Today I want to talk about creative confidence, a subject which happens to be tied directly to a new portrait series I’m working on. Truth be told, I lack creative confidence in so many ways. The biggest area I’m lacking in is drawing without using a direct reference. That is something I truly struggle with. For over a year, I have had the idea to create a portrait series based on the Zodiac signs rolling around in my head. But a lack of creative confidence always held me back. Every time I went to start this project that little voice in my head suddenly became deafening, telling me I couldn’t do it. Telling me I wasn’t capable. I listened to it. On to the back burner this project went, filed permanently under the ‘someday’ category.
But recently I’ve been having a change of attitude. I’ve been getting better at telling that little voice to shut up; pushing past it and getting things down on paper. Why? Sometimes I forget that I don’t have to share everything I create on the internet. I don’t have to post every drawing on Instagram or Twitter. I think it’s quite normal for artists, and creatives in general, to seek validation and put their work into the world, but I feel with the prevalence of social media today it can be so easy to fall into the mentality of feeling like you have to put it out into the world. You don’t. I don’t. And once I realized that, it became so much easier to tell that little voice in my head to shut up, nobody cares what you’re saying, I’m the only one who will ever see this.
And so I started drawing thumbnails. Really, really rough thumbnails. Just quick little sketches to get the base concepts down – things like the angle of the head, hairstyle, and basic expression. And you know what? I didn’t hate my thumbnails. In fact, I was really proud of most of them. So I refined them. I added more detail, solidified expression. And I still really liked them. The more I worked on them, the more my creative confidence grew. It was, and is, an amazing feeling.
Once I had thumbnails drawn for each Zodiac sign, it was time to dive in for real. Create an actual piece. Make something finished. There was some anxiety when I thought about beginning, but it was far outweighed by the feeling of excitement that I had. I wanted to see how it would turn out, to see what I could create from my own head! That was a very refreshing feeling compared to anxiety and self doubt. I began with Aries, as it was my favorite thumbnail of the bunch. Once I had it sketched out on paper, I did some tests. I’d planned the backgrounds of these pieces to be galaxy themed, but I had never drawn a galaxy before. Therefore, I practiced, and was really pleased with the results!
I also did some thumbnail color testing to figure out the horn and hair colors. Making thumbnail color tests is a tip I learned from Victoria Gedvillas’ videos. I am SO glad I started doing the color tests – now I can go into pieces with confidence in my color scheme and not worry about wasting a ton of Copic ink figuring it out. The color test sketches are super rough, and take no more than a few minutes to make. The idea isn’t to make it look nice, just to get the color scheme across.
Once I knew my colors, I dove in. And shockingly, the entire thing turned out exactly the way I wanted it to. I mean, of course I made mistakes. But on the whole, this piece is exactly what I envisioned in my head. With my creative confidence booming, I began my next piece – Pisces.
I botched the background a bit on this one but honestly, I don’t even mind. It’s not perfect, and that’s okay. I’m still so excited to finish it! And that’s a very good feeling.
The more I work on these Zodiac portraits the more I’m realizing that creative confidence (and presumably, confidence in general) can be learned. And often, it can only be learned by doing whatever it is you lack confidence in. Some people may have confidence naturally, but for those of us that don’t, it is something that can happen. So if you find yourself struggling with creative confidence, I want you to keep three things in mind.
- Everyone starts somewhere. For the most part, nobody does any new task perfectly on the first try. Creative ventures are no different. If you’ve never drawn a dog before, you probably won’t draw it well the first time. That’s okay. This leads directly to tip 2, which is…
- Practice, practice, practice. You will absolutely never improve in anything, creative or not, unless you do it consistently. Want to be a great writer? Write often. Every day if possible. Want to be a comic artist? Draw often. Every day if possible. You have to be willing to put the work in. Even if when you start, it is the most cringe-worthy, embarrassing thing you’ve ever done. Do it anyway. And here’s why…
- Nobody ever has to see it. Ever. That horrific drawing of a person that looks like a drunk four year old made it? Doesn’t ever have to see the light of day again. That story with more plot holes than Armageddon? You can totally burn it if you want to. The point is, you still made something. Even if it was shit. And because you made something, you learned something. Which means you are on the road to improving.
Learning and gaining creative confidence doesn’t happen overnight. Geez, I’ve been drawing for more than 15 years at this point and I’m just now really starting to gain confidence in my skill! And I still have so much more to learn, try, and experiment with in my art career. I can’t wait!
What do you do when you struggle with creative confidence? How do you push through?