photo by Jenny Erickson
This is the face of the inner critic. Most artists have an inner critic that interferes with the creative process. Often this happens when the artist is just starting out, but it can also haunt the artist throughout his or her life.
The inner critic is very predictable and repetitive. The inner critic is likely to say mean, unhelpful –well, critical things to the would-be artist. My own inner critic says things like:
Why do you bother? You’re no artist.
Why even try? You’ll never be good enough.
There’s nothing original you could do.
You’re just wasting your time.
This hasn’t turned out the way you expected, so you’ve failed.
You didn’t do that very well.
That’s too difficult for you.
Unfortunately I let my own inner critic rule my life for a long time, and it kept me from enjoying a creative life for many years. Finally I decided that art is what I really want to do, and I won't let this inner critic keep me from doing it anymore.
marker drawing by Rosa Phoenix
(a page from my sketchbook)
Here are my 20 tips on how to deal with the inner critic, so you can get to work doing what you were born to do: expressing yourself!
1. Write down your fears about creating. Once you have them down on paper, look at what you’ve written. Are any of those reasons enough to keep you from making some marks on paper, writing a few words, stringing beads, or molding some Sculpey? I thought not. Now that you’ve gotten your fears out, get on with being creative!
2. Invite your creative spirit to join you/guide you in your journey of self-discovery. While working, honor that spirit.
3. Don’t allow negative self-talk to interfere with your creative process. Be aware of negativity when it comes up, and dismiss those thoughts that are unconstructive.
4. Remind yourself that you are doing a therapeutic activity. It isn’t “frivolous” or “meaningless” or “a waste of time.”
5. Avoid serious attempts. Create “just for fun” in a private journal or sketchbook that no one else sees. You won’t have to worry about anyone else judging what you create.
6. Imagine that you are creating art with a child. Your creative spirit sees the world with fresh eyes like a child, explores without rules like a child, and enjoys the process with sensual delight like a child. So work with your creative spirit just as you would with your own child. Would you not encourage, support and praise your child throughout the process of discovery? So nurture your own “inner child”/creative spirit the same way.
7. Remember to K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Sweetie!) Especially if you are a beginner, keep your ideas and compositions simple. If you are new to drawing, don’t try to draw a complex, ornate design or a scene that is dense with activity or objects. Start with simple shapes at first, then work up to more difficult subjects.
8. Use cheap materials like construction paper and Crayola crayons, chalks or color pencils. Sometimes, buying expensive new art kits and Strathmore paper at the art supply store can actually inspire fear rather than creative freedom. Sometimes people worry about messing up or “wasting” their new art supplies, or they feel pressured to create a masterpiece worthy of their professional artist materials. Instead, use cardboard from a box destined for the recycling bin, and buy Crayola crayons and construction paper in the school supply section of the drugstore. Save your premium art supplies for when you are feeling more confident.
9. Give yourself permission to fail. Tell yourself that if you don’t like what you make, you will tear it up in little pieces for collage (or whatever is appropriate for the material you’re using). It can still be used to create something you like after all! Or just toss it if you never want to look at it again!
10. Let go of your pre-conceptions or expectations of what you want your artwork to look like. Let it be what it wants to be, let it grow organically, don’t restrict it. Enjoy discovering and observing the process of an artwork taking shape. You are helping it to emerge and be born into the world. It has a life of its own.
11. Let go of perfection. When working with paints don’t be upset when the paint runs, drips, puddles and gets out of your control. This is what makes a work “painterly” and charming. It isn’t supposed to be perfectly smooth and perfect. Sometimes I add imperfections like this to my art to make it look more artistic, loose and free. The beauty is in the material, as well as in the idea.
12. Welcome “happy accidents” where you spilled paint, put down the wrong color or made some other “mistake”. You could invent something to create out of that. See it as an opportunity, an artistic challenge.
13. Don’t be rigid, go with the flow. If something isn’t working out, don’t force it. Feel free to start over fresh. Take a deep breath and let out any disappointment or frustration before starting something new.
14. Don’t compare yourself to other artists. Don’t compete. Celebrate your uniqueness. Don’t attempt to copy the works of Michaelangelo or Rembrandt, then get upset that it doesn’t look like the original. Learn from the masters, but don’t expect to become a master overnight. Don’t forget, when copying other works, to inject some of your own personality or vision into it.
15. Remind yourself that you will improve over time. All artists get better with practice, and develop their own style.
16. Try creating art with a friend. Make sure it’s a supportive, non-competitive friend who is fun to be around. Make it a social activity where you can talk, share, even collaborate on each other’s art. Give each other encouraging and appreciative feedback. If you like creating art this way, consider getting a group together for regular creative sessions.
17. Check out the Museum of Bad Art. This site is hysterical! If nothing else, bad art makes us laugh, and that isn’t bad at all!
18. Write about the process of creating the piece, and how you felt making it. The process is as important as the finished product. Keep this note with the art piece so when you go back to look at your art later, you’ll know what your state of mind was when you created it.
19. Reward yourself with a few words of gratitude. You overcame your resistance. Thank yourself for doing this healing activity and for giving yourself the opportunity to be creative.