Failure Happens, Keep Going – A Ramble

2016 Artwork failure happens article sketch

A couple of days ago, I talked about being inspired – so, I thought that I’d talk about the opposite today.

I know that I’ve talked about the subject of failure before, but I was reminded of it when I read this fascinating article by Matthew Syed on BBC News. In the article, he talks about how trial and error is an important part of creating and/or inventing things.

It’s well worth reading, but I thought that I’d provide an example of how I recently dealt with artistic failure. Afterwards, I’ll talk about one thing that helped me to learn how to handle failure.

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been working on a series of sci-fi/cyberpunk paintings at the time of writing these articles. This was still going fairly well recently, when I produced this painting whilst watching the movie I reviewed yesterday.

"Balcony Moments" By C. A. Brown

“Balcony Moments” By C. A. Brown

However, when it came to producing the next painting in the series, things didn’t go quite as smoothly as I’d hoped. At the time, I was in a slightly crappy mood and this really put a dent in my enthusiasm for making art. I felt less inspired, but I thought that I should press on and keep making art because, well, I really liked this art series.

So, I started to sketch another picture. It started out well and I drew the outline of a really cool-looking futuristic building. Originally, I’d planned to just include buildings in this picture, but this seemed like a rather lazy idea. So, I decided to add a character and possibly some hint of a story too.

This was a mistake – after sketching and then erasing various plans several times, I eventually decided to take the plunge and start my ink drawing before the page became a grey mess of erased pencil lines.

Even though this started out well, the picture quickly ended up looking fairly generic and, after trying to sketch other things in a few other areas of the painting. I eventually gave up in frustration. I’d failed. This is what my failed picture looked like:

This is failure. It happens to all artists every now and then (I haven't adjusted the brightness/contrast levels in this picture, so that you can see some of the many erased pencil lines).

This is failure. It happens to all artists every now and then (I haven’t adjusted the brightness/contrast levels in this picture, so that you can see some of the many erased pencil lines).

But, since I really liked this series, I decided to try again a little bit later and do something slightly different. This time round, the picture went slightly better, but it still wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.

If you look at the original line art for the picture, you can see that at least one of the buildings in the background (eg: the one on the left-hand side of the picture) looks slightly wonky – despite my attempts to disguise the fact that I’d drawn a few lines at the wrong angle:

I'd finished the line art, but the picture still didn't look brilliant.

I’d finished the line art, but the picture still didn’t look brilliant.

All in all, the line art didn’t inspire me. But, I’d actually finished this part of the painting this time and I wasn’t going to let it go to waste.

So, after a bit of thought, I realised that the best way to disguise the clunky background was to shroud as much of it in darkness as possible. My original plan was for the only light source in the painting to be the cube that the woman was holding.

However, when I started adding colour, I quickly realised that whilst only having one light source would disguise some of my mistakes, it would also make the painting a lot less detailed than the paintings in the rest of the series.

So, I added another two light sources to the top right corner of the picture. Here’s what my finished painting looked like:

"Abandoned Sector" By C. A. Brown

“Abandoned Sector” By C. A. Brown

I’d still messed up the lighting in a few areas of this picture and it’s certainly not the best painting in this series, but I’d finally managed to produce something vaguely ok after quite a few failures because I kept going.

I know that I’ve talked about this a couple of times before, but one of the best ways for artists to learn how to deal with failure is to play difficult computer games on a regular basis.

For me, these are old First-Person Shooter games from the 1990s ( at the time of writing, my current one is “Blood II: The Chosen” – which is challenging, but very slightly easier than the original “Blood” was), but any “enjoyable-but-challenging” type of game will do.

Back in the 1990s, FPS games were often meant to be fiendishly difficult (rather than ludicrously easy, like many FPS games are today). As such, you can end up failing very often.

But, since these games weren’t designed to be unwinnable, you know that you can succeed if you’re willing to try different things and not to give up.

If you play these kinds of challenging games on a regular basis, then they will change your attitude towards failure.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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