Sketch in watercolour -

Sketch in watercolour – “Up on the Moors”

“I wish there was more instruction on how to do the basics” said a fellow student. 

We’re both taking an online class on keeping a sketchbook. Some courses are prescriptive (“here’s the picture we’re all going to paint and here’s exactly how to paint it”) but this one is much more about each person finding their own way, their own style.

We’re encouraged to just play, to draw whatever we want, however we want, and to find out what interests us. I love this approach because I’m notoriously bad at following instructions, but lots of people don’t.

They want step-by-step instructions and I totally understand why. Creating art is scary. If you’re a beginner, you have no idea what you’re doing. You might know the result you want (or you might not) but you certainly don’t know how to get there. So it’s natural to want more experienced people to point the way, so that you can wind up with a nice picture to hang on your wall and a sense of accomplishment.

But here’s the thing … or rather, here are the things:

a) First, those more experienced people, the ones you look up to, the ones you think have it all figured out … they have no idea what they’re doing either! They start every picture not knowing whether it will succeed or fail. The only difference between them and you is that they’re not afraid to have a bash anyway.

b) winding up with a nice picture to hang on your wall isn’t actually the thing that will make you happy. What will make you happy is the creative process … solving problems, having happy accidents, discovering a new technique, finding out that you love pencil or hate pencil, or learning that you work best in charcoal, or setting out to create one thing but finding that you ended up creating something totally different.  It’s when you lose yourself in the act of creativity that you feel most alive. (And as a nice aside, you often end up with a picture for your wall anyway, because, when you really let go, you often create your very best work).

c) There are actually no failures. Every drawing or painting teaches you something. As artist Lesley Birch often says, ‘you have to be prepared to destroy what you’ve created.’ She means that if you’re too precious about your work, you won’t take the risks necessary to push it to the next level.  

Abstract landscape inspired by Ilkley Moor

Abstract landscape inspired by Ilkley Moor

I think what’s true of art is true of life  … there is no good or bad, although often we perceive things that way. There is only what is. If something in our lives doesn’t turn out the way we wanted, it will either teach us how to do better next time, or end up being better than our original plans. Either way we win.

So if you’re struggling with making art (or cakes or tables or a garden) because you worry that you won’t be able to do it ‘right,’ try to approach it the way you did as a child – open, inquisitive, totally unattached to the outcome. Whatever happens, simply by the act of creating, you have enriched your life. 

If any of this rings a bell with you, do let me know in the comments or by sending an email to I always love hearing from you.


  1. Gary Proud
    May 10, 2015

    Love your work and very wise advise…

  2. Karen Santoro
    May 10, 2015

    Intellectually, have understood this for a long time. Emotionally, I may just be arriving at the threshold. Thanks, Louise!

  3. Diane
    May 10, 2015

    It takes a lot of experimenting to discover the right (or best) way to use watercolors. (If there IS a right or best way.) And I may never get there. Sort of like reinventing the wheel. If someone else can guide me along it can save me a lot of time but at what cost? What do I learn for myself by doing all the work and discovering what I like on my own?
    Great post, guess I fall somewhere in the middle. Play with some guidance. Sketchbook Skool seems to fit me fine. Makes me do things I would NEVER do on my own. I am so much out of my comfort zone!

  4. Patrizia
    May 11, 2015

    I love this commentary and your observations, Louise. I think you’re spot on – this is true for art and life, too!

  5. Nina Fournier
    May 12, 2015

    You have so eloquently written what is in my heart. Thank you. The best works turn out because of trial and error and the struggle to grow and overcome what stumped us before. The words "I don’t know how to do this" become "I’m going to try this" and we stumble on until, somehow, someway, we find our style and our way to make a statement in art. You don’t start a painting with the words, "I am going to make a good painting……….."you do your best with what you know and let go and…create. I love your work Louise!

  6. REgina Kaatz
    January 30, 2017

    Dear Louise I love your art!! And the thoughts about it. I am in between trying and exercising, often surprised what happens on the paper.


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