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How to screw up a painting

January 9, 2017

One of the best lessons in painting and in life is how to screw up successfully. This morning I 'bombed' spectacularly with a painting, which is my way of describing the slow-motion car crash that sometimes personifies a painting. After two weeks and a strong start, it started to regress. It's a horrible feeling when you realise this has happened and the desperation kicks in. You go blind, start piling on paint, thick, sloshy, sticky paint, anything to cover what's beneath. "Is this better? Worse?" Panic sets in, you question everything, losing all rational thought "I don't know how to paint! How do I paint?". You have two choices. Continue to watch the crashing zeppelin, or stop, gather your thoughts and fight back. Today I fought. I turpsed and scrapped back removing all of the sticky panic paint, which was extremely cathartic. To a ghost of a painting, back to a time when I was confident and hopeful. As soon as I have contact with the canvas again I feel I can breathe, and the fight back can begin.

 

For me painting is not about making nice pictures. It is what it teaches me about myself and about others and about life that inspires me. An enigmatic creature that never lets you get too comfortable. Just when you think you're starting to get a handle on it, it reacts in cruel jest to remind you that you're nowhere near. The more you learn about painting, the more there is to learn. I think back to a week ago, confident painter Amy, smugly posting progress shots on Instagram, thinking "you've got this", the whole time only a few marks away from total disaster.

 

It is a humble reminder that no matter how far you've climbed, the top will always be just out of reach. But without the promise of the top, we cannot dare to get close.

 

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?" - Robert Browning

 

If you are the kind of person who spirals into a pit of despair at the first sign of a struggle, then painting is not for you. Mentality is everything, and learning to laugh at yourself, to be honest with yourself and to trust yourself is essential if you want to improve. True honesty can come only from yourself, so stand back from your painting, and be honest. Know when to give up, when to fight. Be humbled by the struggle not paralysed. Make your weaknesses your strengths and your mistakes your lessons, and you will be thankful for them.

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​© Studio Donatello

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