Making Mistakes and Following Your Own Path

I've been thinking a lot about the mistakes we make. I make mistakes all the time. Saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, forgetting to do something, doing something the wrong way. That's life. Those mistakes are momentarily frustrating or inconvenient or embarrassing, but not a big deal. We move on.

art studio, artist studio, workspace, studio cat, black and white cats, watercolor, paint palette, sketchbooks, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Last weekend I sewed one of the sleeves of my tunic inside out. I swore, I whined, I considered going to bed, but in the end I redid the sleeve and finished the tunic (and vowed to pay better attention to right and wrong sides when the fabric has no right or wrong sides).

Art Studio, Handmade Clothing, Simplicity 3835, Built by Wendy, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I've made a few more public mistakes recently, too. My Gentle Nudge Towards Creativity image -- the one I posted on my blog and on Instagram and included in my newsletter -- had a typo. Someone pointed it out on Instagram.

typos, mistakes, creativity, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Ugh! That winter newsletter had other problems, too. I couldn't get it to send and then some people ended up getting it three times (If you're one of those people and are still here reading this, thank you and I'm sorry).

Those sorts of mistakes happen. They're part of life, too. They're embarrassing (and frustrating and inconvenient) but in the larger scheme of things, do they really matter? Probably not.

I make mistakes with my art. Not every painting works out. I try things I know I shouldn't. Sometimes I'm just rushing. Sometimes those mistakes are just a natural part of growth. I've learned not to let the fear of making mistakes stop me from trying new things. Mistakes are often how we learn.

Sometimes what I try with my business is a complete flop. Sometimes I spend time on things that really don't matter or that aren't right for me. Sometimes I follow someone else's suggestions even when those suggestions aren't quite a good fit. Sometimes I jump into things before I'm fully ready.

All of that has helped me learn, too. Failures and successes. When I was approached by Skillshare to start teaching I didn't feel like I had the right skills or qualifications, but I loved the idea of inspiring others in their creative journeys. Not quite two years later I have twelve classes on the site and am one of their Top Teachers. My classes aren't perfect, but if I had waited for perfection, I never would have gotten started.*

Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry, Skillshare

Recently I was re-watching Creativebug's Building a Creative Brand series while I painted (I originally took the class 4 years ago which is a little mind boggling to me!) and I was struck by something Lisa Congdon said:

"Most artists, we look at our work with a certain critical eye and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's a bad thing if it paralyzes you from doing anything at all. Right? You want to have this balance of knowing that you haven't arrived or that something can always be better or more interesting, but also not let that prevent you from putting anything out into the world at all. So, I have to force myself to put things out in the world that I know aren't perfect and that's part of the creative process. I think... the general public [needs to] understand[] that artists don't just sit down and know how to paint overnight nor do they sit down and make a painting in one sitting that looks perfect."

watercolor, orchids, botanical watercolor, art studio, artist studio, workspace, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

It's so good to get a reminder at this point in my journey that I'm always going to be learning. I think when I started out I had the naive idea that eventually I'd "arrive", that my journey would be like climbing a mountain. Eventually I'd get to the top and then, I don't know, live in a little house up there.

That's not the way things work. There is no destination. There is no top of the mountain. I was recently listening to the Love to Sew Podcast with Rochelle New and was so inspired to learn a bit more about her creative journey. I was also so inspired by what she had to say about pivots in her business and her life. Along those same lines, in a recent Instagram post Rochelle said:

"Don’t underestimate how much time it takes to find your 'thing'. There’s room for you. There’s room for you to grow and pivot and learn and start over and pivot and start over again and refine your skills, learn new ones, figure it out (and never quite figure it out) etc. Give yourself time. Invent your own definition of success. Never give up on that 'thing' that you want above everything else. Never stop. Work at it constantly until it becomes tangible… and then keep never stopping."

So often we get these ideas of what success should look like and we make up imaginary stories about how other successful people "arrived" at their successes. We're usually wrong. Alisa Burke recently shared her story of success in a video on her blog about the benefits of keeping your day job. It's so easy to get caught up in the fervor of the "quit your day job" movement without realizing that it takes YEARS and YEARS and YEARS to become an "overnight success."

Similarly, artist Tara Leaver has some interesting things to say about what it means to find your own style and what it doesn't mean. I was particularly struck by this list of questions she asked:
  • Will you suddenly find making art really easy, all the time?
  • Will you always know exactly what to do at every stage of a painting?
  • Will you only ever make ‘good’ art?
  • Will you suddenly start finishing all your paintings?
  • Will you bash out a perfectly cohesive body of work, find a gallery that wants to sell it, and live happily ever after?
  • Will all your work look more or less the same? Does that feel exciting to you?
  • Will you be confident about your work and your abilities all the time?
Those questions sound a lot like my imaginary house on the top of the mountain.

Life is messy. It's full of mistakes. It is hard and scary to follow your own path, whether you have a clear idea of where that path is heading or not. Of course crafting a life around your creativity is hard, too. When I decided that's what I wanted to do, I had no idea how to make it happen. Nearly eight years later, I'm still learning. Back then I knew nothing about business and I also didn't know how to paint or draw. I certainly didn't consider myself an artist. That I went ahead and pursed a dream of being an artist without any of those skills was kind of crazy. It was certainly naive.

Naivety, craziness... those are part of life, too. They're part of growth. They're part of learning.

watercolor, paint palette, hearts, found hearts, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

No matter where you are in your journey, whether that journey is one of art or not, I hope you will continue to follow your own path and know that you will make mistakes. Again and again, you'll make mistakes. And that's ok. The only person who isn't making mistakes is the one who's doing nothing.

Here's to messy, beautiful imperfect life!

*If you are at all interested in teaching on Skillshare they are always looking for more teachers. They are so encouraging and helpful with first-time teachers and walk you through the entire process of creating your class. Email me if you have questions or sign up here for more information.


  1. Hi Anne! Talking of mistakes, I wrote a post here and it disappeared as I wasn't logged in AGAIN!!! Hopefully I will be more mindful of what I am doing next time I comment! :) Great photo of your sunny studio with light flooding in, a contented cat, plants, paints and paraphernalia! I have never really thought about teaching on skillshare before but you have got me curious about it now. I would just have to work out what to teach! I think you are a great teacher Anne - calm, dedicated, informative with clear instructions. You are a great mentor too! Enjoy your weekend. :)

    1. Hi, Simone! I'm sorry that you had that problem! Ugh, computers can be a pain sometimes!

      Thank you for being here encouraging me and cheering me on. It really means a lot!

  2. I actually think that making mistakes with my work is just as important, from a personal educational point of view, than getting it right straight away. I love my sketchbooks. I have some great pages that I love in them and I have some horrible pages that I love too. Every lesson is valuable as an artist. I don't like making mistakes with the things I intend to sell though. Sometimes we put ourselves under pressure to achieve perfection with the work we want to sell which (in my case at least) can cause us to make mistakes we wouldn't make without the pressure.

    1. What you said about loving your horrible sketchbook pages really resonated with me. Yes, mistakes can be so important to our growth. Nothing is ever wasted.

      And how true about the pressure we put on ourselves. Letting go of the outcome can be so hard, but I think it's also important, too. Thanks for the reminder and for sharing your thoughtful comment!

  3. Hi Friend,
    I am so happy you shared about making mistakes. We tend to only post the GOOD STUFF in our days. We do not post what went wrong, the bad day or how we fell flat on our face. As always Anne, thank you for the honesty, that is why I love you.

    1. Hi, Carla! I'm so glad to know that my sharing my thoughts was encouraging for you. You're so right that we tend to only share the GOOD STUFF. That good stuff is never the whole story, though. I think it can send the wrong message (especially to people who are just starting out). We want the GOOD STUFF right away, not miles down the road.

      Keep going, my sweet friend. I know you're on the right path, mistakes and all!


  4. Sometimes my best friend is my seam ripper...
    Sometimes when I'm tired I make really stupid mistakes.
    I try to embrace the little mistakes as part of the handmade aesthetic.
    With mixed results.

    1. Haha, yes! The seam ripper is my friend, too. I think maybe I need to get a beautiful, fancy one. It would make our time together so much more pleasant. :)

      I'm totally with you in the mixed results department. But hey, at least we're trying.



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