5 tips to boost your confidence when creating

I`m back! With another subject for you to chew on.
First, look at these two pictures:

14-07 confidence

The left one was drawn a year ago, the other is from a few weeks ago. What is different about these two sketches?
To me, the one on the right has much more energy in the lines, and bolder shapes.

When analyzing this change, I discovered that my confidence in drawing had grown. I realized that there was some kind of boldness in my approach that was not there before.

In this blogpost I`ll talk about how this developed. I hope some of these points will help build your own confidence, and though this is something that grows gradually over time, I think some of these points can be applied immediately.
So let`s get to it by defining what confidence is exactly. The Oxford Dictionary describes it like this:

Confidence: “The feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something.”

Or:

Confidence: “A feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.”

Have you ever held a pencil, a brush, your sculpting materials, a stylus or some other tool you use and thought it felt so familiar and you knew exactly what to do with it?
I sometimes do when I have done quite a few things that are new to me and I get back to drawing. I pick up a pencil and it feels like I meet an old friend. I just know what to do with it, how to make marks that resemble people, nature and things. It can even be sort of comforting.

I think that is what these definitions of confidence talk about. You can rely on your tool and your skill to make the things you want to make: a drawing, a painting, a sculpture, a photo or even a story. By this I don’t necessarily mean a *good* one. It can be, sure, but this counts just as much for studies and “failed” experiments as for a masterpiece.

These five points below are what helped me grow more confident in drawing.
I don`t think this list is a final one though. There are probably tons of ways to get your confidence up, so let me know if you have any additions in the comments.

1 Knowing what you want to say and why.

My most horrible, most meaningless drawings started with “I want to draw something.” And then I would literally start making marks on the paper. But how on earth can you draw “something?” Oh sure, usually I go into default mode and draw a character of mine or something, but even those look lifeless when I haven’t thought of a pose or an action for them.

When starting drawing or some other creative thing, it’s a good idea to at least know what you’re going to draw, write, do etc. This can be very broad and doesn’t have to be very specific, but at least think a little further than “something.”
Knowing where you want the end result to be, even if it’s just: “10 rough sketches of this or that.” Or “a page full of thumbnails” will help you get to the paper more confident.

It might also be a good idea to keep your reason for doing what you’re doing in mind. This shows you how to approach something, (you need to bring different skills to the table when finishing something than when you are still in the idea phase) it can give you more ideas or help you edit your existing ones, or helps keep you focused on what you want.
I have a tendency to be distracted easily by shiny new projects and ideas. Deciding on a project, sticking with it and knowing why I’m ignoring other projects at the moment helps me to keep my focus on one project and go into it full force.

2 Shutting out self critique (at first), voices of negativity and self doubt.

There are great differences in these three terms.

Self critique can be a good thing, but not in all instances. To be truly creative when you start drawing, it`s way more helpful to stop editing your ideas as you go and have a “nothing is right or wrong” attitude. You`ll see that ideas come easier and you can think of more possibilities. After this phase you can go back and edit, look at it and critic it and then make it better.

Shutting out critique includes thinking about what other people will think about your work. It`s surprising how often I’m being led in my drawing by “it has to look cool” or “people will surely be able to spot the mistakes.” Not helping.

A very good video that talk about how to be more creative and how to go into a more playful and experimental mode is this one:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmY4-RMB0YY
It also helps to do your creating entirely for yourself while you’re doing it. (I`m obviously talking about personal projects now, even though it`s good to apply a certain open attitude towards your work if you`re working for a client as well) Sure, you want people to read, see and enjoy what you’re doing. But for the most part of the process you’re either experimenting, searching or learning.
You don`t have to show these drawings, photos, origami birds or whatever you`re making to anyone if you don`t want to, so why approach it as if it`s something that`s going to be judged one day? If you fail then no one would have seen it but you.

It`s hard to learn how to fail even if no one sees it, but it`ll help you develop a “meh, let`s try another one” attitude and will help you be less tense about creating something “awesome.” Some of my best drawings happened when I stopped caring so much about wanting to make a “good” drawing.

Remind yourself of what you want to say and why and do that. Don`t judge, this is your creative voice, these are your experiments, your studies and they`re valid, even if nobody else will ever see them.

Obviously, negativity or self doubt will gravely undermine your confidence. Negativity is never a good thing, it`ll quickly kill the fun or even the challenge in a creative pursuit. Even if you think that the thing you did looks horrible, at least you can make it a positive experience by analysing what went wrong and see it as a learning experience. If you can`t figure out what`s wrong, find someone with enough knowledge who can help you find it.

Self doubt is something different than observing your skills and assessing what you need to work on. (this is constructive self critique) Self doubt is second guessing yourself instead of your skills. Things like “This looks terrible, I`ll never be a good illustrator” or “One day people will see me for the fraud that I am” are obviously not helping and can be very destructive. If you have a lot of these thoughts, your creative work probably suffers and you maybe even dread working on things you perceive as hard.

There might be an underlying problem that`s worth looking into in you have thoughts like these a lot, especially if you have them in more areas than just art. But if this is something you recognize then maybe you`ll find some first insight in this article I wrote about my own self doubt: here

So, the bottom line in this point is that negativity and self doubt are a no! Constructive self critique: only when it`s appropriate.

3 Your skills.

An honest assessment of the skills you have will help you with a starting point in building confidence. Most people, by default, look at the skills they don’t have. “I need to get better at (x) before I can (x)” While this might show you what still needs work, when you only look at what you still can’t do (and let’s face it, there will always be things that need work) then your confidence will suffer. Instead, look at what you already have and go from there. What is it you *can* do? Then use that in your project next to the challenges. Bring the confidence that comes from the things you already grasp to the things you’re not yet that good at.

For example, my strength is drawing faces. That’s part of the reason I usually start a character design with the face. I feel more comfortable drawing that and it gives me a starting point for drawing the body as well:
14-07 confidence_02
Is there something important that you can not do yet? Then that brings me to the next point:

4 Resources and education.

Following lessons and classes, and applying the theory you`ve learned through practical study.

Today there are more places to go to than ever. Really good online schools like the Oatley Academy or Schoolism are on the rise and more and more places offer things like life drawing classes.

One person learns faster than the other, that`s normal. Just remember we`re all on our own respective journeys and we`ll get there if we put the work in and deliberately look and try to improve. One maybe a little faster than the other.

Resources can do a lot for your confidence. Maybe you need more reference and study the subject to get a better understanding of what you`re doing. For example: the faces I drew in this picture turned out much better than a year ago because I recently did some skull studies:
14-07 confidence_03
Other resources and practises can mean working through a few relevant tutorials, do a master study to learn more about colour, value and brushwork or work your way through a book on the skills you want to improve. These things will increase your understanding and give you more tools to use and that will boost your confidence.

5 Bluff.

What I don`t mean here is bluffing to other people, I`m talking about bluffing to yourself. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy (see point 2) and stand in the way of confidence. But it can help immensely to just think of how a person with more advanced skill would approach this. If you have a person you look up to to take as an example, that is even better. Just grab your tools and think: “I can do this,” and imagine yourself making marks, working on clay or setting up your composition in a photograph like that pro. I know I have done that.

This is not fooling yourself, sometimes arguing with the voices in the back of your head just doesn`t work, but we can silence them more with actions anyway. It`s the same principle as entering a crowded room and having to meet new people. Just your posture and making eye contact with those scary new people can make all the difference. If you act confident, you`ll feel more confident.

These are the things that helped me grow more confident in my drawing abilities and therefore make better drawings.
What helped you grow more confident in the thing you love to do in the past? And if you need a boost, what can you do *now* to improve your confidence?
Share in the comments below.

4 comments

  1. Gea says:

    Great reminder!

    I just need to DO more (photography). I am too busy thinking about it, “I want to do this”, “I want to define my style”, “I wish I could take such photo”….It’s annoying and also not helpful. I need to focus on my own work, instead of the work of others. 😀

    Now I need to ACT the above, haha!

  2. Scott Wiser says:

    Henrike, I’m so glad to hear you are feeling more confident and I hope you keep going! My favorite point in this post was your last: Bluff. I was actually thinking about this last night. I’ve just started a very challenging project and now that the concept and characters have been approved, I get to storyboard … and my confidence is a little shaky. So last night I thought, I’m just going to have to trick myself into thinking I can do a great job with this short film. Or as you put it, I just have to bluff. I think that’s a necessary step to anyone who desires to transcend their own lack of experience. Thanks for clarifying that for me!

    • Thank you for joining the conversation Scott! I`m glad you got something out of it.
      I`m for sure trying to keep the momentum.
      Yes, bluff can be a very good strategy. I actually learned doing that in my day job and realized this could be really helpful in drawing as well. I really hope it helps you also with your project. Especially at the beginning every big project gets daunting, I think that`s normal. But you`ll learn a ton on the job and I`m sure you`ll plow your way through it! I wish you a lot of confidence Scott, go for it!

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