How To Fill Your Creative Life With The Joy Of Happy Accidents

Have you heard of Happy Accidents?

If not, here’s a simple explanation: You know those times when you’re creating with a very specific aim with a project, and you can envision exactly how you want it to turn out?

Then something goes a little wrong, you make a mistake, you mess something up. At first it seems like a utter disaster. All that work up to this point gone to waste.

But, then you realise, that because of this unexpected shift in direction, it’s actually opened up a whole new pathway of creative possibility.

So you begin to explore, sensing that you’ve stumbled on to something pretty amazing and exciting here, and end up with an artwork – and an experience – far more satisfying and inspiring than the one you originally intended to create.

Happy Paint
image: Emiko Hime

These are Happy Accidents, unintentional changes in how and what you were creating that led to an even better outcome and direction than you could have hoped for.

And they enable you to create in a way that otherwise you couldn’t have planned or mapped out.

Do you have them often? Have you ever experienced them?

Happy Accidents are one of the great joys of creating.

But you can’t forecast them, or contrive to have them, they just happen, hence why they’re an “accident”.

There are however, a few things you can do to allow these inspiring twists to happen more easily and more often.

Here are three of the best:

1. Kick out perfectionism.

When you create under the burden of perfectionism, there’s a great pressure for everything to be just so. Every word, or pencil mark ,or brush stroke, or musical note has to be exactly right, to make sure the whole composition is exactly right.

This stifles creativity and means you’re trying to create under such anxious conditions that it’s unlikely that a) you’ll actually be able to make it through to the end of the project and keep every last part exactly perfect, because you’re human and an artist after all, not a robot in a factory production line, and b) you’ll enjoy it all, because of the burden you’ve placed on yourself to be perfect.

As soon as you loosen your grip a little on this unrealistic expectation to create perfect art, you hugely increase the probability that you’ll stumble into a Happy Accident or two.

2. Define some limits, to set yourself free.

This seems to go against what first seems logical. You’re an artist, you must be completely free to create whatever and however you want surely? How can setting boundaries help you create more freely and have more Happy Accidents? Won’t it just strangle your creativity?

The opposite is true. Once your creativity has a few limits, it can REALLY set to work. For example, if you’re a painter, you might decide you’ll create a series of small 6 inch square canvases and use only shades of blue for each, no other colour. Already just thinking about this (whether you’re a painter or not) you’ll have some ideas come to mind, you’ll start to visualise what those little blue canvases might become.

You’ll also give the go ahead for Happy Accidents, as because you’ve challenged your creativity, it will try things it’s not tried before to be original and interesting with these limits. You’re more likely to discover ways of creating that you wouldn’t have if you’d given yourself completely free reign over the size and colour of your canvases.

3. Focus on the fun.

When we try to be very fixed in how we want our art to materialise, we suddenly get very serious. I’m sure you can imagine yourself hunched over your latest artwork with tense shoulders and a furrowed perspiring brow, that familiar knotting in your stomach and shortness of breath as the anxiety of trying to be perfect starts to take grip.

What kind of conditions are these to be at your most creative? The answer is they’re very non-conducive to being free and spontaneous and creating the best you can create. And maybe even more importantly, where’s the fun?? A huge part of creating and the reason why we create is because we enjoy it. It’s meant to enrich our lives, bring a smile to our faces and a sparkle in our eye, not be like a form of medieval torture!

Imagine you’re a six year old once in a while, and create as they would create, with a sense of playfulness, on instinct, purely following what delights and stimulates your senses. When you relax and create for fun like this, the Happy Accidents will come thick and fast.

Each of these three ways will open the gates to more Happy Accidents in your creative life, and you’ll unlock new ways of creating, and wonderful new ideas that you could never have come across otherwise.

You owe it to yourself, your own artistic evolution – and your enjoyment of creating – to try these and become far more Happy-Accident-Prone!

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8 thoughts on “How To Fill Your Creative Life With The Joy Of Happy Accidents”

  1. Absolutely! Somewhere along the artistic journey the “fun” gets blocked by all the perfectionism and restrictions. Focusing on the fun part of creating is the biggest step in releasing those other strangleholds.

    I am currently working on a series of paintings with a foliage and/or flower theme. At first I felt blocked and could only think of people or animal themed pieces, but once I got started sketching and taking photographs of nature, I’ve got a notebook full of garden themed ideas. So a little bit of restriction can help exercise those creative muscles.


    1. It’s probably the best way to overcome any kind of artists block – set yourself a small project with a specific theme and a few boundaries. As soon as you do, your creative mind can’t help but get to work, you can’t turn it off!

      Thanks for your comments Diane.


  2. Dan,
    Happy Accidents!! I LOVE this terminology! And…it has me thinking…what if I just get out there more and spend the time creating…and just be more fully okay with whatever that leads to (…something as planned…or a happy accident!)…


    1. That’s a great plan Lance. Seeing creating as an adventure, where we don’t know where it’s going to lead us, rather than assuming we already know the precise destination.

      Thanks for your comments and for stopping by.


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