The Freedom in Failing

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With October wrapping up, and with it Inktober, I wanted to share a few thoughts that may or may not be of use to anyone. Basically, I have thought a lot about how art, and ink in particular, helps us learn to let go of our fears of failure. I can’t speak for all artists, but as for me, I am a perfectionist. I do not hang any of my own work in my home because I inevitably come to hate it and only see the flaws in it. Admittedly, not a positive, but it’s the truth.

This can be a good thing though; it helps in the professional setting to never be comfortable settling for less than your best. You have to learn when to step back and let a project go due to time constraints, budgets, etc., but I have never been faulted for always striving to create the best pieces I can. The downside is that I rarely am ever happy or proud of a piece, despite how successful or well done it may be.

This manifests itself in odd ways. When I set down to sketch, just for fun mind you, sometimes I find myself crippled by the blank page. The pressure I create for myself to make a masterpiece with every sketch, anything I create really, literally inhibits my ability to actually do anything creative. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how, as a kid, I loved to draw simply for the act of drawing. All this is said to explain why I love Inktober, a yearly challenge to create an ink drawing every day for the month of October.

I learned to love ink drawings in college. In my life drawing classes my classmates always used vine charcoal, smudge sticks and kneaded erasers in slow and steadied approaches to the figure. I, on the other hand, was drawing feverishly with Sharpie markers and ink pens while listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers (Californication, if you’re curious). I was bored with charcoal and graphite and my compulsive need to erase and refine so I embraced a medium that allowed no room for such control: ink.

Robot Pen Sketch
Bus Sketch

It’s beautiful really, especially for someone who can’t let go. Ink doesn’t forget. It can’t be erased, it can’t be taken back. You make a mark and then you have to live with that mark. Sure, you can paint over things if you are really that determined, but ink by its nature is permanent. And I love that. I know, going into any ink drawing, that I am going to fail at something and there is nothing I can do about it.

Anatomy wonky? Shadows too dense? Lines too thick? Too much hatching? Sorry, you’re stuck with it, make it work. Ink forces you to not only embrace failure but also learn how to rework those failures into success. It doesn’t always work. I have a lot of bad ink drawings, but I have a lot that I pulled out of the fire and made something I was pleased with. Regardless of the end result though, I find anytime I draw with ink that child-like joy for drawing returns with it.

Inktober is a great challenge, it forces me to step out of my comfort zone and embrace failure, and to do it daily. Drawing every day is a huge challenge as it is, having to daily face down my perfectionist tendencies and embrace screwing up though? That’s practically insane for me. I have tried several years now to complete Inktober and have always come up short for one reason or another. This year I actually pulled it off though, and completed 31 ink drawings, some of which I’m actually incredibly proud of. At the end of it, I felt like I had just finished a marathon and actually found myself sad that the next day wouldn’t require an ink drawing.

I got addicted to the freedom in failure.

Astronaut Helmet Pen Sketch

This applies to all of life, really. We all fail every day, in so many ways. When we can accept that we are going to fail, really accept it and not be afraid, and learn how to work through those failures to find success? That’s so incredibly freeing.

So yeah, go pick up a pen and doodle something. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, you don’t even have to show anyone, but go fail at drawing whatever it is you are trying to draw, and see how much fun drawing can be again.

Bruce Lee Ink Drawing

Oh yeah, if you want to see my #Inktober posts, check out my Instagram Feed.