Learning To Handle Mistakes


Hi, I’m Laure Ferlita! As I’ll be teaching an Introduction to Art Journaling class at Keeton’s soon. Art Journaling is no different from learning any other type of artistic process. It comes with challenges, opportunities and the chance to learn about yourself.

Embracing the learning process and learning to handle mistakes are all part of Art Journaling. Below is a collection of thoughts on mistakes, how to handle them and what to do when they happen.

Learning To Handle Mistakes

Mistakes. They’re inevitable.

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 and the world will get to see it.

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 a lot 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 then to 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. So you shrug and turn the page and begin again. The more energy you invest, the bigger the mistake comes. Learn what you can from the mistake and go on.

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. Recognize that nonsense for what it is!

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, wrong, or 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 line or a background or added words to the page because we feared messing it up? I dare say 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 hold back enough, we eventually 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 took a chance and totally bungled the page, now what? Go play. Seriously, all expectations are gone. You’re ready to tear the page out of your book anyway. This is the best possible opportunity to play and experiment with some new idea or technique that you don’t want to try on a “good” page. 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 one, 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. Fear of this nature 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 or 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!

I hope you’ll join me on Saturday, November 8th for An Introduction To Art Journaling: An Imaginary Visit To The Farmer’s Market! We’ll be learning about drawing, page layouts, lettering and adding texture from unique objects.

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