Tag Archives: creative process

When failure is not an option.

badge-1-copyIt is a commonly used phrase. “Failure is not an option.”

Challenge is, when failure is not an option, we risk not learning from our mistakes, because in failure is not an option thinking, mistakes are not possible. In that space, we limit our capacity to think outside the box — or to even see, there is no box.

Our thinking becomes so focussed on doing the things that will guarantee success, we can’t allow space for ‘mistakes’ to lead the way to greatness.

In front of the easel I meet myself.

It is one of the many things I learn standing in front of the easel, leaning into the unknown.

Again and again, as I dig into the creative process, I see myself staring back at me with every brushstroke, with every layering of colour and texture and moment of wanting to wash it all over with white paint to begin again.

The creative process has expanded my understanding of the phrase, “Failure is not an option.”

I used to believe it meant, there is only one choice, come hell or high water, you will not fall down, you will not give in, you will persevere and rise above — at all costs.

It was the unspoken, at all costs, that had me in its grip.

At all costs meant, no matter how tired, how broken, how lost I was, I could never give into letting go of the need to appear ‘successful’. I could never let go of my pride.

“Failure” is just another cloud floating by

In front of the easel, I am constantly reminded that as long as I allow the urge to create to lead me into the unknown, as long as I give into the flow and trust in the process, without buying into my ego’s insistence it knows best, failure is just a thought that flows through and out, like clouds floating by on a summer’s day.

Ultimately, the fleeting thought of failure becomes part of the outcome. And, as long as my thinking stays expansive enough to allow for curiosity and experimentation, for happenstance and unexpected developments to appear, success isn’t measured in the beauty of the final piece (because believe me, I can always find flaws in the final piece if I really want to). Success is measured in the whole-heartedness of my experience of creation and the entirety of the final product – not the individual brushstrokes, but the entirety.

Moving through the fear of the well drying up

As I have been delving into the #ShePersisted series, I keep coming up against my fear of ‘the well’ drying up — which is just another term for fear of failure. Thus far, I have created 18 different images and quotes for the series. My original intent was to create 12.

Some I really like. Some, I’m curious about because they don’t resonate quite the same way as others. All are an expression of my creative essence.

Is that success or failure? Is 12, 18, 32 the number I will measure my success by? Or, is it simply a trusting in the process knowing that when I stay open to the muse, creativity flows freely and expresses itself through me without any expectation of success or failure?

Staying open and free of self-judgement/criticism requires a letting go of my need to ‘achieve’ and produce. It requires my breathing into my desire to be in harmony with the world around me through allowing the expression of my creative essence to flow freely.

The mystery of creativity is exposed in the unknown

I am fascinated by how the #ShePersisted series is appearing in my life. Several people have asked, how do you do it? How do the ideas keep coming?

It’s a mystery to me.

And I love that part of the creative process.

I trust in the process of letting go of my fear of creating into the unknown, so that the unknown can appear through my creative process.

Every time I stand in front of the easel, I don’t know what will appear. I don’t know how it will manifest itself. I do know that something magic happens when I let go of ‘directing’ the process and let it be the process of delving into the mystery.

Often, most times in fact, I start with the quote — and let the painting appear in concert with the words I want to use.

Often, most times in fact, the words I begin with give way to the words that appear through the mystery of being part of, into and of, the creative process.

As I mentioned, it’s a mystery — and part of the teachings of the creative process. Give into the mystery and let go of the need to direct the outcome by controlling the process every step of the way.

In that space, failure isn’t an option because, failure and success are simply part of the joy of being willing to take the journey.





If you don’t like your life today, paint over it.

The Long View 26" x 32" Acrylic on board 2016 Louise Gallagher
The Mystery of Seven Archangels
26″ x 32″
Acrylic on board
2016 Louise Gallagher

It happens every time. No matter what painting I’m working on, there comes a point where I just want to ditch it all. To throw it out. To forget about it and move on to something new.

Sometimes, the critter’s call (you know, that nasty voice inside that likes to call you a loser and all sorts of other names) is so strong, I ponder the merits of giving up painting all together. Really? Who am I trying to kid? I have no talent. It’s all just a waste of time — and anyway, I’m running out of wall space! Give it up already!

I have learned to breathe, to take a moment to reflect and centre myself so that the critter’s call becomes less strident. In the silence, my voice of calm rises above its cacophony to remind me why I love to paint — it’s not about getting to the end of the painting. It’s about savouring the creative journey.

Years ago, when I first fell in love with painting, my eldest daughter taught me an invaluable lesson.

If you don’t like it, paint over it.

Painting over it has become part of my creative process.

In the painting over process, the underpainting informs and illuminates the final. The textures and colours of what is beneath enhance what becomes the finished project.

Like life, painting over is not about erasing all that came before. It’s about using what came before to enhance what is happening now. It’s about learning from what happened in the’ there and then’ and allowing it to inform what is unfolding in the ‘here and now’.

Yet, no matter how many times I have painted over only to discover something I like even more than the original, I still hesitate at the moment of applying a coat of white to mask what was there.

I worry. I stall. I ruminate on it all. My mind veers off into, ‘you’re a loser’ territory, wanting me to believe I just can’t do it.

Silly mind.

Doesn’t it know I’ve recognized the critter’s voice?

Doesn’t it realize that no matter how insecure or indecisive I might feel in the moment, once I take a breath, fear loses its power to drive me into hiding as courage draws me out with its instinctual impulse to create?

The painting above began as an experimentation in texture. Hidden behind the clouds are the names of the seven archangels which are spelled out with wooden letters and affixed to the canvas with molding paste.

I had a vision for the painting, but it just wasn’t working.

I kept painting and still, the names of the archangels didn’t make sense.

I was very attached to my vision though and didn’t want to let it go.

But still, the painting wasn’t working. I clung to my attachment.

Finally, after weeks of the canvas hanging around the studio without my touching it, I decided to let go of my attachment and dig into the creative impulse. I took a breath and began to cover up the words with more molding paste.

I kept painting.

It is all part of the process.

In my original vision for the painting, the names of the seven archangels were visible. They were the painting.

Now, hidden behind the clouds, they remain part of the painting, but not the focal point. Yet, like in life, their mysterious presence remains part of the mystery, shimmering in the light of grace, adding context and texture — whether we know or believe they are there or not.

I’m still not sure if I’m finished creating with this painting or not. What I am sure of is in allowing the creative process to unfolding, in painting over, I continue to delve into what makes life so mysterious and divine.

It is all part of the journey where, if I don’t like the way my life looks today, I have the power to create something different simply by changing my perspective and seeing it through another lens.

And sometimes, that means, painting over what was there so that I can see what is possible when I don a brand new pair of glasses.


River Rock Studio – Painting in Words

Day 5:  River Rock Studio – Painting in Words

Composition is like a pasta dinner, our instructor, Jonathan Talbot, tells us. If you list the ingredients from least interesting flavour to most interesting, you find that the more interesting the flavour, the less of it you need to use.

We eat our art, he says, and proceeds to enthrall us with one of his many stories of art-making and life and a series of paintings under the name Patrin (‘patron’). It is a Romani word representing the signs travellers leave for each other. Here is a welcoming place. Don’t go to that door. They have good cheese. This vendor cheats… As a teenager, Jonathan lived rough for a while and was taken in by a Romani family in the States. He is a beautiful story-teller and his story is one of family, loyalty, bonds of gratitude that pay homage to a people who treated him kindly and set him well on the road of life at a time when he was lost.

In a field of white sheep, a black sheep is more interesting, he finishes off his story-telling and I am reminded of the analogy I used years ago when teaching creativity to grade schoolers. The cat sat on the mat does not paint a very interesting story. But, when I say, the cat sat on the dog’s mat, what happens?  And the students would get all excited about the possibilities of what could happen if…

Collage-making is an exploration of ‘what could happen if…’  If I put this image next to this, if I layer this on that, if I juxtapose this thought with this idea…. what could happen?

Like life, the outcome is seldom predictable, often uncontrollable. We must stay unattached to the outcome to give ourselves the freedom to explore the context of the elements and aspects of where we’re at to find ourselves free of expectations that the journey will be anything other than….. fascinating!

Benjamin Zander, co-author with his wife Rosamund Stone Zander, of “The Art of Possibility” shares his response when life throws curve balls or he takes a left instead of the right he’d planned. Rather than judging himself, or calling himself a loser, or stupid, he throws both arms up above his head, puts a huge grin on his face and exclaims, “How fascinating!”

I make many mistakes working in a medium I’m not familiar with, learning new techniques. When I choose to judge them as ‘mistakes’, I limit my capacity to push through what is happening into that mystical place of all that is possible when I let go and fall into wonder, awe, Love.

How fascinating!


Painting In Words

©2014 Louise Gallagher
(Written at River Rock Studio, July 31, 2014)

Lost in a sea of colours and shape
painting in words
poetry pouring down
from cerulean skies
burnished with umber and quinachrodone gold
floating on a sea of Pyrrole Orange
I forget that place where right and wrong
matter as I attempt to hold on
to a design I cannot let go of.
Lost in the deceit
of believing letting go
will kill my dreams
of creating under water.

Diving into the nothing
that is left
when I let go
I fall
into the divine essence
of life
flowing in all directions
immersing me
in its wonder.

Letting go
I fall
of holding on
to nothing
but everything
I am
when I
let go.