Bad Starts

Pssst!  Hey, you!  Do you want to see some horrible artwork?

…Well, neither do I.  But unfortunately, my sketchbooks have been filling themselves up lately with really bad starts.

bad starts1

Usually, these make for perfect doodle starters for Myla…but lately, they’ve barely been good for even that

bad starts2

They’re badly started before they’ve even begun.

Some people have said, “Oh, they’re fine!  They look great!”  But really they aren’t.  Not when I know I can do better.

So what do you do when everything you doodle comes out wrong?  I usually do one of two things:

1.   Distract myself with other hobbies.  This is usually when I have to try and change it up a little.  I sew for awhile.  I sculpt.  I play Legos with the kid, or let her lead drawing games with me.

2.   Keep bashing my head against that very same wall, in that very same spot.  Photographers take TONS of bad shots before catching “the one shot” that works.  Sometimes, trying, and trying, and trying again is a helpful way to get out of a rut.  This requires lots of disposable supply stock, and patience.  It will be frustrating.  You will fill up many pages with many bad sketches.  But one day, something halfway decent might come out, and you will be a little relieved.

bad starts3

But it’s like revving up an engine that won’t turn: once there’s a spark, you have to keep it up, or it’ll falter again.

For now, my engine’s still trying to turn, and that’s when I have to remind myself of the most important step of all:

3.  ALWAYS keep a sense of humor about it all, and don’t take it so stinkin’ SERIOUSLY!!!

Really, it’s art.  Calm down.  It’ll come back.  And it’s that confidence that it WILL come back that has kept you going for years and years, and that you need to be comfortable with.  That you need to relax around.  If you’re really into it, it’ll come back.

Remind yourself how much you DON’T suck by looking at some of your favorite pieces you’ve made.  Keep a little scrapbook of your best work, and pull it out on occasion and look at it.  I like to look at mine and remind myself, “oh LOOK!  I’m not THAT totally horrible!”

So, I know about artist’s block, and I know about writer’s block.  Are there others?  What sorts of things do you enjoy doing, and does the skill to do it ever leave you for awhile?  And if so, what do YOU do about it?

8 responses

  1. I felt better just reading this. I used to draw a lot all the time but then took a long break when my university studies became over bearing…but now I’m starting to draw again and I feel like I’ve forgotten how to?!! It’s quite scary and upsetting. I know I haven’t lost my ability really, but it’s hard not to feel that way sometimes. What i’ve lost is my ability to remember not everything I draw will please me and there will be periods of time where everything seems to go wrong. I just need to be patient and my fingers will eventually work in sync with my imagination 😉 This was a nice reminder, thank you!

  2. I always get a season of knitter’s block. Usually it’s when the weather is warm, but this year after an unusual amount of Christmas gift knitting it was between December and May (I randomly started again this week). I guess I have so many creative outlets that I’ve learned to reassure myself that it’s healthy for my art to go through stages and seasons, and that if I tried to do EVERY style I’m capable of ALL the time I would have a breakdown. I feel like all my art forms inform the others, and that maybe I’m not sketching (not really my forte–ever) or making jewelry right now, but the work I’m doing with watercolors and yarn is still honing my skills so that when I come back to sketching or jewelry making I’ll have a jump start on that practice you mention.

  3. Coincidentally I am reading Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird about writing. She says the same thing. Keep writing. Every first draft is sh—- but there is usually one good sentence or something hidden in it like a character you didn’t expect to see. I am a quilter and reach similar road blocks. Just gotta keep at it –& then get outside in nature. That’s my cure for everything. Oh and my cute sweet beagle basset Gabe. Peace, all!

    1. Oh I love Bird by Bird–I should reread that. 🙂

  4. BTW: your bad starts would be my masterpieces!

  5. Thank you for this! I’ve got a gallery show coming up in July, and I’ve had a bad case of painter’s block for 3 or 4 months. I started a new series of oil paintings for this show, planned to paint two at a time, alternating — hated the second one, was bored by the first, spent way too much time messing around with re-compositions (“what if I add a mirror to each one?”), and composing a third which I ALSO hated without even reaching the canvas-and-paint stage. I made jewelry instead. I wanted to sew. But I have this deadline, this July show. So this has been a case of “push through it” and reminding myself that the more layers I apply, the more depth the painting will have. As I tell my painting students, “If you hate it, you’ve got nothing to lose!” Starting to love them now, and about time! (And BTW, I LOVE some of your bad starts.)

    1. Deadlines are rough when you have to force inspiration–but it all comes back eventually. best of luck to you!

  6. They are really wonderful pieces of art! 🙂
    And I would say, ‘bad’ artworks are the gem of them all! You can doodle very cool stuff out of things that have gone wrong. And I this is the real magic of drawing, particularly doodle art. 😀

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