8 Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt as an Artist

I am highly attracted to artists. I am drawn to the individuals who use their minds to create. It really doesn’t matter to me what sort of art form you practice: photography, hairstyling, fashion design, ceramics, painting, even managers and CEO’s are artists in their own respect. In a way we are all artists, creating our own paths (Whoa, who am I trying to kid with that Nicholas Spark’s bullshit line?). Writing is hard.

You know what else is hard? Stop your giggling Mary…art, art is really fuckin’ difficult. It can be one of the most fulfilling things you do, but it can also make you feel really down, anxious, lazy, angry, with a serving of an entire buffet of self-doubt. For me, and I think any creative individual will be able to identify with this, I am happiest after I completed a project. The pride that is felt welling up after you finish your artistic endeavor is bar none one of the best feelings in the world. So why don’t we constantly work so we can constantly feel this ecstasy?!

It’s simple really. As artists, we are our own worst enemies. Plus, certain externalities have the influence to feed your self-doubt IF YOU LET IT. Time and time again I’ve been told to focus on something else, something more “practical”. My freshman year of college I applied for the design department at my University. I was denied the position of a major but was able to study design as a minor. I thought “no worries, that gives me time to practice, I’ll apply again in a year. And so I did…and was denied. Knowing in my heart of hearts that I deserved to be in the program, I walked into the dean of the art school’s office and demanded an explanation. He gutted me. Told me that I showed no “promise” and had no understanding of design principles, even though I was praised by all of my professors and given two letters of recommendation.

So here I am. Three years after being denied from design school and still creating. Why? Why would I pursue art even after showing family members my paintings only to have them ask where I was thinking of working after university? Because, this is who I am. If I’m not creating, then I am not myself. There’s really no better way to explain it. I create because it’s already inside me; it’s like trying to hold in a fart, you can get away with it for a while, but it doesn’t feel good at all.

I am motivated, but I haven’t always felt this way. I stopped creating for a long time and lost a piece of myself because self-doubt had seeped its way into my being so pervasively that it was weighing me down faster than a backpack full of bricks while skydiving. So how do you overcome self-doubt as an artist?

  1. Find your voice

Knowing what you want to do is a powerful thing. But if you’re anything like me, choosing the kind of hummus you want from Trader Joes gives you anxiety, so how are you supposed to find that creative thing that makes your heart sing? Poetry wasn’t it for me…but that brings us to point two:

  1. Just do it

Just fucking do it, dude / babe. Do you have dreams of being a famous chef? With a restaurant so good that the food makes Gordon Ramsey say, “I beg your pardon but this is delicious.” Well then start! Go be a sous chef and hone your skill. Maybe after two months of working in a kitchen, you realize you hate it and need to redirect. Regardless, just do it. Because if you don’t you’ll never know. Don’t let your fear of failure rule your decision to create. You will fail. Probably a lot, and that is actually a really good thing.

  1. Get angry. Use it as fuel

Prove yourself wrong by reframing your self-doubt into a source of production. Take the challenge to prove the naysayers wrong. Don’t let an artistic failure keep you down, if anything it should fuel you to keep creating and find what does work. Just do it! (Trademark pending)

  1. Create for you

For so long…too long, I was creating for other people. Drawing and painting things for the sole purpose of posting it online so I could say: “LOOK AT WHAT I CREATED WITH ONLY MY HANDS.” Create for yourself. Create with no intention of sharing it. This is where amazing growth happens because there is no fear of it being bad. If it’s shit then throw it away! Tear it to shreds! Burn it with fire! And then share what fulfills you, and makes you proud.

  1. Copying isn’t flattery

Initially, copying can be incredibly beneficial. One of my favorite artists of all time Alex Pardee initially wanted to be a comic book artist, so he would copy cartoons of Garfield and the like from the newspaper for practice. But, once he got the basics down and was able to create using his own style, copying was no longer kosher. In fact, copying is toxic to your own creative process. It inhibits you from growing as an artist because you’re following in the footsteps of another.

  1. Appreciate the success of others, don’t envy them

Be happy for your colleagues and friends for their success. I understand the frustration of feeling you deserve some recognition from your work, but don’t let it deter you from creating! Trust me…you don’t want their success; you want YOUR success.

  1. Don’t use art from your own medium as inspiration.

Unless you’re in a craft like hairdressing, where you are paid to be up to date on current trends and techniques, find inspiration in everything! If you’re a photographer, read poetry to come up with a photo-shoot idea. If you’re a painter, close your eyes and listen to music. The less you spawn ideas using the already realized projects of other artists, the better. And in the end, you’ll feel more proud of your work because it will be completely original (or as original as anything can be, but that’s a topic for another time)

  1. Have yesterday’s you be your motivation

My first drawing class I ever took was my freshman year of college. It was Drawing and Rendering with Professor Joseph Banuelos. I was so good. I was like actually the best. So clever with such refined skill…except not at all. I was cleaning out my closet, and along with a few skeletons in there I found my old projects from that class. They were HORRIBLE. Okay, I may be exaggerating in both cases, but they are objectively not good. And for a second I thought, holy shit I’m not actually good at this, that asshat of a Dean was right, then I snapped out of it and realized how far I had come in such a little amount of time. You may not be where you want to be, but you are better than yesterday if you keep moving and working. Which is why your largest inspiration can be your past.

I hope that these pieces of advice can help you to start to overcome self-doubt incrementally. I say “incrementally” because it is sort of like breaking through a wall with a pick axe, it will take a while, but you’ll get through it if you strike often enough, because the wall has an unfortunate characteristic of rebuilding itself. Best of luck, and don’t be afraid.

Much love & many creations,

Wolfe