What I Learned from a Bad Painting

I’ve written before about failure before. Recently I told you about why my art isn’t selling, and a while back I told you about a series that burned me out and ultimately set me back about 18 months.

Every Painting Looks Terrible at Some Point

Well, a few months ago, I painted something that was a total flop. I finished it and I hated it. But I pretty quickly knew exactly that went wrong with it.

Every painting – usually right before I finish it – feels like an utter disaster. I say To myself, “this is awful, this is terrible.” Most of the time I’m able to correct it or see it through to completion. But not this one. I did everything wrong.

Wrong Every Step of the Way

It was late one Friday night. The family had all gone to bed. I knew I wanted to get in the studio because I had the itch to paint something. I was exhausted, but I went in the studio anyway. I think I started about 11:30 at night. I got off to a late start because I had been goofing off on the internet instead.

I wanted to adapt a friend’s Instagram photo from his trip to Iceland. It was a beautiful, austere image of some rocky, snowy mountains in the far distance. Very minimal, very powerful! very Nordic in the best sense of the word. The sky was dark. If you weren’t careful, you’d miss the mountains and the field of snow. It was a scene of subtle power.

This was right after I announced I wanted to get away from all the dark tones, but they crept back anyway. Plus, I wanted to make the work my own. So instead of aping the gray tones of the original photo, it somehow turned blood red.

For some reason I decided to broadcast it on Blab.im.

I was spending more time dealing with trolls than painting. Somebody was trying to be a troll about my name, asking me why I was white, because my name is Blackman.

I was too tired to even deal with it. I just thought, ‘dude go away, you’re bothering me, leave me alone.” It’s hard to talk and paint when you’re not used to it, or not doing a demo that doesn’t require a lot of thought. I was too tired to realize I was being trolled until later.

The final result:

It’s okay, but I don’t feel like it’s my best work, either. It’s certainly not what I was going for.

A day or two later, I made some observations and realized what I had done wrong, and thus had some new tools for doing it better the next time.

Lessons learned:

  1. You can’t waste time on the Internet and expect to do great work.
  2. Don’t get started when you’re really tired. Some ppl work best at 11:30 at night. Well, I don’t. I’m not sure what my best time to work is. But I can tell you it’s not late at night.
  3. Have some idea of what you’re going to do before you get started. You don’t have to know everything, and I’d advise against knowing everything because that doesn’t allow for improvisation, but at least have an inkling of what you want to do. I hadn’t planned very well.

I went to bed feeling like a failure that night. But I shouldn’t have.

The reality is I should have recognized my own low energy level and just gone to bed. There are times when you push through your blocks. At other times you just say, “this is not the right time for that.”

That wasn’t a block. That was exhaustion. I probably could’ve done better if I had gone to sleep and thought more carefully about what I was going to paint.

Failure is a Better Teacher than Success.

Every failure has a lesson, and you can learn a lot that way. What are some things you’ve failed at and learned from?