Self Discovery During a Health Crisis: How I Finally Became a Confident Artist

Confident Artist Blog Cover Art by INKY

Hello everyone!

I know I’ve been gone for what feels like an eternity. My website has been under construction, my presence on social media has been a bit lacking, I’ve stopped streaming and yes, I’ve completely rebranded myself, my work and this website.

I’ve felt the need to provide an update about my absence and how that time off has allowed me to finally become a confident artist.

2020 has brought a lot of challenges for all of us, but for me, it felt like I finally had permission to go on a self discovery journey that had been long overdue, and I’d like to share that journey with you.

This journey started back in April as my employer had to temporarily shut down due to the COVID-19 health crisis. I mean, when you’re isolating for weeks at a time, at some point you have a shocking realization about your life.

What you do with that realization is up to you.

You can either- 

a. seize the opportunity to make changes or
b. internalize those feelings and project them as anger onto those around you. 

I genuinely feel this has happened to a lot of people this year, hence why there’s been a huge boom in start up businesses and social unrest, among other things.

As for myself, I laid out a mental game plan. If I wanted to have a serious career as an artist, I had to reconstruct the one thing that had been holding me back since day one- myself.

Here I will discuss all of the tips and tricks I learned during my journey to help you become a confident artist as well.

First, I had to get rid of the existential dread and anxiety that consumed my creative process for years.

The one thing I loved doing was also a huge trigger for my mental health and I really needed to fix that. I want my art to be a form of expression and release, not one of shame, doubt, and stress which I had felt whenever I’d start to manifest my ideas into reality.

In Layman’s terms, I’ve had a mental wall built up for years restricting my ideas and fullest potential- a self sabotage coping mechanism if you will.

I began constructing this mental wall when I was only 10 years old, (at least that’s the earliest I can remember showing signs of anxiety and other mental instabilities), and while I finally began receiving help only a few years back for these issues, I still had A LOT of work to do. 

Those walls protected me from a lot of bad things, but they also caused me a lot of pain and held me back in life, especially creatively. I knew it was going to be a massive pain, but if the search and rescue mission of my creative soul was to be successful, this had to be done.

Therefore, if you’re going to make an attempt at becoming a confident artist yourself, I highly suggest some premeditated soul searching as to what’s actually causing that block within your confidence to begin with.

Use this time to:

  1. Schedule self care into your routine
    • Self care seems like an obvious thing to do, but for those of us wrapped up in our creative endeavors we often put our own well being on the back burner. Don’t do this. Schedule reminders throughout your day to sleep, shower, eat, or whatever you need to do to feel “human” again.
    • You also need breaks! While it can be hard to break out of that “art mode” we can become entrapped in, you still need to get up and stretch, go for a walk, meditate, give your eyes a rest, etc. Our bodies are not made to sit or stand for long periods while hyper focused on one task. If your body is aching or you want to throw your work out a window due to frustration, it’s time to STOP!
    • Often, I’d give myself a break if I’d start becoming hypercritical of what I was making. Once I took a break and came back, the issue I was hung up about prior to leaving no longer mattered or was there, rather it was just my mind playing tricks on me.
  2. Be honest with yourself
    • Many of us don’t just wake up with low self esteem or lack of confidence. Often, these mental blockades occur over a period of time as a response to stressful or painful circumstances.
    • This is super hard (and terrifying) to face, but you’ll need to deal with those unresolved traumas if you want to stand any sort of chance breaking down the walls that are holding you back to begin with. You’ll need to dig deep as to when you first started feeling this way and convince your mind that you can cope with this.
    • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help either! I know not everyone has this resource available to them, but if you are able to get help- do it. It will be a step in the right direction to understanding why you are the way you are.
  3. Seek online resources
    • This was majorly helpful for me, sometimes just hearing about the shortcomings of over creatives makes your own struggles feel less out of place. Trust me, almost every artist goes through anxiety, self doubt, and even forms of imposter syndrome.
    • Not only do you feel less alone, but you can take the ideas and practices others have used before you to overcome your own internal demons.
    • I highly recommend checking out online art forums and discord groups. You don’t have to be a lone wanderer, and these negative feelings don’t have to dictate your future!

Trust me, once you begin the removal of those mental blocks, your creative energy will begin to flow more vibrantly than ever before.

Once I had gotten my mental health in order, it was time to tackle the next big problem, one I feel all artists struggle with at one point in their own journeys- their skill level.

The fact that my skills were no where near the level I thought they were (a form of cognitive bias) was a huge reason why I’d be stressed and spend so much time on my art pieces.

I’d have ideas, but because nothing turned out right or looked right to me, I’d get frustrated, procrastinate, give up, or convince myself that I’m a failure. 

The logical thing would have been to take the time to practice more and to give myself patience in the process. Unfortunately, modern society conditioned me (well all of us) to believe that time is money, relaxation is unproductive, and that results need to be instant. I hate to admit that these beliefs have had an influence over me, but they certainly have had quite the impact on how I view myself and where I am in life as an artist.

Once I was able to change the patterns associated with this toxic thinking thanks to various artists, audiobooks, and podcasts (I’ll share these all in a later post), I was finally able to get back to the basics. 

Basically, I embraced exploration and relearned the art fundamentals like color theory, composition, perspective, and anatomy. 

Slowly, but surely I began to see my artwork improve. It was at that point that I had felt the overbearing chains that had weighed me down for years start to loosen.

Nothing is more rewarding than seeing your old pieces and finding improvements in your current day work! I honestly encourage all of you who are on a similar journey to rework a piece you created some odd years ago after you’ve manifested yourself into the practice, chances are it’ll give you the physical proof you need to demolish any lasting creative insecurities and inspire you to keep pursuing your craft.

Here are a few illustrations I decided to redo after indulging myself in this process:

Understanding art and your style takes time! I had to learn what tools worked for me. Also, don’t skip out on using reference photos! It is not cheating, and my work really didn’t begin to take shape until I actively started using them.

Art is a journey that can have difficult terrain along on the way, but it’s not impossible to reach your destination when you’ve refined and strengthened the equipment you need to pass such obstacles.

Honestly, I’ve learned so much from artists who willingly share their process, experiences and independent journeys with the rest of us. 

Of course, that’s not to say that artists who are at a high level still don’t encounter their own set of frustrations, but this was something that I COULD control, I just for the longest time refused to see it that way.

My isolated time off allowed me to dive into research about what’s called the “artist’s journey”, basically a set of situations we all must face until we can become great in our craft. Failure (unbeknownst to me) is actually a part of that journey, and hearing how others dealt with this inspired me to view my own shortcomings and failures as a part of the process. It served as a reminder that I was indeed on the right path, and shouldn’t run from it.

Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

I had always viewed failure as a negative consequence of not being good enough, not working hard enough, and that I wasn’t enough of something, when in fact, every single artist must go through this in order to get where they need to be creatively.

Failure is proof that you tried, and it’s not the end of the world if something doesn’t go as planned. Failure creates learning opportunities, fosters new ideas, and most of all can motivate us to try new things.

As artists, we must embrace failure in our work, not reject it.

We must however, reject perfection. While failure is something that we struggle to accept, perfection (something that’s impossible and unrealistic to achieve) seems to control how we all think and work.

It pressures you to achieve a goal that NONE OF US can actually accomplish in this lifetime.

This is the ultimate human dilemma I suppose. We’ve been gifted with the power of intellect, thought, and creativity, but at the same time those gifts can also harm us when we let perfectionism run the show.

When perfectionism takes complete control we lose a sense of our independence, spirit and what ultimately makes each and everyone of us unique.

I think in times like these we need more honesty and transparency. How commonplace has it become for everyone to put “perfection” on display? 

I suppose we have always been like this as a culture. The study of art history makes it evident that we’ve always adored perfection. However, that trickle down admiration still holds particular influence on us today, just take a look at how we use social media.

Photo by mikoto.raw from Pexels

Creatives will spend hours creating a set with the right lighting, the right angle, the right filter, and so forth to share their art on social media, but what we don’t see is that artist’s struggles to get there. We only see what they chose to post and let’s be honest, most of us are not going to post the worst versions of ourselves or our art online.

That’s not to say art doesn’t have any of those raw qualities today, it’s just a lot less common and harder to find because we’ve become oversaturated with “perfect” content.

We can barely sit still for more than a few moments to really value the authenticity and emotion in an art piece now because we’re exposed to thousands upon thousands of art pieces online every single day.

While having access to all of this work can be inspiring, it can also be overwhelming. In fact, it caused me to put my own work on a pedestal of judgement next to pieces I believed were indeed “perfect”. This harsh judging criteria that I created in my head stunted my growth as an artist for a while, and ultimately caused me to take a long break from creating anything.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to take a break, especially from social media, and while I know this can harm an artist’s influence and marketing power online, your mental sanity is much more valuable in the long run.

Too often I’d find myself riding the high of diving into a new art project only to abruptly give up on it. Once I began working I would start to feel shame for what I just created. I would think if I had made a piece similar to what I originally envisioned, I could officially declare myself a legitimate artist, but because it wasn’t “perfect enough” I wouldn’t bother to share or finish anything at all.

This cycle stayed with me for a good portion of my life. I’d get an idea, start creating it, watch it come to life, and then I’d let my own ridiculous standards or external factors discourage me from finishing what my imagination screamed to brought forth into reality.

Perfectionism would guilt me for not creating in a certain style, not creating enough, not using certain colors, for making a mistake early on in the project, for not thinking ahead, not posting online enough, not getting enough likes (social media algorithms are quite disheartening), and overall not being more like the artists I had admired most.

Perfectionism distorted not only how I felt about my own work, but how I perceived the work of others as well.

It also greatly fueled my procrastination, which was strange to me. I always loved making art. Since I was young I’d always be making or doodling something, but eventually I’d reach a point where I’d do anything to avoid finishing what I had started. I’d prioritize other tasks or come up with other excuses as to why I simply didn’t have time to create. Those neglected days turned into weeks and eventually years. It became so bad that it began to affect my mental health.

I love creating, but I also felt guilty for wanting to do just that, especially because I was convinced that I wasn’t good enough. My answer at the time was to quit while I was ahead, and to focus solely on what I deemed as more “responsible” tasks instead.

Society also does a great deal of convincing us that art isn’t valuable or worth anyone’s time, between the lack of funding for critical art programs and how poorly many creatives are treated in the work environment, I believed that the natural drive I had to create was indeed pointless.

However, that “scratch” to create is forever present within me, as I believe it is present in every single one of us. No matter how often I’d try to suppress or ignore it, no matter how much I would procrastinate, no matter how much my perfectionist standards would convince me to give up, my mind would still bring me to that space of ideas begging to come to life.

Thus, the only way forward was to:

  1. Adapt a new way of thinking
    • No one can complete a task to 100% perfection, but they can complete it to another percentage.
    • Lower the percentage and suddenly “perfection” seems more achievable.
  2. Create realistic goals
    • Perfectionism always wants you to shoot beyond the stars, but if you dare even think that, procrastination will kick in and prevent you from getting anything done to begin with.
    • Instead of shooting beyond the stars, aim to do something smaller and more feasible (each day this week I will draw hand studies for a half hour).
    • If you fail at meeting that goal, it’s not the end of the world. Just try again the next day.
  3. Be patient with the process
    • First, understand that no one else is going to nitpick your work like you do.
    • Second, we all learn at different paces and start at different levels. Don’t fret because others seem leaps and bounds ahead of you. Do the work, but be patient. You’ll get there.

Most people are too scared to try something new because we’ve become indoctrinated to chase after sameness and the instant gratification of a “like”, versus something that could shatter the status quo or even challenge our own ways of being.

To become a confident artist we must:

  1. Share our own thoughts, ideas, and projects with the word.
  2. Create in our own style and how we want, regardless of what others may deem as marketable.
  3. Embrace our individuality even when others try to subdue it.
  4. Not fear what others will say about our work, if someone doesn’t like your work then it isn’t for them.
  5. Dismiss the shame that surrounds creative careers in our modern day, exposure is not “payment” for your hard work! A respectable friend, client, or family member will not demand free or underpaid work.
  6. Foster our creative spirits, for it is an absolute cruelty to the world to hide your art from it.

The entire creative process takes time and requires a lot of courage, but once committed, it is incredibly freeing to finally feel “whole” again.

I hope this provided a bit of guidance to those looking to become a confident artist. Remember, we all have the power to be artists if we truly want to be, it’s just a matter of finding that creative soul you’ve had to lock away long ago.


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2 thoughts on “Self Discovery During a Health Crisis: How I Finally Became a Confident Artist”

  1. This is a great first blog. I find when I play my drums and then go to social media, I feel as if I suck. But then I think of the quote I’ve heard somewhere that says that were all on a different part of the journey.

    It’s also hard to do any drumming or any music stuff when theres others you might bother, etc. Sometimes I dont have the motivation either.

    In time I’m confident I will be start creating actual music to share with friends and others. Right now I have other priorities that are also important to me. Great blog.

    -evelz

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