Some days things just don't seem to run smoothly. Some days it takes twice as long to get things done. And, some days everything I paint will end up being wiped.
So what do I do when this happens?
The first thing I do is walk away. Not permanently — just long enough to clear my head. Trying to force things isn't going to make it better and will likely add to the building frustration. So, I find something else to do. Even if it's for five minutes. When things get really bad, I go for a walk outside (weather permitting). Otherwise, I'll zone out and watch a half hour of television or do a few sudoku puzzles. For me, it's all about switching focus, changing gears, and leaving the irritation behind long enough collect myself.
After I've managed to relax a bit, I may do any number of things. If the job isn't pressing, I'll start working on another piece. At any given time, I usually have more than one piece cooking. It might be for the same client, a different client, or for myself. Either way, they all need to get done, and work is work.
If the problem piece is pressing, then I will try working on a different area of the painting than that which was giving me grief to begin with. Working on an area that requires less precision is often a good way of getting back into the piece, and will often buy you a little time to start mentally addressing the problem areas you still have to face.
Should this option not be possible, and the problem areas are all that are left to complete, then I turn to my bookshelf for inspiration. I'll dig through the many tomes on other artists and look for similar pieces, subject matter, lighting scenarios — whatever. I look for something that can help me with the specific problem I am facing. Anything that provides hope or inspiration is gathered then displayed around my easel. I look at how things were addressed by others, and see if I can't apply at least a little of their solutions into my own.
If all else fails, I will do something as simple as turn the piece on its side. Often times my frustrations are exacerbated by the specificity of what I'm painting, when what I should be doing is breaking down shapes. Turning a piece 90 or 180 degrees can help that mental shift take place. In this case, it's all about attempting to change the context of the things I'm trying to depict. I'll still end up righting the piece and finishing it up in its proper orientation, but I'll have hopefully managed to get a lot of things down in the meantime.
A lot of work I get done in a day is based on rhythm and momentum. If things start well, they usually continue to go well throughout the day. If at any point I trip over my own feet, or fail to get into the proper work groove, it can be pretty frustrating to say the least. The things listed above are all ways I attempt to reset the entire process and salvage what time I have left in the day.
More often than not, one of these things will succeed, but not always. Sometimes even the things listed above don't help. Some days it's clear that trying to paint really will be an exercise in frustration that will accomplish little more than wasting my time. There are times when it really is best to leave it for the day and come back the next with a full tank of gas and a fresh perspective.