Free Yourself From Perfect

When Robert Zemeckis decided to do the movie version of The Polar Express in hyper-real mo-cap, he boarded a doomed vessel.

He was so focused on achieving “perfection” in realism that he made a nigh-unwatchable movie featuring awkward, zombie-eyed characters with oversized pores.

The Polar Express never became the timeless, holiday classic it might have become, had, say, Chuck Jones made it in the 60’s.

Perfectionism killed The Polar Express.

But artistic mastery is essential for certain types of visual communication.

For example, I doubt audiences would have had the same visceral reactions to Toy Story 3 had it been animated in the South Park style.

While artistic skill can strengthen your ability to communicate visually, perfectionism can kill it.

Communication Vs. Your Portfolio:

Although my Painting Drama students at The Oatley Academy hail from many different realms of commercial art (fantasy/ sci-fi, children’s books, comics, concept art, animation etc.) they all have one important quality in common.

They are all good communicators.

Clear communication was the main thing I looked for when reviewing the 50 or 60 “talking head” video applications I received during the enrollment period for my first offering of Painting Drama.

(I will be offering a new, improved version of the class in early November. This one will be open to anyone who wants to join. More details will be available within the next week or so.)

I also looked for authenticity, charm/ charisma and of course, strong potential in the portfolio.

…but clear communication was the most important thing.

Now, what does clear communication have to do with perfectionism?

Bob Dylan has the answer.

Nobody Wants Perfect:

Bob Dylan is far from perfect.

Bob Dylan is far from perfect. And he’s awesome.

From a technical standpoint, Bob Dylan sucks at guitar.

…and harmonica.

…and singing.

…but he is a legendary communicator.

He was, at one point, the voice of a generation.

Bob Dylan is living proof that a lack of artistic skill does not prevent an artist from changing the world.

…but a lack of clear communication will keep all of your world-changing ideas, your ability to tell meaningful stories, locked inside your head.

This is also why so many people love South Park. The appeal isn’t in the perfection of the art, it’s in the communication.

Here’s another Bob example:

Bob Peterson, co-director of Up and director of Pixar’s upcoming The Good Dinosaur is not a great draftsman in the technical sense but he’s a great communicator.

Get the Monster’s Inc. Blu-Ray or ‘Art Of’ book and look at the story sequences that Bob boarded. Hilarious. Appealing. Full of pathos. Clear. Oscar-winning.

Bob Peterson’s masterful communication empowered the artistic masters at Pixar to design the message. As gorgeous as they are, Pixar films are designed in service of communication, not in service of perfection.

Audiences don’t want perfection.

They want clear communication.

So the level of artistic mastery you pursue should match the types of messages you want to communicate visually.

Perfection has nothing to do with anything.

Bob Dylan doesn’t need to play like Eddie Van Halen.

…and shouldn’t.

A lack of artistic skill does not prevent an artist from changing the world.
-Tweet This Quote

Emotional Pictures:

One of my main goals with The Oatley Academy is to teach artists how to communicate visually.

…how to orchestrate the emotions of an audience.

…how to tell a meaningful stories.

That’s the thing that almost nobody teaches and few artists can do well but if you can figure that out, you’ll get lots of work and you might even become a rock star like Pascal Campion.

The ability to communicate an intense, intangible emotion in an immersive, fictional world can make your creative career. That’s why we go to movies, read comics and play certain video games – to get immersed in a visual story and be affected by it.

Bob Dylan is not a master musician but he is a great songwriter and emotional storyteller who orchestrates the emotions of his audience.

Pixar films look beautiful because they weren’t designed with the artless perfectionism that drove The Polar Express. The Pixar films orchestrate the emotions of the audience because the inherent artistic mastery is appropriate.

South Park looks bad on purpose because perfectionism would kill the message.

Bob Peterson is not a master draftsman but he is a great comedian and emotional storyteller who relies on the mastery of other Pixar artists to complete the design of his message.

A Bob Peterson Storyboard from 'Monsters, Inc.'

Pixar’s Bob Peterson might not be able to draw like Glen Keane, but his story boards communicate emotion masterfully. They even transcend dialogue.

Regardless of how “good” your art looks, mastery of communication is more effective in orchestrating an audience’s emotions than mastery of the visuals.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not letting you off the hook.

Unless you are going to be the Bob Dylan of visual communication, you must to pursue mastery to get the good gigs.

You just don’t have to be perfect.

In fact, you never will be.

Perfectionism is pointless.

The Mountain With No Summit:

My friend Jake Ekiss calls art “the mountain with no summit” and I think he’s right.

But in Painting Drama, we study the work of artists who have climbed the highest.

…masters like Sargent, Waterhouse, Alma Tadema and emerging masters like Dave Rapoza and Creaturebox.

We learn from the best. I reveal the tools of composition and color that the masters use to communicate visually and show my students how to apply those tools in her or his own way.

I help you climb as high and fast as possible up the mountain of mastery.

…but you should decide how high is high enough to communicate effectively.

That’s not the summit’s decision. It’s yours.

Many artists get so focused on the summit of the mountain (which doesn’t even really exist) that they never look down to consider how high they’ve climbed.

…or if they’ve climbed high enough to communicate in a way that is appropriate to the meaning of the story they are trying to tell.

Worse yet, they don’t even try to communicate anything of meaning because they think that reaching the summit is the only thing that gives them permission to do so.

Yes, to work in the art department at an animation studio or for the high-profile illustration clients you have to be good.

…but you don’t have to reach the summit in order to communicate.

Perfectionism happens when you become obsessed with the mountain summit.

That obsession will kill communication.

It will kill your message, your story, your fun and it will severely slow your progress.

Now, I’m going to pass this post off to one of my current Painting Drama students and he’ll help you get past perfectionism and back onto the path of progress…

You’ll also find a link at the bottom of this post to download  a PDF that you can print out and personalize to help you fight the battle against perfectionism.

Free From Perfection:

'Shadows Of Endor' by Fred Lang

‘Shadows Of Endor’ by Fred Lang. Click to enlarge.

Fred Lang quit his job as a police officer to pursue illustration and immediately went pro.

He has worked for Lucasfilm on Star Wars properties and on several projects for Hasbro.

You only need to talk to him for about two minutes to understand why a high profile client like Hasbro would want to work with him.

He’s intense, inspiring, hilarious and disarmingly honest.

…and he’s great at simplifying complicated problems.

Follow Fred on Twitter. Check out Fred’s newest business venture. ]

This week, Fred communicated the artist’s struggle with perfectionism in a way like I have never heard nor considered.

I was so moved by this “Note To Self, For All Artists” that Fred wrote, that I asked him if I could share it with you, here on the blog.

I don’t think there’s any better way to wrap up this post so I’ll let Fred take it from here.

A Note To Self, For All Artists:

[YOUR NAME],
It’s gonna be okay. You’ve learned a LOT of new things over the last several weeks, and that’s good. But you’re not responsible for using all of it at once, and you’re not required to use it all perfectly just because you now know it’s out there.

All you can do is the best you can do on each piece of artwork. Then the next piece gets easier, and the next one easier after that.

The only way to get better at painting is to do more painting.

It’s possible that nobody at [YOUR CLIENT] will like what you’re doing right now. That’s okay. Ask questions, get feedback and use that information to fix the problems they see. Then come home and work on that in addition to the things you already want to achieve.

It’s a process and it won’t happen overnight.

Just keep working. The worst thing you can do is to paralyze yourself looking for goals that are higher than your current level of ability and cursing yourself for not getting there instead of praising yourself for getting closer.

I free you from PERFECT. It is no longer a requirement of your work. Instead, I’m asking you to shoot for BETTER THIS TIME every time you paint a picture.

That will get you further in the long run than looking so far ahead that you get discouraged.

Signed, [YOUR NAME]”

I made an Oatley Academy branded, PDF version of Fred’s “Note To Self, For All Artists” that you can download, print out, fill in the blanks and hang above your desk.

[ DOWNLOAD THE PDF ]

Comment and Share:

How do YOU deal with perfectionism?

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{ 89 comments… read them below or add one }

Waye

A nice read. It’s encouraging to be reminded that you don’t have to be perfect. That’s a thought-provoking goal: to be a good communicator.

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Chris Oatley

Great to hear, Waye!

We do need that reminder often, don’t we?

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Scott

Wow…what a beautiful article and a hard-to-answer question. How do I deal with perfectionism? I actually do spend much of my time (when planning for the next project) thinking about what I wish to communicate, so it sounds like I’m on the right track in that sense ;). And while perfectionism can get me down once in awhile, continuing forward definitely helps.

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Chris Oatley

I couldn’t agree more, Scott.

And that’s what Fred explained so clearly in his note.

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guy

So funny I was reading an artical on this subject this morning. How timely Mr. Oatley.
Well done as usual.

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Guy.

Perfectionism is a formidable foe indeed.

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Zhuria

Thank you so much!!!
This has opened my eyes, I will strive for better now instead of perfect and won´t wait till I have mastered something to create.
My boyfriend is always telling me that, but I never heard.

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Chris Oatley

Yeah, Zhuria!

Make progress, not perfection.

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guy

OK. I may have been a bit to brief on the last comment.
This could be a life changing article for artist because; It gets back to the purity of why we do this. When I was a child I sat on the steps of my home and drew pictures I wasn’t concerned about perfection, but expression. When we lose that and get caught up in how we perfect our craft it should not be at the expense of our ability to with freedom express the ideas within. Whether they are of are our own origin or from a client.
Again Chris and Fred well done.

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Chris Oatley

And that, my friend, is one of the main reasons I love teaching. My students keep me energized.

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AJ

I certainly admire Fred’s work ethic. He’s an impressive dude. Not to say that you aren’t, Chris. Amazing transformation from officer to illustrator.

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, AJ.

I have you to thank for helping me to solidify the “bad on purpose” aspects of this article.

As you know, I’m a HUGE fan of “bad on purpose.”

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Ben Kreis

“…they think that reaching the summit is the only thing that gives them permission to [communicate].”

Ouch. Got me on that one.

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Chris Oatley

Well, Ben, you’re DEFINITELY not alone in that.

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Amanda

I’m such a perfectionist, I’m finding it hard to articulate my thoughts and feelings about this post!

So I’ll just be succinct and say:
I identify with this topic far too much, especially right now.
Thanks for a great post.
And I’m so very keen to try out the academy, but how much does it cost? Would like to know in advance to be able to plan for it!

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Chris Oatley

Amanda,

1.) So glad you like the post.

2.) The Oatley Academy has courses at three different price points. I’ll be sharing more details VERY soon. Like, within the next two weeks-ish.

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Edward Charles Thomas III

Always inspired and reminded why it’s so pleasant to be an Illustrator. I’m one of those people who think about the perfect but I try to remind myself to forget about those thoughts, don’t always listen to my inner critic when it’s not needed and just move on with what I love doing, which is painting!

This post has made me think a bit more about my decision making. It has clarified a bit more how I should move along in my life. Gosh, being perfect is such a waste of energy… Worry about being yourself! Communicate in a way you can relate to others and that’s perfection within itself! Making mistakes and learning from them, that’s perfection.

Thanks Chris!

Bravo Fred Lang, you’re truly an amazing artist!

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Chris Oatley

“Gosh, being perfect is such a waste of energy… Worry about being yourself! Communicate in a way you can relate to others and that’s perfection within itself! Making mistakes and learning from them, that’s perfection.”

Great stuff, Edi.

Like I said – you’re all such good communicators.

…not that verbal communication is the ONLY type of communication I’m talking about here, but you’re great at that!

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Jose-Luis Segura

I deal very poorly with perfectionism…

I start something then put it down because I realize that I’ve hit a wall and I’ll come back to it much later only to find out what it was that was bothering me. Now that’s not the real problem… it’s good that I noticed the error. Hooray for me. The real problem are all the various solutions I go through to fix it to my “vision”. As a result, I can never get it to be good enough.

Your blog posts are spooky… my friend yesterday was telling me to stop trying to be prefect and be a better communicator… It must be the Halloween Spirit.

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Chris Oatley

LOL. Maybe so, Jose-Luis.

Progress, not perfection.

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Tong Bui

Jose! I experienced the same thing! Maybe perfectionism is more universal to artists than we think! @_@ Hope you’re well!

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Sula

Very nice advice Chris. I have been focusing much more on this than on perfectionism since class, and I have been surprised ever so often! But you know that.

That note Fred posted was indeed borderline magic. Thanks for making this public! I will go spread the love now :)

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Chris Oatley

You’re super-good, Sula! So glad to have you in the class!

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Gabriela

Hello Chris,

It is sooo good to be here, to read this newest post on perfectionism and the limitations it imposes. Excellent thoughts, coming from a caring, passionate teacher…

One may think that perfection is a “magna cum laudae” position, to be envied, and so it probably stems from insecurities and uneasiness with oneself. The person needs reassurance from society.

If the need for perfection about the finished art work is instilled via parents and early school and later school, it can kill the aspiring, new, little person’s dream of becoming an artist when growing up. We should never forget what it’s like to be a child. But we do…at least between 9am and 5.30pm.

Until one day, when we see an artist’s drawings or sketches, and time suspends for a while and we forget to breathe and we forget where we are. But we remember who we are. Our heart recognizes the message we have been waiting for, the answer to a tormenting question or a blessing to a wish. We remember, re-member…we start re – assembling ourselves the way we want to be, need to be.

Striving for perfection goes hand in hand with disatisfaction for what is present, in the works, for what happens today and tomorrow. It is valid for going out on a date, for losing weight, for getting a better job, for building a blog….”Yes, I will do that…when I have more money, more time, less weight, more hair, less hair..!” and in the meantime, life passes by. In the meantime, children grab a paper and a bunch of crayons and DO stuff.

With these in mind, yesterday, before knowing of the existance of your post making its way here, I realised that I need to create my blog and I started it and posted my first post last night, or early this morning. The blog is work in progress. Pictures and photos will find their home there..I know I already need to change backgrounds, and many details, but it exists. I could not postpone it any longer. It is not perfect but it will get better, because it exists.

My first post is about self-doubt. My thoughts self-doubt get a new perspective in the light of your words about perfectionism and the need to free ourselves from it.

Perfectionism comes from the ego mind.
Communication comes from the heart.

Gabriela

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Chris Oatley

That’s great, Gabriela!

Can you share the link to your post?

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Gabriela

Hi Chris,

Yes, it is on http://gabrielasampson.wordpress.com/. And it contains a poll on self-doubt, too. I thought it would be interesting for people to see how may think one way or the other…

Thank you, Chris, for all your work and talent and the energy you share with us.

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Eric

Over the last year, I moved away from trying to create a perfect piece. Even in my writing now I focus on the message I want to say, as opposed to how I’m going to say it. I think that my voice will only come with practice, and practice will lead me to the goals I have. I decided that I can only do the best I can, and just try to draw/write better every time.
So, thanks for reinforcing my mindset. It helps.

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Chris Oatley

That’s great stuff, Eric. Sounds like you’ve really found a healthy groove.

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Seth Greenwald

Wow… This is timely, to say the least. And with the number of people who are saying the same, something tells me that this fight is a constant and lifelong companion of the artist, even the pros. It reminded me of a short story I wrote some time ago, titled “Wilson Dougan, Renaissance Man”. It’s too long to cross post here, but I’d LOVE to share it with you all. You can find it at http://nolittleplans.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/wilson-dougan-renaissance-man/. It pretty much sums up Seth Greenwald in a nutshell. Thankfully, moving forward only requires the desire to do so. So in that sense, Wilson has no similarity to me at all.

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Seth!

I look forward to reading your story!

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Terryl Whitlatch

Hi Chris,

what helps me keep things in perspective is this quote, not original with me, “There’s only one God and I’m not Him.”

The other balancing thing I do is to concentrate on is the joy of remaining teachable, and to realize that my mistakes, rather than being frustrations, are some of my best teachers.

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Chris Oatley

SO true, Terryl.

I actually LOVE making mistakes in my art. I’m not happy when my mistakes affect others in a negative way but I welcome them into my process.

Bob Ross was so right. Happy accidents, indeed.

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Terryl Whitlatch

BTW, I worked on The Polar Express (the reindeer, rabbits, eagles, and other animals), and agree with you regarding the lifelessness of the human characters. Uber realism in human characters tend to kill them–on a subconscious level we all know what real, living, people look like. The same thing applies with uber realism in real animals as well, if one is familiar with them. Horses in particular. That’s why mythological or stylistically anthropomorphized characters make it far easier for the audience to suspend their disbelief and become immersed in the visual story.

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Chris Oatley

Yeah. The Polar Express trailer was really pretty and atmospheric when it was all about the train, fog and snow.

…and when I think about this “believability” aspect of CG animals, I always think about how the Buckbeak flight in Harry Potter 3 made me completely lose myself. The highlight of the franchise, for me.

Oh, and Oliphants are the BEST!

Zemeckis is one of my heroes. I’m delighted that he has returned to live action.

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Manelle Oliphant

I agree, Oliphants are the best! (I might be a little biased though). Ok on a more serious note I agree with all you are saying about the CG animals. It’s the best when it communicates. You don’t want the audience to be pulled out of the story because they are thinking about the CG. I never got to the end of the polar express movie. I couldn’t get over how the people looked.

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Ashley

This inspirational post couldn’t have come in a better time. I am working on a project and I am trying to make the characters PERFECT and this has really caused my project to progress very slowly. Thanks I love your site

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Chris Oatley

Ashley – that’s one of my main struggles, personally. Trying to make the characters and the script “perfect.”

Not easy.

Let me know how things progress now that you have Fred’s note. :)

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Victor

Hey Chris,

Thank you so much for this, I’m a illustrator beginner and this post will definitely save a lot of time and help get faster to my gols.

Thanks again, we really appreciate what you do.

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Chris Oatley

You’ve got it, Victor!

Perfectionism definitely slows me down!

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PJ Magalhaes

I need to hear this like fives times a day! Such a hard battle to fight for me. :) Thanks for the great post, Chris.

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Chris Oatley

Hey, PJ! Me too! …and you’re welcome!

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Henrike

If heard it said that “perfect is the enemy of done” and that your shoud focus on “good” not “perfect” (from the book “Quitter” by Jon Acuff)
Some forms of perfectionism, as I have experienced, will paralyze you if you let it go too far. It will also let you do the same stuff over and over just to be safe, in familiair territory. It fears being exposed (to others or to yourself) as a fraud with mediocre, even bad, artwork or stories. It will eventually never let you finish your projects, or not even let you start them.
We need each other as artists to remind us of things like this blogpost. I’m so thankful for the chance to form a circle of trust with my classmates, and now I have the tools to communicate more clearly too, I feel like those things are chipping away at perfectionism. It still requires a choice though, to not listen to your inner critique who wants you to make the most perfect art ever, and that is why Fred’s note is so good to hang above your desk.
Thanks Chris for writing this post. And thanks Fred, for the note. I’ll fill this in today. :)

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Chris Oatley

You are a treasure, Henrike!

So great having you in the class. It’s so exciting to see the vision for where you’re going in this next phase of art-making!

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David

This was very helpful. I almost reached the point “of no return”. Perfection can be similar to a black hole. Once you try getting too close, you won’t be able to return (or at least not that easily) and end up being stuck. Nothing will make any sense anymore…
Something which gave me more energy – being able to watch at full sized artworks from other artists. Nothing was as detailed as I thought it would be, but the images are very vivid (and I think this is the point here) and give the illusion of detail.

I tried to be perfect where it didn’t make any sense (literally detailing everything at a 100% view), I threw my energy away and lost it for other work. Since I know that, I got my energy back. And I think it changed my drawings and paintings (in a positive way).

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Chris Oatley

I struggle to not zoom in too far as well, David.

All my painting buddies at Disney never seem to struggle with that.

They stay zoomed-out and work the whole area. So it’s a constant battle for me to not zoom in and crush the life out of a painting…

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Seth Greenwald

This is my struggle as well. Reading you guys’ comments made me stumble upon a strategy that may help with this… I am disabling zoom from my shortcuts. I won’t be able to use my tablet quick keys or scroll wheel to zoom in. In order to do so, I will have to make a conscious decision to do so, to type in a zoom percentage. What do you guys think?

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David

Hello Seth, I think it’s more a problem of ones mind – 100% means that this is the “real” size, therefore one could start to think that this is the zoom-level in which everything has to look as detailed as a photograph or 3D image. As when we look at things with our eyes (like the texture of a real wall), they still have the same “detail-level” no matter how close we get.

It could help to disable zoom from shortcuts. I rarely use those though, rather typing a zoom-percentage too.

One thing which helps me is to constantly look at the image I have in progress at 25% zoom (or depending on the image size, the zoom-level in which the whole image is visible on my screen), which is mostly the 100% image size I use for my gallery/ for uploading. As soon as any image part looks okay, I shouldn’t try to add more detail there. I tend to zoom in up to 50% and try to detail some areas I find important, but are still not the focus. Only the most important parts are getting some more details in 100% zoom.

I look at full sized artworks of other artists to compare my amount of detail with their images at 100%. It’s some kind of reminder not to waste my energy. Since I am able to compare their brushstrokes, their way of hinting detail (and the use of textures), with what I did, I learned to be careful not to overdo things.

I try to make myself stop detailing when the image-parts don’t “change” in 25% zoom, so I know more detailing isn’t necessary. Hope this is helpful…

But still, I notice that I tend to work at several image-parts for a couple of minutes while other image-parts would need that kind of “energy”.

I hope what I tried to explain makes sense. Have a nice day everyone.

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Aaron

I feel like this article was meant for me. I get so obsessed with perfection it is crippling at times. Just yesterday I was working on something that I was so obsessed with making the art perfect it frustrated me all day long. Instead of just concentrating on the message.
All the way home from work I was mad at myself because I couldn’t make it as perfect as I wanted and in turn it made so frustrated and depressed.
I am a comic artist at heart and this especially applies to comics for me. There are so many guys out there that are sooooo good and I totally get obsessed with perfection. It is all I can do to beat that frame of mind down. I want to be the best artist and it is all I think about. It’s good to want to be the best but just being better each time out should be all you need. I love the expression, it’s a mountain with no summit. That is perfect and something I constantly try to remind myself of when I’m so frustrated that I’m not perfect.

This post was the perfect thing to read and I will definitely be printing out the and putting it above not only my desk at home but at the office as well. I am gonna personalize it for all the guys in my art department for them to read also. Thanks for this.

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Chris Oatley

You’re welcome, Aaron! Yeah, progress, not perfection.

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Kira

This just reinforces what I’ve been telling myself this past month. I’ve had a gruling schedule at school this semester with a very demanding drawing teacher. I’ve had to stop chasing perfection on his assignments in order to maintain my sanity. I’m trying to find the happy medium between underdeveloped and perfection.

But some of my classmates are definately chasing perfection… as if it exists. We’ve had some meltdowns this week and crying…which is never a good sign. I will be sure to pass this along to her, hopefully she can take some of it to heart and relax a little bit.

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Chris Oatley

Kira, yeah, I think many artists don’t realize that they can intensely pursue mastery without crushing themselves under the weight of perfectionism.

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Lauren

This is very inspiring! THANK YOU! Can’t wait for your next post!

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Chris Oatley

Next week! Thanks, Lauren!

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Manelle Oliphant

This post reminds me of a discussion I remember having in a class in college.
We talked about a potter friend of my teacher who knew so well exactly how his pots would fire, and glaze would look he would leave finished pots in the kiln for weeks before he opened it up to see how the pots turned out. He had reached a summit with his art.
I still remember that discussion because I couldn’t fathom why you would keep making the art if there was no challenge or surprises in the process. I feel bad for that guy. I hope he figured out how to challenge himself and climb even higher.
If I got things perfect every time I don’t think I would keep creating. That would be a bummer.

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Chris Oatley

When I talk to my friends who are real masters of the craft they usually make it sounds like they are just starting out. It’s often disarming because I put them on a pedestal. But the more true “masters” I meet, the more I realize that when you’re on that path, you actually feel like you know less and less as you get better and better.

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Lance

Great post man. One of those things that I wish I could send back in time.

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Chris Oatley

Thank you, Lance! Now where did I park my DeLorean Time Machine…?

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Miguel Guerra

Awesome post. It’s funny I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks about the message thing after watching a Doc on Jack Kirby. His style was never perfect, in the realistic sense but he communicated ideas and feelings through his work. Then I read this post makes feel less crazy. Thanks, and a gain great piece.

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Chris Oatley

John Lasseter said “Realism is just a convenient level of complexity.” I agree, wholeheartedly.

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Adam

You’d be surprised how many STUDIOS could benefit from this point of view, let alone artists in particular. Perfectionism is the eternal enemy of deadlines and budgets, not to mention morale and creative sanity. What’s that old saying, “It’s not the destination that matters…”

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Chris Oatley

Well, you may be right, Adam, but, again, we have to be careful to separate “perfectionism” from “quality.”

Most of the studios I have worked in pursued an extremely high level of quality – which is different than pointless perfectionism.

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Simon Vieira

Hey Chris,

This topic is a fascinating one and something that has been in my head for a long time – Nirvana would be an other good example of this.

I have come up with a conclusion that late generations have being kind of brained washed with a fast and cheap mentality, where aether people have to produce things fast and chip – without a message – or they have a message but they are not persuading it enough because they give up too fast.

We need to see more of the Walter Elias “Walt” Disneys of these generations, where he went bankrupt once and then almost bankrupt again many times to push his message across. Even allow me to bring Steve Jobs where he got kicked out of his own company and went and started other one just to continue with his message.

In conclusion, great post my friend, and is our job as a community to keep all of us in check to keep persuading our dreams and passing our messages, culture, art to the next generations.

S

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Chris Oatley

Perfectionism definitely can prevent us from taking risks, Simon.

Thanks for sharing.

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Melissa

This may be a side tangent, but bear with me. :)

The longer I do art and yoga, the more I see the similarities. Every time I go to my mat at my class; the instructor reminds us that this is simply ‘practice’. The whole point of yoga is to be fully present in the moment. To fully embrace your breathing, postures, body and mind. Not to worry about if you aren’t as ‘good’ as your neighbor, or even what you’re going to have for dinner.

My instructor always stresses that you should do the best you can in *this* class at *this* moment. And that your heels may never reach the floor in downward facing dog, or that your hamstrings may always be tight. The point is not to be perfect; the point is to do the best you can within your own limits. Injury comes to us when you sacrifice form for trying to get into a deeper bend/twist ect.

And so it is with art-making. To pay attention to all of your processes on *that* particular piece at *that* particular point in time. To be mindful and aware of what you’re doing and not sweating if it is going to be the perfect piece, or what your next piece is going to be, or if you need to re-paint your studio walls.

Or at least, that is what I’ve been needing to tell myself every time when I go to my art-table. Otherwise its easy to get stuck in the echo-chamber that is perfectionism.

Thank you as always for an insightful post!

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Chris Oatley

Wow, Melissa!

Do you have a blog? If not, you NEED to!!!

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Paul

Never a truer word spoken!
I can’t imagine how many times I’ve given up on a piece or an idea I’m working on because the part I’m needlessly over-working doesn’t look right, when really I should have the patience to work on the piece as a whole bit by bit.
The most frustrating part is I have a much larger appreciation for other people’s speed paintings that convey a story and atmosphere, rather than pixel/paint perfect artwork with no flaws…yet I don’t know how to stop at the speed/gesture stage myself.

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Chris Oatley

Ah, Paul! That’s EXACTLY the question to be asking, IMO. And it is the heartbeat of ‘Painting Drama.’ How do you craft a well, designed image with a sophisticated color palette that immerses the audience in an emotional story but still give it an elegant, gestural energy?

Come to the Portfolio Party to learn a little more about that!

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Nicko Dahlstrom

Thank you Chris!!! Once again, you nailed it with inspiring me and many others with your words and Fred’s… I loved the mountain with no summit part!! I definitely needed to be reminded of working toward my dream day by day, rather than focusing on the summit. Just WOW.
My hat goes off to you once again… Mad respect Oats!!
Can’t wait for the online portfolio critique too…!

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Chris Oatley

WOO HOO! Me neither, Nicko! I’m so excited about the Portfolio Party!

Yeah, I’m happy to steal Jake and Fred’s good stuff and take the credit! ;)

Seriously – Thanks so much for the kind words.

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Serena H

I couldn’t have stumbled upon your website at a better time! Well, maybe back in my college days I could’ve used this, but better now than later!
The core of my struggle with perfectionism lies in the Imposter Syndrome, the fear that, unless I know how to draw EVERYthing the “Right” Way, at any moment someone will uncover me for the hack that I “really am”. That a client will give me the pink slip and the trap door will inevitably fall from beneath me. This paranoia can, of course, be paralyzing which prevents me from making the very progress that I need to grow as an artist.
I try so hard to draw things the Right Way (“Well, shouldn’t the arm technically go this way? And wouldn’t this object look this way at this angle?”) that I end up sacrificing clarity of silhouette, the appeal of a simplified pose, and ultimately clear communication. Not that cheating = communication, rather that I’m often too focused on smaller details and lose sight of the bigger picture. Communicating is one of my weakest skills.
But, something that helps me is studying other people’s art, mainly children’s books, mid century illustration, and concept art, then nailing down why I love it, why it makes me feel the way I do about it. Why does this picture give me such an awesome gut reaction, and why do other people relate to it?
Ok, I’ve gotta dig through the rest of your site. Thank you SO much for sharing!

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Amanda Acton

Oh yeah, this totally hits home. >_< I am hopelessly guilty of going into "OMG I SUCK! LIFE SUCKS! I"LL NEVER BE AWESOME!" downward spirals.

Often.

I should get a pet monkey to follow me around and smack me whenever it starts.

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Emily Hann

Hey Chris,

Another great post full of wisdom. This is probably my favourite blog of yours to date. Your words about communication really spoke to me. And that Bob Peterson drawing – fantastic! I’m going to print out your article too. Thanks so much!

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Angela

Just what I needed. Seriously! I read this after a very frustrating week of work in which I spent far too much time loathing my art and all I had done resulting in hopelessness.
After reading this, I began to feel so free. My week has had a significant improvement after months of frustration. Without the pressure of perfection I was able to relax, have fun, gain a sense of accomplishment (Only been at this for two years! The comparison is nuts!) and to top it all off, my work seems to come across differently. Communication and concept became clearer in my work. People seem to be more receptive to it.

THANK YOU!

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Cary

I have just started tackling this concept myself, I’ve been working on removing myself from my art and creating more realistic pieces, only to recently notice that while photo-realism is impressive, it isn’t the most interesting thing. So I’ve started running the other direction, and seeing what I can do with style, but the flip side of the coin, I create something, and I worry is that what I want to say.

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Reynante M. Martinez

Thank you so much for sharing, Chris!

Strictly speaking though, there’s no such thing as perfect, something that is not flawed of anything, even subjectively; that’s why so many people fail and are hurt in the process of achieving perfection.

Having perfection as a goal is death in itself, people or artists, specifically, should strive to be ‘better’, not ‘best’, that will eventually transcend the human definition of ‘best’ in its broadest sense.

It has been my lifelong goal to tell stories through my art, beyond anything else, beyond the technical limits I might face and even beyond the color harmony that I might be delving in. Plain beauty or even the most extravagant scene of all is surely to blow one’s mind away, but not for long, it might entice you as a viewer, but then you go and ask ‘so what?’. But with a properly-thought of story and a well-executed one, the viewer is transported into a new world, even a vast universe or a new order he or she could imagine; just from interpreting your visual story.

Thanks for the inspiration, Chris! ^_^

-Reyn

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Russ Cox

This post really resonated with me. I recently went through a phase of trying to perfect my skills but was missing the message.

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Megan C. Lloyd

Ok, your blog is quickly becoming THE source for lifting my spirits. It’s hard remembering to to be hard on myself. Thanks for sharing the words of wisdom.

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Said Omar E.

Man I love this site.
I needed this post right now. I get so discouraged by all the great artists online because they are way ahead of me that I almost could’t get anything done the past some years. I got discouraged finishing any artwork and posting it online. That’s why I abandoned my deviantart page and have almost nothing on my blog. But from now on I will update my blog regularly. A friend told me one shouldn’t say “I’ll try” but instead say “I’ll do”. So I will.

And I have to work on that circle of trust thing as well :)

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Said Omar E.

Oh yeah thanks for this great advise Chris! Much appreciated.

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Enrique

That was fantastic! Chris, you are like the official teacher for every artist on the internet. Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge and experience. You are the man!

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Leamonade

Great post Chris, gonna have to bookmark it for the days when I need a reminder to stop crippling myself trying to achieve perfection!

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Artist_HB

Chris,
Thank you.
-HB

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david_wc

I just keep coming back to this post over and over and over.

Clear communication. I think I can do that. :)

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Julio Cesar Velazquez

Hello Mr Oatley,
I recently visited your website. I read the article “Free Yourself from perfect” accidentally and others, but this is a piece connects the texts read by different authors (Frank Stockton), therapy, long talks with friends and finally be free from errors. All turning on shared experiences. –

Thanks for the click in my mind. –
“Knowledge without consequences or no effect”, according to Lacan.

Ah, before I dismiss two questions
How or when he knew he wanted to be Concept Artist?
  What was your first film in the cinema and some favorite?

Hug!

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Alex

Great and inspiring article, Chris!

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Emily

Oh man… this actually made me tear up a little. >_>;;

I really struggle with perfectionism in a lot of aspects of my life. It is utterly paralyzing and there is so much guilt and shame. So afraid of failure that I end up not doing anything at all. I used to produce so much art through highschool, and then once I was facing career choices I stopped. I played video games instead, and watched tv shows, and tried to hide from the crushing thought that I wasn’t good enough (by my standards, naturally).

So yeah… could not have read this at a better time. Sometimes it’s really emotional and important to be reminded by someone else that no one expects perfection from me, and you just gotta keep going. And have fun.

Bookmarking this post <3

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Kiri Østergaard Leonard

This article was such a great read and a wonderful reminder. Thank you so much for the effort and time you put into sharing your knowledge with fellow and student artists.

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Christian Wolfgang

I have a lot of perfectionists teachers at my school, it’s nerve racking sometimes, but somedays I just have to say it’s not worth it. It’s more important to enjoy process, making art I enjoy and I can worry about perfection later. I have always had something eating me alive, night after night. making myself sleep deprived just to get better.
This whole time it’s been me that’s been the biggest bully in my art. I know I’m getting better daily. I just need to enjoy myself more and let go, but still be mindful of critical thinking when doing art. Over all it’s about balance, because you have to enjoy your work. But if you think you are the best, you won’t ever push yourself further or look outside of yourself and try different things. One of the best things about not being a perfectionist is to enjoy every aspect of learning and not corner yourself . One should be obsessed with passion, and enjoyment for learning art, not obsessed with this perfectionist slow death.

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