I have never been good at persisting.  I give up too easily and move onto something else.  I am a classic dabbler.  I dabble at writing (a children’s story was abandoned after the first rejection from a published) and dabble at painting (I can go for weeks without touching my brushes).  I have dabbled at making articulated wooden fish (a production run of only 30 before selling my bandsaw).  I dabbled at learning to speak French (gave up – too difficult).  I have even dabbled at milking cows (don’t ask) and dabbled at being a song-writer (the last hundred CDs were taken to the dump when we downsized).

So, in summary; a life littered with dabbles and a conspicuous lack of focus.  I’m definitely a Jack of all trades and master of none.

No doubt my abysmal track record when it comes to persistence explains my admiration for people who persist in the face of setbacks and disappointments. There are lots of examples – sportspeople, explorers, writers (even J K Rowling persisted in spite of being rejected by 12 publishing houses).  I’ll cite one; Samuel Plimsoll (1824 – 1898).  A man with only rudimentary education, who became MP for Derby in 1868 and who, despite coming up against powerful vested interests and battling against fierce opposition for years, never gave up and eventually got the government of the day to pass the Unseaworthy Vessels Bill.  Now all ships the world over have markings called the Plimsoll Line to prevent overloading.

Another example was the artist David Whitaker who died prematurely, aged only 68, in 2007 after a life time of astonishing persistence.  Whit, as he was always called, failed the 11 plus (snap!) but, at the age of 13, won a place at Blackpool Technical College to study art.  Fascinated by colour theory, he worked hard on meticulous paintings and had some encouraging early successes during the 60’s and 70’s.  During this period, Whit received a lot of financial support and encouragement from the Arts Council but, in 1978 when Whit had turned 40, the Arts Council suddenly withdrew their support.

Typically, Whit accepted this situation stoically and buried himself in his work.  He rose at six am to work in the studio at the bottom of his garden in New Malden.  He supplemented his income with teaching jobs at the Ruskin School of Drawing in Oxford and at Wimbledon Art School. His paintings have to be seen to be believed.  Go to http://www.rebeccahossack.com/artists/78-David-Whitaker/overview/  to see plenty of examples.  Or, even better, buy the book, David Whitaker Painting, by Matthew Sturgis (Black Dog Publishing, ISBN 978-1-907317-44-6).  Even a glimpse will show you that Whit’s paintings are extraordinary in their complexity; nothing slapdash here.  For years he made paintings with intricate patterns of string stuck onto the surface of huge canvases (he invented a method where a ball of string, in a pot filled with adhesive, was fitted onto a skateboard!).

Eventually he moved away from his ‘string technique’ and returned to using a brush on canvas.  I am the proud owner of a Whit painting created in the early 2000’s during his ‘Grassroots’ period.  I bought it from Rebecca Hossack (an enthusiastic supporter and admirer of Whit’s work) in 2004.  I did not for one moment expect the painting to be delivered personally by Whit himself.  He came with his wife, Frankie, herself an artist, equipped with a spirit level, hooks, a drill and raw plugs and, after a convivial lunch in our kitchen , proceeded to supervise the choosing of a site for the painting and hung it himself.  Meticulous attention to detail, as you will see when you look at his paintings, was typical of the man.

So, not only do I greatly admire Whit’s paintings, I also think he is a splendid example of persisting in the face of disappointment. In the last few years of his life, largely due to Rebecca Hossack’s enthusiasm, Whit started to regain some of the recognition he deserved.  But, for about 20 years, he soldiered on undaunted in what he himself described as a ‘wilderness’.  Amazing!

As Calvin Coolidge said, ‘Persistence and determination are omnipotent’.


Add your voice

Enjoyed this article? Want to hear more? Book me as a speaker at your next event.