Evolution of a Bad Painting

“Painting is like walking along a cliff in the fog; At any moment you can be 100% wrong.”

–Paul Rangell, Professor University of California, Santa Cruz

YouTube and the internet are full of videos telling you how an artist makes a “good” painting. I am going to tell you how I made a bad one. I later made it better and I will show you that as well. But this article is really about failing. My mixed media piece did not start out bad, in fact, I think it had potential.

Step 1: Capture the movement

Loose pencil drawing of diver with two arcs showing movement on either side of him.
Using a watercolor pencil I quickly draw the position and general movement of the painting’s subjects.

Step 2: Sketch in the forms

Drawing of mosasaurs emerge where the arcs in the previous drawing were located.
Rough sketch along skeletal form of mosasaurs, again using watercolor pencil.

Step 3: Lay down the ink!

Mosasaurs now have tiger patterns and the diver is shaded, more details added.
Inked in tiger-like patterns on Mosasaurs and details on diver.

Step 4: Watercolor washes over entire painting!

First watercolor wash on the painting: carefully laying aside the whites.
Gradually building up color and texture through several more washes.
Even more washes: developing the diver’s bubbles, but the going is slow.

Step 5: Paint in deep water with ink… and blow it.

I carefully laid down a wash for the background but did not keep my eye on the left side of the painting while I worked on the right. The ink crept onto my Mosasaur and formed a permanent jagged edge on his once-smooth head. Ugh!

The ink wash seeps onto Mosasaur and leaves an ugly line.

Step 7: Make a bad painting worse

I decide to focus on another part of the painting while I try to figure out what to do with the mess on the mosasaur. I puddled watercolor over the bubbles to see if they will dry with interesting textures. They did not, in fact, the bubbles look nasty.

My diver’s bubbles look like a petri dish illustration.

The Fixes

Add blood

Disgusted with my painting, I had a glass of wine and watched a movie with my family. Putting some space really helps. But before I dropped the piece in the recycling I figured I had nothing to lose by working on the piece more. The first thing I did was add blood, well painted crimson lake and rose adder onto the lower left side of the painting. I added some cobalt and mineral violet for depth. Whose blood is it in the painting? I do not know; could be another diver, a large fish, or an injured mosasaur. What I do know, is now my primarily green/blue painting has a splash of color and I feel better.

The error becomes the method

Next, I took out my ink again and painted similar shadows on the rest of the mosasaur and as well as his kin on the right side of the painting. The light is more dramatic, the tone is less subtle, but now the picture is becoming more balanced. I almost like the mosasaurs now.

Acrylic and salt for the bubbles

I add titanium acrylic paint, watered down, over and over the bubbles. A little tone added back into the picture, here and there and a subtle sprinkling of salt. Salt attracts the pigment as it dries.

Finish with more patterns

Adding subtle dappled reflections over the tiger-like skin of the mosasaurs helps detract from the clumsy ink shading.

The bad painting is no longer quite THAT bad.

The painting is not finished, but not in the recycling, either. Nor is it the one I envisioned with clean, crisp lines, careful patterns, and subtle gradations. It has merits though, my mistakes freed me to be truly creative.