The other day I told a friend of mine: I can’t art. I had been trying a new technique, and it triggered a massive bout of self-doubt.
I couldn’t grasp the method, and nothing I was doing was coming out like the tutorials I had been watching. I recognized what was happening, that self-doubt was creeping in. It, after some more votes of confidence, convinced me to write this article. Yes, I have self-doubt when it comes to writing too.
Self-doubt and I have a very intimate relationship. Over a decade ago, I had such a severe case of self-doubt that I put down my tablet and didn’t pick it up again until recently. It hurt. Every time I thought about trying to draw something, I would talk myself out of it. I’m not as good as others. My art is garbage. Even the times I would doodle on a napkin would rebirth this monster.
The voice inside our heads telling us we can’t do something because of fear is the number one killer of new creatives. I say creatives, in this statement at least, rather than just artists as it will affect anyone trying a creative skill at some point. Writers, artists, photographers are just some of the big-name creatives that everyone recognizes. We allow this voice to overrule our thoughts and beat ourselves down until we stop doing what created the self-doubt in the first place.
While I will never say I have entirely beaten self-doubt, I will tell you I’ve found some tricks to quiet it. And I’m going to share them with you in hopes of keeping another creator from stopping what they love.
Types of Self-Doubt
I’m sure you’re asking yourself why are we going through the types of self-doubt. Well, it’s essential to recognize that voice. To quiet the voice inside your head saying, “I can’t art,” you need to know what it might be saying.
Comparing Yourself to Others
“I just watched this awesome tutorial from my favorite artist, and they’re so great, but I suck. I’m nowhere near their level.”
This is probably one of the most prevalent causes of self-doubt, especially in new artists. You’re learning, so you’re watching a ton of tutorials, examining other people’s art and then you look at your own. It looks nothing like that tutorial you just watched even though you poured your soul into it.
Frustrated With Your Progress
“I keep doing studies, and I’m not getting anywhere. I’m not learning fast enough.”
This one can hit artists of any level but tends to occur most often when you’re attempting to learn a new skill (such as I was). This thought can become even stronger if you’ve put money into your studies by joining an art school.
Lack of Confidence
“I’m an aspiring artist. I’ll show you my art when I’m better at it.”
Lack of confidence can be insidious. Note the thought I used to describe it. It doesn’t sound so bad. There are hundreds of tweets out there of artists trying to pick others up and build up their confidence with the simple statement of: “You are not an aspiring artist; you are an artist.”
“Why Am I Doing This” Syndrome
“Why am I doing this? I’m wasting time and money on something that will never have any return, and I’ll never be good at it.”
This type hits me pretty hard personally quite often, which is why I’ve included it. I have a lot of anxiety surrounding money and time, which only gets worse as I get older — spending money and time into something that seems like a risk pushes that self-doubt meter to overdrive.
Fear of Failure
“I’m not going to try this new thing because I’ll lose my followers.”
While this thought may seem like it will only hit artists that have become established, it can strike new artists as well. You’ve gained a few people that like your style or what you’re drawing, and you want to try something new. But if you do, are you going to lose your audience? This is a form of a fear of failure, brought on by the need for external reassurance.
There is no one specific thought to describe an “off day” when it comes to self-doubt. These off days can be caused by having a bad day at work, being sick, major life events, and a plethora of other things. I mention it because it’s essential to recognize that outside factors can influence the volume of your inner voice.
A Brief Note About Social Media
Social media has a significant role to play in artists today, especially digital artists. As such, I’ve dedicated an entire section to it that you can read further down.
So we’ve identified some common thoughts that revolve around self-doubt. Now, let’s turn down the volume on that inner voice that can kill your passion for art.
Quiet Down The Self-Doubt Voice
Notice I didn’t say silence the voice. Sometimes, a moderate amount of self-doubt is right. It is an indicator that you recognize you want to improve. It’s only when your inner voice stops you in your tracks or starts to affect your mental state that it becomes harmful. That’s when you want to quiet it, if not mute the voice entirely for a time. So let’s go through some ways you can take control of the volume button.
Build A Support Structure
I mentioned this in the post about art block, but I’ll state it again here: build yourself a support structure of friends or family that will lift you when you’re drowning. I started this article saying that I went to a friend and said: “I can’t art.” That friend told me, “That’s not true.” I’ve built a relationship with this friend, by being honest with them about my struggles with self-doubt. They know that when I come to them with such a statement, they need to do their best to pick me up again.
Reaching out is going to be hard for some people. Those of us with social anxiety may have a stigma about reaching out. Sometimes we don’t want to burden the people we’re close to. A way around that would be to find an open forum such as an Art Discord channel and letting yourself open up there.
Be careful with using these friends and this group for critiques on your work, though. You may have trained these people to help battle your self-doubt, but they may not recognize self-doubt from asking for a critique.
Look At Older Art
In their artist spotlight, Joel mentioned that you should hang onto your old artwork. Why? It’s not only important to be able to judge your progress, but it can help lower the volume on your inner voice.
Look at not only your progress but if you’re proud of a piece you did, look at that. You did it once; you can do it again. You’re continually improving and growing.
A word of caution about this method, however. You need to put a dead stop to the voice that says, “I did this once, but I’ll never be this good again.” It’s another form of self-doubt.
Try Something Else
You’ve been beating your head against a wall in your learning progress, or even making progress on an art piece of hours, days, even weeks. Your inner voice grows louder and louder saying, “I can’t art.” I was coming up against a brick wall when trying to put a piece into color from greyscale. My friend gave me a great piece of advice: “Put that away and try something else. You can always come back to it another time.”
I fought with that advice for a bit internally. Not finishing pieces contributes to my fear of failure. But I took a breath and realized that I’d been merely building that voice a bullhorn by stressing myself over my lack of ability to get the concept I was trying to learn. It was starting to spiral into other thoughts of “I’ll never be as good as that person” and “I’m not learning fast enough.”
I started a new piece. I fought with it for a while, but I came out ahead by doing things I was already mostly familiar with. It helped.
Take a (Timed) Break
Sometimes, you need to step away to clear your head. This is completely okay, I promise. You can come back to your art with fresh eyes and a quieter mind. Treat yourself to maybe playing a video game, going for a walk, or even just taking a nap.
But put a time limit on it.
This method to quiet the inner voice of self-doubt can be fraught with issues if you don’t have some self-discipline. You start avoiding doing art to keep the voice quiet. Your break of an hour to clear your head turns into a few hours. And then a day. And then, ten years. Set a loose time in your head of “I’ll go do some more art later today” and stick to it, even if it’s just for five more minutes before bed.
Remember, You Aren’t Alone
With my most recent bout of self-doubt, I utilized my Art Discords as well as my friends because I knew the severity of the volume of this voice and how quickly I needed to silence it. I recently joined a Discord server of an artist that streams their art. I love how down to earth they are and how enthusiastic they are about their work. I saw they had a channel labeled “Art Therapy Group” and posted that I was having issues with self-doubt. Not only that, I was having doubts that writing this article was going to do any good.
I was surprised when the artist responded to me with: “Just know that we all go through it, no matter what level we’re at.”
I knew this, rationally, at the back of my mind. But to see it staring me in the face in print from an artist that has thousands of viewers and works in the games industry was a bold and stark reminder.
All artists experience self-doubt.
You aren’t alone. Put that on a post-it note if you need to. Refer to it if the voice becomes too much. That artist you’re watching? They’ve had self-doubt at some point and kept going. You can too.
Contradict Your Inner Voice
Actively turn, “I can’t art” into “I can art” inside your head. Fight back against your inner voice with a louder version of positive and encouraging thoughts. This is going to be a lot easier to say than to do, but I can tell you contradicting my inner voice is how I finally came out of my ten-year avoidance of doing art.
You can use a combination of the above methods to get to this point, but I’m going to tell you the thing that broke through my lack of confidence. I started looking around at other artists. I slowly started building up that voice day by day. “I can draw an eye like that. With a little bit of work, I can do shading like that.” I kept telling myself this. And then I started looking at newbie artists. I knew I needed an ego boost to get over that hump.
My inner voice went from “I can’t art” to “I can art better than that stick figure.”
I always feel a little guilty about that method, but I knew my lack of self-esteem, and my overwhelming self-doubt needed to be beaten back. Never, ever let it turn into “I am better than you” and belittle other artists. They’re in the same place you were, and everyone has to start somewhere. Support each other.
Sharing Your Art: The Double-Edged Sword
I saved this for its unique section because sharing your art (with friends, on social media) can be a double-edged sword. A lot of “tips for new artist” videos and posts talk about the importance of sharing your art with the world, no matter how bad you might think it is. They’re not wrong, but it can and most likely will trigger the monster of self-doubt.
Living in the Social Media Age
Sharing your art and being worried about what people might think about it isn’t new. Even before the invention of the internet, people were sharing their art and stressing that people visiting it in The Louve hated it.
With social media, however, sharing your art has become a much larger beast.
You post your latest piece on Twitter. You sit and stare at your notifications, waiting patiently for “So and so liked your post.” When it comes, it fills you with a sense of satisfaction. When it doesn’t, it can eat away at you.
This is the conditioning of social media. We are taught that likes are validations of self-worth, especially as an artist that uses social media for marketing themselves. You can’t make money on your art without a following if you do commissions. You aren’t a good artist if no one likes your work.
Wrong. Oh, so very wrong. I have a love-hate relationship with social media because of what it can do to an artist. I’ve watched fantastic artists never get a single like on a post, just because they posted at the wrong time of day.
Forcing Yourself To Share
It is essential to share your work, be it on social media or other venues. Being an artist in a vacuum is a great way to stunt your growth and build bad habits. You may not notice your proportions are off or your values are broken because you’ve trained yourself into thinking its right. You need that outside voice and set of eyes to spot things you’ve not been able to notice.
So you’re going to have to share your art with someone, at some point. It’s best to start early. Weirdly, social media can help you with this rather than hinder it. Get yourself in the habit of posting your works in progress at intervals. You’ll start to get over your fear of sharing your work slowly. (This is a version of exposure therapy by the way!) I’ve gotten to a point where I care a lot less if I don’t receive a like on a new post because of this and it helps quiet my inner voice.
Support Fellow Artists
On the Digital Art Demystified Twitter, I picked up a hashtag right from the beginning: #supportfellowartists. This isn’t just to repost people that may be sharing their commission sheets or their patreon pages, but for any art post I come across. Dealing with the fears that social media can cause and the concerns of sharing my work with the world have given me perspective.
All artists need support. That one like, or share, or re-tweet can completely and utterly make their entire day and bring them out of a self-doubt spiral.
So I’m doing my part to try to help lift other artists up. To quiet their inner demons. And I’m trying to help spread that message.
Turn “I can’t Art” into “I can Art.”
Self-doubt is the number one killer of creatives. It can hinder your progression, your passion, or even stop it in its tracks. Learning to quiet that inner voice can be a challenge in its own right, but its a skill you need to learn. Otherwise, your “I can Art” will be smothered by the inner voice of self-doubt that says, “I can’t Art.”
Please, share this article by hitting one of the buttons below. All artists, all creatives, deal with self-doubt. I hope this article helped you, and by sharing it, I hope you help someone else.