I have been drawing for around three years now, and throughout this time, I've felt my ego and my self confidence lower the greater my skill becomes. Doesn't that happen to us all? As we grow, sometimes our eye for art grows quicker than our skill, and so we are never satisfied with where we are at. As we become more skilled, we become more likely to notice our mistakes, even the little ones that no one else would.
Sometimes, looking back, I still can't fathom how I thought so highly of my art a few years ago. I'm rarely so proud of it now, and it's been a long time since I thought 'Wow, I'm really good at this! I'm so good at this, I must be the best! Ha, people say this is hard? I'm amazing and so is my art!'
I'm not kidding, thoughts like that passed through my mind often when I first started drawing. My ability was more than I thought it would be, and that alone caused my little 13-year-old ego to skyrocket.
As much as I was full of myself back then, I did have one thing going for me. After I created a piece of art, I was satisfied and happy with how it came out. It filled me with pleasure, and made me want to draw again. Sometimes I think that without those very first delusions of what my art really looked like, I never would have kept at it.
Fast forward a year or so, and I was no longer driven by where I was at, but by where I came from. Because of that first boost, I had made progress, and as my artist's eye began to develop further than my hand, I was able to draw inspiration by looking at how far I had come. Even if I wasn't very good, I recognized that if I had come that far by simply practicing, I'd go even further if I kept at it.
Somehow though, it becomes very easy to let go of that mindset. I find myself constantly looking around me and becoming so easily discouraged. I see in my head where I want to be, and when that doesn't match up with where I am, I get frustrated. There have been times where I believe, if it wasn't so much of a habit for me to draw, I would have quit. But that would have been such a shame, wouldn't it?
What was true in 2012, is still true today. I'm not where I want to be, but I'm no longer where I was at before. And the learning process, especially with art? It can be pretty slow. Slow enough that it doesn't feel like it's happening anymore.
I'm studying psychology for school recently, and one of the most fascinating courses I'm taking currently is called "How We Learn," by Professor Monisha Pasupathi.* The last lecture I watched was on motor skills, and the process of learning them.
When you first begin to learn a skill, your improvement skyrockets. As you are first learning, you fly by step by step. Because you start out with little to no skill or experience, the learning is rapid, and you build skills quickly. However, as you continue in the learning process, it becomes slower and less noticeable. You continue to learn for years to come, never stopping, but day by day improvement is no longer visible. You have to take a further step back, you need to look over months, even years, to see the differences you are making.
This seemed to speak directly to me about art. Isn't that what it's like? When you first start, there's so much room for improvement, that it seems relatively quick and easy.
As I said before, it's become very easy to replace the habit of looking backward to see how far I've come, and drawing inspiration from that, with looking around me and forward, and becoming overwhelmed with the idea that I will never be the artist I want to be, that I will never find satisfaction in my work, and that I will never be as good as my peers. This state of mind is incredibly destructive to the creative process.
The biggest challenge for me is not having a weak sense of anatomy, understanding of light, or storytelling. Those are things I struggle with, but they are not my stumbling block. No, my stumbling blocks are blocks I put up myself. They are made from telling myself that I'm not good enough, and that I never will be, made from asking myself "what's the point?" They are caused by losing sight of what art is to me, and losing sight of the proven key to improvement, which is to simply draw.
Obviously there is more to improvement than that; doing studies, observing the world around you, taking critique and therefore learning from your fellow artists. However, none of that can be practiced if you don't draw at all.
I guess I need a wake up call. I need to stop putting myself down, to stop comparing myself to others in a destructive way. I need to be confident that, if I made it this far, I can certainly continue to grow. I need to realize that it's not about where I'm at now, but where I'm going.
I suppose the key to overcoming these blocks is about realizing that my biggest challenge is myself, and changing the belittling thoughts and behaviours that cause me to stumble. Once I can do that, is there really any end to the things I can accomplish?
* How We Learn is a course supplied by The Great Courses. Click to learn more.