My First Big Painting Fail

It’s been two weeks since I bought a cheap set of acrylic paints, a pack of brushes and eight square canvases from B&M with the intent of exploring the medium. All in fairness to myself, I’ve been prolific in that time, having produced eight finished pieces — and even selling one!

But, right now I’m experiencing the ebb and flow of the creative process, mixed with depression. In some moments I feel totally inspired to paint. I’m excited at what I’ve got planned, and exploring the creative path through acrylic painting. Other times, I experience crushing self-doubt. I wonder whether it’s worth me carrying on at all.

Yesterday I chose to push through the fear that comes with starting any painting, and dove into a large-canvas scene of Llyn Brianne — one of my most inspiring places in Wales. After a little thought, I mixed some colours and starting laying them out on the canvas.

It went horribly wrong.

My enthusiasm caused me to tackle the painting too fast, and from too many different areas at once. I quickly mixed the blues for the water and painted that in. I moved to the tree lines and blocked those in. I started painting the highlights of the low sun on the trees, and then moved on to laying out the sky — the only part I was pleased with, and then started blocking in the tree lines on the horizon before the sky was even dry. I had a crowded palette of unrelated colours, and started mixing these on the fly as I jumped from one part of the painting to the next with no real idea of what style I was trying to achieve. It’s as if I was desperate to finish it before I’d even started.

Often while painting, I get to a stage where I hate the piece I’m working on. It usually comes a short way in, when I’ve laid most of the base layers out. I think “this just isn’t working” and I’ve come to realise this is my inner perfectionist trying to take over. Most times, I’ve pushed through and the piece has turned out fine. This time it was different. I knew I had royally fucked up.

My ambitious nature is both a friend and a foe. I always want to push myself to do bigger and better. I’m not so good at dealing with the trade-off that comes from that ambition — the bigger feelings of failure that come with attempting bigger things.

I need to give myself a reality check. I’ve been painting for two weeks.

Just two weeks.

I know full well that making mistakes is all part of it, part of the learning process — a perfectly normal part of creating, but it still affects me harshly. My challenge right now is not to fight it, not to feel like there is something wrong, but to accept it.

There are so many facets to the process that in some ways, I’ve dealt with before, and in some ways, dealing with for the first time. Ego, perfectionism, self-absorption, impatience, enthusiasm, inspiration, identity, commitment, and meaning. These all intertwine to form an emotional roller-coaster.

However, I’m trying my best to figure it all out — the inner workings as such. Thankfully, I’ve found some solace in the work of American author Eric Maisel, and his various books on creativity. The most recent passage from Creativity For Life, I happened to read after this recent failure resonated strongly with me:

I think that the image of a tipping scale provides us with an important clue. We live in a precarious balance between truly caring about our art-making and not caring about anything, between feeling real desire and feeling empty and dull, between trusting our abilities and not trusting them at all. We live in a precarious balance between acknowledging that we must make mistakes and messes if we are to venture into the unknown and refusing to acknowledge that mistakes and messes come with the territory. We stand poised between paying attention and not paying attention, and between committing to lifelong practice and refusing to make that commitment. Every day the scales tip one way or the other, but usually in the direction of avoidance.

So, for now, it’s a case of sitting with it, then letting it go. To accept that this is all part of the creative life, and move forward. Keep painting. Keep trying. Because I have to.

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