Starting Over

A quick story about one of the most important lessons I learned in school…




Back in college, I received an assignment that did not go well.

At first I was excited – I had to illustrate a book cover, and the students could choose any story they wanted. I chose The Odyssey. Fantastic beasts, magical gods, adventurous story, and a strong hero – what could be more visually exciting than that?

As a class, we went through the entire process together. We brainstormed ideas, drew thumbnails, and critiqued each other’s work. I even asked a friend of mine to model for photo reference – something I am usually too lazy to do. I had an idea I was excited about and a concept I couldn’t wait to put together. I was determined to make this my best painting EVER.

That’s when it got ugly. And by ugly, I mean ugly drawings, ugly sketches, and ugly paintings. I didn’t see it at first; I think my excitement put me in denial. But that changed once I brought in some of my sketches into class for a critique. Classmates and professors both confirmed that my abilities weren’t living up to my grand ambitions.

Based on the comments I received, I used Photoshop to tweak my sketches here and there. I still thought I could make them work somehow. I went forward in the class, handing in more sketches and studies and eventually the actual painting in progress. However, I was still getting a negative response and I was quickly losing interest in the project. I was resigned to the fact that this one was going to be a dud. The assignment was due in a few days, and I was faced with the task of finishing a painting that I hated.

Then I made a decision. I started over.

It was a bold move for me. With the short deadline I knew I would probably end up with bad painting, but it couldn’t be any worse than what I already had. I figured I could give up on the painting or try to create a better one, so I went for it. The good news was that the second attempt went pretty quickly because I had already figured out a lot of the problems and knew what to fix. It was stressful and a lot of work, but when the deadline came I was able to put a finished illustration up on the wall.

When my professor went and stood in front of my painting, I was holding my breath. I was happier with the second attempt – and for that alone the restart was worth it – but I still wasn’t sure if others would think the same.

Luckily, this story has a happy ending. My new painting was deemed a “pleasant surprise” and I received a good pat on the back for the extra effort. Whew!

Of course, when I look at the painting now, I can see plenty of flaws, but I consider this assignment a huge success. I learned valuable lessons about honesty, overcoming laziness, and not settling with mediocre work.

Don’t be afraid to do what it takes – rework, brainstorm, experiment, and if necessary…START OVER. There is no quicker way to get stuck in a creative rut if you’re not happy with your work and not producing the best art that you can.