The Gateway To Creativity: Mistakes

10:19 AM


There are those days...when it seems that despite the very best of efforts, mistakes happen.

And let's face it, mistakes are going to happen. They can no more be separated from the creative process than breathing can be separated from living.

We're stuck with them...and I dare say that's a good thing!

When Mistakes Happen
During the last class at Keeton's, I heard the telltale "gasp!" quickly followed by, "Oh no!!" from the artist sitting at the front table.

When I glanced up from helping another artist, Faith* was staring down at her work with a horrified look on her face.

"I painted the strawberry juice on the table instead of on the plate!" she said.

Sure enough, it looked as though someone had been very messy ladling out the strawberries for her shortcake. Of course, they hadn't gotten a drop on the plate!

And here's why I say mistakes are the gateway to creativity—because at this point, we have three options:

  1. Start over. Give up, tear the page out, gesso over it, glue another piece of paper down, use acrylic paint to cover the offending gaff, or turn the page and ignore it like it never happened. Optional behaviors: wring hands, gnash teeth, wail inconsolably.
  2. Quit. Quit painting, quit sketching, quit trying, quit being creative. Swear off all creative endeavors. Optional behaviors: Sulking, stewing, anger, temper tantrums. 
  3. Play. Recognizing the opportunity that's just fallen into your lap and playing! That's right, play. After all, if your other two choices are either to hide or destroy the work and the other is to quit, why not play and see what happens. You will not have lost anything if you still cover up or tear the page out. Optional behaviors: laughing, learning, thinking, smiling, embracing, experimenting, shrugging, moving on.

Starting over can be creative, but what I'm talking about is embracing the mistake and finding a way to incorporate it without giving up and beginning anew. This takes Intelligent Creativity. It requires stepping back, taking an objective look at the work, consider the tools at hands and how best to create something new or different from the detour we took from our expected outcome.

This usually requires a bit of ingenuity and letting go of expectations as to how the page was suppose to turn out.

Are Mistakes Bad?
The foregone conclusion most of us operate under is that mistakes are bad...but are they?

It's worth our time to examine that statement to see if it's true. Have you ever gotten lost on the way to a destination only to discovered a newfound place you'd never have stumbled upon if you had not gotten lost?

When I looked over Faith's page, I saw a "fix" immediately to do away with the messy strawberry juice that marred her creative effort. I suggested painting the "table top" red as if there was a table cloth. And it worked. In fact, it gave her work a strong "pop" of color and a bold, graphic look.

I made a big mistake that day as well. Take a look at the page at the top of this post and you'll see three layers of white whip cream...there were only suppose to be two! This is the page I did for class.

What would have happened if I'd thrown up my hands and quit or gnashed my teeth and threw a temper tantrum because I had too much whip cream? (Is that even possible?!) They probably would have thought I needed some kind of intervention.

Realizing I had too many layers, I decided to incorporate the area to look like an extra layer of whip cream and no one, except for the folks in the class would ever know, unless I told them.

Stop To Think
When we make mistakes, we panic and it seems our default position is usually to start over.

Instead, why not take a deep breath, calm down and figure out a way to make the unexpected change work for us by using our gift of intelligent creativity? By making a conscious decision to let go of our expectations and fear so we can embrace the opportunity to play, we increase our chances of going somewhere new, maybe even better, exponentially.

This is the gateway to creativity and the key usually comes gift-wrapped as a mistake.

What will you do with your next "gift?"

*Faith gave her approval and blessing for me to share her story on the blog. 

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5 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Laure such an encouraging post. I experienced a big mistake while working in ink on a card. I am going to take another look- perhaps I just find s way to cover up my booboo! Hope you have a great weekend. Hugs!

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  2. What a great post--applicable to so many more areas in life than "just" painting.

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  3. Yes, I agree with Kathy...I sometimes apply your thoughts to sewing mistakes! We in the sewing community call our mistakes "wadders" and creating something new with them is awesome if you can! Great post Laure!

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  4. What an encouraging pep talk for those situations when things don't go quite right -- like last night finishing up my last Norway assignment. My lettering, filled with red paint, at the bottom of the page got smeared. I panic'd and tried to "lift" the smear. But, that doesn't work well with RED paint. I got some up, then reached for WhiteOut... which didn't quite match the color of the paper - but it looked better. Then a light went off in my head ... what if I added a partial red border to my page - it might distract from my "patch job". That was my "play" to see what would happen, and in the end I was happy with my page. The smear has been forgotten. ;-)

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  5. Sometimes it isn't an actual 'mistake,' --just a bum painting. But sometimes that is just what I need to free myself up and go experiment. .... and sometimes good things happen.

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