Should You Throw Your Work Away?

Tips for the beginner.

Many artists say you should never throw your work away, and there is good reasoning behind this ideology, but I am a firm believer that this doesn't have to be a hard and fast rule. I often touch on this problem and it comes up so regularly that I feel it deserves a small mention of it's own. (Side note: What do you call a small blog post? A short novel is a novella and a small magazine is a zine but I don't think either 'log post' or 'blogella' have a very good ring to them... any suggestions?).

Reasons to keep your work:

When you are drawing a subject, you're looking at it more intently than anyone other than an artist would. The curvature of a tiny petal, the shading of an earring, the angle of the right foot. These are things, that from a distance, most people wouldn't notice - and no one is going to hold that flower next to your work and say “That petal should be 2mm further too the left!!!”. When you're creating a piece of work, the best advice I can give is to take a step back at regular intervals. If you don't like it, have a cup of tea and leave it alone. If possible, leave it for several weeks or a month and you might find that, when you come back to it, you like it a lot more. It's easy to get caught up in the details when you spend hours looking at the same square of canvas, but after time those things seem less important.

Another reason not to immediately pitch your pictures into the bin, is the rewarding potential to look back on your progress. You may notice a gratifying improvement if you keep several years worth of creations that you would otherwise miss, when said progress is very gradual. This should be encouraging rather than an opportunity to criticise yourself, move forwards with the knowledge of your improvement.

When to tear it into small pieces:

There comes a time, when a drawing or painting that you're not pleased with starts to hold you back and, if you think not throwing things away is a rule, or even had it drummed into you at school, the idea of starting something new that has be perfectly can be really daunting. The most common thing that stops people practicing or learning their new artistic hobbies is the fear of failure and this is only enhanced by the concern or guilt of chucking those practice pieces away. I say do it; if something is really holding you back, rip it up, stamp on it, feed it to the dog and come away feeling ready to start a fresh.

I once watched an excellent interview with Harry Potter illustrator Jim Kay about the process of illustrating those mammoth books and how he goes about it. The interviewer was aghast to hear that many of Kay's sketches and designs ended up thrown away, discarded possible masterpieces in the eyes of a fan, but I had to agree with Kay as he explained that bad work, or work you're not pleased with, can hold you back. It's important for budding artists to know that even the pros often don't get it right first time.*

Top Tips for the Sketch-booker:

There are no rules to your sketchbook, however you use it. If a page goes wrong feel free to cut it out, or, better yet, stick a nice post card over the top. Many of my sketchbooks are littered with tickets, receipts, postcards and re-purposed paper bags that I feel only add to the record of my daily life.

This sketchbook page is a good example of this, I've forgotten what even went wrong on those two pages. Looking closely, you can see the jagged edge of a torn out page along the centre line, and there was definitely something underneath those scraps of paper, but the result is a spread that I really like to look back at, sketches from a visit to Tate St Ives on a lovely camping holiday. If I'd left in the things I wasn't pleased with, perhaps I would look at those pages and remember frustration, or perhaps I'd think what ever it was isn't bad at all, in hindsight. Either way, you should enjoy your sketching so do what you can to enhance that experience and don't stress if something doesn't come out as planned, move on and try something new.

*I believe this interview was with Dapo Adeola on an Instagram stream, which you can watch here:

Jim Kay also has a variety of excellent interviews on YouTube at different stages in his Potter Books.

Ms Emma Leyfield currently trading as 'Valerian'. The copyright to all images and graphics used within this website are owned by Valerian, or Valerian has sought the appropriate permissions to use them.

Trademark number: UK00003464494

April Cottage, Kilcott Road, Hillesley, Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, GL12 7RJ