Are you intimidated by successful artists? : You are not alone…

Many many moons ago, when we were young, footloose and fancy free, before the kids/mortgage reality check, me and my bloke used to spend all our time {and money} going to see live bands.

One evening found us in a smoky jazz club in the heart of Leeds in the North of England watching a particularly virtuoso band rattling through some jazz-funk numbers.

I have to point out now that my bloke plays jazz funk bass [which is pretty complex] and he’s no slouch. He’s good enough to play in 4 bands one of which is semi professional and he actually gets paid for, pretty good going as any musician will tell you. As bassists go he’s pretty damn good {I know I’m biased ;-)}

Introducing… THE GOD OF BASS!


Well the bassist in the band we were watching that night was amazingly incredible. Combining perfect technique with awesome coolness that exuded from his every pore, he OWNED the stage, blowing the audience away with his funky vibes and stage presence.

I started to notice my other half slumping lower and lower in his seat and staring miserably into his beer. I squeezed his hand. “Are you OK?”

He gestured weakly in the direction of the GOD OF BASS onstage.

“Look at that guy. He’s amazing!!!. Just listen to him!. I’ll never be that good even if I practice 24 hours a day for the rest of my life! Bloody Hell!!”

And so a phrase was coined…

To be “BLOODY HELLED” – To be so intimidated by the god like majesty of another artist that you believe your work is the worst thing on the planet and just give up there and then.

My bloke stopped practising and even for a while seemed to stop enjoying playing so much. I suspect that whenever he picked up his instrument, all he could see in his head was the GOD OF BASS pointing at him and laughing.

The fragile confidence of the artist.


As artists it’s INCREDIBLY EASY to be “bloody helled”

We have to put the inner workings of our hearts, soul and mind out in our work for everyone to see, which puts us in a very vulnerable position. We therefore tend to have fragile ego’s and low levels of confidence in our own abilities. It’s very easy for this confidence to be shattered either by negative criticism {which people LOVE to do} or by judging ourselves unfairly against the abilities of others… and we always judge ourselves too harshly.

At it’s worst, this harsh judgement can actually prevent us moving forward in our career and making the most of the opportunities that are presented. At it’s best it just makes us feel really crap about what we do…

Everyone else is NOT a Picasso


When I was an art student I went for interviews for art courses and whilst waiting with the other interviewees I was convinced that the contents of their black art portfolios were probably on a par with Picasso whilst mine contained only badly drawn student life drawings.

I went into the interviews with such an incredibly negative and apologetic attitude to my own work that I’m surprised anyone offered me a place. It was only years later, when the boot was on the other foot and I was working in an art college looking at students portfolios that I saw the incredibly varied quality range of applicants. Amazingly they weren’t all Picassos! Who’d a thought it!

I had been “BLOODY HELLED”

Whilst working as a designer there were many jobs I would have loved to apply for but didn’t dare as I imagined the interviewers looking at my portfolio and and pointing at me and laughing me out of the building. Again, it was only when I later ended up interviewing designers applying for a job in the place that I worked and saw their portfolios that I realised they weren’t all brilliant designers and I really should have taken some of those opportunities.

Bloody Helled” again. Damn!

Remember… You are FAR FAR better than you give yourself credit for…


So how can you stop being BLOODY HELLED and have the confidence to move ahead and grasp some of the opportunities that are out there?

  • First of all you have to realise that there will always be artists better or worse than you. IT REALLY DOESNT MATTER. YOUR work is what matters. Be happy and enjoy and cherish it.
  • You also have to realise that your brain will generally always talk you down and you are far better than you think you are.

Ignore the negative inner voices.


Realise that your own brain is a bit of a traitor and will disparage you and your work at any opportunity with negative self talk. You know what brains are like…

You can’t paint… you will never be as good as X… your mum was right you know, you will never be a “proper” artist… X has so many more collectors than you, no one likes your work… etc etc etc ad infinitum.

Sound familiar?

There are many techniques that you can use to combat the natural negativity of your own brain.

My favourite one is a bit of NLP {Neuro Linguistic Programming} which works wonders in stopping your brains negative talk undermining your confidence.

Next time you get BLOODY HELLED and you get the negative inner voice telling you “ you will never be that good!” here’s what to do.

  • Listen to the inner voice {for the last time} Is it your voice or someone else’s? Get a clear picture.
  • Now that you know whose voice it is, you can control it.
  • In your head, change the voice. Try giving it a comedy voice like Homer Simpson or Daffy Duck. Make it sound like it has inhaled helium or slow it down to a standstill. Remember, you control the voice now.
  • Can you take the voice and its sill negativity seriously now? No.
  • If it’s STILL undermining you, imagine the voice out of your head and into a little bubble. In your imagination, place the bubble with the voice in on the floor in front of you.
  • Let it sit there whinging and undermining for a few seconds. Then STOMP on it and pop it! Imagine the satisfying “POP” {or “squelch” if you’re a bit more sadistic}and then the blissful silence. Hooray.

Every time you look at another artists work and feel self doubt just repeat the steps above to stop the mental tyrant of your brain undermining you.

You are SO much better than you think you are…


So the important thing with all this is to recognise when you are being “bloody helled” and stop it in it’s tracks. Give yourself some credit and stop that negative self talk. That way you will never be “bloody helled” again.

Are you easily “bloody helled”? Share with us in the comments.


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17 replies
  1. Mko Murakami
    Mko Murakami says:

    A friend told me that my lack of confidence in my work during critiques shows and that I don’t have a thick skin. Both are true. But being the sensitive person that I am, it kind of hurt/embarrassed to know that people notice this about me. Hurt because it makes me feel weak and it dredges up all the reasons why I have issues with self-esteem (childhood, etc). Art work is usually really personal and therefore subjective, so when people don’t respond well, its hard to look at the situation objectively… I usually crumple up in a ball and want to die. But I can’t… I won’t let myself… but I have to stop this self-defeating attitude and crazy brain talk! So thank you for writing this! I will definitely utilize the NLP and keep in mind the Ricky Gervaise quote… It important to remember that my own self worth is not dependent upon people’s response to my art. I need to remember that I make art for me as a vehicle of self-expression and to make use of my gifts. Thank you, I feel immeasurably better. Much Love! M.M.

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Thanks Mko. So glad you found this helpful. Critiques are so difficult and I think of the hardest things to face as an artist. Keep strong.


    I like how you personalise this, going to keep checking on the blog for that moment by moment support. So glad to have found you…


  3. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    Thank Helen,
    That is so true. We all “Bloody Hell “ourselves from time to time. Thanks for the positive thinking! I really enjoy getting your monthly newsletters keep em coming.

  4. Tami Fioranelli
    Tami Fioranelli says:

    Dear Helen,
    Thank you so very much for posting this.
    I actually stopped drawing shortly after I was finding an abstract “nitch” for me, quite different than anything I learned in any of my art classes. I was newly married to an abuser that convinced me that my work was not good, nor acceptable. I stopped drawing for over 25 years. I finally separated from husband and then divorced after 27 years and began to draw again. Very soon after, someone purchased one of my pictures for $1000. Then I went to a free art class, where the instructor was trying to instill in me that my work is not acceptable in the “art community”, and said he must “break me from using Sharpies”. Bloody Hell.
    I have actually been reminding myself of something that Ricky Gervais said when someone asked him how it felt to be funny to everyone. He said, “That’s just it, I’m not funny to everyone. I’m funny to me, and a few others. And that’s who I do this for. I do it for me and a few others.”
    So thank you for this article. And thank you, Jackie for the “success list” idea.

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Tami. So glad you are painting again and ignoring the idiot art tutor. I could write whole posts about art tutors who do that. Love the Ricky Gervais quote. He is so right!.

  5. Thalia Kahl
    Thalia Kahl says:

    I soo loved this post. I have been bloody helling myself all week and was quite in the dumps. Love the idea of a success list. And I am going to post that and this blog post on my studio wall! Thanks. This was just the uplift that I needed.

  6. Helen Aldous
    Helen Aldous says:

    Jackie. I love your “succcess list” idea!. What a great thing to do. Perfect to take out and read on those rainy days…
    Sloane. Glad I could spread the word of being “bloody helled” 😉 Its a staple phrase in our family 😉

  7. Lisa Kretchman
    Lisa Kretchman says:

    I’m really feeling this post. That doubter is in my head all the time lately. The cycle of doubt turns into depression too – if you are meant to create, and you let your fear stop you from being creative, it puts you in a bad place. It helps me if I can bring up the voices of the people who have complimented my work, and make me see the beauty of what I do. Maybe I’ll be self-sufficient about the doubts when I’m not in such a precarious position with my art income as well.

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Lisa. Yes its SO easy to get into a negative spiral, especially when income comes into it, which can put your brain into a panic and make things worse.

      I love Jackies idea of a “success list” which keeps all the nice comments and positive things that have happened. A good way to capture that positive energy and help you back onto a positive upward spiral.

  8. Eric Paul
    Eric Paul says:

    This was of great use to me. As some here may agree one of the by products of negative thinking is procrastination – you can’t fail if you don’t try (which can secure bitterness in old age). Right now, I just want to enjoy the ride. Creativity is a direct link, IMO, to our childhood, where we drew just for the sake of it, the fun of it, the sheer enjoyment of the act itself. One thing I try to keep in mind, always – before you rendered “it” it didn’t and couldn’t exist. “It” is like a gift that comes through you into reality. Amen.

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      So agree Eric
      I Love this quote-

      Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
      Pablo Picasso …

  9. Jackie Garner
    Jackie Garner says:

    Ouch – isn’t it easy to see everyone’s success except our own?
    I have two methods to counteract my negative feelings when I see others getting the awards, the big commissions, the numerous sales… One is to keep a “success list” which is simply a year by year list of good things that have happened, such as an exhibition, residency, magazine feature or anything that you’re proud of. Over the years, as the list gets longer and more prestigious, it’s good to look back at it and see that you’re progressing, that success is happening even if it’s slower than you’d like.
    My second method is to say to myself “That’s going to be me soon” when I see someone doing well. I find it helps me to stay positive and redouble my efforts rather than getting trapped in negative envy. OK, so they won the award this year, but that doesn’t stop me winning it next time. I’m still on the way up, which is better than being on the way down!
    The above works for me. I hope it helps someone else too.

  10. Sloane Siklos
    Sloane Siklos says:

    I am only finally realizing that I need to ignore what is going on in the art world, in order to prevent myself from being paralyzed… in the end, the creation is only for me, and if others enjoy along the way, great, but it cannot be the reason for going into my studio. Thanks for a new phrase to remind myself NOT to get “bloody-helled!” love it!

  11. Helen Aldous
    Helen Aldous says:

    So glad you enjoyed it Joan. You are right though in that it does take concerted effort to keep the negative voices out. Lots of support networks always helps, but definately recognising when you are doing it and putting yourself down is the key too. Take care x

  12. Joan A Hamilton
    Joan A Hamilton says:

    I loved this post! It spoke directly to that nasty inner voice of mine and said, “I’m not listening to your nonsense any longer, go away!” Seriously though, stopping negative talk going on in our psyches takes concerted effort and real support from the people who believe in you, including yourself.
    Really enjoy your blog and the way you talk straight about the issues artists face every day. Thanks!


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