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What, oh what, is the YUK stage?

Hopefully that title has you just a bit curious! As some of you might know, I spent 34 years teaching art to very talented high school art students. If any of them are reading this, they would be able to easily explain to you the YUK stage, most likely while rolling their eyes! It is something I discovered in creating my own art, but it wasn’t until my students encountered it, that I coined the phrase, the “YUK stage” in searching for a way to explain the phenomenon and to encourage them to persevere.

In the creation of any artwork, the start is usually fairly smooth. We are full

of enthusiasm and those initial strokes of color are exciting and fun. In a landscape, I might block in a vast sky, enjoying the gradation of color and feeling quite pleased with myself. In an abstract, I might just start playing with color and/or texture, enjoying the freedom. Yet as I continue to build upon those initial marks, each addition must somehow work with all of those that preceded it and with some thought as to the direction I am heading. The initial feeling of freedom is replaced with analysis. As artists we are analyzing – color choices, values, shapes, edges. This is what we do. It is part of the artistic process.

But somewhere along the way, that lovely start that had us feeling so good, has vanished. We have been working through the piece, we step back, and then, YUK! The piece just isn’t working. All the different elements that individually seemed like a good idea, are just not working together as we had hoped. It can be very disheartening! Hours have gone into the work, and now we are ready to trash it. This happened to me more times than I cared to admit.

I don’t recall how many times I experienced this before the reality hit me. This was how I was growing as an artist. If the piece progressed smoothly from start to finish, it became an OK finished piece, but it had not challenged me. The paintings in which I hit the YUK stage, and had to struggle through it, eventually became some of my better work. It seemed that the YUK stage was a vital ingredient in producing my strongest work, and ultimately my growth as an artist. (This is what I would explain to my students amidst their tears that the piece had ‘failed’. Eventually they understood, but I waded through a lot of teen tears over the years!)


So do I still experience the YUK stage in my work? You bet I do! I still get frustrated when it hits. I still have to walk away and have a good pout. But I now know that this stage means I am on the edge of pushing myself to achieve something better. That knowledge, and knowing that I have walked this path before and succeeded, gives me the motivation to get back to the easel with fresh eyes, and get back to work.

In my next post, I will walk you through a painting from start to finish, including the YUK stage!

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