Following a creative endeavour as an artist can be a great thing. It can be satisfying, motivating, liberating, meditative and so much more. However, it can also be challenging and downright frustrating at times.
If you occasionally fall into the trap of negative thinking (like me), I’m here to help.
You see, in the end it all comes down to your mindset. In the long run a negative mindset will yield negative results while a positive mindset will yield positive results instead.
In this article I’ll show you several common negative thoughts about art that might have crept into your mind on occasion – and how you can turn them into positive, empowering beliefs!
And believe me: I know the struggle is real. I’m writing this as much for myself as I’m writing it for you. It’s just what I need to hear, too.
So let’s get started with the first one:
1. I Can’t Draw!
Newsflash: Everybody can draw. If you have a pen and can put that on a paper to make a line, you can draw. As simple as that. I’m not trying to be Captain Obvious here, but it’s true:
You CAN draw and you need to get that „I can’t draw“-stuff out of your head. Because if that’s what you tell yourself, you will always subconsiously find reasons why it’s a bad idea to start drawing. So in the end you won’t even start practicing which creates a vicious cycle because you’ll never get better then.
What to think instead: I will learn how to get better at drawing!
You can draw already. You just need to make it a habit to practice so that you can actually get as good as you desire.
2. I Will Never Be Able To Draw Like X or Y!
This is a classic one. X and Y are obviously artists you admire or you wouldn’t list them as examples. You tell yourself that you will never be as good as them because you fear that this will be the truth. You might have told yourself this so often that you actually strongly believe it.
But how can you know? The future is not yet here. You can’t know yet, if you will be as good an artist as X or Y.
Also: Who says that you won’t maybe even become BETTER than them? Have you ever thought about it like that?
In the end it doesn’t matter though. What really matters is that you become the best artist YOU can be. Nobody knows what that will be, only time will tell.
What to think instead: I will become the best artist I can be!
Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop looking left and right all the time and focus on yourself and your own improvement. Don’t get discouraged by the great art of others and use it as fuel to the fire instead!
3. I’m Not Getting Any Better!
It may sound stupid, but it’s impossible to not get better. Every stroke you make on a paper/surface will help you in becoming a better artist. It is one little step on a lifelong journey. If nothing else it develops your motor skills with the medium of your choice.
But I get where you’re coming from. You sometimes feel like you’re just not improving, despite hours and hours of time spent.
People say that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Be honest: How far are you along the way?
I say that it takes even more than that to master art. If you can draw perfect faces because you have spent thousands of hours doing just that, it doesn’t automatically mean that you can draw a cow for example. You could spent another couple of thousand hours on that as well. (At that point you should be pretty quick in picking up that skill though.)
If you feel that you are just not getting better, you might need to assess your strategy: Are you practicing or are you just doodling around?
It’s ok to doodle around and draw things that are fun, but if you always just draw things that you can already draw, your improvement will slow down at some point. A healthy little dose of focused practice might be all that’s needed to propel you forward.
What to think instead: Every stroke will make me better! I will practice more focused!
Realize that every stroke you make is a step forward on your journey as an artist, no matter how insignificant it might seem. And if you really want to feel like you’re improving, sit down and start a session of focused practice. Perseverence WILL lead to improvement. There’s always something to learn!
4. Nobody Likes My Art!
Reality check: Are you an artist because it’s fun to you or because you enjoy the validation of other people? I guess it’s a mix of both and neither of them is inherently wrong.
But I think you should get to a point where you are drawing and painting for yourself first. You have to do it because it makes you happy and not to get a desired reaction from the people around you. In the end the best art you will create is the art that comes from your heart because that’s the stuff you will put the most work and love into.
Maybe, just maybe, your art really isn’t that good yet. It doesn’t matter though because you will get better if you keep at it and will probably get way better than you even thought you could.
What to think instead: I will draw for myself because I like it and be happy, if someone else does too! If not, that’s ok!
In the end it’s largely a matter of taste anyway. Not everyone will like your art (some people don’t even like art in general) and not everyone will like every piece you create. That’s fine. Focus on yourself. Create art because you love it and be happy about the people who compliment you. Ignore the haters. „Haters gonna hate“. Do your thing.
5. I Can’t Draw / Paint With Pencils / Markers / Acrylic Color / Watercolor / Whatever!
You can’t paint with acrylic color? You can’t do it with watercolor? Why not? Well, probably because you’ve never done it or at least not very often. It’s true that each medium requires a slightly different approach (some more than others), but with enough time and effort you can learn any medium. There’s no objective reason you can’t.
This one’s simple:
What to think instead: I will learn how to paint with watercolor!
Just change the „I can’t“ in the assumption above to „I will learn how to“. Simple as that. The thought „I can’t“ limits your willingness to learn because telling yourself that makes you believe that any amount of practice won’t bear fruit anyway. Try quitting the negative self-talk and replacing it with something positive like „I will learn how to…“. That’s when the magic happens.
6. You Can’t Make A Living Out Of Drawing/Painting!
This is not true. You might be clinging to the belief that artists and their work just get famous after they died, as was the case with most famous artists like Picasso and Van Gogh.
Wake-up call: We live in the 21st century. It’s the time of the internet and social media. As an artist you aren’t dependant on art galleries and art dealers anymore. Set up a blog, an instagram account, a facebook page, … the more the better. Your art can get worldwide exposure for free this way!
Of course, it isn’t easy. It’s hard work, requires patience and probably also a good bit of luck. Just be smart about it. Don’t quit your job, start painting pictures and complain that you don’t have any money for food…
View it as a side hustle. Paint pictures in your free time and try to sell some. You can sell originals as well as prints of your work.
What to think instead: It’s possible to earn money with art. I will try to make the best of it and may be able to make a living out of it sometime!
It isn’t easy, yes, but if you’re still not convinced that it’s possible to earn a lot of money as an artist, I’ll give you a few examples you might not have heard of:
It’s possible. Try to make the best of it. Maybe you will become the new Banksy or have success similar to Ashley Longshore. Who knows. They started out small, too!
7. Nobody Wants To Pay For (My) Art!
I guess I answered this one in the previous entry already. It’s wrong. There are a lot of people willing to pay huge amounts of money for art. You just gotta find them! The internet has made this easier than ever before. Put your stuff out there and make yourself discoverable. Who knows, sooner or later you might have 100, 1,000, 10,000, or more followers from all over the world. People who would have never seen your art before there was the internet.
There’s people buying feces on the internet… for real… and you think there isn’t anyone willing to buy your art?
What to think instead: There are people interested in buying my art on the internet and I’m gonna find them!
I really believe you will be able to make a few bucks with your art. But it’s not guaranteed that you will make $30,000 like Ashley Longshore or something… Maybe you won’t be so lucky. So consider lowering your expectations at first. If you do it like I said above and view it as a side hustle, it doesn’t really matter, if you sell anything anyway.
Change your mindset. Even one sold painting, even $1 dollar earned with your art is a success!
Now, if you’ve already been putting out a lot of content and you aren’t selling much or anything at all… don’t get discouraged. Just keep at it. You may be one painting away from a breakthrough!
Maybe you will be one of the lucky ones who will be able to make a name for himself and earn huge paychecks with your artworks. You won’t find out though, if you don’t give life a chance.
8. I Don’t Have Enough Time To Draw!
Quit fooling yourself.
We all have the same 24 hours every day. Most people sleep 6 to 8 hours a night and if you work a regular 9-to-5 job you work 8 hours a day. That leaves you with at least 8–10 hours of time.
There’s more stuff you have to do, housework and whatnot. I get it. Still, be honest with yourself: How much time do you spend on Netflix, fooling around or being lazy?
In the end it’s all a matter of priorities and what’s really important to you. You will find the time for the things that really mean something to you.
And I’m not talking about hours and hours of drawing, but I’m positive that you could find the time to draw one or two hours every day.
What to think instead: I’ll make time for drawing every day!
Don’t stress, if you can’t make it everyday. Life gets in the way more often than we want it to. But just 30 minutes every day (182.5 hours a year) can go a long way in making you a better artist and can allow you to produce a lot of content.
9. I Hate Practicing!
I get where you’re coming from. It’s always more fun to paint a finished picture. Envision it in your mind, make sketches, then make the final drawing, render it, add all the details… until you have a beautiful finished picture.
The problem is that while doing this you are basically just repeating what you can already draw. Of course, you can challenge yourself and try to make finished paintings of subjects you haven’t really studied. You can then make some studies on just that subject in a specific pose or perspective until you can draw it well.
The problem is that you will probably still end up having to draw the finished picture several times until you get it right – and in a few days or weeks you may have forgotten how to draw it because you haven’t really made that many studies after all. You made a few studies to get a specific pose of a specific subject right for one image… but you won’t really be that much better off drawing that subject in general.
Take me for example: At the beginning of 2018 I dedicated a few weeks to practicing drawing heads from the front. After studying the proportions for some time I got the hang of it and my faces started to look better and better. Then I went on to create some finished drawings. A few months went by and I had fun doing it… but at some point I noticed that all my faces were just portraits from the front, as you can see on my Instagram (look at the very first ~10 pictures on there).
I could go on and draw more faces like that, but I realized that in the end that won’t make me a better artist. I’m pretty okay at drawing faces from the front, so I’m now starting to devote some time to drawing faces in a ¾ view. Doing that will build my visual library and help me improve.
What to think instead: I accept that focused practice is necessary and will devote some time to just that!
At some point you too should accept the fact that focused practice is necessary to get better. It’s not always fun, but instead of thinking of the times it may feel uncomfortable to draw something you can’t really draw convincingly yet think of how rewarding it will feel to finally be able to do that – and how many more ideas you will be able to put to paper!
Well, I don’t believe you. If you’ve come to this page and read until here, you probably have a lot of ideas, but are more likely struggling with anxiety and a negative outlook because you don’t really know how to put them on the canvas or you don’t believe you can do it.
Still, if you really have no ideas what you can draw, you can still just go ahead and copy existing images. You could copy stills of your favorite movies or tv shows. Just browse Instagram – there are actually a LOT of people happy doing just that. Many aren’t even interested in drawing freehand, so they use a detailed grid to copy the basic lines and focus exclusively on rendering with colored pencils (for example). Which is perfectly fine.
But if you DO want to draw something freehand, but just can’t figure out what to draw… just think about the rest of your life.
What do you like?
What to think instead: I’ll follow my passions and that will automatically give me ideas!
I love superheroes for example. I also like horror stuff. So I draw mostly that. I have a million ideas of pictures I could draw that relate to that.
What do you like?
Is there a certain TV show you like? Draw a character of that. Is there a movie you love? Draw something of it. Are you into sports? You could draw your favorite athlete!
There’s much more you could draw: Architecture, landscapes, portraits, animals, people, your relatives, still lifes, …
Just follow your passions and I guarantee you that you will get a lot of ideas.
What it all comes down to in the end is adopting a growth mindset.
Instead of thinking „I can’t do this“ think „I will learn how to do this“. Instead of thinking „This will never work“ think „This may take some time“.
Replace the negative with something positive. That is the root of improvement and that is the mindset of a successful artist.