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5 Ways to Survive a Bad Day in the Art Studio

Having a bad day in the studio makes me feel, well let's just say sad! A bad day can consist of being unable to get in the groove, or every stroke of the brush becoming a screaming beacon of incompetence being broadcast to the world! It's dramatic.


Sometimes I set myself up for a bad day. In my art, I see no separation between the natural world and the manufactured world, which means if a subject calls for the addition of a manufactured material to be complete, it gets it. Very challenging when working in oils for many reasons: oil stains, oil corrodes things over time, etc., and frankly, I don't always know what I'm doing either. Yet fabric, paper, and plastic call to me as I paint landscapes of our world where the real thing is rarely free of such debris.


I completed a work entitled "An Ancient Landscape ." It involved newspaper and oil paint on a panel. I carefully aged my newspaper and sealed it with several layers of PVA size. I began to paint. I laid out how to apply the paper to with jagged edges and all. It was going so well! But, once complete, I realized I spent so much time thinking about the paper that my values and depth are nonexistent, and this after removing the mountains and reapplying them several times! Who knew I could make it worse? See for yourself:


My first thought was to have a tantrum full of self-pity and expect my husband to treat me like a queen, foot rub and all. But then, I couldn't help noticing the successes. I mean, yeah, the painting is shit overall, but check out the closeup of the newspaper forming dried mud:


Check out the fantastic brushwork in the sky and how those southwestern clouds are dancing in a line right across:


I'm on to something here!

This painting will remain on my wall of "well, nice tries ." But, this method will be making another appearance.


Artists tend to be hard on themselves when it comes to making mistakes. There's only a little room for experimenting because that takes valuable time from making a living, much like any profession. Experimenting with art is how the good stuff gets made.


Here are a few things that I do to keep the bad day from taking over:


Put it aside.

If a painting is not working, or I can't get the perfect focus for the piece, I let it rest for a day or two.

Take a break.

I like to walk if I feel like I'm not in the flow. Pick something to help you clear your head, even leave the room and think of something else for a moment, then try again.


Talk to someone.

The life of an artist can be isolating. Make sure you have artist friends with whom you can talk about your work. Even a regular friend or family member can tell you things you did not see about your work, and it can make all the difference.


Walk away for the day. Come back to it tomorrow. You will see things differently after a good night's sleep and a changed environment.


It's ok for the painting not to work. Stop being so hard on yourself. These less-than-perfect paintings can be the best learning paintings. The reality is it's still not working even if you get mad. I know I have made some really bad pieces and the mad didn't fix it! Try to find the lesson and the good; it's there.


I mean, face it, "artist" is who you are. Walking away from art, what does that even mean? It's not an option!


And now, for a work worth looking at:

Three Floss Silk Trees, 2022


How do you deal with a bad day? Share.


Thanks for reading!


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Serena Mason
Serena Mason
Jun 01, 2023

I think your 5 steps below work not just for art but life in general. Our art is who we were on that day in that moment and good bad, or ugly, express where we were on that day and in that mindframe. We must continue moving forward and evolving. Some days are not as good as others. At the end of the day, you hope that the good days outnumber the bad days just like with our art and our creativity.

Put it aside. Take a break. Talk to someone. Walk away for the day. It's ok for it not to work.

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So true. Thanks so much!

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