Taking Perfectly Imperfect Action

You know that I’m all about action.

My book, I’d Rather Be in the Studio, is broken up into actions rather than chapters.

While I’m a champion of moving forward, I also slow down to read, research, and learn, which is crucial because my superpower is teaching.

©Melanie Ferguson, Breaking Dawn. Oil on panel, 12 x 16 x 1.5 inches. Used with permission.
©Melanie Ferguson, Breaking Dawn. Oil on panel, 12 x 16 x 1.5 inches. Used with permission.

While I could easily bliss out on months of research, the fact is, at some point (not too late in the process), the learning phase must make room for the action phase. No matter how much you research, it doesn’t do you any good until you put that knowledge to work.

I think we stay in information-gathering mode rather than taking action for one of two reasons:

1. We’re afraid to make a mistake (failing), or …
2. We don’t have enough fire in the belly to get moving. We aren’t hungry enough.

Let’s look at these separately and try to move past them.

Embrace Mistakes

You can’t learn simply by reading books and taking classes. The ultimate test of your knowledge comes when you implement.

The only way to grow is to take what you’ve read/heard/seen and put it into action. When you do this, you find out how it applies to your specific situation.

©Bob Sober, Cicada. Combined photographs. Used with permission.
©Bob Sober, Cicada. Combined photographs. Used with permission.

Yes, you’re going to make mistakes. A lot of them. Mistake-making is part of the process.

But you won’t fail. You’ll only fail if you don’t learn from those mistakes and try again.

Instead of fearing failure, you should reward yourself for every action you take – no matter how small or how uncertain you are of the outcome.

Light The Fire

I can teach strategies for building an art business, but I can’t light the fire within you. That desire to thrive burns inside every successful entrepreneur. If you want to earn money from your art, you must tap into this.

Your fire is your art. It is your raison d’être. Your art is what should snap you out of bed in the morning.

You keep your appointment with your muse in the studio because you have something to contribute to this crazy, wonderful world of ours. You have something to say that can’t be conveyed with words.

I know the fire for your work is inconsistent. Enthusiasm ebbs and flows alongside the rhythms of life. As long as you have a lot more flowing than ebbing, you’ll be rewarded with a long and satisfying career.

©Patty Hankins, Peach Ranunculus. Photograph. Used with permission.
©Patty Hankins, Peach Ranunculus. Photograph. Used with permission.

If you find yourself in need of rekindling that flame, ask yourself these powerful questions:

What if I made all of this art, grew an impressive inventory of work, and no one saw it? Would I be satisfied?

What if I finally attained my heart’s desire and retired from my day job – but then realized I had to start from scratch because I didn’t have anything in place for an art business to flourish? Would I be okay with taking at least three years to get my new career off the ground?

How do I want to be remembered by my family and community? As someone who waited until everything was perfect? Or as someone who took risks and went after her dreams?


What have you been thinking about for too long without taking action on it?

What reasons (or excuses) have you used to justify the inaction? If you’re okay with your reasons, that’s great. If you believe you are hiding behind them out of a fear of failure, perhaps it’s time to move.

Your first step is to decide. Then you can act – and be divinely content with the imperfect process.

It’s gonna get messy, but you’re an artist. You’ve faced bigger messes and made masterpieces out of those.

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45 thoughts on “Taking Perfectly Imperfect Action”

  1. Mary Reilly Mathews, LCSWR

    Couldn’t agree more!… and that’s a good thing because I’m an expert at imperfect action!

  2. This was another excellent article! It really hit the nail on the head.
    I made a kick start to my art business in January when I built my wordpress.org website and my ‘Artist Studio Stories’ Blog. It posts weekly and is gathering interest slowly but surely.
    Thank you for your wisdom!

  3. For me, it’s not so much about fearing to fail, it’s the desire to avoid fixing the problem. When one does something imperfect — it leaks, it breaks, it looks bad, smells bad, and generally makes life less fun, and so it has to be fixed. When it’s done right the first time, no fixing needed.

  4. Whew! I’ve been working at recovery from falling on ice and breaking my hip this January. Three lag bolts in the hip later I am trying to accomplish the catch up of having put everything aside and getting better. In the process, I have gotten back to the studio, finished a frame job (which I do the side for $) and now getting close to finishing taxes and my pastel society’s newsletter. Not painting. My to-do list is focused on getting that stuff done so I can get to the easel without a nagging chore in the background. Monday! will be time to get messy. My point, I guess, is sometimes stuff happens that sidetracks all best intentions and attention Must be paid so you can get back to where you belong. I am glad my habit in the studio has been to leave it tidy and ready to jump back into it when I return. I swear by it.

  5. Do you have this written down so it can be downloaded and read?
    I can’t really do on line classes or pod casts. I travel too much.

    1. Hi, Jen. What do you mean do we have it written down? Other than what is here?

      If you want a print-friendly version, click the green Share button under the post.

  6. Great post, Alyson. My whole life I have been a victim of perfectionism. Little by little that has been changing. I need to keep convincing myself that imperfect is ok. I definitely learn a lot from my imperfect artwork. Sometimes, those imperfections is what makes my piece just the way I want it. I don’t go back and start over anymore. All this has been thanks to working with you all these years and talking to myself. What is perfection anyway except for being in our heads? Thanks, Alyson!

  7. shannon sunderland

    My biggest tendency is to get lost in pre-planning and perfectionism. I love this gentle reminder and permission to let it be messy. This advice is SO beneficial for me. ????????❤️

  8. I love this! I so remember you saying that “perfection is the enemy of complete” at Breakthrough. I really took that to heart and it helped a lot! I have always been a bit of a perfectionist and always yearn for it to be perfect but have learned that sometimes good enough is good enough. Thanks for the reminder today! Your positive attitude and encouragement is always wonderful.

  9. Your post is an excellent reminder to not let those negative little voices inside stamp out the fire inside! It also reminded me of my artist Aunt who in the beginning used to receive letters of rejection (galleries, showings, etc) time and time again. (This is over 20 years ago). So she ended up taking those letters and making art pieces out of them. These new works gave her an outlet to vent and they ended up doing very well! Artistically she was very successful with her business in the long term.

  10. Your teasing apart these two points is super helpful. Thank you for the reinforcement to take risks and push forward. With my first solo exhibit opening in April, I am working with renewed determination to do just that. Often when I read your newsletter, it reminds me how much there is to do, this time it reminds me to acknowledge all that I am now doing. Such a good feeling!

  11. Your so wonderful,l have maybe four hundred paintings am not putting them out there,!!!!!!l will l promise,love you.

  12. Your book got me fired up several years ago and I’m still going strong! I took your online course as well. That was the groundwork for my success. You are appreciated every day!!!

  13. As much fun as it is to learn new things, it is not the same as doing your thing. I keep learning more about marketing and I think is is because I am avoiding actually marketing my work. So –note to self– DO IT!

  14. Lyna Lou Nordstrom

    Yes, Alyson!
    We can continue to gather & learn how to market or do, but if we don’t go forward, what is the point?? I keep doing new work because I think what I have done isn’t good enough to submit to a gallery!! Thank you for reminding us that we need to do the NEXT step & not just keep collecting!!

  15. I used to want everything to be perfect before I “put it out there”. I am much happier and more productive since I began to allow myself to show my process, missteps and all!

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Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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