Make ugly art to be a better artist

So, I think there’s this huge fear among artists to make “ugly” art.

I’ve been making some form of art since I was in high school (15 years ago, eek!). I started with collages/gluebooks, then slowly expanded my use of art materials until I was doing mixed media art journals.

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Making art for 15+ years means I’ve made a LOT of “ugly” art. Not everything I created was good or pretty or even worth finishing– there’s a lot of half-finished pieces hidden deep in storage boxes.

But honestly, that is how I grew as an artist! And it’s how I STILL grow.

Making good art takes time and practice, and if I’m too afraid to make something ugly I’ll never learn how to make something pretty.

Even now that I’ve switched to doing digital collages and junk journal pages, I still occasionally make something that I never want to share.

Like this collage I made just a few weeks ago…it’s not terrible, but it’s not “good enough” aka it’s ugly. The only reason I’m sharing it with you all is to show that even after 15 years, I still make some stinkers:

And that’s really the key to this whole problem: not sharing the ugly stuff where other people can see it.

The internet has changed how we share art.

If you look at any artist’s Instagram page, all you’d see is perfectly created art pieces with hundred or thousands of likes.

Why? Well, obviously because nobody shares the ugly, incomplete stuff online. We only ever see those perfect pieces– because that’s what gets engagement on social media.

Ugly stuff doesn’t sell (or get views), and even if you’re just a hobby artist you probably still want people to leave hearts and comments supporting your art.

And then eventually it turns into feeling like spending time on an ugly art piece is wasteful, because we can’t share it with others. If we can’t share things on our Instagram or TikTok, then is it even worth making?

(Spoiler: Yes, it is.)

Part of this mindset is because we’re all much more online now than even a decade ago. Social media, high-speed internet upload speeds, and cheap cameras mean that basically everybody’s posting online all the time. We all want to keep up with the Joneses of social media, so we’re all posting a LOT more than we use to.

Which is great! But it also means there’s a lot more pressure to be seen as a “good artist.” (More on that later.)

Also, the world of mixed media art has expanded a LOT since I first started doing it in 2006. When we first started it was anything goes, and we were literally figuring things out as we went.

Nowadays there are entire product lines of “mixed media” paints, stamps, ephemera, etc. in every art store in nearly every country around the world.

Access to materials is VERY cool, but…I can see a downside to this.

Mixed media art should be personal.

New people coming into the mixed media world are very nervous about starting out, and the easiest way for them to begin is by buying all the supplies in a particular product line and copying the example images provided by the company.

Or maybe by buying pre-created graphics from a particular Etsy store (cough-cough). It’s a low-stress way to get started, so I totally get the appeal and highly encourage new people to do it.

It’s also a guaranteed way to make PRETTY ART (which you can then share online). Which is great!

But eventually you’ll want to try something new, something totally your own style and unique to your own artistic preferences. Finding your own mixed media style is a fantastic feeling, and I highly encourage everything to give it a try.

That said, going off-book often leads to making “mistakes,” which leads to…UGLY ART!

Ugly art is how you find your artistic style.

Are you a bad artist if you make ugly art? Are you a terrible artist if you don’t follow the steps exactly correctly and your piece comes out totally different than the example? If every collage is hideous, should you give up and go back to paint-by-numbers?

Hell no!

The point of ugly art is to practice new techniques until eventually it’s not “ugly” any longer.

Just because a piece of art comes out ugly doesn’t mean that the process that made it wasn’t important or useful.

I made a lot of ugly digital collages before I figured out what style I liked. Those ugly collages took me a LOT of time to make, and they’re hideous. But because I took that time to make them, I can make pretty collages much faster than before– and instead of 3 ugly collages for every 1 pretty collage, almost ALL my collages come out pretty now.

You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, and you can’t get better at art without making a few ugly pieces first.

It’s all about the process.

Trust the process, and trust yourself. That ugly art is your baby steps to better things. Make ugly art!

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A lioness standing in front of red-orange flames with the text "Why You Should Make Ugly Art" above her head.

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