Monday Motivator: Embrace Mistakes

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“In creative work, sometimes the best way to reach a level of quality is through embracing quantity. You simply have to create quickly, iterate on the fly, and embrace mistakes as a part of the learning process.”

John Spencer, Making Time for Project-Based Learning (PBL), 26 March 2024


Multiple attempts or multiple failures. Your choice of wording predicts your longer term outcome.

Embracing mistakes is not embracing failure, it is acknowledging that learning takes persistence and practice. Doing something once and expecting perfect results is setting yourself up for frustration. It can happen, but what you are after is acquiring repeatable skill not mere happenstance.

It’s frustrating watching someone spend hours repainting something as they are unable to feel satisfied at any of the multiple occasions it could have been declared finished, yet also unable to articulate what it needed that was different from where it was before. If you keep painting on top of the same piece, you can’t compare and analyse. Paint several so you can put them side by side and figure out what differs, what you prefer and why. Take a step aside from painting “a real, finished painting” to learn.

Monday Motivator: Rejecting a Painting’s First Rendition

Monday Motivator

“Many artists consider art as a process of learning … [Richard Diebenkorn] considered the process of constantly reworking a canvas to be one of manifesting his ideas, finding it inappropriate to accept a painting’s first rendition. … looked forward to the moment when a work demanded rectification, enjoying this moment of change, considering this layering of ideas to be the process which generated his most successful work.”

Kate Reeve-Edwards, “David Mankin: Remembering in Paint“, page 75,

If an idea is good enough to paint once, why not twice, thrice, however many times you wish? Reworking it on the same canvas or starting it afresh. It’s a bit like doing thumbnails to pursue and refine and idea, but in actual size.

Claude Monet (1840-1926), Wisteria, 1917-1920, oil on canvas, 150,5 x 200,5 cm, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

Monday Motivator: If You Want Your Paintings to Have Brilliance

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“If you want your paintings to have brilliance, think in terms of more color, not lighter color. … Most students do little more than dirty their brushes with a little color and then try to wipe them off on the canvas. To mix color properly, you must have enough pigment on the brush in the first place.”

Paul Strisik, “The Art of Landscape Painting”, page 13-14

How much “enough pigment” is depends on the size of my canvas or sheet of paper. It’s one of the reasons I find changing the scale I’m working at takes me out of autopilot, as I’ve once again got to think about how much paint I’m going to need for an area. It’s a lost cause trying to remix a colour created from leftover bits on my watercolour palette.

Monday Motivator: Bad Drawing

Monday Motivator

The question “How old do you have to be to make a bad drawing?”, asked by cartoonist and teacher Lynda Barry on Instagram, had me thinking about how it is near impossible not to judge a drawing, yet it is possible to teach yourself to not be so emotionally invested in one piece. Give yourself permission to spend your time drawing and to use up your materials, to do another drawing and another and another.

What do you do with the drawings you judge to be bad? Turn the sheet over and use the other side. Draw into it with an eraser or paint. Keep drawing and see where it goes; you already think it’s bad, so what does it matter. Cut out a bit you do like. Don’t be too fast ripping it up but leave it a few weeks so you see it with fresh eyes.

Monday Motivator: Non-Dominant

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“Drawing with your nondominant hand can seem like a difficult, even foolish endeavor, except if you are seeking a new line or form. … Your drawing muscle memory becomes accustomed to making certain marks and perspectives … By using your nondominant hand, you will discover a new language for your line and form.”


Whitney Sherman, “Playing With Sketches“, p68

Using your non-dom hand isn’t a new idea, but it may be new to you. It really is worth giving it a go as the results can be pleasingly surprising. The whole point of it is that you can’t control the pencil very well, so stop using that as the reason you won’t try this technique.

Occasionally when I suggest it to people who say they want to draw more expressively rather than tightly detailed, they say “oh yes, I’d forgotten about that”. So make a note somewhere to remind yourself to do it every now and then.

Take it up a level by using a brush or some other in your non-dominant hand. In the photo below I’m using a silicone tool to spread acrylic ink drawn with the ink bottle dropper, but maybe it was simply to reach the leftmost edge of this long sheet of paper.

Monday Motivator: The Allure of Semi-Abstraction

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“Semiabstraction is not a style; it is a viewpoint toward nature that results in paintings which integrate identifiable subject matter and formal design structure. This integration establishes an independent equilibrium between nature and design in which neither dominates the other.

“… Look for shapes that have a certain energy or vitality to them … If a shape is unclear or uninteresting, redesign it, improve on it. Make a painting that appeals purely on the level of shape and pattern relationships.”

Edward Betts, “Creative Landscape Painting”, page 84

A painting is a conglomerate of shapes. As the artist, it’s up to us to decide what to include and to leave out, how to represent them, what to dictate and what to suggest. That’s why impressionist, expressionist, semi-abstract art is ultimately the more interesting artistic playground for me.

Colours of Skye

Monday Motivator: External Expectations

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

… the distinction between fiction and nonfiction is less about “Did it really happen or was it made up?” than it is about form. And, more than form, it’s about the expectations that are brought to certain forms. According to how a book is presented, packaged, or identified, readers have certain expectations. Following from that they expect books within broadly identified categories to behave in certain ways. So people can find it quite disconcerting when a book isn’t doing what they think it’s meant to be doing, even if the book is completely fine on its own terms and has no desire to conform to some external set of expectations.


Geoff Dyer, “The Art of Nonfiction No. 6“, interviewed by Matthew Specktor, Paris Review Issue 207, Winter 2013

Substitute “drawing” for “fiction”, “painting” for “nonfiction”, and “art” for “book”.


Saying a drawing or painting is ‘good’ because ‘it looks like a photograph’ is more a statement about the viewer than the artwork, about the limited exploration someone has had with the possibilities of art beyond representational.


It can be interesting debating whether pastel is a drawing or a painting medium, when ink shifts from a drawing to a painting, how much paint can be added to a mixed medium piece before it stops being a drawing, but ultimately it’s a technicality that’s irrelevant to whether an artwork speaks to you or not.

Mixed media, A2 size

Monday Motivator: Practice

Monday Motivator

“If you do not practice feeling joy in your every day relationship with art, the idea that one day you will be good enough to not hate your work is not going to pan out…

“It is possible to enjoy the process, to have real love for the end result, and to continue to improve and grow.”

Winona Nelson, “Stop Hating Your Own Work“, Muddy Colors 23 Oct 23

It’s all too easy to say you hate a painting and throw your brushes down in frustration and anger. If this is always your reaction, you’re developing your ability at being angry not your painting skills.

You’re lying to yourself if you say you hate everything about it, because then you would never have started painting it in the first place. We don’t hate the first brushstroke, nor the second; what we hate is that at some point things went awry, that we didn’t fulfil what we promised ourselves when we started. If you truly hated every brushstroke, then give your paints away and do something else with your time.

Find the “I liked until I did X” and “I never did Y” moment(s), think about what you might have done instead, and have another go.

Sometimes it might be a while before I try again, as with the viaduct at Cullen below, from 2019 and 2023.

From 2019: Cullen, acrylic ink
From 2023: Cullen viaduct acrylic ink

Monday Motivator: Slow Curiosity

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

Curiosity can be a means to an end. But couldn’t it also be … the end? A reward in itself?

As an analogy, the slow food movement was a reaction to the use of food as a “means”—the widespread habit of quick-serve, on-the-go, calories-down-the-gullet-style cooking and eating. But—as food gurus taught us—when we slow things down, a source of stress could become a source of enjoyment.

Maybe we need a slow curiosity movement.

Dan Heath, “Finding Out ‘What It’s Like to Be…’ Through Slow Curiosity“, Behavioural Scientist, 18 October 2023

Once upon a time I was at a workshop at the London V&A where we did an activity in fast and slow looking. Fast looking was walking through a room quickly and then making a note of three things that caught your eye, repeating several times. (If you’ve been to the V&A London you’ll know it’s a warren of connected spaces.)

Slow looking was sitting in front of an object for a while, drawing and making notes. I can’t remember if it were 15 or 30 minutes but it felt like forever. Not least because there were all those other things to see. It’s impossible to look at even a fraction of what’s on display in the museum before your brain is overloaded, but there’s the compulsion to keep going because it’s there, waiting.

I learnt that I can keep myself actively looking at the one thing, the more I notice, the more curious I become about whatever it is. I also learnt it’s easier if I first use up some restlessness and impatience through fast looking and/or drawing. Also at familiar locations where I start to notice things between those I recognise.

Drawing flowers in my garden, continuous line in ink

Monday Motivator: Ideas

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“We all share a common misconception: that ideas pop into mind fully formed by themselves, fresh, new, and creative …

“Ideas are not new, as thoughts are not new. They come from the thoughts that came before them. We don’t really start thinking, we simply join the thinking that’s already going on. In other words, we jump onto the train of thought. Thoughts come from thoughts. …

“Finding the one you want to express is more about you than the idea.”

Gregory Manchess, “10 Things… Generating Ideas“, Muddy Colors

Procrastination can happen because we believe we don’t have any ideas to paint, we’re waiting for an idea we judge to be the perfect, or we can’t choose between all our ideas.

If it’s the first: reuse a previous idea. There isn’t a rule stipulating that ideas may be used once only. Imagine if Monet had decided to stop at one lilypond painting. And did you know Munch did more than one version of “The Scream“?

If it’s the second: go with the last idea you rejected. Give up on perfect and see where a less-than-perfect idea takes you. Would you do a perfect painting from a perfect idea first time anyway?

If it’s the third: put several in a hat and pick one. They’re all equally valid, and it matters more that you get started and persist.

When I picked each up, it was a perfect pebble for one reason or another. Together they become painted friends not competitors.