Finished is the new perfect

Failure is a feeling

Reading the discussion in the forums I get the idea we still don’t quite know what a „failure“ is. So I want to address two failures – the one we come across while creating art and the other one is – not creating art. Both are linked to your emotions.

How do we define failure?

You might regard a page as a failure, but others like it. Sometimes you like your page when you see it weeks later. What we label „failure“ can change.

Failure is a feeling you get when looking at your art. And – that feeling sometimes starts already in the process.

Let me explain. Do you know this?

On some days you feel relaxed, your surrounding supports you (good light, nice sounds/music, right time…) and your art also feels fine.

On other days you are a bit tight, the neighbours are too loud, you feel uninspired – and your art sucks.

Your art is linked to your emotions – maybe more than you think.

Sometimes you are in between: You start feeling fine and at one point it changes. You are doing a wrong stroke, use a strange color and suddenly you feel strange, your art feels slightly wrong. You maybe realize you just made a tiny mistake. You feel annoyed, tense.

Here is where failure starts. If your anger takes over you most likely will give up on the page, tell yourself : “Now it’s lost anyway.” and just scratch over the page until it is really ruined.

Or – you could stop, look at your page and make a decision on how to deal with it. If you go on carefully, you can save your page.

To learn this control you need to listen to your feelings. Catch that glimpse of anger or tension right when it starts.

This might take some practice and getting to know that feeling.

Watch yourself when you art journal and try to identify your emotions. How does it feel to be relaxed when you create? How do you feel when you create, but you are stressed?

Sometimes it can be very liberating to get your anger on the page. But in that moment you probably know very well that you are angry. Your page will carry this emotion and will be most likely be a good page. Maybe not beautiful, but strong.

But when your anger is hidden, you are distracted or just experiencing some unidentified tension, you can’t bring that to the page. It will just screw up the emotion you want to portrait. It will ruin the patience you need to make the right choices for your page. You are nervous and want the page to be finished quickly.

Here is what you can do:

1. Stop and observe

The best would be to stop and take a step back. Try to get your feelings clear, identify what you feel.

If you can, change how you feel: Take a deep breath, put on some relaxing music, close the window to the neighbours. Write about your emotions until they stop interfering with your art making.

Take what is annoying you and make it part of the page. Here I made a small portrait of the screaming and running kids that disturbed my art session in the zoo.

If you can’t improve your mood, it might be good to take a break. And finish later.

2. Rework

If your finished page feels like a failure, you might have a second look at it later. Maybe there is just something missing you can’t see yet. When you look at it from a distance, you can improve it (strengthen a contrast, clarify the focus…).

I saved this sketch by adding the tree leaves afterwards with a ball pen.


3. Accept failure

This is the hardest one. Sometimes you have a page like this in your sketchbook:

There was nothing I could have done to improve this.

But – the worst thing we can do is stop creating because we are afraid to fail. This fear can hold you back strong. It does funny things with you. Suddenly you lose interest in your art. You don’t finish the page, the journal, the whole project.

This fear can get you at any stages: It stops you on a single page or on a whole project. It can keep you from getting your paints out. Or you may even be nearly done and all of a sudden – you stop. You leave it in an early stage and use that as an excuse for not achieving more. Or you let it fail on purpose.

Here is how it works on me:

Not finishing is a way of reducing my expectations. If my artwork doesn’t look perfect, I tell myself: “Yeah, this is a good idea, but it’s not a finished piece, it’s just a quick sketch!”.

It would be the best artwork ever – if I finished and polished it. If I would finish I could evolve. But I am afraid that I am doing my best and still being viewed as not good enough. Quitting is a form of self-protection. (To be honest – this is an issue for me. I have so many unfinished art journals on my shelf…)

But I am learning.

In some cases getting it done, can be the only way to get over a phase of failure. It’s how we learn. You practice a new technique and in the beginning, it looks bad. In your imagination it turned out so much better. Quitting and not drawing, painting, etc won’t improve your art. That is the real failure.
When you art journal for your well-being, doing it is the whole point anyway. Then getting the emotions on paper is the success. Being stuck with your feelings and not arting them out is the failure.

Do you know the quote “finished, not perfect”?

I forgot who came up with it. It was meant to help people get over perfectionistic expectations. It pushes you to just get it done as a step in your evolution. In the Season of Freedom I wanted to break free from my perfectionism. So I changed that quote to “Finished is the new perfect.” and made a page from it.

Download the postcard

If you like the quote, you can download the postcard here.

Action Steps


Write down how you feel when you create something good or bad. Write down how your environment influenced you. A few words at the side of your page are enough. Just get practice identifying your emotions.


Paint your Fear of Failure. Maybe you can portrait it as a truly mean Trickster (which he or her really is – others name it the Inner Censor, Inner Critic). Tell yourself you are still learning.


Commit yourself to finish and polish a page.


Print the card „Finished is the new perfect.“ and put it near your art space.

Charlotte Erichsen

Lotte lives in Munich and loves to draw and paint the city, landscapes and animals. Her approach to art journaling is playful and sometimes political. When she is not creating, she likes to read books or newspaper or learn more hula hoop tricks. Always with tea!


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