How often do you draw something you don’t like? Every once in a while? Every now and then? Every day?
How often do you compare your work to all the amazing work you see other artists creating and pushing out on social media, and then feel terrible and depressed about your own work? Every now and then? Every day?
“I’ve seen some things recently that are so beautiful that I can’t find any strength or self-confidence.” –Lisa Congdon, artist
These things happen to all of us. Just a couple weeks ago, I was in a complete creative funk and only liked 2 of the 7 drawings I made for #MightCouldDrawToday, and cringed at posting the other 5. And I just kind of liked those two, and wasn’t actually proud or excited about any of them. I was very disappointed in myself and my work, and had moments where I doubted I would get back into my creative groove any time soon.
If we let that negative feeling of doubt and disappointment take over, and we convince ourselves we’re not good enough, it can stop us from making our best work. And eventually if we start believing that voice that says we’re not good enough, we’ll stop making anything at all.
Lack of Artistic Confidence
The heart of this problem is a lack of artistic confidence. Artistic confidence allows us to not care what other people think of our work. Artistic confidence allows us to follow our hand and draw what comes naturally to us. Artistic confidence is what allows us to make our own art in our own way, no matter how amazing and different other people’s art is.
“Belief in your creative capacity lies at the heart of innovation.” –David Kelley, Founder of IDEO and the Stanford D.School
I’ve been thinking a lot about confidence lately, and how we come to have or not have it. Let’s take a look at what confidence is:
1. The feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.
Synonyms: trust, belief, faith, credence, conviction
2. The state of feeling certain about the truth of something.
3. A feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.
Synonyms: self-assurance, self-confidence, self-possession, assertiveness;
Artistic confidence doesn’t mean having a big head or believing you’re a walking art god. It means the belief in ourselves and our abilities. It means being able to assure ourselves internally. It means the ability to love ourselves and our art for where it is today. It means the ability to let go of the constant disappointment and self-criticism, and instead be kind and compassionate towards ourselves and our work.
“Creative confidence is the notion that you have big ideas, and that you have the ability to act on them.” –David Kelley
Artistic confidence means the trust, belief, and faith that we can create good art. It means loving ourselves and our art.
This self-love does not mean going easy on ourselves all the time, talking to ourselves in sugary consolation, or being soft hearted. In fact, I’d argue self-love is the opposite. Self-love, and loving our art, is about being strong. It’s like a muscle you can work out and strengthen. It’s a way of being vulnerable, opening up, being compassionate towards ourselves, and being able to push through the doubt and negative feelings that come so easily. Loving our art is choosing to be strong and confident.
Which Comes First?
I believe that in order to improve our ability and skills, we have to have confidence. Our confidence is what keeps us going when we encounter doubt and disappointment. Confidence reminds us that we can create good art, and motivates us to keep working.
If we have amazing skill without confidence, we’ll never improve because we’ll think we’re terrible and stop drawing. And if we have amazing confidence without skills, we’ll never improve because we’ll think we’re so great we don’t need to grow or work on our weaknesses, and eventually we’ll probably get bored and stop drawing.
We need confidence to grow skills and skills to grow confidence. We need one to have the other. More confidence = more skills. More skills = more confidence.
But if confidence is the trust in our ability and skills, then in order to have confidence, we have to have ability and skills. And now we have a chicken and egg scenario.
How the heck do we jump in that cycle when we don’t have confidence OR skills? How can we trust and believe in our ability to draw well, if we don’t have the skills to draw well? And how can we get the skills to draw well if we don’t believe we can draw well?
“This is about believing that we live in a loving, kind and abundant Universe instead of one that’s petty, mean, and likes other people more than it likes you. This is about your faith being greater than your fear.” –Jen Sincero, author
The Confidence Cycle
Let’s expand that cycle to look deeper at how we grow our confidence by growing our skills.
Confidence is the fuel in our growth cycle—it’s what keeps us going through the cycle over and over as we continue to grow and improve. It gives us the drive to stick with it, experiment, try new things, and accept failure. Confidence gives us grit.
Confidence is the belief and faith that we can create good art, we can grow and improve, and we can make our best art. The art that feels like ours. The art we’re proud of. As we see ourselves making good art, or successes and new improvement gives us more confidence to burn and more room to grow, making a continuous growth cycle, as we make more and more and more.
[Creative Confidence is] the belief that you can and will come up with creative solutions to big problems and the confidence that all it takes is rolling up your sleeves and diving in. –David Kelley
Confidence By Doing
So we agree that confidence leads to more growth. But the question still stands: How do we initially get confidence, when our skills aren’t that great yet?
There are tons of gurus, coaches, and authors out there who tout the benefits of positive psychology, morning affirmations, and daily gratitudes. Yes, I’ve tried some of those things. Yes, some of those things are helpful. And yes, I say give them a go if you want to. I definitely believe mindset and positive thinking are incredibly important.
But you guys, we can’t just talk ourselves into being confident. We can’t just say it in the mirror a couple times and accept it as truth all of a sudden. Because if we aren’t actually improving and growing while we’re telling ourselves we’re confident, we won’t believe it. We won’t trust in ourselves or our artistic skills or our art. And then both our confidence and our skills will flame out.
Here’s the secret: Deep confidence only comes by doing.
Real confidence only comes by making art, seeing improvement, and continuing to grow.
How do we become confident? By improving our art. How do we improve our art? By making more art. And how do we make more art? By being confident, believing in and loving our art. The only part of that cycle we can actively control is the “making more art” part.
So instead of wasting your time and energy trying to figure out how to make a perfect piece of art, or trying to figure out how to make art like so-and-so does, just DRAW something!
Stop listening to that little voice of doubt, stop being disappointed in what you made, stop making excuses, and stop mulling over the same ideas you’ve been mulling over for weeks.
Just make something. Right now.
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” –Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher, founder of Taoism
You don’t need to be confident in where you’ll end up. Who the heck knows where you’ll end up?! No one ever knows! But you have to start somewhere. You’ll never know where you can go if you don’t start.
Think of your artistic journey like a ladder. Maybe you’re on the third rung, maybe the first. Don’t be ashamed about which rung you’re on. If you’re feeling impatient, wishing you were on rung 6 instead of rung 1, then guess what? The only way to get to rung 6 is by DOING. You’re not going to wish yourself up there. So you better get ta’ drawing, because that’s the only way to move on up.
“What felt different about art from former pursuits was that I was motivated by something I hadn’t experienced before: an intrinsic desire to create. It was deep-seated and primal; once I discovered it, I had to make art like I had to breathe. From this passion came a desire to expand my skills, even in areas that were out of my comfort zone. I taught myself to use new media and techniques and practiced for hours and hours until my hand felt like it would fall off.” –Lisa Congdon
Transformational Confidence + Growth
When you start doing, drawing, and making consistently, your skills will start improving. As your skills improve, you’ll gain more trust and confidence in yourself and your art. Every time you make something, you’ve thrown yourself headfirst into the cycle, and you’ve already done the hardest part.
Now you’re on the pathway to transformational artistic confidence and growth.
One thing I know for sure is that to be a successful artist, you must start with the simplest proclamation: I am an artist. It’s a basic assertion, but seeing yourself as an artist—legitimate and genuine—can be transformational. – Lisa Congdon