A drawing of the state of Minnesota and Bella the cow lays next to a keyboard, art supplies, and laptop computer

3 Exercises to Help with Perfectionism for Artists

Perfectionism for artists assumes the role of a formidable gatekeeper obstructing the path to artistic progress.

At any time during your artistic journey, perfectionism may rear its head. It can be an intimidating force, stopping you from ever starting that artwork you’ve been meticulously planning for weeks. It can also surface mid-process and keep you from being able to finish an art piece.

So the question then becomes: how do you vanquish this beast? Here’s a few methods I practice that may help you conquer perfectionism. Continue reading and give these techniques a try for yourself.


Methods to overcome perfectionism for artists

The first part of overcoming perfectionism in your art is by sitting down and creating art. Start with these short and simple practices. You can apply them to larger projects later on.

If it takes you forever to finish artwork: accept “Done” over “Perfect”.

Instead of spending hours on one specific area of a drawing, focus on developing the entire piece as a whole. Here’s a drawing exercise to help:

  1. Pick your favorite subject and grab a timer. 
  2. Set that timer for 15 minutes
  3. Challenge yourself to draw your subject in its entirety within that time.

If you’re intimidated to start: Mess it up now and apologize later

This exercise is all about getting something down on the page. Build your confidence by creating mistakes, fixing them, and moving along.

  1. Take your pencil, pen, marker or paint and create one (or several) abstract shapes on a page. This shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes.
  2. Draw your subject (or scene) in a way that connects all those shapes.
Part one of a demo to overcome perfectionism for artists: 2 shapes drawn on a page.
Part one of a demo to overcome perfectionism for artists: A picture of a lake with a boat.

If you feel overwhelmed: Just focus on one thing

I created this system to provide myself ‘multiple chances’ to draw the same subject. This is my most effective tool in staving off perfectionism.

  1. Take a piece of sketchbook paper and divide it into 4. Pick your subject to draw
  2. Set your timer for 10 minutes and draw your entire subject in one quadrant
  3. Set your timer for 5 minutes and create a gesture drawing of your subject in the second quadrant
  4. 10 more minutes on that timer. Draw your subject as a contour drawing in the third quadrant
  5. Last drawing: Give yourself a whole 20 minutes this time. Draw your entire subject for a second time in the last quadrant
An exercise to overcome perfectionism for artists: four drawings of the same figure.


Progress over Perfection

If you’re just embarking on this journey, the most significant change begins with your mindset. The reality is, perfection is a myth. It’s more productive to be kind to yourself and focus on your progress towards becoming a better artist.

Working against a perfectionist mindset is a continual effort. I’ve had to grapple with my own perfectionism over my years as an artist, and still consistently remind myself to prioritize progress over perfection. In fact, I have this mantra on a post-it note affixed to one of my monitors:

Focus on Progress – Not Perfection

Rest assured you’re not alone in your battle with perfectionism. If you have trouble tackling this on your own. It may be helpful to reach out to an artist friend and work on overcoming perfectionism together.

What’s next:

Continue your artistic journey

Overcoming perfectionism for artists can be achieved through consistent practice and a shift in mindset to prioritize progress. I hope you incorporate the techniques I provided in this article and find them beneficial in your artistic endeavors.

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