Should I Continue: Does Potential Matter?

These three paintings come from M.S. As someone who studied architecture and came back to painting mid life, she wonders if her work has sufficient potential to warrant her continuing to paint.

Okay, I’ll tackle the question at-hand first–“Should I Continue?” Answer, yes, you should continue. You see, I don’t think that should even be a question based on the work. It should be based on your impulse. Do you want to paint? If yes, then paint.

Now if it’s a question of whether you can sell your work and make a living from it, that is a question that only time can answer. It was the question I struggled with early on. But I always did art regardless.


Your architectural background shows in your understanding of perspective and depth. You also demonstrate a visual understanding of form. So your strength at this point is in drawing. And you cover the entire picture plane–the start of composition.


  1. Put more emphasis in your studies to value relationships as a whole. Start with 3 or 4 large compositional shapes that cover the picture plane, and then break these down further as you go, until you get to the image you are after. Because, after all, everything is an element of art–there are no “things” on a canvas, only painted shapes with certain kinds of edges. Image 2 probably comes the closest to a coherent composition.
  2. I think you can catapult your work to the next level if you will begin to see your painting as color and value relationships first and foremost. This doesn’t mean you are not affected by the subject matter, only that you are creating a composition and it must live by the meager visual means available to each artist.
  3. I would recommend attending plein air workshops and reading , what I call, the three “H’s”–Henri, Hawthorne and Hensche. And of course, as always, work continuously.

MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at

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35 Responses

  1. What sound advice, MT, and with a glossary of terms available in a link…a keeper!

    One thing I might suggest that helps me a lot with value studies:
    Try your painting out for value by taking a digital image, and then, in a paint program of your choice, adjust the colors to grey tones. Black and white, etc. will tell you how y our values are holding up, and also teach you how values differ between each color…surprising how high value yellow is, for instance!
    And red and green are pretty much equal in value.

    I like the leftmost one best, simply because it is lyrical, colorful, and reminds me of Matisse, whose work I so admire. Draw draw draw. 🙂 And yes, there is a future for anyone desires it enough to ask.

    • Susan, I think the artist has a propensity for sinuous shapes–note the flower stem. And I like doing the value thing also–saves much time our technology now. I remember doing lettering and graphics by hand when I was in college–that was just 1990! At least doesn’t feel that long ago to me.

  2. Merima Salidzik says:

    Sincere thanks for reviewing my art. I truely appreciate the input and feel humbled by the Matisse comparison. I did draw more than I painted. I see your point about relationships and I will be honest I always painted and drew with a slight lack of confidence. Sort of starting and than half way through just looking to finish the art piece as fast as possible. I believe that has to do with me struggling with depression and lack of self-confidence, but my intent is to correct that. I plan to make a website where I will be adding some drawings too. I will keep you informed. Thanks again to both of you, Mr McClanahan and Ms Holland.

    • Yes definitely keep me posted on what you are doing.

      Think of every painting that you do as a study–nothing you do is the final say in your work–they are all progressions to the next one. Many will be horrible (speaking from experience) some will work and once in a while you will be very pleased. The more you work the more these ratios will change (although I still do some awful things sometimes).

      Self confidence is important no matter what you do. Go boldly and put miles of canvas behind you!

    • Edna Krueger says:

      Something I require of all my students is to keep a journal/sketch book. Add to it each week. It can be a quick drawing or a more involved painting. Think of it as a place you can go & experiment with different medias, different ideas , colors, images, etc… You also can be the only one that sees it if you chose. That way there’s no pressure to what others think. You’ll be surprised at how much your art will improve. It will help to build confidence in your work. You may also write in the journal & even paste pictures of things you might want to draw or paint or keep things like tickets from a concert in some of the pages. Don’t feel you have to always finish art on all the pages. The idea is to get you in the practice of practice!!! Let it be your place of ideas that can help with developing some future paintings or even sculpture!! There’s no limit.
      This book can help an instructor in art see what your strengths & weaknesses are & in turn help point you in the right directions. It’s a win win doing a journal. You can have more than 1 also. I have about 9 with several full. I have a journal I take on vacations to draw/paint places we go to. Another book I use to draw only people & figures. But most are a verity of subjects.
      Most of them keep small enough to put in your purse along with pencils, erasers, sharpener & put in a ziplock Baggie. I use the bags the kids use that is meant to put their pens & pencils in & keep in their school notebooks. Their just right to carry small sketch book & art supplies. Remember keep it simple & not a lot of other supplies that bulg you down.
      Another suggestion is to take classes at a local college in art subjects you feel you need help in. If you’re not sure where to begin then take drawing classes. All art starts with a strong drawing back ground. Picasso said he had to learn the fundamentals & good drawing skills to then know how to go back to simpler shapes. Almost seems backwards but it works.!!
      You have some very good advice going on here from many caring artists. It may seem scary having your art evaluated & in some ways it is intimidating. Always remember to view what is told to you by experienced professionals in the field of your choice as an opportunity to learn & improve. Most of us want to help because we identify with what you’re going thru. We had to start somewhere at some time ago ourselves. We know what it is like. So I congratulate you on taking that hard but very helpful step in having your art critiqued. Many artists won’t do this & therefore may not grow.
      A great book to look at & study is ” Blue & Yellow Don’t Make Green” by Michael Wilcox. Rockport Publishers publishes it & distributed by North Light Books last I knew. It will help with understanding colors & how they come together. The book also explains why we see some of the colors the way we do.
      Good luck to you & never give up on your dreams. Always have a way to pay the bills while working on your art until 1 day when it’s right to try it as a living. Keep your free & fun feel to your pieces. Let your art express you!! If you never do it for a living at least you’ll enjoy life more because of it.
      Finally, get involved in an art group near you. It helps to be around other creative minds. You’ll gain so much from that relationship with other artists & learn from them & they from you.
      I wish you the best!! I’m also on Facebook if you want visit there as well. Keep me up on how you progress. Edna

    • Merete Bates says:

      I often remember a poem when tough times come. I think it it is by Rumi, 13th century, but I maybe wrong.
      “Do not succumb to grief or despair,
      Nor let madness overwhelm you.
      When you wake up in the morning alone and afraid,
      Pick up the dulcimer.”
      Colour is so joyful, as in your self portrait. Just go for it…pick up the paint brush…..

  3. John Murray says:

    If you are not in awe of existence stop.
    If you , are leave a record of your passing by continuing.

  4. Great advice. I like the one with the woman best. The others need something to tighten up the space and make it do something. Form acts on content, contains it. The right vessel for every substance. Remember, that substance is you: no one else can paint your paintings. Find your root inside yourself by testing them on the laboratory of the canvas. That’s how it’s done. One stretches both inward and outward at the same time. Best of luck.

  5. Cynthia says:

    Your paintings are colorful and I’m assuming you enjoy painting. If you havent taken any painting/drawing classes, your question suggests it’s time to do so. Choose an art school continuing education department. Classes may be expensive but the sequence of planned activities within the class will follow traditional art school training, the quality of instruction will be good and the critiques you receive of your work will give you confidence in your creativity. Whether to continue or not depends on your own level of confidence and what your goal is. Do you want to be a professional artist? Do you want to paint for the joy of painting? Do you want to accurately capture a scene, paint a portrait, make hand made cards for friends and family, be a gallery artist? Becoming an artist is about good observational skills and practice, practice, practice. Professional training isnt required for any of those choices but it can build your confidence, speed up acquisition of technique and increase technical skills. Good luck.

  6. I practiced making copies of Picasso and Van Gogh. Learned about shape, color contrast and blend, composition, paint as texture. Handling a brush for various effects and how to use particular brushes for this or that. Try to find a type of art you think you are good at or at least enjoy. Focus on that and refine but that does not mean eliminating other painting styles. I was not satisfied with many things I tried but found I can produce respectable poster art and of course cartoons which is what my blog is mostly about.

  7. I’m with MT. The “should” question is yes because you asked it. It represents something you are seeing or pushing up to that needs resolution. So that, you have to wrestle with.
    I would not pretend to offer anything concrete nor point you in a direction because I can not see the works in question in the flesh and they are part of the discussion we should have across a table.
    My best learning experiences both as a student and as a teacher were the one on ones with questions and thoughts and gentle checking of reactions.
    What I might tentatively suggest is that what you have learned from architecture (even if it was painful) can inform what you are getting from painting. The second and more valuable thought perhaps, which has been hinted at above, is that you have a set of eyes, skills, and experiences that are unique in their arrangements in you. That is where the power of your image making resides.
    So, if you have a trusted confidant who would ask you questions about your work, that would be the best start.

    best wishes. PaintOn! Get with that confidant, across a table and listen to your answers and thoughts. the confidant would be asking you the questions not the other way round.

    Most of all, keep making images because they are desperately needed. Let us know how this turns out.

  8. Guy Delahaut says:

    Oui le mieux est de ne pas poser la question à d’autres. Toi seul doit savoir ce que tu dois faire.

  9. Ernest Casco says:

    I wish I can say something constructive to the intentional “art” shown by the “thinker…!”
    My dear Sr.
    A 3.25inch medium size line, among other things, could be what a number of thinkers may determine as the drawing of one of the side views of a regular credit card… However the brains may be trained to see, classify, appreciate and choose that element to judge. Its not a test on Geometry, Mechanical Drafting nor an “artistic expression”. Its just a line as a box of color chocks, pastels or Crayons are not an artistic picture…!
    Sorry ! I have nothing constructive to say about your stuff but…
    keep thinking!!!

    • MTMcClanahan says:

      How we think is important –how we see things. And much of that comes from our emotions. I saw a pencil line scribbled on a sheet of paper once, at a time I was wondering if I myself was an artist. Seeing the simple line brought up intense feeling in me. Was it me or was it the way the line was drawn that did this? Either way it gave me hope.

  10. P. A. Nichols says:

    Potential matters but the question is largely irrelevant. Whether or not one can sell their art is separate from continuing to create. If selling is your only goal, then you are merely a manufacturer. Art is more personal, or should be. Continue for yourself, not just your ‘potential.’

  11. Tina Welter says:

    I understand this question. I used to ask it myself many times in years past. The problem with this question is that you are giving the power to answer that question to others. The only answer that is really going to satisfy you, is if you answer it for yourself. Does painting matter to you? If it does, then continue doing the work. When I realized this, it was like a light going on in a dark room. Paint because it matters to you. You can do this, you don’t need my/our permission.

    If you are asking me “how do you respond to my paintings ?”, I can answer that I find the portrait quite compelling and I can tell that the other paintings have stories to tell and that you have a definite point of view. All good strengths. Technically, can you get better? Absolutely, but that is true of almost all of us. I would suggest studying more about value. Learn to see how other artists use light and dark values successfully in paintings you like. Practice and continually learning is the only way to improve, and that choice is completely up to you.

  12. Merima Salidzik says:

    Thank You for all your comments. And yes, creativity has always been my strength. I started drawing ahead of many other children at age 3, but also if what my parents say is true talking at age of 6 months. I don’t paint premeditaded, I draw inspiration from the inside. Through architecture schooling as well as other education I learned to control my creativity and direct it in desired pathways that I choose. I do enjoy painting and drawing a lot but I am not sure that it could ever be the only thing I occupy myself with but I do love it and consider it a gift. I had parents that had very different views on art. My late mother who studied philosophy and literature saved most of my drawings whereas my father, a mechanical enginier considers art ‘nice but useless’ in a way. Thus probably my doubts. But I always had intention to paint no matter what I just kept leaving it for ‘better’ times. I am pretty much decided now that I will paint in my own style that I will do my best to improve and am sure will with practice regardless of what anyone says.

  13. MT McClanahan says:

    From Mary on LinkedIn Merima, “Absolutely if you love painting and expressing yourself keep painting.  We all have those thoughts from time to time.  Look up artist Charlotte Solomon who was killed in a concentration camp she recored her life in a book that survived.  A beautiful book with her beautiful paintings of her life.  “

  14. As many of the responders have said “If you love to paint, then paint.” I don’t think coming to painting at midage is a problem. I did just that, and went back to school at 42. I have just felt that my personal work is achieving what I have aspired to. Painting is such a joy, but it can also be a WORK of art. If you paint enough, you will begin to see your strengths. Don’t give up! I notice you have a strength in organic shapes, such as the portrait on the left. Develop that…I was told that compositions are strongest when curves or straights (line) are dominant. That may help you. I hope so.

    • That brings up a good point Carole. The very fact that she asks the question signifies a seriousness of intent. In other words, if she were looking at it as just a hobby she would never have asked the question. So your operative word here is “WORK”. Like everything else your drive to accomplish something will compliment your results.

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