I’ve recently embraced being an artist. Overall it’s been a mind-blowing journey but, me being me, it doesn’t take long for the path to be filled with rocks covered in anti-affirmation messages like: ‘You failed!’ Or, ‘You call yourself an artist?! Haha!’ Which brings me to the Four Bad Habits Artists (And We Are All Artists!) Must Break. Before I share these bad habits I want to share a bit of my journey in becoming an artist.

Near Lake Placid, my family gathered in a lovely garden, set up our painting stations and had our first class. Last August a professional artist in my family, Sara Woolley, offered a watercolor class as a reunion activity. Not feeling keen on hiking or pickleball that day, a bunch of us took her up on it. Before leaving Buffalo I took a trip to Hyatt’s, All Things Creative for a travel paint kit, brushes, and the paper Sara recommended. I was ready and so excited! The class was loads of fun but boy, was my first effort a bust! Maybe watercolor was not my bag. That was OK. I decided to not let it get to me, (not too much), and have some wine.

A few weeks later, at home, I ran across my watercolor kit. What the heck, I spent good money on that thing. I shouldn’t let it go to waste. Why not pull it out and make another mess? Nothing to prove, nothing to lose. A beautiful, juicy nectarine played live model.

It didn’t suck! I was so happy I took a picture of it and sent it to my sisters. Like the wonderful people they are, they immediately texted back. “What a beautiful, juicy looking peach!” Everyone should have kind, generous sisters like mine. From that moment on I was hooked.

It’s been a revelation that there’s been this artist in me all this time! Sara continues to provide us with lessons.

Recently, at her recommendation, I got Drawing From the Right Side of Your Brain. Within the first two pages the author says several times that there’s reason to believe all humans have the capacity to see the world and render it on paper (i.e. draw) with competency. We just need to be awakened to the magic. This is how I feel, awakened. How wonderful that I am not the only one!

My delight has a lot to do with what Brené Brown says with so much common sense…

“Rest and play are as vital to health as nutrition and exercise.”

Brené Brown

Emphasis on play.

Annie the mare, Dr Aletta of Explore What's Next

Annie, my mare, before she died, required me to go to the barn where I took care of her, rode her, and was outside in nature with all those sights, sensations and smells. All good right brain stuff. The right brain is said to be more imaginative, emotional, and intuitive, all essential for creativity and play (as well as a good sense of humor, my opinion). The left side of the brain is good, too. It has its purpose in linear thought, analysis, planning, organizing, in short almost everything I did all the livelong day at work. Without Annie I was leaning way too hard left. Rocket, my little doggy companion, makes me laugh and get out of my own head. Our pets are so important that way. 

But there was this space that, since discovering I could paint, I didn’t even know was there. It’s not as if I felt incomplete. My life was full, filled with meaning, good work, good partner, good family and friends, all that. Even so, painting filled that space I didn’t even know needed filling.

Painting Makes Me Happy!

Painting makes me so happy! And yet, being me, that nasty inner critic has to make her voice heard. “You’re no artist!” “You have no idea how awful that is!” “Don’t even try, you’ll never be good enough.” And that classic, old chestnut “Who do you think you are?” That inner critic ego bitch can puncture a hole in my fragile ego balloon with just a lazy tap of one sharply filed fingernail.

Enter Louise De Masi.

Louise De Masi is an Australian watercolor artist with a channel on YouTube. I love her. She has a calming, kind teaching style. I subscribe to her channel to learn more about painting, you might want to as well. She’s got cockatoos in her backyard! I was scrolling through her past videos, when I found Four Bad Habits Artists Must Break, that was clearly more “life-lesson” than painting. This was a change. It totally spoke to me. So here we go…

4 Bad Habits Artists (And We Are All Artists!) Must Break

1. Being too self-critical

The voice in my head says “not good enough”. Yes, it is true that some self-criticism can help you grow but too much self-criticism is Not Good. Doubting yourself drains your confidence and stifles creativity. Perfectionism can drain you of creativity as well. My mantra, one of my mantras, is the Voltaire quote, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.”  

To avoid being too self-critical Louise offers these few tips:

  • Set realistic goals for yourself. Make them achievable and measurable goals. My painting goals are humble and my painting for my own pleasure. I do not have ambitions to show in a gallery or sell at Christy’s. Last night it was ‘draw a spoon’. The day before that it was ‘paint some lemons resting on a plate’. I’ve learned through the classes with Sara, and curated YouTube viewing, that simple goals are the best. That’s when you learn the most. And to be ready for what Bob Ross called Happy Accidents. 
  • Focus on your progress. Once in a while reflect on how far you’ve come, not just where you are now and what is yet to be achieved. When a patient says they aren’t any better, I will remind them of how they were when we first started working together and they are amazed. DeMasi says she keeps her earlier work to pull out occasionally when she needs reminding of how far she’s come. “I may not be where I want to be, but I’ve come so far from where I was. I’ve made a lot of progress.”
  • Be kind to yourself. Practice self-compassion. Be as kind to yourself as you are to other people. Embrace your humanity and all the messiness and mistakes being fully human requires; certainly what being an artist requires. You’re not going to improve if you don’t make mistakes. Use the mistakes, learn from them to your advantage. Tell the artist in you that you are amazing for the simple act of picking up a brush, pen or pencil. 

2. Stop comparing yourself to others

Mark Twain said “Comparison is the death of joy.” Wow. Thank you, Mark! You can’t get much more clear than that! When you look at other people’s art on social media or in galleries you are looking at their very best work, curated carefully to be the best. First of all, whoever it is, they are playing on a whole other playing field. Not a better playing field, just a different one. Theirs is way, way, way over there! Mine is right here. Plus, you don’t know their reality, how long have they been at it? How many studies were scrapped, works abandoned? Comparison can lead to burn out and loss of passion. Stop doing it! Instead compare your art to YOUR art. Focus on your personal best. Everyone else can go to … Well, you get the idea. 

Instead of comparing, learn from how other people do things. Studying the masters is a tradition going back centuries. I don’t compare myself to my cousin, Sara. That would be ridiculous. I do admire, respect, love her work, try to take in what she teaches me, and make it my own.

3. Fear of failure

Fear will hold you back from taking risks and trying new things. This is your logical left brain trying to keep your wild right brain “safe”. But it doesn’t work that way. Fear will limit, if not kill, your creative growth. Lack of experimentation and risk-taking stifles learning as well as creativity. If you worry about failing all the time you will feel stressed and anxious all the time, which is not good! 

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Frank Herbert | Dune

The antidote to fear is embracing failure.

This is true no matter what the pursuit happens to be. When horseback riding, be ready to fall. When doing yoga, be ready to fall out of balance. Failure leads to growth. Louise De Masi recommends the book, “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers. (I admit I have not read this book but I’ll buy it for the title alone!) Focus on the joy of the process, not the outcome. In life, as in art, try to take action on the basis of love, not fear. 

4. Procrastination.

All the prior three habits lead to this one. Spending too much time avoiding being creative avoids the pain of anxiety. And it works. As long as you don’t face the fear you aren’t as uncomfortable. I don’t care why you’re procrastinating, because you can’t possibly ever be as good as whosis, because your second grade teacher laughed at your crayon portrait of your gerbil or whatever, procrastination just kicks the anxiety pain down the road. You feel less anxious by binge watching old Seinfeld episodes, but the next day, there it is in full on anxiety glory and we either delay again or do it. When you procrastinate all you’re doing is delaying your own progress. “You may delay but time will not”, Ben Franklin.

The Recipe For Stopping Procrastination

My recipe for stopping procrastination is to do the thing you are uncomfortable doing for five, ten, fifteen minutes. Put a timer on, have zero expectations other than just playing with your art stuff. Try to do this every day. Breathe deeply and gently while you do it. It’s no more than fifteen minutes. And remember: After the fear comes great things

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