Daily Archives: July 25, 2021

What to do with a bad painting

Let’s face it, if you’ve been an artist for any length of time, you will inevitably create some bad paintings. Crap is the professional term.  (Just kidding.)  Not everything that comes off your easel, your brush, from your pencil is wonderful.  Actually, few pieces of art fit that description.

I remember when I was first getting back to my art roots after several years’ hiatus that I sat at the kitchen table one night and created a cute little flower painting. It was pink, I think.  I was so proud of that piece.  When I showed it to my husband, he said, “Oh, that’s nice, honey.”  Such a sweet supportive liar but I certainly needed the boost to my ego. 

I kept that painting for years, long after I realized what a wreck it was.  I would drag it out when teaching a class and point to it and say, “See, this is where I came from.  You can learn to paint, too.”  I have searched the studio for the piece as I would definitely show it but can’t locate it.  I’m sure that I never threw it away.

The point is, that we do the best we can with the skills we have at the time. When you know better, you do better.  I have painted plenty of really BAD paintings.  And still do, although not quite so many. 

So what do you do with a piece of art that just didn’t turn out the way that you wanted?  Here are several options.

  1. Examine the piece carefully and determine just what you are unhappy with.  The color, subject matter, composition, execution, the method of painting, etc.? 
  2. Ask yourself if there is some way to correct the mistake?  Not all mediums can be corrected but many can.
  3. Ask a friend for input.  Sometimes we know something is off but just can’t see the mistake although it may be glaring to some new eyes.
  4. Scrape off the paint or paint over the mistake.  You may even need to paint over the entire canvas.  I have done this many times and just started over. Or even explore a new idea rather the one you were pursuing.
  5. Trash it.  Burn it, destroy it.  Some people recommend that you keep your bad work to inspire you but I think it will only haunt you.  Use it as a learning experience and move on.  It can be very cathartic to throw your canvases into the burn barrel.  I’ve had very few regrets over many years.

One thing that I don’t recommend is to donate the bad artwork.  It may come back to haunt you as when someone picks it up a resale shop or flea market.  And don’t pawn it off on your friends and relatives.  They’ll be too polite to tell you and will resent moving it around from place to place over the years.

Finally, don’t stress about a bad painting.  It happens.  That’s OK.  We learn from our mistakes and just promise yourself that you’ll do better next time.  It’s only a painting, after all.