I have been mulling over giving an online class since mid-Spring, when a number of people wrote to me to say that they couldn’t come to my workshop in the Berkshires and asked if I’d consider doing something on the Internet instead.

First, I did a bunch of research and talked to friends who are great teachers like Jane LaFazio and Andrea Scher and Brenda Swenson and Roz Stendahl. I had technical concerns and had to figure out the best platform, then I had to decide what the class would be like and about.  So I futzed around a lot and made very slow progress, especially for me, a person who tends to barrel into things like a bull in a china shop.

Recently, I got an email from a guy who runs workshops and manages a major teaching platform and he was asking me (well, not really me but anyone on his email list who had expressed some interest in his program but hadn’t gotten around to launching a class) what the hell I was waiting for. His question was about perfectionism, wondering if I was so intent on making the class perfect before I open it up that I might never get around to doing it at all. And he had a point — I do want it to be as good as it can be even though it’s the first time. In fact, because it is, as I assume that if it’s half-assed, no one will be back for the second better one I do, and my ambitions will be thwarted on the launch pad.

Anyway, in needling me about this he said :

“As you sit on the sidelines, waiting for the “right moment”…
People who NEED help are MISSING OUT on your unique information, your potent coaching, your ability to encourage and support, your brilliance.
People are missing out on opportunities to grow, to develop, to learn new skills, to seek happiness…

… In Judaism (my heritage), there is a beautiful idea called Tikkun olam, which means “healing the world.” Tikkun olam evokes  humanity’s shared responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world. It gives meaning and purpose to our individual strivings, putting them in service of a greater good.
You could be helping to heal the world.”

Well! That’s a far loftier ambition than I had — I certainly don’t think I am on the verge of healing the world or anything like it. But I acknowledge that every day my class isn’t out there, someone may not be learning whatever the hell it is I have to teach them.

However, I have been thinking about his point in a different context. What happens when one is so fixated on perfection that one never begins? Never begins drawing. Never begins making stuff. Never begins pursuing any sort of passion for fear of not being able to do it incredibly well. Nothing you do will be good enough even for you.Why bother if you can’t be great?

A variation is fiddliness. Constant reappraisal, erasing, tweaking, reconsidering. Taking your drawing into Photoshop and cleaning it up, coloring it, recoloring it, sharing ten versions of it, asking for comments, on and on, never done, never good enough.

I love James Lord’s book on Giacometti in which he describe sitting for a portrait in his studio for weeks which he paints it over and over, only stopping when his gallery owner shows up and forcibly drags it away from him. The book contains reproductions of each day’s work and, honestly, he could have stopped after a day and had a decent painting, but he goes on for ages, always dissatisfied, putting himself down, rethinking the idea, scraping it down again and again. Giacometti was the same with his sculptures, paring away at them so they kept getting thinner and thinner, until they were barely there. Maybe his perfectionism made him great. Or Swiss.

One of the problems with perfectionism is that you think you can conceive the destination before you embark on the journey, that you can plan it all out in advance, and that nothing else can intrude and change the outcome you have conceived. But, first of all, the world doesn’t work that way; unless you are doing something extremely simple and banal, something you can actually hold in your brain all at once, it will invariably intrude and change your well-laid plans. And, secondly, you should welcome that intrusion. The accidents, mistakes, serendipities and ink splatters that the universe throws in your path make your work and your life more interesting. Perfection isn’t organic. It can be constipated and lifeless.

So, be forewarned, my class isn’t going to be perfect. Fat chance of that considering that I am behind it. But I do at least want it to be good, not slapdash and reasonably thought through. So I’m working on it everyday and hope it will be good enough to go soon.

Meanwhile, if you are waiting to make stuff because you haven’t got the perfect pen or book or subject or teacher, get over it. We all make shit every day. If we didn’t, we’d die. Or at least be really cranky.

41 thoughts on “Perfect!”

  1. Danny
    Is that Berkshire in England?
    Its not perfect here, its Purrrfick according to my Siamese cat, Legolas.

    Kind regards

    Isle of Arran
    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone


  2. This is a very timely subject for me. I’ve been trying to make some art every day and I find myself overworking my larger pieces and ruining them. One day I was so discouraged I almost took a break from drawing but I knew that was my lizard brain so I started the same composition in a different medium and it turned out just as I wanted it. Perfection is the enemy of good enough.


  3. i promise to take your second class too! and thank you for a very insightful post, i have been collecting materials and moving things around for awhile instead of jumping in. when i do a drawing from the EDM list it turns out fine but then i stop to collect again. damned monkey.


  4. I’d rather join your first, imperfect online class, than the second or third perfect one. Somehow I feel, that would allow for more of my own mistakes and imperfections! 🙂 And at the moment I’m stuck anyway, not even starting a sketch because everything I want to draw suddenly seems too difficult.


  5. Oh yes how true this is ! Both parts, the bit where we wait for everything to be perfect and the second bit, where we should just get over it and do !! Perhaps those like me born September 3 will be nodding, knowing how tightly fisted they are with what they create and how damn useless they are at releasing it into the world – until it’s perfect. I had my own epiphany about this exactly 12 months ago. Sure the thought crossed my mind that I was depriving the world of what I had to offer, but more telling was my realisation that in fact, I was (and I’m not speaking for anyone else) being incredibly arrogant to think I would be the one to know what indeed was “perfect”. I got over myself (well to a point, still working on that “perfect” website) and put the work out into the world. It worked. Sold the work, made more work, gave up the day job – super smiling. Thanks though for the prompt to get back to that website.Thanks for the readings. I really enjoy your mind.


  6. Hi Danny, one of the best Art instruction videos I have ever seen – (I have seen a lot) is your “Breakfast” one – and I really wish there were more like that – just following what you were doing and doing it as well in my own kitchen has spoken volumes – Some more thoughts – the “world” starts with one person at a time – always does – see how many people you have already affected by your work and candor – also, Perfection – is God’s attribute – not ours and He is happy to let it be so – (As your faith and mine will attest!)


  7. I come up against this every time I start cleaning…I can’t possibly get the whole house clean in a day…While I clean upstairs, the kids are playing (i.e., trashing the place) downstairs, so why bother? Thanks for the reminder that everything doesn’t have to look like a pristine magazine photo & some is better than none. A 15-minute sketch is better than a blank page. I will do one today.


  8. Go, Danny, Go! I’m used to making shit…and shit art everyday. Then I come back the next day and the art has “cooked” and I is amazing it looks pretty good. Then someone walks by and says it is fantastic! I do have my well paid family members surrounding me! LOL! I cook food for them. Making art is like cooking. The stuff is there! You can compost it or cook it! I cook it!
    Looking forward to your course!


  9. I am so very happy to hear you’re finally getting round to offering classes (both physical and virtual)! It is very much something I’d love to participate in, budget allowing. You, ever since I found your wonderful first book probably 9 years ago, have been such a wonderful and instructive influence, and I love to see how the path of your life is changing in such a delightfully creative way.


  10. Will be delighted to take your class. And my Cult Of Done Manifesto poster says “Laugh at perfection. It’s boring.” Unlike your writing, which is delightful. Rad. Spiffy.

    I am currently following Veronica Lawlor & Studio 1482’s book called Zeichne Jeden Tag (= One Drawing A Day), and I draw & grind my teeth & try to laugh at perfection & refrain from ripping drawing out of journal.

    There’s much to be taught & learned. If there wasn’t, THAT would be boring.

    Looking forward to whatever class you are going to teach.


  11. Hey Danny,
    I am really looking forward to your class, I hope I can join it!
    A friend of mine always says “perfectionism is healable”. I try taking that to heart.
    Have a good time and much fun


  12. Your books are wonderful. I can’t imagine how your online class would be any less so. You have inspired so many people to put pencil or pen to paper and begin. Can’t wait to hear the announcement that your online class is now available to sign up for. I believe it will be successful! Aloha, Kate


  13. I would sign up as its difficult for me to travel. Plus the option to repeat a lesson is good. I did make it to Seattle “Line to Color” workshop. Frank Ching had to repeat perspective quite a few times! 🙂


  14. I had a first year art tutor who used to admonish us not to ‘bottle it’ (bottling it means running away of course). He didn’t care if the results were pants as long as you didn’t bottle it. It was in fact the only thing he ever said that made any sense to me.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently and it is part of the reason that I’ll be doing watercolour and getting out of my comfort zone. Whatever the results I’ll put them on my blog – sometimes you’ve just got to accept everything is a work in progress.

    There’s a guy called Shoo Rayner in England who does a Youtube drawing channel for kids. It is really simple but brilliant because of the sheer volume of stuff he churns out. The reason I like it is that he is just himself doing the best he can. There are a lot of technically more gifted people out there but not many who have inspired and helped so many people draw.


  15. This is exactly what I needed to hear today. Perfect timing, perfect message! There was a gremlin voice that was telling me “if only I had been better directed as a child, been exposed to more diverse voices and experiences, if I was able to take “real, physical” workshops versus these virtual, far-away ventures. . . Thank you for the reminder to just use the materials that you have and make stuff. I am exactly that person that you are talking about. The scaredy, perfectionist cat. I think we’re brought up in an achievement society, an we become conditioned to get good grades, etc.. . .but, art is a process, a journey, and while you do need to be able to learn some fundamentals in order to get some gratification and encouragement. . .patience and the ability to keep going is probably the most important lesson for me.


  16. Perfectionism is such an awful thing… I once stopped drawing and painting just because someone said my stuff was “too poor to be considerated as artistic” -blimey, what did they expect, I was fifteen!- but… I just couldn’t go on like that, such a colourless life! So I came back, and I feel awkard as a child while trying to keep on with this or that line, making, as you say, a little shit over and over the pages. I’m sure that online class will be amazing! How does one sign up?


    1. Victoria, I had to reply to your comment since I’ve had a “friend” make comments about another person and refer to them as a “real artist” . . . that set me back too – but not for long! How insensitive!!! We are all real artists!


      1. I’m sure it’s not easy to ignore such a malintended commentary on your work; fortunately, time turns obstacles into opportunities. I agree with both, Victoria and Anne, it’s difficult to keep working after such things, but we’re all artists. As that song of Metallica said “never matter what they said”.

        Big hugs.


      2. Ann, I now see there’s always someone who will test us in that way. I would go further and say there are no real artists -in the sense of the old masters and genious- but just artists. Though, as you say, quite real indeed… 😉


  17. I think beauty lies within imperfection. That’s what turn our works -and ourselves- different and unique. I’m a terribly methodic person, but there’s a more anarchical I inside me trying to come out. That probably makes people see my recent works as imperfect, but what I really care is never to give up and keep working, and drawing… Whenever I’m blue I watch your breakfast video and I feel my inner chidish, artistic, anarchical I waking up.
    Big hugs from Spain.


  18. I would love to take an online class!! I’ve been reading your blog and books for a couple years, and they have both been hugely inspiring to me. An online class would be phenomenal, can’t wait!


  19. Wonderful timing on this post. I participate in art-swaps and recently referred a participant to your blog so she could read about your “monkey”. Her monkey prevents her from being happy enough with her work to send it in. So thanks. This is perfect,,,,or nearly so! 🙂


  20. Oh WOW, how come you know me so well??? You just described the things I think and do most of the time, which leave me dreaming of things I can do but not trying/doing them.
    Thank you for your kick in my bud!
    Have a wonderful sunday!


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