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Abject failure

No, not really an abject failure. So don’t jump in and tell me not to beat up on myself. I’m not beating up on myself.

This was another experiment, only partially successful. I was aiming to work on creating cast shadows — a tricky business I’ve gone out of my way to avoid. This was only a learning experience, and partial success is fine.

If you feel slight discomfort looking at this but can’t pin it down, it’s because the sun is shining from two different directions. And no, this isn’t a beach in some binary solar system (nice try, folks). The cairn and the background are located in different times of day — the cairn in late afternoon, the dunes in early afternoon. I had a reference photo for four of the rocks in the cairn; the rest is what I got by winging it. Still, I set out to work on cast shadows and there they are.

So where does “abject failure” come in? This piece reminded me why painting requires so much more confidence than writing. In writing, a first draft may suck. But at any moment, you can take any sentence, paragraph, page, or passage, and polish it until it shines. You know if you can do that with one sentence, you can do that with all. You can show yourself what it’s going to look like when its done.

Art? Not so. At least not in my limited experience. No getting around it; with painting there are stages — many stages, most of the stages — where the whole thing looks absolutely ghastly. And there’s nothing you can do but keep working it in hopes it’ll eventually resolve into something good. Even if you pause to perfect one portion, that’s no guarantee you won’t completely botch the rest.

Or maybe it’s just a matter of practicing until you know what you’re doing. There are GOOD artists around here who probably don’t think that way. That’s only my experience.

But setting out to create something beautiful and spending most of the process looking at uuuuuggggggggggly is disconcerting.


  1. larryarnold
    larryarnold March 9, 2017 3:03 pm

    Back when I was doing architectural renderings I picked up the trick of visualizing shadows in three dimensions. Unless there’s dust or smoke, you can’t see the shadow between the object and the surface it’s cast on, but it’s there.

    Like seeing a sunbeam where there are dust motes in very still air.

  2. coloradohermit
    coloradohermit March 9, 2017 3:39 pm

    I think the shadowing looks good. My not quite right feeling comes from the contrast between the nice detail of the rocks and the foreground with the lump of green behind it. Not being an artist, I suspect that may be an art thing to call attention to the subject and not get distracted with the background.
    As a study, I think it’s quite good and, like writing, could be altered with little dabs here and there until it does shine like your writing.

  3. Bob
    Bob March 9, 2017 3:51 pm

    I’ve always thought I could write – if I only wanted to badly enough. I try, periodically, and sit down to write the odd journal entry, or short story, only to finish with something about tenth grade essay level. Rough, and interesting only to me. I realize that if I spent the time to edit, polish, refine, etc., maybe it would be readable, but I have no interest in climbing that hill. Editing, polishing, rewording takes all the fun out of it and I quickly give up and find something else to do.

  4. Pat
    Pat March 9, 2017 4:03 pm

    I have more trouble with the dunes; why are they green — what type of vegetation was on them? Also, it now looks like the rocks might be in muddy water — or did you just leave that part alone and not try to develop it?

    It’s neither “failure” (abject or otherwise) nor ugly because you don’t happen to like it. *What do you see RIGHT about it?*

    The shadows are there, even the small stone on top casts a shadow, and it works. What would happen if you flipped the light blue rock over (3rd from the bottom), and turned the rust-colored one around?

  5. SKSK
    SKSK March 9, 2017 4:30 pm

    I’ve taken some art classes myself. It was great fun. Two things I learned:
    1) study the colors in the shadows and paint them in. 2) if you make a mistake–feature it!
    Don’t worry, you are doing just fine!

  6. Ron Johnson
    Ron Johnson March 9, 2017 4:37 pm

    I can barely write my name legibly, but my son can do wonderful life-like renderings of people and things in pencil and paint. He doesn’t want to, however. He prefers to do abstract expressionism. I don’t get it. Maybe he’s just avoiding shadows.

  7. Claire
    Claire March 9, 2017 4:43 pm

    Pat and Karen — There’s actually a lot wrong besides the sun being in two places in the sky. I was trying to have the cairn as a more “finished” element with the background and foreground only suggested, but that didn’t work well.

    Pat, what I see right about it is that I learned a few things. As a piece of art, it’s not very right at all, but it gives me a better understanding for next time.

    Thanks for the critiques, everybody.

  8. Claire
    Claire March 9, 2017 4:54 pm

    Oh Bob, I hear you. Writing so often looks easy until you actually sit down to do it.

    OTOH, my favorite part is the re-writing. First drafts are the hard part and rewriting is the gratifying part for me.

    I’ve known quite a few would-be writers who only want to do first drafts. Which I understand. Unfortunately, some of them think their first drafts are brilliant. Which they aren’t. At least you have good self-knowledge.

  9. Shel
    Shel March 9, 2017 7:23 pm

    You could pair it with a new science fiction short story, “The Land of the Two Suns.” One can go nuts reading into things, but I wonder if there’s a balancing of the shadows done without conscious intent.

  10. Claire
    Claire March 9, 2017 7:31 pm

    Ron Johnson — If your son’s trying to avoid shadows, I say “smart boy.” I think the next study I try will be something really simple. And shadowless.

    SKSK — “If you make a mistake — feature it!” I like that. One of the things artists look for and take advantage of is the “controlled accident.” I already have the accident part down right. I find it hard to believe what I see in shadows.

    larryarnold — I like “think of the shadows in three dimensions.”

    Here’s a pretty good shadow for you:

  11. Claire
    Claire March 9, 2017 7:33 pm

    Shel — “I wonder if there’s a balancing of the shadows done without conscious intent.” Dunno about that, but there will soon be a sanding down and painting over done with very conscious intent.

  12. Graystone
    Graystone March 9, 2017 9:19 pm

    I’m just a simple guy, so my first thought was, “Who Cares?”

  13. Claire
    Claire March 10, 2017 6:39 am

    Perfectly valid response, Graystone. Since I’ll most likely be posting more art and more maunderings on it, you might end up not caring quite often. If so, and if you still stick around, you’ll be a healthy counterpoint. Thank you.

  14. John
    John March 10, 2017 6:44 am

    “Thanks for the critiques, everybody.”

    I don’t have a critique and never went to art school so when I think something is fun or likable I don’t have any filter but my own.

    So, Yeah, I did another drag and save so before the art gods make it not there any more.

  15. Fred
    Fred March 10, 2017 1:30 pm

    Im curious what you are trying to achieve overall? I think you have the style of Reflections nailed,and styles like blue dog would be right up your alley.
    Is this trying to be more able overall,ie,do you want to be rounded in all styles,or seeking your niche?
    I think staying with reflections and working on that,like Blue Dog style,you have that style down pat.If you want to commercialize,thats where you should go in my worthless opinion ,LOL!
    If its learning basics,I hope its coming along and most important,that YOU enjoy it.That should be key,again IMO.

  16. Shel
    Shel March 10, 2017 2:13 pm

    With the essentially uniformly positive results here, I agree with Fred that your paintings are marketable. You could try local stores or a crafts fair. If you go the crafts fair route, you might try giving them to someone you trust to sell on consignment. That way you won’t have to “man” a booth and won’t have to deal with, “Oh, you’re Claire Wolfe! Let me take your picture!” Since the paintings are already good enough to sell, I think it makes better sense to try marketing them sooner rather than later; you can deal with personal growth and improving your skills while that is going on. You’re might also want to look into copyrighting as you must have done for your books.

  17. Claire
    Claire March 10, 2017 2:35 pm

    Shel and Fred — Very helpful points from good, hard-headed business perspectives. I appreciate having that perspective (which otherwise I lack).

    Here’s what I’m thinking. I don’t plan to give any thought to marketing or even to what I’m trying to achieve until June. Then it will be time to think seriously — and act seriously. Until then, all I’m doing with art is exploring. Playing, if you will. Learning. And that’s what I need to do. I start marketing and all of a sudden it’s not fun any more. It’s a ball and chain. But trust me, I do have something in mind that might (when I’m ready) be … well, let’s just say USEFUL.

    Fred — I love to work with reflections and light — it’s an interesting challenge and a type of art that makes me feel good to do and to view. It’s definitely something I want to do more of.

    It’s also funny that you should bring up Blue Dog, because I get a huge kick out of Blue Dog art ( I also know that, for commercial purposes it’s always best to have “a style” or a gimmick ( 😉 ) people can remember. But I’d be bored out of my mind doing the same thing all the time. I don’t know how the George Rodrigues or Laurel Burches or (heaven forbid) the Thomas Kinkaids of the world do it.

  18. Fred
    Fred March 10, 2017 7:52 pm

    I guess the Huge paychecks blue dog brings in must mitigate the boredom.Or like Marmaduke,or Snoopy,you know those artists love their dogs.

    Is Claire Dog out there somewhere? We know you love your doggies!

    Sending BIG SMILES your way…..

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