Not every picture you paint will be a masterpiece, but accepting this fact and studying what went wrong is very important. ROB DUDLEY lays out his six-point plan for success

It is a fact worth accepting that not every painting you make will turn out as you hoped. Sadly, some artworks are destined for the bin, not the framers. We all want to become better painters and I’m sure, like me, you are disappointed and frustrated when an expected masterpiece doesn’t work out.

After the frustration has subsided, the natural reaction is to reach for another sheet of paper and start over again, putting the previous failure firmly to the back of the mind.

However, the paintings that haven’t worked can often be, if used wisely, some of our most valuable. Plenty of useful knowledge can be gleaned from pictures that haven’t worked and, instead of throwing them away, we should take the opportunity to learn from them. Ultimately the knowledge gained will make us all better painters.

This approach is borne of necessity. As a busy painter, I often can’t afford to produce paintings that offer little or no benefit, particularly if I’ve invested too much time in their creation. If the painting is unsuccessful, I can still gain much from it.

Although it won’t be a financial gain, if I can discover why the painting hasn’t worked, and learn from that knowledge, it should improve my chances of success next time.

When a piece hasn’t worked, I take time to review and assess it, attempting to answer the question:

“Why hasn’t the painting turned out as I wanted?” Sometimes the mistakes are immediately apparent, and the painting can be salvaged with a little work. In other cases, the reason for the failure is not that obvious and needs further scrutiny and investigation.

I often find that the best approach is to consider the very same steps that I took when making the painting. Breaking it down in this way allows me to consider each stage of a painting’s development independently, as well as relating each stage to the finished artwork. When assessing my work, I consider the following criteria; inspiration, planning, format and scale, tones, colour, pigments, and techniques.


Is your painting fully focused? Painting is obviously not just about inspiration but the part it plays in the creation of a work cannot be underestimated. The spark of inspiration can lead to wonderful paintings. However, if it is not there, or it is snuffed out too easily, then all too often ideas can run out of steam – and the paintings can reflect this.


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May 2020