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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

You Are Mistaken, And That’s OK

My so-called mistake

Even monkeys fall from trees.”  Chris Bradford, The Ring of Earth.

No way, I thought to myself the moment my brush, wet with polymer gloss medium, smeared the letters on the white paper above. For months, I’d labored with a compulsive attention to detail on this epic piece, layering the color and placing each pinkie-sized slice of book cover with precision. The gloss medium represented the very final step in a journey of 1000 miles, a mere mechanical necessity. But, the moment my wet brush hit the black letters, the ink bled on A Lonely Fool’s Masterpiece. The fixative I had applied proved ineffective. I stood there shaking my head, crestfallen. How does someone spend months on the most important painting of his life and then blemish it in the final brush stroke? I wanted to remove my boot and hit myself in the face with it repeatedly.

A clever man commits no minor blunders.” Goethe.

Best Books Ever Written, acrylic, book covers, oil pastel on canvas, 60"x132", 2015

Best Books Ever Written, acrylic, book covers, oil pastel on canvas, 60″x132″, 2015

The following day, as I entered the studio in the clean light of morning, I was greeted by twelve feet of mind-numbing literary movement soaked in riotous color and spread across a freakishly hot red landscape. The gloss medium had given the canvas a luxurious buttery finish. Of course, all I saw was the smear. I stood and stared for a long time, stroking my stubbled chin and  revisiting the narrative of this work – my call out to the universe to make my recently-finished manuscript a bestseller. I thought about the story captured in the book and the 7-year journey of actually writing that story, and I realized that both involved me bleeding emotionally. Suddenly, in this new frame of reference, those smeared words made the piece even more on point. They bled like I bled.

The artist in the zone

The artist in the zone

Now go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.” Neil Gaiman, Make Good Art.

My 7-yo son is both a very talented artist and a perfectionist, a dangerous combination, akin to a tightrope walker with a fear of heights. He has sound aesthetic instincts and tends toward abstraction in his sculptures and paintings.





On those (regular) occasions when something gets smudged or bent or altered, he tends to fall apart, devastated by his perception of his work’s destruction. I continue to tell him that for me, over the years, much of my best work is painted on top of the mistakes. And not just the mistakes but the who am I kidding, I’m a total fraud and my work has no value of any kind moments. Those days are regular visitors in the life of a creative. And there is no way to mitigate their sourness. One must simply do the work and leave it behind for a good night’s sleep and a strong cup of coffee the next morning. There is no room for self pity in this game. Artists, no matter their stripe, must move their arm everyday in some creative manner. It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to be. Eventually, the code gets cracked.

I want my boy to know that, in the words of Ollie Slaney, “The mistakes we regret the most are the ones we were too scared to make.” And that, some days, no matter what we do and how well we do it, we just fail … and that’s that. 

Best Books Ever Written, acrylic, book covers, oil pastel, linen on canvas, 60"x132", 2015

Best Books Ever Written – Vortices of Genius, acrylic, book covers, oil pastel, linen on canvas, 60″x132″, 2015. A brand new piece for my Bay Area Show opening May 9-10 at Style A Gallery in Sausalito – details to follow.

The fact is, very often, the new direction mandated by the so-called mistake is more intriguing than the original. Columbus wasn’t looking for America, you know? But these lessons typically come only with the patience instilled by tripping and falling over decades.

Our roads twist and turn. Another new work for the May California show

Our roads twist and turn. Another new work for the May California show

The sooner you make your first five thousand mistakes the sooner you will be able to correct them.” Kimon Nicolaides.

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