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Working Through Mistakes or "When Everything Goes Wrong" as an Artist

February 15, 2017

~Teeny warning if you're of a delicate disposition, there are swears in this blog post!~


This morning I was thinking about all the tape resist art I've been doing lately and how much I've been enjoying it. I like abstract art but I also like art with a meaning behind it and I wanted to make art with a meaning behind it, not just art that is pretty for the sake of being pretty (though to be honest I think that's fun too).


When I got engaged I was stood on big flat squarish rocks that overlapped each other right on the edge of the river Dart in Spitchwick. My fiance getting down on one knee (the fastest I'd ever seen him move) and saying "ALYCEEMILYBROWNWILLYOUMARRYME" (the fastest I'd ever heard him speak) is the clearest memory I have and part of that is those rocks and that water.

 Those there rocks, and that there water. That morning when we went he said he was taking me to a place that was one of his favourite places when he was a kid (and tbh is hopefully now one of his favourite places as an adult too!)


This is now one of my favourite places too.


Soooooooo because of that, I knew that I wanted to make some artwork inspired by that and I thought that tape resist would be a good way to do it. At first I was going to lay the tape down and then do a grey wash to make the rocks... Since they were quite square I thought the harsh, bold lines (different widths, too) would be fitting.


But then how the heck was I going to colour in the lines as well? I'd have to go over each and every one with my figure painting brushes to get the straight lines... Or tape over the already painted parts?


Uuuuugh. This is something I struggle with as lot as an artist, and also as a regular person to be honest... when reality does not conform to my ideals. I actually need to make a webcomic to depict this because honestly, if I think it's Wednesday and then I find it's actually Thursday, I feel cheated. Why the hell isn't it Wednesday? I've just been conned out of a whole damn day and I didn't even do anything. Why can't reality just do as I want?


So I decided, okay... I'm gonna do something really radical and weird and just see if it works. I don't think I had a super clear idea in my head of what I was trying to get from this but I just went for it. I laid down my tape; and then I painted masking fluid all over the paper to fill in all the gaps. Oh my god. I felt like Homer Simpson pouring caramel over the cotton candy... This was me:

(Not my image; I found it on Google searching "Homer Simpson pouring caramel over cotton candy")


Below is what it looked like at that point, which I've been informed actually looks pretty cool on it's own to be honest! (I agree, if I may say so).

 It took me frickin' ages to peel all that tape off. It was covered in masking fluid! Which is not only tacky but incredibly strong, especially against washi tape and nail tape and even vinyl tape (that orange stuff). It kept snapping and then I had to dig it out and basically I now have a bit of a claw from trying to pick tape out of masking fluid. And maybe a bit of a nervous twitch from making a "pinch" shape with my thumb and forefinger. Don't make me peel any damn tape for a few days okay. I'll cry.


What's worse... It looked like a mess. I pretty much hated it. I wanted the tape to come up cleanly to make straight lines and even though I was about 99% sure that it wouldn't... all that means it that I was 1% sure that reality would conform to my ideals FOR ONCE, AND IT DIDN'T. AGAIN.


Putting aside the fact that I was furious at reality for disobeying me repeatedly during this process, I also hated the piece. I wanted to set it on fire. I wanted to throw it out the window into the street. I wanted to crumple it up and put it in the bin. It sucked and I hated it.


I try really hard not to just ragequit artwork because although 1/10 times it may work out looking kinda cool (see my artwork "Censor" on my Etsy here), most of the time it totally doesn't it just ends up looking... well, like you ragequit.


I do think it's really important to follow through on mistakes, or follow through when it all goes a bit Pete Tong... especially because if you never do, then - at least in my experience - you don't really ever learn how to fix mistakes as an artist. And that's usually because, in ragequitting, you never found out what went wrong in the first place. It's the same reason that I try to correct a sketch before erasing the wrong bit because if I don't keep the mistake there as a point of reference I'm a menace for going back in and making the same mistake all over again. What I'm saying is if you don't follow through, you don't work out what went wrong, where the mistake was, and you're more likely to make the same mistake again... Ergo, fiery rage, etc. etc.


Notwithstanding, crumpling up a shitty piece of artwork and throwing it in the bin, or scribbling all over it and tearing it up, is cathartic as hell and sometimes really is necessary (well, for me; I'm a passionate person... see: angry).


Soooo I decided to push on even though there was flames coming out of my eyes from how much I hated whatever this thing was. It was looking at me, covered in blobs of masking fluid like "kiiiilllll meeeeeee".


I drowned it with black ink. Here's what that looked like.

Great. Now it looked even more like a piece of crap; and my hands were covered in black ink. (I've since washed them twice and done the dishes and there's still black ink under my fingernails...)


Noooo this wasn't supposed to happen. This was supposed to look super cool and have harsh straight lines and look like where I got engaged not like a tar pit or the Chat Moss peat bogs! What the hell, reality?!


Sometimes I need to try and calm myself down and stop myself from doing this because I can see what I'm doing. Can you see what I'm doing? I don't like to be an outerdirected person; with things happening to me because of other things or people. So far I've blamed reality every step of the way and I'm not saying I should blame myself because I didn't necessarily make any mistakes as such. It was just and experiment and it looked like it just wasn't gonna work out. Stop blaming. Shit happens.


And again, I pushed on. I was going to peel the masking fluid off. If you like peel porn this is where I'll direct you to my Instagram where there's a neato video of me peeling off the last of the masking fluid. Enjoy.


I also wanna take a moment to say here that heat tools are the best. I didn't wait for any of these to dry traditionally I just blasted them (from a reasonable distance because the surface of the washi tape started to bubble) until they were dry. This also dried them pretty evenly. Waiting for things to dry traditionally is a thing of the past for me.


At this point I was actually pretty amazed. Not only did it not look so crappy any more... but it actually looked like rocks???? What???? How???? I'd actually done it and I have no clue how but I'm not going to argue with reality anymore. I did a grey wash (strictly speaking, dirty black-ink brush water) over the white spaces (where the masking fluid had been), turbo-dried it with the heat gun and then added a little shading with another grey wash... Here' the finished piece.

 Take a look at that! It looks pretty good right? Well if I do say so myself I think it looks great, especially considering how much I wanted to tear it up and set fire to it. Below are a couple of subsequent pieces done in the same way...

 I have to admit I'm not super keen on the purple one but I absolutely LOVE the blue one, I think it's my favourite. Also it looks the most like water. The main reason I went for black the first time is because I knew that when the ink was dry I would be able to do a grey wash over top without it smearing because when it's dry it's water resistant. (I was using India ink and I don't have a blue India ink anymore because mine exploded, boooo; the purple is also India ink; the blue is watered down acrylic paint).


So, the moral of this rambling trip to nowhere is that even if it looks like everything is totally going tits up, try and finish that piece of artwork because it might end up really great! You know like how stuffed peppers look like someone has already eaten them and they also can smell pretty gross but they're really delicious? Well this piece of artwork looked like crap right up until all the masking tape and fluid had come up and even then it only made me be like "eeehhh okay it's not kill-it-with-fire bad anymore I guess".


Try and persevere with mistakes. It may be that in the end it just isn't great. That's fine. Live and learn. The operative part of that sentence being learn! It may be that now you know how to avoid that mistake like hell yeah I'll never draw an elbow that messed up again because I pushed through and worked out what went wrong.


Push through artists! It's almost always worth it. And even if it still looks like a bag of smashed assholes at the end, you can then self-sooth by ripping it up/setting it alight/crumpling and binning it.



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