For my ninth birthday, I got an instruction book on watercolor painting. I was thrilled and eagerly flipped through its pages, only to frown in disappointment—the entire first quarter of the book consisted of tonal exercises and descriptions of brush strokes and color mixing. How boring! Sighing, I skimmed the book’s next section: advice on various paintbrushes and grades of paper. I don’t need all this. Where’s the fun part?
I skipped to the middle of the book, where a still-life painting of strawberries caught my eyes. The finished product looked promising, and the step-by-step instructional photos seemed easy to follow. Here was the real action! I dipped my paintbrush into the water and began.
The base wash of lemon yellow for the highlights on my strawberries went smoothly enough, but when I tried to apply the orange paint for the mid-tones, it turned out that my mixture contained far too much water and far too little paint. I had never mixed paint and had no idea how it’s properly done.
The thin, poor-quality paper I was using refused to absorb the deep red for the darkest tones and began to dissolve into soggy shreds, over-saturated by the abundant, watery washes of paint that I hadn’t allowed to dry. My beautiful colors resembled a plague-stricken Nile River!1
In a desperate attempt to salvage my efforts, I tried to paint on the strawberries’ green caps, but my oversized paintbrush sent green paint streaking into the red wash, forming a grotesque brownish pool. By the time I managed to clean up my soggy mess, I’d determined to never pick up a paintbrush again.
By morning, however, my devastation had given way to new resolve: I would spend some of my precious pocket money on the correct materials, and I’d take the time to study and practice. Eventually, I had the pleasure of painting those landscape and still-life pieces—yes, even the strawberries—and I saw then how all that “boring stuff” had been the foundation for my later success.
I often long to reach my goals quickly and easily and become dismayed and disheartened when I face obstacles, setbacks, and difficulties along the way. I haven’t discovered a magic pill for success, but the “Red Nile” lesson reminds me to buckle down and persevere through the tedious, unpleasant, or tough times. That’s the only way to get strawberries on a canvas.