Lessons Learned

When I reached the half-way point of my 100-day creative adventure and posted about the project, I mentioned a few unsuccessful painting attempts, warning that you’d be seeing some of them in upcoming posts. Today I’m sharing one of those paintings that just didn’t turn out the way I wanted.

Overall, though, I’ve been on a creative surge lately. For the most part, I’ve seen dramatic improvements in both my watercolor paintings and in my oils as well. Yes, I’ve had cringe-worthy failures along the way, such as that poor girl slouching in her chair. I’ve also had a lot of not-so-good but not-so-bad watercolors, and these are probably among the most important paintings I’ve done because each offers opportunities for me to learn.

While working my way through Watercolour Painting with Aubrey Phillips, I’m seeing a lot of the countryside in Wales. One of the paintings in the book is View Near Abergavenny,  a lovely landscape with a few quaint cottages nestled in the foreground with Skirrid — known as the Holy Mountain — forming a quiet but majestic backdrop for the scene.

220px-Abergavenny_and_Holy_Mountain,_Wales,_1890-1900Because the illustration in the book is another two-pager, I can’t scan it, copy it, or photograph it to share. I searched online for it but wasn’t able to find the image. I did, however, find this photograph of “a view of Abergavenny.” The Phillips painting shows a similar view. The “Holy Mountain” is the one on the right. It has a bit of a jagged peak to its left, although that is barely visible in this photo.

I attempted to copy the Aubrey Phillips painting, working over the span of several days. I first created what I thought was a gorgeous sky. I spent another day working on the mountains, and a third day on the foreground. My results were not good.

Abergavenny 1 (2)

Nothing worked in this painting. Even my beautiful sky was a disappointment. I saw at once that it was too fussy, too distracting for this scene. I did manage to create a few little cottages, although they’re not very good ones, and after fussing and fretting over this for far too long, I just accepted that I’d made a lot of mistakes and needed to move on.

After doing an online search, reading a bit about Wales and Abergavenny, I thought maybe I’d have better results if I simply put Aubrey Phillips and his painting aside and created my own View of Abergavenny. The results, again, were not good.

I completed this as a direct watercolor, one with no initial sketch. In direct watercolor, the painting is completed in one session. There’s no letting parts dry and going back, no glazing over colors. For me, that means nothing but a big mess.

My View of Abergavenny (2)
My View of Abergavenny

I stop short of calling this a “cringe-worthy failure” for a few reasons, the most important of which is that I learned from this painting and from the first one, too.

I like that “My View of Abergavenny” is a bit more colorful. I especially liked the yellow in the foreground. I did slightly better on the house I included and learned more about using negative space to create shapes.

I gave up on this one early on, so I used it as an opportunity to practice, to try mixing different greens, to play with different brushes and brushstrokes. There are actually a few of those brushstrokes that do work. Most don’t.

There are positive things I’m taking away from both of these paintings, lessons learned about watercolor painting, about landscapes, about colors and shapes, and more. I learned a little about Wales, too, and whenever art can take me to a different place in the world, it’s a good experience. My paintings don’t always turn out the way I’d like, but I can always enjoy going wherever art leads me.

JWRNOTE: Janet Weight Reed from My Life as an Artist will be taking us on a virtual trip to Wales in July! She lived and painted there for twelve years. I’m excited to join her through her blog posts, and I’m definitely bringing along a sketchbook! The virtual trip will begin on Monday, July 6.



  1. Watercolor painting is such a challenge and often does things we don’t expect. I admire your determination to keep learning and trying new techniques! I have visited Wales. It’s beautiful and I’ll look forward to Janet’s posts.

    Liked by 1 person

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