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Artists and Self-Doubt: Part 2, How to Deal with Other’s opinions about your art

Last week I talked about self-doubt in the context of one’s own self-doubt and self-defeating self-talk such as, “I am not good enough.”, and this week I am switching gears and writing about how to deal with constructive feedback or, not so constructive feedback, as the case may be. This type of criticism may come from a variety of sources such as teachers, family, friends, “fellow artists,” strangers, etc. Bustamante, 2016). Sometimes it is helpful and other times it is not. At times, these people may be sincerely “trying to help you” while at other times, their motives may be less than beneficent. (Source: Gill Bustamante, “Overcoming Self-Doubt for Artists…Even When Your Art Goes Terribly Wrong,” www.emptyeasel.com09/05/2016.

For instance, according to Bustamante, 2016, “Artists often find themselves targets of people who put them down with carefully worded barbed comments or “advice” that leads nowhere, or other thinly veiled criticisms that will discourage the artist on their efforts.” (ibid) In addition, according to Bustamante, it is very important to carefully weigh what others tell you about your artwork, to decide if their opinion is valid or not, taking their advice with a hefty grain of salt. (ibid) The litmus test seems to be, how you experience these people after spending time with them. (ibid) For instance, Bustamante, 2016, asks, do you feel better about yourself after you spend time with them or worse? (ibid) If you don’t enjoy spending time with them, then stay away from them. (ibid) However, if you can’t completely escape these people because they are co-workers or your spouse, “put up a shield “ to guard yourself against what they say. (ibid)

I’ve had my own share of experiences with really bad critiques from teachers, and insensitive comments from others over the years as an art student, and a professional artist. These sorts of comments make me want to give up and are usually too vague to be of any assistance in making improvements in my art. And I have also had the reverse experience; in fact, some of my best constructive feedback has come from art students, during class critiques where there are some ground rules about constructive feedback. These types of comments tend to be more positive, like a word sandwich, such as, I think what works in this painting is, (blank) however, if you changed the color, value, etc, here, it could be even better. The paradox is, if I can’t take any feedback about my artwork, I won’t grow as an artist because I am too close to my work and have tunnel vision, or too emotionally invested in it to see the flaws. On the other hand, if I am too strongly influenced by others I might give up too soon on drawing and painting, or start to pursue art styles that are not really part of my authentic voice, in an attempt to please others or make sales.

Meanwhile, I am trying to keep on keeping on with my weekly studio practice, working in my sketchbook at least on a weekly basis. My hope is that by keeping in practice with drawing it will remind me why I fell in love with making art in the first place. My themes from my sketchbook that I am showing you this week are animals and plants, kind of aproposfirst spring crocus, flatGerbera daisies, flatpeacock portrait, flatSnail and Ladybug, flatTiger portrait, flat since spring is supposed to be around the corner…They were drawn with pencil and Prismacolor Colored Pencils. Thank you for reading! I hope this speaks to someone out there who is struggling not to give up on their art.

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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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How to Make Time for Art

This week I would like to talk about one of my greatest struggles, and that is, making time to create art. It probably seems ironic for me to say that since I think of myself as an artist and I make art for art shows, clients, and I studied art in college. However, sometimes the things I want to do the most, such as painting and drawing, seem to be the most, difficult to make time for in my schedule. So many things battle for competition of my time: everyday stuff like laundry, cooking and balancing my checkbook, administrative tasks for my art business, like marketing and accounting, time wasters like internet surfing and excessive social media use, etc., etc. All these need to get done, but if I am not careful, they can crowd out too much of my time. And if that isn’t enough, I have been battling with artist’s block and self-doubt about my abilities to succeed as an artist, (whatever that means), ever since I have taken my art to a more professional level, by showing at art galleries and art fairs, and creating custom art for clients. My standards for making art have really skyrocketed, (and they were already ridiculously high) since I now feel the pressure to try and please others by making art work that “sells.”

However, in all this, I have lost my joy in making art, and don’t even know what it is that I want to say with my art anymore. This period of my life reminds me of another time period when I faced the same kind of self-doubt, when I was a senior in at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD, studying art. I was in my final year at McDaniel and taking an art studio thesis course, where I had to make art work that demonstrated something I wanted to say and write an artist statement to support that work. After I got that assignment, I felt paralyzed with indecision. It took me two weeks to come out of that episode of artist’s block, and I really wasn’t sure what I would do during that time. When I was going through this ordeal,  I felt that everything there is to say about art has already been said by many famous artists such as Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Vermeer, Rembrandt, etc. and that every art subject has already been done in the thousands of years of art history. I felt I had to come up with some really “original” idea and I looked everywhere I could think to find inspiration: art magazines, art books, etc. I finally found my inspiration in the songs of singer/songwriter, Sting, which seemed an unlikely solution to me. I decided to try and illustrate the feelings in some of his songs like Lithium Sunset, by using myself as subject, and color as a way to express emotions. The crisis was solved and I made it through, but I really struggled to climb out of that pit.

Unfortunately, I am finding myself in that awful place again of uncertainty and doubt. So this week I am writing about how to make time for art, in hopes that it will help me to focus my time better and to get back into the habit of regular studio practice. I’d like to share with you some insights from two blog articles I read by Lisa Congdon, entitled, How to Find Time to Make Art When You Work Full Time, (2017) and an article entitled, How to Find Times for Art in a Busy Life, Tara Leaver, (2014) in hopes that you will find it helpful to you in managing your life and making time for creativity. According to Lisa Congdon, there are a few things you can do to help make time for art. For example, she recommends that artists and other creative types set aside a block of time every week, even if it’s only for a few minutes or a few hours, and that these small increments of time will add up over time. She also mentions an all important habit and that is to limit your time on your computer or phone screen. Another blog writer, Julie Fan Fei-Balzer, recommends a few time management apps she uses to track her time online, such as Flipboard, Tweetdeck, and Alinoff (an online computer app that records the amount of time you spend online.) I’ve been taking this advice by setting aside small increments of time daily, just working on demonstration paintings from art technique books to try and get myself back in the groove. And slowly I am getting my courage back to work on original art, which I really need to get back to doing more often, because I realize that if I don’t make art, I have nothing to share with others, as was so wisely said by Art Biz Coach, Alyson Stanfield on her podcast, on Art Marketing Action series,  at http://www.artbizcoach.com.

For example, she recommends that artists and other creative types set aside a block of time every week, even if it’s only for a few minutes or a few hours, and that these small increments of time will add up over time. She also mentions an all important habit and that is to limit your time on your computer or phone screen. Another blog writer, Julie Fan Fei-Balzer, of Balzer Designs, recommends a few time management apps she uses to track her time online, such as Flipboard, Tweetdeck, and Alinoff (an online computer app that records the amount of time you spend online.) I’ve been taking this advice by setting aside small increments of time daily, just working on demonstration paintings from art technique books to try and get myself back in the groove. And slowly I am getting my courage back to work on original art, which I really need to get back to doing more often, because I realize that if I don’t make art, I have nothing to share with others, as was so wisely said by Art Biz Coach, Alyson Stanfield on her podcast, on Art Marketing Action series,  at http://www.artbizcoach.com.

In addition, Tara Leaver, author of the article, How to Find Time for Art in a Busy Life, (2014), states that one way to make time for art is to schedule in blocks of time during the day when you feel you are at your best, whether it’s early in the morning, in the afternoon or late at night. I personally prefer the afternoon or mid-morning, but I know it would be pointless for me to get up early to try and fit art into my schedule because I am not a morning person. She also mentions that having healthy boundaries and the ability to say “No” to others can help you make time for art, although you can occasionally say yes to say, a meeting with friends over coffee.

For me, the saying “No”, might be to a variety of things such as additional art shows, (since they often require much more than just making art, such as marketing, or pricing the work, or getting it ready for distribution, e.g. (framing, matting or pricing). Or it might mean saying “No”, to watching movies or surfing the internet. Even a well-intentioned visit to Pinterest to look for inspiration for my art work can turn into a rabbit hole that keeps me away from my work and instead results in mindless scrolling through other’s people’s art work, recipes, fashion ideas, etc. if I don’t limit my time there. The biggest takeaway I am getting from this journey out of artist’s block, is that I fear to make mistakes so much that I have been avoiding doing my art work, staying busy with other things, such as cleaning the house, art business stuff, or anything else I can think of to stay away from the easel and my fears about whether I might mess something up. I seem to have a pattern of getting excited about projects, and then giving up, when I get to the hard part. However, today I choose to make art in spite of the fear because it’s what I truly love to do, and I want to share my work with others. It’s been my dream to be an artist for as long as I can remember, and despite many setbacks and self-doubt, it seems to be something I return to again and again. I hope it will bring some light and joy to your day viewing my paintings. The Geese drawing and paintings are my original art work, and the landscape is a demonstration from the Jerry Smith book, Expressive Landscapes in Acrylic.

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The Girl with the Pearl Earring and the Phoenix Legend

A phoenix is a mythical bird that is a fire spirit with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to some legends). It has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again.

Source: Wikipedia

 

I’m stealing this tidbit about the Native American legend of the Phoenix, from blogger, Julie Fan-Fei Balzer of Baltzer Designs because it seems so apropos to the struggle I am facing about how to start again on a failed painting that I started last week, Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Vermeer, painted in 1665. Source: Fan-Fei Balzer, J. (January 3, 2011). Like a Phoenix. Retrieved from http://balzerdesigns.typepad.com/balzer_designs/2011/01/like-a-phoenix.html.

In some ways, beginning a project over again after you are dissatisfied with it is like a death and re-birth. You have to let go of what isn’t working in your artwork (death) and be open to letting in what will work in a new piece of artwork, (birth). This process might include a new approach to the painting or a more positive mindset. I also feel that this symbol of the phoenix that lives, dies, and is reborn is a powerful affirmation, and I feel in need of that kind of empowerment this week to make the plunge and actually get to work on starting this new painting…

It seems that this week I have hit the wall on several creative fronts, whether it’s in writing this blog or maintaining a daily painting practice and finishing the projects I start. I have a collection of unfinished paintings and drawings that has been accumulating in my art studio. The process starts out something like this, I will see a reproduction of a painting in an art book and feel excited about the prospect of re-creating it myself, begin the work, and then get stuck because something isn’t working and I can’t figure out how to fix it. Then, out of frustration, I start up another painting just to try and move forward and not let too many days go by without painting or drawing.

All of this stagnation has brought me to a standstill and made me ponder some deep questions, such as: “What am I hoping to accomplish with this master copy series?”, “Why do I paint?, and “Who am I as an artist?”. Recent disappointments in my creative life and in my personal life have also contributed to my doubt and stagnation as an artist. I’ve had to work hard to dig myself out of this mire I have found myself in… And I have been opening myself up to other artistic sources in blogs and documentaries, such as artist/blogger, Julie Fan Fei Blazer’s blog, and a recent documentary by musician John Mayer, called Someday I’ll Fly on YouTube, to fill the creative well inside me.  Both have shared their journeys in the creative process, talking about their trials and successes, and most importantly about their craft. In his documentary, Someday I’ll Fly, Mayer talks about creativity as a battle to be fought, which all artists are fighting, and it definitely feels like a battle this week!

I’ve also started a new weekly drawing practice, working in a sketchbook with pre-planned subjects for each day so I won’t have to think about what to draw/paint, while I am trying to get up the courage to start this painting again. I’m hoping this forward motion will propel me to jump off the diving board and start this painting after a week of procrastination.

So here is my revised version of Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665, by Vermeer, painted with Gamblin 1980 oil paints on prepared canvas. I started with a brand new canvas for this painting and focused more on checking the proportions to the original painting as often as I could. This stage is called the under painting and it concentrates on the three main values in a painting of lightest, middle, and darkest. I used a burnt sienna oil paint and mixed it with titanium white for lighter areas while adding a mixture of ultramarine blue, viridian green and alizarin crimson to create my own black. To thin out the paints, I used a non-toxic, Solvent Free  Safflower Oil Gel made by Gamblin.  When this layer dries, I will be working on blocking in the local colors of flesh tones, the blue and yellow turban and the yellow ochre coat with fur collar. I will also be delving into some of the questions I asked in this blog about why I paint and what I hope to accomplish with this master copies series.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, After Vermeer, re-do
Girl with a Pearl Earring, After Vermeer, Jodie Schmidt, 2017

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Meisje_met_de_parel
Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, 1665.