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The Ugly Stage of Every Artwork

Last week in my kids art classes I was teaching watercolour. More specifically, we painted a lizard with watercolour.


Here is one of those lizardsNow before I go too far into this story, I should tell you I had previously used these special paints I’d deemed “better” for the kids. I had this delusional idea that semi-wet watercolours would be great for kids. Basically, these are paints that are a sort of paste and never really dry, but you get really vibrant colours so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Keep in mind these kids are young enough to not understand that scooping concentrated paint with a brush and mashing it into the page isn’t actually how you use watercolour; water being the operative part of the word. Now imagine you’re in a classroom with 25 5-10 year-olds and you’ve just given them the go-ahead to paint (or mash) their carefully-drawn lizards with semi-wet watercolours meant for a more developed brain. Now you can kind of see where I went wrong. And to be clear, it’s not that I hadn’t thought of this. I just made the amateur mistake of thinking I could just explain not to do the mashing thing and it would suddenly be a thing of the past. Fast forward to last week when I finally gave up on my dreams and purchases 12 sets of fully dry watercolour paints. Here we were, painting our lizards and happily digging away into the paints, with the kids soon realizing their digging techniques were no match for my new paints! And then the kids started to realize that with less paint comes the need for layers. Watercolour is a special medium in that you need to layer your colours. It is transparent and requires layering wet upon dry before you can really start to see your picture take shape. I’ve spent a great deal of time explaining to kids that art is a process and sometimes there is an ugly stage. But before I could reiterate this, the crying started. I mean, I get that it can be disappointing when you spend 45 minutes drawing a lizard and it looks…well…ugly. But I tell them it’s part of the process and we just keep going!


So that brings me to this weekend. I had started this painting last week in a burst of inspiration and quickly realized the green shorts were looking pretty ugly themselves. I took a break but I was determined to finish the painting whether it remained ugly or not.


Here is the "ugly" stage I was struggling withThe moral of the story is that there is often an ugly stage to the work we do, whether its visual or not. And it can be so ugly we want to throw it aside and start something new and fresh, but if we just hold on and keep building, believing the base we build is strong enough for something to blossom, we might just end up with something beautiful. Or, as I tell the kids, you can throw it out when I’m not looking. 😂

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