I’m taking an art course online and recently, we all had a big discussion about success and failure as an artist. 

There are some people who feel that any work is a success. You came, you drew, so you succeeded. These people believe that you should silence the negative voices in your head that tell you you’re not good enough, not smart enough, not original enough to ever make a living at this art thing.

I’m not one of those people. 

I think that the negative voices in your head are there for a reason. I think they drive you on to bigger and better things. Always being happy with everything you create is a recipe for a contented life and a rewarding hobby. Kudos to anyone who wants that and achieves it. We should all have something that makes us happy with no complications.

But for me, art is more than that. It’s the one constant in my life … from the earliest time I remember I have loved drawing and wanted to be good at it. I have adopted other interests and hobbies over the years as a way of fitting in, of being what others want, but drawing and painting is my number one thing, right at the core of my being, something I do for no-one but myself.

But because it’s so important to me, because it means so much to be good at it, and because I have studied long and hard what ‘good’ means, I don’t always feel positive about my work.

Last night, I worked hard on a painting of a sheep that I wound up tearing up in frustration and burning in the fire (Hey, at least I didn’t cut off my ear!)

It really was an awful painting with no redeeming features.

But here’s why I know art is my thing … to make myself feel better, I didn’t turn on the telly, or go to bed. I put on a life drawing video on Youtube and spent an hour trying to develop my skills. 

And then tonight, feeling renewed, I decided that it’s always darkest just before the dawn. So I tackled a photo I’ve had for a while but wasn’t sure how to handle. Usually when I look at a cow, I see emotion and personality clearly and know just what I want to convey. This cow was more reserved. Like the Mona Lisa of Cows …. 

So anyway, I started with some sketching and light watercolour washes….

At the moment, this painting could go either way. Could be a success that redeems me, could be another giant sucking failure that sends me to bed depressed.

I press on.

Oh no … the face is the wrong shape somehow.  This looks like a cow that’s eaten too much chocolate and that wasn’t what I was going for!

But I WILL NOT have another failure so I keep going …

I reshape the face but now the eyes are wrong and the background is too bland …

!

!

But I keep working because, dammit, I won’t let this cow beat me!

I reshape again, change the eye and add my background. Now we’re getting somewhere.

And finally, I go in with pastel and pen and redefine some areas.

And, finally, I have a painting that both conveys what I saw in the cow’s face, and uses the media in a way that I think adds to the painting’s meaning rather than detracting or doing nothing.

Phew!

I present “Mona Lisa Cow,”

All this is by way of saying that if you’re an artist, or creative in any way, and you’re hard on yourself, remember this … the times you fail are the times that bring you one step closer to success. So while I can’t quite get with the people who think even my bad art is good because I showed up and created it, I can accept that all the mistakes and awful paintings are necessary if I want to once-in-a-while create work that I love.

So … go out and mess up! (I know I will!)

8 Comments

  1. Vicki Derifield
    November 12, 2014

    I really like Mona.

    Reply
  2. Jennifer McLean
    November 12, 2014

    You and I seem very similar. I didn’t do art for years because I was so afraid that if I wasn’t good enough, then my dream would die and I couldn’t stand the idea of not ever being the artist that I so wanted to be. It was easier to live without an actual paintbrush in my hand and not knowing for sure that I would fail. Over the years I’ve done so many other kinds of art it’s not funny, lol. I have done ceramics, Ukrainian eggs, flower arranging, crochet, sewing, needlecraft, and i had a designer wedding cake business for seven years where I made realistic flowers out of food friendly paste to decorate the cakes. Still, I just wanted to paint. I’m so glad I finally did because I couldn’t be happier now. I can proudly say I’m an artist through and through. Your newest cow is awesome, but then all your cows rock. I’ love to see a sheep when you’re feeling successful with them. I’m betting we’ll know you for a whole barnyard of original and colorful animal paintings one day.

    Reply
    • louise fletcher
      November 12, 2014

      Jennifer, thanks so much for the vote of confidence. Much appreciated!

      Reply
  3. Jennifer McLean
    November 12, 2014

    Oh, and I totally agree with you about making art. No all my pieces aren’t successful. I’m trying to follow Tommy Kane’s advice. To just always finish the piece, even if you hate it.

    Reply
  4. Tammy
    November 12, 2014

    I need reminding of this a LOT!!! Go out and mess up…..love it!!

    Reply
  5. nadia
    November 12, 2014

    Great post and wonderful cow, Louise.
    Best, Nadia

    Reply
  6. yulia
    November 14, 2014

    I understand exactly how you feel. I’ve wanted to be an artist ever since I was a little girl, but because I felt that I wasn’t good enough, I stopped making art after high school. I came back to it in my forties and now I just have to keep forcing myself to "show up on the page". I know that every piece of my art is not a success, but now, being older and wiser, I know that all of the "failures" will bring me closer to a successful piece. Thank you so much for sharing! And I love all of your artwork!

    Reply
  7. Judith
    November 29, 2014

    My philosophy exactly too!! And the successes are still intermittent and that is because the goalposts are ever changing…. as we strive to improve, our level of satisfaction increases too, so those moments where we feel that magic happening is still at times elusive!! In my case I am on a never ending journey… I used to think I would get there but now am more than happy enjoying the ride because now I know I will never get there because I will always need to improve and move on… the learning and striving never ends!!

    Reply

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