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.

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Radiating Light

This week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Renata Loree.  I loved that it was a lesson about layering with watercolour because watercolour and ink are my artistic comfort zones but layering with several layers is not.  I, therefore, felt like this was a good opportunity for making some progress with that aspect of my art work.

The concept behind the lesson, as I understood it, was to depict a figure with an integrated mandala representing energy and light radiating outwards.  I did not even attempt a mandala because, as I have proved, they are not really within my wheelhouse.  I, therefore, drew concentric rings so that visually I could aim for a similar concept of radiating or spiralling outwards.  It is not clear in the photo but there is silver paint in the centre of the circle and its very perimeter.  I really enjoyed the layering process and it was all going well right up until the point where I added neutral colours for the skin and hair tones.  That was when it all went a bit muddy and murky.  I should have stuck with it all being in cool colours.  The additional challenge of the lesson was to draw a face tilting upwards.  I ended up with a face that just looked squished and weird.  Fail.  Bizarrely, I thought the hand was going to give me the most trouble but it ended up being my favourite part of the piece.  Lessons learned aplenty.

Week 21 - Radiating Light

History of Art #19 – Kandinsky

Next in our History of Art project, we turned our attention to Wassily Kandinsky by way of introducing the kids to purely abstract works.  I gave them an overview of Kandinsky’s view that art was all about point, line and plane and then we observed how he had applied his theory in a selection of his own paintings.  Interestingly, the boys thought there was a musicality and rhythm in the paintings they were looking at and felt their was a connection between Kandinsky’s approach to the creative process and some of the segments of Disney’s ‘Fantasia’.  It was fascinating to me that they saw that connection – even if it came by way of Disney animation – since Kandinsky himself used music as a metaphor for the act of creating art: “Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul”.

When it came time to create something inspired by Kandinsky, I think it is fair to say that my middle two sons did not apply themselves, distracted as they were by a desire to play with a new Disney Infinity figure.  The 8 year old borrowed Kandinsky’s use of concentric circles and extended it to triangles and squares but abandoned the drawing before he had done much more than the line work.  The 9 year old drew some concentric rings and a line of stars but was exceptionally scribbly with his colouring.

19 - Kandinsky - E

19 - Kandinsky  - O

The 6 year old opted to use watercolour to create his concentric circles.  I love the colours he chose.  He also realised that he could wet the paper and then add pigment to the wet area to see how it spread and it was fun to see him make that discovery.

19 - Kandinsky  - AR

Inspired by my Kandinsky Crazy Critter, the 12 year old decided to use shapes and lines in the style of Kandinsky to suggest the form of a penguin.  I think the result is really pleasing.

19 - Kandinsky  - AB

I created a grid of imperfect concentric circles in my art journal and painted them with watercolour.  I worked on the page while cooking dinner which was a little chaotic but stopped me getting too uptight about it.

19 - Kandinsky - Laura

Going Polka Dotty

This week’s Documented Life Project prompt was to use polka dots.  Remember how I felt about neon?  Well I feel much the same way about polka dots.  I think 1980s ra-ra and puffball skirts killed polka dots for me.  I also have an odd visual tic when it comes to dots in that they go blurry or vibrate making it difficult for my eyes to focus on them.  That’s one of the reasons why I found it too challenging to learn to read music fluently and why I read the spots on dice through pattern rather than the dots themselves.  Polka dots are not my friend.

As I am still embroiled in my drawing a day challenge and also had lots of chores to plough through, I decided to take what I thought would be a quick and easy path to making a polka dot page in my art journal.  I decided to create a circle filled gelli plate background which I intended to then collage over with a circles cut from a second, complementary gelli plate.  Well, despite sticking to three paint colours – turquoise, lime and hot pink – which looked good together in the bottle, all I managed to make in layering up my prints was mud.  It looked like melted ice cream.  In the worst way.  One gelli print was so ugly, I decided to not waste any more time and paint trying to rescue it.  I plumped for using the other print, however, on the basis that I was running short on time.  Setting myself up for more disaster, in other words.  I cut down the print to page size, thus chopping off the most offensively ugly part of the print.  Then I used various discarded household objects – an empty sticky tape roll, the end of a pencil, a wine cork, a pencil top eraser – and used those to stamp on top of the gelli print using black, white, the lime and the pink.  My last effort with it was to stick down a piece of dotty washi tape along the edge where I had cut down the print because it was slightly too narrow for my art journal page.  Certainly printing with the various circles helped punch back some of the worst effects of the pastel mud I had created but still there is no denying that my response to this week’s challenge is not cutting the mustard.

I am, therefore, chalking up this week to a learning experience.  I have learned that polka dots are probably still not my thing but I actually quite like the effect of the circles stamped from all those found objects.  I have learned that colours that look lovely together in their bottles don’t necessarily look lovely when layered into a print.  I enjoyed having a break from the focused, controlled style of drawing I have been doing for my Greek Mythology challenge by doing something that was just “go with the flow” and an experiment without a vision of the outcome but I have learned that maybe a little more thought is required than the pretty much zero thought I invested if such a freestyle approach is going to ever be successful.

I feel as if I am taking two steps forward and one step back with this year’s foray into art journalling and mixed media but that’s still progress I suppose.

Here’s a photo of my polka dot disaster.  In real life it is much brighter and more vivid but for some reason the camera on my phone has made it go more insipid just to rub the salt in.

Week 41 - Polka Dots