Practicing Art – Combating Discouragement After a Failed Painting

a watercolor of a woman napping on a couch with a cat sleeping on her hip

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Practicing Art – Combating Discouragement After a Failed Painting

Using the grid method to transfer a reference photo (cell phone snapshot printed in black and white in the lower left corner) to a block of watercolor paper

Feelings of Discouragement

I start every piece of art with sparkly goals and bubbly excitement for What-it-Could-Be.

My favorite part of every painting is The Beginning. Frequently, the last brush stroke is steeped in a whirlpool of feeling bummed that it didn’t come out the way I envisioned it in my mind, buoyed with an attaboy that I finished. The end of the art is not even close to the excitement of the beginning.

If discouragement stalls your creative mojo, steer the car towards progress, practice and what went right.

Practice Over Perfection

This tug-of-war between gladness upon completion, and revelation of my skill deficit is so regular, I’ve learned to push the disappointment into a dumbwaiter to be rinsed in the perspective-kitchen and returned to me as encouragement.

We all have that choice; spin the dial on your viewpoint, and aim for something that gets you back to work. Don’t settle for being bummed.

Mine your experience for what worked, so you’ll stay with the process. Especially if you know encouragement fills your sails, and failure locks you in cement shoes.

Drawing incrementally, in the evenings, on the couch, on a lap desk, started last November, an hour at a time, before bedtime
  • Do you subscribe to the Strathmore Artist Supplies Newsletter? You can see this month’s edition here. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom page where they list this year’s selection of free online workshops, including realistic drawing in charcoal, urban sketching and painting with gouache.
  • Have you visited the Artsy website, and their series on The Future of Art? They ask artists from different disciplines (architecture, digital art, etc.) to talk about the future of art, and each answer is edited into a little four-minute video clip. Check them out here.
  • If you’re overwhelmed with options for watercolor paper, I’ve assembled a 3-page primer on everything I wondered about when I first started painting. Hot Press, Cold Press, Rough, Weights, Blocks vs Sheets, etc. You can download the document for free, and it comes with a series of emails loaded with watercolor-related links and tips that will arrive in your inbox weekly after you download the info sheet. Get that here.
Blocking in the first, light transparent layers of color over the graphite drawing in December
Layering transparent glazes of pigments on a lap desk, on the couch, in the evening, in January
Building layers of transparent watercolor (also known as glazing) – and adding items that invite the eye to wander through the composition

Audiobooks in the Art Studio

If you’ve visited before, you know I’m a fan of audiobooks while working on art. Storytelling while creating lightens the grip on your art supplies, and occupies the part of your brain that habitually frets over the outcome of your creative process. If the book is good, the story will keep you in your seat longer, working towards finishing.

The amazing narrators reading audiobooks bring a seasoned layer of acting to their vocal tone, inflection and style while reading their character’s lines. If I find a narrator I love, I locate every book they’ve worked on, because I know they bring another universe to my experience of the story, even if I’ve already read the book on paper. Audiobooks are a wonder all the way around. If you’re thinking about giving a listen, here is a link to get one free audiobook to see if you like it.

Here are some titles that I’ve enjoyed:

Intermission 12×16 Graphite and Watercolor on paper (available in my Etsy Shop here)
La Terrasse à Grasse – Pierre Bonnard

More on Pierre Bonnard

I’m still marinating in Pierre Bonnard after describing his work in the last post. His use of orange and yellow against green, blue, and lavender is particularly effective – and beautiful.

I’m just astounded that he painted from memory, rather than from life or color studies. He must have spent so much time staring and studying his gardens, his rooms, and his people to recall subtle color shifts and varied hues. I’m re-reading the little Abrams Discoveries book on Bonnard (see it here) and fluffing my inspiration for the coming weeks. What are you doing to nurture your inspiration? What’s on the calendar for art-related fun?

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!


P.S. Do you know a friend or family member who would benefit from the contents of this post? Forward this to them. 🙂

P.P.S. You can subscribe to recieve each new post via email by signing up (free) here.

Pierre, in the garden, with a cat on his lap 🙂

Art Quote

If you really want to separate your work from everyone else’s, every time you come to a Y in the road, don’t think about which way to go; automatically take the toughest route. Everybody else is taking the easiest one.

~Richard Serra
Portrait of a Young Girl, Pierre Bonnard

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17 thoughts on “Practicing Art – Combating Discouragement After a Failed Painting”

  1. Suzanne Moore

    Belinda, I’m curious as to how the graphite drawing doesn’t smudge or become ‘dirty’ when painted upon. Would you direct me to posts where you’ve covered this?

  2. Suzanne Moore

    Belinda, I find the excitement of thinking about what I want to ‘play with’ to be intoxicating. I’ve found if I think too much before I start all sorts of doubts creep in. I sabotage myself. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experience with us all. I learn so much from your calm honest manner.

  3. Belinda, I love this painting! When I paint, I’m disappointed if it doesn’t go the way I had planned. If it does seem to be going the way I wanted, I get so scared at the end that I’m afraid to finish because I may ruin it. So I tell myself that it’s only a piece of paper and it’s certainly not the last painting I’ll ever do.

    1. The struggle to keep from getting too precious on a painting that’s going well is very real, and I can relate! Your advice to yourself is perfect! Practice makes Perfect, and if you mess up, you just left your mistakes on a study, so it’s smooth sailing on the next attempt!

  4. Great post. I find the middle to be the hardest part. Usually at the end I am happy with the work, and
    if not it’s on to the next. Love this piece. You are amazing.


    1. Hi Barbara, That’s so interesting – your hardest is in the middle of the process. It just goes to show that creative decisions, and problem solving during art-making comes in a wide swath of flavors. We artists should leave no stone unturned to find the path that leads to the most productivity.

  5. I love getting your posts! They spur me on to be creative. I recently (December 31/18) finished a 365 day art project (self imposed) to paint everyday or be creative in some medium or other and I’m pooped! I filled 4 – 9”x12” watercolour books plus a smaller 51/2”x81/2” book. Each study is about 3”x5”. It was quite the roller coaster ride from not wanting to quit doing whatever I was doing to “oh great what am I going to paint today”!
    So …. right now I’m in the doldrums…but I know it won’t last I’ll just pick up the knitting needles and knit a touque …it’s cold up here in the Canadian Rockies!

    1. Wow, Phyllis, Congratulations on filling so many notebooks! I remember when Duane Keiser committed to a painting a day, he said some days he’d rather dig a ditch than paint, but he painted anyway, and that conviction to his work left him with immeasurable lessons. Good for you! I hope flipping through your filled sketch pads refills your inspirational sails.

  6. Great post, as usual! I have been painting nearly every day lately, getting ready for upcoming shows. I also love listening to audiobooks while I work. I am finally listening to Harry Potter! Just finished the first book and I’m giddy at the thought of six more.

    1. Hi Carol, I’m green with envy that you’re just starting the Harry Potter series! I read them last year with my grandson, and I *LOVED* them! Such imagination! Are you listening to the narration by Jim Dale or Stephen Fry? Have so much fun with both the audiobooks, and the painting!

  7. Judy Langhoff

    You asked what is on my calendar? Well, I am knee deep in all sorts of art related adventures. Meeting with a friend today at my house to review some artwork, do a still life together, and get caught up on the latest art interests. Next on my agenda is continuing my Liz Steele Foundations class I started years ago and am now committed to complete…once and for all! Am making progress! I am working on watercolor techniques learned in a class that I love at the La Jolla Athenaeum…and finally, I am reading thru the books by Thomas Aquinas Daly. His watercolor paintings are simple, effective, and the technique he uses very interesting. It includes sandpaper! (Now, if that doesn’t pique your curiosity, nothing will! tee hee). I barely have time to get the laundry done…but I am committed to making art one way or the other every day…thanks to your prodding. This rainy California weather is contributing to me daily art habit too, that’s for sure. Let me know if you’ve heard of Daly…)

    1. Judy, You’re on Fire! I’m so excited that you’re taking Liz Steele’s foundation class! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it when you finish! I’m a huge fan of her work. I do know the work of Thomas Aquinas Daly! My grandfather and father were avid fly fishermen, and T’s work always makes me think of them. The laundry will wait. The Art Supplies are calling! Carry on, my productive friend!

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