You Need to Make More Mistakes

Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

There is no perfect art

Making art is always a push and pull of what’s in our heads and what we actually create. What we expected to make, and what we actually made. We often aim to achieve perfection with each piece. It would seem that striving for perfection would be the best way to improve. Aim for the moon and land in the stars, right?

I guess that partially makes sense, but what makes that mindset difficult is defining what the “moon” is in this situation. What makes a piece of art perfect?

If we’re looking at a painting, how do we determine if it’s perfect? There are art critics who can tell you their opinion about the artwork, and we as viewers can describe how it makes us feel, or what our opinion is. But that doesn’t give us a measurable standard for perfection.

We could try to force measurements onto the artwork. We could measure the golden ratio of the composition, how many colors used, how many brush strokes painted, how many hours it took to create it, how long it is, how heavy it is, how many different tools were used…

But does any of that tell us how perfect a piece of art is?

The truth is that there’s no way to measure perfection in art.

Because there is no perfect art.

Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

Imperfection is more interesting anyway

Even when we can have perfection, we don’t really want it. No one wants to watch a perfect basketball player, who always makes every shot and always wins every game. We crave the upsets, the let downs, the unexpected, the surprises, the tension—what will happen? Which shot will be missed at the buzzer? What mistakes will be made? We want to see the strive for perfection, but we don’t actually want to see perfection.

And the same is true for art. If there could be a perfect piece of art, would we even like it? Humans love imperfection. An imperfect drawing feels more alive, it feels more real. A wiggly line might have more movement than a straight line. An illustration colored loosely might feel more emotive than if were colored in cleanly.

Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

We humans aren’t perfect. We often think we should be, but we aren’t and never will be. We can relate to imperfection more than we can relate to perfection. We’ve never experienced perfection, but we have all experienced imperfection.

When you’re creating art, it’s best not to expect perfection. You’ll always make mistakes. You’ll draw a line that wobbles, your paint will bleed, you’ll rip your paper, and your art just won’t look right.

But all those mistakes make the artwork real. The mistakes show your hand. The mistakes show the human side. And if you pay attention, the mistakes will lead you lead down a path you wouldn’t have taken otherwise.

Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

Your mistakes will lead you to more ideas

There’s a story I love about perfection from the book Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

Basically, a ceramics teacher split his class into two groups to test a theory. He told the first group they would be graded based only on the quantity of work made, while the second group would be graded on their work’s quality. The first group would have everything they made simply weighed to determine their grade, while the second group had to create a single perfect piece to get an A.

When it came time to grade, a surprising thing happened. The highest quality work came from the group being graded for Quantity.

While the Quantity group was busy making piece after piece (learning from their mistakes and trying new things with each iteration), the Quality group just sat there thinking about what would make the best piece and in the end didn’t have much to show for their thoughts.

Imperfection and mistakes are not just common in art making, but are actually an important part in the artmaking process. The mistakes give you clues about what works and doesn’t, letting you experiment, learn, and keep moving.

Your art will never be perfect, and you’ll never be a perfect artist. But with every piece of art you make, you’ll be a better artist than you were before.

Don’t aim to make perfect art. Aim to make more mistakes.


“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.” –Neil Gaiman, writer

Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

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23 Responses

  1. I love your blog and your work – so, I love getting your emails. I do prefer to have the whole article in my email rather than having to click through to your site in order to finish it.

    1. Thank you, Becky! I’m so glad you enjoy the emails and my work! Thanks for letting me know about the email preference too—I agree, less clicking is easier! :)

  2. Great article! I’m hereby casting my vote for reading the full article directly in the email. If there are links, I never click them, even if I want to keep reading. What’s wrong with me?!? :)

    1. Thank you, Sarah! I’m also guilty of never clicking links even when I’m interested, haha. I’m definitely going to keep including the full article in the emails now! :)

  3. Thank you for this timely article. I’ve been an assistant commercial photographer for a few years and am just now building my own portfolio. I thought what I knew would translate into what I want to do but instead I’m making mistakes. It’s disheartening but as your article and a friend reminded me, these mistakes are my opportunity to grow as an artist. They are not signs of my ineptitude because I refuse to give up. My goal isn’t perfection. I simply want to keep growing.

    I hope you will continue to share your full article directly in the email but if you decide not to, it won’t affect my readership.

    1. Totally! I was in the same boat when I was transitioning from Graphic Design to Illustration. I was like, “Oh this will definitely transfer over,” and then straight to: “Nope, I have no idea what I’m doing!” That’s great advice from your friend to view our mistakes as opportunities to grow, although it’s definitely easier said than done! But you’ve got the exact right attitude: “I refuse to give up.” That’s all it takes! Just keep going, keep making, and you’ll keep learning and growing!

      Thanks for sharing your opinion on the email versions too—the results have been unanimous so far, so I’ll be continuing to share the full article in the emails! :)

  4. I have been having very similar thoughts recently. I used to be very hard on myself and would rarely make anything because of the fear/laziness to achieve what was in my head. If it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t worth doing. What a load of poppycock! Fortunately I’ve grown up a bit and realised the mistakes are FAR more fun, and I am definitely learning and growing alongside them.

    Looking forward to the next article!

    1. Hey Laura! I was deifnitely in that mindset for a while too. I was also only creating FINAL work, which I realized was hindering me. I try to always make time for purposefully imperfect sketchbook work now, and that helps me be more comfortable with mistakes. So glad that you’ve been able to overcome that fear! Down with perfection, down the poppycock! :D

  5. I looooove this one, Christine. I have to say that for myself, I’ve been so worried about an outcome that I never even started projects. I’d get tied up in the specs and possibilities and I realized THAT was me holding myself back from even starting straight up out of fear.

    You know how I broke myself out of it? I eliminated the issues that held me back: if was afraid of what to start on, I’d find some art somewhere and build it up with MY take on it. From it i’d always learn SOMETHING. That allowed me to stop sweating the little things and get to learnin’ already. That was my way to break the cycle, I’m sure there are plenty more.

    For the vote: I love reading the article straight from from the email. I must say that I also dig the questions that you pose us weekly. That alone has us coming back here to post, and sharing some great tips with fellow artists.

    1. Yay! That happens to me a lot too—I’ll spend way too much time planning a piece, sometimes so much that I never even get around to actually starting it! You’re right that it’s out of a fear of the art not living up to our expectations, and that’s so wonderful that you’ve developed methods to get yourself past those fears! I love your idea of riffing on someone else’s idea as a way to get yourself in the making zone. That’s a great way to break through!

      And thanks for your input on the emails! I’ll be including the full articles from now on. And I’m glad you enjoy the questions as well! I’m always surprised and thrilled when you guys respond to them and share your experiences with me and others! Thanks for contributing! :D

  6. I like reading the post in my email- especially since I’m usually reading on my iPhone and hate having to wait for screens to download and then have to click and wait even more! (I’m at airports a lot)

    Also, great quote by Neil Gaiman

    1. I agree! I’m going to be sending out the full emails now, so thanks for letting me know your preference! And Neil Gaiman has the best quotes, doesn’t he? :)

  7. Christine, great article! You have an inspiring insight and Art & Fear is a great book. I look forward to your articles and I do prefer to get the whole article in the email.

    On a side note, I wanted to tell you that you’re a wonderful teacher. It is obvious in your workshops that you put a lot of time and effort into making great content. I think you truly have a gift in teaching. Keep it up.

  8. Hi Christine! Just wanted to let you know that I love your emails, and I read them all (it’s not a case of many newsletters, you’re in my top!), I find them really interesting, inspiring (my fav was about an influence map, I even made a post on my blog about it, referring to you of course!) and, oh, sooo for me (and about me!). Keep writing (and drawing) please :) Ah, and if you ask, I prefer to have everything in email :)

    1. Oh wow, thank you! I’m in the same boat, I subscribe to a ton of stuff and never read them haha. Thank you for the encouragement and for letting me know your email preference! :)

  9. Thank you – a really helpful newsletter. In the late 60’s I sent some drawings to Disney as I wanted to be an animator, and they wrote back telling me to keep drawing, I was doing ok, so I did. I drew and drew. Later a person of influence burnt our work on a bonfire and someone else said the work was insignificant. It shoudn’t have happened but I didn’t pick a up a pencil again for thirty years. Then I found a stop-motion animation I had done with my mother on a super 8 camera of bambi moving in the forest – it wasn’t half bad, looking back on it so I started drawing again but didn’t really have a heart for it and did technical drawing. Putting pencil to paper seems a gargantuan task sometimes but if I keep going long enough I start to forget about the end result and become more involved with what’s happening. If you’re a young person who has been knocked on the head by someone’s opinion and influence, get a second, third or fourth opinion if need be, don’t let them kill your creativity.
    I prefer reading the posts in email as my text is larger!

    1. Laura, that’s so terrible that happened to you, but I’m so glad to hear you’ve started drawing again! You’re right that putting pencil to paper can be the hardest part! Keep going and don’t give up! :)

  10. Wow a fellow Technical Illustrator!! And I too did animation (but only in College) – I miss playing with stop motion.

    I’m sorry all those horrible things happened to you, losing art you work on can be very hard. Your work matters tho because each drawing is a step towards improving your skill- even if it is lost you know you’ve done it! Thank you for your words of wisdom in the comment above.

  11. i loved this post, also i prefer the whole post in the email, i’m unlikely to click the link or more likely i’l open it in a new tab with the idea of reading it alter and then never getting back to it.

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