4 Reasons to Stick With a Difficult Artistic Medium (and 2 Reasons Not To!)

By Carrie Lewis in Art Business Advice > Motivation

Is there ever a right time to give up on a particular artistic medium? And if so, how do you know that time is right now?

I’ll be perfectly honest, I’ve thought about ditching colored pencils a time or two. Probably every artist has asked that question at one time or another. But how do you know when the time is right to give up, versus when to ignore those nagging doubts?

When NOT to give up on a medium

1. When you’re tired

Weariness is a depressant. Nothing works right when you’re tired. Your brain is functioning below par. Everything looks harder than it is. It’s a proven fact that one of the worst times to make major decisions is when you’re tired.


When you’re tired and thinking about quitting, just put off the decision until after you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Things may very well look different in the morning.

If you’re anything like me, you may even find that the question is no longer relevant. Your well-rested mind has already overcome and dismissed the troubles plaguing your fatigued mind.

2. When you’re frustrated

Frustration is almost as dangerous to decision making as exhaustion. Many is the time I’ve thrown up my hands in frustration because I’ve made one mistake—or several—on a drawing. The temptation is to give up!

But don’t do it in the heat of frustration. Let things cool down. Quite often, you’ll discover that a little time resolves a lot of problems.

You can then finish the drawing and move on to the next, and you’re no longer thinking about quitting.

3. When you’ve had a major setback

Setbacks are a fact of life. They happen in our personal lives, with health, our profession, everything. It’s unreasonable to expect no setbacks in art.

The fact of the matter is that you often learn the most from failure. Just look at all the times the Wright brothers tried to fly before they succeeded, or all the light bulbs Thomas Edison made before he fnally designed one that worked.

Failure is a reason to learn, not to give up. Whether the setback comes with a particular drawing, or with an exhibit or sale, don’t let it cause you to give up. Take a look at what you did wrong and look for solutions.

4. When you’re bored

Boredom is not a good reason to give up on a medium. If you let boredom determine when you give up on something, you will finish precious few drawings. After all, almost every drawing goes through a boring phase as well as an ugly phase.


If you get bored with your medium (or your subject matter) then draw something new! Or draw the same thing in a new way. For example, if you’re bored with traditional colored pencils, give water-soluble colored pencils a try!

When it’s OK to give up on a medium

1. Your artistic journey is leading you a new direction


I’ve been an artist for over fifty years. The earliest drawing I have was created when I was just four-and-a-half. My mother most likely has others that are even older.

I started with Crayons (don’t we all?) then advanced to oil painting. For over forty years, I painted portraits of horses in oils. That was all I wanted to do. Whenever anyone asked if I’d retire, my standard answer was, “I’ll retire when I fall face forward in my palette.”

Then painting portraits became more work than pleasure. The joy disappeared. It was no surprise when commissions dried up within months.

At the same time, colored pencil drawing was starting to take over the studio.
Then people began asking if I’d teach them how to draw.

When enough people asked, I began wondering if it was time to change gears. Finally, earlier this year, I boxed up my oil painting supplies, and stashed the box in the closet. For now. . . I’ve given up on oil painting.

When you face a similar crossroad either related directly to your medium, or the type of art you do, it may be time to consider setting aside what you’ve been doing at least long enough to try the new thing.

That’s what I chose to do, and I’m glad I did.

2. When your health is a concern

Toxicity is a major reason to move on from some mediums. I’m allergic to damar varnish. All I had to do was open the first bottle I ever bought, and I had a reaction.

If you develop allergies or other symptoms to your medium, you have only two options: one, find a way to counteract the reactions, or two, find another medium.

If you can find a way to counteract the reactions, that’s fantastic. But if you can’t, then it’s definitely time to give up on that medium and try a different one.

Whatever medium you’re struggling with right now, I hope I’ve been able to offer you a few reasons to continue. Usually when a topic like this pops into my head, it’s because someone needs to hear it (often, that someone is me!) But if I need to hear it, maybe you do too.

At the very least, I hope you’ll see that there are times when the best thing you can do is set aside something for a while to follow a new path.


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