Artist Self-Doubt – What if I have no talent for drawing?

Have you ever worried that you might not have talent, so you should quit now and not waste time? Or maybe you started doing a drawing and worried that it might not turn out great? Or even started drawing a line, and worried that it was the wrong line? We’re going to address those, and the impact they can have on our drawings, in this video / article.

If those questions resonate with you, then I know how you’re feeling, and I also know how difficult it is to overcome those anxieties. The good news is that when you realise you’re thinking this way, there is potential to change how you’re thinking. And that can lead to huge strides forward, not just enjoying drawing more, but improving actual technique. Firstly, it’s useful to understand what these negative thoughts really are.

“Hey Brain, we need to talk”

I’ve been grappling with an anxiety problem that flared up last year, completely separate to art and drawing. It was very hard at first, but with some dedicated practice, I started to develop some new skills to manage it.

Me: “Why do you keep doubting and worrying?”
Brain: “I’m just trying to keep you safe from all the danger!”

The first lesson I had to learn was that some parts of my mind, in its misguided attempts to protect me, can cause a lot of damage if I don’t regulate them. Not all thoughts and concerns need to be given importance or acted upon. In fact, a large proportion of worries aren’t about real problems and can be safely let go.

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The anxiety disorder had nothing to do with drawing and art, but this new ability to identify useless worries had a side effect. I started to realise I had all these pointless thoughts while drawing:

  • What if I have no talent?
  • What if this drawing turns out bad? Won’t that mean I have no talent?
  • What if this line is the wrong line, or it goes off course and becomes wrong? It’ll make the drawing bad, and that might mean I have no talent.
  • What if other people don’t like this drawing, or think I’m a fool for trying to learn to draw?
  • Why are my drawings not like the ones in the demonstrations and tutorials, or the ones I see on Instagram? What if I have no talent?

Notice that they are all ‘what if’ questions – that’s because they are not about real, current problems, they are about possible problems my brain has come up with. These worries arise because our brain is trying to protect us. It doesn’t want us to be ridiculed by other people, or to waste time doing something that we are going to fail at.

Brain: “Watch out! There might be danger over there!!”

However, they are extremely misguided, because these negative thoughts themselves are the biggest threat to success. They can stop you practising, which is a disaster, or they can make you try to control the outcome of all your drawings and every line you draw. I don’t know about you, but if someone said my drawings look ‘extremely controlled’, I wouldn’t take it as a compliment.

It’s useless for me to say ‘don’t worry’ about how your drawing turns out. You can’t turn worry on and off. But we can change how we respond to the worry. I know that to develop a new skill I’m going to need to do at least 100 bad drawings. So my first goal is 100 bad drawings. When the thought that the drawing isn’t looking good arises, I try to accept that outcome, ‘cool, this will be one of my 100’.

Worrying about a line is a great way to make sure it is tentative and rubbish. If you just go for it with a risky approach, it still could turn out bad, but it has a chance of being good. Letting go of control is your best chance. So let’s make the goal to do lines that might be bad. Accept any worry that you feel, and go for the risky, expressive line.

‘What if I don’t have the talent that all these other people have?’

This is the one much of an artist’s anxiety comes back to. What if there’s some innate ability to draw like magic, some coding in other people’s DNA that I don’t have? All this practice would be a waste of time. When you’re learning to draw, your drawings can look so far from the drawings of great artists, so it’s easy to worry about this one.

I grew up surrounded by artists, and I saw behind the scenes of their progression. My brother, for example, became a super successful art director for computer games. He had some special talents – the talent to practise for hours and hours everyday, to continually push himself out of his comfort zone for the sake of new skills, and to be open to feedback.

Brain: “Hey those lines might go wrong. You might not have talent. Why not just turn on Netflix?”
Me: “Thanks for the input. I’m going to just keep practising though”

So here’s my question to you – do you find some things visually beautiful? Do you see some paintings, natural phenomena, urban scenes, people, objects, whatever and find something visually interesting in them? I think you do, otherwise you wouldn’t care about art and wouldn’t be watching videos like this one. Okay so you have a point of view, you have a sense of visual beauty. That sense is the special innate thing you need. The ability to see it better and then capture it on paper is developed through deliberate practice.

By Lautrec. Do you see beauty in the world, in art or nature? If so, then you have the innate quality you need to become an artist, if you can put in the consistent practice over years.

I can’t say everything will turn out great if you just practise, because who knows what’s going to happen. We can’t predict the future, and art is full of uncertainties and risks – that’s part of its magic. So lets embrace the uncertainty, believe in your visual sense and most of all, believe in the power of practice.

Before finishing, I just wanted to say, this video/article is about personal reflections on the little worries that can get in the way of artistic progression. But I’m not a mental health professional, and if you have an anxiety disorder or another mental health issue that is disrupting your life, professional help can really change everything. There is still stigma attached to mental health problems, but there shouldn’t be, and the more we talk about it, the better.

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