13 Responses to Overcoming Self Doubt As An Illustrator

  1. Excellent post and excellent video, I know exactly what you’re talking about.
    I agree with putting away the images of your favourites before starting. I like to look at stuff for inspiration before hand, cos it helps remind me why I want to do this, and I feel like I’m joining in with all of them, and so helps make the work fun.
    But then I think it is best to just concentrate on your own work, and let it be your own work. Otherwise it’ll more likely be a half baked copy of your favourite artists.

    One thing I have trouble with, is the stony apathy that often comes from publishers after sending out my work, but a mantra I’ve often used in the past which has helped me through a few things, is ‘Wait until you can’t wait any longer. Then wait a bit more, then a few weeks after you should’ve given up, but didn’t, something will turn up’
    Which I suppose translates as keep going, keep trying, be patient.
    Just keep doing lots of work. There are studies that if you practise something for 10,000 hours you will be a master of it, so I sometimes find it helpful to keep a bit of an eye on how much my work has improved year on year, this can help me feel positive about it.

    And another thing I’ve started doing recently, which has paid off very well, is saying to myself ‘what would a confident person do in this situation?’
    I then do the thing, pretending to be a confident person, and by the end of it, I’m just being confident.
    It’s like I catch the unconfident bit of me off guard and sidestep it.

    Anyway, those are my tips and tricks, I faffed around and didn’t do much work, and hardly ever sent it off, and procrastinated, and ‘couldn’t find the muse’ for years and years and years.
    But I’m a bit better at it all now, due somewhat to using these strategies.
    Sorry about the long post, I found I had quite a lot to share about this.
    But I hope it all helps in the mix ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Jonathanโ€”thank you, thank you, thank you for putting this advice out there! The “symptoms” of self-doubt you describe are exactly the same as mine. Google Reader is probably the greatest source of inspiration and yet a constant reminder that other artists are better at their craft than I am. We as artists have got to get over the unhealthy comparisons and focus on producing work. I’m glad you pointed out that a piece may need to be redone ten times before it’s done, and that’s okay. I focus so much on each piece being the next portfolio piece that I forget to have any fun.

  3. Great post and video Jonathan!
    Thanks so much for sharing your views and self-help strategies to get ourselves past self doubt. I too struggle with it, and I am by far my toughest critic. I agree it is best to shut off the computer, put away the favorite illustrator books, and just take a deep breath and dive in.

    I know when I have been busy with kids, family etc, and haven’t had much “art time” I feel rusty and the self doubt looms it’s ugly head. For me, I find it is best to warm up with a new piece(for fun and no pressure), just jump right into it, do a few preliminary sketches and just let the ideas flow freely into my artwork. I find it enables me to get into “the zone”(you know when you loose yourself in a piece and time escapes you) quickly and the creative juices really start flowing freely. Some of my best ideas and new techniques come from those times. And it reminds me of why I love creating so much, and how much fun it really is.
    Then I am warmed up and in a good head space to start working on unfinished projects. Ahh, but half the time it is like 2am…oh well ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Thanks Jonathan,

    That’s exactly the issue I’m working through right now. I’m in the position now where I can’t wait any longer, I can’t procrastinate, I have to do this now or it’s never going to happen. And I find myself almost paralyzed with all the “what ifs”

    So this week, to give myself a confidence boost, I’m going back through my own work history and picking out those special pieces where everything just seemed to come together. I’m going back to the original reference material I gathered for those and doing something different with it. It doesn’t always work out, but it serves to remind me of the times when everything seems to come together perfectly gives me a huge confidence boost.

  5. Thank you for such a candid post, Jonathan! I have found myself battling with more self-doubt in the last little while than I care to admit. But your tips (as well as some of the other tips in the comments) are definitely stuff I am going to consider in the future.

    In particular, I like your idea of choice. I 100% agree that often it is a choice. One of the downsides of freewill I suppose. ๐Ÿ™‚ But personally, I think being more cognizant of it may help me make better choices.

    I also think that I need to recognize when my self-doubt is affecting my quality of work. I have a bad habit of trying to push through the feelings and just work. More often than not, this causes a mass production of crap which then further elevates my feelings of self-doubt. Vicious, vicious circle! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Making it ok to take a step back and *not* work is something that I need to work on in tandem. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Great advice! It’s self-doubt can be so incredibly crippling. I particularly agree with stepping away from the internet bit. It’s like a double edge sword though, trying to be apart of a community, but trying not to compare yourself to others in that community- it’s really hard.

  7. I’m definitely working on this issue right now. Since many of us artists and illustrators are also our own marketers, I feel like it’s hard to talk about things like self-doubt. So thanks for putting this video and these tips out there! And in addition to stepping away from looking at what everyone else is doing, for me, putting in the hours at the studio table is the best way to work through it.

  8. Thanks Jon for the post, for those wonderful pieces of advice (in the comments as well).

    I think the internet can be a great source of inspiration, but also of despair. When I look at other people’s work (on the internet or in catalogs) and feel desperate about mine, I always try to remind myself that the work I see (and like) is the work of a very few illustrators out of thousands of us. They are on top of their craft and that’s what we got to aim for but like you say Jon, they did not get there right away. They also had start and find their way to be as good as they can be.

    Remember how the saying goes, “the journey is as important as the goal”. While I travel/walk/stumble on the same path as many of us do, one of the solutions I find to fight off self-doubts and low confidence when working on a piece is trying to enjoy it as much as I can, putting the fun back into my work. After all, if you have fun creating something, chances are, people are going to have fun looking at it.

    And if we really want to work as illustrators, enjoying our work seems like the bottom line doesn’t it?

  9. Thanks Jonathan, great post! Very very true about spending far too much time looking at other artists, I found I even created a folder to which I added images by other artists that I like, and I end up spending hours doing this and then never doing my own as it totally does have the effect of intimidation after a while rather than inspiration! It has me questioning all sorts of things from me not being good enough and it even has me questioning my style etc etc and is definitely paralyzing. Anyway, I’ve rambled too long. Thanks for the post!

  10. Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments and please don’t worry about them being lengthy, your additional tips and techniques were brilliant and just what I was hoping for when putting this post together.

    The issue of self doubt seems to hit most of us at one time or another and having more tools to deal with it when it strikes is helpful to all of us.

    Thanks for sharing.

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