Want to improve your painting? Develop a Growth Mindset

Is your artistic progress a little fragile? Perhaps a bit stop-start? Do you get really deflated when you find it hard and don’t get the results you were hoping for? If so, it’s a good idea to start cultivating a ‘growth mindset’.

What exactly is a growth mindset?

A ‘growth mindset’ is a concept developed by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck.

People that practice a growth mindset recognise a truth now backed up by science:

that every time you work outside of your comfort zone, making a big effort and finding things difficult, neurons in your brain build better connections and your skills and abilities develop and improve.

Thus with a growth mindset you can start to interpret effort, difficulty and even errors, as a sign that you’re improving, NOT a sign that you should give up.

The opposite of this would be a ‘fixed mindset’ – one that’s especially prevalent in the world of painting and drawing.

That is to say that we have a level of talent or skill that’s fixed (we’re born with) and that it’s very hard or impossible to significantly improve.

If the words “I can’t draw” or “I’m not a talented painter” have ever slipped out of your lips, that’s a sign of a fixed mindset.

We can consciously change the mindset we practice.

Dweck’s research has shown that if you cultivate a growth mindset you’re able to learn from your errors, engaging fully with them, rather than fleeing from them (i.e. throwing a ‘bad’ painting in the bin).

When you practice a growth mindset, your errors stop having such an emotional hold over you and can be seen for what they are – a vital part of the process of improving.

Instead of thinking you failed, you think of yourself as not succeeding… yet.

I feel very lucky that I’ve not experienced a fixed mindset about my painting but I put that down to the fact that I learned to paint as a child, when it’s much more normal to expect yourself to be able to pick up new skills.

Learning as an adult can be tougher because our inner critic is often much more vocal by adulthood, ready to jump in and criticise our efforts.

So how can you cultivate a growth mindset?  

The main thing is to focus on the process, not the end result.

And praise yourself for the effort and perseverance you’ve shown, as well as any improvements, even if they seem really small.

I recommend keeping a ‘Learning Log’ – a notebook or journal where you actually keep a track of any improvements you can perceive in your artwork, and your experience of creating them, as you go.

After each artmaking session, add an entry to your log, focusing on the positives.

And if you notice you’ve made any errors, focus on how you’re going to try to avoid making the same ones in future.  

It’s also amazing to look back over a log or journal to chart how far you’ve come! Seeing your progress can reinforce and affirm your growth mindset. It can also train you to see your artwork more objectively.

Doing this can make a HUGE difference, and I hope you’ll give it a go after your next artmaking session.

Check out this great TED talk about growth mindset.

If you’d like to learn more, here’s a 10 minute TED talk from Carol Dweck on the subject:

Do you feel you need to make a shift to a growth mindset? Or is it something you already practice?

Do you now feel inspired to keep a ‘Learning Log’?

I’d love to hear from you about it in the comments.

Happy growing!

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  1. Shirley Porter on August 24, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Thank you!…impeccable timing 😉

  2. Ana on August 24, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Congratulations Anna! I’m also 8 months pregnant so I know how you feel 🙂 Love your emails and paintings 🙂

    • Anna Mason on August 24, 2017 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks, congratulations and good luck Ana!

  3. Kathleen on August 24, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    Happy parenting! Congratulations on God’s wonderful gift to you.

  4. Beth Amen on August 24, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    Anna thank you so much for posting this inspiring concept & the seminar by Prof. DWeck…wow what powerful information…this is really going to change how I look at everything in life AND I can pass this on to my growing grand children now…amazing . I am so blessed by this opportunity … Beth Amen

  5. Beth Amen on August 24, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Anna thank you son much for posting this inspiring concept & the seminar by Prof. DWeck.. wow what powerful information…this is really going to change how I look at everything in life AND I can pass this on to my growing grand children now…amazing! I am so blessed by this opportunity to learn Beth Amen

    • Anna Mason on August 24, 2017 at 9:05 pm

      So pleased you’ve found this helpful Beth – and so good if you can pass this outlook on to the grandchildren.

  6. Kathleen on August 24, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Thank you for this post. TImely for me. EXcellent video. Thank you for sharing

  7. Betsy Dean on August 24, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this. I didn’t know what to call it but, yes, fixed mindset is exactly what I have had for many years. My mother and sister were “born” with it, so I thought that was the only way to acquire any semblance of artistic ability. So now I am going to switch directions and see if I can change this old brain to practise a growth mindset instead! Thank yoy for sharing.

    • Anna Mason on August 24, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      Glad to hear it. Go for it Betsy!

      • Betsy Dean on August 26, 2017 at 6:01 pm

        I am! My trial pear is awful, but darn–I am just going to try again! I’ve got all my supplies now, no more prpcrastinating! BTW, you have the same lovely name as my great-grandmother.

  8. Rosita Sprohge on August 24, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    I fully agree with that philosophy. As a child I was told by a painter that I have absolutely no talent for drawing or painting and therefore never tried again. But I always wished I could paint. At age 65 I treated myself to a watercolour course to celebrate my retirement. I astonished myself in that I did better than I had expected. This gave me courage to continue. Early on I started keeping an art journal. This has helped me to see my progress. Again astonishing what one can learn to achieve even in old age. I’ve been painting for eight years now and have even sold some of my work. Mostly I paint for myself in my journals or do some urban sketching and I’m happy with every little bit of progress I make because I paint to please myself and not others.

    • Anna Mason on August 24, 2017 at 9:03 pm

      So pleased to hear your positive experience Rosita!

  9. Cheryl on August 24, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    This was such an encouraging post! Love the concept of a Learning Log to help continue to develop a Growth Mindset.

  10. Sue-Anne on August 24, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    Thankyou Anna, I love your art work, You are inspiring. I work in the area of mental health and see the concept of growth mindset helpful in so many ways, Not only my art. Thankyou so much for your encouraging posts. Enjoy your new adventure with your baby. What a fortunate child having you as a teacher.

    • Anna Mason on August 25, 2017 at 8:58 am

      Thank you Sue-Anne and you’re right this mindset is one for the whole of life really!

  11. Dardie bonilla on August 25, 2017 at 1:18 am

    I’ve been posting for about 8 years. Watercolor for about 2 years. I love constructive criticism however I don’t know anyone that likes to watercolor I showed a watercolor of a hummingbird and all she could say I don’t like the eyes. I told her it was a picture I copied. So I told her I didn’t like criticizing without telling me how to improve I t bothered me because I tried to do a good job. And of course she had no comment. How would you handle a person like that.

    • Anna Mason on August 25, 2017 at 8:56 am

      You certainly have to choose who you share your work with when you’re looking for constructive feedback. I realise I’m biased but the community in my online school are perfect for this as they all ‘get it’. I’m sure there must be other online or real life groups that can offer this sort of support.

  12. Dardie bonilla on August 25, 2017 at 1:22 am

    I posted earlier and miss spoke I’ve been painting for about 8 years

  13. Denise on August 25, 2017 at 2:39 am

    Always changing and enjoying the pleasure of learning

  14. Denise Pepe on August 25, 2017 at 2:47 am

    Always changing and enjoying the pleasure of learning

  15. Jane on August 25, 2017 at 4:02 am

    Awesome!!! What an encouragement!!!

  16. Jan on August 25, 2017 at 7:56 am

    In April this year, at 66 years of age, I decided to give watercolour painting a go.. The results surprised me and others and the passion to paint was born. I also found I can draw much better than I ever thought. After initial success, not being able to produce what I want to produce has deflated me. Your blog and the video are very encouraging. Thank you.

    • Anna Mason on August 25, 2017 at 8:54 am

      Keep at it Jan, improvement does take a bit of time.

  17. Debbie Jefferies on August 25, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Good luck with the baby
    I wish it the world of unconditional love and abundance

    • Anna Mason on August 25, 2017 at 8:53 am

      Thank you Debbie!

  18. Marnie46 on August 25, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    What a great talk, it is so true. This is why I am taking your classes; I want to chalange myself and your classes do just that. It is so inspiring to be able to give and get feed back from other students.
    Thank you Anna

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:50 am

      So pleased the School is helping Marnie

  19. Rose Vermeulen on August 25, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    Brilliant video and very much needed approach in the education system in South Africa.
    Enjoy your last days before the baby arrives…. go out for dinner, sleep late, go to the movies, paint a lot…. your life is about change drastically. Wishing you well with the arrival and lots of happiness with the little one. xx

  20. JELA DUIĆ on August 25, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Thank you Anna for all the effort to help us to start and learn as well as how to develop our skill in watercolour painting. I love painting, I paint because it makes me happy and I realy am concentrated on painting process more than final resulat . Naturaly that process is an effort in achiving some satisfactory result. But ,every painting of mine ,no matter how good critics I get ( oil painting ) I consider as new excercise because new motiv, new aproach ,new technique…I believe that is what you wanted to tell us.
    Watercolouring is different because you can not make changes like in oil, but I never throw my less quality painting because I can see what is bad as well as what is good , and that good things I try to repeat.
    Thank you once more

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:49 am

      Excellent mindet Jela, thanks for sharing!

  21. Ana Murza on August 26, 2017 at 12:17 am

    Congratulations Anna, for reaching the 8 month mark, it’s not easy but the reword is worth it.. I have two daughters after a couple of miscarriage, they are great. Take it is, that is the most important thing ( advice from experience). Also thank you for posting Carol Dweck speech.

    All the best for you and your family!

    Have a great day!

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:49 am

      Thanks for the pregnancy support Ana, not long left now so I can start to countdown!!

  22. Lorraine on August 26, 2017 at 2:10 am

    Never to old to put this “YET” Mindset in practice, I’ve been lucky enough to have this most of my life, so at 66 years young still love the process of learning & a challenge… Thanks for sharing Anna and all the best to you and Phil with you little bundle of love!

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:48 am

      Thanks Lorraine!

  23. June Mitchell on August 26, 2017 at 7:01 am

    after 52 years of chopping and changing my way of painting …I decide to look at an online school …I’m so glad I found you .Anna …my mindset is no longer fixed … adding bits of me too …friends are amazed at the difference in my work …I must say so am I. At 66 I feel I can now paint the way I wanted too all those years but I’m still looking for tips and challenges to achieve even greater things. Onwards and upwards. Big thank you Anna xxxx Enjoy your bundle of fun soon …

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 12:39 pm

      Thank you June and so pleased you’ve progressed so well! Me and the team really appreciate all you do to welcome new members to the School too, thank you.

  24. heredeje on August 26, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Hi Anna,
    thanks for sharing this with us, Trying to understand myself, other fellow humans and the universe , I have been reading a lot about personal development and psychology, and this study about growth mindset is really helpful. I used to think that only the first one to arrive in a race, or the one to score more, or those go get maximum grades were the winners, those ho came second and the rest were just mere losers. I have never been the best on any thing, hence I always though about myself as a looser, and thus developed a very bad depression.. I tried many things in the past but I abandoned then quite soon after, considering myself as a failure. It has been only within the last few months in which i have started to program my mind with a more positive line of thinking and now a value more the courage to try than been successful, now I think success is an stage of the process, of trying. I am more than happy to be in your art lessons, where you teach much more than watercolour painting. And yes I’ll put in practice my new mindset, I’ll take the approach of growth mindset. once more thanks for sharing it with us.


    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:48 am

      So pleased to hear you’ve been making that mindset shift Hernan, it’s not easy as our minds get into thinking habits. But it sounds like you’ve made wonderful progress and I’m sure your painting is going to really benefit.

  25. Michelle on August 27, 2017 at 4:32 am

    As a kid i was given school grade paints,brushes, and paper. I could not paint pretty details with those clumsy brushes, and in my childish mind i concluded that I was not gifted as a painter. Today I know different, and i am determined that no grandchild of mine should ever be denied quality tools for art exploration. Thank you or yet another piece of the puzzle that helps one grow as an artist. God bless you.

  26. Renata Barilli on August 27, 2017 at 10:52 am

    Thanks, Anna.
    I believe in this way. It’s very important as students feel your inside that you do that with yourself first and then the growth mindset will be your seed intelligence. It’s very good the suggestion to take a record of improvement so that no doubts will emerge on the way.
    ciao Renata

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:41 am

      Thanks Renata!

  27. Tülün Harmankaya on August 27, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Hi Anna, your blog gives you away as a positive & loving person, Best wishes for you and the baby. I had no time and wish for painting for quite some time & wish to take it up, you are most encouraging. Thank you and good luck.

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:40 am

      Excited that you have the desire to paint now Tülün!

  28. Jenny on August 27, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    Thank you!! I did need this just this moment. Gratulations for you!!
    I am going on holidays to England next week.Hopefully I discover something on my way from you.
    Hear of you next time.
    Greetings Jenny from Holland.

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:40 am

      Enjoy your visit Jenny!

  29. Brian Lemieux on August 27, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    This is an excellent topic and the video was very interesting. I struggled with this through my first few paintings. It was an internal argument of “you’re just a beginner” versus “well that was a big mistake.” I was painting on my workbench at the time, so I left them all out where I would see them whenever I went into the basement. They looked fine from 12 feet away, but whenever I got closer, I just saw mistakes. I broke through that with the cosmos, where I felt like I did more right than wrong and now I see I’m improving. I make a point of noting what I like about what I did on each painting and the things need to work harder on or do differently. And I still leave that last painting out to remind me of where I am in my development. I expect to learn and experiment forever and I’m just enjoying the process now.

    I can’t wait for the baby to arrive! It’s a wonderful experience.

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:46 am

      Thanks Brian and I love that you’ve already realised the importance of stepping back and assessing progress over time. I’m sure you’re going to develop your skills really well.

  30. Deb on August 28, 2017 at 12:43 am

    My favourite thought upon completing a painting is that the painting is always better than the last one or better than when I started watercolour. These positive thoughts always keep me going, especially since nothing is perfect!

  31. Susan Hall on August 28, 2017 at 1:31 am

    This is so good Anna.Thanks for sharing.It is so true and a great reminder for us at all ages and stages of life.
    Thinking of you at this point of your pregnancy . Rest up…a few minutes of silent meditation will nourish you more than you can imagine; a quiet cup of tea helps too!
    best wishes and please don’t reply ; breathe and relax.
    You have nourished is well with your tutorials, its your turn now to put your feet up..

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:45 am

      Can’t help replying to this Susan, thank you for the lovely nourishing thoughts! Now for my cup of tea!

  32. Deborah Wilson-Zweig on August 29, 2017 at 6:49 am

    Loved the Video! I will definitely write a log book, as I seem to forget some of the areas in which there are various issues in need of attention – meaning there are many thoughts going on!
    I love Prof. Dweck’s research findings and wish I could post this talk on Facebook! I am 60 years young, obtained my Psychology with a 3.97 GPA which I personally thought was awesome… (especially after thinking my brain was fried from three kids and a stress filled life!) However, as Prof. Dweck stated, being challenged with things that are just out of reach stretches the brain and keeps me inspired! Realizing I’m not afraid of making mistakes is one of the Best things I have ever learned… which translates to the “not yet!” This goes to say… the mind set really works for me. This info needs to be out EVERYWHERE!
    Now, to new sheet of paper and another go of the Black Parrot Tulips!
    Thank you so much for the video!

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:44 am

      Sounds like you’ve got the mindset sorted Deborah, and I hope a learning log is of use to you. Congratulations on your qualification.

  33. Rikelle on August 29, 2017 at 7:50 am

    This is such a helpful and positive post. I was intimidated by your work, thinking there is no way I could paint realistically. I decided to take one of your classes and it was amazing – bit by bit, layer by layer a beautiful strawberry emerged from my brush. I got out of my comfort zone and just allowed myself to learn and experiment. I am so excited and have been reinvigorated in my art. Thank you!!

    • Anna Mason on August 29, 2017 at 10:39 am

      Thrilled for you Rikelle! To your painting success (and most importantly enjoyment!).

  34. Sharon on July 25, 2023 at 7:04 pm

    Love the inspiring video on Yet.

  35. Carol on October 10, 2023 at 11:11 pm

    What a thought provoking concept. This is the first time I’ve heard of this and find it fascinating and definitely worth doing. The TED video is just the impetus I needed to kickstart my growth mindset & getting me to think & act outside of the box.

  36. Carol on October 10, 2023 at 11:14 pm

    I will be creating a Learning Log. It should be helpful.

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