On Confidence

We have gone through this process and I have taught many techniques I felt were important towards breaking out of the methods of drawing we learn as children and carry with us as we grow older once we stop drawing. I have taught methods to draw problem areas to help make drawing less frustrating. We have played around with different techniques in an effort to explore and play.

All of these things are great, but in terms of what will take you from this course and move you forward, growing further, armed with these new tools, is confidence.

It’s a tough notion to teach, and something (nearly) every artist struggles with, but it needs to be cultivated to a nearly delusional degree. Stand up comic/storyteller Mike Birbiglia has a quote in his movie Sleepwalk With Me about comedians having to be in complete denial of their abilities early on if they are going to succeed. “You have to be able to walk on stage and bomb, and walk off and think – that went great.”

And this is the same for every artist who seeks to improve. So how does one foster confidence? How do you silence the inner critic, the imposter syndrome that holds so many back? I suffer from all of this myself, I don’t know if that makes me unqualified to give advice on this topic or MORE qualified than most to show you the hurdles you will face, but here are my thoughts.

Reframe what “success” means to you in these early stages.

For the beginner, just going out and drawing should be celebrated as a success. For adults, it’s easy for life to take over and for you to not take time for yourself, even 20 minutes a day to create some new thing. There are bills to pay, work to be done, children to attend to. I get it. So when you do make time to sit and draw, don’t fret that those 20 minutes need to end with a spectacular drawing. YOU MADE THE EFFORT. In the same way Malcom Gladwell popularized the idea that you have to spend 10,000 hours doing something to be great at it, you need to draw at least 10,000 bad drawings before you will get to the good stuff.

Kirby Rosanes is a Filipino artist with 2 million followers on Facebook. He has a best selling adult coloring book, and is a wonderful, imaginative, prolific artist. This is some of his most recent work:

KirbyRecent (2) Kirbyrecent

Amazing, and daunting. Comparing yourself to other artists is crippling. Don’t compare yourself to Kirby, but DO take a look at the drawings he was doing only FIVE YEARS AGO:

kirbyFirstDeviation kirbyEarly

Most artists don’t grow their skills at this rate. These early examples are really modest efforts, showing promise, but many artists can get to the point where they draw at this level and don’t continue to grow. So how did he get so good?

  • He put the time in.
  • By putting the time in, he discovered a method that was a clear fit for his personality.
  • He seems relentlessly curious.

How does he put the time in?

You could argue that he is young. I see one listed age as 25, which means he was 20 when he started posting his work online. Young people have more time than many, but lots of young artists never reach anything close to his skill level. How does he keep drawing when so many stop?

  • He doesn’t compare himself to other artists. That takes time away from drawing.
  • He celebrates the act of drawing, celebrates every drawing he makes. Each one was a victory in the effort to improve, even his earliest ones. DOING IS ENOUGH, THE SKILLS WILL COME.
  • Anyone following him can feel his imagination at work, his desire to play. We lose this as adults, it becomes harder to sit down and allow our minds to wander to the silly places it takes to explore freely and without judgement.

That judgement has to go away for you to play and be curious. The only way to do that is celebrate the act of drawing, not the result. If you sit down to draw and decide “time to draw something and it better be good or this time is lost and I had to work hard to carve out this block of time to draw.” you will have failed before you even put down the first line.

We all feel the way you feel.

Every time you sit down to draw and feel the creeping dread that the thing that exists in your head won’t come out on the page correctly, step back from yourself, recognize you are feeling it, and laugh, because WE ALL FEEL THE SAME WAY YOU DO. At almost every level, we all worry that what we want to put on the page won’t come out right. It doesn’t matter what skill level we are. By recognizing you are feeling the same feeling everyone else feels, maybe you can put that in your pocket and leave it there to move on to the act of drawing, which is the only real victory worth having.

Still putting pressure on yourself? Sit down and draw with completely new and unfamiliar materials. Or draw a subject you have never done before. By changing up the tools or tackling a new subject, it can relieve the pressure you put on yourself to be “good”. If you have been drawing cars for weeks, you expect the next car to be at least as good as all the previous ones, probably better. By drawing an elephant instead, you are exploring a new thing, you can allow yourself to play, to get it “wrong”.

CONFIDENCE IS EVERYTHING.

I went through the Urban Sketchers group to find examples of this, and they are everywhere. Artists who exibit confidence can get respect and admiration even when their work is not conventionally correct or maybe even thought out well. They find techniques to mask areas where they are weaker, or better yet they just get it down on the paper, as my 6 year old might say, “LIKE A BOSS”. Check these out:

confidence06 confidence05 confidence04 confidence03 confidence02 confidence01

I find all of these incredibly appealing in different ways. None of them are “technically” correct. Could they take a lesson that would improve their craft in some way? Sure. But they are doing it. They put the time in. By putting the drawing up for judgement of the group, they show that they have celebrated the act of doing it. Their reward for being vulnerable among hundreds of more technically skilled artists is encouragement. That encouragement compels them further forward.

Confidence can be fostered. You just have to remove the idea that your drawing has to look just right, and replace that with I SAT DOWN AND DID A THING. When you sit down, remind yourself that you are there to play, to be curious. If you can, schedule time every day, make it a routine, a ritual that you enjoy. Make yourself some tea, sit by your window, draw your little heart out.

Ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty. You’re doing it! Kirby is still exploring, just as he was when he first started putting his work up online. You can explore too, you just have to give yourself permission to do it awkwardly at first. Like baby steps, you are beginning an awkward journey forward.