Measuring Success

In recent days, I’ve completed a number of “successful” art works. Of course, any real artists who visit this site will have a good laugh, and that’s all right. Where art is concerned, I’ve learned that success can be achieved on many different levels. What you consider “successful art” is probably much different than my interpretation of that phrase.

Rocks and Rills, Oil Pastel on Canson Mixed Media paper
Rocks and Rills, Oil Pastel on Canson Mixed Media paper

Let me show you one of my successful works. This landscape painting was done with oil pastels, a medium I’ve been struggling to learn.

So many questions about using oil pastels! How much pressure should I apply? What’s the best way to blend oil pastels? Should I shape the tip before using?

I’ve been trying my best, searching out information online about oil pastels, and practicing different strokes. Nothing seemed to help.

Of course, I know that if I keep trying different methods, keep reading all I can, and keep practicing various techniques, I will eventually figure it out.

That’s what started to happen while I was working on Rocks and Rills. The background trees are awful, I know. The water is mediocre, at best. But look at some of those rocks!

It’s hard to really see what the painting looks like from this little photograph, but if you saw it up close, you’d see that I did a good job on some of those rocks. I got the shading right. I got my colors to blend. And in the process, I learned a lot about how to use those colorful sticks that have given me fits. To me, that makes the painting a true success. It taught me a lot, and shouldn’t that be one huge measure of success for someone like me who’s discovering how to become an artist?

A few evenings ago, I grabbed a set of charcoal pencils and sketched a bird. I love seeing paintings and drawings of birds and recently picked up Sketching and Illustrating Birds, a book from the Professional Drawing Class series by Barron’s.

From my Sketchbook
From my Sketchbook

My bird drawings have never been very good, but I’m patiently reading my new book and learning as I go. When this fellow appeared in my sketchbook,  I had to smile. Not great, but definitely better than my past efforts. My goodness, it even looks like I got the beak about right. And can you see how I “feathered” the body with light little strokes? Probably not, but up-close, it looks good.

I was happy. I’d succeeded in drawing a bird that exceeded my expectations. I can see a lot of progress. The next bird I draw might even be a little better.

That gives me hope. Isn’t that another quality that a successful work of art should have?

This morning I created yet another very successful art work, this time in watercolor. As with oil pastels, watercolor is a medium I’m just now learning. I’ve enjoyed it, but at times I’ve also been a little frustrated by it.

In learning any new skill — and watercolor painting is definitely a new skill for me — a lot of practice is required. Of course, we also need knowledge, so I’ve been reading books and articles about using watercolors, as well as following the “Watercolor Workshop” lessons at The Virtual Instructor. This painting was completed as part of that course:

Woodland Scene
Woodland Scene, from a lesson at The Virtual Instructor. Watercolor on Strathmore 140 lb. Watercolor paper

It’s my “Woodland Scene”, and while it can’t begin to compare with the gorgeous painting Matt, the instructor, completed, it ranks as a major success for me. For the first time, I began to “get a handle” on how to use the brush to create different effects. I started to understand more about mixing colors from my tubes of paint. I figured out how much — or how little — water to use in various places in the painting.

Some of my leaves are great, and that curved tree came out really good. I even managed to get a bit of shading on it in the right places.

Sure, there are lots of things wrong with my Woodland Scene. The pathway is too wide, and I didn’t get my colors to blend. The ground…well, can you even tell where the ground is? I can’t. Not really. But, does it matter? No. Not really.

I had a wonderful time painting this scene. I enjoyed what I was doing, learned from the experience, and am excited about doing more watercolors in the future. Isn’t that truly the mark of a successful work of art?

We need to take our successes where we can find them and celebrate our victories, even if they seem small and insignificant compared to others. Always look for what’s good in your art. Look at what you learn each time you pick up a pencil, a pen, a  pastel, or a paintbrush.

Art gives us so much. It teaches us patience, inspires us, increases our creative abilities, and allows us to express thoughts and feelings that go far beyond words. Truly, every work of art should be seen as the success it is.



    1. I love trees and draw a lot of them. I take photos of them, too. LOL. Whenever we go anywhere, I come back with dozens of tree pictures. Someday I’m going to learn to make them more realistic in my drawings and paintings. It just takes time…and lots of practice.

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  1. In your first painting, I think the trees are what make the pic; they have a slight surreal feel to them, as opposed to being ‘real’ trees, if you know what I mean. Going every which-way. I like that! But, then, I’m into abstractions. Reminders of a painting I saw once at our local national gallery; all it was was a bunch of vertical line markings of varying thicknesses and no particular order to them, on a white background, and yet you knew that they were trees. When I looked at the label, yes, they were trees! Hey, my imagination that day worked well. I think yours does too.

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    1. Learning to become an artist has been one of the most interesting journeys I’ve taken in my life. I’m still “wandering around” a bit, trying to figure out where I want to go with my art. I think my personal “style” might tend a bit toward “representational but surreal”, not purely abstract, but not going for highly-detailed realism. Of course, that’s just what I think and feel today. Ask me again tomorrow and my answer could be completely different. But, that’s one of the things that makes this journey so enjoyable. Thanks so much for visiting the blog and sharing your thoughts.

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      1. Well, as long as you keep developing, experimenting and trying and enjoying what you do, that is all that matters! Who cares what ‘style’ you have…that can be limiting.

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