How to think about mistakes to get the best out of your drawings

Ah, mistakes! - she says as she looks longingly into the distance.

Let me first put you at ease, I am not talking about those big life mistakes that take anywhere from 2 months to 5 years of your life from you. I am talking about drawing and painting mistakes. Those small assholes that somehow, SOMEHOW, have the power to make you feel so small and incapable even though they are a fucking line on a page. Or a paint blob. 

Did you ever stop to think how something so small and relatively insignificant can make such an impact on you, your day and your idea of yourself. 

Well, I am here to tell you I figured it out. Not how not to make the mistake ( that was never a problem as you’ll soon learn). It is how to think about the “mistakes” you make.

This is especially important when you’re just starting out because at that time you will be making A LOT of mistakes and all you want is a win.

There are two crucial things you need to remember in relation to mistakes:

Don’t take it personally

When you don’t take it personally, you are simply not letting your insecurities use these random technical issues against you. I used to do this, so I know. When you have doubts and you’re not secure in yourself, everything you say and do can be used against you. People who never had these issues don’t understand this. I know how you feel when for what feels like a millionth time you’ve drawn something and it just doesn’t look right

But I promise you, whatever meaning you are assigning to a mistake is not real. 

You making those mistakes means nothing about you. Literally nothing! It doesn’t even mean you can’t draw that one thing!

Profit from your failed efforts

Mistakes can help you if you just let them (like a lot of things really). If you see the mistake as a problem solving opportunity, all of a sudden that same mistake makes you richer: you just created an opportunity for yourself. An opportunity to get better. How awesome! I am jealous! You have before you an equation you need to solve. 

Equation is called “What is wrong with my portraits”!

Or “Why does this figure look so stiff? ”

and very often “Why doesn’t my composition seem to be working?”

Are you following me so far? Solving these equations is also a core of being a visual artist. Biggest problem people have is when they have this idea that it should all be easy or that it should just come to you or whatever. There are hundreds of these myths swirling around making people feel they are doing life wrong. And there are especially a lot of them about doing any kind of art.

So let me give you an example with this hypothetical (and very possible) scenario: 

There you are, sitting with your sketchbook, analog or digital, and you are drawing a figure. You have an idea in your head of the feeling you want to create, as well as an image in your head of what you want your figure to look like. You know the drill. You do your gestures. You know proportions and sizes. Yet the fuckers that are your pencil, brush and hand are simply refusing to deliver your ideas to paper. 

This is only one version of events: there is always drawing the nose too long option. Or the one where you make your line too hard. There are numerous mistakes and they will NEVER EVER EVER stop. No matter how long you go and how good you get, you will always be making some new mistake. So you might as well give up on hating them right now. 

You need to make friends with the mistakes!

So to get back to the scenario above where your hand doesn’t listen, the first thing you will do is leave it. Just leave it! Draw something else. If nothing comes to mind, do basic hand conditioning and draw straight lines and circles. This is your basic draughtsman calinethics and you need to do it regularly anyway.

Then after a little bit, come back to it. Look at your work again. Very often what you are doing wrong will just jump at you right away. When it does, decide what you need to do with that information: If for example the face on your figure is not looking right ask yourself why? Are you drawing too many details for the size of your drawing? Are your proportions ok? Is the perspective correct? Is your line too heavy? Go until you figure it out. When you do, apply it and continue drawing until this happens again. Then repeat the process.

All you did here is stopped, took a breath and looked at your options. It’s not complicated but off course it won’t always be this easy. Sometimes it will be beyond your paygrade. Sometimes you will have to ask a friend (you can trust), what am I not seeing here? But it’s always the same principle: Don’t take it personally and use the opportunity you just created to level up. 

If you love your mistakes they will show you love back. More of them you make and more you solve, the faster your rise is going to be. 

I even suspect that if were to live long enough and draw long enough we would begin to miss our mistakes like we miss the freedom of being young and stupid.

Using Format