How Chattanooga artists learn and gain from past mistakes (and what we can learn from them)

The late American artist and PBS TV host Bob Ross once said, “We (the artists) don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”

Indeed, when Chatter asked artists in the Chattanooga area if they had learned as much from their mistakes as from their successes, many responded with a resounding “yes”. The key is to make a living, and it takes trial and error to figure out what sells, they said.

James Tucker, a 73-year-old painter who lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, calls his unsuccessful works “successful failures.”

“Of course, you’ll fail quite often,” says Tucker, who exhibits his work at the In-Town Gallery on Frazier Avenue in Chattanooga. “Not much; the wastebasket is your friend … No one will die if I screw up a day’s work.”

The key to success for an artist is to work consistently, he says, and “not to worry too much about progress or achievement … If you have the humility to learn your craft and the perseverance to Work on it, those things will come, even though there are many days when it doesn’t seem possible. “

Judy Jones, 71, of Signal Mountain, makes plaster artwork (like the ones you buy at the hardware store to fix walls). She says working with plaster requires patience and strong arms – it comes in 25-pound bags. Some of her early work failed, she says, but it helped her build a knowledge base for successes to come.

“Many of those early pieces are in the back of a closet and may never see the light again,” says Jones, who also exhibits work at the In-Town Gallery. “But they were needed to show me how to work and handle plaster.”

Jeff Delude, from Ellijay, GA, who exhibits his work at the Area 61 gallery on Broad Street, says that a few years ago he tried painting, only to realize that it was not his medium. “The paints weren’t bad or anything, but I got pretty bored with this business,” he says. “It sounded too much like work. My remedy was to put away the paint and brushes and remove my scissors and rubber cement. I fell back into my surreal collage ‘happy zone’ and free of association, and I didn’t. haven’t looked back since. “

Janet Campbell Bradley, 57, of Brainerd, has been a jewelry artist for 25 years and has recently switched to printmaking and abstract art. She also shows her work at Area 61.

“No matter your skills or your experience with any medium, there will be times when a part just won’t work for you,” she says. “It’s not uncommon for artists to paint completely over a piece that didn’t turn out, or put it aside and revisit it later when the mind is more open.”

About rejection, she says, “If you can’t handle rejection, you will have a hard time being successful at what you do.”

Here, in their own words, three local artists share stories about the mistakes they’ve encountered on the way to success. (Their answers have been edited for length.)

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Local artist Robert Schoolfield is seen with a piece of his work at the Area 61 gallery.

Robert schoolfield

Age: 31

Residence: Lee Highway area

Gallery: Zone 61, 721 Broad St., Suite 100 (inside the Maclellan Building)



I mainly do mixed art works. Basically, I use materials that interest me, or written materials from my personal life, and I use them to tell a story. I paint and draw then, and I do it repeatedly until I like what I see. I step out of the way and let the pen do all the art.

How did you perfect your artistic process?

I would say most of my pieces are a surprise. Knowing that great things can happen by accident, I think if I devote my time to something it will be okay. Sometimes I like to think of myself as an open door to creativity. All of this could potentially be something beyond me.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Local artist Robert Schoolfield is seen with a piece of his work at the Area 61 gallery.

What did you learn from the parts that didn’t work?

It was a little disheartening at first and then I got over it because I know what I’m doing is right. We are all different and we like different things, and to like or dislike a work of art is subjective. I guess what I’m looking for is originality and style, and if I feel a connection with that. Some people play covers and some write original music.

Wider life lessons?

Don’t compare yourself to others. The success or absence of other artists is none of your business. Focus on how to be better for yourself.

… There is a consensus recipe for success in all walks of life, and it is hard work. Work harder than yourself yesterday and never stop.

At the end of the line

Everything that happens in my life fuels creativity. You can’t get a lot from reading a book. Sometimes you have to live a little to learn and gain experience.

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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Local artist Miki Boni is seen with an artwork at the In-Town Gallery.

Miki Boni

Age: “Ageless”

Residence: South side

Gallery: City Gallery, 26A, avenue Frazier.



I received my [Master of Fine Arts] in Mexico, where I also taught painting and drawing from nature. The surrealism of this country inspired my direction, working mainly as an oil painter for 30 years. I also found myself drawn to sculpture. I love clay kinaesthesia, although I am recognized as a career painter.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Local artist Miki Boni is seen with an artwork at the In-Town Gallery.

What was one of your biggest mistakes as an artist?

When I think of sculpture, I remember working hard on a clay figure. I was so happy with its development that I decided to take a photo in class. After the shot, I turned and my elbow knocked him over, breaking his entire left arm just below his shoulder and his right hand above the wrist. I had worked so hard on his hands and was heartbroken.

Someone nearby came to comfort me and said, “Just change the story.” Well this advice has changed my creative life. My original idea popped out the window and I started to recreate the sculpture that would become “She’s Got a Mean Left Hook”. A boxing glove hid his broken right hand, and a chain with a hook on the end gave him the title.

This is a perfect example of how we can never be attached to an outcome. The process evolves and we may ultimately be surprised at how it will end. It is the joy of the creative process and to think outside the box. This is what brings me back to my studio time and time again.

Do you believe in mistakes?

There are no mistakes, only lessons. And that goes for rejection – and we all hate that word. However, when a work is not chosen for an exhibition, for example, ask why. The answer becomes your teacher.

At the end of the line

Be patient, curious about everything and open to everything. Let your imagination be your muse.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Local artist Katie Rogers exhibits some of her art in Area 61.

Last name: Katie rogers

Age: 34

Residence: North Chattanooga

Gallery: Area 61, 721 Broad St., Suite 100 (inside the Maclellan Building)



I have been a bead / beadwork jewelry artist since I bought my first box of vintage glass beads at the age of 12. It has evolved and changed a lot since those first stretch bracelets … I graduated in fine arts from UTC. .. This is definitely a part time job as I have two wild little girls who keep me pretty busy full time.

Did you learn a mistake?

My first piece of loom. I fell in love with the technique, but it was outside my comfort zone. I was used to instant gratification; my big thick stones filling a necklace were simple and quick. The loom is meticulous, time consuming, and craftsmanship is very important (it was never the strongest aspect of my job throughout my college years), but I loved its repetitive nature and the rich patterns / colors I could create. My first piece of loom was full of imperfections: crooked beads, pattern crashes, and the finish was downright ugly. But I felt inspired to improve my technique and learn.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Katie Rogers holds one of the earliest works of her art.

Do artists learn from rejection?

Absolutely! … One of the harshest refusals was probably when I was asked to remove my work from my first gallery. I was an artist who sold regularly, so I felt the urge to just produce work. However, I was so focused on the quantity that the quality was affected. I had lost touch with having each piece tell a story and connecting with the materials. It turned out to be a great lesson. I took a break, researched, made connections with people who mined and sold high quality stones and pearls, and then started to create work with passion again. Even though the situation hurt me, I was able to come back with better quality work that I was passionate about and proud to present.

How important is patience?

Super important! Being an artist is not a kind of gig with constant and instant success. Sometimes you can go months without a sale – sometimes longer. Sometimes you have times of great success and achievement. It’s a roller coaster for sure … Keep finding happiness and love for what you do. It shows in your work and people will see it.

At the end of the line

Take the opportunity to grow and learn from your mistakes and failures. Failures can be just as important to your work as triumphs. Keep looking for inspiration and technique. Take classes, read books, browse Pinterest / Instagram, go to shows and galleries, take nature walks. Creative fuel is everywhere. Listen to your instincts about your job and your direction. Be honest with yourself.

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