From the time you could hold a pencil, you’ve cluttered your parents’ fridge with pictures you’ve drawn. You’ve sketched all over your notes in school. Come to think of it, your notebook has more stories and poems than actual notes. You’re an artist, and you’re good at it. So, you buy an actual sketchbook and art pencils…and they’re never used… or, if they are, all you have are a few unfinished sketches to show for yourself. What happened? It’s not that you lack talent, or even want-to. You just encountered a few personal obstacles. Let’s look at six common ones.
Ironically, you need a healthy dose of it to be a half decent artist. You can’t just throw stuff onto paper and expect it to look good. You need to make committed strokes and edit them to make them look right. The trouble is becoming so fixated on making it perfect, you become paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake. Also, you can get so caught up in making one aspect of your art perfect, you never get to anything else. You know you struggle with hands, so you spend so much time on them you forget to finish the face. Either case is detrimental to getting anywhere as an artist.
The best countermeasure is to plan out your art before you commit to it. Start in light pencil with the general shapes, then refine your shapes into finer details. When you’re satisfied with your sketch, you can go in with darker pencil or pen. In the case of a writer, start with a general outline of what happens, or what you want to say. Make a list of scenes, then flesh them out from there. If you’re still worried about mistakes, remember you’re your own worst critic and it’s probably better than you think it is. Chances are if you’re satisfied with it, it’s ok.
Even if it is lousy, worst case scenario you have to start over. You hear it all the time but it’s still true, no one is perfect. Not to use this as a crutch, though. Don’t just overlook your mistakes, learn from them and resolve to avoid repeating them in the future. It helps to know you will get better with practice.
Harsh, I know. But let’s face it. As much fun as art is, it’s work. You have to put in effort to make your drawings look right. You have to practice every day to refine your skill. You have to plan your story’s world and develop your characters in order to write anything worth reading. If your brain registers art as something hard, it can be hard to move past that and make yourself pick up your pencil or sit down to your computer and do it.
When you feel yourself wimping out, just remind yourself of the end result of your efforts. You’ll have an awesome drawing, or your story/idea will be in a form you can communicate to another person without skipping around as much. Furthermore, there’s kind of a euphoria that comes from putting in the effort to create something, as opposed to the lethargic crummy feeling you get from laying on the couch eating snacks all afternoon. If this doesn’t help, you can go online and look at other people’s art for inspiration. Although this can backfire.(More on this further down.) Seeing the results of others’ hard work can inspire you to do the same.
You sit down to draw, paint, write, animate, etc. and the next thing you know you’ve been on Pinterest for 2 hours pinning cat pictures, or playing mobile games until you have a callous on your finger. (not saying I’ve done that… ok I have… In fact, I’m struggling with this one even now!) This one is huge, and it’s the deadly little sister of Laziness. It’s human nature to try to take the easiest path. To your brain it sounds more fun, and like less effort, to browse Facebook than to put our ideas in a tangible, communicable form. We can see artwork as a daunting task, and our distraction of choice is an escape.
The most obvious way to counter this one is to remove the weapon of mass distraction. Disable the internet on your computer while you’re working. Put your phone or tablet out of your arm’s reach so you’re less likely to reach for it. In some cases, this isn’t an option, like if you need to do research, look up reference material, you’re using your mobile device for music, or you could be like me and figure it’s better to just soldier through the distraction. In this case, ask yourself before you turn to social media if you will be glad you spent the time that way. Would you rather have refined your art skills, or gazed at pictures of your celebrity/fictional crush for hours on end. What will you have to show for yourself that you will be proud of?
Time is precious. It’s hard to find time between work, school, eating, exercising, sleeping, etc. to sit down and get any idea out in a communicable form. Yet ironically enough, we still have time to check Facebook, and watch TV.
One thing that helps is to treat time like you would treat money. Unless you’re a really compulsive buyer, you won’t spend your whole paycheck on frivolities. You’ll buy a few here and there. But for the most part, you will save your money for the things you really need and value. You should view time the same way. View everything as having a time “price tag” on it and ask yourself if it’s worth the cost. If it’s not, don’t do it. If you do this and still don’t have time to create, you either have too much to do, or you need to find those short dead times like riding the subway or waiting on your kids to get out of school, or even just 30 minutes before bed to pursue your creative endeavors.
Comparing to Other Artists
I can look at my own work and think it’s decent. But then I can look at my sister-in-law’s drawings or my classmates’ animation and feel like I may as well quit trying because my work pales in comparison to theirs. No matter how great you are, you’ll always find someone better. This is true of even the best artists out there.
The key is to resist the urge to compare yourself just on the basis of the art itself. In the case of myself and my sister-in-law, she has been seriously pursuing art for years, whereas I was a bit more casual about it, and let myself get discouraged when it didn’t turn out like I hoped. So, of course hers looked a bit better because she had practiced more. The same was true of my animation classmates. I was trying to get back into it after 5 years out of the industry. They had worked on shows or had just graduated from art school. Naturally, they knew more what they were doing and it showed.
So, rather than comparing and letting yourself get discouraged, let those you consider ‘better’ inspire you to strive to do your best and be constantly looking for ways to improve yourself. Don’t give up. You’ll get there!
Lack of Ideas/Inspiration
I often find myself staring at a blank page or a blank Open Office document with my head equally empty. It can be hard to motivate yourself to any sort of artistic expression when you don’t feel you have anything to express. It can make you succumb to all the obstacles previously listed. Then, one hour later, the page is still empty.
Honestly, this is a tricky one. The best advice I have to offer is, just start drawing or writing! Draw what you like. For me it was cats. I filled pages with cat drawings. Then I started drawing the characters that formed in my head that I didn’t know where to use. If that doesn’t help, find an art prompt site or app. One resource I’ve found helpful is artprompts.org. Another thing you can do is think of something you want to get better at drawing, and draw that. I struggle with hands, so I try to draw something that will push me to improve my hand drawing.
It helped my writing to write the fanfiction I had in my head. Although I don’t intend to post it anywhere mostly for legal reasons, it helped get my creative juices flowing. It also gave me some practice writing, which is always a good thing. Often once you start drawing/writing, the levee breaks, and ideas flow out. They key is starting!
Hopefully this little list helped you identify some things that keep you from reaching your creative potential. I know it’s challenged me to write this post because I struggle with all six of these. I’ll try to take my own advice, and I hope you find it helpful, too. All that’s left now is to get off the internet and DO IT!