2 Traps to Avoid as an artist

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There are two struggles that can really disappoint and hold back the progress of an artist in the beginning stages. The first one is beginner’s luck. If you’ve ever experienced this, please let me know in the comments below.

In my first year of art school I was taking a beginning oil painting class, a beginning drawing class, and a beginning sculpture class when all of a sudden, each one presented its own massive frustrations which led to massive temper tantrums and meltdowns for me. I had very few victories in that first year at art school.

Because I was really struggling, this little landscape painting I was doing was such a huge deal to me. It was towards the end of the first year of art school, and the weather was starting to warm up in Connecticut so the instructor said, “everybody’s gonna go out, you’re gonna find a landscape scene to paint and plein air!”

This was all new to me. I never painted outside before and had no clue on how to go about picking a landscape scene and painting from life in plein air, like the famous French impressionist.

It took me forever to even find anything that I thought I might be able to turn into a painting and there really wasn’t a lot of instruction as to how to select a scene but I ended up landing on this scene with a bridge and a highway. Not exactly the most picturesque scenery, but something about the shapes of the bridge, the foliage, and the Lieutenant River in Old Lyme, Connecticut running underneath seemed appealing.

I was all by myself, so I sat myself down and it was absolutely cozy, serene, and just beautiful. I painted away and it was so peaceful and harmonious and time just seemed to disappear on this painting. Everything seemed to just flow and come together and before you know it the time was up for our class time and we all had to bring back our paintings to the classroom, put them up, and have them critiqued – which was incredibly terrifying.

No matter how many group critiques we did week after week, month after month, it was still terrifying for me. But with this painting, I wasn’t terrified. I knew it was good. I knew it was one of my best paintings and I was so happy and excited about it. And sure enough, rave reviews! Everybody loved the painting.

I was so excited and I thought this is it! I found my thing! I’m going to be a landscape artist. This is what I’m going to do from now on because it was such a big victory. I thought that this is what I was born to do and that I must just be naturally good at this landscape thing. I really built up this big fantasy in my head about it all which felt great in the moment.  I thought I finally found the one thing or the secret key that was going to make me a successful artist.

Then, next week happened. We went out to go do another plein air landscape, this time as a group. It was in a forest area and I was thinking, yes! I’m ready to have another victory. I’m ready to kick this painting’s ass! I had all these high expectations and confidence in myself and got out there.

And wow. No, I did not kick that painting ass. That painting kicked my ass. It was dreadful. It was an absolute mess. I experience a completely 180 outcome result from the first landscape I had done. I got so angry and frustrated that I threw the painting across the forest and had no painting to show at critique. I was so upset partly because I had built up the story in my head that I thought I found my thing, you know?

So this was just a little story about beginner’s luck. Sometimes this is what happens as a beginner. Sometimes we’re just looking for the one thing that’s going to all of a sudden magically turn us into this successful, talented artist out of nowhere. My hopes and dreams were set on that until I realized that this all just takes time.

All of this takes practice and hard work.

Basically nobody gets to go from beginner to a fully formed professional artist in a matter of six months’ time.

I just wanted to share that lesson with you in case you guys have also been struggling with any of this beginner’s luck stuff and the hope and devastation it can cause.

The next struggle I encountered as a beginner was the jealousy thing. I don’t know about you guys, but I was definitely very, very jealous of some of the other students who were in my art class. Some of them had a skill set that I did not possess, and it was really aggravating for me.

I remember there was this one girl in particular, who could copy whatever she was seeing so perfectly. I mean every little strand of hair on the model, she could just perfectly replicate reality, and watching her was kind of like watching like a little photocopier machine with her pencil down the page.

I was so jealous of this girl and her skillset that it really made me feel like I was not a good enough artist.

So in a way, I kind of looked for anything that triggered me into thinking that I wasn’t good enough as an artist, or made me feel like I wasn’t going to be able to do this or make it.

For a long time, I really struggled with jealousy and comparing myself to this person, comparing my results to their results, and I have to say, there is no way that is a winning situation for any artist.

Over the years, as I grew and became wiser, and with time, practice and effort, I finally came to a place with this particular person that I was constantly comparing myself to and realized that I’m just going to choose to accept my abilities and my skillset and be the artist that I can be. I don’t know how good I can be, but I’ve got to accept myself in whatever limitations I have going on at the time. At that time, all I could see were the limitations and I saw this other person as having no limitations and having it all.

This can be incredibly discouraging for beginning artists. It wasn’t until I was able to really fully accept that, that I was able to diffuse the jealousy towards this person.

Only at that point when I stopped comparing myself to other artists, could I really go all-in on my own development, and really start accepting and embracing who I really was as an artist.

At that point, I was able to become a better support system for other artists in the room. I was able to celebrate their gifts with them, and not compare my gifts with their gifts.

Because when you’re in jealousy mode, you really can’t contribute to anybody. You’re just thinking about yourself and what you lack.

So I just wanted to share those two stories with you because there are definitely pitfalls that I fell into as a beginning artist, and it really robbed me of a lot of joy in the art-making process.

I also feel like falling into the beginners luck and fantasy trap as well as the comparing myself to others trap really stalled some of my development.

I hope that sharing my experiences may help you recognize the traps if you see yourself falling into them, or help get you out of them if you are experiencing this now. 

Let me know in the comments below what you thought about this topic today, if you’ve experienced this, or how you’ve worked through this yourself. 

And finally, I want to invite you to the 5 Day Still Life Painting Challenge which will begin on June 27th. We’re going to have such a great time and so many breakthroughs that week. So be sure to go HERE and check out the details there.

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12 thoughts on “2 Traps to Avoid as an artist

  1. I completely relate to the “beginners luck” portion of your story. This is exactly what I need to get past. I’d love to go somewhere and just begin painting without having to get past this artist’s block.

    1. So happy you were able to relate Sharon 🙂 With time and practice I have NO doubt you will be able to begin a painting with no worries <3

  2. My insecurities from not getting enough “likes” on IG or FB was a trap to my own and my art development. I would always wonder how come she got hundreds of likes when her drawing or painting was not that good. I was so frustrated that I dropped out of that online class. I let the number of likes define who i am as an artist. It takes courage and humility to fight this trap. I still fall into this trap once in awhile. I would just move on and now, i don’t post as much anymore and i continue learning drawing and painting.

    1. Thank you for sharing Daisy! This is so common especially with social media now. Its hard! So much of social media is marketing and totally does not define an artist or their skillset. I say, keep posting! Keep sharing your beautiful work with the world and the right people will follow and admire you. Work on the art business side of things and learn how to grow your audience as well will really help!

  3. This really resonated with me. I recently completed a one year intensive painting program and feel I am floundering and really trying to be more expressive in my work but not succeeding. Often comparing my style to others and wishing I could paint like them. I need to embrace my gift for realism and let my voice come naturally. It certainly hasn’t worked forcing myself to paint like someone else!

    1. So happy you resonated Tess <3 You could really benefit from the "Finding Your Artistic Voice" course I offer in The Art Life School where I help my students really get clear on their voice, embrace their unique gift and get clear on their artistic style. You are super right that forcing yourself to paint like someone else just never works in the end. Keep embracing your style and gift Tess <3

  4. I love what you wrote today. It embodies so many of the feelings I have and still have to overcome, particularly doing Plein Air Painting. More so in this situation, because there are several painters always around. Then they casually stroll around looking at other artists’ works and usually, I just freeze up. All the demons come out quickly. It’s a constant battle for me.

    1. Thank you for sharing Maureen! You’re right, it can be totally scary to have others look at your work, I totally get it! Just keep that confidence and remember that you are AMAZING. Keep doing your own thing and keep the joy in your art no matter who is around <3

  5. My first plein air session was an all day class at the plantation home where John Audubon painted many beautiful paintings. Summer in Mississippi can be unbelievable. Your contact lenses fog up, and the bugs swarm. I was terrified and never got anything done at this session. I did take photos that I used several years later to complete an oil painting that ended up on the brochure for for a new gallery in town. It took a few years to get over my stage fright and go forward. It takes time and brush time but practice may not make each painting perfect but they sure get better.

    1. Thank you for sharing Mary! What a story! From fear to the cover of a gallery brochure! Congratulations on your incredible breakthrough <3

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