As we grow up, there is lots of pressure on us to fit into society. We sometimes look with envious eyes at what others have achieved. At school, it is intellectual abilities that seem to count and in the media popular attractive pin-ups stand out. As we compare ourselves to others we can conclude that we are just not good enough. These thoughts can affect our ego and our spirit. If we withdraw we lose our footing, and then, when we try again, come up short. If we are not careful this can grow up into jealousy of other artist’s work and achievements.
When I was an art student I looked at a wide range of art. Enviability I was blown away by the work of successful artists. I compared my skills, talent, ability, knowledge and my output against what other artists produced. I ended up continually watching what others were doing. The outcome was inevitable. These thoughts began to limit my ability to think creatively, and they became overwhelming. I started to feel I didn’t deserve to be an artist and it threatened my self-worth.
A way forward without being jealous of other artist’s work
To be a successful artist I needed to figure out a way to unlearn what was causing me harm. A way was to stop comparing myself to others. It was counterproductive feeling. I realised that there was no way I was able to make the same work as another artist, and I didn’t want to.
I realised that l should not be competing with other artists, I needed to run my own race. It’s my process and my path. My work isn’t going to look like other artists. I am now fully aware that if I get distracted by looking at other artist’s outputs, I will lose my energy and focus. If l allow myself to become distracted then I will have to learn to refocus and listen to my inner voice again.
I now give myself artistic permission to be myself and make what I want. It is important to be acknowledged for my individuality and I have different strengths to my peers. I look at what makes me unique, and push it forward in my work.
Now when I need inspiration, I look in lots of places. I may look at other artist’s work to learn their processes but I don’t compare my output with their output. Instead, I feed off the creative ideas, take what l want and develop my own perspective and viewpoint. I avoid jealousy of other artist’s work because my own ideas are developing and growing.
Every day I paint I have an adventure into the unknown.
Every day I am excited by the possibilities in the work.
Every day I paint I enjoy the production of novelty the most.
Every day I paint, I decide what I want to work on the night before. My unconscious mind thinks and contemplates it overnight. The next day I effortlessly to know where to start.
Every day I paint I don’t make it overly complicated.
Every day I paint my studio has to be free from distractions so l can get into a creative flow and stay in it. I get completely caught up and saturated in what I am doing. The painting leads the way, my hand and brush are in control rather than my brain. I have a deep involvement with the activity and time becomes distorted.
Every day I paint, it is not clear what needs to be done. The solution is elusive and an accident. Only when I am in a flow of creativity, unconscious decision making takes place. I surprise myself and produce work I am happy with.
Every day I paint, I try to be satisfied when the work is complete. If I put unnecessary pressure and stress on myself and let my perfectionist outlook win, the results are never good enough to meet my standards.
Every day I paint I hope something good will come, but if it doesn’t I don’t worry. Whether it is good or bad, that really doesn’t matter. When I finish, I always turn the work towards the wall and quickly move on to the next task.
Every day I paint I consider the work from previous sessions and give myself feedback. This enables me to move forward. I have to decide which ideas can be developed and which direction to take and then l know what to work on during the next session.
Every day I paint I am unsure if I am getting anywhere. Often I take one step forward, two steps sideways and one backwards. Every little while I stop and look back. Over months and years rather than days I learn something new and l know l am growing as a painter and as a person.
Every day I paint I am not interested in money and fame. It’s the pursuit that counts, not the attainment. I always enjoy and have fun within the process.
Every day I paint I work towards achieving something meaningful. My lifelong ambition is to make a significant contribution to culture. In doing so, I hope to help the human condition.
Every day I paint I love what I do. I love the process of making art more than the work I produce.
When I enter my studio I often have times when I need to be inspired. No matter what l do l meet resistance. I walk around the room, or I sit feeling frustrated with a closed mind. My mind doesn’t feel like being creative. Fighting this situation never works. All that happens is that l waste the day. I have to get out. I need to find a place to go to for inspiration.
Over time, l have learnt to embrace these moods and seek solace and inspiration elsewhere. Near my studio, I have a lovely country walk. Whatever the weather, I put my shoes on and head off.
While I am walking, I can consider all my unfinished business and jobs. Then I begin looking at the things around me. I try to move my mind to focus on my breathing and relax. I notice the sounds of the birds, the footsteps in the gravel and the beauty of my surroundings.
A related post to the places to go for inspiration
My primary objective is to cultivate a happy mind. I might sit down on a bench and watch people walk past. Or I might pop out a sketchbook and draw whatever comes into my mind. If I don’t fancy a walk or if I return and my mood hasn’t shifted, I look through some of my art books. I start sketching from what seems interesting.
If I’m feeling at a loss about where to start when that pencil hits the page just start by moving it. I start with anything from a circle to scribble. Like a child, I try to create without judgement or expectations.
I see my job as an artist is to record what I see. For this to work well, and to be able to translate what I see in a new unique way, good quality inspiration is essential. I try to visit the museums and galleries in London at least once a month. I also look for opportunities for collaboration and to engage in useful and uplifting and stimulating discussions. Sooner or later I return to the studio with inspiration for my next step.
Many children spend a lot of their time with their peers. In my childhood, I changed schools five times. This meant l had to learn to start over again and again. At the time I couldn’t see the benefits of adversity. I could only see the challenges of the upheavals. Making friends and building strong relationships was a continual challenge. It felt like before I knew it, I was moving again.
As I didn’t have easy and regular access to friends, I naturally was drawn to the easy path of finding things to do on my own. I didn’t spend my time playing sports. I was shy and it took me a long time to get to know people and trust them.
Like most kids, I enjoyed watching television. For me, it was mainly the A-Team, the Fall Guy and Airwolf. My childhood dream was to become a stuntman. The main activities I found myself doing were building models, drawing, playing lego and riding my bike.
By spending time drawing and making things I become quite good at these activities. l remember that l stood out in my class and was noted for my drawing abilities. This made me feel good about myself and it gave me more encouragement to continue drawing.
As I got older I started dreaming about becoming an architect. The impossible concept of becoming an artist never entered my thoughts for a moment. However, I stumbled into an art degree without a plan. Then I stumbled out looking for a job. When I graduated the thought of making a living as an artist still appeared impossible.
As I look back to where I started I have the benefits of adversity to thank for being an artist. And of course, the Internet has helped me to have a career as an artist. I still would have continued to draw, paint and make things but few people would see them without the Internet. Art is what I love doing, and I wouldn’t change my experiences and path for anything now.
I would love to hear from you if your adversity had a positive impact on your life.
In 2012 Neil Gaiman gave a commencement speech for the University of Arts in Pennsylvania. Neil Gaiman is a writer of novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films. He was born in Hampshire, UK, and now lives in the United States near Minneapolis. Neil’s most notable works include The Sandman, Stardust, American Gods, Neverwhere, Coraline and The Graveyard book. He has also been honoured with many international awards. His speech is packed full of helpful advice for creative people.
I thought I would write this blog post and highlight many of the learning points l found in it.
“Instead of having a career plan, make a list of everything you want to do and just do the next thing on the list.”
“Goals are like mountains in the distance.” Set them and be clear what they are.
“Do things that feel like an adventure. Learn to write by writing. [For a painter, learn to paint by painting]. Stop when it feels like work.”
“A life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles, open it and read it, and put something back in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. But you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back to you.”
“Nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money, was ever worth it.” If you do things you’re proud of and if you don’t get paid, at least you will be proud of your work.
“The problems of success. They’re real, and with luck, you’ll experience them all. The point where you stop saying yes to everything is because now the bottles you threw in the ocean are all coming back, and you have to learn to say no.”
“Write fewer emails, write [and paint] more.”
“Get out there and make mistakes.”
After you have finished copying things remember, “The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
“Do the stuff only you can do.”
“You should enjoy it, let go and enjoy the ride. Don’t worry about the next deadline or the next idea.”
“Make up your own rules.”
“Pretend that you’re someone who is already successful… and pretend to be wise.”
“Make good art!”
“And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break the rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”
I always felt I excelled as an artist when I painted, ‘Hopes and Fears’. The idea and success of ‘Hopes and Fears’ seemed to come out of nowhere. I started painting, and the result just happened. It just seemed to work without a lot of effort. I had painted one of my greatest accomplishment to date, and now I want to understand its success so I can reproduce the results.
I had been overthinking about what was working within my art. I kept trying and became confused. Then I slowly began to realise that when I am not trying to reach a solution, when I’m in the shower or going for a walk, ideas pop in my head. I slowly learnt to realise that I need to get out of my own way to allow my creativity come through.
1. Remove the pressure I put on myself
It took time to realise that l need to remove the pressure l put on myself. If a solution to a problem is not apparent, I need to try to stay calm and have a clear mind. If my thoughts are racing, a walk, mediation or a stretch, helps. Another way to remove the pressure is to carry out a simple, unrelated physical task, this helps me to halt the tendency of over thinking and trying to find a solution. Once there is no pressure my mind becomes comfortable, and my natural creative side leads the way.
Sometimes it can take six months to realise how to move a piece of work forward. If this happens, I often turn the painting to the wall and work on something else. I now have many paintings going on at once, so it is no longer an issue.
2. Studio time is play time
I look at studio time as a way to challenge myself and play. I find it is exciting to stretch myself and learn new things. I am often curious and try things I haven’t tried before. I find that this outlook enriches my world and my work.
2. Artists don’t need to know everything
It took me a long time to realise I don’t need to know everything. I only need to be competent in the area I am working in. It is more important to understand how to be creative and how to get into the creative flow.
3. Creating problems
When a designer works, often they are given a brief, and they need to solve a problem and come up with a solution. Instead of addressing a problem I am trying to create one.
4. Holding things back
I want the viewer to come to the work with their life experiences and baggage, and see what they see. I want them to be intrigued by my work. I look to create ambiguity so the viewer has reasons to ask questions. I am not laying all my cards on the table; I am holding things back.
5. Nothing goes to plan
So many times I have wanted a painting to go well and too often nothing to goes to plan. I have learnt to come to terms with this and change my expectations. My new outlook tells me to expect everything to wrong. Then when a mistake happens I think maybe it has happened for a good reason, and I wonder if l can learn something new from the error. This change of outlook means I can now quickly put it in perspective. If this does not work I ask myself these questions. Can I save the situation/work? What are learning points? Can I repeat it and do it better next time? How long will this take? Do I need to quickly move on and forget about it and do something else?
6. There is a key to success in every failure.
7. After a successful painting, I ask myself can I develop a series?
Sometimes a piece of work cannot be repeated. But I often consider if I could add slight changes and repeat parts would l then be able to make a series!
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One of the lessons and obstacles I have learnt to deal with is being a perfectionist. Over the years I have visited many galleries and museums and enjoyed looking at other artists work. I use to look at other artists work and compare my work to theirs. But l now realise that looking at other artists work and comparing mine to theirs is counterproductive.
Instead of being helpful the visits made me focus on my insecurities as an artist. I would ask myself; Am l talented? Is my work good enough? And, what if no-one likes my work? I was creating an impossible mindset to overcome. These thoughts were very destructive. However, I slowly came to realise I need to accept what I do and who I am by making my studio free of judgement.
Self-judgement is a learned behaviour that comes from living in our type of society. By comparing my work to someone else’s, I not only noticed that my work was not perfect, by someone else’s standards, I observed that l had changed my standards. These thoughts made me confused as to who I was making the work for; an audience or myself.
By thinking my work was not good enough against someone else’s standards, it was impossible to be playful and enjoy what I was doing. Without the freedom to play and take risks, my work had become stifled and dull.
To be an artist, I realised I need a lot of self-belief. I needed to bring excellence to every I do. By measuring myself against myself, rather than against others l came to realise that art is not like sport, it is not competitive; it is subjective. I needed to reassess what I see as good enough.
I now know that when I go to a gallery, it is useful to compare my thoughts and processes to other artist’s but not their output. I realised that if I wanted to make successful artwork, I had to find a way through experimentation, trying things out and playing to improve what I have already created. Once I realised this, I was able to show up at the studio with a different intent. An intent to be present in the task and make better work than I did yesterday. From that point on I couldn’t help feeling good about my output and about myself.
I am taking positive steps to make me more productive in the studio including things like planning and reviewing what I am going to do in the studio before I arrive and creating some studio ground rules.
I have a list of current projects and series of work l am trying to complete. Before l go to my studio I write down a short list of next steps l need to take, often between two or three depending on long each one will take. This brief list is handwritten in my diary, so it is clear to follow. This way I know what my first task is, therefore avoiding beginning with an extended period of uncertainty. Of course, uncertainty when painting is always present, but I try to remove it at this stage with preplanning.
To choose the right tasks, I ask myself a series of questions; If l only achieve 2-3 tasks in a day what would these tasks be and would l be satisfied if l only get these done? If I made only one work of excellence, which one would make an enormous difference and have the greatest consequences?
To help keep my mind clear and on creative studio time I write down all the distractions l might encounter on a to-do list. Plus l avoid all office and business related tasks while in the studio to avoid all low-level activities. Even if these tasks are urgent, I still try to do them after my creative block of time of one to three hours. The creative time must come first.
The rules I have put in place while working are;
Phone on silent, select music quickly (if I choose to listen to any at all), no tv or video, no newspapers, no friends dropping by, no emailing, no internet research unless it is related to making my next work, therefore no diversions and distractions from the creative task ahead.
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