The creative process is full of failures for all of us, but it’s how we approach it, the next project, day or paint stroke that brings you from failure to success. The key is to move through our failures so we don’t get stuck in ego with feelings of disappointment and indecision. Instead, take a moment to assess then take action to keep the creative process moving.

I received a question the other day from a lovely painter. She asked if I sign my paintings with acrylic paint or a marker. It’s a good question and I wish I had learned the answer earlier in my acrylic painting career. Her question got me thinking how much I regret signing some of my portraits in the not-proper-way and I thought I share this and some other painting fails, and what to do instead so you can take action steps to keep things moving if they happen to you.

Top 5 Pet Portrait Painting Fails

Rush the sketch

I’ve rushed the sketching process a couple of times over the last decade and spent hours in sketching mode just to realize my sketch is off by half an inch, or needs to be smaller. It’s not only creatively exhausting to start over on a new canvas – it’s a waste of time and money. These days, I do mockups, triple check measurements and catch my mistakes earlier. I never rush the sketching process, but instead allow it to take the time it needs to create the roadmap that will support my painting process.

Freestyle the background color

Earlier in my career in painting pet portraits I would ‘wing’ the background color. I didn’t feel confident in my own skills in painting backgrounds so instead of planning ahead, making samples, collaborating with the client etc. I simply winged it. While sometimes this turned out well, other times it led to failures. I never had to start over due to an ugly background, but it did lead to too many layers sometimes and a background that looked too thick in comparison to the rest of the portrait.

Sign the painting with a sharpie

And lastly, the sharpie signature. I have a whole video lesson on how to sign your name, where and with what etc. in my How to Paint a Dog Portrait course because truly, this matters. I wish I had known all this earlier in my long painting career. Did you know for example that signing your acrylic painting with a sharpie changes it to a mixed media artwork? (That may not matter to you, but this next one should.) Or that the archival properties of a sharpie is only a decade and not the century your-now-nameless-masterpiece will survive?

If you’re geeky like me who loves watching art conservational videos you probably already know that if the beloved pet portrait ever needs to be cleaned in a generation from now, it’s best to sign it as the same material as the rest of the painting. I’m grateful I only signed a few with a sharpie but it worries me that my cherished ‘Eriksdotter’ signature will soon disappear.

Blindly paint a pet without a step-by-step process

When I first started painting pets over a decade ago, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I let my heart and curiosity lead the way and I started getting commissions right away. Today I follow my own proven process for every pet portrait I paint. This keeps me on point, I always know what step I’m on and where to go next and within this practice I play and have the freedom to let creativity do its thing and I always know it leads me to a finished painting I’m proud of.  If you’re curious about this process, take a look at my pet portrait series.

Accept commissions with poor reference photos

How do you paint if the reference photo is bad? This is a common question that I get. My answer is that I don’t these days, but I did for a long time. We all do it because we’re too afraid of turning down the work. The truth is that you can’t do your best job if the reference photos a client has sent you are bad, and if you can’t do your best work then the result will hurt your portfolio that you use to get more clients. So what if you’re stuck with poor reference photos? Ask for more and share why you need more, use several photos when you paint (I still do even with good ones today), ask what the breed is – if you’re lucky it’s a purebred and a quick google image search can be your new best friend.

If you want to learn more of what I do instead and why – then this video is for you. 

In a comment below, let us know one of your painting fails and how you’ve moved through it and what you now do instead.

These are my top 5 painting fails that I definitely don’t do anymore. Whether big or small, failures are learning opportunities. All my failures have made me a better painter, they have helped me hone my proven painting process. In fact, you’ll find detailed and technical lessons for sketching, background color, signing your name and how to work with your reference photos and your client in my How to Paint a Dog Portrait online course, which is a fantastic way to turn your creative desire to paint into becoming a commissioned pet portrait painter. Doors open only once a year!

I’m sure I have lots of more failures in my future but it’s how I approach them, and move through those experiences, that will bring me from failure to success.

We can even start that approach ahead of a failure by shifting our mindset. For the last Christmas my father was alive, I gave him a paper weight for his office that read “what would you do if you knew you could not fail?” That question takes us out of the state of the fear of failure and into a state of curiosity, possibility and leads us to a creative way of manifesting our dreams.

If you’re feeling a bit stuck in your creative process, can’t shake what’s bothering you, or you’ve lost your eagerness or motivation to paint in the middle of a project, learn my 7 ways of how I get unstuck to finish painting after painting in this handy dandy blog post.