Reuse the “meh”: Giving art a second life

Art as a habit is great! But creating lots of art also means you’ll create some you’re not happy with. With these ideas, transform old art into something new & beautiful!

Ella Gallon

Ella’s art journey began in elementary school when she annoyed all of her teachers by excessively doodling on ALL the worksheets. After overcoming awkward phases of gaming fan art, crazy freaky art clubs in high school where it was custom to wear at least three differently colored striped socks, and creative blocks all during university, today she lives a double life as digital marketer from 7 to 7 and abstract artist from 7:01 to however late she manages to stay up (spoiler: mostly, not very late).

Art as a habit is great! But creating lots of art also means you’ll create some you’re not happy with. With these ideas, transform old art into something new & beautiful!

Let me be honest with you: When I was invited to contribute to the Season of Habit, my first thought was … nothing. I drew a blank. I mean we had the Season of Inspiration! The Season of Play! We even had a Season of Creativity! Those are all brilliant sources of art, but Habit?

But once I started thinking about it, I saw how powerful habit can be on the artist’s journey. Once something is a habit, you just do it. It becomes a routine that doesn’t take a lot of energy or discipline to get started. It’s efficiently organized into your life. You don’t have to think about it all the time, you just get it done. And by getting it done, you’re getting better at it. So wouldn’t art as a habit just be so great?

Well, even though it sounds perfect, I must confess I struggle with art as a habit so much, the number one reason being that I have really high expectations.

We all probably saw and admired Caylee’s beautiful quote, but let’s face it: Reading inspirational quotes and then actually living by them is two different things. Of course I rationally know that perfectionism is my enemy. Of course I know that you have to put in 10.000 hours to become really good at something. But I also know that I’ll spend at least 9.000 of those creating art that makes me feel meh. Art that doesn’t turn out the way I intended it to. And even though I save all the beautiful quotes about perfectionism into a dedicated collection and regularly look at them, those 9.000 hours of meh keep me away from my art a lot of times.

But I did find a few workarounds and that’s what I want to share with you today: reusing the meh art. Because if I can turn it into something new and beautiful, it’s not wasted material. I can learn something from it, and so it’s okay to make it in the first place! This technique helps me to relieve the pressure of perfectionism, focus more on the process than on the result, and just push through the feeling of not being good enough. (Please tell me I’m not the only one with that feeling!)

  • an old art journal with pages that you feel meh about, old sketches or paintings, anything you wanted to turn out differently
  • scissors, an Exacto knife or some other cutting tool
  • glue or a stapler
  • your favourite art materials, paints and brushes, additional ephemera

“There’s no way I‘m gonna tear out a page from my art journal!”

I hear you, and it’s totally fine. In fact tearing out a page sometimes makes other pages come loose, too, so double check whether the page you’re aiming for is connected to a page you really love. These techniques are easier for me because I mostly work on loose paper sheets. If you don’t want to rip apart a precious art journal, here’s some ideas that might work better for you:

  • Paint over a page you feel meh about and turn it into something entirely new.
  • Cut holes into an old page so the next cool page becomes visible. Reuse the pieces you cut out for another project.
  • If you want to destroy something after all, try magazines, memorabilia or ephemera that you’ve been hoarding. Make a collage from the pieces and use a meh page as background.

Action Steps

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Tear or cut an old artwork apart and make a collage from the remnants.

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Cut out a piece of an old artwork that you like, frame it, and tear apart the rest.

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Make postcards, journaling cards for Project Life, notebooks or little presents out of the pieces. Give them away or use them in your everyday life!

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Use pieces of old art as journal covers or pages – or whatever you can think of.