How Artistic Perfection Can Hold You Back

Yesterday, I was randomly thinking about a mass email I had to send at my last 9-5 job. I was on the finance team at an IT company and we were rolling out big changes to our billing system. I wrote an email to inform our clients about the changes–and I proofed the sh*t out of that email. I read it at least 30 times–and then I made my boss read it, and then I read it again.

If you know me at all, you are fully aware I am a worrier. I evaluate every single detail I can about a situation until I am too exhausted to take any sort of action. As I hovered over the send button on this email, my over-analysis paralysis was overwhelming. 

What if there is a typo? Did I screw something up? Is this change going to upset people? Should I word this differently? Is it clear enough? How is this going to bite me in the ass?

All those thoughts, worries, and nervous sweats and so little action. 

This situation is ridiculous. It was a single email with a limited audience–and I was laughing at myself when I remembered how anxious it made me. Right now, you might be wondering how this has anything to do with artistic perfection. Let me tell you, all of the anxious tendencies I had in an office setting transferred perfectly into my art business.

What does mental paralysis by perfection look like as an artist?

You should want to do your best when you work on your passion. It’s reasonable to worry about the quality of what you produce, but there are times when those worries will hold you back. Many many times.

Here are some examples of how how you can be held back:

  • Not moving onto the next work of art because you’re stuck on your current project.
  • Not posting on social media, because you don’t have the right caption, photo, or hashtags.
  • Not updating your following on events, sales, or new art.
  • Not applying for an event, because you don’t think your work is good enough yet.
  • Not connecting with other creators, because you don’t think you’re on their level.
  • Not promoting yourself.
  • Not making business cards.
  • Not pricing your work.
  • Not launching an online store or website.
  • Not accepting compliments.

My inaction often comes from my fear of not doing things the right way. The “perfect” way.

Perfection paralysis is a really simple formula. If you find yourself saying anything like: I can’t do X until I do Y. But Y also comes with it’s own barrier–then you might be trapped.

Like this:

“I can’t create an online store until I take nice photos, and I can’t take nice photos until I find a better camera, and I can’t get a better camera until I sell a piece of art to have the money for new equipment, but I can’t sell a piece of art until I have an online store, and good online stores aren’t free either.”

Perfection paralysis. But think about this for a second–

Perfection is Bullsh*t

Unless you are making bridges, buildings, or medical devices–perfection is a waste of time. Mainly because, perfection is subjective. It’s definition is different for everyone.

The best example for the subjective nature of perfection I can think of involves food. Ever sit down with friends or family for dinner and have one person think a meal is too salty and then someone else liberally add salt to their plate? Perfection is preference.

Redefine Perfection if you are a perfectionist

Are you constantly stuck by your need to keep tweaking a project? Maybe one more brush stroke here, or extra shading there. How much time do you spend evaluating what can be changed on your work? Or how often do you do nothing at all because you think you need different tools to even get started?

Start thinking about perfection as “The best I could do in this situation given my skill set and available resources”.

So if you want to start an online store, evaluate the resources you have available and where your skills are. Only have a smart phone camera and $5 in your checking account? Yeah, you can make a store with that. Sure, it may not fit your vision of perfection–but the goal is to get it done and move forward. End the perfection paralysis.

When you know you can do better, you still need to move onto the next project. You will continue to improve with each project you start and finish. If you never finish your current project and just keep tweaking and tweaking and tweaking and tweaking, you deny yourself the opportunity to improve. If you ignore resources you currently have because you know there are better resources out there that you don’t have access to, you force yourself to stay still. No progress. No forward momentum.

When you are at the end of a project, as yourself: Is this the best you could do with your current skill set and resources?

If yes, it’s perfect–move onto the next project.

No? Well, it’s not perfect, but you should still move onto the next project. Take the lessons you’ve learned from that piece of art and apply it to the next. There comes a time where you have to say “It’s good enough” and hit send.  

Post that imperfect art on social media. Start that online store. Sign the corner of that piece you’ve been stuck on. Make business cards out of cardstock and your crappy printer, or paint a cute social media banner for customers to snap a picture. Do what you can with your current skill set and resources today.

***

Does perfection ever hold you back? Do you have any tips for other creators on how to move forward? I’d love to hear from you!

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

Digital Drawing with an iPad and Procreate

*Links contained in this post are affiliate links for Amazon and I will earn a commission if you make a purchase at no additional cost to you. These commissions help fund more content like this, so thank you!

I am not a digital artist and I do not use my current digital drawing tools the their fullest potential. I am a glorified doodler. Though, achieving the crisp detail of my simple doodles in digital format proved to be more complicated than I thought when I started researching products to buy.

I spent months researching digital drawing pads. I wanted to find a way to create my crisp line work digitally with as much ease as I can with pen and paper. This has been a goal of mine for years, but I didn’t want to waste money on tech that I didn’t necessarily need. I tried to get away with cheap alternatives in the past, but ultimately wasted that money as the bargain products I bought were clunky and hard to use right away.

I wanted out of the box, intuitive, easy doodling. I finally convinced myself to increase my budget and buy a product that did everything I wanted (and more!). Through my researching, I binge watched all of this guy’s YouTube videos on digital drawing. Brad Colbow. He is super informative. If you are struggling with figuring out what digital drawing tool is best for you, his videos will help.

After all my research, I bought an iPad, Apple Pencil, and Procreate. My first ever Apple products.

My Struggle With Apple Products

I am frugal AF. If I can get away with a cheaper version of a product, I’m going to do it. Which explains why I have avoided Apple products most of my life. I bought a Zune instead of an iPod. I’ve always used Android instead of an iPhone. I’m Windows OS all the way. But, when I started playing with different drawing tablets, I couldn’t deny how perfect the iPad and Apple Pencil were at accomplishing exactly what I wanted.

I was torn between a Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 and the iPad (Check out Brad’s video on the Tab S4), but Procreate is only available on Apple products and after testing it out at Best Buy (because that’s what Best Buy is for now), I had to go Apple all the way.

The Products I purchased

  • Apple iPad Pro 11 inch, 64GB (Amazon)
  • Apple Pencil 2nd Generation (Amazon)
  • Procreate (You can buy this from the app store when you have the iPad)

Why I LOVE my iPad with Procreate

I have been using my iPad for around 6 months now, and I love it more with each doodle I make with Procreate. Here’s why:

  • It’s user friendly. Once you have Procreate installed and your Pencil synced, you can start doodling right away.
  • The 11 inch screen is a great size and I can rest my hand comfortably on it while drawing.
  • The Pencil mimics hand to paper perfectly. I draw a lot of lines, and I need a digital product that won’t lag. I also need the digital pen to make marks where it’s supposed to. If you try using cheaper options, you’ll notice how the line you draw can be a millimeter or more away from where you’re actually holding the utensil on the screen. That really messes with my line work. I have no issues like this with the iPad.
  • In Procreate, you can easily zoom in and out with two fingers and turn your canvas when needed. No shortcut clicks, no scrolling on a screen. It’s super intuitive and allows me to work like I do with physical pen and paper. I can go with the flow.
  • When finished, I can easily export jpeg files to my Google Drive and move to other devices.
  • When you have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, you can export your file from Procreate and open it in Photoshop or Illustrator on a different device. I sometimes switch between my iPad and my laptop when working on a file.
  • Procreate records your process while you work. You can export time lapse videos easily. This was one of the first things I did with my iPad in Procreate to test the recording feature:

There are a lot of other perks about the iPad and Procreate, but those options were most important to me and my drawing style.

Now–Here are a couple of things I don’t like:

  • The battery drains when in sleep mode. I usually get distracted and don’t use the iPad every day, so I always find a dead battery when I go to doodle. I should probably just power it down between uses…
  • My hand sometimes sticks to the screen, but I fixed that with wearing this weird half glove from a Huion tablet I bought a while ago. Works great!
  • The price. Yup. Like all Apple products, the price is inflated. You could buy an older model or try a generic digital pen to buy–but I just went for it and called it an early birthday present for myself. You could also explore the Android route or wait for Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals.

What I use my IPad with Procreate for:

  • Doodling on the go- it’s hard to make a messy art process portable, so when I travel, I bring my iPad with to create art when I’m away from the studio.
  • Mock-ups for clients- Instead of sending over pictures of a rough sketch on paper, I can create detailed and colorful mock-ups for commissioned work. I like to take pictures of a client’s space and then Photoshop the mock-up into the photo. See the example below:
  • Mocking up my art mid-process- Sometimes I get stuck on a piece and don’t know where I want to take it. When that happens, I take a picture of my work with the iPad, import it into Procreate, and experiment with a couple of different directions. It takes away the pressure of “screwing up” a piece.
  • Finished digital works of art for licensing- if you work with companies to get your art printed on every day items, you often need a very large file to preserve detail during printing. Creating digital works that are already hi-res or in vector form allows you to scale to much larger printing formats. (You can create vector work with Adobe Illustrator.)
  • Designs for sites like Society6– I’ve recently been adding digitally created images to my Society6 shop to expand the products I can offer.

***

An iPad can be used for a crap ton of tasks. I bought it as a drawing tablet, but obviously it is so much more than that. Even though I will always prefer working with physical art supplies more than digital, using Procreate on an iPad has helped give me a new perspective on my creative process, and opened up new possibilities for my work.

Feel free to ask me more questions if you’re thinking about buying any of these products. I’m happy to share more of my opinions. Reach out through email or Instagram DMs.

If you want to learn more about the tools I use in the studio, let me know through Instagram or Email, or consider becoming a Patron of mine to support more content like this. Now go get messy and share your creations on Instagram using #messyeverafter!

-Kelly

View other products I recommend on Amazon.

SUPPORT MESSY EVER AFTER ON PATREON:

A lot of artists don’t like to share their secrets, but I’m an open book. If you enjoy the content I create and the advice I give to other creators, please consider becoming Patron of mine on Patreon. Pledging as little as $1 a month supports this content and my career as an artist.

Further Reading:

How to Feed Off Your Own Creativity

Creativity doesn’t come from nothing. The creative mind requires input to create output. I’ve written about how to find inspiration to create, as well as how to find your style as an artist, and in both posts I encourage artists to look to the outside world for inspiration. It’s an easy place to get the input you need to kick start your creativity, but today I want to talk about how to find inspiration through your own creative world.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with creating through the inspiration you get from the outside world, but when you are dedicated to finding your true voice as an artist and want to push yourself as far as you can, then learning how to feed off your own creativity is a great practice.

Once you take in enough input from the world around you to get a sense of who you are as a creator, it’s time to let that energy build inside of you and see how you can grow in isolation. Like a closed terrarium; you have everything you need to creatively flourish within. If you have studied the masters, learned basic art techniques and the principles of art and design, and have gotten a sense of your art style, then you may be ready to practice your creativity in isolation.

Here’s how you can do it:

1.Disconnect from other creator’s work.

I did this when I needed an art cleanse for my mental health, but this is beneficial even when you are in a healthy mental state. Mute/unfollow other creators on social media. The reason I want you to do this is because we can’t help be influenced by the work we consume. If you want to see how you can feed off your own creativity, you have to stop “eating” other content.

Stop consuming the work of other creators in your field. It doesn’t have to be forever. Maybe it will be for a few weeks or a couple of months. It all depends on how you’re feeling. The point is to make your artistic voice easier to hear.

2.Use what you have available.

If you feel you have taken in enough input from the outside world, then you likely have a crap ton of art supplies at your disposal by now. I want you to use what you currently have before even thinking about stepping into a store or researching new products. Again, like a terrarium, you have all you need around you.

Use the watercolors you have stashed in a drawer. Flip through half used sketch books and repurpose the paper. Try that acrylic set you got for Christmas that you still haven’t opened. There is a lot of creative potential hidden in what we already have. If you feel uninspired, go through the motions anyway. Or-

3.Create using prompts/step out of your comfort zone.

I don’t want you to spend too much time online when trying to feed off your own creativity, but prompts can be a really helpful catalyst. If you have supplies that don’t inspire you, do a quick Google search for creative prompts. Or make your own. The goal is to do something you don’t usually do. Paint a landscape, sit in your living room and draw your surroundings. Use one color and experiment with shadows and highlights. Take what you have around you and look at it with a new perspective. Explore how you can manipulate your current style using different mediums or colors.

Don’t look at how other artists do it. All you need when working from a prompt is text. An idea. Paint a red banana. Can you picture it? That image in your mind is yours to feed off of.

4.Create often and complete the creative cycle.

The creative process is a cycle. The more you can work through that cycle, the more work you can create. Input–>incubation–>creation–>rest. Do this weekly. Do this every day. Do this multiple times a day with small 15 minute prompts. Do this as much as you can. The hard part in the beginning will be finding input in isolation–but it might not be as hard as you think.

Have you ever tried to remake a piece of your art? Can you replicate it exactly? Probably not, unless you are a perfectionist. Even if we make the same exact piece of art every day, there will be changes from piece to piece. Change is inevitable and this works in your favor when feeding off your own creativity. Start with your current art style, make art inspired by that, do it often, and you will inevitably see evolution.

5.Capture even the roughest of ideas.

This can be as simple as capturing ideas in a journal, doing light sketching, collecting sources of inspiration like color swatches or testing new techniques and saving the practice work. You can’t predict when inspiration will strike. When you capture ideas and put them away for a later date, they can act as a starting point for your next work. You can stash them in a drawer for a dull day, or you can start pinning your ideas to a wall and look at them frequently. Or try both and see what works best for you.

Capture all of your ideas. It doesn’t matter how incomplete or rough they are. They can help you later.

6.Lastly, look back at your older work.

To feed off your own creativity, you need to look back at your older creations. When you create often and capture all of your ideas, you are going to have a butt-ton of stuff you can look through to spark new inspiration. Don’t let judgmental thoughts invade this exercise. I don’t care if the work sucked. Look at the techniques you used, the color palette, the subject matter, and more. Pull ideas from the past. Recreate the work with your current skills. Interpret the work and figure out what you were trying to say. Can you refine the message? Do you have a different perspective to approach the work now?

When you look back at older work, you go through a creative recycling process. Old ideas get transformed into something new. If you keep working through the creative process (input–>incubation–>creation–>rest) by only using your own work and ideas from the past as input, you will start to see your voice and style develop even more.

***

If you try working through this practice of creativity in isolation and you can’t seem to produce anything–then you may simply need more input from the outside world. There is no wrong way to create. Right now, I try to find about 75% of my creative input within isolation, but I can never completely cut myself off from the outside world. That would be no fun.

So what do you think? Are you ready to try and feed off your own creative energy?

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading: