You’ve certainly already failed a painting. It happens to every artist, regardless of their level of experience and skill. However, the difference between the beginner and the experienced artist is that the latter learnt to use “failed” paintings as an opportunity to progress. In this article, I explain how to get there.

The Situation

In front of you, there is a painting that you do not like at all. It’s a total fiasco and all you want is to throw it through the window or to destroy and no longer have it under the eyes. You want to stop feeling this unpleasant impression of failure. I know what it is, I have also been there.

“Alchimie” (Alchemy)

Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar.
Size : 18×24 in (45,7×61 cm)

"Alchimie" (Alchemy) Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar. Size : 18×24 in (45,7×61 cm). March 2017. © 2017, Louise Lamirande

“Alchimie” (Alchemy)
Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar.
Size : 18×24 in (45,7×61 cm).
March 2017.
© 2017, Louise Lamirande

Close-ups from the previous painting…

Close-up from the painting : Alchimie (Alchemy). Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar. March 2017. © 2017, Louise Lamirande.

Close-up from the painting : Alchimie (Alchemy).
Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar.
March 2017.
© 2017, Louise Lamirande.

Close-up from the painting : Alchimie (Alchemy). Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar. March 2017. © 2017, Louise Lamirande.

Close-up from the painting : Alchimie (Alchemy).
Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar.
March 2017.
© 2017, Louise Lamirande.

Close-up from the painting : Alchimie (Alchemy). Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar. March 2017. © 2017, Louise Lamirande.

Close-up from the painting : Alchimie (Alchemy).
Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar.
March 2017.
© 2017, Louise Lamirande.

Breathe, Analyze and Take Action

Breathe deeply and step back. Take a break, go for a walk outside, clean your dishes, take a bath or call a friend. The important thing is to calm your mind and release the emotional load.

Questions to analyze the situation and find solutions. When you feel calmer and relaxed, go back to your painting and look at it objectively without letting the emotions take over and answer these questions:

  • What is working in this painting? What do I love about it? What are its good points? Come on, I’m sure you can find something you like in what you did. This is certainly not totally bad. Look to the colors, the texture, the composition, the values, the technique used, the movement, etc.
  • What do I like the least about this painting? What are its weak points? Do the best that you can identify them. Look at the design elements, the composition and the whole work.
  • What do I learn from this analysis? What could I do differently next time? It’s silly to say, but we often learn more by making mistakes that when everything goes well.
  • Now, is it possible to make changes to this painting? Very often, a few modifications are enough to completely change a painting and improve it. Modify a color, add more contrast or a glaze, mute a distracting shape, etc.

If you are a beginner, an art teacher or a more experienced artist could certainly help you answer these questions, but I believe that it is essential to develop autonomy early by learning how to self-assess your artworks. To do this effectively, however, you need to learn the basics of painting like the elements of the design, composition, color use, painting techniques and more.

“Nature magique” (Magic Nature)

Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar.
Size : 18×24 in (45,7×61 cm)

"Nature magique" (Magical Nature) Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar. Size : 18×24 in (45,7×61 cm). March 2017. © 2017, Louise Lamirande

“Nature magique” (Magical Nature)
Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar.
Size : 18×24 in (45,7×61 cm).
March 2017.
© 2017, Louise Lamirande

Close-ups from the previous painting…

Close-up from the painting: Nature magique (Magic Nature). Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar. March 2017. © 2017, Louise Lamirande.

Close-up from the painting: Nature magique (Magic Nature).
Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar.
March 2017.
© 2017, Louise Lamirande.

Close-up from the painting: Nature magique (Magic Nature). Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar. March 2017. © 2017, Louise Lamirande.

Close-up from the painting: Nature magique (Magic Nature).
Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar.
March 2017.
© 2017, Louise Lamirande.

Close-up from the painting: Nature magique (Magic Nature). Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar. March 2017. © 2017, Louise Lamirande.

Close-up from the painting: Nature magique (Magic Nature).
Oil paint, cold wax, alkyd medium on matte Dura-Lar.
March 2017.
© 2017, Louise Lamirande.

More options

If in spite of all your efforts to improve your painting you dislike the result, you still have several options to consider:

Play and experiment. Transform this painting into an experimental artwork. Try a new technique or a new medium on it. Let’s go freely, dare, play! After all, you have nothing to lose! It is often in such a moment that I have made the most amazing discoveries in painting. Give yourself that chance too.

Recycle. Depending on the medium and the substrate used, here are some ideas to recycle your work.

  • Put acrylic gesso on the entire surface and use this to create another painting.
  • Use water or a solvent (depending on the medium used) and remove as much paint as you can. Use this base for a new experiment.
  • Paint on the other side of your support if it’s possible.
  • Cut, or tear your paint, then use the pieces for a collage, or to add texture to another painting.
  • Crop your painting and keep only the area that you really like.

These are just a few ideas, but I hope they will help you see a failed painting not as a failure but as an opportunity to learn and progress.

Regarding the artworks

The artworks accompanying this article are made from oil paint and cold wax medium on polyester film. Their size is four times larger than the one I most frequently use and I must confess that it made me live plenty of stress and doubts when they were created. Nevertheless, by letting go and venturing into unfamiliar territory, I come out a winner, if only because I have learned from this experience.

Thanks for being here with me and see you soon,

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