Patchwork Art: Learn by Fixing

Patchwork Art: Learn by Fixing

This piece isn’t about how to “do art”. It’s also not about what type of art you should do (we’re covering painting and Graphic Art because that’s what I know something about), or where you should go to learn it. This article is about how to take what you’ve read about in articles, blogs, textbooks, or heard from a teacher, and learning how to apply it to your own art. Starting from scratch is tricky and incredibly time consuming, but patching up something else can be just as useful in developing your skills while providing boundaries and context within which you can work.


Fine art is special in that it’s pure artistic expression. Of course everyone who looks at a piece of art takes away something different, but no one else is going to get in there and tell you what to paint. However there is much to learn from the patch-working approach for a painter.  All art, music, and design is based around taking something that you like and adapting and reinventing it to suit your needs and your tastes.

To apply this to your painting endeavors you can get some cheap framed art off of the internet. Pick something that doesn’t have a good focus or that you just find lackluster in some way. Then modify the painting, reinvent it, and make it better. This is basically the same thing that you did in your history textbook in 5th grade when you drew mustaches on all of the faces, except now you’re going to do it convincingly, blending perfectly with the original artist’s work so that anyone looking at it won’t realize that it wasn’t supposed to be that way to begin with.

Graphic Art

This type of exercise is particularly useful for a graphic artist since you’ll often be required to “update” a design while preserving (often horrible) aspects of the old one, be it a logo or a web page. To find things to work on you can simply trawl through a few of the lower quality local business websites in your town. You’ll find no end of horrible fliers, logos, and general website designs to play with.

Before you go further, be aware that you should never ever use code or images that you’ve taken from the web for any business related use or for school assignments unless you have proper permissions, this is just for your own amusement. Take your logo or webpage and pick 6 different aspects (color scheme, general layout, inclusion of a picture of a dog, font choice, size etc…). Now roll a pair of dice and pick the two aspects randomly selected by the two dice. Those two absolutely can’t be changed because your hypothetical client loves them. Now, take what you’ve been offered and make the best of it, polish it up,  and create a marketable work of art. While a fine arts enthusiast is the epitome of unfettered self-expression, a graphic designer is a master of transforming bad art and bad design into works of genius (ideally… sometimes reaching “passable” is miracle enough).

Edward Stuart is an art and decoration enthusiast as well as an online publisher for Framed Art. He frequently blogs on the topics of art, art history, design, and home decor.

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(2) responses

Jennifer M.

February 10, 2013

I love this idea for a graphic design exercise. I often look at amateur brochures and think through what I would do differently, but this is a way of actually challenging myself to do it! I love the added twist, too, of pretending the client won’t budge on two of the aspects. Definitely a true aspect of many graphic design jobs! Thanks for the tips! ;)


Edward S

February 11, 2013

Yea, when I was in school I was asked to do something similar once and found it to be immensely helpful, so when work is slow I’ll still occasionally give it a go. :)


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