March 26, 2018

Overcoming fear and becoming the our best artistic selves.

I had a conversation recently with an arty friend. She was telling me about her fear of pursuing her passion of illustrating children's books. She believed that she just wasn't "good enough." The conversation broke my heart, but I could identify with how she felt. I certainly have had my own doubts and struggles. So how can we conquer these fears and become the artists that we want to be?

"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." 
-Henry Ford

1. First you have to start.

This seems so obvious. But how many of your projects, and how many of your goals are still just a dream? (I'll be honest I have quite a few sitting in a box in my studio. And I need to change that.)

But when we do start, I do think it's important to have specific goals. We need to ask ourselves; "Who am I as an artist? What exactly do I want to illustrate? And what I am I passionate about?"

The more specific you are, the less time you will waste in pursuing something that will distract you from your goals. I can paint in many styles, and someone once asked why I didn't advertise that I can paint realistic portraits. Well, because I don't want to paint realistic portraits. I want to illustrate children's books and magazines in the styles that I like. I want to write my own kidlit stories. So everything I do artistically, and recreationally for that matter, is serving that very specific goal.

2. Create A LOT of art.

We've all heard the adage that it takes 10,000 drawings for you to become a master at drawing. We need to draw a lot of art garbage before we get really good at drawing. I have a mountain of terrible sketches that I have happily recycled. Terrible art is not indicative that I am a terrible artist. It's part and parcel of my art process and how I visually problem solve. The more we create art, the better artists we become. 

Quote by Ira Glass, Poster art by Nikki Hampson

3. Acknowledge your fear.

"Are you paralyzed with fear? That's a good sign. Fear is Good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember [the] rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates the strength of resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that the enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul."

-Steven Pressfield's The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

"The empty space is the great horror and stimulant of creation. But there is also something predictable in the way the fear and apathy encountered at the beginning are accountable for feelings of elation at the end. These intensities of the creative process can stimulate desires of consistency and control, but history affirms that few transformative experiences are generated by regularity.
When asked for advice on painting, Claude Monet told people not to fear mistakes. The discipline of art requires constant experimentation, wherein errors are harbingers of original ideas because they introduce new directions for expression. The mistake is outside the intended course of action, and it may present something that we never saw before, something unexpected and contradictory, something that may be put to use."

4. Have the courage to continue.

In order to be successful we need to find courage within ourselves to keep working despite our self-doubt. Vincent Van Gogh started creating art within the last 10 years of his art, and it is comforting to know that his early works were pretty crummy. (Compare these examples from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain showing his early drawing compared to one completed two years later:)
Carpenter, 1880 and Woman Mourning, 1882 by Vincent Van Gogh

But even with his anxieties and despite all the awful art he created earlier in his artistic journey, he kept creating. Through his hard work and stick-to-itiveness he eventually evolved into a master artist that we know and love today. 

So friends, let's just take it one drawing and one painting at a time. If we have the courage to start and continue in our calling as kidlit creators, I know we will all be creating some beautiful art.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." 
-Winston Churchill

Art by Meridth McKean Gimbel (me)

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