“Do the professional artists still have the “oh-gosh-I-really-can’t-draw” feeling at the beginning of their work? Most amateur artists and hobbyist seem to suffer from it time to time.”
To work as an artist, you have to be mentally very strong. Making art is like plunging yourself into the great unknown, where nothing is guaranteed, there are no correct answers, and nothing is predictable. It’s like being dropped in the middle of a foreign country with no resources. Essentially, that’s what happens every time you sit down to make art. It’s a pretty frightening process if you think about it in those terms.
Because art is a hands-on experience, there is a common myth that making art is all about what your hands can physically do. I’ve seen students make incredible progress with their work in a span of 15 minutes. It wasn’t because somehow their hands magically gained an ability to physically handle their material within those 15 minutes, rather it was because they changed their mental approach to their work. It doesn’t matter how skillful your hands are if you don’t have a strong mindset.
How you think about your process and work affects everything. What all of the great artists have in common is they all firmly believed in their vision, and their work exuded a sense of confidence. They could stand behind every action in their artwork with certainty. One of my all-time favorite drawings is this ink drawing below by Rembrandt. Ink can be a scary medium to use: you can’t erase it, so every stroke you put down is permanent. In this Rembrandt drawing below, there is an undeniable assertiveness in every mark. His intense sense of confidence shows throughout the drawing through the boldness of his strokes.
Ink Drawing by Rembrandt
To work professionally as an artist means having to confront these issues on a daily basis. For this reason, professionals have to figure out ways to cope with this challenge. If they didn’t, there’s no way they would survive long term. The fear and doubt in the creative process never goes away professionals, rather they come up with concrete strategies to deal with it.
I’m a professional artist, and I worry all the time about final results and I doubt whether I can rise to my own expectations. I want so much to do well with my work that I end up exerting a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. Oddly enough, one of the best strategies that I’ve found to deal with that fear and doubt is to just not think about it. If I over scrutinize the situation I end up actually heightening my worries, so I turn my brain off and “jump off the cliff”.
I focus intensely on the task at hand, thinking about formal elements that I want to stress in the work. It sounds silly, but I tell myself that I kick ass and that I totally know what I’m doing. (even if that’s the complete opposite of what I am actually feeling) I also never critique myself when I’m in the trenches of working, rather I work continuously until I’ve reached a good stopping point. Then I put the work away where I can’t see it, so that I’m not tempted to judge it prematurely and worry myself more.
It can be mentally straining to handle these concerns on a daily basis, and I know that I still struggle every time I sit down to work. However, with time and experience, these strategies eventually become routines that kick in naturally.
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Ask the Art Prof Live is a weekly live video broadcast on my Facebook page where I provide professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015. Ask me your questions by commenting on the live video post as the video streams, and I’ll answer right away. I’ll discuss being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more. Like my Facebook page and you’ll receive a notification when each live video begins.
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