fact, I can see where I can pick up the brushes again and carry on. And I complete the painting, satisfied with being able to do so and usually pleased enough with the result. This would not have been the case had I not stepped back from it for a while.

I also find that I need to step back from the canvas during the actual process of painting. It is too easy to get lost in a detail of the painting when up close to it and lose a sense of the big picture and the whole scene. I used to laugh at cartoons of artists, with their French berets tilted just so on their head, thumbs held up, standing back and surveying their paintings in progress. 

These caricatures of artists were onto something. 

Stepping back during the process is necessary to keep sight of what you are working on, where you are going, and if you are going in the direction that you intended or want. 

Ah, the metaphors for life are everywhere, yes? 

Sometimes I get so caught up in the day to day details of life so much that I can lose sight of the bigger picture of my life. Paying attention to details is important. Getting lost in them is dangerous. So, I remind myself to step back, pause, look. Walk away for a bit. Come back later with a fresh mind and rested spirit and renewed vision. Stop. Breathe. 

I can look back at different times in my life from my older, and sometimes wiser, perspective now. What seemed like huge tragedies do not seem so anymore. And what were challenges, I somehow managed to get through, and to carry on. To get to where I am now. 

I can look at old photos of myself and see so much more than I could see at the time. All I focused on were what I saw as deficiencies and faults. Now I see a l young woman who was doing the best that she could. Who deserved compassion and not relentless criticism. 

I look at photos of myself now and remind myself of this. Stop, breathe, take in the whole picture. Imagine what my future self might feel while looking at these photos. The whole canvas of my life.

I see paintings that I have completed, articles that I have written. I see possible improvements in them all. 

I see friends that I have unintentionally hurt. Relationships that I could have done and been better with. I observe habits that may not be so healthy for me that I could have worked harder on to change. 

Yes, there are flaws. Yes, there could be improvement. Of course. 

I work on what I can, without having to destroy and tear everything down in the process. If I can forgive others and step back, then maybe it’s time to really do that for myself. 

As time grows short, which aging seems to remind me of more and more, I see the importance of stopping, stepping back, seeing the whole and not just the parts. 

The canvas is still unfinished. We are still alive. There is more color to add, more to experience, more of the painting to fill in. Stop. Breathe. You don’t need to rush through. Enjoy the process and the journey. Step back. See the beauty, the possibility still there. Pausing is part of the process of completing your painting. Stopping to breathe, notice, observe, change direction if necessary, is all part of your life. Your canvas is not done yet. 

6 thoughts on “Step Back From the Canvas

  1. Jo – I love your idea of just ‘stepping back’. This amounts to making a small perturbation in one’s current state of being, a ‘creative funk’ or whatever you call it, in hopes this might lead to a different, perhaps better, more productive state. In physical systems, an object reaches its lowest possible energy state from among all nearby states. But if the object is ‘perturbed’ by a jolt of energy sufficient to overcome the nearest ‘hill’ it may settle into an entirely new place than before. This is all described by ‘chaos theory’ and is well known in many scientific fields, including engineering, physics, climatology and for you, psychology! I myself am in a fairly ‘chaotic’ state right now so this concept is very familiar to me. So do check it out, or just Google ‘chaos theory.’


  2. Josaiaiwrites, I love this post! I wrote one with a similar theme after focusing on all of my seeming “deficits” for so long. I found that after going through hard times, the little “deficits” were fixable and not nearly as big as I thought they were, We learn finally, given half a chance, to value who we are and what we have to offer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Indeed, such a huge part of wisdom seems to involve self compassion and forgiveness. To finally come home to who we are and accept and appreciate that. Thank you so much for your response!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s