Creating A Sketchbook Habit - A NEW Series!

5:57 AM

When I'm out and about teaching classes and even in the online classes, it's not unusual to have an artist lament the fact that they only create when taking a class even though they want to create more, they don't feel like their work is any good, they never seem to have the time to create, or they're not satisfied with the work they are doing, it has drained their enthusiasm and they stop creating.

Sound familiar?

Then this series is for you.

We're going to start out with addressing one of the biggest underlying reasons we don't create unless we're taking a class, we don't make the time to create or we're not satisfied with our work and it usually comes down to one word:


And while this is a simple four-letter word, dealing with fear in its many forms is something else entirely.

For whatever reason (but it usually has roots in words spoken to us in our childhood), fear plays a huge role in our artistic pursuits...or maybe I should say our lack of creative efforts.  We're afraid of looking like we don't know what we're doing, of making a mistake, that our work will be found lacking, or the creativity police will revoke our "creative license."

It seems safer to create only when in a class environment because the teacher is there to help us work through any challenges and if we do get into trouble, they can help us get out of the fix we're in. Don't get me wrong—I think classes are a fantastic way to learn and a good place to start...but not as the only place to create.

Classes are also deadline driven (and thank goodness for deadlines!)—we must to create within the timeframe given or we lose out on an opportunity to learn from a particular teacher or a certain subject matter.

Rather than looking at the reasons why we don't create more, we often decide we just "don't have time." (Seriously? We'll be addressing this in more depth, but let me state here that I've yet to meet the person that didn't have time to put a few scribbles on the page!) 

Often, before I can even say anything to an artist asking for help, they're pointing out EVERY-SINGLE-THING that isn't right, did not turn out, could be better, or they don't like. I think most of us have the idea that if we point out these things and criticize our work FIRST, no one will/can say anything that will hurt our feelings. (And yes, there's more to say about this point too, but we'll come back to it later.)

Recognizing Fear
Fear, especially when it's dressed itself up with reason and a bit of truth, can be hard to recognize. We've learned not to touch a hot stove because we'll get hurt. And yet, most us use some form of heat to prepare food on a regular basis. If we had stopped at the lesson of "can't touch that," we'd all be eating nuts and fruit!

Instead of looking closely at our concerns to see if it's fear masquerading as reason, we accept these beliefs as the truth. After all, who among us wants to fail or look like we don't know what we're doing. By not dragging our reasons for not producing more creative efforts out into the light and giving them a thorough look, we allow them to stand as both the reason we can't possibly do more and the excuse why we don't have to try.

Chances are good that once those fears hit the light, you'll begin to see they are not as substantial as you once thought. In many cases, they're no longer accurate. We often continue to grow our skills, but our fears don't keep pace. You might still be harboring a concern that you can't draw worth a darn and yet you have a sketchbook at your elbow that says otherwise.

So let's examine some of those fears a little closer by taking serious look at those fears.

Making Mistakes
I don't know ANYONE who actually likes making mistakes. Mistakes can, on occasion, open doors we had not previously opted to see let alone open. They can lead to happy accidents. But most of the time, we allow them to frustrate us and steal our momentum.

Unfortunately, mistakes are as necessary to our growth as breathing.

How did you learn to walk as a child? How did you learn to write the alphabet when you started school? What about reading? Did you just decide to stand up and walk off one day? Did you never write a backwards "e" or "d" when you learned how to spell? Ever mispronounce a word?

While these are all "acceptable" mistakes, making a creative mistake is not. Why? Why is it okay to misspell a word but not okay to either not know how to draw something or draw an incorrect line?

And no, these are rhetorical questions.

Not Good Enough vs. Not Very Good
I have one of my first watercolor paintings from when I was in art school. The painting was a storm moving in on a beach scene of a house and palm tree. We were to use blue and black paint as well as the white of the paper.

When I was done, I was looked like my painting had been left outside in the storm!

It really wasn't very good and there was no way to hide that fact. Never mind that it was my third or fourth effort to paint with watercolors, I was extremely disappointed and disheartened. I remember my teacher saying something along the lines of "you have a choice. Practice, try again and again until your efforts get better. Or quit. Find another medium."

And that was it—I had a choice: I could learn to do better by practicing or I could quit.

We all have that same choice with every. single. thing. we. attempt. You know the choice I made and while I'd like to tell you that several paintings later I had it mastered, I don't want to lie to you. What I can tell you is that when I finally got out of my own way, I could recognize a little bit of growth with each attempt.

But "Not Very Good" is an entirely different kettle of brew from "Not Good Enough."

It is all too easily tangle up the our own self worth with our artistic efforts...and somehow come up lacking.

Just like it helps to drag our fears into the light, it also helps to look closely to see if it's our efforts or ourselves that we're condemning as "not good enough." Learn to listen to the voice* you hear that's doing the accusing or belittling. Is it your own, a critical parent or teacher from childhood or possibly a spouse that is judging you rather than your efforts on the page?

The voice may be more than one person's past judgments that still have the power to hurt you. Just by recognizing where the voice and judgements are coming from can be helpful. Learning to move past the critic's harsh words is often a reoccurring struggle. Remember, you have a choice. Do it anyway and ignore the critic...or quit.

*This is known as an inner critic. Everyone has one, but some voices can be more critical than others.  This is another subject worth delving into at length. The best way I've found to deal with mine is to say something like, "I'm going to do ______________ (fill in the blank with appropriate activity) ANYWAY. If you do not have anything useful or helpful to add, please be quiet," and to do what I told the critic I was going to do.

Making The Choice
I have found that just recognizing the fear and the decision to "do it anyway" can be liberating. The problem comes up in that I often have to fight the fear, the inner critic, or the feelings of not being very good again and again and again. It helps to remember that I have a choice.

The other thing I've found that helps me greatly to overcome my fears is to make my efforts fun. Rather than being so serious about my efforts, I strive for fun, to play as a child would play. You don't see toddlers agonizing over smearing some paint around on a piece of paper and rest assured, every piece is a masterpiece in their own eyes even if you can't recognize the green blob as the family dog!

I have more paper, I have more paint and I will make time to begin again, so why stress? Why not have fun and play and explore? What is there to lose?

My Inner Medusa
I created her back in 2010!
Your Assignment For This Week
Drag your fears out into the light and look closely at them. What do you see? What's true and what's an outdated belief? Which ones have become easy excuses to fall back on rather than making art?

Can you sketch your fears? If so, what would it be—a face, a monster, a fire-breathing dragon, a spider with a human face? Sketch it if you can. It doesn't have to be realistic or "good enough" as it's your fear that only you can see.

My inner Medusa came to be on a Sunday afternoon when I felt like I'd been going around and around with the same self-doubts and fears forever. I decided to see if putting them on paper would silence them. While they weren't completely silent, they were much quieter!

Can you make it fun? Can you step into a childlike mindset and just splash color on the page? Give it a whirl and see how you feel. Take note of those feelings as it will be important info to have later.

Share Your Thoughts, Your Efforts, Your Questions
We often feel isolated with our fears and concerns. I'd love to hear from you and what you think as well as what you've learned about yourself or your fears as you step through the exercises. If you've created some artwork, leave a link in a comment so we can cheer you on. Have a question? Feel free to ask in a comment or send me an email via the contact form at the top of the page.

Trust me when I tell you I've been there. I still visit that place of paralyzing fear...but I've found some tools that help me leave sooner and overcome that fear. That's the point of this series. To give you the tools to begin moving away from being unhappy with your efforts to being satisfied enough so that you want to do more.

Part Two of this series is here.
Part Three is here.

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2 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Thanks, Laure, You're right on target as always! Time to get out my paints and pens again.


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