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Artists and Self-Doubt: A Perennial problem and what to do about it

What is Self-Doubt?

 In my last post, I talked about some marketing techniques for artists, such as: why artists need to create a portfolio, but this week, the topic that resonates most with me is self-doubt. I know it sounds kind of depressing; however, I am trying to be more authentic in what I write about on this blog and not just what seems popular or trendy. And I promise I will end this blog post on a positive note. I believe that having self-doubt as an artist can really create obstacles to making more artwork, or having the confidence to step out and show the world your art.  Sometimes it can cause an artist to stop making art altogether, whether it’s for a few days, weeks or sometimes even years. I know this from personal experience from several bouts of artist’s block and countless doubts about my abilities as an artist. Somehow, though if you want to get your artwork into public spaces and out of your studio, you have to find a way through this issue, because without artwork artists cannot promote themselves, period. In her own words, Alyson Stanfield states: “If you are not consistently producing art, then you have nothing to take out of the studio and market. Remember you are an artist first and foremost. Your career starts in the studio.”(Source: “Alyson Stanfield Shares Her Ten Best Art Marketing Tips,”Artwork Archive, https://www.artworkarchive.com/blog/alyson-stanfield-shares-her-10-best-art-marketing-tips, retrieved, 03/15/18).

What is an example of Self-Doubt?

 Here are a few examples of self-doubt, which I am citing from an article, entitled, “5 Fears that Can Destroy an Artist,” from the Skinny Artist website, https://skinnyartist.com/. For example, one common type of self-doubt that artists face is, “I’m not good enough.”(ibid)   In the interest of space, I am just going to focus on the first type of self-doubt, listed in the above-mentioned article. According to the author, Drew Kimble, the first type of self-doubt, describes an artist’s doubts in their craftsmanship and skill, and this is one of the most common types. (ibid) For example, as artists we are creating items that are not entirely essential, and that meets basic needs such as food, water, shelter, health, etc. (ibid) For instance, when times are tough and money is short, items that are not considered a necessity are often the first to be cut back from one’s budget. (ibid) Things like, “books, music, movies, art, performances,”are frequently considered to be an indulgence. (ibid)

What Causes Self-Doubt?

 You might ask what things can cause self-doubt for artists. This is a question that has many answers…Sometimes it may be a rejection form letter that comes in the mail for an art show, and it’s not the first one you’ve gotten. In fact, the number of rejections is beginning to grow. You will most likely get some sort of form letter stating something to the effect, Thank you for applying to this (blank) art show, but unfortunately, we were unable to select your work for this show. Please apply next time, etc. Or maybe, your cherished dream of getting into a graduate school program to study art did not work out, and it has made you wonder why you were not selected. Questions begin to swirl in your mind and you wonder, “Am I just not good enough?” or,” Why didn’t they choose my artwork, or why wasn’t I accepted to that particular art program?” The worst part about this type of situation is that you often can’t know why your art wasn’t selected unless you take the plunge and ask the art gallery director or dean for some feedback about your art. Sometimes, jurors or other decision makers might answer your question about why you didn’t get into the show, or the dean of the graduate school might give you some feedback about why you weren’t accepted into the graduate school program. If you can find out the reasons why for these types of rejections, especially if it’s in the form of constructive feedback, it can be very useful, to getting unblocked in your art practice, and start making progress toward your goals.

What can you do With Constructive Feedback about Your Art?

Maybe it means that your artwork didn’t fit with the style of that gallery, and you need to find a gallery that is a better fit. On the other hand, maybe you need to work on your portfolio some more and your artist statement to be sure that they both re-enforce each other. For example, I did get the chance to ask the admissions office of James Madison University why I wasn’t accepted into their painting program, and they were very gracious in their response with some specific guidelines about applying again. The dean suggested that I show my ideas and artwork to some art faculty members first, to get some feedback before re-applying for the art program. Ultimately, I decided not to re-apply for a number of reasons, but the feedback was helpful. So, what is an artist to do? Give in the feelings, press on anyway, take a break from painting and go on a vacation to Tahiti and avoid the whole problem until it hopefully, magically goes away?

What Can Artists Do to Alleviate Self-Doubt?

 Although this type of self-doubt may always be an issue for artists, there are some things that artists can do to challenge self-doubt, and re-evaluate how they think about their abilities. For instance, artists can complete a short-term art challenge, such as the Draw this Again meme, which was posted on the website, Deviant Art.com. This challenge charts the progress of several artists’ skills over time with photos of past and present artwork of the same subject, i.e. portraits. These artworks can be completed in whatever medium the artist wishes to work in, some of which include drawing and digital art. It is truly amazing to see what some time and practice can do when you look at the before and after photos. I’m going to try this challenge myself, between blogging, custom art orders, and building up a new portfolio in my “almost” daily sketchbook.  I’m hoping this challenge will help me to get out of my own pit of self-pity and passivity, and start picking up the brush more often, to see that change is possible and that growth in my skills as an artist is up to me. It’s been a week since I started writing this post, and I just completed a self-portrait painting to compare it to an older self-portrait that I painted as a student at McDaniel College in 2005, to do more own version of Deviant Art meme, Draw this Again. Next week, I will elaborate some more on other types of self-doubt that artists experience and hopefully, I can provide you with some helpful tips for overcoming these hurdles, especially the negative self-talk that seems to fuel the artist block and self-doubt.

self-portrait 2005, flat
Self-Portrait, oil on canvas, 2005, Jodie Schmidt.
self-portrait 2018m flat
Self-Portrait, oil on prepared paper, 2017, Jodie Schmidt.

 

 

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The Lost Art of Drawing

About a century ago (well I exaggerate a little); I was a college student studying art at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. I had a brilliant and successful art teacher who was able to make the practice of art making and the hatching of new ideas come alive like no other teacher I had before.  He taught me many useful things, such as how to keep an art sketchbook pasted with photos of art work by artists I admired, and how to write about my art in a way that expressed the message I wanted to share with it. Above all of the tips and advice, he gave I remember him telling me that I should draw every day. At the time, that task seemed quite difficult. I was always an impatient artist as a student and I often rushed through the drawing stage to hurry up and get to the painting, especially oil painting, because I enjoyed working with the buttery texture of the oil paint and I loved working in color. Now that many years have passed since my graduation from McDaniel and I am a professional artist seeking out new avenues to showcase my art and making custom pet portraits, I can truly see the value in his advice.

With hindsight, I can see that he was so right about drawing every day. I no longer rush art work projects and I have learned to love drawing, whether it becomes a painting or not. A few years ago, I took a drawing class at Frederick Community College, with instructor Cynthia Bausch, who taught me how to use charcoal, pastel, and pencil to create compelling drawings with a high degree of finish. This experience started my love for drawing, even though getting the drawings right was extremely difficult. Frequently, I would do the sketch over and over again until I was pleased with the result. For instance, the self-portrait in charcoal, pictured in this post, was drawn a total of three times before I  handed in the final piece to the art teacher. Since then, I have embraced my former art teacher’s advice, Steve Pearson, from McDaniel College,  to draw every day. at present, I am working on a drawing challenge I like to call 100 faces in 100 days. In this challenge, I draw a pre-selected photo from the Internet or a coffee table book, Icons, of a celebrity using only pencil and paper. I do not add in a lot of detail or shading and I limit myself to 45 minutes a day. This time frame for drawing sessions tends to be more like 5 days a week for me since I often work on weekends and feel pretty fried when I come home. The drawings are strictly for practice and not intended for sale at this time.

To see what others in the art world had to say about the importance of drawing, I did a web search, with the query term, Why Artists Should Draw More.  Artist and blogger, Lori McNee, states that drawing can give the artists a multitude of benefits to help them improve their craft as an artist, not the least of which is learning to observe a subject, which is a skill that is important both to the practices of painting and drawing. Source: http://www.finearttips.com/2012/10/10-reasons-why-artists-should-draw-more/.  Drawing more can also help you plan out your compositions better and give you a road map to follow for your design before you get to the painting stage when it is more difficult to make changes.

McNee, (2012), also states that many children enjoy coloring with crayons. For example, I have observed this tendency in the day care setting, (McNee, 2012),  when I was working as an Assistant Teacher at La Petite Academy when I was a high school student. However, over time many children stop drawing or making crafts and self-consciousness drifts in, stealing the spontaneous joy of creating something new. I observed this tendency when I volunteered as an assistant in a middle school art class back in the early 200s. A lot of the kids in this art class would say, “I can’t draw this,” or “You do it,” to me when I walked around to work one on one with the students.Picasso-quotes-every-child-is-an-artist  In fact, even artists (such as Mc Nee) who have been trained to draw, often let this essential art practice slide over time, (McNee, 2012) and may come to rely on tracing, especially if they need to get a project done quickly for a client. I admit, I am guilty of this tendency and until a few years ago, I rarely had a daily drawing practice, and I often struggled to get my proportions in portraits correct, often giving up in futility to join all the other drawings on the reject pile.

However this summer, I was inspired to tackle my fears about drawing and making mistakes by the drawing challenge artist and blogger, Julie Fan Fei completed which she called, 100 15 minute Balzer Faces, in which she made a daily drawing practice using a variety of media such as ink, acrylic paint, and jelly plate printing, among others. Source: http://balzerdesigns.typepad.com/balzer_designs/100-15-minute-balzer-faces/.  This challenge and my art teacher’s wise advice, motivated me to complete my own drawing challenge which I like to call 100 Faces in 100 days.  I post progress photos of my celebrity sketches on my Instagram account almost every day, but it tends to be more like 5 days a week because of my work schedule, in which I often work weekends.   I spend 45 minutes on each sketch, with minimal sketching, and I simplify this process by working only in with paper and pencil.

I also keep a visual photo file of celebrity imagery I would like to draw from. One important note of caution here: If you want to sell a portrait or sketch, it is best to use your own photos if possible to avoid copyright violation, or to visit the Wikipedia web site, http://www.wikipedia.org, where you can do image searches by the name of the celebrity and find out the photo’s provenance, such as the name of who took the picture and whether it is in the public domain. Here is a link Wikipedia with a public domain photo of Cary Grant: https:enwikipedia.org/wiki/Cary_Grant#/media/File:Grant,_Cary_(Suspicion)-01_Crisco_edit.jpg. I have attached my sketch of Cary Grant based on this photo.

 To be on the safe side, you want to choose photos in the public domain if you plan to show your work or sell it or publish it in any way unless you can get written permission from the photographer to reproduce their work.  If you’re drawing is just for practice, no need to worry. But do try to give credit to the photographer if you can find out that information, and include that photographer’s name in your sketch when you sign and date it. Here are two web sites you can refer to learn more about copyright violation and terms: https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-fairuse.html, and https://blog.kenkaminesky.com/photography-copyright-and-the-law/.

In conclusion, I am still working on my drawing challenge and I am really enjoying the process.  I feel like I am getting more comfortable with drawing and the pressure if off because this work is not for a custom art order, or for an art show entry. I am learning how to slow down and not be in a rush to finish a project. What really matters is that I have passion, determination, and am willing to put in the time to learn to draw, paint, etc.  It takes time to acquire these skills and is similar to learning a sport or an instrument, which requires hours, days, weeks, and years of practice. I’m trying to be patient with the process and remember that most of what I know how to do now with ease, had to be practiced and (and often!), whether it was walking, talking, reading, writing, cooking, etc., etc.  to reach a level of mastery.

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100 Faces in 100 Days: Drawing Challenge

Back in June of this year, I had started a drawing challenge with celebrity portraits. In this challenge, I drew one celebrity portrait a day, using photo references of actors, actresses, and entertainers from the 1980s. I was inspired to start this series by a drawing challenge which I read about in a blog by Julie Fan Fei Balzer, called Balzer Designs. She called her challenge a 100-day

challenge and she created 100 faces in 100 days using a variety of media including acrylic monoprint, screen prints, ink on paper, ball point pen on paper, etc. I modified this challenge by using just paper and pencil to simplify it and instead of making up imaginary faces; I attempted to capture celebrity likenesses. I was also motivated to do this challenge because I had recently completed a portrait commission in May, and I truly struggled to get the likenesses of the people in the photo.

To make this challenge a daily habit, I collected photos of celebrities from the internet that I found inspiring and saved them to a file labeled, portraits, on my computer, so I had a ready supply of faces to draw. I also did a few other things to keep me on track, since I struggle with discipline and finishing art projects that I complete, especially ones without a definite deadline. So, I coupled setting the timer for 25 minutes and making the drink, usually coffee or diet coke, of my choice to go along with it. I also tried to start my drawing mid-morning, before other activities intruded. For the most part, the challenge has been going really well, and most days with a few exceptions, I have set aside time consistently to draw.  On the days when I can’t get to my sketch pad, I don’t beat myself up and I just start again the next day. And I feel I am learning so much about how to draw better portraits, for one, taking the time to really scrutinize the subject’s face and other features.

Also, just stepping back frequently has given me a fresh perspective on how closely the sketch resembles the photo reference.   On the other hand, there have been some days when I have felt really discouraged about whether I have what it takes to be an artist, when I have to do a drawing two or three times over, maybe even selecting a different photo to draw from if I get desperate.  On days like that, it’s hard to keep going with this challenge and I start to get discouraged. Lately, it has just been the dedication to push through and get it right. Last week though, I felt encouraged about the necessity of making art because, without a studio practice, I can’t have anything to share with my friends, family, and fans.  Nor can I grow in my skills as an artist, if I don’t practice. And not only that, I feel I would be losing a big part of myself and my identity as a person if I stopped showing up to make art.  I would lose that joy of creating something or seeing my internal visions come to life in sketches and paintings.  In the words of art business coach, Allyson Stanfield, “Without your art, you have nothing to promote, you have nothing to market, you have nothing to take out of the studio and share with the world.”  Source: Ecstatic Encounters Lesson 1: Devote Yourself to Studio Practice, from https://artbizcoach.com/ee-1/.

So despite the difficulties I sometimes encounter with making art, I am not giving up, not on this challenge or any other art project. As it stands, I still have quite a few more days to go before this challenge is complete…By my calculations based on my Instagram posts, I have 63 more days to go. After that, who knows what new challenge I will take on… If you would like to watch my progress, you can view my Instagram profile at jsjschmidt2 on Instagram. I attached a few photos of this drawing challenge from my Instagram account. I hope the challenge to draw every day or almost every day, challenges you as much as it has challenged me. Thanks for stopping by!