I had just spent 3 weeks working on a watercolor based on a photograph I took back in 1982 when I was working as a waitress at Lutsen Resort during my college years. Discovering the photo of a shallow river bed glued into one of my sketchbooks, I must have seen something in how the leaves floated on the water, the arrangement of rocks, and the way the water moved through them enough to make me take a photograph and save it where I did. This would make a great piece to include in my River Divination series, or so I thought.
The watercolor became too brown. I should have stayed with the color palette I established ahead of time. Overall, it was too chaotic with no place to rest the eye. I should have applied my design sense to the composition. Maybe looking back into the past was not such a good idea. This was the second “failed” watercolor of the summer, both of which I spent way too much time on.
Since I left my business as a graphic designer in 2020 to pursue fine art full-time, I was having a fairly high success rate in terms of the work. I felt good about what I was producing and it was work worthy of sharing and exhibiting. I had not prepared myself for the flops.
I Am Not Alone and Neither Are You.
I was recently reminded of the “failures” that other artists have made. For instance, when Pope Leo X forced Michelangelo to remove the scaffolding from the first section of the Sistine Ceiling, Michelangelo discovered it was all wrong. The figures were too small and the compositions were too crowded. Shit! I don’t know the Italian equivalent for shit, but I am sure there was a shit-storm. When Cezanne had a bad plein-aire day, he threw the “bad” painting in a tree where it could hang from a limb. Merde! (I do know the French word for shit.) I haven’t gone there…yet. I mean, cursing out popes or throwing paintings into trees. I was also reminded that watercolor paper does have two sides.
The Importance of Play.
How was I to rebound from a string of crappy work? Instead of diving into a new piece, (I’ve got ideas and plans for series work set to keep me busy for at least two years), I decided to give myself some slack and play. Giving myself time to play is a gift. For one, I am 60+ years old. I feel time ticking and that I have finite years left where I can physically paint and create. No time for play!
For a while, I’ve been meaning to take a break from the large detailed work and just play using up those 5 x 7-inch watercolor sheets. In the last doomed watercolor (shown above), in the upper left-hand corner, I found a spark. Out of the flop came a little illustrated river story series. These are nothing special or serious, just studies and a perfect way to shake off my feeling of failure.
“River” is both an illustration and story series about a river exploited and dammed, the river suffers and everyone suffers along with it. With the removal of the dam, the river is left alone, regains its health, and soon the salmon return, too.
Remember Your Manifesto.
Back in 2009, I wrote and designed a series oftruths, the stuff for creatives, makers, and artists alike to live by. Originally I wanted to make large letterpress posters out of them. While the manifesto enjoys a very small fan base, I have yet to see the series have its day in the sun. Still, the manifesto proves useful for what I have been dealing with. It’s not a failure. It’s a prototype.
I’m also reminding myself it’s why it’s an art practice. Thoroughly dusted off, I am ready and eager to begin again.
YOUR TURN. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences with failures. How do you deal with failure, artistic or otherwise? What did you learn by failing? Have good things resulted from your self-proclaimed flops? We all learn from one another so do tell in the comments.
I’m visiting an exhibit of an artist I don’t know yet. The artist’s work is powerful and moving to me. I read the label beside each piece. Many of them read Untitled or Untitled No. VI.
I kind of feel cheated. I want to know what the artist was feeling and thinking to motivate this person to create such a stunning work of art. Since I am not at the opening where the artist would likely be attending, I have no way of asking.
That’s the trouble of leaving artwork designated as Untitled, dear fellow artists. It’s a bit like not naming your children. You spent the time and energy creating the work, yet do you care enough about your art to give it a name?
I will say for many artists naming their work is painfully difficult. The “right” title refuses to present itself. If an artist commits to a name for their piece, they may develop different feelings and interpretations towards the work in the future that would require a new title. I can understand the desire for an authentic connection between the work and its name in an artist’s mind. As an artist, it’s important to me, too.
Perhaps I can be persuasive in asking, dear fellow artists, to name your work. Titling or naming your work is just one of many vital touch points you have with others and your work. A title helps make the work relatable and gives the audience a deeper connection to your work.
On the flip side, titling helps artists form a story around their work. We, as artists, all need to talk and write about our work. Again, I will acknowledge this is painfully difficult for many artists.
I consider myself incredibly lucky on this front. My love of stories and pictures starts with the art of children’s picture books. For a picture book to be a success, words and illustrations must dance together, creating a page-turner. I use this same mindset when titling, writing, and talking about my work.
That wasn’t always the case. When I ran my graphic design business, I did my art practice on the side whenever time and energy allowed. I drew lots of birds and watercolored fish and potted plants. I drew sheep, cows, and the occasional toad. My artistic skills improved, yet my work wasn’t saying anything. The work didn’t hold any real significance or meaning other than being “nice.” It didn’t give me enough meat for a compelling artist statement, nor did my work get me accepted to show in juried exhibits.
All this is to say, if your work has meaning to you, name it. Jot down your thoughts about it. It’s fodder for artist statements. It’s valuable content when you have the opportunity to talk about your work, either in an artist’s talk or with individual buyers and collectors.
Today, when I am working on a piece, a title will come to me well before it’s finished. The title may not have much to do with the subject matter but leads into the story I am formulating in my head. It’s a process that has become part of my art practice.
For my first solo show, I created story labels* to display next to each piece. People attending my exhibit told me they enjoyed the stories I had written about my work. My stories gave them a deeper understanding of my work, a chance to learn something and appreciate the work even if they didn’t particularly like it. (For example, insects of all kinds fascinate me with their designs, colors, patterns, and the mechanics of their legs, eyes, feet, and wings. But most people do not like seeing “big bugs” on the wall).
So, dear fellow artists, if titling your art and writing and talking about your art feels daunting, do not despair. Your art is a practice, and so is this. It gets easier each time you do it. Research how other artists name, write and talk about their work. I most appreciate it when an artist is genuine, speaks, and writes in plain language and from the heart about their work versus the esoteric prose I have come across. Frankly, I have no idea what that artist is talking about. Talk about a disconnect.
After all, I believe art can change the world. Artists are creators of culture and community. Generation of this is made possible through connecting with others through your art. And that starts by naming it.
ABOUT STORY LABELS: Because I wanted my solo exhibit to have a professional “museum” quality to it, I designed story labels using Adobe InDesign and the typography I use to represent my studio. I printed these story labels out on Professional Photo Matte paper (for Epson printers, mine is a WorkForce Pro 4630) and mounted the story labels on to .25” thick white foam core. (I have mentioned before I am not good with glue so this exercise had its moments). In the end, the story labels looked and worked beautifully. The trick was to keep weights (lots of big books) on top of the glued story labels until the glue was thoroughly dry and set. A lot of work for twenty-four pieces but well worth it.
OK, your turn. How do you feel about titling your artwork, writing about it, and talking about it? Has it gotten easier over time? Do you go it alone or do you ask for help when it comes to titling your work, etc?
It’s been a week since returning from a late summer 2-week break on the Big Island. One foot there, one foot here. Having traveled to the Big Island many times before, we no longer feel like tourists, more like visitors, familiar and knowing our way around. We took it SLOW, sinking into island time, visited with friends we have not seen in years and took in all the colors and flavors Hawaii has to offer.
I almost didn’t pack my Winsor & Newton pro watercolor compact with me and so happy that I did. Because we were taking it SLOW, I had time to paint a series of “postcards” inspired by the gardens around Waipio Wayside, the B&B Inn where we stay on the Hamakua coast, and from visiting the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. There are greens upon greens in an island setting so I did what I could to push as many greens from my limited color palette. This is a good exercise ~ stretching and creating new color recipes. I admit I can get lazy, letting myself rely on tried and true color mixes.
Painting and drawing outside under the gazebo, I would hear chickens scratching the underbrush for insects, clucking and cooing as they went. I would look up and see the clouds etch shadows across the ocean surface. Huge stands of bamboo clunks, rattles, and creaks as breezes brush through them. There were times when the wind had a sound that would make most of us want to head for the basement back home. The energy, light, and air currents are different here.
I am a studio artist, not one to go out and do Plein Air painting yet there is something about working outdoors, drawing from nature surrounded by nature that creates a flow – I was so focused and would lose complete sense of time until my significant other would show up, sit down, and hand me a glass of wine. Is it 5:30 already?
POSTSCRIPT To those who might be thinking, yes, traveling while COVID is still with us has its trepidations. Surprisingly it was not that uncomfortable wearing a mask on the eight-hour flight to the islands. We just got used to it and then sort of forgot about it. Landing in Kona, all we had to do was present our COVID vaccine cards and away we went to find our Turo rental car. Before traveling we filled out the Mandatory State of Hawaii Travel and Health Form ~ this made things go much smoother with no hold-ups at the airport.
Terra Kind Studio is the creation of post-modern ecological visual artist and designer Kristin Maija Peterson.
I write stories about of my work to bring you, my visitors a connection and a better understanding of the thinking that goes into each piece. I am a beauty hunter. My work represents the wild, the messy and the misunderstood. There is such beauty in the natural chaos of things. I hope your visit is a joyful, inspired one.
Be kind to the earth. Be kind to others and especially be kind to yourself.