Thoughts on Failure

Thank you to everyone who took the time to write and comment on my email regarding failure & watercolour last week. My son did some extra credit work on his French and improved his grade, and we’ve appreciated your tips to help him learn as well!

I addressed the topic of failure and watercolour in my live lesson on YouTube last week as well, which prompted some great discussion on the video.

I wanted to share a few of your comments, as they were so insightful and might help you remember that we really are all in this together! What you are feeling is not unique to you!

From angelhelp on YouTube: Failed/ruined/flawed/nonfantastic paintings are exactly the same as all the gazillion wrong notes a musician inevitably plays before learning how to hit the right notes (most of the time, anyway). No performance is ever perfect, according to any good performer’s standards. What’s discovered through all those wrong notes? 1. New harmonies that you’ve never tried 2. New harmonies that get your musical story from here to there by a different path 3. A useful and innovative way to cover a performance mistake 4. A combination of notes that instantly reminds you of another beautiful piece of music 5. You can get away from repertoire (which corresponds to some preconceived notion of what you’re going to paint) and improvise (this would correspond to when you “see” things in some paint you’ve put down and begin to add touches to bring out what you see so that we can see it too.​ It never ceases to amaze me just how parallel music (for me, the piano) is to art (as I experiment as a very new painter). 🙂

​Cindy B wrote: ​I so appreciate your pep talks…your words have kept me trying over and over again. As a writer, I know a lot about negative self-talk…I wish that knowledge would make that talk go away, but sadly, it doesn’t…not always.

​That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing these “pep talks!” I think if we talk about the struggle, it becomes a little easier to fight it. 

​Linda writes: I want to thank you for your timely email about failure. I’ve been reading books about watercolour and become totally overwhelmed. There is so much to know – opacity, granulation, how to mix colours, colour schemes, composition of your painting, how to create shadows, reflections, how and when to add colour without creating mud or blooms…and just the sheer number of colours available! Then I look at the beautiful paintings featured in the books and feel “I can never do that!”…My own inner critic is named Leprechaun. He often comments on my painting efforts, or my bad hair, or my less-than-perfect body. Especially when I’m feeling a bit tired or sick. I find that if I ignore him, he throws a tantrum. So I acknowledge him, give him a hug, and then ask him to sit quietly in the back seat. I never let him drive. Well, not often anyway.

​I love that! Giving that cranky inner critic a name diminishes his power. At least it does if you give him a cute name…maybe don’t call him “Voldemort.” 

​Kent St on YouTube commented: “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” ~ Thomas J. Watson
I think this is what you were reminding us of. For some perfectionists this is hard, because we want each brush stroke to be a success and each painting to be a masterpiece! Ain’t gonna happen! I appreciate your personal story about having twice as many “failed” paintings, as successful ones. It would be helpful to approach painting much more like a musician or dancer approaches their art. They know that there will be a hundred hours of practice for each minute of performance (probably more!).​