by Janet Glatz
Definition of being and artist on "automatic pilot: "Brain absent; hands working on their own."
When an artist is painting with all systems go, the brain communicates with the five senses and remains focused, but is also constantly checking the entire canvas to keep things like tonality, color temperature, composition, and harmony on course.
But, as a teacher of oil painting, I see something else happening all the time. It happens to me, too:
You get in the groove--it feels good. It seems right. Your brain kind of shuts down and your hands keep working away in a repetitive motion. In short, you forget to stop, step back, and check and see what and how you're doing!
I've found that this happens to me when I'm distracted by something else, very tired, or simply lazy. And you know what? When you finally realize what you're doing to that poor painting? It is too late my friend. You need to go back, wipe or scrape off the crap, and start again. I know! It is aggravating to say the least. You feel like an idiot because you know so much better than you have just demonstrated. ( Just be happy you don't have an audience. )
Sometimes this rote action can be defined as "overworking" a part of your painting. For instance, if you're painting a tree; you've got the shape right, and the light is falling on the correct side. So you'll work on highlights. Oh, yeah. Those little bits of bright yellow look great! But only if you don't overdo them. So often I find students who just don't know when to quit.
The solution to falling into autopilot? Force yourself to stop, look, and judge what you've done in the past few minutes. I guarantee you that the Old Masters kept a cold eye on their progress at all times. We mere mortals need to do the same thing.