10 Tips to Handle a Creative Disaster

creative disaster painting Have you ever finished a painting or craft project, but felt like you just spent precious hours or even days on a creative disaster? I know I have!

The following article gives some sound advice for dealing with unhappy situations when your work of art is a complete wreck.

If you had high hopes for your current painting and it turned out so poorly that the only word that comes to mind is “disaster,” what can you do to deal with the angst welling up in you? Here are ten tips that will help you handle a creative disaster!

1. Instantly forgive yourself

All right, something unfortunate happened. You can pile a ton of guilt and an extra thousand pounds of regret on your back because of this unfortunate occurrence or you can forgive yourself right now, without a moment’s hesitation, before the weight of your guilt and regret drop you to your knees. Self-forgiveness is not the same as not owning your part in what you’ve wrought — rather, it is simple kindness and the only way to guarantee second chances.


2. Mind your language

Is it really necessary to call it a disaster? How does it serve you to use such a harsh word on something you created with genuine love and real sweat? How do words like disaster, failure, mess or mistake help you? You are in charge of the language you use and employing the most self-disparaging language available can’t be a good idea!

3. Engage in self-support

Do you deserve the good chocolate or the deep massage only as a reward for some success? Isn’t it just as sensible to treat yourself in soothing, self-supportive ways when something is making you feel miserable — something that has the potential of lingering on as a permanent source of unhappiness? If you haven’t learned how to genuinely support yourself, this is an excellent opportunity to figure out how!

4. Take a break and reappraise

Maybe it wasn’t a disaster at all — or maybe it was only a limited disaster. Take the weekend off and then look at your painting again. Bravely return to the scene of the disaster and see if it really was a disaster. Very often it wasn’t!

coffee latte heart

5. Reframe it as a learning experience

It is genuinely the case that we learn best from our “mistakes and messes” if, and only if, we can find the courage to look our creative project in the eye and see what worked and what didn’t work. If you make this brave effort, then this creative project, no matter how poorly it turned out, becomes a real learning experience and maybe one of your most profound ones. It is not a mere mental tactic or a play-on-words to reframe disasters as learning experiences — they are exactly that, if you treat them that way.

6. Salvage the good parts

A given creative project may “fail” in its totality but still contain many “good bits” that can be salvaged. For instance the imagery you chose for your painting may still appeal to you if only you had executed it differently or better. Look at your creative project with fresh eyes, maybe after a weekend away from it, and focus on what can be saved rather than on what must be discarded.

artist painting at easel7. Get back to work

A “disaster” is a perfect excuse to stop creating altogether. You get it in your mind to lick your wounds, you take a break from the hard work of creating, and you find that days, weeks, months and even years are slipping away through avoidance. Even after the worst “disaster” get back to work! Maybe you need a weekend away; maybe you need a week. But don’t let it be too long. We can lose vast stretches of time if we allow our “failed” creative projects to become excuses for not getting back on the horse and trying again.

8. Exorcise lingering regrets

It is one of the unfortunate habits of our mind to return to our “disasters,” including those that happened years or even decades ago. For some evolutionary reason we are built to dwell on our failures and not on our successes. You will want to counteract this natural but unfortunate habit by mindfully “letting go” of regrets the moment they arise. When you hear yourself beating yourself up about that ruined painting from twenty years ago, say to yourself, “Nope! Don’t need that thought.” Exorcise it instantly.

9. Get feedback

In certain circumstances it may pay to have a second set of eyes take a look at the supposed “disaster” and give you feedback on what he or she sees. This may be especially true when you yourself aren’t sure if the painting in front of you is or isn’t a disaster and if there is someone in your life whose opinion and judgment you respect. Use feedback wisely, circumspectly and only occasionally — if it is the right moment for feedback, seek it out.

10. Honor the process

Once you deeply understand the realities of the creative process you will know in your bones that “disasters” are to be expected. Only a naïve romantic thinks that everything he tries will turn out beautifully. In fact, the more ambitious your efforts the greater the likelihood that you will stretch yourself to your limits and sometimes exceed your grasp. Honor the creative process by embracing the idea that “disasters” come with the territory — we do not love them, but they shouldn’t surprise us or derail us.

Guest Author: ArtBistro. Originally posted on ArtBistro.Monster.com


If you enjoyed this article, here are a few more to try! I hope you join me on Twitter and Facebook! ~Lori

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10 Ways to Overcome Mental Blocks and Boost Creativity

How to Find Your Own Artistic Voice

How to Bring Out the ‘Mona Lisa’ in Your Own Art

When Are You Ready to Call Yourself a Professional Artist?


10 Important Things Every Aspiring Artist Should Know: Part 1

6 Free Ways to Promote Your Art Business Online

Top Paint Brush Tips from the Art Pros on Facebook

How to Overcome 3 Barriers to Success as an Artist

How Do You Define Success as an Artist?

5 Common Traits of Successful Artists

You are in Charge of  Your Art Career

Commissioned Art – Tips to make it a Success!


  1. Ian Bertram May 24, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Of these I think I can truthfully say I practice 5, 6 and 7. As a late starter in printmaking (over 60), I expect to make mistakes. It is frustrating but I just have to get on with it.

    One bonus with prints on paper is that you can not only revisit the idea, but often you can recycle the ‘failed’ print too. I will look for passages that work in isolation by moving a precut mount over the picture looking for smaller compositions, sometimes a small as ATC size. The ATCs I use as business cards, freebies or as gift tags. Larger ones get mounted, packaged and sold on as affordable art. Even the scraps left over can be recycled into collagraph plates.

    It was a bit discouraging when the pile of rejects grew too big for the shelf, but that’s the time to just dump them – without regrets.

    • Lori McNee May 26, 2011 at 8:50 am

      Ian, thank you for sharing your experience with us. I think it is wonderful how you are taking on new endeavor, learning from your mistakes and moving forward. It is interesting how you recycle your failed prints. These are great suggestions.

      Thanks for sharing-
      Lori 🙂

  2. Brennen McElhaney May 25, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Lori, Thanks for this post and the reminder that an artist ought to be gentle with oneself in the artistic process.

    On a much lighter note, here’s a suggestion from James Gurney’s Blog on what to do with artwork that you no longer wish to keep:


    • Lori McNee May 26, 2011 at 8:34 am

      Hi Brennen,

      I like your additional suggestion. ‘We’ artists tend to be hyper critical of ourselves, so your point is a good reminder. Thank you for sharing James’ blog, I will check it out.

      Thank you for the visit-

  3. Queenie Marie A. Maquilang October 24, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    This is very inspiring, Lori. Thank you for sharing. This is applicable even to difficult situations in life. 🙂

  4. MegansBeadedDesigns October 25, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Oh, goodness, this has happened to me often! Like you say, its best to chalk it up to a learning experience, learn to laugh at ourselves (I’ll usually write a blog post or snap an Instagram pic of the pieces that didn’t turn out so well) and move on…

    …after a little break, of course.

  5. Parul mehra July 18, 2014 at 5:31 am

    Hi Lori I’m an artist / architect based in New Delhi , India . I came across yr blog recently & I must applaud you for this awesome platform which connects artists all over the globe. All yr articles & ideas are very inspiring .. Keep up the fantastic effort

    • Lori McNee July 20, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      Hello Parul, thanks for taking time to let me know you like my blog. I am so honored by your words. Many thanks! 🙂

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