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  • Writer's pictureIoana Pioaru

'What If You Mess Up?'

This is a question I used to ask myself a lot. It's also one of the questions I get frequently when I post a video showing my drawing process, especially when I draw very delicate and important details, like in this video here:

I have two answers, and although they seem to contradict one another, they are both true.

The cheeky answer: I don't know, because I just never mess up LOL.

The honest answer: I actually mess up all the time, but on a micro scale.

A mistake is a very relative thing. For a perfectionist, even the slightest deviation from the intended trajectory of a line is a mistake. I see these deviations, but I embrace them and refuse to let them hinder my progress. I make a conscious decision to just carry on as if it didn't happen. By the time I finish the project, those tiny mistakes are hardly visible, they get completely lost in the intricacies of the drawing.

"What if I mess up?" is the sort of question that can intimidate you to the point of giving up altogether. What some people call 'the fear of the blank page' is in fact just this - the fear of making a mistake. Isn't it funny that innocent things like pen and paper can cause such paralysing anxiety?

It takes mental strength and a lot of experience to get to that point where you notice your own mistake and simply decide to move on, trusting that everything will turn out well in the end. As an artist, one always tries to do one's very best to realise a certain vision and tends to get very emotionally involved in the process. Put this together with the fact that we tend to be our own worst critics, and you have the perfect recipe for debilitating anxiety or even the dreaded 'artist's block'.

Whilst I cannot answer the question of 'what happens if I mess up' any better than I already have, here's the strategy I have developed over the years to avoid making major mistakes that cannot be ignored or assimilated within the artwork.

Real disaster prevention

Drawing a slightly crooked line that no one will ever notice is not what I would call 'messing up'. But spilling coffee on an ink drawing that I've spent several days working on, definitely is. Before you start a new project, take a look at your work space and ask yourself what is the absolute worst that can happen here, and, of all that, what can you realistically prevent.

Know your medium

I'm sure you've heard this before, but mistakes are essential in the learning process, because they provide knowledge that you cannot acquire second-hand. No amount of advice from other artists will be enough to replace the type of solid knowledge gained through experience. In fact that's what experience is - making mistakes and learning from them. When you know your medium inside out, the amount of unpleasant surprises that you might get in the process is going to be minimal.

So, practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more.

Plan ahead

When you start a new project, spend some time just thinking about it, planning and making sketches. Don't rush in, unless your style is expressive, gestural, or fundamentally based on chance. But if you're reading this article, I'm guessing you are rather the opposite and you want to be in control of as many aspects of your art-making process as possible.

Get in the zone

When you sit down and decide to start working, try to get yourself in a calm state. Remind yourself how much you love to make art, how much satisfaction you get from the process. Especially if you're a beginner, understand that it is normal to 'not know' certain things, and that it is necessary to make mistakes in order to learn and to progress. Be kind and patient with yourself and trust that your efforts will lead you to where you want to get.

And one final thought - try to free yourself from the pressure of external judgement, from the need to be liked by others, from the fear of being criticised. This is a tough one, I know, but here's another thing I know - the people who will look at your creations are most likely art lovers, just like you, and art lovers don't hunt for mistakes. They relate with the artwork on a much deeper level, they focus on the emotions it stirs in them. And so should you!


Let me know if you found this useful! And stay tuned for the next article, where I'll be going into more detail on my 'mistake-avoidance strategy'.

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Aug 22, 2023

Very helpful thanks 😊


Apr 19, 2023

And there’s always photoshop if it’s not an original but made to publish or be printed :) yes very helpful

Ioana Pioaru
Ioana Pioaru
Apr 19, 2023
Replying to

Oh yes! Very true, photoshop is a great tool :)

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