Friday, April 1, 2011

Are You Failing? Fail Better!

Farm Fresh
3.5 x 8.5 inches
Watercolor and Ink
Handbook Watercolor
Sketchbook

I painted the latest image in my sketchbook direct with paint, no pencil. I consider it a failure. You may wonder why and I'll explain in a moment, but first, let's look at failure for a moment.

When I started the Artful Journaling eClasses, I was amazed at how often the words, afraid, fear and failure kept coming up in the comments.....afraid of failing, of not being good enough, of not doing it correctly, of being judged.

Then I started to take note of how often those words came up in all the classes, on blog posts (not just mine but also in my travels around the web), and in email conversations. It was OFTEN. 

Words have power and they quite often provide a peek into how we think and what we value. Usually, we're not even aware of how much we're revealing. 

So with all this fear creeping into our language, do we consider ourselves fearful? Do we walk around expecting to be judged as "not enough" or "less than" all the time? Are we so unsure about our abilities that we question whether we can learn every time we set pencil or brush to the page?

It's worth pondering. 

Going back to the piece over on the side....I say it is a failure because it failed to meet the goal I had set for myself—which is not necessarily obvious in the piece. I was seeking to capture that translucent look of the onion skin. I managed to get close in a couple of spots, but overall, I did not succeed.

It would have been more accurate to say "I did not meet my goal with this piece of art." Instead, I called it a failure, and chances are good that several of you were getting ready to argue with that assessment in the comments. 

When we first start out creating, it takes time to learn (and baby, there ain't no shortcuts!). What is the quickest possible to learn? To sketch, draw, paint and pursue the "doing" of our chosen craft as often as we can, as much as we can. It is in the "doing" that we will learn and only in the "doing." You can read, study and think about drawing until the cows come home each night, but if you're not putting it into practice, you're not learning and improving……and making mistakes.

Which brings up another point....practice is not a dirty word, but I'll save that for another post. Back to the point of this post, failing.....how often do you fail? How often do you count the high cost of failing—the wasted time, the wasted materials, the wasted effort? Every time? Most of the time? 

What if I were to say you've got it on the wrong side of the ledger? That failing is a necessary ingredient to growing, to improving, to learning new ways to see, to draw and to create? For the price of some time, materials and effort, I'd say it's pretty damn cheap, not to mention a great bargain!

As we grow in our chosen craft, we continue to fail if we continue to grow. What happens is that we fail better. Our failures become less obvious. We see them because we're the ones setting the goals. The more often we fail, the more we learn, the better we get, the more fun we have! Even failures become fun because there is always something to be learned. And we stop fearing failure quite as much.

Do we ever reach a level where we stop making as many mistakes? Yes. At some point, the mistakes we make change from "Damn! Why couldn't I see that?" to "I wonder what will happen if I put blue here? Oops, maybe not." And occasionally, to keep ourselves humble, we miss something basic. It's a reminder to go back and refresh, but we need not start over. 

So again I ask you....are you failing? Are you failing better?!

I hope so!!

15 comments:

  1. I always say we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. However, that knowledge doesn 't silence my inner critic. Great post.

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  2. Great post Laure. I never thought of it this way but you are right. I sometimes dont do something because I fear failure. If I dont do then I cant fail but if I dont do I wont know if I fail or not and like you said we learn from our mistakes. I have painted so long with oils and feel more confident with them but I want to do more watercolors and have to get over the feeling of failure with them. Thanks. lots to think about here.

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  3. ...great post! After one completed year of the 100 painting challenge...and 1/4 way through the second year, I'm failing better, and I love it. Each time I make a mistake, I learn from it, and I don't beat myself up. I find what's good and move on. You're a great teacher!

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  4. Wonderfully thoughtful post Laure. We all need to heed these words and take them to our life in general.

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  5. What an awesome post! I couldn't agree more with what you said. I did some sketching while waiting for an appointment, and the sketches are nothing to brag about--but they are successes because I actually put pen to paper for the first time in a long while.

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  6. Laure how can I thank you for your encouraging words? I need to print them out and tape them to my forehead lest I forget that I need to fail, fail and fail better! Thank you so, so much!

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  7. Donna, you couldn't be more right. As to that critic, make a friend out of her!

    Cris, we forget there's a cost for playing it "safe," too. Besides, if you've learned something, it's not a failure!

    Yay, Kelly! Go, girl, go!

    Thanks, Teri, you're absolutely right, this goes far beyond art.

    Thank you, KJ, yay for sketching on location!

    Grace, one of these days, it will be your voice of experience helping someone to move into taking more opportunities to learn (and fail)—that's how you can thank me! So glad they help!

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  8. I will have to remember this line of thought. So very positive. Thank you.

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  9. Laure I appreciate your thoughtful comments and good advice. Love your onion painting!

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  10. Oh yes, I was one of those who was going to jump at you for saying it was a failure but I understand totally what you mean as you wrote the rest of your post. I worry the most before I start a project. Once started, I find myself usually figuring my way as I go and seldom am totally unhappy with my work. I figure it's a success as long as I like most of a piece. Yes, it's the beginning where I fail as in not starting. But I am getting braver and perhaps someday I will really believe it's "only" a piece of paper.

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  11. Soooo true. I'm always finding fault with things I do, too, and then I think--"this is my HOBBY, for God's sake. Chill, Sue!!" Easier said than done, I guess. It's good to know I'm not alone, but sad that we're all so hard on ourselves, eh? I like your onion a lot! Love the long spread, too.

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  12. We are always too hard on ourselves!

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  13. Some wise person said to learn to do something really well you have to make 10,000 mistakes .... so hurry up and start making them.

    Excellent post!

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  14. Wonderful post. It reminds me of a book I read, The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self. It's about playing piano and how every wrong note gives us information to grow. It's still hard to hear that wrong note, but I'm trying.

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