In personal messages and comments with several of you, I’ve mentioned my recent penchant for deliberately ruining a drawing or painting I’ve been working on. I promised a post on the topic today.
I did write the post one day last week, but I didn’t like it. It was a long, rambling rant about many things, mostly a litany of complaints. After re-reading it a time or two — and cringing as I read — I tossed the post into the trash and tried again.
My second “sabotage” post took a slightly softer tone, yet in the end, it too went on and on, detailing lots of little frustrations I’ve felt recently. I’d slipped into another of those “art funks”, you see. I wasn’t happy with anything I did. And this time, instead of taking responsibility for my own bad art, I was blaming others. After re-reading that second post and realizing how unfair I was being, I quickly tossed it into the trash as well.
And here I am again — for the third time now — writing a post about the art I’ve ruined, trying to explain, and trying to understand for myself, what drove me to deliberately ruin several projects.
First, here’s a look at one of those “ruined” pieces. I refer to it as the sad, overgrown dahlia. Does it look anything like a dahlia? Well, at the start, yes, it did resemble a dahlia. I was actually rather pleased with how this floral study began.
At some point, though, I became frustrated. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I tried fixing the flower — using different colors, adding a bit of colored pencil. This study, by the way, is done in oil pastels, a medium I’ve used before but am not very comfortable with.
Of course, the more I fiddled, the worse my drawing got and the more frustration I felt. It’s still hard for me to describe all those feelings that came over me. Mostly, I think it’s a sense of disappointment and that dreadful feeling that I should be doing better.
This most recent “art funk” — as I call these episodes — hit me by surprise. Lately I’ve felt good about my art. Very good. I’d started feeling a bit of confidence, as well as a sense of competence. I began to see myself as a capable artist, someone who had a basic knowledge of the principles of art, the elements of design and composition, the techniques of drawing and painting.
And then drawing a simple dahlia threw me into a tailspin. It was good, but not good enough. I didn’t want to look at it. I didn’t want to see it ever again. And so I turned it into a drawing that was so bad I could justify throwing it away.
Later that afternoon during a Sketchbook Revival 2022 workshop, I had a similar experience. The workshop was on visual journaling, and I started off all right, then I took a wrong turn, didn’t like what I was creating, so… guess what! I deliberately ruined the page. It’s still in my SR 2022 sketchbook, but I won’t show it to you. It’s so awful and so ugly that I never want to see it again.
For the next few days, I repeated this same process. Starting off on a project, liking what I was doing, and then feeling disappointed. Instead of setting it aside and saying “I’ll do better next time,” I chose to destroy what I’d done. I wanted to put an end to it, to get it out of my sight!
It wasn’t until I did those little “doodle birds” — and liked the results — that I was able to start pulling myself back out of this art funk.
Now, I have an issue I need to face. I seem to be dividing all my art into two groups. Either I like it, or it needs to be trashed. If it doesn’t make me happy, I don’t want to see it. Art is supposed to make us smile, right? Well, right now, anything that doesn’t put a smile on my face is apt to be deliberately ruined just so I can have the pleasure of throwing it out.
Folks, I guess that’s one method for clearing out a lot of clutter around my studio! Only joking, of course. Throwing out my art is not an answer to what ails me. We should never throw our art away. Every time I look around the studio, I see little works of art that I cherish — and I remember that when I completed them, I didn’t like them at all.
No, the day will never come when I look at my sad, overgrown dahlia and love what I see, but all my disappointments and mediocre drawings serve a purpose. They help me see where I’m going wrong, what improvements I need to make, what additional skills I should be working on. If I refuse to see those mistakes, I’ll never really get better!
Understanding this serious level of sabotage is important. It’s good to feel competent, but competency doesn’t mean that every drawing or painting I create will be successful. I have to accept that fact. Art should make me smile, but that’s not always going to happen, and when it doesn’t happen, I need to pay attention. Instead of throwing out art I don’t like, I need to look closely at it and figure out why I don’t like it, why I have this awful urge to destroy it.
I know we learn more from failures than from our successes, and it’s time for me to take that lesson to heart again and — for the moment, at least — to learn to live with art I don’t love, to accept art I don’t even like.
We talk so much about raising the bar, about setting higher and higher standards for ourselves. That’s not working for me and my art. I’m lowering my bar again. I’m lowering my standards. Way low. As low as I can go!
As I was working on a little sketch yesterday, I thought back to my earliest days of drawing. I was delighted with evrery line I put on the page. Just making marks that resembled ANYTHING made me happy. I want to get back to that place again. I want to be happy with whatever I create… even sad, overgrown dahlias.