Saint Bob Ross once said, “If you don’t think you can do this — you’re not realizing how simple it is.” That’s how he wanted us to look at making art. And it’s true. Whether it’s painting, knitting, building furniture, writing music, telling stories… the creative process is easy, and so so hard. I have a BFA in painting and design and it still scares me every time I do it. It’s scary to make it a priority, scary to put it out there for others to see, and scarier still to take in feedback and make change. Every response feels like it cuts with a knife. But still, it’s so easy to start.
Here’s how you can fight the fear and start making art…
Start small and work frequently
Think of being creative as learning a new language. To become fluent, you have to do it every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. If you mediate, workout, have a coffee ritual, set aside 10 minutes before or after to exercise your creative muscles. Draw a quick sketch, write a few pages, plan out a project. Toss away anything you aren’t feeling and start again. There’s nothing that means every piece of art is precious and needs to be saved. Think quantity over quality until you hit on an idea you really want to explore.
Learn what hinders you
A great book about the art making process and our fear of it is the aptly named Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. If you’ve ever wanted to pick up a pencil (or the tool of your choice) and create something from your mind, then you probably already know the dread of judgment and failure. Getting over that fear is a creative process in itself. Here’s a nugget of insight from the authors:
“To require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is predictable: as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do — away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart. You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes.”
Not working, not creating, and clinging to what you already know are ways to stifle yourself.
One of our readers, @frantasy_island had some amazing insight:
People often comment that I’m ‘good at everything’ but what they don’t realise is that because of compliments like that (and the perceived pressure to actually then be good at everything), for years and years I wouldn’t even try something if I wasn’t sure I would be immediately good at it. It’s taken me a long time to show vulnerability in my creative process, but I started by making things that nobody saw, and then showing things I liked to strangers on the internet. I was too emotionally invested in the opinions of my friends, and there would be a lingering paranoia that they were just being nice anyway, but anonymous strangers had no reason to be anything but honest, so I ended up with some really constructive feedback that helped my work progress to a point that I’m happy to have it displayed to the people I care about!
Choose a subject you LIKE
There’s a whole market for art that is inspired by fandoms or similar interests. People make fantastic work focusing on subjects which inspire them. You don’t have to paint a bowl of fruit, write a sonnet, or sculpt a classic naked man. Pick something you like: a movie, a book, a character, an animal… and see what you can do with it. Don’t take it too seriously. If you’re creating work you’d put in your own home, you’ll be more likely to enjoy it and want to do more of it.
Stop worrying about talent
I’m in the camp that believes that innate talent isn’t really that useful in actually creating great work. A lot of it is built-up skill from a load of practice. And if you’re focusing on something you like and which inspires you, you’ll be less likely to drop it when you don’t like the initial outcome.
Feel free to try out lots of mediums and outlets to find what you’re more apt to be good at, but know that most of us just spend more time doing what we enjoy and are therefore better at it.
Here’s another relevant take from Bayles and Orland:
“For most artists, making good art depends upon making lots of art and any device that carries the first brush stroke to the next blank canvas has tangible, practical value.”
Find like minds
A lot of people I know get supportive feedback from online communities, especially if there aren’t many nearby outlets in person. Instagram, Tumblr, DeviantArt, and others will often give you the encouragement to keep on going and the confidence to share more of your efforts. Share in-progress photos, tag them with hashtags like #workinprogress to see who likes and replies. Go out and seek inspiration from them in turn. A little bit of a gold star from someone never hurts.
Self-taught painter Tucker has some great advice for those looking for cheerleaders:
As a self-taught painter, I have struggled a lot with the insecurity and fear that comes with not only creating art, but sharing it. That little voice in my head that tells me it’s garbage and that the world might rip it to shreds can be very hard to silence. What has helped me drown out the fear is forming a small community of fierce cheerleaders. I have found several incredible artists on Instagram who do frequent tutorials and live painting sessions that help with gaining confidence in new techniques. Find artists that inspire you, leave encouraging comments, ask questions.
Many artists have given me great feedback and kind words of encouragement just when I was feeling like giving up. Try not to compare your art to those who have more experience. You’ll find that even your favorite artists critique their own work. We all grow and get better.
Do you ever let your fears stop you from making art? How do you overcome it?