I make mistakes all the time. Mistakes are not the same a failure, but they can be just as discouraging. Mistakes mean that you have to do more work than you originally intended. Mistakes can be defeating and are often the difference between success and failure.
The thing about mistakes is, that unlike a failure where there is little positive to be found at the end, a mistake is like an ellipsis. It is like a pause where you can fix, change direction, and even improve the finished product. Though you may not have made what you had planned on making, you have still made something, and you can still change it because you are not complete.
This week I was working on my commision piece that I started last week. I don't often paint humans and thus I don't often mix up flesh toned paint. I have always had difficulty matching flesh tones. it is much more precise than any other colors, because as people we spend all day looking at the flesh toned faces of other people, and just like being able to tell the physical differences between a set of identical twins we can discern the slight differences between the flesh tones of all individuals. This is part of why I spend so much time painting scenery and monsters, because people don't really have as vast a color vocabulary for those things as they do with skin.
So I was painting my luchador. He is for once human (as far as we can tell) under the mask, and being human has, well, skin. I mixed up quickly a skin tone color and blocked in where his torso would be, and then, because I hate painting flesh, moved onto his mask and pants leaving the skin alone for a couple of days. When I came back I realize that I had not really created a tone that matched the face of the man in the original painting. So I applied another layer of paint hoping this one would be better.
Feeling much more confident that I had done better this time, matching the skin tones, I immediately filled in the details of the torso giving him abs and pecs and belly button. I let it dry and came back a little later, only to my dismay, did I realize that I had still not matched the skin tone as well as I had expected.
This was incredibly disappointing to me as I thought I had worked hard enough to get it right, and I should just deserve for it to be right, even if I hadn't really gotten right. (If that sentence makes sense to you then kudos.) If I were to spend all day with full conviction and effort trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole, it still isn't going to change the answer. It just doesn't work. And just because I put all that effort into making it fit, doesn't mean I deserve the answer to change simple because I tried. It doesn't matter just how you look at it and how hard try, there is a right and wrong answer and you cannot make a wrong a right even if you think you earned it.
I could have just left it that way, but then would I have really put in the effort needed to make this piece a success? What would I feel towards this painting if I did just leave it? I realized that if I were to just leave it this way that I would always see the bad color matching job I had done and come in the end to actually resent this piece because of its failings.
So for a third time I attempted to match the skin of this luchador. Since I was putting in the effort to repeat my work for a third time I wanted to get it right this time. I didn't want all of this effort to be for nothing. This mistake forced me to see the skin tones of the original differently than I had been looking at them before. I started to see the layers of color, and the wonderful workmanship that was put into the original piece. This time I was able, as well as I could with my limited color pallet to match the skin of the original figure.
This taught me something about mistakes. Mistakes are opportunities for improvement. For whatever reason that the mistake was made in the first place it gives us a moment to pause and assess our work. Whether we made the mistake on accident, or due to our lack of skill mistakes are what make our work interesting. They can give us better ideas, or show us new strategies, or if anything they can give us the motivation to try harder and make it right. I had, had such a hard time matching the color of the original because I hadn't really looked at the original the right way to understand the colors that had been used. The two mistakes I had made in color were soon repaired by my new understanding of the color in the piece. I came away with a new ability to see, because of my mistakes.
Mistakes are not bad. They happen all the time and we should use them to improve ourselves rather than to prove that we are no good. They are not evidence that we are bad at something, but that we have potential for something and that we are working towards becoming great.