Artist failure is vital. Fear of failure is counterproductive.
Does failure bother me? Sure. But I can’t be afraid of it happening. Fear can be paralyzing. Fear of a failing painting can be very difficult to deal with and often compounds problems. Every painting I work on is a pre-cursor to the next piece. If I am getting excited about the next painting in the middle of the painting I am working on – it’s a good sign that things are clicking. This doesn’t always mean that the painting I am working on is easy or flowing well. Often frustration exists, but understanding how to best deal with it is a part of the learning process. I’m always trying to be a better painter, so I try to break free of safety whenever I can. It doesn’t always work out.
I learn from everything do. If a particular painting gets a lot of attention – I try to understand why. Sometimes it is as easy as understanding that it just worked out well and people feel the way I feel about it. Other times, there are paintings that people really like, that I don’t feel great about. I try to understand what I have touched upon in the viewer either way. then there are the paintings that I feel are simply failures. Perhaps the idea is good. Maybe the composition works. But the painting itself is just missing the mark. I spend a lot of time thinking about these so I can understand where I went wrong. I keep them around the studio for a little while to study them.
After some time, failed paintings start to pile up. They take up space in the studio, and my head. Eventually, they are no longer welcome and need to go. Since I work on wood panels, I sand the painting down to the wood surface, and repurpose the wood for fresh work. The destructive process allows me time to fully consider the piece I have decided to destroy. I am effectively erasing it from my collection of work.
Sometimes I keep an image of the painting, other times, it is gone. Sanding a painting takes a lot of time, and is meditative to a certain degree. I sand, I think, I consider the composition, the layers I am revealing. I wonder where it went wrong. I compartmentalized and use what I have learned to inform new work.
When the sanding is done, I clean the surface and begin the process of preparing the wood panels for fresh paintings. I begin again. Refreshed and prepared to challenge myself to bypass the mistakes I made in the failed paintings.
Of course, there are other mistakes to be made. Other lessons to learn. More failed paintings. But, to my delight, the failed paintings have become few and farther between over time. And I paint on. As this knowledge is added to my creative toolbox, I bring extend what I’ve learned as a seasoned artist to art classes and workshops I teach at Station Gallery in Whitby, or to students with Vibe Arts Toronto. Although I encourage developing skills, I also impart the added benefits of patience in practice. Learn from your mistakes, use them to your advantage.