I Will Always Be Happy to Show You My Colossally Bad Art: It’s how I get better

Yi Shun Lai
6 min readApr 4, 2020

(All artwork in this post is mine. But then again, who would lay claim to it?)

I have been at this watercolor thing for a little while now. (A Facebook memory says it was about three years ago when I started taking it semi-seriously.) It is a thing I come back to again and again, even if I’m weeks between any kind of ink to paper, or even pencil to paper. I think it’s here to stay in my life.

I love sharing my work, and seeing the work of others. And I will always, always be happy to show off my worst work.

My culture as backdrop

I think a big part of this has to do with the way I grew up: the Taiwanese culture is big on telling things as they were. My grandpa called me “Meat Pie face” when I was a kid, because my face is…well, really round. And kind of big. And the number of times I’ve been called stupid over my lifetime is more than I can count on lots of fingers and toes, let’s just put it that way. It wasn’t the best way to raise a kid, but it did teach me to call a spade a spade. (Which, by the way, also isn’t the best way to make friends, or even work on adult skills like “tact” and “empathy,” but that’s a story for another post.)

The corollary to that is that I’ve never, ever been good at accepting compliments. Even now, when my mouth is saying “Thank you,” my heart is saying that you’re just a really nice person. And my head is saying I need to work harder.

It’s not that I believe I’ll ever be an artistic genius, or whatever, it’s that “good enough” isn’t a thing I know how to define for myself.

Visual evidence is hard to ignore

I think this leads to a kind of itch that I can readily scratch by posting my bad art, whether that be on my newsletter (I used to have a section called “Art Fail”), on Facebook, or more publicly here on Medium — when I do eventually make progress, I can turn back to these posts as proof that I did get better.

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Yi Shun Lai

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer. theGooddirt.org; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!