A page from my sketchbook / artists journal
A page from my sketchbook / artists journal

Recently someone called me wise. It was a surprise.

Of course some Friday nights, surrounded by friends and with a wine glass in my hand, I do feel very wise and like to share that wisdom!

But the comment got me thinking. Maybe it’s because I’m an artist and artists only have themselves to rely on, they have to work it out?

So I’ve come up with a list of things I’ve learned. I can assure you these didn’t come naturally but I have integrated them into my art practice and my life. These lessons can easily be applied to anything and anyone. As it’s quite a lengthy list, I’ve decided to make it a weekly series.

  1. Do it. If you want to achieve something then you need to take an action that brings it closer – every day. A small action is definitely OK. In fact a small action is preferable. If we are looking down the barrel of a large task we are more likely to put it off.
  2. Always strive to do your best, just like your parents told you, it will set you apart from the herd. For me, this means that I work with the idea that each painting will be of the highest standard but it’s equally important with everything we do.
  3. But don’t let perfectionism tie you down. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Keep the big picture in mind (pardon the pun). It’s easy to be distracted by the details, they draw our eye and we concentrate our vision on them, excluding all else. It’s like looking at an elephant with a magnifying glass – and gives a similarly accurate view!
  4. Take risks. The best way to learn is by mistakes. I used to be so afraid of mistakes. I needed to be a good artist but I couldn’t always bring myself to paint because… what if it didn’t turn out? Well I took two wrong turns with that one road. Firstly I limited my creativity by not painting and secondly I created work that was so tight and desperate to please it was hard to like. Now making mistakes has brought me to being able to create freely. It works with all new things we try. Please make mistakes.
  5. But don’t call them “mistakes”. They are learning opportunities. Part of why we don’t like making them is because of the word “mistakes”. My most hated mistakes were on the piano. My teacher (blue rinse set hair and dangerously serious expression) would whack me on the knuckles with a metal edged ruler every time I made a mistake. I’m sure it was fear that helped me make so many mistakes. Fear has its uses but not when it comes to learning. Opportunities to learn from what we are doing is much more healthy.

Watch for more life lessons an artist can teach you next week. In the mean time I’d love to know about your “learning opportunities”. Tell me your favourite time you transformed a mistake into a learning experience in the comments below. Thanks!