My paintings always start out looking awful. It's one of the hardest things I've had to get used to, because pencil drawings and pen and ink pictures don't work that way. They kind of emerge from the paper, almost intact as I work left to right. Not so with paint. As proof, I'm going to give you blow-by-blow visuals this week of a horse portrait I'm working on.
Right now it looks like a paint-by-number gone horribly awry. This is when I can barely stand looking at it myself. I try to get through this stage of laying down the first areas of color quickly, because I'm hoping that I'll like it better as it looks more like the end painting I envision and less like spilled paint. (This is also the stage I think of as the humiliation stage. It's when people who happen to see your painting might ask, "What is it?" Don't laugh. It happens.)
After this I lay down more layers of acrylic over my base colors. At this point I'll add some white to my colors to give them more opacity. Little by little, it's beginning to look like a horse. (Yes!) There are lots of parts of this painting that I'm not satisfied with at this point, but I'm losing the light in my studio, so we'll see what we can do to this tomorrow.
Here's the link to the final image. (Boy, was I glad when it turned out better than the above. the color of this horse's coat was difficult for me, since the reference photos didn't agree with each other.)