How to Conquer Your Art Fears in 5 Easy Steps

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“Spring” Oil Pastel on Strathmore Tan Toned Paper

As an artist, we all have our trepidations and anxieties surrounding certain aspects of the craft. Whether it’s a fear of messing up, a fear of certain media, or just a general inhibition to take risks in our work, everyone (even those who pretend to be artistically fearless) has the things that hold them back and the areas of creation from which they flee like a confidence-sucking black hole.

I am all too well acquainted with this. From the age of about fifteen to the age of twenty years and five months, I didn’t touch any medium aside from charcoal. No, really. Not even its close cousin, graphite. I feared what I didn’t understand (color) and charcoal is possibly the easiest medium to manipulate out a mistake in the world, so my inner perfectionist was perfectly content with holing up in a cozy corner of this rut. Now aged 20 years and seven months, I’ve migrated from that rut into a period of excitement and love for trying new things. Art has a fresh joy to it, and that is in part because as a creative I get to think outside the box in which I stayed for five years.

Breaking free from the things that hold us back is never a simple feat, but I have five suggestions for discovering the adventurous spirit you never knew you had–at least when it comes to art. I can’t guarantee that these will inspire you to surmount Everest. But hey, I wouldn’t knock it till you try it.

  1. Accept that sometimes the important part of the creative process is not the end product, but what you have learned in the in between. No one starts out as a master. Everyone has to begin somewhere. Even as children we had to experiment with crayons or finger paint or markers until we figured out how to translate the way we saw the finished product in our heads onto the page. There was much trial and error, and while it is easy to focus on the error, you more likely than not made a mistake that you now know how to fix because you made it. Learning from our mistakes is a part of life in general. Life isn’t about death, it’s about the things that we explore in between, and this truth definitely applies to artwork, too.
  2. Look up expressive art prompts like these here and experiment with a new medium. Expressive art is never meant to be hyper-realistic or technically impeccable. It is meant to get your feelings out, so it is the perfect opportunity for experimentation and exploration. Some of these are kind of juvenile but a lot of them are very open to interpretation, which will get your inhibitions lifting and your creative juices gushing. If you so choose, make the final element of self expression shredding up the work and feeding it to your garbage disposal. Or hang it on your wall. You just might surprise yourself at the masterpiece that can come from leaving your hesitations at the door.
  3. Find a new artist and try emulating their style with a new medium. My current #artistgoal is the French indie animator Claude Barras. I love his thin necks and soft, rounded heads. As someone who had never been the world’s biggest fan of using color I was somehow very inspired by the way that he has an almost impressionistic quality to his 3D animated figures coloring. While you can’t really tell that he is my inspiration for the featured image of this post, I took some lessons from his book in the way that I layered colors in oil pastel. Following someone else’s suit takes a bit of the edge off of trying something new and gives you a general idea of how to bend a new look to suit your own style.
  4. Comb through the clearance aisle at your local arts and crafts store and pick up something you would never touch if you had to pay full price for it. Art supplies are rarely inexpensive, and that is partially why it can be scary to pick up a brand new medium. I always think, “what if I don’t like it?” or “what if it doesn’t fit my typical aesthetic as well as I thought it would?” or “what if it is too hard to work with?” Investing in something that might just collect dust in the back of my desk drawer doesn’t jive with my tight budget, and I would much rather purchase the tried-and-true and know that I am putting my funds to good use. But I found some fine art oil pastels in the clearance section at Michael’s a couple weeks ago, and I felt far less guilty dropping $8.99 on them than the typical $17.99. Turns out they actually are one of the most enjoyable media that I have ever tried. The image at the top of the post is one of my favorite creations that I have made with them thus far, maybe one of my favorite creations in general.
  5. Create a whole artwork from start to finish without letting yourself erase a single line. I used to labor over preliminary sketches for going over with pen for three days, only to have the whole thing inked up in under 30 minutes. I was afraid of wasting ink, creating something sub par, and, most of all, ending up with what I perceived as failure. But what I realized is it really is just paper and whatever flub ups I make can either be masked by adding a little extra ink or I can get out some tracing paper, salvage the parts I like, and carry on with the piece.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be discovered, all from the comfort of your own studio. What are your biggest art fears? Post them in the comments below!

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On Kicking Artist Envy to the Curb

"Closed Doors Lead to Open Windows" by Mary Sukala

“Closed Doors. Open Windows.” – Artist Pen B on Canson Mixed Media Paper

We’ve all done it. Sneaking a scroll through Instagram during that point in your shift where you’ve already swept up the tumbleweeds and everyone pounces on each scarce customer who waltzes in and provides a momentary relief from the stifling boredom. The key to not getting caught, of course, is keeping your facial expression and body language as neutral as possible, which is normally not that difficult of a feat because you are just killing time, swiping through way too many selfies. But then you stumble upon this fan-flipping-tastic, Van Gogh-rivaling masterpiece and all that nonchalant chill goes out the window. At the precise moment when you are paralyzed in pure awe, your boss jolts you from your stupor as she barks “NO. CELLPHONES.”

As an artist, a solid 90% of our feed is probably other artists of various levels and styles. And typically we follow artists whose work is phenomenal, who we look up to, possibly adore, and possibly low-key social media stalk. While it is great to admire beautiful art and get inspired by other creative peeps, a lot of times, this feeling of admiration is clouded by an equal or greater feeling of inadequacy.

I know I am guilty of this. I’ll see something that is masterfully rendered and impeccably composed and so overall blindingly beautiful that I’m like “how could I ever reach that level of awesomeness? I’m at level negative gazillion.” I am sure that I am not alone in it. Artist envy is a very real thing, and it is one of the greatest stumbling blocks a creative can have.

We can’t control whether we feel that spark of jealousy, but I believe that we can learn to use it to our benefit. I think the thing about artist envy is, the more time we spend scrolling through our feeds feasting on the visual deliciousness that is our favorite Instagrammers, the less time we’ll have to head to our little corner of the house and cook up our own work. If you constantly eat super fancy food at restaurants, you not only won’t have the time to whip up your own gourmet meals, you won’t want to because matching up to their refined cuisine is, in your eyes, beyond your reach. Sometimes seeing gorgeous art makes you less compelled to actually make your own because you are certain that you won’t be that good, so you might as well give up. And as a result of this you’ll just stay at the same level.

These artists whom we put on a pedestal didn’t wake up one morning and decide to put a pencil on paper and put all the Greats to shame five minutes later with a masterwork. They draw every day; they study their craft in books and through videos; they bullet journal or go on nature walks or listen to Swedish Symphonic Metal before drawing or find whatever it is that gives them the mental fuel and inspiration they need to create these amazing pieces. Instead of wallowing and stealing green-eyed glances, use the fruits of their hard work to light a fire in you to work just as hard so that one day, someone might look at your piece, and maybe feel a tinge of artist envy, but far more importantly, they will hopefully be like “wow, that makes me want to be a better artist.”