Serendipity - the happy accident!

Updated: May 7, 2019


Horace Walpole proposed this 'new' word in 1754 – after reading The three princes of Serendip, a fairy tale in which the heroes were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of – to describe a princely talent for discovering new and exciting stuff by not looking for it!


I love this idea and often try to exploit it in my work, using a dip pen and watercolours, which as any artist knows means I never feel one hundred percent in control of the outcome. That there are often 'happy accidents' along the way, the nib skids, or flicks, a splott appears! The watercolour spreads a tiny bit further than I anticipated, pools or seperates.


If I hold the brush at the end of the handle and let the tip move freely the result can be beautiful in a way I'd never achieve by holding on tight ...it's an exercise in letting go!



This piece is a case in point, I painted or drew each element seperately so exploit the chance of something wonderful happening. I was not dissapointed. The branch was a swoosh of an Oriental brush with acrylic paint, I did three scanned them in and thought "hmm", and then I started painting leaves.



I painted lots of leaves, again and again, thirty or so of them, and chose the first two! Added them to the branch in Coreldraw - hmm, control freak - took it apart and went and sketched an imaginary tea house.


I scanned three sploshy textures in, discarded the flashiest overworked and dense one – not seen here as it just did not scan well – you can also see two brush cleaning swipes and one of those made the final cut – cleaned the borders of the other two and layered them. Decided that if I slashed the neutral toned one into rectangles it would echo the paper panels on a tea house, layered over the splodgy turquoise there was a sudden 'Wow!' moment - inside/outside. An am I looking into a tea house or out into a garden.



Played with the branch again and felt I was getting too 'precious', perfectionist about the whole thing and walked away. The next day I painted the tea house - splish splash - loved the first draft, scanned it and did a minimal clean up of the background, added it to the artwork and removed the original two – too tight – leaves.


Selected ten looser leaves and scanned them, narrowed the choice down to four. I read that four is not an auspicious number in Japan so added another ...five. Sort of blew them around and thought - Yes!



Tea bowl, I painted about six with washes of acrylic, I painted more, I got really Aaargh! about it but was determined to get it sorted. I sploshed paint around added a few fingerprints. let it dry, came back turned it over and drew two loose teabowls on the back - cut them out roughly with my huge bookbinding shears and turned them over. Added pen and ink line and did some more walking.


Scanned all the bowls in - discarding as I went, there were about twelve until I got down to two - I only need one, one really stonking tea bowl and this is it. I started to clean it up. Ugh! I imported it again just cleaned off the area around the scissored edge and left it.


Blew the leaves a wee bit more and Voila - a Serendipitous moment - or in fact quite a few!



N.B. Walpole lived in a 'Castle' in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham ...just up the road from my family home. It's an architectural treasure and I reccomend a visit.

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Moira Carter — Illustrator — Chester moirarae1@btinternet.com