Don’t Be Perfect (Because It’ll Kill Your Art)

Don’t Be Perfect (Because It’ll Kill Your Art)

I did something extremely terrible.

A few months ago, I submitted a super ugly commission. Something that was way below my usual standards.

But there was a deadline and that was it. Time’s up.

I remember thinking, “Oh man, this client is going to give me an EARFUL about how I produced such a bad artwork for such a high price. MY CAREER IS DONE.”

This was just going to be a complete disaster. She’d tell her friends and post on social media what a fraud I was… and I’d have to pack my freelancing career into a coffin.

And then… I received a message from her. I was saying goodbye to my short-lived career…

She told me she LOVED my work and she will continue to tell all her friends to check me out.

Wait. What?


She didn’t care.

I learned a very important lesson that day.

People gives very little shit about what you think or do as an artist.

That can be a very depressing revelation, but it wasn’t for me.

Before that, I demanded all my work to be perfect before submission. It’s how I thought I delivered the value that they paid me to do. So I only did one project per month. Pushing all my energy to perfecting my craft for my clients. One perfect little project at a time.

But that was wrong.

Their idea of perfection had very little to do with what I had in mind. They weren’t looking for technical perfection. So I stopped trying to be technically perfect.

And you know what happened?

I got even better as an artist.

By constantly demanding myself to be perfect, it sapped me from the improvements I could have gained.

It was the simple act of doing more that made me into a better artist. Because when I did things, I got active feedback about what was actually going wrong and it wasn’t just a part of my imagination.

As artists, we are trained to make sure our vision of perfection is met. Just the concept of polishing till it gleams, till it is standing perfect to us.

And this toxic mindset translates to everything else too.

My friend (who graduated from SCAD as a graphic designer) spent 4 years refining her portfolio before she applied to her FIRST design job. All because she wanted to submit a “perfect portfolio”.

Her mentor, which she found later in her job, told her it wasn’t actually a good portfolio and she was crushed.

4 years!

That’s a very long time to put your career on hold simply because you were trying to pursue a perfect version of yourself. And it didn’t even turned out good.

Is being a perfectionist stopping you?

With the amount of horror stories out there about freelancing, it can feel like that you are only a step away from a nightmare.

But you can’t be better without trying first. And that might mean failure in some levels or it might mean small errors that you can do better in your next opportunity.

Until you try though, theories and practical strategies mean nothing. That’s the important part. Theories and strategies are all tweaks to something that you’ve tried and are just feedback to how you can be better.

And I get it, mistakes can seem like the end of everything:

  • What if your bad portfolio chases that one important client away?
  • What if no one will hire you because you have no website?
  • What if you priced yourself too low and you become known as a “cheap artist”?
  • What if you priced yourself too high and everyone remembers that one time?

I’ve done every single mistake that a freelancer shouldn’t do and I’ve simply bounced back from it. Know that every single mistake you might make IS COMPLETELY REVERSIBLE.

So, I am going to challenge you today. I’m going to give you permission to fail.

Embrace failure.

What’s that one thing you’ve been stopping yourself from doing because you keep thinking you aren’t ready? Take that one thing, give it your best shot, and see where it goes.

You might just surprise yourself that it won’t be as bad as you thought.

PS: Do you know someone that keep waiting to be perfect before they start their goal? Send this to them and give them permission to be imperfect!

One thought on “Don’t Be Perfect (Because It’ll Kill Your Art)

  1. Hey Celina, great story! And so true.

    Are you familiar with the book Art & Fear? It shares some great wisdom on perfectionism and successful artmaking:

    “The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on the quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the ‘quantity’ group: fifty pounds of pots rated an ‘A,’ forty pounds a ‘B,’ and so on. Those being graded on ‘quality,’ however, needed to produce only one pot—albeit a perfect one—to get an ‘A.’ Well, came grading and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes—the ‘quality’ group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

    It’s a bit of a long excerpt, but it’s worth a quick read.

    Anyway, thanks for the article 🙂

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