A painter’s palette


The faded flower caught my eye as I was trimming the potted plants on the windowsill. The rich shades of its life and death were so striking they would make an amazing watercolour. Appropriate, really, as the flower was an Anthurium, the painter’s palette. The heart shaped bloom seemed too beautiful to simply add to the compost so I reached for the camera, thinking that really, I should have reached for the paints.

Then I realised that I haven’t painted once since I moved house several months ago. In fact, I haven’t even unpacked them. Granted, there is a problem of space. There is no longer a spare room to serve as a studio and storage area, but that excuse only works for the oils and the big easel. The watercolours would slip in a drawer.

I used to paint something every day, just to keep learning, even if it was only a ten minute sketch. I never learned formally, I started to paint and learned as I went. I knew just how much technique I lacked. I always saw the perfect picture in my mind and failed to attain it. It didn’t matter. I loved it.

The smell of oil paints and turpentine excites me. The texture of canvas and the feel of paint on brush or, just as often, fingers, always makes my heart smile. Yet, what with one thing and another, it is a long time since I have painted. In fact, I realised with a jolt, I haven’t really painted for the past couple of years. Life got in the way and then, if I’m honest, because I stopped practicing, I lost confidence.

You see, I always knew that I was not a particularly good painter. My perspective ends up all wrong, the colours, light and shade are never right, my drawing skills leave much to be desired. I never once painted a picture with which I was completely happy. But that only spurred me on to learn, it did not detract from my joy in the process.

Most of my paintings were of dreams and visions, full of hidden forms and symbols that spoke to me quietly. They were personal. So no-one was more surprised than me when the paintings began to sell. Not just to friends who might just have been being kind, but to people I didn’t even know. They seemed to be seeing something in the pictures that I did not and, whatever it was, the images spoke to them. While I still saw the imperfections, they were seeing something else.

Then the commissions started to come in. Some of them were for prestigious locations and companies. For a few years, I earned more as a painter than I can imagine earning as a writer. My confidence grew. I still saw the flaws in my work, but learned to accept them, even whilst trying to learn. When I was called to paint an enormous mural at an important venue in London, I began to believe in myself. That confidence reflected itself in my work and the pictures began to get better. The stiffness disappeared; the brushstrokes became surer and more expansive. I allowed the paint to play instead of trying to force it into line with my inner vision.

I learned to believe in what I was doing, not because I was getting it right, but because I was doing it. My very first mural came from taking a chance and ‘having a go’. I had absolutely no idea where to begin, but did it anyway. I made it up as I went along… and it led me to paint at Wembley.

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page,” wrote Jodi Picoult. The words apply just as well to painting and living as they do to writing. If you are doing something badly you can learn how to do it better. If you are getting things wrong, you can learn how to get them right. If you are doing nothing at all because you are afraid that you might not succeed, then you have nothing to work with and no experience from which to learn.

How many of us hold back through the fear of imperfection? How many leaps of faith are refused through fear of failure or disappointment? How many times do we decline what life offers, just in case we are not good enough?

The first page, the first chapter… the first tentative step in a project, relationship, dream or adventure… It is always a moment of fear; especially if we have tried and failed before. My own early paintings were utter rubbish. I still have some of them, a testament to where you can come from and where you can go, just by saying ‘yes’ to life.

Even on the inner journey of personal and spiritual growth, there is a choice to make. Do we stand still and wait for life to push us forcibly forward, or do we take the leap of faith into the unknown regions of discovery?

‘One day’, ‘maybe’, ‘I wish’… sometimes the only thing that is stopping us is ourselves. We hold ourselves back, paralysed by the spectre of failure; it is true that we cannot fail if we do not try, but nor can we succeed. Confidence does not grow from learning how to do something, it grows from doing it. It is better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing at all.

If we are going to fail, let it be in a glorious blaze of colour. Let it be with fireworks, bells and trumpets… not a failure to ignite the inner flame until it forgets that it could ever flare into brightness.

As for me, I need to unpack my paints.

52 thoughts on “A painter’s palette

  1. This is so inspiring, Sue. I never knew you could paint. I am also self taught with regards to my fondant creations. When I started I didn’t even know you could by flower petal cutters and used to cut each petal out laboriously with a knife. The first book on wired flowers I bought I thought looked impossible but slowly, slowly, I have taught myself how to make them all. Unpack those paints!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My own motto is, that you will never know what you can do if you never try… I have become quite good at trying!
    I don’t suppose you took any photographs of your murals?


    1. I’ll try my hand at most things…and sometimes fail spectacularly. But more often than not you surprise yourself.
      Somewhere I have some old printed pictures of some of them It just bever really occured to me to document things at the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey
    Really enjoyed reading this, very inspiring. I live the idea of what you paint as well, I’m currently trying to connect spiritually as well


  4. As others have already said, Sue, this was a very inspiring post. It’s easy to feel we’re getting nowhere and give up. I was happy to hear of a case where someone kept on trying despite the early imperfections and got somewhere with their skills as a result. Incidentally, since you clearly have talent, I hope you will take up painting again.


    1. I really need to get the paints out. I have…finally…my own paintings on the wall. All of them less than perfect, but once framed they look good enough to draw the odd compliment from people who don’t know they are mine. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s great, Sue. I’d be very pleased with such a positive reaction from others. I think if I hung my drawings on the wall, most visitors would politely pretend not to notice. 🙂


  5. You make such valid points there Sue. I love to try new things, and in the last two years alone, have learned so much, and continue to do so!
    I have learned how to blog (still so much more to learn on that score), and have also expanded on something I used to love as a child, which is writing poems.
    I look forward to seeing some of your paintings in the near future Sue. 💖


  6. Last summer I began writing another book and in the process decided I needed to paint as a means to understand my main character better. I hadn’t played with watercolors in many years. I surprised myself and began to wonder why I’d even put the paint away. Art has always been a huge part of my life and I’m so glad you’ll be unpacking the paint! Hope you post some of your work. 🙂


  7. Reblogged this on graemecummingdotnet and commented:
    This year, I will make a big leap (or maybe even a few). There come times in our lives when we really should do, but hold ourselves back. A ticking clock can motivate – it has for me.
    Not being a particularly interested in painting – either doing it or looking at the end results (I know, I have no soul!) – I nearly passed Sue’s post over. But something made me read on, and I realised this isn’t about painting. It’s about me. It’s about all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

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