Do you struggle with confidence as an artist?
This week we have two speed paintings of turkeys, one of which inspired me to talk about our inner dialogue – or rather the negative voices we encounter as artists – when we are creating art.
As I was going ahead and designing/painting the layout of this particular speed paint, I found myself really really really struggling.
The struggle is real
Something just wasn’t feeling all that great during the creation process, and I found myself slowly spiraling into a vat of negative inner voices, making me more anxious and less confident in my own artistic abilities.
As artists, we can find ourselves in these creative ruts, seeing the train wreck that is our work coming from a mile away. And despite my negativity, I wanted to keep pushing and really explore this interesting slew of feelings, and why I was getting them in the first place.
The mental struggle is SUPER real
Firstly, lemme just say being introspective is sorta -well- painful, because I have to force myself to set aside my ego and check in with myself. Blegh, feelings, blegh!
But, it was necessary, and after some time and a bit of research, I found myself staring at the root problem of all my anxieties and fears for creating artwork – failure.
Every time I found myself struggling with a technique, hitting a mental barrier, battling another bout of artist block, I was deathly afraid of failing. And it was the one thing that was holding me back – over and over and over again.
Children are great learners with ZERO fear
think about it.
When we were little kids, the fear of failure was not in the forefront of our minds. We saw every new opportunity as a learning experience, and we DOVE in, ready to explore and discover something about ourselves.
We had confidence – and a healthy dose of immortality in our veins, which caused us to see the world as our playground. We bet on ourselves to succeed – no matter what.
Adulthood = Fear + Loathing
As we grew into adults, with mounting responsibilities and self-imposed high stakes of living the perfect life, we end up being less confident and curious than our younger selves.
Which means we don’t spend time learning – which means we stagnate and never learn to improve.
People are so afraid of making mistakes, which further stunts their emotional and technical growth, keeping them cemented in one place forever.
Artists are kids who refuse to grow up
Funnily enough, we as artists are not the only ones who experience this fear of failure in our work. In fact, This American Life Podcaster, Ira Glass wrote this interesting quote that addresses this very topic of handling and fostering the creative spirit within us.
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
-Ira Glass (This American Life Podcast, Public Radio personality)
Art is your personal conversation.
Your art doesn’t have to be anything but a personal conversation with yourself. Explore stuff, fuck up (all artist have to make a lot of shit before we make something good), and reserve judgement.
We are our own worst critics. I would suggest not looking at stuff you make for a few months. When you see it after a time you’re not so emotionally invested, you can be more objective about what’s good and how to move forward.
Making art is a journey with visual markers, each thing you make is not a monument but a part of a greater conversation you are having with yourself and perhaps with others if you want it to be.
1. Take the pressure off and do an art study for your eyes only – without fully committing to finishing
Yeah I know this sounds really weird. Not finishing something you started?
A sketch, a quick thumbnail, doodles, a small value or color study. No one else needs to see them and it’s what helps you work out the kinks.
What is so interesting is that as artists, we convince ourselves that we need to finish a full painting masterpiece all at once. And as ambitious and sexy as that sounds, it’s not really the norm.
You can easily dabble in one drawing, move on to another and the revisit your previous one later. You carry a lot of that critical expertise with you as you go and the great thing is that you have that entire visual record to refer back to.
A 30 second gesture drawing might teach you a surprising amount.
Give yourself the latitude to be ok with not totally nailing each and every attempt, because you won’t. But overall your long term improvement will be noticeable.
2. Carry a small sketchbook with you at all times – take advantage in the shift in attention
Do a quick sketch and then go back to doing something else.
Consider every time you put pen to paper (or whatever medium) as a brief learning experience rather than a task with an end goal of producing a finished piece of artwork.
Splitting your art process in “chunks” can help you learn just as much without it being this monumental effort.
you can continue to build those skills without necessarily spending all that time doing one thing
You won’t hesitate writing down a phone number on a piece of paper, right? The learning process in art is very much the same way. Just a series of marks, but all in all help teach you lessons – be they 30 seconds or 30 days long.
Tip 3. Stuck? Take a break and play with something else.
Hallmark does a cool thing with their illustrators.
They allow them to take breaks and make stuff that’s not in line with making something for the company. Folks have the freedom to play with mediums they aren’t familiar with, and spend time fucking up.
The company understands that creative play and experimentation is important to the mental well being and creativity of their employees. Sometimes some innovative ideas come from that play, that become products sold and money made, but that’s not the goal of giving employees this time.
Letting go of the constant inner critic allows for experimentation and play, which is why we started making stuff in the first place. It’s something we often forget as super serious adults.
3a. Do Art Challenges
Nothing inspires better than participating (either privately or publicly) in art challenges. When you’re given a topic, your brain is given a “box” to work in, and it is the PERFECT opportunity to really get creative and work “out of the box”.
For example, if your challenge is “pop art”, that gives you a box (frame of mind) to start with; you can then think of different paintings that aren’t initially pop art that can be transformed into one.
Or, you can find a public figure and make a pop art version of them. This is thinking “out of the box” and constantly exercising that creative muscle.
You can find art challenges on different websites like Reddit, Redbubble, and even some Facebook art groups!
4. Accept the fact that you are always growing as an artist and WILL make art you don’t like sometimes.
Don’t worry about it being terrible. Its practice after all. Just keep working at it and trying new things till something grabs you.
Save your doodles.
I wound up being inspired by crappy things I’d drawn before and looked at later. The finished work didn’t even really look like the object that inspired me. O
5. Try to re-draw some stuff you did when you were younger.
This was a new discovery for me, mainly because I always looked at my art as one-and-done, and quite frankly, it doesn’t have to be that way.
So, pick one of your favorite pictures that you have done before and do it again. Here you can incorporate new skills you learned, a different interpretation, or anything in-between.
It really is great fun, because it helps you see how much our minds had grown and changed since we were kids.
It also helps bring back some of the memories and some of the mojo that went into it in the first place.
Your art is all about your attitude
All in all, creating these positive associations with your work are a sure-fire way of getting your inner kid back out to play again. You kick out the fear of failure, because you know and believe in your abilities, not because you took a class or have a degree in a certain medium.
I, for one, am a self-taught artist, with my own Youtube channel with acrylic tutorials. I have my doubts, but I am confident in my abilities to share my love of art, because we all deserve to be artists. If you have a creative spirit and love to make things, you are an artist through and through.
Do not deny your inner kid artist, and instead use some of the tips I shared above to build your confidence and fearlessness. Be that creative badass you know you are!
What did you think of my tips? How do you regain your confidence when creating art? Comment and share below!
Amanda is a self-taught artist and founder of The Buzzed Artist, dedicated to teaching adult beginners how to art with confidence using acrylic paint and love themselves in the creation process. If you want to get started right with acrylic painting, be sure to enroll in her FREE mini-course The Acrylic Artist’s Toolkit.