Screw you, failure.

April 8, 2010

So isn’t it appropriate that I wrote that whole post about failure and what that word denotes to me, and here I am, feeling like a failure. Well, I’m making a considerable effort NOT to think of myself as a failure, or to think that I failed in some way, I’m just stuck.

Desk of disaster

I’m so incredibly frustrated. This is one of those times where I wish wholeheartedly that I had gone to art school, or taken some sort of classes somewhere. Well, I did go to an art boarding school for part of my highschool junior year, but I really didn’t learn much. Right now I’m stuck with all these ideas in my head of exactly what I want to create and no practical knowledge of how to do it! I’ve been experimenting with mediums that I know and don’t know and it’s left me feeling quite frazzled. Well, I’d probably just be despondent if I hadn’t had caffeine today, which probably wasn’t the best idea >.<

So here’s my exercise in not being afraid of failure. I am going to post photos of all my crappy half-finished projects. I’m going to show you things that I really really would rather not. I’m going to expose the fact that I’m not always perfect and that I do make a serious mess of a lot of the art projects I undertake. And last, I’m going to ask for help and advice from anyone who reads this on how to get past these hurtles.

So first up is my boat project. I’ve been hesitant to divulge information on it because I wanted to make it and have it be a big surprise, since I think it’s a pretty awesome idea, but now I’m so stuck it may never happen. I’ll tell you this, inside my boat I was planning on making a little room, sort of like a dollhouse. That’s why I was working on the tiny wood stove and little shelves and all that, but now that project has hit a dead end. The problem is, I have no idea how to make the tiny things inside the room! At first I thought I’d make them from cardboard then paper mache over it and paint them, but here’s the problem with that: I can’t seem to get paper mache to be smooth enough on those tiny surfaces to look good and I suck at painting.

I thought maybe I would cover the cardboard in paper clay, to make it easier to smooth and shape, but trying to paper clay these tiny little things has proved very difficult and the uncertainty as to whether or not it will work has caused me to stop trying all together. What do I do?? How can I make tiny furniture and things for my boat house? I really don’t want to use fimo or any sort of polymer clay, although I know it would be easier. I just don’t like that stuff. It’s super toxic and freaks me out, I wouldn’t want to bake anything unless I put my toaster oven outside. Any suggestions?

Next is my serious painting problem. I finally got gesso and brushes and some used canvas to try to work with. I watched some videos on Youtube about painting, but I really just don’t get it. I can paint with watercolors alright, but not acrylics. I think my main problem is that I’m not entirely sure what I want to paint or how I want it to look. That’s what I like about water colors (and fabric), the piece morphs as I’m making it. With dolls it’s the same, I have a basic idea of what I want and I go for that but nothing ever comes out exactly as I planned and usually morphs into something way better!

I was attempting to try a couple techniques I thought I learned in a video… It didn’t really work out

I think maybe I need to stick to water color, since I prefer creating as I go rather than laboriously sketching and planning before making something. But then how will I paint things like my boat and my centaur? Those things require skills I just don’t have. Being able to paint a face or a wood stove to make it look real is a bit beyond me at this point… I just don’t understand acrylic paint!! When I paint with acrylics, I just sort of draw with color which doesn’t really work. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to add shadows and things and have them blend seamlessly. Plus the brushstrokes always bother the hell out me. They always seem so prominent and wrong. How can I learn to paint when I’m not able at this time in my life to take a class?

If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know that lately I’ve been feeling a bit crumby. My body is aching and I have pains that I know could be cured by getting shiatsu twice a week instead of once, but we have very little money. We pay for shiatsu now with local currency through The Fourth Corner Exchange, where we don’t have to use real money, but it does require giving back to the Fourth Corner community. (If you’d like to learn more about Fourth Corner and local currency, here’s a link: http://www.fourthcornerexchange.com/index.php ) But there’s only so much we’ve been able to do to earn our keep there. We’re getting pretty low on funds in the exchange and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to make some more. At the moment, I offer to make custom dolls and to do mending, but it’s just not panning out. So I thought maybe if I could make some simple stuffed animals and sell them at a low price, I might be able to earn a bit so that I could get more shiatsu. I thought it would be so easy… but it’s not.

Sewing disaster

Trying to come up with a good pattern for a stuffed animal has been really difficult. I think I might be at the end of my rope with it, actually. I’m sick of sewing a million different ideas and then having them not turn out quite right. While I do like the way sewing projects morph due to my lack of serious training in the medium, it doesn’t really work for me to have a little bunny with a lumpy face and stiff limbs that stick out all wrong. I don’t like using other people’s patterns and I prefer to make them myself, but I really need some sort of insight into the art of making patterns to create creatures that have the proper shapes. Although, the more complicated I make this endeavor, the longer it will take and the more I’ll want to charge for each toy. Ahhh!! It’s so hard for me to make anything in a simple and easy way, I always have to make everything so detailed and complicated, it’s a compulsion that can make my art a lot better but can make me totally crazy!

So there we are. I’m stuck, I’m admitting to the ether that I don’t know how to do everything and that trying to figure it out on my own is a bit more than I can handle at the moment. I would love some suggestions on these projects, please give me all your ideas!! Help me get out of my slump!!

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7 Responses to “Screw you, failure.”

  1. Valour Says:

    I could tell you how I would make the little furniture, but I think how you are doing it so far is looking awesome. The little stove and the little shelf are really cool. I think if they were all smooth and flawless they would be much less interesting. In fact I have always wanted to make actual full sized real wooden furniture just like your shelf…. But I have never gotten around to it. Yet

    As for the paintings, Usually I just start swirling the paint around on the canvas until it starts to do its own thing… Then I either go with it, or paint it solid and start again. When I used to try to paint an idea, it just turned into a mess so I gave up on that. Not that it isn’t a skill that I wish I had.

    Anyways, your stuff is awesome. Just have a coffee and keep doing what you do.


    • Thanks, chris. It really makes me feel better that you say you actually like how my little furniture pieces are coming out… Maybe I can let go of the perfectionism a little bit. As for painting… Ug. I don’t know if I even want to learn anymore >.< It has been so frustrating every time I try!

      Thanks for your kind words, I'll try to keep just plugging along.

  2. Jefita Says:

    Okay, here goes my very long and hopefully somewhat helpful rambling:

    First off, you are not a failure. Anytime you try something new, there are going to be failures. You just have to accept that. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I seem to learn best from my failures. Figure out how you could fix things and use that to try again. If it’s a spectacular failure, maybe back up a bit and try a less ambitious project first. Sometimes you have to work up to the really cool stuff you want to do. And if you get too pissed off or totally stuck, stop working on it for a while. This is one of the more important things I’ve learned. Otherwise I end up going into a downward spiral of frustration and anger and nothing gets done. Try working on something you know you can do and then come back to it the next day.

    About learning on your own, I don’t really think it’s a matter of whether you went to art school or not. I’m saying this as a person who has taken maybe two art classes ever. I went to school for engineering. Art school doesn’t magically make you a better artist or creator. It does provide a structured learning atmosphere for you, along with experts and feedback, but if you are willing to seek it out, you can also find those resources all over the internet, and in your community. When it comes down to it, it’s really a matter of practice, whether you are taking a class or teaching yourself. If you are self taught you just have to have the discipline to seek out new knowledge and improve on your own, without someone telling you to.

    And now for some practical tips on your current projects:

    1.) For the little tiny furniture, perhaps try thin wood like balsa, which you can usually find at the craft store. I would also recommend getting some sand paper, and sanding before you paint. Another option instead of paper mache, is decoupage. Use thin paper like magazine pages and it should give a smoother finish. I have heard that they are making phthalate free polymer clays now too.

    2.) As for plush patterns, they are just kind of tough. It takes a little while to figure out how to construct different shapes and put them together right. I often go through several iterations of a pattern before I get it how I want it. Also, you will find that alot of the shape depends on how you stuff it. It takes some practice. If there are some particular shapes you are having trouble with I am happy to help you with more specific tips.

    3.) I’d offer advice on acrylic painting too, but I’m still pretty noob at that. I imagine if you practice you will get where you want to be. Remember that some mediums are better suited to some styles than others. It may not be the medium you want for what you are trying to accomplish.

    So, that’s what I have to say. Being primarily self-taught I struggle with these sorts of things a lot. I’m always wanting to try things and I often jump in over my head. I start way to many projects at once. Sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming and frustrating. When it gets bad like this, just take a step back and unwind a bit. With patience and practice you can do anything you want.


    • Thanks so much, Jefita, this all very helpful. You’re right about taking a break from the frustrating projects, and it doesn’t work to just put them off. I have to consciously decide to break from them or else they’ll keep pulling at me. I think what makes it really hard for me is my lofty goals for myself. It’s hard for me to take it step by step, going from what’s easy to what’s hard. I feel like I need to make what is in my head just as I want it right away. I am not in the habit of practicing or doing studies. I don’t know how sustainable that is, but it’s how I work. Maybe I should try to change? I’m not sure.

      I’ve always had pride in my ability to teach myself, but acrylic painting seems to be the bane of me. I think I might take an extended break from that venture. You know, just writing this blog post has been so therapeutic, not to mention all the kind words I’ve heard here and on my flickr page. I think it has really helped me to relax and feel better about these projects. It pretty liberating to admit my flaws, it’s always a big fear of mine.

      I like your ideas for the furniture, I’d really like to make more things with balsa wood, but I’m pretty strapped for cash at the moment, unfortunately. I’ll have to look into those new polymer clays, that would be great if they weren’t so nasty. Though I don’t really know much about their make-up, is it the phthalate that makes them so toxic?

      I will definitely take you up on your offer for plush pattern help, I just need to understand how to make certain shapes using multiple pieces of fabric. I’ll take some photos of the shapes I want to make and send them to you. Thanks so much for all your help!!! You Rock!!

      • Jefita Says:

        Well, in reality that’s what I do too. I’m really bad at practicing and even worse at doing studies. I always want to be awesome at something Now and I have a terrible habit of looking at things other people make and being jealous of their skill. Learning that failure is ok has really helped though. I just treat it as practice and am prepared to try again until I get it right. Each time I do it again, I know it will be more awesome. Between that and learning when to quit I don’t get upset about my work near as often.

        Learning a new medium is always tough because they behave so differently. It took me forever to be able to work with watercolor because I was too impatient. Colored pencil is one of my favs. I’ve only just started dabbling in acrylic.

        I’m pretty broke most of the time too, so I do lots of scrounging and lusting after materials. I hate waiting to do projects. Polymer clay is really fun to mess with. I never really cared, but phthalates were the main health concern that most people had with it. It was used in the plasticizer that makes the clay mold-able, and was released when baked. Due to new regulations the major brands have reformulated to be safer.

        I will look forward to your email, and I hope I can be helpful!

  3. izotz Says:

    just about your problems with acrylics…
    they’re not absolutely great to paint with, i’ll say. the great thing of them is they are waterproof, but or painting i wolud use oil instead of them, and if you need to paint dolls i usually do it with first with acrylic (just plain colours) and them with tempers, or just dense watercolour. hope i help you šŸ™‚


    • Thanks for the tips! I wish I could paint with oils, but I can’t afford to buy them (a friend gave me a set of acrylic primary colors for my birthday a couple years ago) and I think they would interfere with my homeopathic remedy… I’m not sure.

      What are tempers? I’m not to savvy when it comes to artist’s lingo or supplies. Are you saying that you would paint acrylic for the base colors and then watercolor or tempers on top of that?

      Thanks again

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