Making Mistakes on Purpose

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams

I had an epiphany about making mistakes a few days ago when I was working on my latest fibre art piece (an obi). Making mistakes can lead the way to new discoveries or getting unstuck, but it is sooooooo uncomfortable for me. To make mistakes and therefore not be perfect.

It’s a paradox. Being an artist and a creative person is all about risk and trying new things, getting lost along the way, backtracking, but staying true to my vision and working it out until my haiku or art quilt or sock monkey or whatever comes out feeling and looking ‘right’.

I start with an inner vision, let’s call it the ‘Ideal’ and in making my artwork, I try to manifest my Ideal. I can get frustrated and a little (or very) hung up on perfection along the way, but I know when it’s ‘good enough and finished’ and it is oftentimes ‘fantastic’ when I can step away from how it ‘should have turned out’ and look at it objectively.

Making mistakes and not having it be perfect is all part of the process. So why do I have such a hard time with it?*

When I am making art, sometimes, somewhere along the way, this thing about ‘making mistakes/being perfect’ rears its ugly head and I get into a horrible downward spiral. This week, I was working on my obi, constructing it as I went along, never having made or seen anything like it in my life and was struggling to make it come out like how I’d decided it should be six months ago when I first envisioned it.

I was at the point where I had just enough ‘good’ fabric to complete it to my original vision and I had to make eight belt loops and was about to cut the fabric up and proceed. Feeling a lot of pressure, because if I screwed them up, I’d be out of fabric. Then I stopped and thought ‘Wait a minute. You’ve never done this before, why not make a practice belt loop from some scrap fabric to try it out. It may come out wrong or messy or the wrong size, but it WON’T MATTER because it’s practice’ – aka ‘Making Mistakes on Purpose’.

So I gave myself permission to do something I’d never done before (make a belt loop) and have it be OK if it didn’t come out perfect the first time I tried it. This was a very big deal for me. It flies in the face of my false belief that I should make it perfect the first time.

I made three and the third one was spot on. And when I used my good fabric to make the real one, it came out even better. And when I auditioned my 3rd practice loop on the obi, I realized that it was better with just the one and 8 would have been overkill.

I am very happy with how the obi came out by the way and will post it soon, but I am the most proud that I have given myself permission to Make Mistakes on Purpose and I am ever so pleased with my three little mistaken practice loops.

It’s funny, but I’ve gone through this before. This whole creativity/mistakes/ perfectionism issue is one of those lessons that spirals around again from time to time.


my three little mistaken practice loops

“Do you understand in your heart of hearts that messes and mistakes are notfirst-steps-copy.jpg only okay, but part of the creative process and crucial to the process? They are not the goal – the goal is excellent work. But our mistakes are as integral to the process as falling down is integral to learning how to walk.

An infant would never think, ‘I will not walk until I can walk perfectly.’ Only adults think such inhuman, antiprocess, paralyzing thoughts. If an infant wants to get to the toy across the room she will crawl, walk, tumble or fly. She will do whatever it takes – because she actually wants that toy.

Make yourself that beautiful vehicle of vitality and desire, and fall as many times as necessary as you strive to get from here to there.”
– Eric Maisel

*Actually, I know perfectly well why. My Inner Critic is alive and kickin’. Time to do some work on disarming him.


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