Have you ever been in the middle of happily creating a work of art when, in a fit of thoughtlessness or experimentation, you add something new and ten seconds later realize that you have ruined the piece? Many artists have experienced this at some point. Of course the natural immediate reaction is one of horror and disappointment – all that work, and suddenly disaster strikes! But after that, when you can think calmly again, you may come to see that it’s not such a problem after all.
In some cases, of course, the mistake can be rectified – a little bit of turpentine, the introduction of a new color, and suddenly you don’t notice that garish red streak after all. Or you may be able to incorporate it subtly into your subject matter, perhaps by adding an additional tree or allowing a new person to feature in the piece. Often this actually adds to the overall work. Never forget that you are the only one who knows why and how everything ended up looking like that – everyone else will come to the art fresh and be able to admire what’s there without worrying about what your original plan was.
Even when you can’t change it, it doesn’t automatically mean that the whole thing is ruined. I remember hearing about an artist who had been captivated by a particular scene, which she had captured in perfect, beautiful detail on her canvas; a reflection of trees in water. It was a lovely, atmospheric creation and she was very proud of it – for about ten minutes. Then she suddenly realized that she had missed out one of the trees in the water – it was there in the picture, but it had no reflection. While she was able to see the funny side (joking about a ‘vampire tree’ that couldn’t reflect) she was really upset about this fundamental error, because the work had been important to her. Yet she took it, along with a number of others, to an art fair, and it was quickly bought by a woman who loved this exact feature and thought that it added a wonderful element of mystery to the scene. Don’t let a sense of perfectionism blind you to the beauty of what you have created!
Of course, in that story, the artist had finished the painting before she saw what had happened. When you realize what’s going on in the middle of the creative process, it’s a bit different. You have the chance to develop the ‘mistake’ and make it into something new. An error can be a sign that something is missing from the piece – your job is to see what that could be. Put the canvas or sculpture away for a while, and leave it alone. Don’t look at it; it will only annoy you. Then, when you’re ready, come back to it. Try to view it as if you are seeing it for the very first time. Don’t think about what you wanted it to look like – concentrate on really seeing what’s there. Pay attention to it – as if you’re approaching another artist’s work. Then think about where you can go from there.
Part of being an artist is being able to explore your own creative abilities in varied and interesting ways. Making mistakes – or what you think of as mistakes – can be a great way to learn more about yourself and your style. You can even use these experiences to help yourself develop in new directions and grow as an artist. One of our Facebook fans, Chris DeFour, usually works as a landscape artist. On one occasion he found a painting of a mountain scene turning into his first ever work of a human form. He decided to work with it rather than fight it – and it was the painting which won his first award! Many of the talented artists represented by Agora over the years have seen mistakes as opportunities. The artists whose works illustrate this post are two of these – one, Michael Grine, even says “all of my works are happy accidents!”
The message of all this is – don’t worry when things go wrong. They’re often not nearly as bad as you think. View it as a chance to learn something new, and maybe create something really unusual.
Do you have any experiences like these? Share them in the comments!