I made some bad art. Now what?

Today we’re discussing everyone’s favorite topic: When Your Art Sucks.

Maybe you’re super gifted and your artistic visions are always translated to the real world in a satisfying way. Or maybe you’re like me, and what you see in your head only manifests into a piece of art you are happy with maybe 50% of the time. (Okay, let’s be honest, I’m pretty rusty at this art stuff still. We’re gonna have to say 25% of my earnest attempts turn out halfway decent on a good day.)

So, what do you do if you’re like me? You’ve got a lot of hot garbage laying around, and maybe also Big Feelings of disappointment, frustration, and failure. Well, you know what they say about failure. Cue some cheesy quotes!

– Janet Fitch

C.S. Lewis. This is what my brain thought of when I read “fingerposts” apparently.

My first step toward dealing with Sucky Art is to address the emotional fallout. Read some inspirational quotes. Shake it off. Don’t give up. Everybody fails. Pick yourself up and try again. Do some affirmations. Remind yourself that that’s life. Take it away, Aaliyah

So, what are we going to do with all the crummy work laying about taking up physical and mental space? 

  • Rework it digitally. I dabble heavily (but probably not efficiently) in Photoshop, for all steps of the art process—sketching, trying out compositions, color testing, color correcting, un-warping my photos, and so on. Is your art really unsalvageable, or does it just need some tweaks? Experiment away. If you don’t have Photoshop, Gimp is a free digital manipulation program you can try. The awesome thing about tweaking things digitally is that you can go back in time if you don’t like what you’ve done. I ♥ CTRL-Z
  • For art on paper, use a light box to retrace the bones on a fresh sheet. Sometimes I make several traces of a painting’s outline before I begin, knowing that I may not really love what happens after I enter the production stage. That way, there’s a fresh new outline waiting to be tried again. But even if you don’t do this, you can use a tracing light box to retrace the outline after you’ve given up on that failed piece. (You can get light boxes pretty cheaply on Amazon or you if you’re handy/have time, you can build your own to spec!)
  • Repurpose it. This can happen any number of ways. Back in the day with my oils, I’d sometimes just paint over the whole damn thing with an entirely new painting. That might work best for canvas. But if it’s paper-based, you’ve got lots of options! You could cut it up and use the pieces for a mosaic, with a super unique pattern on each of your mosaic shards. You can turn it into origami. Or can you cut out elements that you DO like and re-use them in mixed media pieces. The world is your upcycled oyster.
  • Ask someone’s opinion. I’m really bad at this, maybe because I tend to assume no one is really going to like my stuff so they are just pretending to be interested. If it’s a problem piece, I’m even less likely to want to let someone see and critique it. But this is a legit way to get a fresh perspective. Maybe someone sees a solution that you can’t. Maybe they see something you don’t.
  • Recycle. Look, there’s no shame in just tossing something if it really sucks or if it makes you sad. No need to clog up precious space in your work area with clutter that you don’t love or you don’t see potential in. Dump that crap in the recycling bin. It’s like breaking up with someone—hard at first, but you feel so much better once it’s out of your life.

Let’s take a recent example of mine, just so you have some notion of my run-of-the-mill garbage. I had done this outline, which I liked! Quite a bit!

I did multiple tracings, in pencil and a few different pens to test out how I liked the different textures. I envisioned doing  several sets of colors based on the seasons.

Well let’s take a look at the first execution, my hot garbage summer trees. First of all, the pen I used to do the outline in this version actually repelled the watercolor, making all the edges super messy. Oops. My colors just looked awful, probably because I was rushing for some reason. And I was experimenting with some new metallic watercolors I got. Well…ugh.

I don’t know what to say except that I got this far and I gave up. I hated the way it was going.

BUT I TRIED AGAIN. I used a different color scheme, and I retraced the outline after I was done painting to be much bolder, giving it sort of stained-glass feel. Between that and some color tweaks I did in Photoshop, I am much happier with the result.

My point is, you can learn from hot garbage and do better. Just because you did a crappy painting doesn’t mean you’re a crappy painter. Most of us are never going to do anything perfect. In fact, I’d wager lots of creative types are actually only moderately naturally talented but they just keep stubbornly trying anyway.

For the record, I haven’t quite decided what to do with my hot garbage summer trees but hopefully I’ll have a follow-up blog where I’ve successfully repurposed it.

So have we just about covered it? What do you do with your failed art?


Soundtrack of the day: LCD Soundsystem

Sketch of the day:

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