13 MORE Things I Wish I'd Have Known About Mistakes When I Started My Creative Journey

6:32 AM

NOLA Street Performer,
An Imperfect Sketch

They are a fact of life and yet, they continue to confound us all. Especially those of us who put ourselves out into the world in a visual way. Words, dance, singing, sculpture, poetry, painting, sketching, sports...you name it, and there is an element of fear that creeps in because we just might make a mistake.

It has taken me long years to learn to view mistakes as opportunities to learn. To NOT invest a lot of anger or aggravation in them. (And yeah, occasionally I still do.) Mistakes only become a big, honking deal when I turn them into a big, honking deal. Even more important, if I get so focused on the fact that I made a mistake rather than what I can learn from the mistake, I've compounded my mistake! Big time.

Mistakes are necessary, fundamental, and a requirement for learning. Resistance is futile. They're gonna happen.

Below are some thoughts I've collected over the years in my creative journey I kinda wish I'd known going in. Might have saved me some trouble. It certainly would have saved me some aggravation.

1. Mistakes, nor failure, are fatal. Okay, maybe if your a bomb defuser or a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon, but for the rest of us? Mistakes are annoying, aggravating, irritating, possibly demoralizing, certainly demotivating but not fatal. So go ahead, make some.

2. To become a better artist faster, lose your fear of making mistakes. How do you lose the fear? By doing. Not by thinking, reading, wishing, worrying, studying, analyzing or looking at other people's art on the internet. By doing. If you create more art, you will make more mistakes. Because you are making more mistakes, you'll learn more, faster, about what works, what doesn't, what you like and what you don't.

3. Mistakes are part of the process. It's just like when you learned to walk. You didn't climb out of the womb and onto the couch. You had to learn to roll over, sit up, scootch forward or backward, get your knees under you, how to crawl, how to pull up, stand up and stay balanced, how to move your foot forward, then the other one, how to turn loose and…how to fall down. Repeatedly. And get back up. Just. Like. Doing. Something. Creative.

4. No matter how good you get, you will make mistakes. It is inevitable. You're human. Just accept it and move on. Oh, and chances are good, it will be a rookie mistake that you know better than to do. Just saying.

5. How you respond to the mistake you've made is one of the most important choices you will make with regard to your art. Rather than dread the making of mistakes, treat it as a learning opportunity, as no big deal, as a part of the process. If you can't fix it, turn the page and holler out, "Next!" and begin again… OR…waste a lot of time moaning and groaning and grieving for that great piece of art you were creating. Staying upset and refraining from making art is fear dressed up in grown ups' clothing to make you think you're being wise to not waste time, materials or energy if you can't do it right. Bull hockey!

6. It's not a mistake or failure nor a waste of materials or time if you learned from it. Let me repeat that…if you've learned anything from putting a mark on the page, then you've gained something even if you deem the end result a mistake or failure. But don't call it a waste if you got anything out of it that will make you stronger or better the next time you put down a mark.

7. Before you decide a sketch or page in your journal is a complete failure, give it time. Often, when we are in the throes of creating and something doesn't turn out like the perfect picture in our mind's eye, we judge our results as lacking, as wrong, as a mistake. Turn the page and go on with another sketch. After a few days or weeks have passed, take another look at it. Many times, when that perfect image in our mind has faded, the work in front of us is often better than we thought.
Puffin Doodle
I have no idea what happened with his legs!
8. Being afraid of making a mistake won't stop it from happening. How many of us have not put in a darker value or a background or added words to the page because we feared messing it up? I dare so most us. What's the price? A piece we know could be better if we were just brave enough to take that next step. If we do that enough times, we erode our self-confidence.

9. Sometimes we have to learn what NOT to do by doing it. Yeah, it sucks, but the bottom line is there is no teacher like experience. It's kinda like getting your fingers burnt after being told not to touch something hot. You don't forget it. Some lessons are like that and it's necessary to learn the hard way, but you learn. Don't let the fear of learning the hard way stop you. Keep creating.

10. Do not feed the fear [of making mistakes]. If you find yourself obsessing over making a mistake or messing up on a piece of art you really, really like, ask yourself what is the worst that can happen. You totally destroy the piece and get your artistic license revoked. Then ask yourself what's the best that can happen. You create a gorgeous piece of art and go on to win the most prestigious prize in the country and world acclaim. Now, decide where you want to put your energy and efforts. You've got at least a 50/50 chance of being right!

11. So you've totally bungled the page, now what? Go play. Seriously, all expectations are gone. You're ready to tear the page out of your book. This is the best possible opportunity to play and experiment with some new idea or technique. To do something fun or outrageous or different. What do you care if it works out at this point? You were going to tear the page out the book anyway!

12. Is it a mistake or is it an imperfection? How many times have you bought a garment that had a tag saying something about how the imperfections were part of the nature of the fabric? What about a piece of pottery that was prized for the imperfections? It's not just semantics. It's how you think of the matter that is important. Learn the difference.

13. Did you fail? Fail better the next time. Much as when you learned to walk, each time you got up and tried again, you did a little better. So it goes with art. Embrace the opportunity to learn and make a new, different mistake the next time so you can learn from that one, and the next, and so on.

Fear is often the end result of having made mistakes or failing. This type of fear can paralyze your efforts to be creative, stunt your growth, or at the very least, slow it down. This kind of fear often sounds rational, reasonable and very adult-like when it whispers in the back of your mind that you don't want to put pen or pencil to the page because you're just wasting time and materials. You might mess up. Again.

If you'd listened to that voice as a baby, you'd still be lying on your back waiting for someone to come along and roll you over!

Turn the fear into fuel and let it fire your efforts. In other words, do it anyway. Because really, we talking about a little bit of paper, some paint, a touch of ink or lead and some time you'd probably have wasted trolling the internet looking at someone else's art or reading about making mistakes.

After all, if you try and fail, you have gained an opportunity to learn.

If you fear and do not try, you've gained nothing but fear itself.

P.S. This post is a continuation from this one!

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8 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Thanks again for the inspirations and bring me back to reality. Love the sketch.

  2. AWESOME post! I should print it out and post it on my desk. These principles apply to more than just creative endeavors. I'm learning to jump with Tank and I'm making any number of mistakes--it's taking me a while to figure out all the different things my body is supposed to do (and not do), and the only way to do that is to keep jumping, jumping, jumping, making mistakes each time and learning from them. I also look back on the whole ride and see that there was likely more good than bad in it and that helps.

  3. Love this...shared it on facebook. Fear can be paralyzing...it can keep us from trying, and the trying is what makes us better. My middle child had so much fear about making mistakes. He didn't draw much because of that...until one day we were coloring and he was asking what was the right color, and I told him "there's no wrong way to color something." And so he grabbed every every crayon and made this beautiful colorful house, and after that he started coming home with coloring pages colored with intricate, colorful designs (a horse covered in rainbow stripes, a tree covered in a checkerboard filled with every crayon color in the box). Not worrying about the mistakes freed him up to make beautiful things.

  4. What a great post. I am showing it to the people in the little watercolor class I am teaching! You are always so inspiring! Thank you.

  5. Laure! You KNOW how timely both of these 13s have been for me! Thank you! ♥ (CC, aka Minerva)

  6. Great food for thought! One of the worst things I 'learned' way back was to do it right the first time. My mother was a rather talented watercolor artist, but that was rotten advice. I've grown so much more since I've learned to dare to try. Just yesterday I thought I'd trashed a little watercolor and then I started to play on it .... I didn't have anything to loose. And guess what! I was amazed at how a little more work pulled it together and the energy imparted by the loosey goosey beginning was still there.

  7. Thank you so much for this Laure. I have been going through the fears and doubts and it has affected my ability to much. I've watched the videos and downloaded my lessons for the classes this year but then when I see all the beautiful pieces posted I start doubt that I can do it even though I have before. Today I tell myself that if I can do the pictures for the classes in under 30 minutes I can surely find that time a few days a week and hone my drawing, painting and observational skills. I'm easily distracted like my new puppy so I hope I follow through.

  8. Thank you for putting your inspirational thoughts out there - I love your artwork and your blog!


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