Making Deliberate Bad Art

We forget all the time. Comparing yourself to others is stepping off a cliff. Nothing good can come of it.

We know that, we aren’t naïve, we know the art we admire so much is a product of a lot of work yet, we want to know their secret. They must have something nobody knows which makes them them do what they do.

I refuse to say it’s just talent. It is, to a certain extent, but there are so many talented people that rarely make progress while those who focus on doing their thing a little at a time over the years become really good.

Do I want to imitate someone?
No, never.
But I do want to learn a bit about their process or workflow, whether in web development or in art, it feels like finding out a secret.

This helps me in a number of ways:

  1. It reminds me that it’s ok to do things any way you want.

An example is someone’s process:

  • Making a rough draft on printer paper
  • Trace the rough through a lightbox
  • Ink the drawing multiple times until it’s perfect
  • Scan it
  • Clean it up in Photoshop

This is the process of several fashion illustrators who have worked for important magazines and brands, yet I always thought they sat down to work on their incredibly expensive watercolour paper and with just a few strokes they made their wonderful pieces.

2 I learn a trick here and there and then experiment with it until I incorporate it into a completely new work.

Negative watercolour painting

I watched a tutorial where the instructor painted flowers using this technique. I’m not very interested in painting flowers myself, but I did use it to paint a human figure, resulting in a very interesting (albeit messy) experiment.

3 I have all sorts of happy accidents.


I was obsessed with certain ways watercolour ran down the page but every time I tried it it became a mess. Looking at how a landscape artist made tree trunks using this technique, I managed to make a couple of interesting “sad faces”.

Kill comparison

The moment you compare your work to someone else’s, and feel a pang of discouragement, you need to make deliberate bad art.

There are two schools of thought ( I like the expression “school of thought”), those that like Picasso, encourage “stealing”, or learning from the work of those more experienced.
You’ve probably read the book Steal Like and Artist by Austin Kleon. If you haven’t, you might want to take a look at it.

The second school of thought tells you not to do that and instead turn inwards and find your own voice and your own style right from the start. To close the internet and just go with your inner voice.

I belong to the first.

Since I am not visual, I’m verbal, inspiration for drawing and painting needs to come from actively seeing what calls my attention. I can’t “imagine” images. I use references, photographs, illustrations, colours that I see here all around, including magazines, Pinterest, books, etc. I rely a lot on happy accidents.

If I find a great artist (and everyday I do) I can’t help to feel the avanlanche of discouragement thinking about the long road that awaits me and how much I want to make good art but I’ve become much more mindful of these emotions and what I do immediately is set out to make Bad Art.

All my efforts go into it, no pressures, no thoughts of grandeur.
I use scraps of paper, I see the colours bleed into each other, I see my original shape turn into something else.

Bad Watercolors

Some of my bad art after having an existential crisis

Bad art is a ticket to freedom, a permission slip to do what you like without taking yourself too seriously while still making progress. Click to Tweet!

Stealing is also a ticket out of discouragement.

What’s better? To sit around waiting for your muse to knock or pick a photo of a duck, a building, a personality and try your hand at it.
Nobody else in the world will have made that representation, nobody else will have seen it as you did.

So. Yes I will steal from you.

(But nobody will be able to tell)


Steal Like and Artist

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