And making a living with art? Well, that can feel impossible. I know; I’ve been there.
A short time ago, I wrote an article on how to finish what you start. Maybe you’ve struggled with that, too. It’s so easy to set something aside—with good intentions sometimes—and never go back to it. I face this struggle all the time.
Almost every one of the hundreds of paintings and drawings I’ve finished over the years has reach a crisis at some point. Either I messed something up, needed to make major changes halfway through, or simply got tired of it. Whatever the cause, the result was always the same: I wanted to quit!
Of course, I didn’t quit on very many of those paintings or I wouldn’t have had consistent portrait clients for nearly 40 years.
But that desire to give up? It’s there for all of us. Here’s my advice for overcoming it:
1. Remember that it’s normal
Life isn’t easy, and neither is making art. Sooner or later, you will reach a point of frustration that has you thinking about giving up. The most important thing to remember at that point is that it’s normal to sometimes feel that way. Accept the fact and face it head on.
Your situation may not look any less frightening afterward, but if you also remind yourself that this moment will pass, it won’t look quite as intimidating.
So whenever you find yourself thinking about giving up. . .
Take a deep breath.
2. Don’t make a rash decision
The worst thing you can do when you feel like giving up is make a decision in the heat of the moment. Give yourself at least 24 hours to clear your mind. The bigger the decision, the more time you may need.
When I’m thinking of giving up on a drawing, I allow a day or two, or sometimes a weekend, to decide whether or not to continue with that drawing. Then I look at the drawing with a fresh eye and then decide what to do.
For bigger decisions, like closing a blog or changing artistic direction, I give myself as much as 30 days. While I’m waiting, I may also do some simple analysis by listing all the reasons to quit and all the reasons not to quit. Sometimes the analysis is more in-depth and may involve journaling or research into whatever decision I’m facing.
Sometimes there will be no decision to make after that time passes. Thoughts of giving up will be a fading memory.
But even if they aren’t, you’ll be able to take a more logical and cool-headed look at things and that will help you make a better decision.
3. Go back to your first love
I once talked with an artist who was so frustrated with her work that she no longer knew why she was painting. After looking at her website, I advised her to read her own page describing why she painted.
She did, and afterward, she thanked me for pointing her in that direction. Reading her own description of why she painted reminded her of the “why” and helped her see past the current frustrations.
I’ve used the same tactic on myself. It’ll work for you, too.
If you’ve ever written about why you make art, go back and read those words the next time you’re thinking about chucking it all.
And if you haven’t written about why you make art, do so now. Write art a “love letter” and keep it in a place where it can be found when you need it. Print it and hang on the wall in the studio if you have to.
We all need occasional reminders. Whether your reminder is published or not, it’s probably your best weapon against thoughts of giving up.
4. Remember the joy
Remember how you felt when you finished your first drawing or painting?
Remember the rush that came with your first sale or gallery showing?
If your art is also your business, it’s very easy to let the activity of creating art and running a business run roughshod over the less tangible parts of the process. After all, when it comes to making a sale to pay the bills, joyful creation takes a beating.
But if you want to overcome the “I Quit” monster, you need to keep the joy of creation fresh. There simply is no way around this.Whenever I go to the studio because I have to, it’s easy to let thoughts of quitting intrude.
But if you’re able to remind yourself why you create, and once again feel the sheer pleasure of it. . . those thoughts of quitting? I promise they won’t stand a chance!
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