Please click on paintings to view larger.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Diving Head First Into "Wrong"

Oil on linen - 8x10"
purchase info

What kind of relationship do you have with getting it wrong? Does it feel like it's something to be avoided altogether, or resisted after the fact?

It can be so compelling to edit in advance, to deny our creative urges, to not take risks in order to avoid potentially making a mess. There are moments when fear of screwing things up can be almost paralyzing. (Think: painting that's 3/4's done and working.)

On the other hand, it's tempting to beat ourselves up when we do act and then decide what we did was stupid or a mistake. (Think: painting was working, and you just killed it.)

If we decide killing the painting was a bad thing, we start to reinforce our tendency to act with caution in future paintings. Our focus shifts toward painting "successful" paintings instead of exploring 'what might be' from the beginning to the end of the painting process. It becomes an ongoing cycle of painting timidly in order to edit all risk out of the painting process.

Stay in the Game and Keep Shooting

Through a lot of trial and error, I've come to the realization that getting it wrong is not the problem, it's our interpretation of it that sends us into the ditch.

A great metaphor for this is a basketball game. Can you imagine only taking shots if you were sure they were going to go in? Or if every time you missed a shot you started telling yourself a story about how much you suck, how you should be better than you are, how you shouldn't be on the team? Every time you do this, you are effectively benching yourself.

The point isn't to have every shot go in, it's to stay in the game and keep playing.

What's Right With Wrong

So what about a reframe. What if wrong is a magical, essential part of the creative process unfolding? Yes, you may have killed the painting. And you may have no idea how you did that. Even so, every wrong stroke was information - rich, juicy, creative feedback for your soul. Wrong is always valuable information about what 'not right' is.

Trust that you know more now than you did before, even if you don't know what it is that you know. Your cells know. The space knows. There's important data on the hard drive that wouldn't be there if you had held back and been unwilling to step into scary land.

You don't get better by developing a shot that works and then taking that same shot over and over. You rise to the top of your game by taking shots from every possible angle, expanding your range, not caring about 'wrong' or 'failing', and trusting everything is information to create from.

Wrong is a necessary part of getting to right, in painting and in every area of our lives. The more we choose to befriend it, the faster we can integrate the value of it - and get on with the game.

PS: Huge shout out to reader Roxanne Tongco for reaching out to connect - and calling me forth to get my butt in the seat and write a long overdue blog post. This one's for you!


  1. Ok. I read the whole thing and you better be telling the truth. BECAUSE I have cut-up canvas painting scraps in the garbage waiting to be collected for the landfill.

    1. Yay! Cutting to shreds (and wiping) is liberating! Celebrate the learning you're not sure you got. :-)

  2. i would like to thank Roxanne as well! this is just what i needed to read today! thank you! and thank you too for your amazing work!

  3. Thanks Liz! It's like leaning to ski or anything else, if you don't fall down sometimes you're not pushing yourself, right? Not to say it isn't painful but how else to make progress?

  4. Thank you so much Liz I needed that talk about '' Diving head first into wrong''.

  5. Thanks for this, Liz, it is great advice.

  6. Thank you! Sometimes I get trapped in my fear box and have to push through by painting something 'risky'. I do this by labelling it 'play', where I allow myself to mess up or get it wrong, as you note. I do this most often using watercolour on synthetic (Yupo) paper, where I can experiment and, if it goes 'wrong', I can either wipe it off or start again without 'wasting' the good rag paper I use for more serious painting. When I get it 'wrong', I just keep playing with the painting until I feel better about it. Somehow these risk-taking play breaks are very liberating and make me much more generous in my self-criticism. I've come to realize from growing experience with my 'mistakes' that some surprising solutions can also grow out of them.

  7. Thank you for sharing this Liz. My inner voice needed a good nudge. Thank you as well to Roxanne. :)

  8. well you certainly got this one "right"

  9. This post came when I really needed it. It deserves to be read and re-read. Thank you!

  10. Thanks for this post!!! I am certainly guilty as charged... sometimes leaving well enough alone than ruin the painting...I am really great at ruining!!!! None the less there is a fine line to when to stop and when to go on!!!!!

  11. Thanks for the feedback all! Glad you found the post helpful. And thanks again Roxanne for inspiring it! :-)

  12. Thanks for the nudge. I think I'll have to do some painting now. lol

  13. Liz, succinct, as always. Appreciate it.