Monday Motivator: Follow Failure’s Lead

“We hate to fail. It makes us feel like we’ve done something wrong. But by putting yourself in a position to fail … you’ve done something very right.

“The first step down any path is most likely failure. … Failure is a teacher — just not always the kindest teacher. Its lesson is not to quit … to learn from failure, to follow its lead.”

James Victore, “Feck Perfuction”, Chapter Two:12

Tackling subjects or styles that are beyond what you know you can already paint is setting yourself up for failure, but also for discovery, learning, exploration. Acknowledging before you start painting that you probably won’t succeed to your satisfaction start gives you the freedom to try, to see what happens, how close you narrow the gap between what you envisage and achieve.

Give yourself as much credit for what goes right as you do stick for what hasn’t. Speak to yourself with the same encouraging words and humour you’d use for a friend. Don’t shroud yourself in a dark cloud of doom and failure. Watch out for judging with heightened emotions; rather reassess in the relative calm of a new day. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and your revenge on a painting that’s failed is to look at it critically, find what’s worked and not, then try again, not to instantly tear it into tiny pieces.


I made I don’t know how many attempts at painting the double waterfall on the Rha RIver in Uig, Skye, before I got one that delighted me. Both studio paintings and on-location. One on the long horizontal canvas (photo below) was so nearly there, but I lost my courage and stopped whilst it still had potential to end well rather than trying to achieve it.

Painting River Rha Waterfall

The one that ultimately delights me the most came not too long afterwards, and was the biggest painting I’d done to date, 200x100cm (78×39 inches). For me it captures the autumnal colours, the coolness and subdued light, combines brushwork and line, and tells different stories when viewed from a distance or up close.

Never Still, inspired by River Rha near Uig. Diptych 200x100cm (two panels of 100x100cm). In my personal collection

3 Replies to “Monday Motivator: Follow Failure’s Lead”

  1. Thanks for the encouragement. Such an awesome painting, rich in detail, color and emotion. I keep looking again and again 😍

  2. I often learn the best lessons from stretching and failing. Thanks for the reminder. And your painting is wonderful! Very evocative

    1. It’s having the determination to keep trying that’s the hard part, and with this subject I surprised myself (pleasantly) with where I did manage to get.

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