Do you make art? Then I bet my new bottle of Teal Golden Fluid Acrylic that you’ve had at least one of these thoughts enter your mind as an artist. I have personally experienced all 8 of these thoughts in the last couple of weeks.
I’ve learned it really doesn’t matter where you are in your career or what kind of artist you may be, we creators have busy brains. Artists can’t help but second guess themselves as creators and apply too much judgment to the process. Honestly, the right dose of that critical thinking rockets us forward. Too much holds us back.
Let’s step into the brain of a creator. Here are 8 Thoughts You’ll Have as an Artist:
Thought #1 “My art sucks.”
Congrats! Your inner critic is an a**hole. Welcome to the club. Every artist has at some point looked at their work and thought “This is crap.”
Sometimes it doesn’t match up to our vision or our skills are really amateur. Sometimes we didn’t eat enough for breakfast and there is a full moon rising. Who knows.
There isn’t a universal definition for good or bad art. It is completely subjective. I can promise you that no matter what you create, there will always be someone who likes it and someone who hates it. Always remember, when you think “My art sucks”, that’s just your opinion. It’s not fact. Don’t let it keep you from creating. Walk away. Eat an entire pineapple. Then get back to work and pay no mind to the judgmental critiques coming from the corner of your mind.
Thought #2 “I’m not a real artist.”
It’s easy to feel like an impostor in the art world. Many people try to rigidly declare exactly what makes a person a “real” artist. When I talk to those people, even I think “wow–I don’t think I’m a real artist…”
It’s fairly simple in my opinion. If you make art, you’re an artist.
Though, in our heads, it doesn’t feel that simple because there are different kinds of artists and we very clearly can fit into specific categories. So, if all you are seeing around you are abstract expressionists and you work with hyperrealism–then yeah, you might find yourself thinking you don’t fit in with them so you must not be a real artist.
Or maybe you just picked up a paintbrush a month ago so you don’t feel the right to claim the title without paying your dues. Maybe you have to sell ‘x’ amount of pieces, have an art degree, enter into galleries, have a large following on Instagram, or have some art official person stand over you with a sword and mumble something in a British accent “I declare thee, ARTIST!”
The only difference between an artist and someone who doesn’t believe they are an artist is a thought.
Thought #3 “That artist is so much better than me.”
Yup. And there are thousands if not more artists who stand above you on the completely arbitrary hierarchy of creators. There are also thousands of artists who may look at your art and think the same about their own work.
One morning you’re scrolling through Instagram and find an awesome new artist who does a similar style to you, but way better. Crap, right? What’s the point of going on?
I’m here to tell you, ultimately it doesn’t matter how you compare to other artists. Yes, we can learn from other creators, and allow them to help push our boundaries and skills, but each artist needs to find their own voice. That artist with a similar style has their own story to tell through their art. They use tools and techniques that speak to you, and you can learn from them, but don’t let another artist’s work discourage you.
Take what you like from the artists around you, and use it to refine YOUR story. I promise someone will always do something better than you. Just look at them as your teachers.
Thought #4 “What if I screw up and waste supplies?”
You’re going to. That’s half the fun/torture. Supplies can be really fricken expensive. I used to be terrified of ‘wasting’ the beautiful nectar of the paint gods when I was super poor and wasn’t making sales.
Fear is annoying. When you are afraid of ruining canvases or wasting the good stuff, it changes your approach to the creative process. It’s like me on a dance floor before alcohol kicks in. Rigid, nervous sweating, wide-eyed. It takes a lot of effort to get past that fear.
But I have tips! If money is the concern, start with budget materials. You don’t HAVE to buy the expensive stuff to be an artist. Get cheap canvases and student-grade acrylics. Practice with the crappy stuff until your craft becomes second nature. Then upgrade to the medium-good stuff and then to the really good stuff. I guarantee you will have a better appreciation for the quality after learning with budget materials.
Cheap supplies don’t make you any less of a creator. They make you fiscally responsible and help take away the fear of screwing up. You have to be ready and willing to fail.
Thought #5 “I want to give up.”
It’s normal to want to give up on something that is difficult. Art is hard. To an outsider, the life of an artist might look like it’s stress-free fun times forever. In reality, making art feels like work. Truthfully, I’m kind of miserable at least 25% of my time creating as a full-time artist.
“This sucks, this sucks, this sucks. What is WRONG with you?! Why would you pick that color?! It’s ruined. Bah, okay keep going. You got this. Nope. This sucks. How did I make it worse?! Oh hey, wait, no that looks okay. Now we are getting somewhere.”
You can try to quit art—but you’ll be back for more. I’ve found that art is an addiction. I’ve tried to leave it in my past before and it just crept back into my life. It starts slow. “Oh, this pen is nice. Maybe I’ll just doodle a bit…” And then BAM! I’m back at Blick Art Materials with a $100 of colored pencils in my cart.
When you want to give up, you’ve reached the limit of your comfort zone. This is the place where you grow. Keep pushing. But if you need to take a break, art will wait for you until you are ready again.
Thought #6 “Sweet Jesus, this is amazing!”
This is my favorite thought and feeling as an artist. It comes at that moment when you are in the zone. Time flies by and every move you make is utter perfection. Your materials are cooperating, the birds are chirping outside, and you hardly have to think about what you’re doing.
If only that feeling could be bottled. If only this is what making art always felt like.
Thought #7 “It’s finished! …Now what?!”
Like reading a good book, reaching the end of a piece can feel like losing a friend. What are you supposed to do now?!
Just start another one? What if you don’t have any new ideas? What if you suddenly can’t make attractive art? Will this next piece be better or worse? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?!
Okay, not everyone has a full-on existential crisis when they finish a piece, but if you do, you’re not alone. There is a sort of emptiness left behind when the creative process is over. You’ve spent hours giving life to a new creation and suddenly it’s no longer a part of you. Understandably, you might not know what to do next.
My advice: Eat a taco. Clean your studio space. Stare longingly at your beautiful paint-covered baby. Then grab your paintbrush and get back to work.
Thought #8 “I hate it. I want it gone.”
Pieces once loved become unbearable to look at. You can’t help but explore all of the possibilities to get them out of your sight. Give them away, throw them in the dumpster, light them on fire, paint over them, host a massive art sale, and more. Doesn’t matter how it happens, but you want them gone.
The art purge. I know the feeling well.
What you are experiencing isn’t an objective assessment of the artwork. Often, this feeling comes from moving into a new head space. What you once enjoyed now looks hideous, and it’s all based on your perspective.
When I suddenly start to hate old pieces of mine, it’s because I’ve moved on from whatever emotions I was feeling at that time. In those situations, don’t do anything drastic like destroy the work in a fit of rage.
Consider having a clearance section in your online store and at art events. Make the pieces available to the public, but hide them from your sight while you work on new things. You may hate it, but someone else will love it.
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P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.