For me there's two types of challenges in becoming a better artist: the mental blockades, and the actual practicing. The 2nd challenge is the one that is being addressed aplenty in the form of an seemingly infinite numbers of tutorials, live streams, demo's and what not. But if you find yourself struggling with the first challenge there isn't quite as much to work with. Plenty funny, recognizable and sometimes even consoling memes and comics about the topic have been made, but usually they offer little solution. That's why I've decided to focus on the first challenge for now.
Part of the condition of being an artist is the yearning for perfection, each our own definition of it. Focusing on the big end goal is in no way going to make us happy, cause we'll never reach it. Ever.
I'm sorry to start with a downer -and an seemingly obvious one too- but I think it's an important enough topic to consider before we move on to anything else. True perfection is unachievable. It doesn't exist.
This doesn't mean that we're doomed to our misery or shouldn't strive to get better, but it does mean that we need to reconcile with the fact that we are climbing an infinite mountain.
My answer to this isn't a perfect fix, but it is surprisingly simple: Keep climbing, and find a way to get a bit of gratification out of every step in the right direction.
Sadly the simplest sounding resolutions are often the most difficult ones to live by, so here's some more practical ways to think about this. I'm certain these points will be fairly obvious, but even if you have completely mastered this topic. it's good to remind yourself every now and then.
- Some perspective helps. No artist is perfect, no matter how 'perfect' their work might appear. We never stop learning, and we never stop making mistakes. Even if a piece runs out of tangible mistakes to point at, there will always be things that it's creator would like to have done better/faster/...
- Appreciate all the little bits of progress, made after hard work: Take the time to review your work, compare it to older work, and recognize the areas in which you've progressed. Learning to recognize mistakes is also progress in a way.
- The goal may be forever out of reach, but you can instead think of it as infinite fuel for your passion and turn it into something positive that way.
However, the only certain way to avoid these problems is not to try at all, which happens to also be the only certain way to simultaneously avoid any and all progress.
So, instead we artists should keep climbing the mountain, and be more conscious about our direction, journey and our progress and less about where we might end up. Luckily, the company is great and the view is lovely.
Stay tuned for part 2, which will be about managing expectations (which aren't complete perfection), fun fun ).
I'll continue to hand out our fancy immaterial 'Unhappy and Frustrated Artist Club' membership badges to anyone who wants one (perhaps we need a better name, preferably one with an acronym that doesn't read like 'Uh Fack' ). So please, do share these journals with all your frustrated artist colleagues (why does that sound wrong XD?).
Feedback, additions, thoughts, useful articles - all of that is welcome (appreciated even!)
More 'Uh Fack' blogs:
Uh Fack, part1: Improving, angst and frustration.P
rogress. A thing we all want, right? Some more than others perhaps, but I think I can safely say that it's the one thing all artists want; to be a better artist.
In the past few years I've been struggling with this topic a lot. I ran into one of those phases in which I learned a lot of what I was doing wrong, but didn't manage to work on any solutions for these problems. I felt like going backwards, and I grew increasingly frustrated with my own art. I'm progressing, but hardly as much as I aspire to - while I do spend most of my waking hours drawing.
Sure, a bunch of my comic work allows me to study and practice - but it's a very narrow and same-y kind of study- and there isn't really room for mistakes or experiment because of time constrains.
So, this is what I found to be a super effective 4 steps plan to become an unhappy and frustrated artist:
Be a perfectionist. Preferably with high ambitions. (actually, just step 1 would get you a long way with be
Uh Fack 2: What makes you unhappy as an artist?W
elcome back, and hi to all the fresh meat!
This is a blog series aimed at helping artists (including myself) who struggle with negative thought patterns in their art: lack of self confidence, hating your own work, feeling frustrated or discouraged, you name it.
I've officially dubbed the series "Uh Fack", since the acronym for the Unhappy and frustrated Artists club sounds like that. Not the most elegant of names, but then I realized that it is suiting the subject .
So here's the scoop. No more long and general introductions, this was the last one- (it's ok you can cheer, I've no feelings ). I think I've said enough about my motivations for writing these in the first two journals.
From here on I'm just going to address mental roadblock's from the list below, one at the time. And whenever possible I'll combine them with something more active like critique rounds, compliment rounds (!XD) and perhaps a hangout or chat or what not.
List of Art frustrations, in n
- Listening to: 90ies rock songs.
- Reading: City of dragons - Robin Hobb
When you don't have the connections, deviantArt can be a very lonely place...
I've been following your comic as well, one of the best I've read, really. You and your art are quite inspiring. I hope your struggles will lessen and stuff'll seem better to you.
Oh, by the way - this reminds me of "For Anyone Who Loves To Create" by projectTiGER actually. If any of you haven't seen it yet, it's worth a look! It's a beautifully done flash story about dealing with progress and perfection as well - projecttiger.deviantart.com/ar… there's the link.
Once upon a time, I would have considered myself a decent artist- perhaps even good enough to be professional some day, but recently I have been feeling like maybe the reason why nobody is commissioning me, or looking at my art is because I'm not all that good at all.
But, I still believe in my potential, and hopefully this little series of yours will help me I would love if you were to hop on over to my profile and give me some feedback on what to improve? Something like that would help me out a lot!
I do agree with ravenofnevermoore though. I have been following your comic- as you well know- for quite some time, and its really relieving to hear someone of your skill open up about their frustration, especially since I look up to your art so much, as it has been a huge inspiration for my own webcomic. Your work is fantastic, as I've said many times, and it grieves me that you've become frustrated with it, as I have found a lot of happiness in looking at your works! I hope we (your fans) will be able to inspire you, as you have inspired us!
Elsa, you are such a wonderful artist, and such an inspiration to me. I just wanted to let you know, and give you a great big virtual hug accompanied by a thank you for understanding and not being ashamed to put those struggles out there. <3
This is a good way to think about it! 99.99% of the work I create consists not of masterpieces that demonstrate the pinnacle of all of my skills, but of doodles and sketches and studies and thumbnails and the like. Occasionally I struggle with feeling like these things are a waste of my time because I can't make fancy prints out of them to sell or put them in my portfolio (well... sometimes I can, but anyway), but that kind of thinking is a trap that leads to feeling miserable and not working on anything.
Feeling that desire for perfection, and that ambition, isn't a bad thing in an artist; but it has to be balanced out with an enjoyment of the parts of the work that aren't immediately rewarding. You have to be able to keep working on the WIP through all the stages where it looks like crap in order to get to the part where you're finally sort of happy with it; you have to make a lot of shitty work to get to the stuff that's good, and you have to keep working even if you're not happy with it if you want to come out the other end with more skills than when you started.
Hopefully this comment is coherent, I'm about to go to bed...
Dedicating three or four hours a week (one hour per day) to study light, faces, hands, fabrics, color, or simply studing artist that you admire, without the pression of getting better, just for the pleasure, joy and fun of observing, and underrstanding, helps too.
Meanwhile, keep working, with your comic, your comissions. Eventually, without noticing, all the studyng will show up. almost without you noticing.
If you can assign yourself to do studies and be a happy and confident artist as a result without giving it much thought, you probably don't need as much thinking about the topic as someone else might.
Of course, dedicating hours of actual drawing is the engine of artistic progress - but it isn't a given that it will automatically make us more satisfied with our work. If that where the case, all good artist would be happy- getting happier as they get better- and this doesn't match reality.
There's even a good chance that with the wrong mindset it will increase expectations more than skills- making people less happy even though technically they are progressing.
In other words. Doing studies and putting in the hours is what will take you up the mountain, but the mindset is what is going to allow you (or prevent you) from enjoying and appreciating the climb, making the climb easier (or more difficult).
I have in fact taken up a study schedule again a few weeks ago, and I believe I was able to do so, because I made some progress with my mindset. I'm sure it doesn't work like that for everyone, but that's how I experience it .
Ok, let me elaborate, and keep in mind, this is only my opinion, I could be wrong, but this is what have been working for me until now.
The thing about thinking too much (not only in art, but in life too) is that it can easily drives you to depression or conflict. All the insecurities start to float around you, and become overwhelming. Because, as you well put it, perfection is impossible to reach, and there will be always someone better than you.
You have to give just a thought, so you can develop a plan. But not staying on the thinking part. Better put, don’t allow the thinking to put
The plan is so you can have a map of where you are heading, and can concentrate on the way once you start running. And no began to wonder where you are and what are you going to do in the middle of the road, so latter, you’ll end up in a corner of the woods, crying on a fetal position.
In my opinion, the way to fix that mindset, is to stop thinking and start making little goals as you go on the way. In that way, you will be felling more motivated every time you reach a new goal. That is better to aspire to something gigantic from the scratch, in that case the pressure would be unbearable.
Another thing, being depressed comes with being an artist. Artists are unsecure all the time. And again, not only with their art.
The key word in your elaboration is the 'too' in thinking 'too much' though. Too much of anything is never good, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't think at all.
For me it would feel like sticking my head in the sand going "don't think about it to much or I will feel crap", rather than actually solving anything. The point of these journals isn't to have people (or me) think that much -more- about frustrations and angst but to have us think -different- about it.There's a big difference between thinking honest constructive thoughts, admitting problems and searching for solutions opposed to pointless worrying and feeling sorry for oneself.
On the last part, I fully realize that a certain level of melancholy comes with the job for most of us, I'm not talking about that kind of insecurity or doubts though. I'm talking about when it starts to get out of control and becomes a serious hindrance. And I don't believe we should simply accept such a thing as an unchangeable fact, and continue to be unhappy.
I also feel that art is a process of problem solving similar to writing, and therefore cannot be done with out thought and contemplation. Of course, artistic "free-write" like exercises can be fun and a great way to loosen the imagination, they almost never produce anything worth sharing.
My difficulty in this area has usually been that making art is at the nitty gritty a solitary lonely activity, even in a collaboration. Even after discussing everyone's role in the project, you still find you're spending all your time alone at the drawing board. For me, I find I have to be extra conscientious to be as social as possible when I'm not at the board. That's how I get by.
It's so right actually! I thought of it this morning, although we all have some hiccups with our progress, sometimes more than other times we keep on struggling, because we still love art too much to give up right away!
Well now that I have a long weekend ahead without uni disturbing me with anything I can get into so much stuff again, though I'll have to structure my time or I'll start procrastinating again....
Procrastination is such a nasty thing!
Hang in there!
Looking back on old artwork is fun for comparison, though most of the time it's accompanied with mutterings of 'Did I seriously draw THAT?!' xP