drawing little notebook

A friend said, “One of the biggest lessons to learn in art is to proceed fearlessly and to look at things in the light of making them more right.”

Why do we allude continually to our mistakes or to those things we perceive as mistakes?  There is always the disconnect between intention and consequence.  Though one uses the word “mistake,” and it carries all sorts of negative connotations, yet we need the word, we need to make mistakes, the mistakes are just the trace of however much striving an artist went through to get to a certain place.

You can guarantee that you’ll never make mistakes. It’s very simple. Attempt only easy things.  As long as you do only those things you know you can do, you’ll never make a mistake — or hardly ever.  Attempt that which you know to be challenging and you’ll be always making mistakes.  And yet you will be always doing something new, always gaining skill and steadiness.


I have learned over the years to suspend judgement about what constitutes a “mistake.” If you press on, continually working to sharpen both your perception and your skill in putting things “where you think they are supposed to go” then interesting things can happen. There’s some editing in art — as in writing — that can wait. It’s like a wine, you have to allow it some time to cure. I draw, I put things aside to work on other drawings, and later I look at things to decide what’s what.

In any case, you cannot escape alterations between what you thought you wanted to do and what afterwards you discover you did, so you might as well plunge ahead and keep learning.

9 thoughts on “the art of making perfect mistakes

  1. Aletha, as always your points are “on point.” The aspect of “mistakes” in art, duly applies to life, for sure. I love the concept that we are in continual learning mode. No one wants to make mistakes, but they can be truly our greatest allies in all aspects of life, if we glean from them. The trick is really to rebound and persist and persevere. Regret, perpetual upset about mistakes made, and refusal to move forward are our greatest handicaps.

  2. Janis, And sometimes in art it’s hard to tell what is a mistake and what is simply an unanticipated and somewhat misunderstood idea. So it’s good to reserve judgement a little until the question can be decided through editing! A little bit of erasing, a rewording, recasting and sometimes it leads to a new and interesting place. (Life, of course, is slightly more complicated.) But in art, you always just persevere and learn. And it’s really wonderful. Hope your projects are going well. Aletha

  3. Aletha, another topic – The Envisioning of Mega-Projects- is something I would love to have your input regarding. I have the ability to envision megaprojects, and by that, I mean projects that are so large and complicated that I do not know where to begin. In this case, it started as a short story then grew to many short stories, enough to be a novel, then to a screenplay, then to a musical….then stopped because the project became so overwhelming that I could not complete it.

    It did not start as a megaproject, but progressed to become one, one that was too large for me. So, I packed up everything and put it away in a box, and thought that maybe in time, I could pick it back up and complete it. So far, two years, the project still overwhelms me.

    Have you ever run into that kind of scenario. For example, I cannot draw, but I can envision (in my mind’s eye) lovely drawings in minute detail; yet, I do not have the skills to draw it. I can conceive of songs, even ful orchestral pieces, but I cannot write it or produce it. It is a very difficult place, because few things are ever completed, only envisioned.

    So, I have boxes and boxes of poetry, short stories, and notebook upon notebook of ideas. Is this just a lazy person’s way to creativity—-envision only? Any suggestions? I do not know why most things have to be so complicated and convoluted? Why not just something simple, without the evolutionary process?

  4. Janis,

    I have two suggestions regarding the problem that you describe: one is that you assume — and tell yourself — reassure yourself — that you’ll have enough time to complete your project in the form that it should take, in that form or forms that it’s “supposed to assume.” Your faith is something to bring to this aspect of the problem — the Lord’s prayer with its firm emphasis on what a person does inside 24 hours. And you focus on that part of the project that you can do right now, and in particular, you focus on the hourly form of a project. You can even set a timer or an alarm — set it for an hour, say, and then you set to work — and do the writing that you can do inside an hour, compartmentalizing the work into hour-long passages.

    Inside that hour, you assume that the flow inside the hour deserves your respect and you go with it. It’s like running — you start, you set a pace, and you keep running, maybe you go a bit faster because you feel a burst of energy, maybe you start to get tired and have to run more slowly, but the point is to reach the finish line which is the end of that hour. (Remembering Paul’s words about the race can help.) Like other athletes you discover that what you have inside that hour constitutes your RESULT for that event. You strive continually to get a “personal best,” because you’re racing against yourself — not against anyone else. The important — really the crucial factor — in regard to the personal best is to keep going. That’s why an alarm is good because you can FORGET ABOUT THE TIME — you’ve already ASSUMED THAT THERE’S ENOUGH TIME for the project to be WHATEVER IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE.

    I use timers for drawing projects, in my case when I want to compress time; I’ll do 15 minute drawings, sometimes even five minute drawings, but even 15 minutes goes by in a flash. An artist can string together a sequence of timed drawings like pearls on a necklace, and the purpose of the timer in a fast drawing (and I think in “fast writing” the same probably holds true) is to by-pass your “inner critic.” You are using a strategy to simply get the work accomplished, to exercise and develop skill, and you’re reserving for a later occasion, the editorial aspect.

    In writing, you can adopt hour long sessions to an editorial purpose — doing the same thing, you set the timer and begin rewriting a passage you’ve worked on before. And again you use the clock to structure the work. If you were writing today, reserve editorial work or rewriting until at least a day later — or possibly for the end of the week. Since you already have a mass of work stored, to resume working on work that is inside a box, do this: begin with a prayer of thanks, then choose a box at random, trust that you have chosen “THE RIGHT BOX,” open it as though you have received A WONDERFUL GIFT (because you have) and do the hour timer session on the contents of that box beginning with the first item that you find inside.

    The SECOND part of my recommendation is that you read a wonderful book, written by a neurologist about something called “hypergraphia,” and discover whether any of the aspects of hypergraphia seem similar to the circumstances you’ve described here. The book is called “The Midnight Disease,” it’s by Alice Weaver Flaherty. It’s available at Amazon — or if you want to read a library copy — you can get it through the PG County library.

    To summarize: ASSUME that you’ll do the right thing and make the right choices; begin with your prayer; focusing on one day’s work, begin work in compartmentalized timed segments; RUN THE GOOD RACE; reserve editorial judgement for at least 24 hours later. (The critic is never allowed on the premises until you’ve at least had one good night’s sleep from that segment of work.) And consider reading “The Midnight Disease.” By the way, you don’t have to have hypergraphia to benefit from the information. I don’t have hypergraphia myself, but I learned tons from that book.


  5. Links to the book are here:

    To buy:


    To borrow:

    Call number: 808.0019 FLA


    Flaherty, Alice.


    The midnight disease : the drive to write, writer’s block, and the creative brain / Alice W. Flaherty.

    Publisher, Date:
    Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c2004.


    Writer’s block.
    Authorship — Psychological aspects.
    Authors — Mental health.
    Creation (Literary, artistic, etc.)

    It looks like four copies are available as I’m writing. You could ask the local librarian to get one of them sent to our branch.

  6. A lot of good advices and ideas that I will incorporate in my workshop. I am a bit like Gabrielle, even if she is joking, I think that there are no mistakes in art, just trials towards a vision. It is what I remind myself, so not to be too discourage by my trials 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s