Last week I was sick and haven’t been able to work on my homework for Painting Drama 2. I had time to stop and think though, because something was bothering me and it had to do with making art. I recently had an evening with my friends from church about when we should step out of out comfort zones. It made me realize comfort zones exist everywhere. Also in art.

Being in your comfort zone doesn’t have to be bad, in fact, I think we need it sometimes if it’s a good sort of comfort zone. But when you’re stuck there, when it’s holding you back or even worse, when it actually affects you negatively, what do you do then? I wanted to share what I`ve learned with you this week.

What is a comfort zone?

The Oxford dictionary describes “comfort zone” as:

A situation where one feels safe or at ease. Or:
A settled method of working that requires little effort and yields only barely acceptable results.

Sometimes a comfort zone is good to be in. Talking about art, you can have a certain style you easily fall into for example, and it makes your work recognizable and unique. You know you can pull that off and how long it takes you. It’s ideal when you work with a deadline. You do the work in a way that is familiar and you can focus on the creative vision of your client.

A comfort zone can be negative as well. Think of turning to food to make you feel better or, in art, when you don’t take the time to try something new and get better, you stop growing as an artist, you will get stuck in your familiar place doing the things you always do, drawing the things you always draw.

It can feel good to approach your work this way for a while, you might be good at it. For some people, this may be enough and that’s fine. But if you want that job at Disney, or if you want to be able to draw those pictures that are in your head, or if you want to be as good as your favourite artist, then you will want to improve. And that’s hard when you do what you always do.

I have been in an artistic comfort zone for years. And it shows. Look at these pictures for example:

This is a compilation from 2008 of character faces I made for the Janaija comic over the course of SEVERAL years. Notice how I keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Eyes are too close to each other, or skewed, noses that are off, faults in the anatomy of the skull, weird values in shaded drawings… This is because while I drew the same things all the time (faces, little thumbnails of scenes, nothing polished) I did not look at reference, I did not assess my skill and growth and did not practice deliberately. I just drew what I knew.

I was content doing this for a few years, but eventually I grew restless. I knew my comic would not be made if I didn’t put in more effort. Unconsciously I knew that I would have to step out of my comfort zone and draw new things but also adopt a set of new behaviours. I didn`t know at the time what they were, but now I do: gathering reference, doing studies and making a truckload of bad drawings before I’d see improvement.

That is scary, because it’s unfamiliar. This tied back into my fear of failure. I also didn`t really know how to improve. And that all is what got me into a long artist block.

This last weeks of Painting Drama 2 have been difficult. Fun, but I also discovered it`s all really pulling me out of my comfort zone. I mostly draw and hardly paint. I don`t know much about colour theory, I have to draw monsters, interiors, my perspective drawing needs serious work, and I`m doing things and thinking about things I`ve never thought about before.

That`s what brought a slight sense of unease. Very logical, because I`m stepping out of my comfortable art zone.

If you’re in that space right now, (if it’s with art or something else) and you’re intimidated, I want you to know that you’re not alone. I, and a lot of people with me, know how you feel. It’s not easy doing new things sometimes. Especially if it means a lot to you. It`s not easy breaking habits, adopting new behaviours, or to react in a different way to the things around you.

When is it time to step out of your comfort zone?

When you feel like you are stuck in your comfort zone and it’s holding you back, or even damages you, you might want to take the step of leaving the house and go on an adventure.

Just a note here, sometimes a little common sense or soul searching is in order before you go jump into things. I’m not telling you to quit your job or to leave your family. Sometimes you may feel like a boss or a spouse is holding you back, but is that really true? A job (this one, or maybe it`s another) will help you not to starve and if you made a commitment to be faithful to another person in a relationship or to start a family you obviously did so for a reason. Maybe the adventure lies in changing your approach or internally, in your way of thinking then.

You might say: “that`s all fine and dandy, but how do I even know if I`m in a comfort zone? And how do I know if I should get out!?” That`s a very good question, like I said earlier: I believe that certain comfort zones are not bad to be in. I need to lock myself in my house at certain times and be alone. That`s really unsociable and all, but I need it to recharge my batteries. Just a book, a movie and a cup of tea and no people. That`s going back in my comfort zone where I feel “safe and at ease.” like the definition above says. There`s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I need it, or I go crazy.

I think it`s the things that give you that nagging feeling that you should be acting differently, or you might feel bored with certain things, or it might be the behaviour that gives you crappy results every time that you should be paying attention to.


How can you get out of your comfort zone?

You want to get out of your safe and comfy home because you know there is something better out there. Be it for your health, or for your work, for your hobbies, for your contact with other people, for your faith… You probably know the areas in your life where you feel stuck. What do you do?

First I think it`s helpful to define what your comfort zone is, what difference you want to make and what “out of the comfort zone” looks like. Your comfort zone is often a habit you go to automatically. So change often has to do with changing your behaviour. That is one of the hardest things to do.
I really want to improve my art, that`s kind of a practical thing. And I asked myself these questions:

1 What does the comfort zone look like?

In my example of drawing the same things over and over again for years, my comfort zone is drawing familiar things without reference and even skipping over things I think I`ll not be able to do. In Painting Drama 2 my comfort zone is drawing familiar things as well but also to rely heavily on drawing and just use whatever colour seems right to use, without much thought. In fact, the homework of PD2 is enough to get me right out of my comfort zone.

2 What would it look like when I`d step out of the house and searched for adventure? How would that help and what could you achieve?

Artistic growth is a big one for me. That`s what stepping out would achieve.
Of course you could apply this to other areas as well: going out in the morning to work out means a healthier body, not turning to working at home to get a sense of control means more time with the family, praying every day means spiritual growth, not buying that Starbuck coffee every morning means savings for a holiday.

3 What is holding me back? And what obstacles could come in the way that would send me right back in your comfort zone again?

Fear might be a big one for a lot of people. Remember, we stay in comfort zones to feel safe. It`s familiar and we feel secure and in control.
I know that when I have a lot of time on my hands and I`m unconsciously dreading a new challenge or an assignment because I`m not sure I can pull it off, I`ll procrastinate or put off working on the assignment. Feelings of wanting to go on Facebook or Youtube when I could be working on assignments, or thoughts like “I still have a few days” are an indicator for me that I`m trying to get back in my comfort zone of inaction.

4 What is a first step I can take towards new behaviour?

I recently read an article on the blog of the app “Lift” (sorry, I can`t find the link anymore) that changing your behaviour is really hard and that we ought to make things easier for ourselves and don`t set too high expectations. They mentioned some simple things that could help with that. If someone wants to go to the gym every day and is really resisting it, he/she might just start with packing sports clothes and shoes the night before. This may sounds silly, but do it every day and it will become something you get used to. After a week they make it a goal to just “go to the gym” at first when they`re starting out. No goals in the gym yet, just a goal to go there. And we should build from there. Set reasonable goals like “work out for 20 minutes.” If they`re there longer, then fine!

For me a first step in not taking the easy way out in my drawing and painting, is to take at least 15 minutes to gather reference. Then after I`m used to doing that it could be doing at least one sketch page of studies before starting to draw a final sketch. Later it could be actively putting new things in my art that I`ve not drawn before.

For example, to get better at drawing faces I`m now doing skull studies:

I`m doing a lot of this studying that I wish I done years ago all at once now, the homework of PD2 is really helping.

Adventure is out there!

Take a few minutes now to think. You`re reading this anyway now, right?
Is there somewhere in your life where you know you feel stuck? Is something holding you back? Do you have a place where you are safe and comfy at home? But where it also is a bit boring, or where you affect yourself negatively even? Would you like to try something new? Go on your own little adventure? Think about it.

Then go through the steps above, what is your comfort zone that you want to get out of exactly? How does it help you if you`d get out? What would the end result look like? What is holding you back, or what will send you right back into your comfy house? Define the monsters. Then ask yourself: what could I do as a first step? Still too big a step? Bring it down even further until you know you`re ready to take that first step. Then do it.
Need a little more help? I wrote a blogpost about setting goals.

A last step you can take. If you’re up to it, share in the comments below what your adventure will be! What result would you like to achieve? I will respond to every message.

If you found this blogpost helpful, consider sharing it with your friends. Maybe it benefits them!

See you next week!

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