The secret to surviving failure?

I receive an invitation to attend a watercolour workshop. Most people tell me that watercolour is hard to do. My first class, in 2019, was a joy as I managed to draw and paint something I could recognise and liked. Without hesitation, I sign up to do a two day course with a wonderful teacher who once helped me to paint something I liked.

The day starts at 10am in a village hall in Hampshire. Everyone seems to know each other and most of them have been painting for over twenty years, one of them for over 80 years! The day starts with a bluebell wood. The teacher shows us tools and techniques and then gives us time to try things out in stages. At the end of the first session I have something a child could have painted. After lunch, I try my hand at painting bumble bees. Well, the less said about them the better.

Day two I arrive early, homework done and full of hope that I can retrieve the bluebell wood. It starts well, I add more colour and texture to the green foliage and add a few more bluebells. Then we start the next project, a Kingfisher perched on a branch of a tree. By 2pm I start to wonder why I am here. I have never been able to draw and I am not artistic. When I review each of my paintings I see complete disaster.

The women who cruise the tables to check out the competition stop to offer commentary. ‘Oh, Its……. (very long pause)…. Lovely’ and they wander off. Eventually I start to say, ‘It’s only my fifth day having any form of tuition. I never could draw or paint. I am very new to it. I am still learning.’ I can hear my defensiveness and wonder if they believe me.

As I drive home, drained of the optimism of the morning I wonder why I am putting myself through this.

I am a failure. There I’ve said it. I am a failure when it comes to painting. I can’t manage to draw anything that looks like a real living animal, insect, plant or bird. I am incapable. Yet, I want it more than anything. I want to be able to draw and paint something I can be proud of.

So what’s the secret to surviving failure? Is it persistence, resilience, a bottle of wine to soothe the pain of disappointment? No, it’s much simpler. It is being lucky enough to have friends I can discuss things with. Friends who won’t judge me harshly but who will see and understand that I have given it my best shot and that I am learning. Friends who will provide feedback about what they like and where they see opportunities for improvement. Friends who will love me even if I paint worse than their smallest child, grandchild, cat or dog!

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