Disaster at Sea

Somewhere I found a browser add-on that includes a breath-taking picture, a place to list my to-do’s for the day, and a memorable quote. I don’t know what the name of the program is, but I like the add-on. Sometimes it’s spot on with its inspiring words, like these that I read one day:

“Don’t bury your failures. Let them inspire you.”

On that particular day, I needed those words. I’d been wrapped up in an art disaster for more than a week. I finally chalked it all up to a bad experience and was ready to see what I could learn from it.

Here is my “Disaster at Sea” — and the title refers not to any shipwreck or storm, but to my frustrating attempts at painting a rocky shoreline.

Disasters Happen

The surprising thing is that the painting started off on a good note. It’s another practice piece, an opportunity for me to work on creating rocks and ocean waves. When I first blocked in the rocks, I thought it might be smooth sailing ahead.
Rocks 4

Somehow, though, things didn’t go well. I wiped almost everything away and started over.

Starting Over

In fact, over the course of a week I spent more time wiping paint away than I did putting it on. I couldn’t get the shape of the rocks right, or if I got the shapes right, I couldn’t get the lights and shadows right. At one point I had the rocks looking reasonably similar to rocks, but then my swirling ocean water ruined it all again.

I wiped away. I re-drew. I blocked colors in again. Over and over. And over and over. It became a frustrating challenge. No matter how long it took or how many times I had to re-do this seascape, I was going to finish it, so there!

At last, after several more “wipe-it-away-and-try-again” moments, I decided to simply put paint on the canvas again — any which way — and call it done. At some future date, I’ll grab my big palette knife and scrape the scene away. I’ll cover it all with a solid color paint and eventually re-use the canvas.

Isn’t that burying my failure? Yes, it is, and I’ll be glad to do it because I think I’ve learned all I can from it.

I’ve learned that persistence is good — up to a point. Especially with practice pieces, I think we can push too hard, too long, and find ourselves at that point known as diminishing returns. Quite simply, the longer I kept at it, the worse it became.

There are other things I’ve learned from this painting, as well. I’ve had opportunities to mix and re-mix colors for the skies, colors for ocean waves, colors for seafoam crashing over rocks. Yes, of course, I’ve had practice mixing colors for rocks, too.

In the time I spent working on this disastrous painting, I used many different brushes — from tiny 00 detail brushes to large flats. I got a lot of drawing practice too, as I re-drew those rocks, trying to create the right shapes.

Most of all, I’ve learned how much more practice I need on values. I found myself completely befuddled with lights and shadows on the rocks. I will definitely be devoting a lot of practice time to this area.

I won’t let this disaster get me down, though. Much like my struggles with painting an old barn, I can only say that I’m glad it’s over. The sea has wrought its havoc and claimed another victim.

Disasters do happen. When they do, we just move on.



  1. Are you painting from a photo or from your head? If the former, try thinking about the rocks as individual 3d shapes rather than rocks per se. If the latter, look at some rocks and choose individual rock models to go in places, then think of them as 3d shapes. Hope that helps.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was painting from an illustration in one of the books I was studying over the summer — creating something similar but not identical, if that makes any sense. So it was from both a photo and my head. I appreciate the suggestions!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You bring back so many memories when I painted with acrylic paint. The canvas got wiped so many times , one time I scrubbed it in the sink 😳 but I learnt so much just like you say nothing is wasted!

    When I went over to the digital side I found it so difficult and then just like traditional painting it clicked. I love it now and on the plus side I never run out of painting materials or have to throw away ruined clothing 😬

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    1. Digital art is interesting, I’m sure. Oh, I’ve ruined so many shirts since I started oil painting. What I’m doing now is taking my husband’s oil T-shirts after he’s ruined them and wearing them when I paint. 🙂 But now and then I forget and start painting — oops! Nope. Gotta go change my clothes. And at times I end up getting paint all over me without realizing it, so yeah, I have ruined a few things. 😦

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      1. My very first attempt at oil painting was when I was fourteen. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, couldn’t draw at all, but I thought maybe I could do some weird abstract thing. I splotched paint on the canvas and set it aside on the back porch. One of the dogs knocked it over, curled up, and slept on top of it. I think the dog’s artistic efforts were better than mine. No wonder I waited over 50 years before trying it again. 🙂

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    1. I thought it looked pretty good at times, but then I’d make a mess of it again. It really got to be a bit of a joke. And like I said, it reached a point where the more I worked on it, the worse it looked, so I decided the most merciful thing (for both me and the poor canvas) would be to call it quits.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Once again, I really love the painting ! The ones you deem disasters nearly always seem to me to have interesting composition , movement , and color. Maybe they aren’t typical or standard or cliché , but they’re original , powerful , and dynamic ! Very far from disaster! I much prefer looking at paintings that aren’t like ones I’ve seen before or like copies of photos .

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