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Artist mindset – The worst thing to do when you hit a roadblock in your art

This blogpost has an accompanying video on my Youtube channel:

What is a good artist mindset when it comes to making mistakes and imperfect art?

And what do you do when you hit a roadblock in your art?

I’ll tell you what I did when that happened to me in 2006: I stopped drawing.

And by talking to hundreds of artists over the years, I know I’m not alone.

Most artists who have tasted the joy of creating, know that the drive to do art never goes away. Not even in these periods of “art block” or “dry spell.” So we keep watching tutorials. We keep tinkering away at our stories, or keep building worlds for our comics.

One day… One day we will “get it” and feel ready to tackle the complicated stuff.

This passive learning keeps our brain occupied. It might feel like we’re working on improvement. But we haven’t addressed the real problem:

We stopped creating because we see our current skill level as a value judgement.

We judge ourselves. (“I’m a bad artist. I can’t do it”)
We make judgements on our past choices (“I should have worked harder”)
And we let that “predict” our future abilities. (“I’ll never become a good artist.”)

Making mediocre or bad work grows into something that is to be feared. Making art becomes a struggle. So we let daily life take over. And it becomes harder and harder to create, because we get rusty.

We’re waiting for us to, somehow, become better artists. But the truth is that the process of making art isn’t perfect. We will mess up. We will make mistakes. We’ll need to do multiple sketches, do problem solving, and we tweak things as we go.

There is no way to make art without mistakes and frustrations.

The first sketch I ever made for Bern, my character from Recollection City, when I started designing him. And on the right, the final result. We have to start somewhere.

Frustration is normal, and mistakes is how we learn. It means we’re stretching ourselves. We’re exploring. Learning. It means we’re growing and improving.

But as long as we still see our mess ups and roadblocks as “bad.” And a value judgement on ourselves, we will resist doing art.

For a second, imagine a dancer who is forbidden to mess up a dancing routine during practice. A dancer who is forbidden to fall. But who is expected to dance an entire routine, immediately, without flaws.

I can tell you, they will quit dancing soon. And if they don’t, it won’t be long before all the life and joy they once felt when they danced is sucked right out of their lives.

You’d never ask a ballet dancer to perform without extensive practice. But that is exactly what many visual artists ask of themselves.

Don’t be an impossible dance instructor to yourself.

Don’t expect to never make bad art. Don’t expect every experiment or new technique to go perfectly on the first try. Don’t expect to draw something amazing from your imagination if you haven’t practised doing that with reference, first.

I was afraid to start a webcomic. There was a good chance, I felt, that I wasn’t able to draw everything I wanted and that I’d quit.

I quit, alright. I didn’t even start.

There was a real big gap in my knowledge that I needed to bridge, yes. But the biggest reason was that I saw my mistakes and I got scared. So I stopped.

I cringe whenever I think about how much further I could have gotten in art in those seven years.

Don’t be me.

The only way to get rid of a fear is to go through it.

I don’t know what that looks like for you.

Maybe you need to commit to only making ugly art, on purpose, for a year.

If you want to make your own comics and you’ve never done it before, commit to making a few short comics. No matter how ugly you think they are. Go through the process and get familiar with it. And get familiar with all the roadblocks you’ll run into. Because as I’ve mentioned in a previous video, your first pages will be messy and awkward.

But always keep looking to the future as a place that holds a better artist version of you. Because it does. Stop predicting what that looks like and how long it “should” take you, though.

As they say: trust the process.

But whatever you do, don’t stop creating. Don’t do what I did. You never know when your next breakthrough will be.