“You may say I can draw, but I can’t. It takes forever to get a drawing that looks right. I erase and draw and erase and draw. There’s no way I can just look at something and make a quick sketch. No way.”
That’s the gist of a recent conversation I had with a potential student. She’d sent me a drawing and the drawing was good, but she was so down on her own abilities that she couldn’t see it.
I understood her comments because I felt the same way about my drawing skills for many years and I still wrestle with doubt. I replied with encouraging words and personal testimony, but as I did, I realized she isn’t the only artist mired in self-doubt or disappointment.
Odd as it may seem, most artists never truly leave that green-eyed monster of doubt behind. It’s always lurking, waiting to pounce. So if you’re battling lack of confidence or self-doubt today, here are 5 tips for gaining confidence in your abilities:
1. Practice a little patience
When I first started drawing (over 50 years ago) it seemed to take days to get a drawing right and I never liked the drawings when they were finished. There always seemed to be room for improvement. A lot of room.
But now that I look back, I realize that no one starts out being amazing. It takes time, and what we need most is patience.
Patience while we improve existing skills. Patience while we gain new skills.
If you are patient and don’t give up, you will see improvements and those improvements—whether large or small—will boost your confidence.
2. Think of your art as a journey, not a destination
That may sound cliche, but it’s true. All of art is a learning process, a journey; there is no “destination.” And that’s not a bad thing! After all, once you reach a destination, there’s no motivation for going further.
So when it comes to improving my art, I prefer to simply focus on making every drawing better than the previous one. I suggest you do likewise.
Sure, some drawings will fall short of this goal, but those drawings are bumps in the road. Don’t let them stop you. If you strive to make every drawing or painting or sculpture better than the previous one, it won’t take long before you’ll see dramatic improvements.
3. Always be learning
Art classes and workshops can be expensive, but don’t let finances hold you back. . . there are other ways to learn. For example, library books on your medium, method, or subject are always a good place to start. There are also plenty of online tutorials and videos if you have internet access.
Longer online classes are always available and many are free. Craftsy is a good place to get started because I know they offer a nice selection of free video classes on a variety of subjects. (EmptyEasel is an affiliate for Craftsy, so you may have seen them mentioned on EE before.)
Right now they have a lot of drawing classes on sale, many of which are 50% off. I’ve looked into them myself because there’s always something to learn.
In many cases, just learning something new is the best way to create confidence in your work. Even if it has nothing to do with your usual subject, style, medium or method.
4. Don’t compare your art
It can be frustrating when you compare your work with that by another artist, especially if you haven’t been an artist for long. It seems like you’ll never be as good. Those really experienced artists make what they do look easy—even though it’s not!
The thing to remember is that they’ve been doing this for a long time. Once you’ve put in the years of drawing that they have, you’ll be making it look easy too.
For myself, it’s easier to draw now than it was fifty years ago, but I still remember the frustrations of trying to get something to look right and never quite succeeding. I also remember looking at the paintings of other artists and longing for the ability to do what they were doing.
It’s all right to look at other artists’ work and learn from them. Artists have learned how to draw and paint that way for centuries. But don’t look at the work of other artists and use it as a measuring stick for how good (or bad) you perceive your work to be. That’s a ticket to discouragement, disillusionment, and failure if ever there was one.
5. Don’t give up
This is probably the most important word of encouragement I can offer. Why? Because if you give up, you’re guaranteed to never improve as an artist and you’ll torpedo your self-confidence into the bargain.
Even if you’re not improving as much as you like, keep on drawing or painting (or whatever you do) and I promise you’ll learn new things and gain new skills. The more you know, the more your confidence will improve, too!
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