Frustration, Failure and Perseverance (plus some other thoughts on life and art)

It's been a bit quiet over here. I've been busy with various projects (when it's nice I've been trying to find time for the garden... I have to pinch myself that things are growing and blooming again, in some ways my brain is stuck back in winter).

roses, therese bugnet rose, rugosa roses, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm still re-thinking my blog. Thank you to everyone who took my survey, I hope to share the results with you (soon!) once I've hammered out my new plan.

Until then I've been stepping back, due, in part, to a realization I recently had... my main focus is (and should always be) my art. If my blog is getting in the way of my art, then it's not working. Sadly, my blog has often gotten in the way of my art.

It doesn't help that I've been in a bit of a creative slump. Ok, more than a bit, a LONG creative slump. I thought taking January off for a Creative Retreat would fix it, but it didn't. I blamed it on the season. Winter just isn't a good time for creating. Then spring started coming along. So I blamed it on the weather. It's so dark and gloomy and wet. I blamed a new sketchbook that I didn't like. I blamed it on being busy. I blamed it on distractions.

I had more than enough excuses.

The news doesn't help, either. It's been so easy to slip into heartbreak.

Over these last five months I've created more failed paintings (and discarded more paintings in their early stages) than I have in the past few years.

watercolor, painting, tulips, failed paintings, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

(I stuck it out with these tulips, even though I knew it wasn't working and even though I don't like the finished painting... sometimes you just have to do that).

In March and April I spent a lot of time working on entries for Spoonflower Contests, only to be disappointed by the contest results. I was very hopeful for this one, but came in 28th and this one, which drove me bonkers,

hummingbirds, nasturtiums, fabric design, surface pattern design, Spoonflower, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

but which I became very fond of, only made it to 148.

I've been taking the MATS (Make Art That Sells) Assignment Bootcamp class these last few months (I shared the first assignment here). But then when the second assignment rolled around, it just didn't work. I liked aspects of the piece I was creating, but they didn't work together.

sketches, sketchbook, pencil sketches, drawing people, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I spent a lot of time working on it, but in the end, I never finished it.

All in all, I was feeling frustrated and discouraged. I doubted my abilities. I doubted the path that I am on.

I'm not sharing my feelings and these "failures" for sympathy, or to fish for compliments. I just think it's important to be honest about the ebbs and flows in creativity. So often on blogs and social media we see pretty picture after pretty picture. We see success after success. And that is fine. But it also isn't the whole story. (Have you read Lisa Congdon's recent blog post?).

Everyone has failures. Everyone has doubt. Even the most successful artists and writers and actors have shared such feelings. It is part of being creative.

Creativity is wonderful. And joyful. And beautiful.

But it is also hard.

Recently as I was coming up on the due date for the May MATS Bootcamp assignment (and not being very successful in my sketching and planning), I was also busy working on a commission of three paintings and a new Skillshare class. That Sunday I was tired. It was wet and gloomy (so much of that lately!). Although the assignment was due the next day, all I really wanted to do was snuggle up on the sofa with a book. Oh boy was it tempting.

Instead, I  painted. And I sketched.

Sketchbook, drawing, sketches, roses, botanical drawing, botanical art, pen drawing, Micron Pen, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

And I painted some more.

botanical art, botanical watercolor, roses, watercolor, painting, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Did that painting go perfectly? No.

To be honest, the very first petal I painted was a failure. But knowing I was going to do my design in Photoshop, I simply moved over and started painting another flower on the same page.

watercolor, process, painting, MATS Bootcamp, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Because that first petal was in the way, I couldn't paint the whole painting, so I just painted bits, intending to put them together on the computer.

The drawing and the paintings were the easy part. Once I got on the computer and played around with my design, I felt truly out of my depth.

The project was to design a notebook with rose imagery and a quote from the famous gardener, Gertrude Jekyll. I am not a graphic designer and everything I came up with looked clunky and amateurish.

But I kept going.

Eventually, I ended up with this notebook cover design:

MATS Assignment Bootcamp, Notebook Design, Rose Watercolor, botanical art, Gertrude Jekyll quotes, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I guess I could have left it there, but I went on to create a sort of ad for my imaginary notebook.

notebook, roses, botanical art, MATS Assignment Bootcamp, Gertrude Jekyll quotes, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I liked what I came up with.* But even more than the end result, I was proud of myself for pushing past the discomfort and the fear and the negativity to finish the assignment.

Keep going.

How many times have I said that to myself over the years? It's important to remember. It's important not to give up.

Just as I would with a single painting or project, I need to push through this slump and find my way to the next part of my journey.

I'm getting there.

I've come to some conclusions and realizations. The biggest of them is that I need to paint more and I need to make a point of creating more in general. When I spent a month completing a painting a day, one of the lessons that I learned is that "painting a lot leads to a lot more painting". I think the inverse is also true. Painting infrequently leads to painting even less frequently. Put off art making for one day and the next day it's a lot easier to put it off. After a few days add up to a week it's even harder to start again. When I think about it, the biggest reason that often keeps me from creating is FEAR.

Fear can control so much of what we do. Fear of failure. Fear of an ugly painting. When I think about it rationally, if I create an ugly painting or a painting that doesn't work, so what? There's always more paper and there's always more paint.

I hope that fear is not holding you back today, but if it is, take a moment to truly look at what you're afraid of. It might not be as scary as you think.

I'll be back here on Friday with this month's Artist Interview. As part of my goal to streamline my blog I'm giving Sketchbook Conversations a rest on the one week each month that I'm interviewing an artist (don't worry, it will be back next week!).

*Curious about the other Rose and Gertrude Jekyll themed notebook designs? See them all in the MATS Bootcamp gallery. There are many beautiful designs. So many styles. So many different levels, from budding artists to full-time professionals. It brings me joy to see people working hard on their dreams.

(My design is on page 23 with the default number of images per page or on page 6 if you view 72 images per page).


  1. Anne, today I was looking at YouTube videos in particular one about the 7 habits of highly effective artists. Among the habits were daily work and volume not perfection. You need to create a large volume of work in which maybe only a few pieces are really good. Make sure you rest between creating art and only create that what you love!!! I thought the tips were really useful. I thought your spoonflower designs were wonderful. I would have voted for the hummingbird and nasturtium design but don't remember seeing it. Your notebook cover design truly is a work of art. Keep on creating Anne even if it means blogging less (although I will always miss your posts. I will try to do the same. :)

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Simone. I'm not striving for perfection, but I guess it might sound like that. Of course not every piece can be wonderful. You're definitely right about volume. That is the key. And resting is something that can be so hard at times. So glad that it's getting to be gardening season. Spending some time digging in the dirt is a great way to take a step back.

      Thanks, again, for all your encouragement and kind words! Wishing you a joyful and creative weekend!

  2. Oh, I'm so sorry you've been in a slump these past few months.

    Fear is such a roadblock isn't it? It's crazy because it's all in our head. Ugh. I'm glad you're working through it all and I understand that you want to focus on your art.

    I hope you're having a lovely weekend.

    1. Thanks, Dana. It's funny how sometimes things come easily and sometimes they don't. There isn't often a clear reason behind the differences, either.

      I did have a lovely weekend and i hope you did, too!

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I put painting aside, doubting my abilities (moving, family members passing, etc...(excuses)) & haven't picked it back up. You have shared just the words I needed!


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