The Ugly Stage

Have you ever looked at a drawing you’re working on and decided it’s complete crap? I certainly have, and I guarantee every other artist out there has as well. I’ve heard it referred to as The Ugly Stage, and it’s an apt name. 

It’s the stage in a drawing or painting where you’ve just laid down all the basic colours, or the tones if you’re working in black and white. You haven’t really put any detail in yet and so it’s easy to look at your work and despair. 

A portrait of my dog, Gabbie, partway through me adding the second layer. The part on the right is what I would consider ‘the Ugly Stage’, where it looks like rough scribbles that may not come together for a decent drawing.

I’ve noticed I go through this process with almost every piece I work on. There’s always a point when I’m sure that I won’t be able complete the drawing the way I had wanted, and that if I do, it will be awful. 

The thing is, almost every single time, once you get through the ugly stage, the drawings looks great. Though I’ve had many doubts during my drawings, I’m always happy with the end result. So my advice is: do your best to finish every drawing.

The main reason for my Ugly Stage is that I work in broad layers – the first I block out the basic shapes and colours, the second I deepen the colours and add details, and the third is where I do touch ups and final details.

The final portrait of gabbie – It certainly came together well!

There are some artists who prefer to work on one section of the piece until it’s pretty much finished, and then move on to the next section, so they may not have as pronounced an ‘Ugly Stage’ as me. But the key is to keep going, because more often then not, the drawing comes together as the final details are put in.

That being said, some drawings just don’t work out the way you want, and that’s fine. But at least if you finish them you might learn something. And you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. The temptation is often to give up as soon as something in the drawing doesn’t look right, but perseverance certainly pays off. 

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