When I talk to artist friends one of the most common topics they seem to be dealing with is imposter syndrome.
And these conversations happen at all levels, from beginners to old pros. Sometimes it can be downright paralyzing for creative minds. I know artists who’ve passed up great opportunities because of this. They sat they suddenly felt “frozen in place.”
How did I learn to overcome this? How can you overcome this?
Let me kick this off by reminding you that even the greatest artists and creators are dealing with this same voice inside:
“In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don’t know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn’t consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don’t have to make things up any more.” - Neil Gaiman
That’s from one of the greatest writers of our day. You can watch his full speech here.
Two minds exist within
I’ve had the good fortune in the past to be at some pretty big events and gatherings among some big names I really respect. I’ve spoken before about how I was being celebrated at an industry party once, and it was terrifying to me. I didn’t feel happy about it at all. On the outside I looked okay, but inside I felt as if I was being secretly judged by my peers. The imagined voices in that room for me were saying:
“Who does this guy think he is???”
”His artwork is terrible!! I’ve worked longer than this punk!”
”He must know somebody to have gotten that deal.”
”I bet he paid to be here.”
Even before that, when I had little success and was hustling making money with my art on a local level, I felt like the same voices were saying the same things.
It was the SAME voice inside that was causing me to worry about what others thought.
I had to learn to beat that voice, and beyond just stop listening to it, I needed to kill it completely.
It wasn’t an easy process, and will not be for many of you. We all have differing levels of self-doubt and negative talk going on.
For me, it seemed to change suddenly when I saw this quote for the first time. (It’s one of my favorites, so I’m going to repeat it multiple times I’m sure.)
It was so true. And what a curse the imagination can be for creative minds.
You can probably clearly imagine how bad things will go. You can probably imagine what that person must think or say about you.
And hey, in some cases, you might be right! They may actually think those things. But what does any of that really matter?
Too many artists are bound and paralyzed by this feeling of “WHAT IF I FAIL?!”
Anytime you get that feeling, you need to drown it out with…
“WHAT IF I SUCCEED?!!!”
I don’t want to simplify this topic. It can run pretty deep. But if it’s something you’re feeling, you need to get a handle on it quick.
Self-awareness is also a big key here.
You have to be honest with yourself and be able to assess your own skill level and where you really are and what you need to work on. Here are some snapshot strategies for dealing with this, no matter what level you may be on:
YOUR ART ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH YET.
I’d say more beginners struggle with this, but dude, I know a guy who works for Marvel regularly who also thinks is work is terrible.
Instead of letting that paralyze you, think to yourself “what is it about my art that I think isn’t good enough yet?” — Is it composition? Anatomy? Lighting? If you see another artist you admire, on some level you’d love to obtain, what is it about that work that energizes you?
Research how they learned to do the thing you want to do too. The bonus point would be to reach out to them and ask for some friendly advice, or maybe they can point you to a resource. Don’t be afraid to ask. Be respectful of their time.
I’M NOT FAMOUS ENOUGH TO BE HERE!!!
For artists who may be doing public shows like festivals, tabling or comicons, many feel when they look around that they are no-names compared to the credits of those around them. When you feel that or hear that voice inside, again, you must kill it.
It can be hard to do. And even if you’ve gotten a handle on it, it’s easy to fall back in this imposter syndrome.
Become the editor
When I talk about self-awareness, A good way to get started is very close to meditation. Just sitting quietly and listening to your own thoughts, but now with an editors mind. Whenever a bad thought comes in, cross it out. Make the correction.
This is only the first draft of YOU.
And now with your editor cap on, there’s time to revise, to polish, to make a new and improved 2nd draft of yourself.
And there is always room for a 3rd and 4th, and many different chapters for you.
This week’s prompt is “Mirror”. Drawn as you wish. Is it old? Is it new? Is it broken? As always tag your drawing with #DrawOrDieChallenge on social so myself and others can find you.
I decided to re-launch my Youtube Channel with the Draw or Die mission. Mainly because I know there are artists there who could use encouragement. Please join me by subscribing, liking and all the things one does on Youtube.
I will have a regular schedule soon. Can you drop a comment here in the newsletter and let me know what time of day you prefer to watch Youtube vids. 🙏🏻 https://youtube.com/djcoffman
That’s it from me this week. I hope you get to draw every damn day ✏️💀♣️
Connect with me elsewhere 👁 @djcoffman on Instagram / TikTok / Twitter
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Morning, DJ. Self doubt is a tough one. I like your approach of becoming an editor of sorts pushing these crippling thoughts. Love that, think I’ll use that and if I do succeed? Woohoo! Not ah man if I succeed I’ll be laughed at even more! No no..
I’d only show my personal stuff to my friend who also drew back in high school. Went to my community college after graduating high school for 2-3 semesters, and I loved the art classes I took. A teacher there gave me some self confidence with my art and that helped a lot. I stopped going because of lack of savings, and financial aid denied me so I decided to take a semester off and work to save up for another few semesters. That turned into a year, and eventually became 8 years later. 😳
When I did go back I found my self confidence was high and I didn’t have these thoughts of people laughing at my work like several years before. It wasn’t until several years ago that I did a group show with other local artists that this doubt started to creep in. Just bizarre that it has been some 20 years and here it was again. Then I remembered what triggered these feelings, and it was from a friend (or so I thought) who had DM’ed me on Instagram after I had posted a drawing of a girl on a skateboard. He said I should focus on posting good stuff only, not to show the unfinished /unrefined work. On a good day, a professional artist’s crap sketch is better than your finished stuff. Just a thought. I took it in stride saying people like seeing the process, and I said thanks for your input and told him to go fly a kite, then promptly blocked him on all my social media accounts. I told my friends and they all said that was a dick move, an insult plain as day. That just made me more determined to keep showing the process, and also improving my skills. I’m 80% self confident and 20% self doubt these days, but I try to tamp it down when it rears its fugly head 👹👿👊🏻. Back to drawing! Mirror…hmmm.
PS: Handling criticism/critiques maybe that’s a subject for another week. 🤔