View Full Version : Top Ten Solutions for Overcoming Failure

K Taylor-Green
07-09-2005, 02:24 PM
We all make mistakes. And I mean all of us, pros and teachers, too.
Sometimes it is just that the piece goes off in a direction we don't care for.
Whatever the reason we are less than satisfied, and want to turn it around.
So, here is the question. What is your favorite, tried and true method for
turning failure into success?
Keep in mind that these responses will be edited into an article at a later date. We want these "Top Ten" ideas to be helpful to all our members!

07-09-2005, 02:50 PM
sorry Kate, Im in a Wicked mood ha ha ha :evil: so edit these out :D

Dont try and you wont fail
Bend the truth

07-09-2005, 03:16 PM

Not having good technical skills and being too boresome trying to enumerate the possible mistakes and their solutions, I'll try to post those attitudes that may help overcome a wide range of mistakes.
So here they are :

1 Post the problem at Wetcanvas and hope that someone will find a right answer for it

2 Maybe the mistake is not a mistake afterall

3 sometimes is better to leave it there - to forgive is devine, to erase may not be.

Can't remember anything else, that may be usefull



07-09-2005, 03:46 PM
I try to look at mistakes/failures like this: at least I NOTICED something was wrong! At least I've learned and grown enough to recognize a problem, even if I don't yet know how to fix it. That's got to be a step forward, even if it's only a baby one.

Kitty Wallis
07-09-2005, 04:47 PM
What are they?
A line, stroke, color, or form in the wrong place? I've seen master works in which the 'wrong' lines were still showing, giving me clues to the progress of the mind of the master.

The only mistake that counts for me is not making a master work. And of course I don't make one often. So all the rest are mistakes? No, they are part of the progress from one fine piece to the next, even if the interval is years long.

What I'm trying to say is - there are no mistakes that aren't useful, except for the ones we deny. If we can learn from it, progress to the next 'mistake' we are doing what is know as growing. To deny, patch over, hide a mistake in order to maintain a fiction that our mistakes are fixable, negligible or nonexistant is to create negative energy in our process that makes us increasingly uncomfortable with the probablility of making a 'mistake'.

I like to think of my work as the shavings on the floor of the workshop. Each one carefully, consciously made, once in a while one is fine art. But the piece turning on the lathe is our mastery. That is what we cherish and protect.

Whenever I 'clean a piece up' get rid of all signs of imperfection, I can feel the energy dying. I have learned gradually not to do that. I still do it, but I'm still learning.

07-09-2005, 04:54 PM
Some very good points, Kitty. I've felt the same way when I fiddle around with a painting to make it "okay" or "passable". Even if I manage to do it, it seems anything BUT fulfilling.

07-09-2005, 04:55 PM
What are they?

I like to think of my work as the shavings on the floor of the workshop. Each one carefully, consciously made, once in a while one is fine art. But the piece turning on the lathe is our mastery. That is what we cherish and protect.

Whenever I 'clean a piece up' get rid of all signs of imperfection, I can feel the energy dying. I have learned gradually not to do that. I still do it, but I'm still learning.

Kitty, I was going to post a comment but your thought above here leaves my open mouth closed and my mind contented. It reminds me once again of the thought that it's not the created piece but the act of creation that is priceless to our heart and soul.

07-09-2005, 05:01 PM
My favorite tried and true is :
If what i am working on doesnt seem to be working out, then i step back and think about it reasonably, if i cannot come to any conclusions on my own, i seek help in the form of study of others and how they had handled the problem or would handle it, if it seems like that their solutions would not work for me then i go with instinct (which also comes with a little bit of fear) but ill still try until i either succeed or dont. But with my July goal im leaning more towards succeeding than not lol. Ive learned alot in the past week, which im hoping will show in my work.

Kitty Wallis
07-10-2005, 05:55 PM
What a nice thing to say, Bing! Thank you. I wonder what you were planning to say...

I hope more people offer their solutions.

07-10-2005, 06:50 PM
It was along the same lines but your story was elegantly put.
Well, what I was going to say was that I look at each piece as a step to the next level of learning. If there is just one spot/area in the piece that I think needs reworked, I try as best I can to fix but I give myself plenty of slack, knowing that I can make it sing in the next painting if my attempts to bring the area up to par fail. If I feel the current piece isn't exactly as I imagined it should be, I leave it and start anew. Some pieces just can't and won't be all you want and to abandon them just means that you don't want to waste precious time with a piece that frustrates you to puzzlement and sighing. Each piece should make one very happy that one has accomplished something other than sitting on the couch and watching tv and movies every night. (ahem, I speak for myself!) Lots of wasted time all those years...but I couldn't miss Seinfeld and Friends and ER and..and..and...well, I am using my time a bit more productively these days! Maybe it just comes with age for some (me).
That's all!

Deborah Secor
07-10-2005, 10:10 PM
We all make mistakes. And I mean all of us, pros and teachers, too.
Sometimes it is just that the piece goes off in a direction we don't care for.
Whatever the reason we are less than satisfied, and want to turn it around.
So, here is the question. What is your favorite, tried and true method for turning failure into success?
Keep in mind that these responses will be edited into an article at a later date. We want these "Top Ten" ideas to be helpful to all our members!

I find that the best method I've found for turning a piece that's not working into a successful painting is TIME! I don't stand at my easel and 'try things'...I take it away from my pastels so I'm not tempted to run over and rid it of some offensive part, then I step back and evaluate by asking myself some questions. I try to come up with two or three possible solutions to any issue that's making me unhappy.

For instance, if I decide there's a color issue, I try to devise a couple of possible additonal colors or layers of color that would change it effectively. I think about it before doing anything. If it's a compositional problem, I come up with changes I might make and put them in logical order, adding something I need before I start subtracting or erasing anything (obviously). If it's a certain subject I need to improve on, I'll put the painting aside and go work on that subject--say trees, or foliage, or mountians, or foregrounds, or whatever--before coming back to the painting, assuming it's otherwise successful.

Key to all of this is NOT simply ridding the painting of the thing that isn't working. When I do that I leave a hole with NO information to work from. Instead I prefer to hone my skills by thinking, planning and questioning, so that when I do something and it works I can add it to my technical toolbox. There is nothing more frustrating to me than having something work and not having the faintest idea why or how I got there, happy accidents aside. We all have the occasional serendipitous moment, but FAR, FAR more often I learn from figuring it out! And as Kitty said, I progress to the next valuable and challnging mistake.

I never try to make the perfect painting, which isn't my goal. My goal is to be learning and growing all the time. As Handell said, there's no Z in this alphabet of art!


07-10-2005, 10:36 PM
never mind lol i got what ya ment AFTER I had typed a long embaressing post lol

07-10-2005, 11:01 PM
Some pieces just don't want to be born when I'm ready, it seems- and that's okay- I just leave them mounted and take them into the spare room and leave them there for however long it takes for them to ripen. Sometimes, though, I find they've "died" in the interim- whatever I saw when I started is just not there anymore, or I can see the problem isn't my skill, but the subject (I really, really, really don't like "Hallmark card" paintings) and so I'll reclaim the Wallis for something else. But one thing I do with every single piece is sneak glances at it, all the time- when I'm watching what little television I watch, when doing housework, when eating supper- quick little glances "Surprise! I see you!" and that tells me what is wrong, and what is right.

It's rarely a colour problem- I layer so many colours I'm always surprised the whole piece doesn't look like a mudpie; but sometimes it is a too-dark value problem (so far, it's never been too light, just too dark) and every once in awhile I find it is a- not problem so much as a lack, I think. "No- it needs *something* here"- like that.

For me, the landscape kills me- I have to really concentrate to make sure I "follow the rules"- atmospheric perspective, arial perspective, detail vs indication, and that's all while I'm trying to concentrate on colour and form! Landscapes go agonizingly slow for me- I am heartily sick and tired of 'em by the time I call it quits. So I generally have a long, long time to sneak peeks at a landscape- which is both heartening, and dis- the ones which "work" seem to do so despite my fumblings; the ones which don't I persevere through, and then quietly euthanize 'em and chalk it up as a learning experience.

I don't make many "mistakes"- I just sometimes make a really lousy painting.

Ruth Grinstead
07-11-2005, 03:30 AM
I don't think of them as failures and I don't have that many solutions to overcome them yet.

But I feel reassured by something in The Natural Way to Draw when Kimon Nicolaides says 'The sooner you make your first five thousand mistakes, the sooner you will be able to correct them'.

As any inventor knows there are a lot of things that won't work in any given situation, but finding out what doesn't work is learning. Next time with some other way of doing it things may be different. Something that didn't work where initially tried may be great somewhere else.


07-11-2005, 04:55 AM
That sounds like alot of common sense which stems from rational thinking (imho anyways) and i often felt the same way as K. Nicolaides says, BUT artists are anything but rational 90% of the time (and i mean no offense here) when we are working with something that is made with our hands, heart and mind, rationality kinda goes out the window after awhile , especially when one is short on patients. The wisdom of "cant learn unless you make mistakes" is all well and good, and hopefully one day in my gray hair stage ill actually accept that. But at the moment im dealing with almost 20 years of experience and im still only scratching the surface. So yes mistakes are a given, but sooner or later i do get tired of so many mistakes. Guess that means i just need more practice, either that or i just really suck lol. But common sense and rationality do not play a part in my creation once ive gotten past that "hump", its instinct. Of course im only speaking for myself.........i hope this is ok ;)

K Taylor-Green
07-12-2005, 12:07 PM
Hmmmmm, maybe corrections would have been a better word. I didn't quite expect the direction that this has taken off in!
Great points, Kitty, and no, something less than a masterpiece is hardly failure.
I agree that the whole process of creating a painting, even a less than satisfactory one, is a learning experience.
I do commission work of people's animals, their beloved pets. If I goof up a likeness in the painting stage, I have to try to fix it. A client isn't going to be happy if Fluffy looks like someone elses dog!
Of course, on Wallis that kind of correction is a piece of cake. It is more difficult on other surfaces, and most of us don't work on EVERY surface out there. I use velour, sueded board, and Wallis.
How about a fixative error? Ever spray a piece, have it go south, and successfully reclaim it? If so, tell us how. Some use fixative and would appreciate knowing something like this.

07-12-2005, 01:43 PM
For me, a failure is just an opportunity to create something unexpected :) How? First I brush off as much of the pastel as possible. Then using a spritz bottle with alcohol, I spray the surface and brush it again to soften any edges and blend colors into colors. Once it's dry, I might take it out on location to act as an underpainting for a landscape, but most often I take out the softies and create an abstract pattern out of the chaos.

Sometimes the abstracts also go the way of the first painting but they are a way to loosen up, play with line and color, and have a more non-objective outcome.

Hope my 'recycling' idea is helpful :)

07-15-2005, 12:16 AM
Kate, I think we are answering a different question than you sought answers to. I expect you were looking for techniques for correction and solutions for the problems that crop up. Some things can't be easily, nor comfortably corrected, for example my wayward ocotillo that rather spoiled what had been shaping up as a nice painting :mad: . One solution there would have been to brush off as much of the pastel in that area as possible and redo the whole area. Since this would have involved at least a third or more of the painting, I elected to simply start over and use the lessons learned to hopefully do a better painting than that one would have been. In fact having let it "rest" a while, I'm rather excited to do just that :cat: . My favorite correction is to make the errant stroke or color or shape look intentional if it can't otherwise be made to fit in :angel: . So if I have gotten an area too dark, I can use it to create high contrast drama by introducing some really light lights and vice versa. The other favorite is to do a lot of pre-analysis of the potential problems to be solved with thumbnails and studies. When the left brain analysis has been done then I am free to get in right brain mode where prior knowledge and instinctual knowledge take over and the soul begins to paint. I don't often use fixative but when I do, if it darkens everything too much I treat it as an underpainting and carry on emphasizing lights to create the forms. Some areas can be scraped out with a razor or credit card to be reworked. At this point I will pull out my Senneliers for their intense buttery colors and their covering power. In my truck and dog painting the dog started out rather huge. That wasn't so much a mistake as it was the less effective solution for getting at the story of the painting. The story wasn't so much about the dog as it was about the truck and the missing owner. The dog's role was to accent that story, not be the story. I brushed him out twice and drew him in 3 times before the story came together in a pleasing way. I used the grass strokes to blend the smudged remains of earlier dogs and to fit in the final pooch.In addition to brushing out the dog, I also used poster putty to pull off the remaining pastel down to the paper. I really like that stuff for corrections.

OK that's the technical answer in part. ( I'm not coming up with a list of problems and solutions). The more philosophical answer follows suit with some of the others posted here. What is a mistake? I look at every painting as an experiment with a number of problems on which to test hypotheses or solutions. Some experiments come out really pleasing and others are not so pleasing but provide the groundwork for the next experiment. Often what we are calling a mistake is just the results of an experiment that doesnt please us( if we like the results, we don't call it a mistake only when we don't like the results do we see a mistake)--or just as likely doesn't match some internal vision we have for what we want to see emerge on the piece in front of us. Sometimes the painting doesn't want to match that vision. It has its own vision to actualize. Yes we are the artist and are in charge, but I think that paintings, just as some writer's characters, take on a life and character and will of their own that perhaps should be respected. Too often we may be arguing with the painting and when it fights back we see "mistakes". I think my desert painting wanted a different composition and it told me that in a most clear and resounding way. It also wanted a better defined focal point. Had I given it that the wayward ocotillo would have never been given its miserable life. :evil: The huge dog developed because I was enamamored with my model and forgot the story the painting was to tell. For me the fun of painting is meeting the challenge of approaching the vision that first compelled me and the excitement of seeing what emerges and what emerges is usually somewhat different than what I first saw in my mind's eye. I hope it is more what the heart and soul sees instead.

07-19-2005, 09:01 AM
I just really started the little stash of Wallis that I have- so now I just get out the "little scrubbers" and wipe the really horrible mistakes off- or the entire painting, and start all over. A kneaded eraser is ok too or MORE layers ....I am in such a beginning/ learning mode that at this point the end result is not that sacred or final- if something really turns out well, I tend to give it to one of the elderly folks or kids around here to brighten up their day- but it is not like I am loosing a great work or a lot of income by doing so! I am doing art primarily because I enjoy it- would hate to become like JK Rowling and not be able to walk into any old cafe and do my thing without a fan club :)... but someday to recover some of the absurd amount I have spent on pastels would be a nice feeling too... like Jose said, I just post the thing on wet canvas and scream HELP or sometimes it is a silent scream and you guys just help me anyway! Which is truly a wonderful thing....BTW if it is NOT on Wallis and is a REAL terrible mess, I don't hesitate to put it in the trash either...the basset has literally rolled on top of some of the masterpieces- that should tell you something!!