12 Mar 2010

Falling on your face counts as forward motion

Three years ago Tonia and I spent the better part of a week in France. We went to meet a wonderful artist, who lives not far from Giverny, near the location of Monet’s house and famous gardens. Sadly, we picked a Monday to visit, and the gardens were closed. I stood on a bollard and managed to sneak a tantalising peek of the famous bridge spanning the famous pond of water lilies, but that was as close as we got to the home of the famous artist.

It was a lovely day, and we made the best of it, wandering up to the church to see the great artist’s final resting place. Hollyhocks were in bloom all over the village, and we filled our cameras with images of the flowers. On the way back to the car I stuck my hand through the mesh fence at the back of Monet’s garden, and plucked ripe seed heads off some of Monet’s hollyhocks to plant in our own garden. It was very naughty, I know, but they were right there, and I couldn’t resist. I wish I could say that Monet’s hollyhocks are now growing happily in our garden here in Wales, but none of the seeds took. What’s left are our memories of the day and those photographs.

When we began painting flowers in my watercolour class, I remembered the pictures from Giverny, and have been striving to paint those glorious flowers. My first attempt is on the left; the latest, worked in class yesterday, on the right. Of the second it can only be said that it’s slightly less crap than the first.

What makes me proud of this work is not that I’m learning, slowly, the mechanics of applying paint to paper. What makes the process worthwhile are the lessons in failure I get each time I pick up a brush. In his book, Watercolor: Simple, Fast and Focused (Practical Art Books), Mel Stabin writes, “If my watercolors are more successful than yours, it is because I have failed more often than you have.” With a host of failed paintings now under my belt, slightly less crap is good enough.

Posted on March 12, in Blog


  1. ginni wrote:

    I read once that a U.S. professor called her course Failure 101. The more times a student failed at his attempts to write well, the better her grade. I guess we often think we can be like the Masters, creating a work of art without the knowledge of how long and how often the Master tried to master the piece herself! Grammer has never been one of those things I could master, obviously… and gendered words have never been a favorite in my vocabulary.

    Posted on 3.12.10 ·
  2. Sarah wrote:

    I’m a resuming watercolorist too, and I think your second hollyhock is much better than the first. Have you read what Whitney Smith says about the learning curve? (this artist’s life: http://whitneys-pottery.blogspot.com/2010/03/taking-leap-when-to-start-selling-your.html)

    Posted on 3.12.10 ·
  3. Sarah, I’ve read it now! Great advice. Thanks for the link.

    Posted on 3.12.10 ·
  4. Laia wrote:

    Oddly enough, I’ve currently got the same philosophy about my master’s thesis. Sure, what I’m looking at (gender differences in museum experiences) might not be there, but I’ll still have learned something along the way.

    Posted on 3.12.10 ·
  5. kmkat wrote:

    I like the second one better, too. In my own lame metaphor, the second is the Stones, the first is the Beatles (or perhaps the Kingston Trio); or the second is Bob Marley and the first is the Maytals or Desmond Dekker.

    Perhaps the hollyhock seeds were cursed b/c they were *liberated*?

    Posted on 3.12.10 ·
  6. Jaimee wrote:

    How about this? Thomas Edison on failure:

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.”

    Maybe you are just in the process of finding out what is going to work. 🙂

    Posted on 3.13.10 ·
  7. Well how about making the glass half full and marveling at the improvement and growth, instead of the half empty glass referring to is as slightly less crap. I have the perfect spot for it in my hallway. Please send…

    Posted on 3.13.10 ·
  8. meg wrote:

    Neither one of them is crap. They are a bit different in technique … but they are both lovely. Maybe I can have one for my birthday … they are truly lovely.

    Posted on 3.13.10 ·
  9. MaryAlice wrote:

    Was able to visit Giverny a few years ago…LOVED IT…and the memories of that trip came flooding back reading this post. Bravo for your watercolor paintings from the photo (have never attempted this myself)…Love the reality check and Stabin’s quote…I can apply this to sooooo many aspects of my life when I get frustrated because my results are less than what is acceptable to me.

    Posted on 3.13.10 ·
  10. Lisa C. wrote:

    Actually, I like them both 🙂

    Posted on 3.13.10 ·
  11. LoriAngela wrote:

    I use this pholosphy when encouraging my daughter in her own knitting. Countless lessons learned through wool and needles. It has helped me go back to nursing, but I’m still afraid of painting. In my writing I can surrender at times if I put enough time in. You are planting the seed for my own excursion into paints and brushes.

    Posted on 3.13.10 ·
  12. I’m a very amateur watercolourist myself, and I say that both look very good to me. The first one looks unfinished, but the second is terrific. My teacher (Sharon Lynn Williams — Google her; I think you’ll like her style!) is all for loose and flowing watercolour, and that’s what your second one looks like. I say, ‘well done’! 🙂

    Posted on 3.13.10 ·
  13. It’s the same with knitting. While the first project looks like crap, the second looks only slightly better after having learned that dropped stitches, like dropped coins, need to be picked up.

    Posted on 3.14.10 ·
  14. Katherine wrote:

    I like the second one. Nice and loose. Thanks for sharing the painting and wisdom!

    Posted on 3.15.10 ·
  15. Dianne wrote:

    Looking good w/the painting. Now I know what book to pick up when I decide to take on watercolor, thanks for the post.

    Posted on 3.17.10 ·
  16. Mary wrote:

    Is it ok if I actually like the first one better?
    “I don’t know art, but I know what I like”.
    Both are lovely and would look great in my family room…

    Posted on 3.22.10 ·
  17. Ann wrote:

    Did you paint while in Giverny? If so, where? We’d like to try

    Posted on 5.29.13 ·

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