Art Failures as Learning Opportunities

Some weeks my creative mojo is sorely lacking.  There can be many contributing factors, of course, but there are short periods of time where whatever I put my hand to is mediocre at best.  Last week was one such week.  I do remember the many times I experience success with my art and I also value the calming, restorative, recharging effect of having worked on art even when the outcome isn’t what I would hope for.  Nevertheless, last week was one of those weeks where nothing I did in terms of art was pulling together.  The pieces never emerged from the ugly phase.  They just got uglier.

The first piece was produced in response to a Life Book lesson taken by Jodi Ohl.  It was all about adding typography to a colourful, layered background.  Layering has long been one of my art nemeses so I knew it was going to be a challenge.  Sometimes I rise to the challenge but not this time.  The palette of bright colours I added worked with each other for maybe two layers and then they started to fight with each other and then they somehow lost their vibrancy and looked not so much like mud but like sludge.  I tried to knock back areas by negative painting in thinned gesso and that only served to make everything look more dull and grey.  In a last ditch effort, I added some Neocolor II inside the feather shapes, trying to obliterate the underlying layers.  That pop of colour rescued the piece from going into the trash but I still found the whole piece to be unsatisfactory.  Having used gritty gesso, I decided not to waste the nib of any pens on this piece and instead stamped out lines from the famous Emily Dickinson poem around the feather shapes.  I was glad to see the back of this piece and move on to something else.

15 Layered Feathers

Alas, the thing I moved onto was a page in my art journal, a response to the Art Journal Adventure prompt for the week.  The idea was to use curvy and round elements.  I had not used my gelli plate for a while and the youngest kids were up for having a play with it too so I decided that that would be my tool and technique for this week’s page.  I have not experimented much with printing directly into my art journal from the gelli plate so that was my personal challenge.  I chose to push the journal down onto the plate.  Perhaps things would have worked out better had I flopped the plate onto the paper instead but I doubt it.  I cut out some circles and curvy arch shapes from shipping envelopes to use as masks in different layers.  The first couple of layers looked pretty good but there was not enough interest for me to quit while I was ahead.  I pushed on with a further layer and obliterated what had been a nice little area on the page.  That was annoying but I pushed on hoping that subsequent layers would lead to some other interesting shapes and textures and contrasts emerging.  Unfortunately, that was not what happened.  I think I need more regular practice with gelli printing in order to develop some skill with it, some idea of how to achieve different looks rather than my haphazard, slapdash way of doing things.  I got to the point where I was sick of the sight of the page so decided that was a good reason to stop.  I finished it all off by gluing down some of the circle masks I had been using.

14 Curves and Circles

It was not a good week for art, therefore, but I am choosing to focus on the positive of the flaws and failings being learning opportunities.  I have, as stated above, learned that I need to actually plan out what I am doing with the gelli plate rather than just shoving elements together and hoping for the best.  The solution is more practice.  I have a small gelli plate so perhaps I will keep that to hand and have a play with it more frequently to see if I can develop some sort of process that works for me.  I have also learned that layering remains something that I struggle with and I should probably just conclude that it is not my thing and stick to techniques that do work for me.  Investing time and energy into approaches that result in pleasing outcomes is ultimately going to be more fulfilling than trying to learn a technique that eludes me.  It is OK for me to hone the skills I possess instead of chasing after the ones I don’t.   My mojo will return.

24 thoughts on “Art Failures as Learning Opportunities

  1. Someone that I listened to recently stated that being creative is primarily about being persistent than about being inspired. Inspiration, like mojo, inevitably comes and goes. Hang in there, Laura, and don;t be too hard on yourself.

    • I like that idea. I’m certainly persistent! There’s also value in learning what things are not a good fit. I need to stop criticizing myself for not being a “Jack of all trades”.

      • There’s at least two conflicting schools of thought on this topic. Some say you should focus on improving your weaknesses, while others say you should concentrate on playing to your strengths. I tend to be in the latter group, though, of course, there is always room for improvement.

      • I think perhaps if I had much more time to devote to honing my art skills I would feel the need to pursue the areas in which I am weak. However, given time is a critical factor, I am increasingly inclined to just focus on developing my areas of strength.

  2. Thanks for this Laura! Someone said to me recently it is in the difficult times that we are growing. It is comforting to me to hear others have less than satisfactory creative days. It also helps me to remember it is the process I often enjoy more than the outcome. But that’s me. I always enjoy your writing. Thank you! Deanna

    • Thank you, Deanna. I am glad you found my frustrated splurge of a blog post of interest. In my head, I know that even Michelangelo and Picasso must have had off days when everything they drew ended up in the trash but emotionally I get caught up in feeling like I have wasted an opportunity, wasted time, wasted material and resources. I know myself too well to think that I can alter my thinking entirely to just focus on the positives so instead I am trying to embrace or at least accept the negatives but see in them an opportunity for growth and learning or at least value the calming time I had producing them. Thanks for your lovely comment.

      • Laura, that sooo resonates with me. I often feel like I have to make a finished product in the moment that I have, forcing the muse to work perhaps when she isn’t quite ready. I totally get that feeling of wasted time, resources, etc. and I will revel in that feeling of dissatisfaction, moaning and groaning until it passes and the next opportunity comes when maybe, just maybe, a masterpiece will surface. Thank you for your frustrated splurge! Deanna

  3. Thanks for sharing your process and frustrations. I understand that entirely and I appreciate the discussion on the challenge of developing areas of weakness v. improving areas of strength. I guess there’s a balance there somehow. I think it’s particularly difficult when we have limited art time and we feel like we squander it if projects aren’t very successful (By the way, the color on the feathers was a great save) No answers, but it is encouraging to know we aren’t alone in this!

    • Thanks, Ellie. I think you might actually have gotten to the core of my frustrations – it’s that frustration at feeling as if I have squandered my art time. I think that is precisely why I get so irked by producing meh-blah art even though intellectually I know that not everything I try will be a success and that I am still gaining something and growing from the experience of having worked on those pieces.

    • Thank you, Kerbey. Gesso is used to prep a substrate but can also be used for texture and to mute paint. A gelli plate is a printing plate made from gelatin and is used for monoprinting. Neither thing is particularly difficult to use but using it well is apparently much trickier than it looks.

  4. I’m going to argue with you. Both these pieces are good. I think sometimes an objective view of a certain piece is impossible because the boundary pushing uncomfortableness feeling is overriding everything else. I think it is a signal you’ve tested your limits. I’m repeating, I think you’ve done good work here. Love seeing how you worked through things.

    • Thank you, Claudia. I think I would like the layered piece more if the colours hadn’t become so drab. I think that’s really the element I find dismaying with that one. With the journal page, I don’t know what it is I find lacking in it since I didn’t have any idea whatsoever about how I expected it to turn out. Maybe it’s the lack of focus. I don’t know. But I’ll keep on trucking anyway. Thanks for your cheerleading and kind words.

      • I really think that you look back on these in a couple of weeks and you’ll say, hmmmm…these are good. And I say all this because I think I’ve been down this path myself – I feel scattered in everyday life and I project it onto my art work even if it might be fine in of itself.

  5. I like this work. I don’t think it’s ugly at all! However, I know how you feel when things don’t go how you want. I also recognise the ‘ugly phase’ of painting too – I have a painting right there at the moment! One thing that really helped me deal with this stuff is an explanation I found on YouTube about how we perceive our own work. It’s here if you’re interested…

  6. Oh, I have days life this too! I think we all do… Although knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when it happens. I get the same guilt about “wasting” time and materials as well. But like Claudia says, these aren’t bad pieces! The colour you added to the feathers saved the first one, and it sounds like you learned loads about gelli printing from the second. So it’s all good! 😀

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