A Cherished Mistake: A Writer Wednesday Post

February 27th, 2013 | Posted by Irene in Essays

The Shining Of the Stars, painting & all text © Irene O’Garden 2013

To listen to this post, please click here:A Cherished Mistake

In my late twenties, I heard a recording of  an early American Folk hymn, “God Is Seen.”  (You can hear it performed here on YouTube by the Ohio University Chorus.) It so strongly moved me that I went to an artists’ colony to illustrate it.

I prepared for a month–studying visual literacy and the color wheel, carefully planning and sketching twelve 16’ x 20 “ images. At last I mixed my watercolors and joyfully, confidently painted all twelve on luscious Arches paper. The final touch I planned was to apply narrow outlines using a pinpoint nib and India ink.

If you know the delicate crowquill nib, the toothy surface of French coldpress watercolor paper and the ineradicability of India ink, you know a perfect collision was waiting to happen.

It didn’t have long to wait. The moment I put pen to the first painting, shocking black spattered all over it, spoiling the image.

I was overcome, I was nauseous, I wept. No undoing these black blotches.  The splatter was too extensive, the ink intractable. I was crushed. More than one painting was ruined–eleven others had to coordinate with it. A month of work wasted! I was furious. I felt punished. This was a book about God, for God’s sake!

I finally calmed down enough to hear my only solution: “Pretend you meant to do it.”

I grabbed my toothbrush, the ink and the pen, practiced spattering on scrap to see possible effects. Then I intentionally spattered all twelve. Suddenly the paintings were dynamic, their texture and energy newly alive.

If I could have hit “delete” at the first spatter, would I? You bet your sweet art I would have. But this visceral experience taught me lifelong respect for the spontaneous in art and in life.  While I love our world of deleting with so much easily erased or rearranged,  there are rich lessons in things we can’t undo, in discovering how to abide, appreciate or even cherish them.


Is there a mistake you cherish?



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  • Linda O’Brien

    As you know Irene, I do not take hikes due to physical conditions being what they are. But I took my wonderful, devoted (and why he is still with me is both and mystery and a blessing) husband to physical therapy with me. This winter has been cold and mean to my system. He wanted to learn the stretches and manipulations that the therapist does to make me feel so much better. (Stick with me here, there is a point) Dan learned where to press and kneed and that harder is not better or faster and gloated as some of his assumptions were verified. We came home after a 2 1/2 therapy session, I was exhausted. To bed early. Tuesday dawned oh so gracefully. I had planned to spend the day with a friend and go to Big Sur and have lunch at glorious Ventana. I awoke pain free – I mean PAIN FREE. So instead of a delightful and scenic ride with my friend – and healthy lunch in the hot sun (HANG ON it is coming your way) Kathleen and I stopped at Pfeiffer State Beach and we hiked about a mile to the ocean’s edge and it was low tide. Water crashed through the opening in the rocks sending tunnels of water spraying everywhere. So I understand your painting – and suffering that things aren’t just right. The day was sooooooooooooo much better than I expected – and when Dan finishes his work this weekend, we both are headed back to Pfeiffer State Beach with a picnic! Today is a day to say “Isn’t life grand?”/

    • Fantastic, Linda!! Love is our ultimate healer–thanks so much for sharing this lovely story!

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