Toxic Friends – Self Confidence & The Artist

Artonomy reader Paul Stratton shares his artistic journey and some of the hard life lessons he has learned along the way…

Or – How the wrong friends can be so bad for you!

I’d always liked art and enjoyed creating it. When I was at school I was confident enough to think that I would get a good grade and was told that I would. I figured I’d move on to Art College and hopefully a career. Even though we’d had four different teachers in four years, when the last one ran through the list of things we should have done (and hadn’t) I was still expecting good things. At that point I was young and surrounded by people giving me words of encouragement and support. I thought I could pretty much do what I wanted and that meant making a career from art. I was very positive and looking forward to the future.

The horrible surprise…

So it came as a great and horrible surprise that I didn’t pass. I went into a kind of shock and just stopped doing art. My confidence was gone. Someone, somewhere, who carried a great deal of weight, had decided they didn’t agree with everyone else. I never knew why or where I’d gone wrong. I may have had the support but I didn’t have the experience and because other areas of my life weren’t so good I felt that my one chance had gone. I stopped listening to the sage advice from people telling me it was just a hic-up, that I could get back on my feet and try again and all the other supportive stuff they were saying. It seemed very black and white to my inexperienced eyes.

The re-awakening…

Roll on twenty years or so and I happened upon an architects shop in France. It showed some of his stuff and it was amazing. And I realised the interest was still there and so was the desire. But my situation was different and those supportive people I’d been surrounded with had moved on or moved away. The people I was with at the time were not the same and there was one friend in particular who taught me just how bad it can be if you are surrounded by the wrong kind of people. In fact he taught me so many lessons at once I wonder sometimes if things really do happen for a reason.

The Toxic Friend…

It turned out that this chap had tried to sell his art before. When I first saw his work (he’d hung some of his originals on the walls of his flat) I thought he was good but after he told me just how good he really was I thought he was fantastic. I wasn’t sure about some things but, because he was so good, I figured it must be that I wasn’t as good as him. I hadn’t learned enough or got it right. He told me that he had made some prints (a massive amount – 500 I think, A1 or A2 size) and had sold around 3. He went on to say that there was no point even trying because if he hadn’t sold any of his there was no way I was going to sell any of mine. At various points he would tell me how things should be drawn or what everyone expected when they looked at other people’s work. I can’t remember how long I lived under this guy’s shadow thinking there was no hope for someone as inferior as me and I never realised until now how much damage was being done. Not just by him but by me for allowing him to do it. (Then again, I was suffering from Depression very badly by this point)

The Valuable Lesson…

I learned many things from this. Firstly, that if you have absolute confidence that what you do is good, you can convince other people of that too. You can almost sweep them along in your enthusiasm. Even if you have doubts like I did about some his work, you can end up thinking that if someone is so good, those doubts must be misplaced. If this chap’s confidence hadn’t gone further into arrogance who knows where he and his art would be today? I’m not saying that you should convince people that you are good (that’s up to them to decide) but what it shows me is that if you have confidence in yourself you can achieve so much. Art’s subjective. Some will like it and some won’t but if you have confidence in yourself you won’t care about those who don’t. And you won’t give up either.

It also shows me that you have to have patience. You can’t give up at the first obstacle like my friend did or I did and you can’t expect things to always go right for you first time. I don’t think that’s the same as not believing in yourself but more in trusting that things will work out. That you may need to pick yourself up off the floor as few times as you go. That it’s ok to fail and then succeed.

Thirdly, it’s not for other people to tell you if you are going to succeed or not. Not only do they not know the future but they are not you. They failed. It doesn’t mean you will. It does mean they didn’t have the patience or work ethic but not that you don’t.

Lastly, it showed me that when your heads not in a good place or if you are very trusting of people (as artists often are) then their words and thoughts can have a massive effect on you. I believed this guy because he was very confident in himself and his work, I was very unconfident in myself and mine and because he was a friend I trusted his opinion. But he (and the majority of people who I thought were ‘real’ friends at the time) never offered any real encouragement or support. Just told me it wouldn’t work or wasn’t good enough and that became my perception regarding art until about 2 years ago. The thing was I never even realised that until I was shown. So not only is having the wrong people around you going to keep you down and view your future negatively but these thoughts become a pattern that you can end up taking with you without even realising it.

The support and encouragement given to me when I failed to pass my O-level must have sunk in. Without it I would have totally given up as a kid and definitely when my friend tried to tell me I wasn’t good enough. If you are unlucky enough to have been surrounded by people who put you down because it didn’t work for them or who never offer you any kind of support then it can only be bad for you. If you can offer support and encouragement to someone else then it might make a world of difference to them. It is difficult accepting that people you may have known for a long time and regard as friends are actually bad for you. It may take a lot of soul searching and effort to admit that it’s true and if you are like me, there’s a lot of resistance before the penny drops. It is also very difficult to ‘un-believe’ something you’ve been believing in for a long time.

In the end, I let go of the people who were bad for me. While it was very tough at the time it’s actually one of the best things I’ve done. The effects of those templates are still there, such as the perfectionism, but they are so much smaller than they were and getting smaller all the time. I know one day soon they’ll be gone. It takes time to re-program your head and to believe that things that have been so negative can be so positive. And it’s hard to make some decisions even if you know they are the right ones but it’s worth it. Things also come easier to some people than others but if any of the above sounds like stuff you are going through then take heart that things can change and it doesn’t matter if it takes a while because it’s the result that counts. Best of luck!

 

Paul Stratton is an artist who specialises in Art, Illustration, Scenery and Model Design. You can view his online portfolio here:

If you would like to share your experience of your artistic journey with our readers please get in contact with an outline of your guest post…

Image courtesy of Tack-O-Rama

 

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How To Keep Your Creative Flame Burning – 10 Top Tips

With everyday life bearing down on you it’s difficult to keep your creative flame burning.

Work, kids and general reality all conspire to eat up every last second of your time and cloud your thought processes, reducing your creative brain to mush.

It can seem impossible to find time to let your brain wander in the way that often leads to the best ideas. When you do get time to create you can find yourself with “white paper syndrome” leaving you in a state of panic as to what to do with your precious few minutes.

In this post I’ve gathered together a few ideas to help kick-start creativity.

One drawing an hour

Set a timer on your mobile and whatever else you are doing create a 1 minute drawing on the hour every hour. At the launderette? – draw your socks… at the pub? draw your pint… You get the picture. This really helps to force you to get creating. Even if the drawings aren’t great it’s the creative process that counts.

Photograph the small detail

Try and have a small digital camera with you at all times {mobile phone cameras are great for this} and be on the lookout for shapes, textures, silhouettes and details to photograph. Looking for these elements will make you more aware of the world around you and you will find beauty and inspiration in the most unusual places. The patch of amazingly textured rust on a car parked outside school when you drop the kids off. The spiders web on the bus stop shining and sparkling with frost. The flaking paint on a boarded up building you walk past every day on your way to work. Beauty and inspiration are everywhere. You just need to look.

Unplug & awaken your senses

Try and get away from the distractions of work/general life and awaken all your senses. This may mean walking away from the computer and doing something else. If you are stuck in an office, try and escape for a lunchtime foray into the park. Go for a walk and enjoy nature. Look at textures, notice smells {good and bad} listen to sounds. Pick up an instrument and play some music. Read a book, Awakening your senses can be really inspirational and lead to your creative thought processes flowing again.

Turn off the TV and go out and do something less boring instead.

Do you remeber the kids TV programme from the 70’s that advocated this? They were so right!. It’s so easy to slump in front of something mindless at the end of a hard day when the kids have gone to bed, but you often find if you don’t put it on, maybe listen to music instead you are in a much better place to get the creative part of your brain working.

It’s no secret that the TV is an absolute killer to creativity. Ignore its siren call. Put some music on and paint.

Learn a new creative skill

Learning a new skill which hopefully complements your existing skills will often re-energise your creativity. For example, as a Printmaker who specialises in Screen-printing, learning skills in Etching or Lithography would bring some new creative input to my process and possibly give my work a new dimension. Must get those courses booked.

Enrol on a course

Leading on from the point above – it’s a great idea to book yourself onto an organised course to learn a new skill. The fact that you have paid for the course will encourage you to keep going. I also find thatthe fact that you have “ringfenced” say 2 hours on a Tuesday night persuades you to go and do something and it’s not as easy to just get sidetracked by other things. Enrolling on a Life Drawing course or a learning a skill related to your work can be really inspirational.

Be inspired by Google

The internet is the perfect way to keep inspired by seeing new art. Set aside a few minutes to check out a new and exciting artist or reaquaint yourself with old favourites.

The Google Art Project gives you access to collections in galleries around the world and is an amazing way to visit a new gallery every day from the comfort of your desk. Why not make it a lunchtime break ritual?

Keep your sketchbook with you at all times

Maybe get yourself a smaller one that fits in your handbag – and keep writing things down. The funny conversation you heard in the dentists waiting room. The idea for a drawing that popped into your head as you were bored in a meeting. Make sure you record it all. There will be a point in the future when things are calmer and you have more time. Then you can go over what you have recorded and there will be some sparks of inspiration to work from. It will help prevent “White Paper Syndrome”

Get up early

This isn’t for everyone and the thought of getting up even earlier may be just too much… but I find I can have a nice half hour of peaceful time to think with a coffee before everyone else in the house is up. Well worth the effort of dragging myself awake. It works for me.

Just keep creating

It’s easy to stop being creative. Other stuff gets in the way and before you know it 5 years have gone by and you haven’t produced any work {believe me, I know}. The most important thing is to just keep going. Even if you only produce work very slowly it’s important to still keep making stuff and seeing yourself as an artist, printmaker or whatever you do rather than someone who “used to do a bit of painting”.

If you ever find yourself using that phrase to describe yourself at a party it’s definitely time to implement the tactics I have outlined above.

Please share with us in the comments what works for you to keep your creative flame burning.

Thanks to Tack-O-Rama for the fabulous retro image

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Show It, Don’t Blow It: 7 Tips to Keep the Art Exhibition Blues at Bay

As artists, showing our work can often be a trigger for creative block. In this guest post, artist and blogger at DialogVisual, Cherry Jeffs, offers 7 tips for ensuring that your next exhibition doesn’t cause a dry spell in your art-making!

A few years ago I began showing my art after a long hiatus. Exhibiting my work previously had resulted in long bouts of creative block and I was determined not to let this happen again!

Since lack of self-confidence is frequently at the root of artist’s block, here I share some straightforward strategies I used to boost my morale and make the whole process less stressful and more enjoyable.

If you are new to showing or returning to it after a long break, these 7 tips are a great way to ease yourself painlessly onto the gallery circuit.

1. Control the Show

In his book, Fearless Creating (Tarcher/Putnam, 1995) creativity guru, Eric Maisel warns against ‘impulsive showing’ whereby the artist shows,
‘…without preparing the work or preparing herself, without considering who the right audience might be or what she wants from the experience of showing…’
Maisel advises consciously planning for showing: Deciding to whom we want to show our work, why we want to show it and whether there is anything else the work needs before we do so.
To ease yourself (back) into showing, choose a situation that allows you to determine what work to show, and when and how you you show it. Organising your own show means you can carefully control the whole process.

Pick the most sympathetic environment possible – i.e. somewhere where you feel comfortable and that’s easily accessible so your pals can come and support you!

2. Like a Scout – Be Prepared!

Preparing for your show well in advance, reduces last minute panics! Complete your work well before the start of the exhibition so you have plenty of time to plan how you are going to hang it. Spend some time in the gallery beforehand picturing how to place the work.

Arrive early on the day of the hanging to make the most of the time available.

Hanging the exhibition

3. Spread The Word

If the venue doesn’t provide invitations, get your own printed and distribute them as many widely as possible. This will help make sure you get a great turn out – another morale booster!

Send out some press releases to local media as well. There’s nothing like a live interview to make you feel important 😉

Local Press

4. Feel Good!

Opening night is your night so do everything possible to optimize your morale so that you will shine.

Have your hair cut/styled the day before the exhibition if it helps you feel more confident and wear the kind of clothes that you can forget about as soon as you put them on!

I don’t suggest you wear your track suit with egg stains on but jettison that trendy-but-uncomfortable outfit in favour of something you’ve worn before and you know makes you feel good.

5. Stay Straight

Don’t drink anything alcoholic on the night! It’s tempting to get stuck into the free drinks at the private view but I’ve seen even very experienced artists getting more than a little tipsy with pre-exhibition nerves and its not a pretty sight!

Keeping a clear head whilst all around you lose theirs will give you an advantage when it comes to haggling over the price of your work (yes, it happens) and keep you sweet-talking those prospective buyers all the way to the bank to withdraw some cash 😉

The Private View

6. Separate the Work from the Show

This is the most important tip of all to avoid creative block after a show: You have to mentally separate the making of the work from the exhibiting and selling of it.

Think of it as creating two boxes. In one, put your experience of the process of creating the work; Then mentally seal that box.

Leave the second box ‘empty’ to be filled by the exhibition experience. Whatever this box ends up being filled with, don’t allow its contents to spill over into the first box!

Making the work is making the work, exhibiting it is something else. You’ve enjoyed the experience of making the work so don’t let anything or anyone detract from that.

7. Keep Your Creative Juices Cooking

Spending time in the studio on new work while the exhibition is running keeps you grounded and in the flow; it stops the feeling that your whole artistic life hangs by the one thread that is The Show.

Also consider booking yourself onto an artist’s retreat to reward and replenish yourself after the exhibition comes down.

You could even organise another show shortly after the first one! This provides a second opportunity for selling anything that remains unsold and a chance to correct any glitches that occurred the first time round 🙂

Following these strategies helps to give you a feel-good experience about showing your work and stave off a confidence crisis that can lead to Artist’s Block.

Do leave a comment if you’ve got any tips of your own that you’d like to share.

If it’s too late and the Blight of Block has already Bitten you, you might want to sign up for my Blast Your Blocks e-course starting 16th June!

 

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The Secret of Staying Creative | 11 great ways to beat creative art block

I get blocked sometimes. I’m sure most people in a creative industry do. Sometimes I’m simply not inspired and no matter how much chocolate or caffeine I consume it just isn’t happening. So I ask myself – how can I stay creative? How can I be in the moment all the time or at least avoid this suspension in creative energy? Looking back I need to think about what inspires me instead of what I am feeling when I am simply not feeling anything. What makes it work and makes me tick? What do other artists use for inspiration? The best way to do this is to simply throw out thoughts and ideas and see where this takes me.

     

  1. I will often peruse catalogues and online galleries to see what others are creating. While I am not interested in doing something just like them, I might be hoping this artist’s work will inspire something in me that I forgot about and I will soon be creating.
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  3. I am learning to take risks. Why just the other day I painted and it was messy and I didn’t know where it was taking me. I am so afraid of ruining a piece that often I will not let it reach the full potential that it has. And…what is the worst that could happen? Will the painting fail? Will people not like it? What’s so bad about this? Just paint it over again and make it better.
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  5. Work with others. I love to meet up with artists and talk art. Anything about art. I want to hear about their work and what drives them to paint or create what they do. As artists we can get so stuck in our studios – away from other people that we forget about all the life that is happening out there in this great big world. So my advice…open the door and walk through. Make a coffee date with a friend and take notes.
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  7. Write down what inspires you. Sometimes I will be traveling, on a plane or in a car and something pops into my head so I write it down. Be clear when you write these ideas down because what is perfectly clear right now may be nothing but a hazy thought in a week or two.
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  9. Use colors you normally wouldn’t use and paint something that you don’t plan to show anyone. This one is fun because it truly is just for fun. Don’t think about selling it or publishing it. Simply enjoy the process and see what you learn.
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  11. Try a medium you have never used. What about gel medium?
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  13. Use a substrate you have never tried before then see how much abuse it can take. My advice: wood. It takes a lot of abuse and always forgives me.
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  15. Go out and pick weeds. Many of my best ideas are discovered while pulling weeds. Doing something mindless frees up brain space to create.
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  17. Visit a gallery. Nothing gets my creative energy flowing more than going to galleries. Strike up a conversation with the artist or the gallery owner. Ask about your favorite pieces and what inspired the artist. Do not talk about your work—you are in a gallery that is spending money to showcase the work of other artists. Allow that time to learn about someone else.
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  19. Don’t try to be another artist. Just be yourself. You’re much better that way.
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  21. Be patient and realize some days are good for art and others are good for other things.

 

© 2011 Jan Weiss

Artist Bio – Jan Weiss

Jan Weiss, a northern California native is a freelance writer and artist specializing in home decor. With a strong background in art publishing and art trends, Jan shares this knowledge with the trade as well as individual artists.

Weiss has just completed her first eBook for artists, titled: The Coexistence of Art and Money; interested buyers can find this book as well as her art through several on-line galleries such as Artist Rising, Image Kind and Etsy.  Jan’s style is a mixed of collage, digital creations and abstract landscapes that will appeal to the hospitality buyer. She lives with her husband, cat and dog in the Bay Area and enjoys organic gardening, cooking, reading and making stuff.

You can find Jan at
www.theartplanet.com
www.etsy.co

Photocredit : Watercolour Girl image by Lorra Elena

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