I recently finished a new painting, "Turn of the Tides", something I'd been churning over and over since the summer. I'm happy with my final painting, but it wasn't my first go at painting this piece.
It took quite a bit of work to finally reach a sketch I felt pleased with, but there was some nagging doubt in the back of my mind. It felt like it was lacking something and I assumed that it'd all work itself out in the painting process, so I went right ahead to the fun part. That was a mistake...
It wasn't long before everything fell apart. The palette, despite doing studies, ended up unappealing. My initial composition had a lot of empty space in the center of the image, and all the elements surrounding it seemed to sweep your eye right off the page. I tried to make up for this lack of focus by adding more lines... but the fabric began to look goopy, the sky looked overworked, and the more I threw myself into the painting, trying to convince myself that I could work through the ugly stage, the more I doubted that this was an ugly stage. Eventually I was forced to accept that this was a failure.
Around the time that I was working on this, I got my hands on two wonderful books: Spectrum 21 and Rebecca Guay's Evolution. These two books were a very effective kick in the pants, though it came along with the alternating emotions of a negative, "I will never be good enough" and the positive, "How can I be better?". I was talking to my gentleman (or more realistically, sobbing) about how absolutely stunning and beautiful all the paintings in Evolution were, and I couldn't wrap my mind around it until he told me, "Sam, you do realize these are only the beautiful paintings? No one is going to publish a book of all the failures it took before being able to make those beautiful paintings." I was shocked at this, partially because he's gotten really great at artist pep talks (seriously, put your hands together for this man), and partially because he was absolutely right. If I want to get better, I have to fail. And I'm going to fail a lot.
So I went back to work, all the way back to the sketch stage, determined to take the extra time to get it right and not simply assume that it'd all just work out. A pile of tracing paper later, I had a much better composition and some more thoroughly fleshed out value and color studies. The lesson to be learned here: You're going to make mistakes, you're going to fail. It's a fact. But instead of letting that run you down, learn from your failures, and work your way to making more beautiful art.
Or in the words of a silly picture I keep in my art folder, "You want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried."