Zodiac Portraits + Learning Creative Confidence

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Discovering Creative Confidence - Pisces WIP via My Open Sketchbook

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.

  1. 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…
  2. 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…
  3. 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!

Creative Confidence - tips on building self confidence in a creative lifestyle via My Open Sketchbook

What do you do when you struggle with creative confidence? How do you push through?

  • Yes!!! I absolutely love this!! And I LOVE your zodiac portraits!! It’s funny because one of my really good friends is going through this too. Her sister and I constantly tell her how amazing of an artist she is but she’s SO self conscious and super critical of herself and she’s really growing into getting more comfortable! Putting anything creative out there is so scary now that internet people are SO judgmental!!

    • Kay

      Thank you!! I hope your friend just gets more and more comfortable with her work!! It’s liberating haha. As people who have grown up with the internet, it’s kind of ingrained in our brains to share and put it all out there, and it can be really refreshing to remember, you know what? NO I DON’T!

  • Danielle Knapp

    These are fantastic!!! I cannot wait to see them all finished 🙂 it can be hard to tell the inner voice to shut up sometimes – glad you did and are creating these.

    • Kay

      Thank you so much Danielle! <3

  • These are incredible!! I’m seriously in awe of your talent!!
    ~Sara

    • Kay

      Thank you so much Sara! <3

  • Mariah Kaercher

    That sketch is incredible! Are you doing all the zodiac signs?

    • Kay

      Thank you!! And yup, I plan to do them all. Some may change a bit from the sketches towards the top, but I’ve got all the basic concepts down.

  • GeekyNikkiRVA

    We are VERY similar when it comes to our creative confidence. I also have that little voice in my head that says I can’t do it. I have struggled for years (even in art school). I also feel like I need to see a reference before I can do anything. I’m lucky for my good friends that help me fight the negative voice in my head. I really believe you are your own worst enemy/critic. Keep up the great work! I can’t wait to see Leo!

    • Kay

      Thank you so much! Oh my gosh I totally relate about feeling that way in art school. I would constantly look around and think everyone was so much better & more creative than I was. It’s amazing how these thoughts become rooted, and just part of every day life after awhile.

      I hope you keep up with kicking that voice to the curb! Your art is so great!!

  • Yes, yes yes! For 3. Confidence on whether I’ll be able to do something is really the thing holding me back most. I’ve been telling myself as well that I’m the only one who ever has to see it, and that really helps. If I don’t like what something ends up like, you can put it away and will forget about it. For me it’s 50-50 what I like and what I don’t. But at least that makes me end up with a reasonable amount of things I can be proud of rather than nothing at all!

    • Kay

      Yes, exactly that!! I have a sketchbook full of character doodles, and just random stuff from my head, and honestly, I don’t like a LOT of it. BUT, it’s worth it for the things I do like. And nobody ever sees it but me – not even my partner haha!

  • Emma

    Your galaxy style art work looks incredible. I want that on my walls!

    • Kay

      Thank you Emma! I’ve got a couple ideas for what to do with galaxy things…there is so much on my todo list at the moment!

  • Danette Perez

    Ah, what a good post! So glad to hear you’ve been rocking the confident art brain. Also HOLY CRAP I lobe your galaxies!!! And the girls are wonderful too, obviously :p It’s amazing how well copies can be blended…

    “Practice” is such a good bit of advice that can’t be overstated. To get better, you have to do it ( a lot).

    A recent art mantra of mine is “Not perfect, but done.” Nothing will every be perfect but, just like towards yourself, you need to learn as you go and love your art along the way, as it is- imperfect.

    Being present is also incredibly important. “Hm, I’m not sure I’ll like where this will go? I think this isn’t right… What if I mess this up?”… Projecting self negativity and worrying about the future just slow you down. I try to clear my mind of that. Music and podcasts help distract me into a clear, quiet zone. I also try not to obsess or linger. Consider routes of action, make a edit, and move on.

    Oh yeah, and another piece of advice- enjoy it!!! Crazy, right? Remember that you are digging into your deeper self and bringing forth energy and creativity with your works. Animal sculptures feel like a journey for me, as I spend time studying photos and film clips, imagining the life of this amazing species. It’s a cool, spiritual, and fun process, and I remind myself to be present for that 🙂

    • Kay

      Yessss to all of this!! Not perfect but done – EXACTLY. I’m trying to apply that to loose sketching as well. That’s definitely still my biggest struggle.

      And I agree about projecting the negative thoughts as you work; it certainly won’t do you any favors. Staying present while actively working on things is so important and distractions like music and podcasts work so great!

      OH speaking of which – I ABSOLUTELY LOVE OH NO, ROSS AND CARRIE!!!! I’m obsessed. I started with the Scientology episodes because while I knew a bit about Scientology I wanted to know more and holy shit, that is one batshit crazy belief system. :O

      • Danette Perez

        Ah heck yes to so much good art vibes! And YAY I’m so excited you are also hooked on Oh No Ross and Carrie!!! They are my life. And of course, I also started with the Scientology series because we are parallel lives- freaks. Lol.

  • I am do glad you are not listening to the voice because I love the Zodiac series! I love the concepts/vision you have for reach sign and really looking forward to seeing it all complete. I love seeing your work on Insta and/or Twitter but totally get what you are saying about validation! You will always have my stamp of approval, keep up the great work and looking forward to more! :]

    • Kay

      Eeee thank you so much Jasmine! I’m really enjoying the project!