Remember, It’s Ok To Fail At Making Art Sometimes

Although this is a motivational article, I’m going to have to start by talking about a failed painting of mine. But, don’t worry, there’s lots of uplifting motivational stuff in the rest of the article. And, yes, I’ve almost certainly said all of this stuff before, but it’s worth repeating every now and then.

Anyway, the day before I wrote this article, I made the first daily painting that I’ll be posting here in January. Due to being uninspired and being in a slight rush, it looked more like something from 2015/16 than anything I’d make these days. In other words, it was a painting that I considered to be a “failure”. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 1st January.

But, why have I mentioned this? Well, it’s to show you that it’s ok to fail at making art sometimes. It happens to every artist. Every artist has uninspired days, rushed days or any other type of day that results in low-quality artwork. If you see an artist who never seems to fail, then all this means is that they aren’t showing you the failed paintings that they’ve made.

If you fail at making a piece of art, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad artist or that you aren’t a “real” artist or anything like that. In fact, if you keep making art despite the occasional failure or uninspired day, then this probably means that you are a better and more real artist than someone who gives up on art after failing at it. Remember, all artists (even the really good ones) fail every now and then.

What failure means is that you tried. It means that, despite not feeling inspired or knowing exactly how to do something, you still tried. It means that you still have the motivation to make art. It means that making art still matters to you. It means that you want to make better art. In other words, it means that you are an artist. If you weren’t an artist, you probably wouldn’t even bother to try making a piece of art if failure seemed possible.

Failure is also, of course, a great learning tool. If you decide to try something new and you fail at it, then you can see where and how you went wrong. If you need to rebuild your confidence by making a few pieces of art that you can make before you return to the thing you failed at, then this is fine. The important thing is to keep trying and to keep experimenting, since you’ll get it right eventually.

Failure also exists to make the inspired times seem even more inspired and to make the good paintings seem even more satisfying to make by comparison. In other words, you can’t have good paintings without the occasional failed one. So, it’s ok to fail every now and then.

Likewise, if you keep making art despite the occasional failure, then even your failures will get better. When it comes to something as subjective as art, failure is a very relative term. For example, the “failed” painting that I showed you earlier in this article looks terrible by my current standards. But, if I’d made it in 2012-14, then I’d have been extremely impressed by it. I’d probably even consider it one of my “best works”.

So, if you keep going despite the occasional failure, then you’ll get to the point where even your current failures look better than the “good” artwork that you made a few years ago.

Yes, making a failed painting or drawing can be incredibly annoying or dispiriting when it happens. But, it’s ok to fail sometimes. It means that you’re an artist.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Learning From A Failed Project – The 1990s Stories

2017-artwork-learning-from-failures-1990s-stories

When you write or make art, then you’re going to make mistakes and fail sometimes. It happens to everyone. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Not only does it mean that you’ve tried something a bit different, it also means that you’ll be able to learn from your failures too.

So, in that spirit, I thought that I’d give an example of learning from a failed project. If you aren’t interested in reading about the many ways I failed at a writing project, then just skip to the final paragraph for some general conclusions.

Earlier this year, I posted a series of short stories set in the 1990s here. In contrast to the previous two short story collections that I’d written (which can be found in the “2016” section of this page), this one only lasted a mere five stories before it ran out of steam.

The first sign that it was something of a mistake came from the fact that it took me a few days to work up the enthusiasm to start the project after I’d had my initial idea for it. Usually, when I have an idea for a project that is going to go well, it’s the sort of thing that I have to start working on right now. But, this was different. It was a cool idea and I wanted to make it, but it didn’t really have the impetus that these kinds of projects usually have.

At the time, I didn’t think to refine the idea until it provoked these hyper-enthusiastic feelings in me. Instead, I mistook my mild enthusiasm for technical problems. After all, I was writing historical fiction – a genre that I haven’t really written in before. So, I thought that I’d have to spend some time working out how to write these stories. For some writers, this sort of thing leads to good stories. But, for me, too much slowness tends to drain the life from a project.

Another problem was the fact that I’d tried to write relatively ordinary stories about ordinary life. This is a genre that I usually consider to be “extremely boring”. But, I’d thought that the historical nostalgia elements would help to keep it interesting. They didn’t. Yes, ordinary life was slightly different in the 1990s, but it was still fairly.. ordinary.

This, of course, made coming up with interesting story ideas surprisingly difficult. One of the main advantages of genres like science fiction and horror, and stories that are set in stylised versions of the real world, is that you can use your imagination to come up with all sorts of strange things to add to the story. You can create entirely fictitious settings that are more imaginative than realistic. You can add futuristic technology, unrealistic events etc… and see how your characters will react to them.

I’d always known that there was a reason why I preferred to write in “unrealistic” genres and this failed project reminded me about this. It gave me an actual physical example of what happens when I try to write the kinds of stories that don’t often interest me as a reader.

The other problem was probably the research. As fascinated as I am with the 1990s, I quickly realised that most of what I knew about the decade came from second-hand sources. After all, I was only a young child in the 1990s. So, whilst struggling to come up with story ideas, I ended up focusing more on things that are related to the media than anything else.

After all, since my preferred writing style tends to be fast and regular, I pushed myself to write one story per day. This didn’t leave a huge amount of time for research. So, I ended up setting many of my stories in fairly generic locations, with only a few subtle details that implied that they were set during the 1990s. So, again, this reminded me of how much easier it is to write stories that are set in entirely fictional locations.

Likewise, it reminded me of the difference between writing and other forms of creativity. Whenever I’d made art or comics that were set in the 1990s (like this one), I’d always gone for a stylised version of early-mid 1990s America, because it looks cool. Of course, fiction is a non-visual medium that relies a lot more on descriptions.

So, I actually ended up relying on my childhood memories of mid-late 1990s Britain (and things from that time and place that I’d watched or read) quite a bit. This led to the project having a totally different style and tone to what I had expected. Most of the stories were set in 1996-9, which didn’t really seem as fascinatingly “historical” as I’d originally expected. If I’d paid more attention to the differences between visual art and the written word, I could have come up with a better idea for this project.

The common thread in all of this is that you tend to produce your best work when you know yourself well and know where your strengths lie. But, on the other hand, you’ll only learn about this if you fail a few times. So, don’t be afraid to fail!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Failed Paintings Happen. Here’s What To Do.

2017-artwork-failed-paintings-happen

At the time of writing this article, I was extremely tired. I’d also tried to make an experimental painting, which was originally supposed to be a “traditional”-style painting (without any underlying ink drawing).

The original painting looked terrible and it was only after some extensive digital editing that I was able to make it look even vaguely ok. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

 The full-size painting will be posted here on the 12th October.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 12th October.

It was a failed painting. Failed paintings happen. Here’s what to do after you’ve made one:

1) Keep painting: If you stick to a regular practice schedule, then failed paintings will soon become less of an issue than you think. Yes, you’ll still make them every now and again but they won’t have the same emotional impact that they might have if you only make art occasionally.

Why? Because you’ll have a chance to make a better painting the next day (or three days, or week). Because, if you make art regularly, then your feelings of “failure” only last until you start the next painting. After all, you’ve probably learnt from your mistakes and will soon have a chance to make something better. At the very least, you can restore your confidence by painting something that you know you can paint well when you make your next painting.

If you practice regularly, then you’ll also get used to occasional failure relatively quickly. At the least, your regular practice will mean that you’ll have made a few good paintings in the past. Looking at these can reassure you that your failed painting was just an anomaly and that you shouldn’t judge yourself based on just one failed painting.

Likewise, sticking to a regular practice schedule means that you can’t be a perfectionist. It means that you’ll learn to leave your failed painting (after putting some effort into salvaging it) and move on to the next painting.

2) Remember, it happens to everyone: Even your favourite artists fail every now and then. Even the best artists on the planet make failed paintings every now and then.

However, the reason why you probably don’t think about the fact that your favourite artists also make failed paintings is because they rarely show them off. If an artist hides their failed paintings and only shows off the good ones, then they’ll be able to give the impression that they only make good art.

But, this doesn’t change the fact that every artist fails every now and then. Failure is an essential part of the learning process. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” artist who never produces a bad painting. There are just artists who show off their failures, and artists who don’t.

3) Salvage and post: The definition of “failure” is a very subjective thing. To use a musical metaphor, even a bad song by an accomplished band like Iron Maiden will still be miles better than a good song by a much more inexperienced band. Likewise, if you’ve been making art for a while, then your current “failed” paintings probably still look better than the “good” paintings you made a few years ago.

So, the best thing to do with failed paintings is often to try to salvage them as much as you can (either through traditional methods or through digital image editing) and then to post them online. This might sound counter-intuitive, but there’s a chance that your audience might have a different opinion about your painting. I’ll never forget the time in 2014 where I posted what I thought was a “failed” painting on here, only for it to receive more “likes” than many of my good paintings had.

Finally, if you’re worried about criticism, then don’t be. Generally, if someone is a fan of your work or another artist, then they’ll probably give you constructive criticism that can sometimes be useful. If someone doesn’t like your art, then they’ll probably just ignore it and look at something else instead. If someone leaves a non-constructive critical comment below your art, then just remember that it is one person’s opinion about that one piece of art (eg: such comments are best ignored or at least not taken personally).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Two Basic Ways To Cover Up A Failed Painting (Or Drawing)

As strange as it might sound, there’s nothing “bad” or “wrong” about making a failed painting (or drawing). Quite the opposite, in fact.

Making a failed painting means that you’ve dared to experiment with something new. Making a failed painting means that you’ve boldly and valiantly kept up your art practice even when you were feeling “uninspired”. Making a failed painting means that you are wisely following your imagination, even when it is miles ahead of your current skill level.

Unlike some other types of failure, failing at making a painting or a drawing is an honourable and noble thing. And, like with learning any skill, failure is a vital part of the process. However, your audience might not know this – so, here are two very basic tips for how to disguise your failed paintings.

1) Distract your audience!: Here’s a reduced-size preview of the digitally-edited painting that I made the day before I wrote this article:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 10th August.

Believe it or not, this is technically a failed painting. I’d originally planned to experiment with a different type of perspective, and I messed it up. This is probably most noticeable if you look carefully at the woman on the left-hand side of the painting – not only is she extremely tall, but her arms are too long and her hips are in completely the wrong place. In terms of perspective, proportion and anatomy – this painting gets a solid “F”.

But, you might not have noticed this if I hadn’t pointed it out. Why? Well, because of all of the other stuff happening in the painting….

There’s an ominous-looking hand in the foreground holding an old phone that appears to be haunted. Above, rain pours down dramatically. The badly-drawn woman stares intently at a retro-futuristic internet kiosk. A mysterious punk guy lingers in the background, smoking something. The arch of a music festival arena towers over the scene, with the stage tantalisingly obscured. Finally, the position of the hand and the slight curves at the edges of the painting hint at the fact that the painting is from the perspective of someone who is fainting or dying from fright.

If your painting contains enough visual storytelling, mystery, intriguing details and/or other attention-grabbing things, then your audience are a lot less likely to notice the parts of the painting where you’ve completely and utterly failed.

It’s a bit like stage magic. Most stage magicians rely heavily on misdirection in order to trick the audience, and you can use it too to disguise failed paintings.

2) Image editing: If you are posting your art online, then you can always try to cover up your mistakes using image editing software. After all, even if you make traditional art, then you’ve still got to digitise it (with a scanner or a digital camera) before you post it online.

If you don’t have an image editing program, then you can legally download a free open-source one called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program) here. Although there are too many sneaky ways to disguise failure with image editing programs to list here, I’ll mention two of the basic ones.

If you’ve messed up the colours in your painting or drawing, then most editing programs allow you to alter the colours. Look for the options titled “hue/saturation/lightness”, “RGB”, “colourise” etc.. and experiment with them on either the whole image or a selected part of the image.

Likewise, if you need to make small corrections look less noticeable, then look for feature called “pick colour”, “colour picker tool” etc… The icon for this feature usually looks like a pipette or a dropper in most programs.

What this feature does is that it allows you to click on any part of the image with the pipette, and the colour of your digital brush or digital pencil will change to the exact colour of the pixel that you clicked on. So, click on an area right next to the part of your picture that you want to correct.

What this means is that your corrections will be precisely the same colour as the surrounding area – this makes them a lot less noticeable. If you just use your editing program’s stock colours for corrections (or try to manually select the colour), then it’s probably going to be at least slightly different – and it will stand out from a mile away! So, use this tool when making small corrections!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Four Awesome Ways To Fail Properly At A Creative Project

2017 Artwork how to fail brilliantly

Well, the evening before writing this instructional article, I failed wonderfully at making a new creative project.

I’d started this doomed project in order to shake myself out of the slight creative torpor that I’ve been in ever since I finished making the webcomic updates that will be posted here this month and early next month. It failed after an hour of planning and two hours of creative work.

It was partially based on an older idea I’d had and it was going to be an interactive comedy horror story (similar to the one I wrote for Halloween in 2015), but with comic panels instead of text decriptions. It was going to be a parody of classic survival horror videogames like “Resident Evil 1-3” and “Silent Hill 3” (as well as a few movies, like the first “Elvira” movie).

It would have looked a bit like this:

Here's one of the five and a half "pages" I actually made. And, yes, the 'standing in front of two doors' thing had already started to get boring by then...

Here’s one of the five and a half “pages” I actually made. And, yes, the ‘standing in front of two doors’ thing had already started to get boring by then…

But, despite my initial sense of disappointment when I realised that this project wasn’t going to work out, I didn’t feel too bad because I remembered (from previous failures) that there are several ways to turn failure into winning. So, what are they?

1) Remember that it’s practice: Failing at a creative project is one of those experiences that becomes less stressful with practice. In other words, once you’ve failed (and succeeded) a few times, then you’ll start to see failure as just an ordinary part of the creative process. Without failure, you can’t have success.

After all, for every successful project idea you have – there are probably at least one or two previous failed (or abandoned) ideas that have helped to pave the way for your successful project.

So, see failure as practice. Don’t see it as a waste of time or a disappointment. Just see it as practice and/or preparation for the successful project that you will eventually end up making at some point in the future.

2) Learn to fail early: Generally, the earlier you fail, the better. This is something that you’ll only truly learn through experience but, if you’re able to spot the warning signs of a failed project early, then you can save yourself a lot of stress by either correcting the problems or by abandoning the project completely.

These warning signs will be different for everyone, but they’re something that you’ll learn to spot quickly after you’ve failed quite a few times. Yes, you might try to ignore them at first (like I did when I was planning my failed interactive comic), but you’ll hopefully still be able to spot them fairly early.

If you fail early then, although you might feel disappointed for a little while, you’ll also feel like you dodged a bullet. Not only that, you’ll be able to think of and start your next project idea even more quickly (and enthusiastically) than you would if you’d devoted days or weeks to a doomed project idea.

3) Do a post-mortem: This is a fairly basic and well-known piece of advice, and it’s well-known for a reason. It works! Basically, just take a deep and honest look at why your project failed. Even if you’re overcome with feelings of disappointment, then this is still worth doing for reasons I’ll explain in the next paragraph.

The trick here is to not only learn some lessons from your failure, but to also remind yourself that the project probably couldn’t have succeeded in it’s current state anyway. In other words, it also helps you to feel less disappointed for the simple reason that, with the flaws in the project, it couldn’t have succeeded anyway.

This is easier to do if you’ve failed a few times before, since you’ll know what kinds of mistakes to look out for. But, even if it’s your first time, then try to find as many mistakes (eg: with regard to structure, timing, planning, your motivations, what you don’t know etc..) you can and then try to work out how you can avoid them in future.

For example, one of the many reasons why my interactive comics project failed was because I thought that making interactive comics was similar to both writing interactive fiction and making traditional webcomics. It isn’t!

It requires a totally different approach to characterisation, storytelling and humour. Although I tried to work this out as I went along ( resulting in a two-dimensional, and constantly sarcastic, main character), I hadn’t really put enough thought into it.

4) Salvage: In order to reduce any feelings of loss you might be experiencing, try to salvage as much as you can from your failed project. Even if the only thing that you salvage are a few lessons about what to do differently next time, then your failure isn’t a complete loss.

For example – if you’ve got decent artwork from your failed project, then see if there’s any way that you can re-purpose it. If you’re project is writing-based, then see if you can turn any of the parts you’ve made so far into a short story. If you’ve got a blog, then write about your failed project (like I’m doing right now).

There are lots of ways that you can salvage something from the ruins of your failed project but, even if the only things you salvage are experience and knowledge, then your failure won’t be a complete loss.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Four Logical Reasons Why Other People Seem To Like Our “Failed” Paintings (Or Drawings)

2017 Artwork Why Do Other People Like Our Failed Paintings

It’s a long-standing clichΓ© that artists are their own worst critics. There’s a lot of truth to this, if my own pessimistic thoughts are to be believed about a digitally-edited painting that I made a few hours before writing this article (and consider to be a “failure”).

The full-size painting will be posted here in early February, but here’s a reduced-size preview:

Ironically, it actually looks mildly better at a lower resolution. But, the proportions are wrong and my attempts to make the background look more interesting (via digital editing) have actually made it even more boring!

Ironically, it actually looks mildly better at a lower resolution. But, the proportions are wrong and my attempts to make the background look more interesting (via digital editing) have actually made it even more boring!

Still, if experience has taught me anything, there’s a significant chance that other people will actually like it. Every artist has probably experienced something like this once or twice. We make what we think is a failed painting, only for other people to really like it (either online or in real life). In fact, our failures can sometimes prove to be more popular than our successes.

So, what are the reasons for this strange phenomenon? Here are a few possible explanations:

1) We judge our art relatively, the audience doesn’t: Generally, when you make a terrible painting, you don’t plan to make a terrible painting. You plan to make a really cool/interesting/detailed/dramatic painting. But, somewhere along the way, something goes wrong and the painting ends up being a massive disappointment.

However, it’s important to remember that the only person who knows what the painting should have looked like is you. To you, the painting is a disappointment because it failed to meet your expectations. To everyone else, it’s just a painting.

No-one else sees what we imagined that our paintings “should” look like. As such, they judge the painting on it’s own merits. Since they don’t have another imagined version of it to compare it with, then they are slightly more likely to think of it as a “good” painting if you’ve had a bit of art practice….

2) You’ve had practice: Many people who look at art online aren’t artists. As such, if you’ve had a bit of art practice, then you’ll probably still end up producing something that looks like “art” even when you fail miserably.

What, to you, seems like the depressing product of 1-2 wasted hours (or more) might also look like something that has been produced by someone with more art skills than some members of the audience have. As such, they are just as likely to be impressed by one of your “failures” as they are by one of your “successes”.

In addition to this, try comparing one of your current “failures” to one of your “successes” from a couple of years ago. Because of all of the additional practice you’ve had during those years, there’s a very good chance that your new “failure” will actually look significantly better than your old “successful” painting does. If people liked that old painting, then there’s a good chance that they’ll also like your new painting.

3) There are worse failures out there:
Regardless of how bad you think that your painting looks, there is almost certainly a worse one out there on the internet. There’s a 100% chance that your audience have also seen worse paintings than yours at one point in their lives. It’s a universal truth that, whatever you do, there will always be both someone better at it than you and someone worse at it than you. Everyone is somewhere in the middle.

We often judge our “failed” paintings in comparison to the “good” paintings that we’ve seen and/or made. The audience judges it compared to every other painting that they’ve ever seen. As such, because the standards are different, they’re more likely to have a positive opinion about your “failed” painting than you will. They’ve almost certainly seen far worse.

4) Different people have different tastes: Back in 2014, I’d planned to make a bold and vibrant high-contrast picture of an underpass near the train station in Brighton. Due to my lack of understanding about colour theory, and a catalogue of other failures, the final painting ended up being a drab confusing mess (with terrible perspective too!)…

"Brighton - Sunset Station " By C. A. Brown [2014]

“Brighton – Sunset Station ” By C. A. Brown [2014]

And, yet, when I posted it online, it quickly racked up more “likes” than many of my “good” paintings do. Whilst my own preferences are for bold high-contrast art, I guess that a lot of people either like more muted art or art that has a vaguely abstract look to it.

At the end of the day, different people have different tastes. So, whilst you might consider one of your paintings to be a “failure” because it somehow didn’t end up fitting into your own idea of what a “good” painting should look like, it might accidentally fit into someone else’s definition of a “good painting”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚