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I put this red fox away. Painted it a while back. I liked it but was embarrassed to share it. My mind got in the way and I started to do to myself what I tell my students not to do. There is no “bad” art. There is only “no” art. “No” art is when you tell yourself that what you create is “not good enough” and that something “looks flat” or that itΒ is the “wrong color” or “I didn’t get the light right”.Β  It is when you fill yourself with so many negatives you quit. That is “no” art. “Bad” art is “no” art.

The fox, then? I didn’t like him because he is flat and the perspective is all wrong. The shading is wrong, too. ………but! I love the colors. I like the flow of the line. I like his eyes. I like what the salt did in the background. I like that I became angry with myself and swished all that white gouache on around his ruff because I noticed I got the perspective all wrong. Most of all, I like him because he taught me something and I think that makes all the difference. πŸ™‚

Ronny writes a post on “Ugly Art” here.


  1. Leslie, I think the fox is great. The colors are vibrant and I especially love the green around the eyes. The expression in the eyes is alive and wary. I like the white ruff. The only thing that I notice is the background color. I like the texture, it just seems light. Linda

    • Thank-you, Linda. The background may be too light and maybe without enough variation in value?

  2. I agree with your philosophy that there is no “bad art” there is only “no art.” I love the fox – his face has so much character.

    • Thank-you, Jackie. …..and also for your explorations in your own art that seems to say “experience expression”!

  3. Leslie there are some great colour combi’s going on in there! Nothing is lost: nothing ventured nothing gained I always say, quirkiness is good too and he has got a kind of character, which I like. Just like us, even animals aren’t perfect!

    • Thank-you, Lynda. πŸ™‚ Some of the artists that you feature on their birthdays have taught us these lessons, haven’t they?

  4. So true, Leslie. May I quote you?
    When I was a kid there were two charcoal sketches framed and hung on the wall – one of a cat and one of an owl. I loved them. They were loose and inaccurate, but passionately rendered which gave them a lively character. I loved them so much. I think they were my first lesson in the intangibles of art. This fox reminds me of them. Perhaps it’s because there is emotion in him πŸ™‚ Thanks for posting him.

    • Oh, Kirsty, thank-you. So many times I have been amazed by another’s vision and their way of expressing themselves. When I am moved by a piece, it is generally one that speaks to me as you were spoken to by the owl and the cat. It usually doesn’t have anything to do with artistic correctness. The correctness is just the icing on the cake.

  5. Thank you for writing up and sharing your thoughts on “No” art, Leslie! There is a lot of wisdom in your words. When we critique ourselves to death, often the only result is that we stop trying, which can be the end of art in our lives.

    I like your fox :). I see his shortcomings you described, and that’s ok. I still like him because he is expressive, because he is full of beautiful color, which is your signature, and also because he moved you to make these conclusions.

    • Thank-you, Alex. A friend of mine pointed out something that Lucien Freud has spoken of. He believes that the desire of the artist to create the perfect painting is what keeps us painting. I believe there is a lot of truth to that.

  6. we can’t expect to get it right everytime.
    That would be remarkable.
    i fnd dog faces extremely difficult.
    Perhaps because of the nose.
    but every other aspect of this is up to your usual high standard

    • Thanks, Kokot…..and I totally agree about not getting it right every time.

  7. What a great post. I love everything you wrote and I love that you posted your fox.

    And I agree with you about all that is good with this painting. So it seems like you have a winner after all.

    • Thanks, Carol. Somehow, it’s hard to know when to share something or not, don’t you think?

  8. BRAVO FOR POSTING THIS!!! I’m smiling SO BIG right now! I LOVE this fox particularly because he is a little off! I love the colours as well and the bold lines. I’d LOVE to know what he’s thinking. He has a strong spirit to him and a great presence. I’d love to read a story about him! He’d be a brilliant illustration. It made me feel good to know that an artist of Your skill judges herself…I’m SO trying to knock that off! Thank You and Big Hugs and Namaste. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Bliss. I thought the same thing about a story about him…..or an animation and what he might say if he spoke or how he’d move if he walked. Enjoyed your little video. πŸ™‚

        • blissbait
        • Posted March 9, 2010 at 11:22 pm
        • Permalink

        Thanks! You know….he won’t leave my mind. I just may, when I get things where I have the time, give him a go! If You liked it, cool! If You hated it, cool! But wow. He does speak, doesn’t he? Hope You’re having a Great day! Cheers and Namaste. πŸ™‚

      • That is one of the highest compliments you can give an artist. To know he is memorable is a wonderful feeling. I guess that is why I couldn’t get him off my mind, either.

  9. Oh my gosh, Leslie, I LOVE this fox. I actually gasped with delight when he popped up on my monitor!! He is so fun! He could just leap of the screen and go play! I am so glad you shared him with us!

    Very good lesson, too, by the way! πŸ™‚

  10. Well, I like your fox too. And I certainly don’t see that flatness is a problem -I always like finding the flat abstract forms in things!

    • Thanks, Sonya. I was hoping someone would pick up on that. I try to encourage my students to get something down on paper, comfortably, so we can develop a dialogue and the direction they wish to go. I can’t think of anything more frustrating than trying to fit teaching art into a box and giving it a recipe. The guidelines are there to assist us in our journey and not keep our hands tied. Perhaps you realise that only too well, also, because of your teaching. Do you, at times, get frustrated trying to explain that you are offering to share the techniques and mediums of the art world so they can grow in their own expression?…..that there is a self in all of this that can only come from them?

  11. I bow respectfully to you my sensei of art. Now, you can hear the cracking of the knees as I get up from bowing, gees I’m old. Anyway, wise words you have written. I have completed more paintings in the last year than I have in a long time. Mostly because I decided to just do it, and not wonder or worry how it may turn out.
    This painting has wonderful textures and colors, and the rotation of the foxes ear and look on his face, makes you know he’s up to something.

    • Thank-you, Ryan. I almost put that famous “just do it” slogan in this post.

  12. A working artist I know says, “There are no mistakes in art.”
    I agree.
    Curious, have you done another version based on changing what you preceived as ‘wrong’?
    FOX!!! Oh yes!

    • I painted this fox three times and this was my last. The other two were his whole body and he sat in a landscape. I never snapped a picture of them so I couldn’t post them and they are gone to happy homes. They were colorful, but not like this guy. I think what haunted me about this one was my effortless involvement with him. I know I divorced myself from the reference at some point.

  13. Okay, this will sound strange–but your Fox reminds me of Van Gogh–self portraits.
    And I think I know why….

    • I don’t think that sounds strange at all, Eva. Thank-you for honoring me with such a fine comment. You just made my day!

  14. Being able to look at our own work with a discerning eye and without tearing ourselves apart with self criticism is a skill I think it takes a good while to develop. But I guess it’s part of the learning experience for all artists.

    • Thanks, Sarah. Very well put. The discerning eye grows right along with us and our artistic expressions.

  15. Hi Leslie;

    We are our own worst critics at times. I like the fox, reminds of one big old red fox that surfaces hereabouts once in a blue moon.

    Your fox has character.

    You wouldn’t have realized this if you didn’t have the courage to overcome your negative feelings about the painting

    I agree with Eva’s comment in respect to Van Gogh’s self portraits.

    We learn something new everyday don’t we? πŸ™‚

    • Thank-you Ichabod! Perhaps the hardest part of this whole fox thing was the overcoming. Thank-you for that. πŸ™‚

  16. Leslie, he looks like a very wise old fox. There’s bags of character in his face. As for embarrassing paintings. I have so many. I look back on some that I did at the start of my course, and think, ‘Crikey, I painted that! What was I thinking?’ However, I also tell myself that it’s a process, and I’m on a journey. It has to be bad before it can better, no? For that reason, I can’t be embarrassed about it. I don’t think it’s ‘no art’ nor is it ‘bad art’, it is only ‘art’, but with the labels we stick on them.

    • Thanks, Heather. I guess I don’t call those first pieces “bad” because they are foundations for what’s to come. They are precious as a log of the journey. They also tell something of the place and time of the one who creates it. I see students pitch beautiful parts of themselves in the waste basket. Breaks my heart for the feeling that went behind the trashing.

      • We are told by our tutors never to rip anything out of our sketchbooks, and never to throw away any of our work. It was drummed into us immediately. So I keep all my ‘rubbish’, no matter how bad it is. That way I can look back and think about how far I’ve come on, and also to see what good parts there were, if there were any.

      • Oh! I love the discussion we are all having, here. Your instructors are very wise. We can clean house when the stuff begins to bury us. I read in an article, recently, of on instructor that advises his students to hang their four recent pieces on the wall (or bulletin board). As soon as they complete the fifth one, put it up and take the first one down. That way, you have a progression to view as you go along. I have done this and it is remarkable to watch the changes that occur.

  17. It looks like a crying fox

    • Thanks, Souldose! You are right. The lines under his eyes do give him a sense of crying. I like that!

  18. Aww, he’s ADORABLE.

  19. Very interesting idea about the 5 paintings. I can take my two most recent and see the progression. I witness it daily. Possibly because I’m fairly new to it all. As for gathering the stuff till it buries us. I’ve been drawing/painting for just under a year now, and I’m being suffocated with the work I have. It’s everywhere in my house with the exception of my daugther’s room! I have a very small semi-detached house on 2 levels, with only two bedrooms, and space is at a premium. My hallway, bathroom, living room, bedroom and kitchen are full of my art stuff. It’s under tables, on tables, on the freezer, the bookcase. If there’s space anywhere it gets filled pretty quickly. To be quite frank, it’s a nightmare. I long for a nice big room where I can shove everything. Just waiting for my daughter to move out! Hah!

  20. I like the idea that there is no bad art just “no” art – the definition of art seems to come from within the artist first, and then criticism from the outside – if you don’t see it as art, other people won’t either.

    It can be too hard to have confidence in ones own art without the encouragement of others who say they like it – others opinions can sometimes influence one’s own art too much. a balance must be struck, I suppose.

    • I am a total believer in an artist balancing their dislikes of a personal piece with what they like. All too often, all the artist allows himself to see are what he deems his mistakes. I’m all for positive re-inforcement in the art world!
      Thanks for your comment, Otto!

  21. If you discovered something beautiful at your new painting than I think that is something wonderful because sometimes doesn’t matter the perfection.
    Art means to express something. In this “bad” painting as you tell it you’ve painted with beautiful colors. It transmits me something interesting your little fox.2 different feelings that I wasn’t feel it yet bought in the same time: sadness and happiness.
    Thank you for share it, mon amie!!!
    I’m impatient to see next one πŸ˜‰

    Have a magnificent night!!!! πŸ™‚

    • Thank-you, Alina. I agree with you. Art is many times an expression. I like your perception about the fox being both sad and happy. Kind of like life! Thanks for that!

  22. Good on you for sharing this painting and your thoughts – I like this – when I read this I recalled the fox who asked the little prince to tame him – and the little prince said but I will have to go away and then you will be hurt and the fox says “yes but then I will see the sun on the corn and it will never be the same again because it will remind me of you”

    • WOW! Thank-you, Stephen. I love this story! Thank-you for leaving it here for others to read. He does look like he could be a fox like that!

  23. You are such a good teacher! You teach by example. He is quirky, and that makes him adorable!

    • You are so kind to say that! I try so hard to impart that we are all artists and to bog ourselves down with negativity could end up burying something beautiful and insightful in each of us. I already know you “get” that. There was some reason I hung on to this little fellow. I like the response “quirky”! Thank-you for that.

  24. Thank you for posting this.

    “There is no β€œbad” art. There is only β€œno” art.” I’m going to add this to my book of quotes! I have never thought of it that way.

    • Thanks, Little Lynx. It seems everytime I go to judge something about art I find an example of its’ use and validity. How can we presume that someone else’s vision combined with their capabilities at the time could ever be bad?

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