Five Years of Failure and More to Come!

This post is the result of a heart over pouring with gratitude. Where to start. Five years. I’ve been at this five years. An eternity and a microsecond.

When I launched Denise Hopkins Fine Art officially on April 1 of 2014, I was in my early thirties, jobless, broke, and living with my parents for the first time since high school. I wrote the following about the pelican painting I’d just posted:

“I’m beginning my [first] thirty paintings in thirty days with this little guy who is flying on top several failed paintings. I can’t even remember what the surface originally looked like, but I love the way you can see some of the darker layers underneath the yellow/orange/pink in the bottom left corner. I’ve started listening to several artist podcasts lately, and one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned thus far is that EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE, makes bad paintings every now and then. If you use oils, you can wipe the surface clean and start again. But the virtue of acrylic is that it dries so quickly you are left with two options– throw it away or paint over what’s already there. There’s no wiping, scraping. And what’s underneath, the failure, sometimes helps what’s on top, the re-done painting, to succeed. I’m in love with the process of painting because it reflects the process of life. I’m slowly learning the difference between setback and failure. Maybe even the importance of “setback” in the process of success. I’m becoming more and more convinced beauty is often planted in pain, stems from it. Still can’t get away from the image of the pelican– her head turned toward me as she flies against a fiery sky.”

I wish I could count the bad paintings of the last five years, but I swear I’d run out of time. Besides, I still, five years later, love what they do for me. Love that they still create a whole host of interesting surfaces on which I can create, repeatedly teaching me about process, effort, dedication, ego.

I have about three thousand twenty two ideas about the last five years– what I’ve learned and how far I’ve come. I’ve taken to facebook and instagram to thank some of my very first collectors, but for this post, I want to focus on my friend and teacher, failure.

Thank you for all you’ve taught me. The “no’s” that led to “yes’s,” the rejections that turned into awards. Thank you for the roads on which you’ve guided me. Thank you for repeatedly taking my stubborn ego to task, rejecting my insistent “shoulds” and replacing them with “what now’s?” and “what ifs?” Thank you for landing me right here– a million miles travelled and infinity still to go.

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Day 31. Contradictions.

I’m not a huge fan of before and afters. When people finish a new exercise or diet program and post a split screen, I find myself yelling into the computer: you were also good and beautiful in the “before!” So when I share some before and afters of this month, please know that the “before” is not an illustration of my unworthy self and the “after,” me perfected. It’s more an invitation to look at what an imperfect person can accomplish with one tiny, daily devotion that adds up to something big. Let us not forget it’s the “before” person who did the work. 

Before this month I was a good oil painter with a messy, hardly bearable studio. After this month, I am a good oil painter who has added watercolor to her repertoire in a space that is far more enjoyable to work.

My last little bird of the month is based on a photograph a friend sent me quite a while back– his son had been in Australia and shared a picture of the Australian Kookaburra bird, which he correctly assumed I would enjoy.

There are many things I file into the “later” folder, but sometimes, rarely, I do eventually open it up.

I’ve been “latering” my studio reorganization for over a year now. It took me half of January just to build up the nerve, but eventually, little task by little task, I found my inertia– A person in the doing mode wants to remain a doer.



Every 31 in 31 I take on provides unique challenges and unique rewards. This time around I was gifted insight into a new medium all together, one that surprised and delighted me. I tried something new even as I worked within the very familiar. I faced disappointment in the form of a pile of rejected paintings and a Superbowl dream that died with a flag that never emerged from the shadows.

Into the background of today’s last painting of this 31 in 31, I’ve written reminders of this month’s insights, many of which are contradictions. “Try new things” appears more than once, but so does “paint what you know and love.” “Tidy up” has a counterpart of “be okay with messes.”

Among the other reminders– take up space, lose control, and disappointment paves the way for joy.

Once again, I have thoroughly enjoyed the work of all my fellow 31ers– poets, artists, musicians, writers, peace-seekers. Together, we have exercised that most human impulse to create and connect. I can’t speak for you, but I suspect what is true for me might be for you also: this month I have felt just a bit more alive.

All my watercolor paintings from the month (and a few bonuses) will be available soon on my site. Be sure to subscribe to my mailing list to be the first to know when.

If you’ve been following along for 31 days (or even just one or two), thank you. If you think you might want to take on a 31 day challenge in the future, you’ve got just under a year to get ready. The next one starts January 1, 2020. I hope you’ll think about it. 

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Day 30. Try it, you might like it!

True confession: when I started this watercolor project on day 1, I was not expecting to actually like watercolor. I was just looking for a way to clean out my painting studio at the same time that I kept painting. I could paint watercolors at the coffee table or in the kitchen– unobtrusive, innocuous. But I’ve learned to appreciate their quieter power– the way they can softly suggest light hitting a braid. 

This is what has transpired: I have completely cleared out and reorganized my studio. It’s now a place I want to work. I’ll post some before and after shots tomorrow. When all the clutter was gone, I was left with just enough space for a new addition– a watercolor station.

You just never know. I’m going to tell my son this lesson of watercolors the next time he tells me he just doesn’t like broccoli. 

I’m working hard to get all the paintings from this month ready to find new homes. I discovered an alternative to framing that I’m pretty excited about. Below are a couple of the watercolors I’ve prepped so far. And for my fellow artists, here’s the video that explains how to do it. 

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Day 29. Making do.


I’ve been really inspired by some fellow 31ers doing figurative work this month. I haven’t been able to get to a figure drawing group lately, so I’ve opted for some photographic resources online. Working from photographs isn’t nearly as good as from life, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that doing the work in less-than-perfect circumstances is better than not doing it at all or, worse, waiting (eternally) for the circumstances to become perfect.  This painting is tiny– I’ll probably crop it to 4x4 inches, but I’m thinking about creating a second version– much larger and with palette knife/oil paint. What do you think?

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Day 28. Aimless Love

Final stretch, the last mile. 

When I was in college I had the pleasure of attending a literary conference where poet Billy Collins was the keynote speaker. I’ll never forget his description of his writing routine: each morning he begins with a haiku as a warmup for his day’s work. I cannot help but wonder if perhaps I should continue, even after this 31 days ends, to begin my days with a watercolor sketch. They feel the perfect alter on which to honor all my aimless loves.

Aimless Love by Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.
The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.
No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.
No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.
But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.
After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,
so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

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Day 27. Finally.

Well, folks, this is my FIFTH cardinal watercolor this month but only the first I’m posting. The others are lovingly resting in the “no” pile. One of my favorite birds has turned my art nemesis, but in today’s painting I breathed a little “finally.” And it’s not because this guy is perfect. He’s actually looser, and less “perfect” than the others– much closer to what I’m after. When I stopped trying so hard, this little one decided to visit. He wasn’t interested in spending time with someone so tense, someone who was assigning too much importance to him, and so he waited for the calmer, more accepting version of me. And I’m glad he did.

All the watercolors this month will be available on my site early February. Subscribers to my mailing list will have the first look at the new release. You can subscribe here

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