Yes, I did mean 'make,' not 'fix' mistakes. This post may turn out somewhat philosophical and maybe a little bit self-help-y but it has direct relevance to making art.
I had something of a revelation last night, as I was attempting to fix a 'drip' on a commissioned portrait. The 'drip' happened when I decided the painting was a stinker and I had nothing to lose by going wild all over it. Well, the collector loved that stinker except for some minor adjustments. Like the huge drips and splashes.
Usually, I try to do all I can to make my collector happy. They will be the ones living with the painting, so I want to make sure they love it. As I was scrubbing and dabbing, though, I thought that these drips and splashes and blooms...they are my style.
I realized that I allow these 'mistakes' in my art on purpose. I have a very accepting attitude that I developed some time ago and didn't grasp its significance until last night. The drips and blooms, considered mistakes in someone else's books, are part of my artistic self. I let the errant ink lines be. I rarely erase anything. It's like a record of my...growth? My self-discovery? There is something intimate in being able to see the way an artist begins their work, hits bulls-eye on something, completely misses something else, and keeps trying. If you see the mistakes, you see the process...you see the work, not just the perfectly finished result.
It is the opposite of the way I respond to my mistakes in life. My two favorite approaches are denial and overwhelming regret. I am either oblivious to it or drowning in it. There is no middle ground...no growth. Maybe I can learn some compassion from myself.
Another effect of allowing mistakes is that you develop confidence. This is one reason I advise my students to sketch in pen, not pencil. You can erase pencil, and you will likely keep doing it over and over again. You will keep trying to get it perfect. If you make a mistake with pen, you have two choices: live with it, accept it and leave it in your drawing; or abandon that drawing and start over. You have to make a decision, and I think that with time, you will learn to be on good terms with your mistakes. You will allow yourself to not be perfect and be fine with it.
It is what makes watercolor an 'unforgivable' medium. In most cases, the more you try to 'fix your mistakes' in your painting, the worse it gets. The less you fiddle, the better.
Make your mistakes. They are beautiful.