I’ve learned a lot about art over the last 6 years. That’s how long it’s been, you see, since I uttered those now infamous words: “Well, I guess I have to learn how to draw.” That moment in time, as insignificant as it seemed then, truly changed my life.
Indeed, I’ve learned a lot about art, a lot about life, a lot about myself. But, let’s not get all philosophical here today. That’s not the point of this post. This post was intended to be all about one lesson in particular that I’ve learned.
What is that lesson? It’s the simple truth that mistakes can be corrected. In similar fashion, things can be improved. We can change things we’re not happy with. Yes, that’s definitely true in life, but for me, it was a difficult art lesson to learn.
One reason why I’ve struggled a bit with drawing and painting is from the concern of making a mistake. It’s true that pencil lines can be erased and corrected. With ink, the corrections may be a bit more difficult, but even there, it is possible to fix mistakes we’ve made. No matter what medium we choose to use, there are tricks and techniques that allow us to move past problems. Most of the time, at least.
I’m not here to quibble about whether or not every art mistake can be corrected. Again, that’s not the point of this post. I’m here to share my personal experience about one important lesson I’ve learned involving the art I do and the mistakes I make.
In short, I’ve learned a lot about re-doing my landscape oil paintings. I’ve finally developed some ability to go back and fix problem areas. I’ve discovered that I can change aspects of a painting that I don’t like. I may not be completely successful at it yet, but I’m seeing progress. That’s a rewarding thing. That’s satisfying to me.
In the past, you see, a painting was either good or bad. Of course, my good paintings weren’t great, but again, that’s beside the point. My bad paintings, however, were truly awful. So, I had no choice but to chalk them up to a learning experience, and either throw them away, or, if possible, use them for additional practice, or to cover them completely and start over with a new painting.
The worst problem, I think, was that more often than not, I could tell when a painting was going wrong. Why continue working on a bad painting? Out would come a paint rag, and soon I’d have my mistakes all wiped away, leaving me with an ugly canvas covered in a grayish, brownish mud-color, and a keen sense of disappointment at having failed one more time.
Last year, however, I made a new rule: NO WIPING AWAY! No matter how awful a painting was going, I had to see it through to the bitter, inglorious end. That meant having ugly paintings sitting around the studio, ugly reminders of those failures. That was not fun.
It was, however, insightful. Seeing those bad paintings made me think more about them. What was wrong with them? Where, exactly, had I failed? As I learned to identify what was wrong with a painting, I began to see how maybe I could make it right.
I began picking up some of those awful paintings and putting them back on the easel. I found that I could repaint certain areas, make definite changes in colors, and do a lot of little “tweaks” to turn things I didn’t like into things that were… well, all right, at least.
Take a look at one landscape I’ve been working on recently. Originally it was intended to be an autumn scene, although that’s really neither here nor there. As I painted the scene, I knew I didn’t want to use autumn colors. I started with the skies, of course, working with several different blue pigments. In my reference photo, the distant hills were also a deep blue. I liked it, or so I thought. Blue is still my favorite color, so why not create an entire landscape using it as a predominant color? Why not create a “blue mood” with the painting?
Those were my thoughts, and this was the result:
Note please that the painting you see here was not yet finished, but I think you can see where I was headed. I intended the grass to be blue-green. Everything would have a touch of blue. I thought that would be quite artistic.
As I looked at it longer, though, I didn’t like all that blue. It was too much. Much too much. And so, when I returned to the painting to finish the grassy foreground, I also went in to change the colors of those too-blue distant hills. I changed the color of the pine trees. I took out all that overbearing blue and used the soothing greens of nature.
Here is what the painting looks like now:
I like the “not-so-blue” version of the painting much, much better. What I especially like is that I was able to see that I was on the wrong track, I was able to identify what I was doing wrong, and most of all, I was able to step in and make the changes. I took a bad painting and made it better.
And that, my friends, is the point of this post. What I’ve learned is that I don’t have to wipe away bad paintings. I don’t have to merely chalk paintings up to experience now. I can fix things. I can change things. I can do whatever I please — within reason — and create paintings that I like.
For so long, my oil painting has been hit and miss. Sometimes I’ve gotten lucky with a “hit” and come away with a painting I was proud of. As often as not, my paintings were “misses” or “near misses” at best. That was how it was, I thought. Art for me was a bit of a “what you see is what you get”, and that was the end of that.
Not any more. I’ve learned that I can take things I don’t like and turn them into something I like a lot. I’ve learned that creating art is not a “one-shot” act. I can do things over. What a marvelous lesson to have finally learned!