a lesson from lilies and some thoughts about doubt and gratitude

"If you hear a voice within you that says you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced."
                              --Vincent van Gogh

A little over a week ago I had to look up that quote and write it down in my sketchbook. I was feeling paralyzed by doubts and fears. I've been struggling with them a lot lately. I wrote the quote in my sketchbook and I scrolled through the other quotes that came up with my search on Goodreads. The category they filed the van Gogh quote under was "Quotes about Self Doubt". There were some good ones. Shakespeare. Sylvia Plath. And this one by William Goldman (writer of The Princess Bride). Oh, how true. How hard that truth. He's talking about writing in particular, but any artist can relate to that final sentence:

"No matter how diamond-bright your ideas are dancing in your brain, on paper they are earthbound."

So, I sat down and did some sketching and then dove into a painting, freed a bit from my fears. If I'm painting, no matter what anyone thinks of my paintings, I am a painter.

Fast forward a bit to this week. I hadn't heard from the winner of my giveaway about which type of lilies were her favorite (I don't think she always has access to the internet) and so I thought I'd play around with painting my favorite lilies. If she wanted something else that's fine, I'd paint a different type of lily for her. I scoured through my photos (which made me realize how I'm going to have to start taking photos in a different way if I want to paint from them) and then I got to work.

At the end of the day I was not happy with how it was going.

watercolor lily painting

(Forgive the weirdly-lit photo, but it was getting dark). Even subtracting the weird lighting, the greens just weren't working for me. I wasn't worried so  much about the stems because I planned on more layers of paint for them. The center of that main flower, though, had already gotten plenty of paint and I feared that it was too heavy. My conclusion, with only a bit of frustration, was that I'd start again the next day. Start again meaning start a new painting. I was fine with that. In truth I've done it a few times lately when something wasn't working. When I mentioned the fact on Instagram people commented that I shouldn't scrap the painting. I thought it was sweet that they were trying to cheer me up, but I was sure that I knew best.

The next day when I came up to my studio and saw my painting sitting on the table it didn't look so bad. I sat down to try to fix what I didn't like and to go about finishing the other elements. If nothing else, it would be good practice.

In part my desire to salvage the painting was swayed by the comments on Instagram, but I think part of it, too, was being able to get a little bit of distance. Let the painting sit and come back to it with fresh eyes.

By the end I was happy with how it turned out.

watercolor lilies painting

The thing that these lilies helped me to remember is not to give up when I'm in the middle. The middle is the hardest part. In the beginning you're fueled by the idea. It's fresh and exciting. After a while, though, it's clear how much work still needs to be done. You get to the middle and things don't look so good. The reality is that they look unfinished. The middle can never measure up to that glittering vision in your head. You get to the point where a painting could go either way. Sometimes the middle point looks good. Sometimes the middle point looks bad or weird. Either way, to get past the middle you need to keep going. You can't stop. You can't give up.

watercolor lilies painting

Does that sound simplistic? Maybe it is. What it is not is simple. It's not easy to keep going when you're frustrated or when you're bombarded by doubts. But what's the answer? Just keep going. "By all means paint."

In all of this thinking I've been doing, there's one other thing that I keep coming back to: gratitude.

hearts in paint

Gratitude to you who are reading these words. Gratitude to you who buy my art. Gratitude to you who leave me encouraging comments or send me encouraging emails or simply click "like". It means a lot to me. I've also been feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude to those who are sharing their stories, their truths, their struggles and their successes. Artists. Writers. Teachers. Mentors. Friends. (And complete strangers, too -- sometimes you stumble upon just the right story at just the right time). And so, here's a thank you sent into the ether. Love sent out into the world. Thank you!


  1. I know what you mean about self doubt Anne as I have it almost daily! You are a highly talented artist and I bet you are your biggest critic! I know what you mean about 'the middle point' or the make or break part of creating something. I am glad that you persevered as the painting has turned out beautifully. Sending gratitude to you into the ether too. Your internet presence makes my day! :-)

    1. It's funny that when I consciously confront doubt and fear it feels as if they are new. I know that they are not. And just poking around looking for quote I see how common those feelings are.

      Thank you, Simone. You don't know how happy it makes me to be able to shine a little joy into your world!

  2. "Gratitude is heaven itself" -William Blake

    (and I LOVE the lily painting!)

  3. I think doubt about my ability to complete my art projects successfully enters just about every project I undertake. The key is to keep going, even if you make a mess. The glittering finish doesn't always happen but we always learn something from each mistake. And very often something new and beautiful emerges from our efforts, be it a lovely work of art like your lilies or an idea for the next art piece. If we're lucky, both happen! Your lilies are gorgeous and your gratitude glows in their centers. Keep the faith :) We appreciate the effort and showing us what works for you, doubts and all.

    1. Yes, the key is always to keep going. We learn something every time. And sometimes something beautiful (other than just the learning) emerges from that.

      Thank you for sharing your doubts, too, Sharon. You seem to create so effortlessly, but I think any creative person should know that we're all wracked with doubts.

  4. I love the lily. :-)) Looks just like one of mine in my garden.
    xx oo
    I struggle with self doubt too. And had a big dose of it a few weeks ago. I am so thankful to have Kindred Spirits like you who understand.

    1. Kindred Spirits, indeed! Thank you Carla. It makes me so glad to know that my words bring comfort and inspiration and that something as seemingly impersonal as a computer can bring beautiful connections.

  5. Anne, I had to smile at your comment about the middle of the painting being the hardest. Not because I disagree at all, but rather it reminded me of a Ray Balkwill video Dennis owns where Ray is painting and he says, "The hardest part of the painting for me is the middle (pause) and the beginning (pause) and the end." We both laughed and Dennis said, "Yup, it's all hard." Your lily is lovely. Well done. xo

    1. Haha. Yes, I guess you're right. :) Each step is hard, in a different way. Thanks for sharing. You made me smile.


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