Unfinished Business

Salvaging Your Bad Art

salvaging bad art, saving art, artwork, practical tips for artists,
Salvaging bad art - Non-Finito!

Every week, I write a brand new article for members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artist Hangout, The Artists Directory, and The Artists Lounge. This week we explore how we can reuse and salvage the art that hasn’t quite passed those mythical unicorn levels of greatness that we expect to produce every time we create new artwork as an artist. This is how we finish that unfinished business!

Firstly, from me!

Firstly, thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout 2019 by reading this blog every week, and I wish you all a very positive, healthy, happy, and creative 2020! Your support loves, likes, wows, and shares really are deeply appreciated. 

As is becoming increasingly the case, this week I am once again forgoing the cheesy, inspirational memes that you will find on some other blogs and will once again be shamelessly promoting some of my recent artistic endeavours. Each sale I make through Fine Art America and Pixels contribute towards the ongoing costs of creating a brand new article to share my experiences, good and bad, of the art world over the last thirty-something years with other independent visual artists. Those sales also ensure that I can continue to keep this site ad-free, independent, and bring you content that would normally require you to sign up or pay to break through a paywall. As usual, you can make a purchase from my Pixels store right here. https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com

Soaring Hunter by Mark Taylor, landscape art, Mark Taylor art, eagle art, fine art america,
Soaring Hunter by Mark Taylor - Available Now!

Save me!

I get it, you spend hours and sometimes weeks working on your next masterpiece and it turns out to be one big epic fail. It never helps when as an artist you become your own worst critic, we pour over the minutest of details looking for perfection, yet perfection is almost always some mythical unicorn but that doesn’t ever stop us looking for it. When the art you produce doesn't turn out as expected, we have to ask the question, are we looking at it objectively, are we looking for an excuse, did we have a plan in the first place, but more importantly, what can I learn from this?

If you have ever finished work and thought, wow, what a disaster that was, you are not alone! Every great artist creates many disasters before they create a masterpiece, something I noticed doing the rounds on social media a few weeks ago was Edvard Munch’s Scream, and now I have seen it, tell me that’s not a Springer Spaniel in the painting?

Maybe he really did know what he had done and the springer spaniel was intentional but when someone said wow, that's a masterpiece he just went along with it. There is sometimes a feeling of disbelief when a piece of work is adored by everyone but the artist, maybe it has something to do with that imposter syndrome thing we often hear about, I think mainly it stems from not quite believing that you could pull something like that off and you can and you did. Munch's Scream was and still is a masterpiece, springer spaniel or not.

I’ve had moments of disbelief. I produced a work years ago in about twenty-five minutes and thought, wow, that’s not going to sell and yet it did and still does. I have been told many times that it is raw and kind of unique, in a way that must have made it stand out, so I have just gone along with it ever since. You can probably tell that I don’t quite share the feeling of love for that work that others definitely do, but that doesn’t matter. The fact is that we shouldn’t necessarily be just painting for ourselves. When I created that piece I just went with the flow, I don't recall ever having a plan for it when I created it, except that I just wanted to paint something. I’m not going to tell you which work it was, but suffice to say it continues to be one of my best selling prints and I released it years ago. I even tried to create a follow-up work last year and I really couldn't. For some reason, it was too difficult to replicate and perhaps it didn't need to be replicated at all.

That’s really my point, as artists we can often be too close to the work to see it objectively. For all I know, people might be thinking that the work contains some level of artistic genius. I mean they’re probably not, but the fact of the matter is, we just never really know. Neither do we really know what bad work really is because what we do know, is that even bad art sells with the right marketing. Art is subjective, that is exactly why it is art, we are not supposed to like it or even 'get it' all just because we are artists or just because we produced it ourselves.

So my point really is that before you dismiss any work as a complete hashtag fail, look at it more objectively and gauge opinion on the piece because there will be times when we miss the opportunity to make a sale because we have looked a little too hard for that mythical unicorn. There will be times when we completely miss what the work may mean to others too, we are telling a story through our work, we might not always see it but there is usually a story there.

Be open and honest with yourself in that Unicorns are not real, then stop looking for the things that you think are wrong and then get back to the easel!

Having said that, there will be times when you will create a hashtag major fail. For a brief moment there I sounded like a millennial, so much so that I almost subscribed to World of Warcraft. Creating duds really is a part of the artistic process and one that needs to be understood because if you fail to recognise that not every work you create will become the next masterpiece, guilt will pile up and you will be carrying a heap of regret around. 

You might feel that art is no longer a career option and thoughts of giving up or feeling bad will eat away at you until the time you make the wrong decision by walking away. No great artist ever walked away before they were great. Instead, when you create a piece that doesn’t meet your exacting standards, what you need to really do is embrace it and figure out a way to love it, see it objectively, and then decide. I have had to do that with Kevin, my daughter's bearded dragon too, so anything really is possible.

So what! It didn’t turn out well, but that is no reason to treat any art you create as a disaster. If that was the case then I would have given up long ago and so would many other artists. Creating a painting that really falls short of those standards you have set becomes another excuse to give up on creating anything at all. At some point, that can lead to an onset of creative block, eventually, I think even a little self-sabotage. 

unfinished artwork, Mark Taylor, unreleased art, lost art, Beechhouse Media,
One of my unfinished and unreleased works - now non-finito!

If your mindset is deeply shifting towards the giving up on the creating art phase, the decision to give up is made easier if you believe that every work you create is bad. In my experience, and from my experience of going through this phase approximately every 3.7 days throughout my thirty-something year career, as artists we might be looking for validation, someone to tell us that we have the magic touch, or we might just be looking for an excuse to walk away. You don't have to look for an excuse, you just have to keep going, produce great art and accept that from time to time you will inevitably produce a disaster too. It is part of being an artist.

These are normal feelings that every successful artist has been through. It's also not something that is specific to artists, as humans we so often seek permission to give up on a dream too early. If you are looking only for validation, your eyes are not on your art, it is time to refocus.

Even today I frequently produce work that doesn’t meet my own set of conditions for release, that’s why I have so many spare canvases sitting around and incomplete digital works stored on hard drives. That doesn’t mean that those works will never see the light of day eventually, it usually means that they won’t see the light of day just yet. As for the canvases, if your work really turns out to be your version of a disaster then grab a tub of gesso because that is so much easier than giving up. 

If painting over any works that you have committed hours to feels like you have nothing to show, you really need to consider things from an entirely different viewpoint because you will have gained some not insignificant value from creating them in the first place. That value is the experience that you gained from making those mistakes and that really is the kind of experience that can never be taught no matter how great your mentor or teacher or art school. 

That is something that I have lived by for years and my mantra has for a while been that if I really want to succeed, I need to fail way faster than everyone else. Sounds cheesy and cliched, but collecting experiences that are good and bad are really critical to you finding success. These experiences become your history and make up your story. Experience of any description is what makes you, you and your art yours.

Still, think you have a disaster on your hands? There will be works that you might cast aside that are salvageable. There is a phrase in the art world that is used to describe incomplete works and that phrase is non-finito and here’s the surprising news, some non-finito works have gone on to be worth millions. I wrote an article about the art of non-finito back in 2017 which you can read right hereIn that article, I listed the top twenty ways to salvage work that was thought to be unsalvageable and for brevity, I have included the list from back then right here.

artists have three moods, funny, art quotes, Mark Taylor, Beechhouse Media,
Okay... So I left one cheesy meme in...

Twenty Ways to Save Your Work…

  • Figure out why you abandoned it or didn’t finish it and see if there is any way that you can find the inspiration to complete it. If there’s not, just walk away but consider the following options first.
  • Look at all of your unfinished works and decide which ones are calling you. If you are getting re-energised from looking at a piece, those are the ones you need to complete. Listen to them, because this is the only time art will speak for itself!
  • Write down half a dozen things that you learned whilst creating the work
  • Write down the things that you feel went wrong with the work if indeed anything did go wrong with it.
  • Try making the work smaller so that there isn’t quite as much to finish off. Your collectors who cannot afford your larger pieces might be interested in a lower cost original.
  • Consider publishing it as a non-finito work and explain the reasons behind it. It could be a trendy thing to do, or that the rest of it is really good and adding more to it would detract from what you have already done. Don't worry about people not buying it, people do collect non-finito works.
  • Engage your social-media followers and ask them to come up with suggestions
  • Post the unfinished work online and ask others to have a go at replicating it and finishing it off. Community art projects like this really do engage people and you will find some people even competing to produce the best work.
  • Cut it up into smaller pieces which could either be hung or used as coasters or sold as smaller works. You could also try out mixed media and decoupage. 
  • Close your eyes, grab a brush and paint over it. This really can bring some great results. Crank up the volume of your favourite music track and paint with your eyes closed, it is sublime when you let the rhythm guide you! 
  • Donate it to a school for the students to have input into finishing the work off, it would make an interesting project or for practice at restoration.
  • Take it along to your local art group and ask for feedback, or make it a group activity and donate the finished work to a charity.
  • Turn it around, upside down, portrait rather than landscape and see if there is something different about it that is more appealing.
  • Consider using mixed-media to add interest to the painting, adding texture and more interest and depth.
  • Add an element a day for thirty-days spending a short period of time only on each part.
  • Re-prime the support and reuse it for another new piece of art if it still doesn't speak out to you.
  • Create something entirely new but use elements from your unfinished work to add into your new work.
  • Create a new work entirely and cut up your unfinished work and add it into the new work as a collage.
  • Add in a quote and use the blank space to create a beautiful piece of typography
  • Set yourself a deadline to complete the work if you feel that it needs to be completed at all, and if it doesn't, set yourself a deadline to do something with it.

Changing the I have created a disaster mindset…

Works that have elements of greatness can often be saved by considering what is on this list. In the worst case where the piece meets the exacting criteria for you to call it a definitive disaster, don’t. It serves no purpose at all to think of any of your work as a disaster, instead think of it as a learning experience or practice for greater things. Adding in negativity to an already seemingly negative experience doesn’t help you or your work at all, and as the Facebook memes always say, you don't need that negativity in your life. 

once you have a disaster oriented mindset it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy, and once you have that mindset any new works become more susceptible to the same perceptions and that can lead to heavy doses of frustration and self-doubt. Make today day one of the new non-frustrated you, and be mindful that there are some people who will still have a disaster oriented mindset who just want to keep you in their gang. If you come across them tell them to read this post and hello disaster people, how's your day not going? Bet you are glad your newly positive friend identified you!

When you are squarely focussed on one thing which in this case is the bad, it can consume you and cloud everything that is positive. A work that goes a little or even a lot the wrong way often has some great points too, we just fail to see them because we are busy looking for unicorns. The important thing is that you remember that this really is all a part of the process. Mistakes will happen, perfection will be evasive, and if we never move completely past it there is a chance that those thoughts will linger, loom and control. If those thoughts aren't positively contributing to your art, the cost of art supplies, heating, gas, food, and electricity, let them go.

I don’t think we are designed as humans to just let stuff go but that is exactly what we need to do. Humans are great at dwelling on failure but success is often short-lived in our memory and failure can grind you down. Change your mindset, let it go, and turn bad experiences into great art.

New Years resolutions, for artists, art tips,
Okay then... two. But you need this!

Change the environment…

Often, it is not only the mindset towards what you perceive to be bad art that needs to change but changes in the environment in which you work can help you too. If the environment you currently work in is chaotic or dark, cramped or messy, it can compound the issues of feeling bad about pieces of work that didn’t turn out as well as you expected. To create art we do have to be in a comfortable space that doesn’t add fuel to those negative thoughts.

Back in September, I decided that I was going to finally take a few days out to sort out my own studio which over time had become a sort of hoarding den. I had no idea I had accumulated quite so many art supplies since the last time I gave the studio a refurb. I changed the colour of the walls to white instead of the darker cream walls I had before, removed all of the stuff that I knew I would never get around to using, and generally gave everything a coat of Feng Shui. Or, I did as much as any artist can when it comes to clearing out the clutter. Look, I tried, it feels better, I am enjoying my space, that's what is important but it really didn't cost me much other than time and new work surface. I used up leftover paint, and I did it all in a weekend. 

Having a space that feels more open and brighter has made a massive difference to my creative output. Immediately after I had a cleanout, I felt like I wanted to get back in the studio rather than seeing it as only space where I created my art. It was like some sort of colonic irrigation of the studio, not that I have ever had one of those but detoxing your studio is I imagine the artist's version of detoxing your body.  Clearing out the clutter has made a huge difference and finally, I can find things again so if you are still pondering on last-minute New Years resolutions, go and detox your studio.  

Change old habits…

I remember reading a book a few years ago called The Power of Habit, written by Charles Duhigg and in it, he suggested that habits are actually incredibly simple to understand. There are just three steps. Cue, Routine, Reward. Which gave me an idea on how I could reshape some of my old habits and stop doing some bad ones altogether. I used this technique to give up smoking and now I have been smoke-free for over a year!

Since reading that book I constantly find myself reviewing my habits, although I am sure I have many that I don’t really notice and a few that are still mildly to very annoying. But the ones I do notice and do want to change, I generally take a steer from those three traits that make it a habit in the first place.

I wanted to get into the habit of making a start on new artworks in the evening in the time that I would have spent watching the news on TV so that sorted out both the routine and the cue. Usually, an hour or two each night is like having an extra day to do stuff over a week.

The reward is that I get some time back on weekends and now I can just pick up something I have started in the week, apply any finishing touches on the weekend, run off the test prints and if I am happy with the results, upload it to my online store, share it on social media and do the same for two or three other pieces too. What this means is that I finally, get some time off over the weekend and I now protect Friday evenings to relax and do things outside of work and art.

Habits never really appear overnight, they usually arise from repeatedly doing the same thing over and over, but if you can deconstruct a habit into three traits, you can manipulate and shape the habits you want to maintain over time. It took me about three weeks to get into the habit of not watching the news, and I think just not watching the news has made a difference too. If I do need a news fix I just fire up something like Apple News where I can pick and choose what news I do want to see. 

Yeti paintings, Yeti art, Sasquatch art, Mark Taylor, Fine Art America,
Yeti Selfie by Mark Taylor

Saving other art…

Like I said earlier, every artist goes through this and there will be times when art really is beyond saving. If, and after you have looked at the work objectively, you still feel like there is no hope you do have the option of overpainting the work. I have done this so many times over the years, and I have even taken work that I have picked up at thrift stores and used the materials in new art projects too.

I remember picking one piece of art up for about ten pounds (UK) in a charity store and it was one of the best bargains I have ever picked up. The support was four feet square and there would have been no way to buy a good quality canvas and a really nice frame for that sort of money. The frame alone was worth more than the print and I ended up selling the overpainted work for quite a lot more than the ten pounds I had spent on it. Even after buying gesso, paint, and spending a few hours working on the canvas, I still managed to turn a very healthy profit.

One word of advice here, make sure if you do pick up such a bargain, that what you are about to overpaint isn’t some lost work from one of the great masters. I have heard those stories too, and yes, I know someone who overpainted a work worth a few thousand dollars once after mistaking it for a copy having picked it up for thirty bucks in a thrift store. There have been many news stories over the years of this happening and more recently of botched restorations which have completely ruined the work of great masters beyond any redemption. Personally, I only ever look out for mass-produced prints that have been printed on quality supports and it’s always a bonus if they are framed if I am intending on overpainting them.

Saving and repurposing thrift store art is officially a thing, having its own entry within the genre of found art. There is nothing new to the practice, back in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, pentimento, more often known as overpainting was a widespread practice. Today, it is not uncommon to find works that have had additions made to them to make them more relevant or fun, even Banksy has been known to create works that once had a temporary residence in a thrift store.

Reusing old works in this way can help others too. Large format works could become group or community projects and prepared and primed for painting over in schools especially when you consider that students rarely get the opportunity to paint on large format works with the supplied art supplies which are usually provided with budgets that have been stripped to the bone.

If your own stack of erroneous paintings (because if you are doing art right, you should have a stack of these) feel like a little too much work to resolve, you also have a couple of options. You could donate them to a school or community group, you could even use them as a way to bring your neighbours together to help you finish it, or save it. You could even have a save the art party and donate the finished work to charity. 

I am a big believer in never throwing art away, even if it is bad. If you can’t save the image, you can usually save the support, and some work should be kept so that you can look back on how far you have progressed. I have some really, by any measure, bad works that I created from when I started out selling art more than thirty-years ago, all wrapped up and stored in hermetically sealed containers, and maybe one day I will be remembered as being an artist and these works might be of interest, probably not, but who knows, but I did get asked to sign a coffee mug once and a drinks coaster with a doodle on in a bar. I was almost a celebrity level Z lister for about 30-seconds.

landscape art, art collection, fine art america, mark taylor, artist,
Finished art from 2019 by Mark Taylor!

Save the best until last…

A couple of months ago I wrote about how I thought the word fatigue was one of the worst words artists can use. How we often make fatigue inspired decisions and how most of the time those decisions didn’t need to be made in quite so much haste. Fatigue clouds everything so the best thing to do when you notice it striking is to step away. If a painting looks awful today, look at it again tomorrow or next week.

Sometimes you also have to let go of what the pictures should look like in your mind and allow them to show whatever they want to show. That’s what I did with that work of mine that continues to sell, I couldn’t see the real beauty in it but apparently, others can. Although I honestly don’t really care much for what is on that painting even now, I now recognise that it has become ingrained into my story and it serves as a reminder that we don’t always see what other people see and that has made me love the work, despite not liking the image.

Share your art disaster stories!

If you are convinced you have experienced an artistic disaster, we would all love to know how you rectified it, moved on from it, or are you one who just lets that crazy stuff go? As always, feel free to leave a comment! As always, if there are subjects you want me to cover, let me know what they are too! 

Have a fantastic New Year! Best Wishes, and Happy Creating!

Mark x

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com   

Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contribute to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website. You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com and it is here where you need to stay on the lookout for special offers.

You can also follow me on Facebook at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia

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  1. Dear Mark, First of all, thank you! Your "Twenty ways" is enlightening! I am pretty brutal with my unsatisfactory work when a few attempts to salvage was unsuccessful...And really, Kevin and art :))
    Hope your New Year is off to a good start! x

    1. Thanks Jane and a very Happy New Year to you too! Hope 2020 is epic and you have every creative success! I finally had to let a work go a few weeks ago because I just hit a complete wall with it! Thing is, I have the picture in my head but it won’t come out! As for Kevin, if we were best buddies I would use him as a model, but it’s a brave being that gets close to him, he’s going through some reptilian teenager phase I think, and he’s grown to about 14 inches now, not even halfway I’m told! We’re only ever in the same room by accident! Xx


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