Failing Gratefully

Last Christmas, my youngest son bought his older brother a small cactus for a gift. It was well thought out – if a little tricky to wrap – and sits much-loved upon a window sill in my oldest son’s bedroom. Until this week, when I repurposed it as my first official Daily Painting inspired, still-life subject.

Last post, I mentioned a book called Daily Painting by Carol Marine. I got three-quarters of the way through it and promptly bought myself a copy – it was that good. In a nutshell, Carol works on the premise that ‘painting small and painting often leads to becoming a more creative, productive and successful artist’.

It sounded like a great way for me to loosen up, let go and fail more freely than ever before. (Which is a good thing, by the way.)

With this new-found resolve, I reconfigured my tiny workspace and asked my husband to build me a shadow-box so that my still-life compositions could be staged and lit consistently without taking up valuable desk space, or needing to be moved mid-painting.

You can see the beautiful shadow box my obliging husband built me in this photo: It’s what my brushes, paint and palette are sitting on in the foreground. Oops…Turns out you can go too big with these things.


Undaunted, I put the cactus in a small cupboard instead, repurposed a few lamps from around the house to light it, and I was off and painting.

Here’s what I learned:
• Writing a list of the order in which I intend to paint things helps to keep me on-track.
• Painting on board instead of canvas takes less effort and is quite nice, actually.
• Painting ceramic pots so they look shiny is harder than it seems.
• Painting in a loose brushstroke style takes more care and consideration than you’d think.
• Choosing marbles as a subject (having never painted glass before) was a stupid idea.

Standing back to survey my progress, I was struck by the lack of consistency in my brushwork. One side of the pot was block-ish, the other brushy, and the marble was nothing short of blobby.

Taking a deep breath and sort of whimpering a little bit, I scraped off a good chunk of my evening’s work. Deciding I preferred blockish to brushy or blobby, I went back over things using my new favourite flat-topped brush.

Things were beginning to look a bit more homogenous and the overall effect was not disappointing. To be honest, I was just thrilled to be churning something out quickly instead of labouring over it like it was my fourth child.


And here’s the end result. I call it: Lookin’ Sharp, Feelin’ Smooth. (5 x 7″ oil on board)

So  here’s to being prepared to fail bravely and try again, folks – whether it’s a shadow-box built lovingly to elephantine proportions, or trying to master the art of wrapping cacti; there will be steep learning curves ahead, but the end result will be magnificent.

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