Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Word on Mistakes

I guess one of the things that keeps a lot of us from even starting to sketch is the fear of making mistakes. Probably a lot of the time, those who say "I can't draw" actually mean "If I tried, I'm going to make a mess (i.e. make a lot of mistakes)". Of course, the reality is The Only People Who Can't Draw Are Those Who Never Try. After all, even a bad drawing is still a drawing. And everybody starts of - guess what? - bad. The sooner we realise this, the better, and the sooner you'll be enjoying doing bad drawings for nobody but yourself. In time, if you keep at it, you'll be proud to share your works - no matter how humble - with others who at one point in time thought the same way as you do now. And with others who can help you get even better.

So here's a little something to help you put aside those irrational fears and get you out of your comfort zone.

Mistakes Are Part of Sketching

Mistakes and accidents happen to even the best and most experienced of us. A stray line, wrong perspective, wrong details, ink spills, wrong proportions... the list goes on and on. It happens all the time, though maybe less if you've been practising a lot. It's just part and parcel of the nature of sketching. You don't have days or weeks to plan your composition, do your studies, lock your ideas down before taking your time to execute them to perfection. You're trying to finish a quick drawing within an hour or even a few minutes. Sooner or later, you're bound to make a mistake! In fact, you can count on it. 

Copyright Favian Ee 2013

Mistake: Stray brown brush stroke in the sky area
Solution: None. It was a staining colour so I couldn't get it off.
Just left it there and finished the piece.

Mistakes Are Part of Growing

Thank God for mistakes! Yes, you heard me right. As the old idiom goes, "Failure is the mother of success." If you don't make any mistakes, you never really learn. Mistakes are part of life. They're part of growing up. They're part and parcel of growth. Mistakes help you get better - unless, of course, you think you are doing just fine (in which case you don't need any encouragement to start sketching anyway). 

Copyright Favian Ee  Feb 2013

Mistake: Went over the sky too many times.
Lessons learned: 1) This paper dries too fast.
2) For large areas of flat watercolour, don't go back over it.
If you try and correct it, you might just end up ruining it.

Copyright Favian Ee  May 2013

Avoided the same mistake with the sky.
But made another mistake with the roof :P

Do Not Be Afraid

So grab your pencil and go out there and make mistakes. Make many of them! Make new ones! Learn from old ones. Get more experienced artists to critique your drawing. After all, what's the worst that could happen? Somebody says something nasty about your art? Well, at least you tried (did they?). And you were not drawing for that person's approval (you don't even have to show it to others in the first place if you don't want to). And there may be something to learn even from the nastiest critique. Just say thank you and go do another drawing. Make it better. A bruised ego never killed anyone, but it has made a lot of people better than they once were. 

Aim for The Best

Having said that, being free to make mistakes doesn't mean we should be sloppy with our work. Of course you have the freedom to be sloppy, but you're not doing yourself any favours by accepting mediocrity and giving yourself excuses to stay bad. If you've made a mistake before, learn from it and try to avoid it the next time. But don't expect to learn the lesson perfectly and avoid that same mistake completely the second time. Learning is a process. We get better. We don't get perfect.

Copyright Favian Ee  Apr 2012
Quick sketch, A6 size. Extra vertical line at top.
Copyright Favian Ee  May 2013
One year later and A5 size. Half an hour without colour

Learn to Cover Up

A lot of the time, you can actually cover up a mistake. I'm not talking about erasing. Sometimes that works. Sometimes that will make things worse (like damage your paper surface). Sometimes the medium won't allow it. But oftentimes, there are ways to hide your mistakes. Better yet, there are ways to use your mistakes to your advantage. The excitement of using certain media like watercolours, for example, is all about "happy mistakes". Not all that is unexpected is unexpectedly bad. If all else fails, just leave them there and move on. Tell yourself it was just practice anyway. Or tell your friends with a laugh that you were exploring a new style. Don't take yourself too seriously.

Copyright Favian Ee  Jun 2013
Sometimes you can convert an inking mistake by blackening that area.
Like make it a silhouette. Or a pair of shades.

Don't Be Too Hard On Yourself

Sometimes we're our own worst critic. Oftentimes, nobody knows you made a mistake. So you missed out some details or got the perspective or proportions wrong. When you show it to a friend, they probably won't notice because they weren't there. They don't know what the real thing looks like. If your mistakes are obvious to all, tell yourself this ain't gonna be your last drawing, and it certainly won't be your best. Then go out and draw some more! One lousy drawing isn't the end of the world. Truth be told, sometimes you won't know you've made a mistake yourself until sometime down the road, you look back at your old sketches and think to yourself, "Wow. I drew THAT??" 

Copyright Favian Ee 2013

Can you spot where I made the mistake? Probably not, cos YOU WEREN'T THERE!

How to Avoid Mistakes

If you're a perfectionist and still insist on avoiding making mistakes at all costs (though that's not likely going to happen if you're a beginner), there is one way to minimize doing so:


Be certain you'll make many mistakes along the way. But if you learn from them, you'll be making a lot less the more you sketch. So better get those mistakes out and done with so you can get to the better stuff.

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