by Taylor Slattery | October 20, 2022
There is no such thing as perfect—and you shouldn’t want there to be. Perfection has nothing to teach you. That’s failure’s job. None of us learned how to walk without collecting a few scraped knees along the way, and creative work is no different. It’s only by first making mistakes that we are made aware of our blind spots and can begin the process of learning how to correct them. In pursuit of creative excellence, it’s failure you should be racing toward, not perfection.
Regardless of your discipline, there are a couple of things common amongst all creatives. The first is that you will always be your own harshest critic. Even when others heap praise upon your work, it’s impossible to be completely satisfied with something and you still feel like you could have done better. The second thing common amongst all creatives is that the moment something is finished, all of your mistakes and areas that could be improved become immediately apparent. Looking at old work, there’s always that one spot you wish you could fix or something you would do differently if given the chance.
The fact is, you can rework something forever in pursuit of perfection, but those moments of clarity where you notice your mistakes are where real growth happens, and those moments won’t present themselves unless you can decide that something is done. Depending on the techniques involved, the subject matter, and your current skill level, each piece only has so many learning opportunities to offer. You simply don’t know what you don’t know and no amount of time obsessing over details is going to change that. Wasting time chasing perfection is preventing you from learning lessons that can only be taught by “perfect enough”.
The problem I often see with students is that with each piece they start, they set out to make a masterpiece. I wouldn’t say the issue stems so much from them being overinvested in any single project, but rather with so few projects under their belt, each new piece feels much more important than it really is. The only solution to this problem is to create more work. As you do, each individual piece becomes less precious and can serve its proper role as a stepping stone, providing you with a platform to move on to the next piece where another lesson is waiting to be learned and new insights are waiting to be uncovered.
The satisfaction you feel when finishing a project lasts only until you’re capable of seeing what’s wrong with it. Because we’re constantly evolving as creatives, that makes this moment fairly short-lived. Perfect enough provides you with all the same benefits of perfection at a fraction of the price, namely, the time spent to reach it. Use this to your advantage. Instead of spending the better part of a day wrestling with the shading of a nose under tricky lighting, try drawing that same nose as quickly as possible in a bunch of different lighting scenarios aiming for just perfect enough. You’ll learn much more this way—trust me.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.