If at first…

Why is it that so many artists, including me, think we’re going to get it “right” the first time? I know that producing good art requires practice, trial and error, and problem solving. But I still get frustrated when things don’t turn out to my satisfaction.


Cohoes Falls- 1st attempt

So it was this week when I tried to paint Cohoes Falls in upstate New York. On my first go, I just didn’t get the drawing right. I found it hard to simplify the landscape into shapes that I could tackle. And I didn’t really figure out the values before trying to add color. The result: a piece that’s blobby and confusing.

Cohoes Falls, NY

Cohoes Falls, done in micron pen and watercolor in Stillman & Birn Zeta journal, 5.5×8.5

So…turn the page and try, try again. Here’s my second attempt:

It was challenging to capture the magnitude of the falls and landscape in my small journal…to get the full width of the falls requires reducing the height. An accordion fold journal might work best. But that would take a third try!

About Cohoes Falls: New York’s second largest waterfall (behind Niagara Falls), Cohoes Falls is 1000 feet wide and 75-90 feet high. Several dams divert water from the falls, so the volume is of water over them is not full force, especially in summertime. Still, they are mighty impressive. There is a terrific park overlooking the falls and, when conditions permit, a stairway and trail that allows access at the base of the falls.

13 Comments on “If at first…

  1. Thanks for sharing your ‘failure’ to compare against the final version — it is instructive to see the differences. (And a reminder about the importance of value/color balance!) A lovely piece.

    • Thanks Beth! It’s hard to share artwork that you don’t feel great about…but good to remind ourselves that the process of learning is important.

  2. Such a great post Jean. I have this problem all the time as well, and often I think it has to do with the format of the sketchbook. I often go out with different formats of books (square, rectangular, panoramic) at the same time just in case I run into this dilemna. Your sketch is beautiful.

    • Thanks Shari- I think there is an added pressure for artist-bloggers, too. We see great art all the time from others and assume it’s easier or less fraught for them. We don’t see the trials too often. I’m just glad I turned the page and tried again. Otherwise, I would have stopped at “I can’t do landscapes.” Thanks for your encouragement!

  3. I want the first drawing/painting of mine to work the first time too. It is hard to overcome that personal pressure. Thank you for your post, good to know I’m not alone with that mind-set…I like your paintings of the falls btw.

    • Yes– I often assume that other artists DO get it right on the first go! (and I’m sure some do)…but mostly, I think we all struggle and have to work at it. Our own pressure can be both motivating and crippling!

  4. Beautiful work as always, and a heartening post from another artist- we all need reminded that it takes a lot of hard work and sometimes several attempts to get the image to look effortless.

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