Everyone talks about what’s wrong


but I think most people have difficulty figuring out what they got right. Recognizing mistakes is often easy. (Making them is easy too!) When a picture has a lot of mistakes, how do you discover what you did right? How do you marshal skill to get things right, to recognize and correct mistakes, and to go forward toward new decisions?  Sometimes it gets sticky.

In the picture above, which is a large practice cartoon for a painting idea, I have wanted to emulate Pierre Bonnard since I’ve loved his art for nearly as long as I can remember. Bonnard’s work is chaotic, “naïve,” fuzzy, idiosyncratic. His pictures are filled with features that could easily be categorized as mistakes. He made an art of mistake. So it seems unlikely that I’m going to get very far along his path if I assiduously strive to draw everything correctly.


How do you achieve the mistake that is art? How do you recognize the mistake that is a mistake? Context is everything. For most people, mistakes are things they wish to avoid. In the art that I’m addressing the mistake is a goal to be achieved because I’m seeking the kind of perfect mistake that is expressive, that uses exaggeration to reach a truth that cannot be gotten by following the path of precision.

Since this is a working drawing, made solely for the purpose of figuring something out, I taped a page over top of an area that was “more mistaken” than what I was seeking. Afterwards I continued integrating the new sheet into the existing image.


It’s a back burner picture right now since I’m busy with other things. I bring it out of the closet to think about what mistakes are and why we must make them if we want to learn new skills, and why sometimes they transform into marvelous discoveries if we just plow forward.

I also want to address the idea of appreciation.


I love the criss cross shadow cast by the compotier. The criss cross opening on the compotier basin is just barely indicated in this drawing — by some hatching beside one of the apples. I loved seeing this feature in the still life set up. I loved drawing it quickly and crudely in this drawing. I realized afterwards that I had hit some Bonnard pay dirt, since his art is full of hatching and squares of various sorts. And my still life was full of them too in ways I hadn’t noticed when I put it together. (Give your subconscious the respect it deserves.)


I can draw, I can draw! I’ve supplied various examples at this blog to demonstrate that fact to myself and to others. I did so just so I could grant myself the freedom to make a bushel basket full of mistakes if I want. Just look at how pretty the colors are, the marks as marks.


I don’t mind telling you that drawing this image was fun. And it’s not finished or anything, I just abandoned it because something else came up.  I’ll go back to it eventually I suspect, if the past is any indication of the future.  Look at how freely I drew some of this stuff. Look at the wonderful way that the crayon scumbles, light over dark.  The texture of the paper is definitely a factor.

Since I’m emulating Bonnard, I include some of his painting for comparison.

bonnard still life

Mine is a large drawing. I had to bend over to draw the bottom, reach up to do the top, move the thing around on the easel to get to this and that part. It’s physical.

101_8658 (2)

Things are the wrong sizes relative to each other. Ellipses don’t work. The angle of vision is confusing. I have no idea where I would be standing to see it. Things are cartoonish. (I love the flowers.)  Some of the colors are wonderful. The whole thing has a clunkyness that I sometimes love, sometimes hate.

I’m praising the good things about my picture because I think that’s what you should be doing as well (praising the good things in my picture  oops — I mean, praising the good things in YOUR pictures).

Another Bonnard, this one with a compotier:

fruit-bowl-1914 bonnard

Having standards will make you strive, and that’s a good thing. Developing appreciation nourishes your spirit. It’s hard to persist in a complicated project if you are often berating yourself. For those reasons, I give myself full reign to enjoy the pictures I make. I like drawing. I like this kind of inventive drawing, which is very different from setting up a still life and painting it directly. I began a new thing and gave myself a challenge. And I post these images here because they have a lot of mistakes in them.  To succeed fully enough mistake has to be siphoned away or transmuted until just invention remains.


That’s a high wire act because people like different things. (Some artists and art lovers hate Bonnard.) At long last there’s no authority you can turn to that can assure you that you took the correct path. The definitions of success and mistake are amorphous. But if I succeed according to my own idea the picture will find an inner logic. I don’t know yet what the result will look like, but I am encouraged — in all my pictures, not just this one — to go forward toward finding that logic.

A detail of a large Bonnard still life below, notice the wonderful stripes:

Bonnard, detail of a large still life

Information about the painting above is available HERE.

I’ve written about mistakes but still haven’t identified the most significant mistakes of my picture. As I look at it now, its problems begin with the large design. Putting in more information will help sort out what the large compositional problems are (the whole lower left of the picture is still blank, for instance, though it’s supposed to feature a design on the table cloth).  Until the additional stuff is there, it’s impossible to judge how the parts will relate to each other. And after I put more stuff in, it’s possible I might have to take some of it out again (which is the reason for making the practice cartoon in the first place).

All the figuring out what is a mistake is something I leave for another occasion.  For now, I’m just focusing on what I like because people don’t pay enough attention to what is right when they are busy seeing “mistakes.”


Green and yellow, above, and energetic lines, colors that push up against each other: these are things I like.



5 thoughts on “Getting it Right

  1. You’ve hit that proverbial nail smack on the head. Mistakes are important, but it’s important, too, for us to recognize what we’re doing right. One of the hardest lessons I’m learning is that it’s all right to like my own drawing or painting. If I don’t, who will?

  2. Beautiful colours Aletha. I love Bonnard too. In your work (unfinished?) I really like the hatching and the contrast between the intense patches and the blanker areas…I like the partially finished feel. Knowing when to stop and be satisfied is something I find difficult. Mistakes usually lead to something good I find. I use a dip pen for that reason – sometimes it just blobs on ink when I least expect it.

  3. Your post brings up so much in me in regards to “mistakes” and not recognizing what is good in a painting. It doesn’t help that in our society we all are taught from birth to get it right, to correct mistakes, to be better, to be the best…whatever that really means. I have noticed that ever since I have sent my inner critic off for a holiday I have been doing great! While the cat is away the mice will play! For so many years I have done nothing but strive for perfection, in getting it right and my expression and voice of sorts have taken a galley seat in the theater! Now I have given permission to explore, to give expression and onward I go! by the way, I love Bonnard’s work, I am compelled to go do a research on his work. 🙂

  4. Good post with a lot to take home (for me). Bravo for your phrase “It’s hard to persist in a complicated project if you are often berating yourself. For those reasons, I give myself full reign to enjoy the pictures I make”. I find without that sort of awareness, working through mistakes like you suggest in this post becomes a dreary, tiring business. Many thanks for sharing – I hope we get to see the finished painting sometime!

  5. I wanted to write about “art appreciation” on the local level (one’s own art) because I was noticing how often people feel a need to catalog the “mistakes” when talking about their pictures. (I noticed this in the life class I’m attending.) Also because seeing what is succeeding is a skill that needs to be honed. A lot of the art process is subliminal, so sometimes we can do more than we’re aware of — but what’s the point if the artist never recognizes success when it’s there?

    Partly it’s modesty — which is okay — I’m totally in favor of modesty. People don’t know how to say “I really love the way this line describes the WhatEverIDrew” when they’re talking about their own picture. It sounds too much like bragging.

    And yet some kind of “bragging” needs to take place — some of the time — at least mentally because the act of drawing is about appreciation. I love this still life and am attempting to capture a sense of the exciting features of a scene with lots of competing lines, shapes, colors, etc. Getting that desire into the image is the whole point — and I need to be alert to when that success occurs — as alert to the successes as the mistakes especially since the success can be a question, an uncertain destination, an exploration. How do I know that I’ve arrived there or have gotten close to arriving there? Etc.

    Some of the criticism perhaps grows out of a tradition of art school critique(?) Some is human nature. We’re aware of mistakes because art is a form of communication and there’s reluctance to appear mistaken before other people.

    In sports there’s a whole culture built around success and its celebration — who would want to watch a baseball game where all the players are dragging themselves around the bases? Doing something fast and well and celebrating the victory afterwards is built into sports in a way that it’s not built into art. But some of the adventurousness and audacity of sports is necessary in art as well.

    I’m not talking about the speed of the picture’s execution either — I’m talking about ideas whether fast or slow, subtle or “in your face,” Vermeer as well as Michelangelo. A small quiet work or a monumental one filled with energy. High art or popular art. Da Vinci or Walt Disney …

    Some of the time. Otherwise how does one find the energy to attempt new things, to find new skills?

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