You may be one of those people who think that a “successful” artist hits a home run every time she/he steps into the studio. You may think that 30 or 40 years of painting experience means you don’t have failures anymore.

Well, you would be wrong! Any painter worth her/his salt is constantly trying to push things, constantly trying to grow and improve and do whatever it takes to enter exciting new territory. And with that risk-taking comes, inevitably, failure. But that’s not a bad thing. Failure is just another step toward reaching your goal. That’s why I call this post Fantastic Failures.

There are always reasons why some things don’t work out, and I find, for me, it’s better to not overthink the creative process. My philosophy is, if you’ve given it a good shot and it still isn’t working/doesn’t feel right, trust that you’ve learned what you need to learn and move on to what’s next. That said, following are several of my fantastic failures for May-June-July 2020, along with some notes on what happened, or didn’t happen, in each case.

LATE MAY 2020: Above is the beginning of a portrait idea that was working well at this early stage, but I just didn’t feel like I had much more to say here. It didn’t feel like adding color would add much, really. I could’ve gone on and finished it but I would’ve just been punching the clock. So I painted over it and used the canvas for something else (at this point I don’t remember what).

LATE MAY 2020: Above is a rough sketch and then the painting in-progress of a work inspired by a photograph of Omar posing in my apartment. I liked the rough sketch, but once I got the painting started, I realized it just wasn’t exciting to me. It was too literal, too much just a copy of the original photo, and I found myself wishing I had pushed the shapes more, and made them more exciting. Ultimately it was just a little boring, and as soon as I realized that, I stopped, painted over it, and moved on. I might try this one again sometime, though, because I do like the image and I think there’s something there–I just didn’t hit it the first try.

JUNE 2020: This image of a boy showering still excites me and I think I’ll do something with it eventually, but the problem with what you see above is like the preceding ‘failure’–just too literal, too unimaginative an approach to the forms of the body. I was getting bored way too early in the painting, and decided to quite while I was ahead. (It used to be harder for me to quit when I’d put several hours into a painting, thinking that I should continue just because I’d already done so much work–but at this stage of my life I realize that that’s not a good reason to keep spending your time on something that doesn’t excite you or move you forward.)

MID-JULY: As you can see from the above images, I found a great photo from my Punta Monterrey session with Javier and decided to try to paint it. I didn’t do any preliminary sketching and just mixed colors on the fly and threw them on the canvas to see what happened. Sometimes I can make this work, and even get some great results. But not this time! This attempt misses on almost every level. I include it here to remind you aspiring (or professional) painters that just because you’ve been painting for 30 or 40 years and you’re successful and well-known doesn’t mean that you don’t still have days when things just don’t work out!

JULY 2020: The above attempt at a painting of Kawai and Sam suffers from much the same ailment as several of the above: it’s just too literal, with nothing that interesting happening with the forms. Sometimes I can make that work anyway, if I’m bold and daring enough with how I apply the paint–but in this case, I didn’t manage to do that either. So it’s semi-interesting, but nothing to write home about. I said bye-bye to this one after about an hour and a half of work.

What I really want to say about all of the above so-called “failures” is that each of them was one more reminder to stay aware of the energy flow of the moment you’re in. This is true of life in general just as much as in painting. When every step of your project is a slog, and things just aren’t lining up no matter how hard you try, that’s a message: do something else! We all know the feeling we get when everything just falls into place effortlessly, sometimes miraculously, and our project works out even better than expected. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some hard work, but even the hard work was satisfying and just felt right. The older I get, the better I get at recognizing the difference between those two kinds of “flow” and the better I get at letting go of something when it just isn’t the right moment or the right energy.

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