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:

Recording and Storing Your Ideas on the Fly, or I Guess a Napkin Will Work

It’s not easy to be an eccentric artist when you’re kind of a regular person. There’s laundry to be done and groceries to be bought, and kids to placate and a husband who has Strong Ideas About What We Should Do (which, much to my irritation, all involve bettering ourselves through things like exercise or practicing French, and not falling into Reddit holes). Inspiration can kick in at odd, inconvenient, totally mundane moments, and there isn’t often much time to do anything about it when it does. Sometimes the inspiration is just gone, forever, like warm breath on the winter wind.

My favorite totally inopportune times for inspiration to strike:

  • The middle of the night
  • Standing in line at the grocery store
  • Shuttling the kids to and from various activities
  • Trying really hard to give your attention to someone who is going on and on about something that doesn’t interest you in the slightest

Sometimes I have my act together and can take a moment to jot something down in one of my lightweight doodle pads in my bag. For me, this is ideal–I always strive to have something to write with and something to write on, on my person, always. These are super cheap and lightweight for instance:

No sketchpad, or missing your writing utensil? Maybe you can use your phone. I do have some nicer drawing apps (let’s save those for another post) but you can doodle in the native Notes app on the iPhone in a pinch, just as an example.

Yes, I doodled the word “boop”. I WAS INSPIRED, ALRIGHT?

Some more unorthodox sketching or note-taking ideas:

  • Pen but no paper? Make a note on your hand. Possible more socially acceptable for teens? YMMV. Expect judge-y looks  I guess.
  • Depending on how dirty your vehicle is, you may be able to do some crude finger drawings in the grime. Bonus on this one because if you spend as much time in the car running errands as I do, it’ll be a pretty convenient surface. Record the doodle with your phone for posterity because it might not last until you get home!
  • The blood of your enemies. (This one is a joke, I promise)
  • Leftover spaghetti noodles. Use the sauce for shading!

I also take pictures, beaucoup beaucoup de pictures, of random things that inspire me. Going to the botanical gardens with the kids? Make sure you’ve got enough storage on your phone, because some of those plant textures are out of this world. See an awesome architectural detail you love? Snap it! I like to think this is why I make my husband drive when we’re all together.

Finally, if you’re like me, you waste gobs and gobs of time falling down rabbit holes on the internet instead of doing more productive things. So make it somewhat useful, eh? Screenshot or save any images you like to an “inspiration” file on your hard drive. I LOVE visiting my inspiration file and remembering things that sang to me ages ago. Turns out my tastes haven’t changed to much over the years.

What is your system for transferring your ideas from brain to real world?


Playlist today: Tom Paul. Because checking my notes on my phone reminded me that I wanted to check that dude out some more.

Sketch of the Day: some things I’m playing around with for an alphabet series. (Note to self, figure out a good place to snag pictures of your sketches because ugh. Maybe a blog post for another day.)

Sketch ya later

Hand-drawn Borders: How Little Lovely Details Can Frame Your Work

I love borders. Specifically, the hand-drawn, perfectly not perfect kind.  They have a way of providing a neat little fence where your artwork can flourish in its own enclosed environment. For some of examples on the more lightweight side, I like some of Maurice Sendak’s work in the Little Bear books:

Hand-drawn borders can of course also be super ornate. Some of my favorite artists from the golden age of illustration, like Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham, have absolutely gorgeous, detailed borders that are full works of art in their own right.

Edmund Dulac border example

Arthur Rackham border example

For myself, drawing hand-made borders is an exercise I can do in one of my portable purse notebooks. You can take just a few moments to start a doodled border, and it can be immensely satisfying. Some of them turn out meh (ah, ’tis the nature of sketching) but some get filed away for later–maybe to grace the edges of the next piece of work! These I did over maybe 30 minutes as I was sitting in the car waiting to pick up the kids from school:

Do they need to be symmetrical? No! Do they need to be perfect? Heck no, that’s part of the hand-drawn border’s charm. Do they give your stuff a little extra style? Yes, yes they do.

So border on people. Border on.

Sketch of the day:

(I love lines and shapes)

Peace, Carrie

Artist Kick Start – The First Baby Steps to Launching a Career as an Artist

So here we are, venturing out into a new world as a self-employed artist. In order to do this right, there’s some business we need to take care of, since this is not just a creative adventure, but eventually, hopefully revenue-producing as well.

Now you all should know that I did try this once before, right out of college, with zero business or marketing skills and a lot of really ridiculous notions of how it might all work. I did mostly commissioned portraits in oil.  I think I did several pets and maybe a few people. And it was fun! But it definitely wasn’t lucrative. Eventually I got a real job, which lead to more real jobs, and lots of great experiences.  Now, over a decade later, I find myself in a position to be able to try making the art thing work again, and although my skills are decidedly rusty in this arena, I do have some business and marketing skills.

So  where do we begin? I’ll break down my process as I’m getting started. Without further ado, here are the baby steps I’ve taken to get this thing off the ground.

  1. Research, research, research.  What type of art am I going to market with? Is there a need or want for my product? Who is my target market? Who is my competition? What is my value proposition (speed, quality, price, service, availability, flexibility, customization, etc)? Do I have a legitimate way to monetize your product?
  2. Write up a business plan. Whew, this one kicked my butt. I mean, this is good enough, right?
    – Step 1: Make art
    – Step 2: ?????
    – Step 3: PROFIT
    I kid. There are a ton of resources on how to develop your business plan. I’ll leave this one here: The U.S. Small Business Administration’s guide to writing up your business plan.
  3. Come up with a business name. 
    In my case, I’m using my legal name. I did consider something more catchy and fun, but ultimately I do want to be known as me, so I kept it simple. Otherwise I have a bit of a secondary brand over on Etsy with my Unprimed Canvas shop. Some considerations may be: Is the business name you want available? In my state (Minnesota), you can check via the state’s Business Record Search.
  4. Decide what type of business you want to form.
    There are several types of businesses you can register as: Sole Proprietor, Limited Liability Company, Corporation, Doing Business As (DBA), etc. For my purposes, I’m keeping it simple and starting with a Sole Proprietorship. Later I can change that if it seems like the right idea. (You can find more info on the differences at legal help sites like NOLO or LegalZoom.)
  5. Register a federal tax ID number/employer identification number (EIN).
    This is pretty easy! Go  to the IRS Tax ID (EIN) Application website. You’ll see a few options, and it provides basic info on what you can do with a Tax ID number. It’ll walk you through the steps, and you can either have your information mailed to you or print it off immediately.

6. Use your new EIN to open a business bank account and/or credit card. This is to help you start tracking your business expenses.  And for that matter, you might want to look into expense tracker apps, or at the very least enter and date all your expenses in an Excel spreadsheet and save relevant receipts.  Things like your art supplies, Creative Cloud subscription, website fees, and anything else you spend on your business are things that can be claimed as business expenses on your taxes. (I’m guessing i’ll do a full post about this sometime in the future).

and so on and so forth. There are plenty of other considerations, but this list seemed like a good place to get a solid start.

Et voila, the doodle of the day.

Hello World

It is January. Minnesota is cold.  We are freshly uprooted from our home for the last 2.5 years, Switzerland, and are adjusting to life back in the States. It has been…transition-y.

Now what? My husband Joel is working hard at new and challenging job. My twins have moved from their Swiss school to kindergarten in English (as opposed to French), mid-year, and are relearning all their vowels from scratch. I’ve taken a couple of years off work, have another baby on the way,  and… I’m just gonna go for it. I’m gonna make some art.  And you can see how it goes, because I’m going to blog the whole messy process. You, dear reader, can learn from my failure or success! It’s possibly a win-win! Let’s just cross our fingers and hope.

I have a deadline to start making some actual money by baby’s delivery, approximately July 9th.  And if it doesn’t work out…well then I go back to getting a “real job.”

So anyway. My name is Carrie Suzanne Fitch, and this is my big girl, grown-up art startup blog. 

And what would my art blog be without a daily sketch doodle? Et voila, c’est ça.