Even though I don’t talk about it much here, because it doesn’t tend to have much relevance to what I blog about (ironically?), I love drawing. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I even give drawings to my friends and family as gifts for holidays sometimes. But in the past decade or so I have repeatedly gotten into extremely bad art slumps that lead to me quitting on numerous occasions either for a few months or over a year or more at a time.
‘Why bother? My art sucks. I’m nowhere near the level of people who have a fraction of my experience or people who are half my age.’
That is the main thought I have whenever I drop my art. Currently, I am in a ‘dropped’ phase of my art, as you can probably see from my ghost town dArt page. I haven’t drawn anything worth a crap in months and I haven’t uploaded anything since 2016. I’ve had to force myself to draw a few times in these months, and I haven’t been happy with any of it.
I used to draw religiously every single day. I used to draw so much that I ruined my mattress from wearing it out because I used to spend hours of every day drawing while sitting on the corner of my bed. I’d draw anything I wanted whenever I wanted and I loved it. When I started getting on the Internet, I eventually bought a scanner and then a tablet to put my artwork online.
While I have gotten plenty of good feedback, I have also gotten my share of bad responses. I’m the type of person who over-exaggerates negatives while downplaying the positives. These negative responses never hindered me enough to quit drawing. Definitely put me in a bad mood, but never outright quit.
You are your own worst critic, as they say. As I reached my late teens and started having ‘issues’ for lack of a better term, I found myself getting increasingly depressed about my artwork. Despite working for years and years on my drawings, I’d keep seeing people online or even artwork shown in fairs that would drive me down.
A beautiful, realistic and detailed drawing of a deer in a field that I could maybe hope to achieve years in the future with much more practice.
Done by someone aged nine.
A gorgeous, expansive, intricate landscape with creative ideas and unique designs.
The description says it’s ‘just a quick doodle’.
A hilarious comic with stylized artwork and wonderful formatting and comedic timing.
“Hey guys, I just decided to start doing comics. This is my first one. What do you think?”
A fun, slick digital painting of a sports car that looks so good you feel you could ride in it.
“Eh, I’m not all that happy with this one, but I just threw it together in an hour so it’s alright.”
I am so happy for each and every person who finds something they’re good at and runs with it. I am also not under the mindset that talent alone, without hard work, is worth much. But it is always such a massive punch in the face to me whenever I see amazing artwork and my internal voice says something along the lines of “Wow, I’ll never be able to do that.” or “Over twenty years of practice, and I can’t do anything nearly that good. Why bother?”
I can’t respond to that question when I ask myself that. Why bother? Why would I bother? Why would I go through hours of hard work and frustration just to make something that’s, at best, okay? Why would I continue with my crappy artwork when so many people out there do so much better, even if they’re much younger than me or have much less experience? If even the artists themselves describe some of their beautiful works as ‘doodles’ and ‘something I threw together’, what does that make my work? Total garbage I wasted hours, days, even weeks on?
I used to want to make animations and comics, but I never did much with those ideas because I kept getting into the ‘Why bother?’ slump. I’m still in one of those slumps. A bad one. So why am I even writing this blog post?
A useful therapeutic technique for beating negative inner voices is trying to talk to yourself like you would to a friend or family member who is hearing those same things. Most people wouldn’t talk to themselves as they would someone else. If your friend said ‘My artwork sucks. It’s nowhere near as good as millions of other artists. Why bother even continuing?’ I doubt you’d respond with ‘Yeah, you’re right. Your art is garbage. You should quit.’ Unless you’re going the route of reverse psychology, which is an iffy road to say the least, and really doesn’t work when applying it to yourself.
This obviously isn’t an end-all solution. Convincing yourself that what you’re saying is true, in a positive sense, can be very difficult. You’re basically trying to pump up your positive inner voice to beat your negative inner voice in a boxing match while your negative inner voice has metal spiked gloves with flamethrowers and your positive one has plastic bags filled with go-gurt.
Don’t you want to see how good you could be? Even if you can’t see the top of the stairs, don’t you want to at least say you made it up a few more steps? Despite me being down on myself and my work, I can’t deny that I’ve definitely gotten better over time. I look back at pictures I made as a kid and I want to just throw them all away. (Upside-down house head was a common affliction to my characters. Terrible disease) but I don’t because they’re important to me and they’re reminders that I have improved a lot.
The point is, I really wish I hadn’t quit all those times because I missed out on a lot of improvement and learning. I missed out on the fun I could’ve had wrestling with a new drawing and finally finishing it. I just flatout missed out. I’m still missing out. You should always aim to improve and be open to constructive criticism, but comparing yourself to others, in basically anything, is frequently a detriment to your growth in that area.
You could say striving to be as good as other people inspires you to improve, which might be true for some people, but, and this might seem silly, look at shows like DBZ and Yugioh. Characters like Kaiba and Vegeta worked their asses off to get better than one particular person and, during that time, aforementioned rival also improved a great deal, meaning the gap between them either stayed the same or barely moved even a little. (Some exceptions apply)
In both situations, despite them both becoming awesome and powerful in their own right, they basically relegated themselves to never achieving true victory over their rival, though not for lack of trying. Both still very much enjoy trying to achieve victory to the very end of their series.
I suppose the difference here is that those people do have intense confidence in themselves already. Their defeats and constant reminders that they’re not as skilled as someone else just drives them to improve more and more in the hopes that they can beat their rival and finally earn their ‘rightful’ title as the best. In some circumstances, they want to earn that title just so they can see how their rival will turn around and try to get it back. It’s a passion fueled by competition.
Going into this same situation with a negative attitude basically sets you up for a fall and creates the ‘why bother?’ response. You no longer look to these rivals as hurdles you need to jump over, but instead as walls you’ll crash into. You don’t appreciate your own improvement anymore because you’re surrounded by walls. Why bother getting excited over going a few more steps when there’s probably a wall at the top?
It’s more cliches, but there is always someone better, and, realistically, you’re likely always better than someone else. That’s not meant to be cruel to others or to build your confidence on the downfall of others, it’s just a fact if we’re meant to take the first part of that statement as truth. It may be in different areas, mediums, styles, or even just one incredibly small thing like using a color better than others, but it’s true. I don’t believe in people being the absolute worst or the absolute best at something. There’s always room for growth and improvement, and as long as you’re trying there’s always quality to your work.
Even if you feel surrounded by walls, what’s stopping you from grabbing a grappling hook and climbing the wall? Batman does that.
What’s stopping you from bursting through the wall? The Kool-Aid man does that.
Okay, you probably want to strive to be Batman over the Kool-Aid man….Though he does survive all of those crashes without a scratch despite being a glass pitcher. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
Just like there’s a point in this post somewhere.
Another anime I’m reminded of is Chihayafuru. In it, the main character, Chihaya, falls in love with the game of karuta. Seeing the passion for the game in her friend, Ayata’s, eyes spurred a similar fire in her heart for it.
But she absolutely couldn’t hold a single candle to Ayata when they first played. Ayata was a card chucking ninja robot and Chihaya couldn’t do a thing. That is until she managed to get one card before he did. Just one. She lost horribly, but she was so happy just to get that one card. She worked harder and harder to improve over the years, even if interest in the game was extremely low in her school and her friends had drifted apart. She didn’t work her butt off to slam victory over Ayata’s head or anything, she did it because the game made her happy and reminded her of how much she and her friends used to love playing together.
A favorite of mine in regards to breaking out of regular ‘I have no inspiration’ slumps is the ‘just draw’ approach. Scribble, doodle, make random lines, just draw something, anything, and it can lead to a great idea.
It’s a common practice in writing too. Just write whatever you want, not taking grammar, spelling, etc. into consideration and eventually you’ll stumble upon something you want to write about in a more clear-cut manner. If not for the goal of drawing, writing, building, sculpting etc. something you think will be a great masterpiece, at the very least it will be something you’ll hopefully enjoy making. I miss the enjoyment I’d get out of just sitting on my bed drawing and not caring who thought my drawings were good besides me.
Art, in any form, is as much personal as it is something to share with others. It’s an expression of yourself in small and large ways. It should always be something for you far before it becomes something for other people. Who cares if you’re not on the same level as someone else, no matter the difference in age or experience? Who cares if some people seem blasé about their astounding works of art when you work your ass off to crank out something that doesn’t breathe the same air as that artwork? Who cares if only a few people see it?
Being so critical of yourself can actually be a good thing. If you’re able to see all of the negative aspects of something you’ve made, you can pinpoint these problems and know exactly where you need to focus your work. I remember looking up lineart tutorials because I thought about how crappy my lines always looked. They’re still not great, in fact it’s still fairly sloppy, but they’re better.
Your artwork, no matter the medium, is yours and yours alone. No one can take that from you. As long as you have a desire to learn, grow, improve and, most of all, have fun doing it, that should be all you need to continue.
As I said before, it can be very difficult to convince yourself that what you’re saying is true, especially in a positive sense. I’m saying this entire blog post to myself as much as I am to you. I doubt I’ll sit down and actually draw something after I hit ‘save’ or ‘publish’, and I doubt that nagging negative inner voice won’t flamethrower through my brain as I attempt to even try to pick up a pencil or plug in my tablet, but hopefully I’ll feel a little more compelled to doodle or something some time in the near future.
Honestly, I didn’t start writing this with the hopes or intentions of breaking numerous people out of their negative thoughts about their artwork. I didn’t even intend to give myself a pep talk. I just felt the desire to write this, so I did.
Is it any good? I don’t know. I did my best, and that’s all I can hope to do. Will this help anybody? I hope so, but who knows?
I will say one thing, though. I’m glad I wrote it.