Embracing Spilled Paint

A Guest Post by Melanie Rothschild

A few years ago I had a seemingly innocuous experience which turned out to be life changing.

I spilled an entire gallon of paint in my workshop.

What a mess.

I decided that it would be much easier to deal with if I let it dry out, figuring I’d come back to it in a few days and chip it off bit by bit—much easier than dealing with a gloppy mess.

So, in a few days, it had dried. I began to pick it away and, very much to my surprise, it was not breaking off in little bits at all. Instead, it all came up in one exciting, glorious piece.


I realized that I absolutely loved this thing; this skin; this treasure. I knew that it was an important moment for me, I just didn’t realize quite how important.

I wanted to have more of that great feeling of picking up the dried paint, so I started deliberately pouring paint, letting it dry and then peeling it up. I really got into the pouring. I played with finessing the pours. I felt as if I were developing a fine technique. I would wake up excited to go check and see if my newest pours had dried and couldn’t wait for the “peeling high.”

I’ve always loved paint; just plain loved the stuff. The idea of liquid color that you could wallow in made me happier than I thought I could admit to others. I wanted to put all my “paints” on display, to enjoy as a collection. I reached for a pole that was nearby and hung them all up. I decided that I loved looking at them like that, all together. I kept adding more and more and then decided that I wanted to add more, still.

Eventually I arrived at Paint & Air, a series consisting of paint which hangs in the air suspended from metal armatures . . . no canvas, no wood, just paint and the air that dries it. The first installation of Paint & Air, 10’x6,’ was at the gallery at the Brand Library in Glendale, California. I’ve since gone on to create many other iterations of the Paint & Air idea and am still working on new variations. But, there was also another big frontier ahead, one that I never could have imagined.

In preparing for that show, I was asked to submit an artist’s statement. Frankly, those often infuriate me. I wanted to be sure that whatever I might have to say would be understandable and inclusive as opposed to obtuse and leave people feeling as if they were simply not up to the task of understanding what was going on. (I have never understood why those are often so incomprehensible.) I decided to do a little research on creativity—on how ideas come into being.

Two years later, I found myself someplace I never thought I’d be, doing something I would have easily sworn I’d never do: I went to grad school to formally study creativity. And that’s the beginning of another story.

Melanie Rothschild is a self-taught artist whose elaborate interior accessories have been sold in stores throughout the United States including Neiman-Marcus, the shops at the Smithsonian Institution, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and hundreds of others for almost two decades. Her work is shown in fine art galleries and has been licensed to Target. She considers moxie, an irreverent nature, and a respect for mistake-making to be the tools of her trade. Melanie has a master’s degree in the Study of Creativity and an undergrad degree in Anthropology. She is from and lives in Los Angeles.


Click here to see more of Melanie’s artwork and a short preview of her documentary, MISTAKE.




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4 Responses to Embracing Spilled Paint

  1. RS says:

    This is a wonderful story that expresses how inspiration and insight can come about in unexpected and unpredictable ways. This experience describes the essence of creativity, being mindful in a way that is open to possibilities. Without the ability to see in new ways that this openness allows, the spilled paint would always have been simply considered a mess, but by having the ability to see with a different perspective it became a source of experimentation and artistic expression.

  2. Leslie says:

    What an inspiring story. I was just thinking recently about mistakes and failures, and how much we learn from them, as painful as they may be. Mistakes connect us to others more than successes. It is what we all have in common, and allows us to give others a wider berth. Thank you for sharing your grand mistake and not crying over spilled paint!

  3. malagueta says:

    Thank you for the reminder, Melanie! And yes – mistakes CAN be our friends and very close ones indeed. How many of us plan our masterpieces only to realize that the best parts…. the most exciting parts…….keep you up at night, get you out of bed in the morning parts, is where the script went off course? Amen for mistakes and hooray for all their gifts! Keep reminding us Melanie – the world needs them!

  4. shirlbuss says:

    This post is bursting with inspired thinking about art-making, the creative process, and really, life itself.
    Melanie, you write so well: bringing us into your studio and taking us with you on your journey in a compelling way. You should write a book about all of the issues you raised. And the visual images accompanying this blog are so sumptuous. It makes me want to wallow in my own mistakes, and hopefully make as much meaning and positivity from them as you have! Thanks for sharing your process with us.