Image: Sketches by Vincent Van Gogh
There’s no such thing as wasted time when working on art, even when a piece turns out badly.
If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all. – Michelangelo
If at first you don’t succeed in drawing, try and try and try and try… How many drawings does it take to make a good one?
Out of 100 drawings that I do, what percentage would I count as successful? 100%. No, I’m not an egomaniac; I am always reminding myself that “successful” and “presentable” can be two different things. Each time you work on art you are practicing your skill. If my drawing doesn’t turn out right, I have now tucked away in my head a process that doesn’t work for me. That is a success!
Our brains are always troubleshooting, the same way a child learns to walk: by getting a little bumped up. I heard that John Singer Sargent did as many as 14 starts on a painting. If he did not like how they were going he’d wipe or scrape them off to start over, rather than correcting them. He did more than a dozen studies leading up to his famous “Madame X” painting. He was being “successful” working towards “presentable”. Presentable meaning: it’s going to the gallery, the art competition, up on his Instagram, etc.
I’ve made a ton of work … Some are ok, most “meh,” and a handful of good ones. … It’s equal parts mining for gold and standing in a field trying to get stuck by lighting. -Matt Shlian
I’m a big proponent of working with what you have because there’s a lot to learn from sticking with a piece. But when drawing and deciding to start over, may I make a suggestion? Please don’t get in the bad habit of starting over out of frustration. If you do this every time your work gets difficult, your brain will put on a parachute and jump out the window! Rather, start over out of understanding; knowing WHAT you need to do, and knowing that doing it on a fresh sheet would be faster.
Landing on your butt twenty thousand times is where great performance comes from.” ― Geoff Colvin
(The above quote by Geoff Colvin is from his book, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. I highly recommend it for all artists!)
Van Gogh created roughly 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches, in his 10 years of doing art. That’s about 200 works a year! Granted, he was more prolific at certain times than others (one year, he completed 200 paintings, and 100+ drawings and watercolors). From all that work, it’s believed that he sold just one painting during his career (The Red Vineyard at Arles). Does that mean he only made 1 good piece in his life? Depending on if you’re a fan or not, which I am, so the answer is “Definitely not!”. The artwork is always successful because with each piece you know more of what you like and don’t like. With each piece, you are a step closer to YOUR truest way of doing art. Your taste and style are being discovered. Only you know what’s “presentable”.
“Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I accomplish.”. –Michelangelo
I pray I never fear making “bad” artwork and start creating to be safe; Only doing the art that I know I can do, in the stagnant safety of “good”. We have to allow ourselves to make “bad” to break through “good” and get to “great”. The important thing is: keep creating.
Hey artists, what percentage of your artworks would you consider successful? How many would you consider presentable? I would love to hear your thoughts! Please comment below.