If At First You Don’t Succeed, Fail, Fail, and Fail Again

“Would you like a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.”

Thomas J. Watson

The curtain rises on the studio space, skylights above, drop cloths below. The maestro begins the lesson with a gentle but stern lecture on the years it will take to master the tools and techniques of the craft. You, overcome with genius, passion, and an innate talent that will be ruined by academic guidance, touch the brush to the canvas and the magic pours out. Wait, what is that sound? Could it be the choir of Muses, singing your praises? Is it the maestro, weeping to have been so fortunate to have been at the birth of such genius? And not just that painting, but success each and every time at the easel! Bravo, kudos, roses!

Sigh. If only the road to mastery was so easy and the one to success so consistent.

My advice this week, is this: if you really want to make something worthwhile, plan on failing, quite a bit. This truth can be hardtack for some artists to digest. A class or workshop under the old belt and, if the experience was positive, success is expected on a regular basis. If the experience was not up to expectations, then one might as well throw in the paint brush because the art fairy must have skipped town on the day talent was dispensed.

But struggle– not the sort that wears and tears and defeats, but the struggle that resultPatricia Barness in gaining real understanding– is critical for artistic growth. If every creative encounter results in success, you aren’t reaching high enough; it is the stumbling that builds strength and endurance.

And you need to commit to the time needed to fail, evaluate, relearn, try again and repeat as necessary. Just ask my friend and colleague, Patricia Barnes, whom I have the great pleasure of working with in our Open Print Studio. It took Pat about two years to get comfortable and consistent with screen printing, with many fits and starts along the way. Finally, and proudly, Pat submitted her screen print and collage for the Student Show, an entry that was met with oohs, ahs and “how-do-you-do-that?”.  Well done, indeed!

This Week in the Studio

This week, I experienced moments of pure happiness while painting; happy with cadmium yellow and making the perfect shade of green, happy pushing paint, happy having time for lose and find myself. Happy. Here’s this week’s progress:

Me and Matisse

Painted the next layer on the Matisse background in the yellow, orange, green and the black squares and black on the sleeves. Next up: the blue and red in the background, and modify the hands.




For the rondos: Made progress on the pineapple, rabbits, fossil and roughed-in the bees. Next up: refine the bees and honeycomb, finishing touches to the other 3 and begin tackling the romanesque.


Me and Mondrian, in progress

Worked on repainting–again–the black grid in the Mondrian background. Added more to the hair, adjusted some of the skin tone. Next up: redefining the background shapes, particularly adding a layer to the blue.




  1. Sharlene says:

    A pleasure to read about the endurance and struggle that artists face. Lol! Always make me think about the many, many failures of Abe Lincoln. But it is amazing to know such an accomplished artist writing about struggle. Thank you and always great to see what you are up to! Your Mondrian selfie is wonderful!

    • martinemacdonald says:

      Thanks, Sharlene for your lovely comments. The Mondrian selfie was the devil to paint this winter, particularly when I removed the masking tape, leaving behind goo that got mixed in the paint. Scrape and paint, scrape and paint! But now progress forward!

  2. JuliaJovach says:

    Another engaging blog! I just met and spoke with Patricia Barnes at the Student Show…what a pleasure! And what a talent! I love your encouraging words on failure. I always say that if you’re not a little uncomfortable, then you’re not stepping out of your comfort zone. I’m thrilled to see the additional touches to your paintings! Thanks for taking us along on your journey! It’s a fabulous adventure! Xojulia

    • martinemacdonald says:

      Julia, Pat is such a multitalented artist, a precise draughtsman, poet, and now printmaker! As far as progress on the paintings go, it’s piano, piano, piano, as we say in Italian class, bit by bit by bit!

  3. Edna says:

    I think your blog is really inspirational in offering guidance, with a reality-based focus, allowing us to reexamine our purpose in the pursuit of our artistic goals. Your personal progress definitely reminds me of the necessity of taking my time with one piece of art I look at everyday, and wonder when I feel it is time to complete what I started two years ago!!

    • martinemacdonald says:

      Thanks, Edna, I’m glad you are inspired. I am by nature a slow but steady worker bee–sometimes I wish I could be faster in my painting. But, like Popeye, “I yam, what I yam!”

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