List of requirements


I have been observing a quality in one of my children that I am not sure I like. And I think she probably learnt it from me. It doesn’t sound like a bad thing. In fact, it seems like a good thing.

She wants to do the ‘right’ thing, to get the answer right. She certainly doesn’t want to fail.

My friend LP told me a brilliant story about failure, which occurred many moons ago when she was taking A Level Art. As the class swot and teachers pet she obviously anticipated success… at all times.

At some point in the year she approached her Art teacher and told her of her idea for her next project; LP wanted to do some really big drawings of people.

LP’s teacher, in her wisdom, knew she wouldn’t be able to achieve the fabulous free hand drawn images she had in her head.

LP: ‘…She sat me down in front of a rotten old hippo head that had been dug up from Knowsley safari park and told me to draw it. I protested! This wasn’t what I had in mind to do. It bared no relevance to the images I desired to draw in my head. It was a waste of my valuable artistic time! She was having none of it and told me to draw it.

About an hour later I presented my charcoal and chalk masterpiece and her response was “meh……now do it again” I was fuming! Firstly, I was the golden child. I only received praise thank you very much, secondly it was a stupid thing to draw and thirdly “er I just drew it didn’t I?” (also, mildly crushed that I hadn’t impressed her)…probably worst of all, I knew it wasn’t very good. Failure!

Maybe 40mins later I present hippo head number two. “ok” she says “these bits are interesting, the teeth are better, now next one I want you to look at the different textures that you have missed out on this one” Gutted. Why wasn’t I impressing her? And really? Draw it again?

One by one with each drawing my confidence (probably ego) deflated ever so slightly. I drew that bloody hippo for weeks!

Then, the ‘ah-ha’ moment…She comes with ink and a few bits of paper on the ground.

“Draw it in 30 seconds” a few swishes of the brush and there it was.

 “now 10 seconds” Bang, hippo.

Then the clever bit. She got out all of the drawings from the last few weeks and we laid them out in order and discussed the work. The first image. The one that took the longest. The one I was most invested in and the most upset that she didn’t shower me with praise was of course the worst.The last images, the quick, free easy inks were much better.

I could never have done that myself. It was my need to please that kept my focus on it, but my trust in her that kept me going.

This little art parable has stayed with me more than 15 years later. Very much so in my work as an artist. I thought of it often during my degree. I frequently say to Steve “ I’m weeks away from actually making the real work, this is the warm up” but also in just life and work. It helped me not be crushed by the idea of failure and shifted my attitude to “well, it’s not very good, but I’ve learnt something here and that is valuable”

I think failure is essential. I’m deeply suspicious of anything I do that goes ‘right the first time’ as I feel like I’m not learning.’

I love this idea. Failure is essential.

It manages to reward the effort (you have to do it in the first place for failure to be an option) but also lets me off the hook.

I am not perfect, it’s ok.

I have spent most of the last 10 years raising my children (now 9, 7 and 4). Although i have done a smattering of work, there have been long periods with no, or very little, creative output. This has been very difficult and i have felt as though I have been losing part of myself (certainly my confidence) the longer it has been.

And then the longer i left it without putting something out there, or even putting pen to paper, the harder it became. I didn’t even want to fail in private, and so it was easier, or certainly safer,  not to do anything….., right?

But having been through some serious stuff in the last four year (of which more later) I am gathering myself together and starting… risking… doing.

Feel free to watch me try, and sometimes fail.

This blog is my first foray into accepting that failure is going to happen. I will get it wrong.

This – my first blog post – will probably be over worked and not brilliant.

It’s ok, I’m just going to hippo-it until I improve.

PS. I want to find a way to encourage failure in my children (and myself). A kind of ‘school for failure’ if you like, where we tackle things or try things and celebrate failing. If anyone has any ideas of how to do this please let me know…. – its my new spiritual discipline.

*This photo is taken from the brilliant book ‘Steal Like An Artist’ by Austin Kleon


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