Change your thought process: The best way to overcome imposter syndrome as an artist


Have you ever felt like you don’t exactly know what you’re doing? Like your art isn’t good enough? Perhaps you’ve felt out of place in the art world or have questioned your capabilities. Even if it is something you know you’re more than capable of doing. If you’ve struggled with thoughts like these you may have been or possibly still are dealing with something called imposter syndrome. 

Imposter syndrome isn’t mutually exclusive to the arts or being an artist. It can happen in any field and to anyone. I’d wager that most of us have felt this at some point in our lives or will. I know I have. 

Imposter syndrome is basically feeling inadequate within your field when you aren’t. It is in essence feeling like a fraud. It’s not a good feeling but it is sometimes a necessary one and even a positive stepping stone. 

It is important to realize that no one knows what they are doing 100% of the time

It’s important to know that no one knows what they are doing 100% of the time. As humans we assume that when we grow up that we are supposed to know everything. That with age comes everything but we don’t and it doesn’t. That’s not to say we don’t learn, grow, and mature. It simply doesn’t happen as automatically and for everyone in the way we romanticize growing up as kids. That’s just not how life works no matter how much it may seem it.

You may get more wise with time and you may learn a lot in school or otherwise but you still always have moments where you’re faced with something new. There will be moments throughout your life when you don’t know what to do or you’re feeling insecure. That is the human experience. No one of us is all-knowing. We learn and adapt as we go.

But Letitia, that makes no sense! How can being insecure be a good thing at all? 

Well, the feeling of being inadequate is coming from somewhere within you. Listening to where that is coming from and what it is, is the first step to overcoming it. Getting over that thought and feeling will allow you to grow not only as a person but in your work as well. Managing to get over the individual thoughts that create the collective thoughts giving us imposter syndrome is the best way I have found to push forward. 

One thought at a time

Taking things a step at a time allows you to effectively get what you need done. Just like I apply this system to my projects, life, and goals I also apply it to my thoughts. I’ve turned it into my thought process. I find this especially helpful when my mind is going too fast or when I need to plan something. Being someone with ADD I find this to be a decent coping skill in many areas of my life. You definitely don’t need to have a brain like mine to make this work for you though. This is a practice and skill that anyone can develop and that anyone can benefit from. 

So, how do you do it then?

Take one thought at a time. If you’re currently struggling with one thought or one feeling of inadequacy towards your art or anything, zero in on that thought. What is it exactly? You may actually find it helpful to write that thought out to see it all in front of you. If you find you have more than one thought and feeling going on, write them down and pick one to start with. 

Once you have your thoughts out of your head and more tangible, say it aloud. Think it through, what is this thought and what is it really telling me? Write down what that is. 

Then you work through each thought, examine it, turn it into something that you can work through.

For example, “ Wow, look at that person’s paintings. I could never paint like that. I can’t possibly keep painting because I doesn’t even compare to that. Who is going to want to buy my art when stuff like this exists?”

I admire this person’s work so much so that I am comparing my skill to theirs. I am wondering why would someone buy my, perceived less skilled, art when there is better art out there and available. I am feeling inadequate in comparison to this person, I am feeling jealous and envious of this person’s skill. I cannot move forward because I am feeling this way about my own work. 

Let’s break it down and work through it. Let’s turn these negative thoughts of inadequacy and turn them into something more positive. Something you can work with. 

I admire this person’s work. I think they are skilled. I am envious. Why am I envious? Because I like their style, I like their technique and the way they’ve executed their public work. 

I wish I was more skilled. I know I have things that I would like to work on but that doesn’t necessarily mean I can’t do it or that the work I am doing right now isn’t good. Everyone has a style they like, techniques they are good at. If there is something I know I want to work on more, I can just work on that. 

How can I work on these things? Find tutorials and practice more. There are elements of their work that I love and I could find a way to add them into my own work by making them my own. I particularly admire the colours they use so, I can work with those or similar colours. Play with them and do my own thing with them. This can be a great place of inspiration for me. 

There is a lot to work with here now that the thoughts have been broken down into something more tangible and positive. You can start to see a solution to the specific skills or areas you can actually improve on that some of your feelings of inadequacy are coming from.

It’s much easier to improve by putting a plan in place when you know exactly what it is you need or want to improve on. Consider which is easier to move forward into action with: 

  1. Their work is better than mine
  2. I like the way this person is able to incorporate realism into their more surreal art. I would like to add elements of this to my work but I don’t feel as though my skill level can achieve this currently.

I don’t think I have to tell you that B is the correct answer here. If you know what it is you can, should, or want to improve on than of course it is easier to take action. 

Setting Goals

Once you can see where you’re looking to improve you can make the plans to do so. What is your goal? What is the specific thing you would like to achieve or improve on?

Say, your goal is to be able to draw hands more realistically. Break your larger goal down into smaller, more manageable tasks. It’s the same idea as breaking down your thoughts. Having smaller tasks or goals to meet within a larger one makes them easier to tackle. For our example of drawing more realistic hands you could make your tasks/goals/steps as follows:

  • Find or take reference pictures of real hands in different poses
  • Watch a tutorial to find more effective tips
  • Practice drawing hands from life or reference photos (10 minutes a day for 10 days) 
  • Keep practice drawings accessible to compare at a later date to see improvements
  • Examine progress and see what else needs to be improved/adjusted and go from there

The truth is breaking down almost any problem in life like this can be helpful for a resolution.  Imposter syndrome has certainly gotten the best of me over the years and I have come to find that I am not the only one. This is a common feeling for people to have. Even the most confident of us have moments where we don’t know, where we feel lost, or we feel inadequate. 

No one is perfect, perfect just doesn’t exist. Humans are flawed but that that is what is beautiful about us. The fact that we can grow, learn, and overcome makes it all even better. 

The next time you’re feeling unsure or not good enough in the world of art know that there is a buyer for everything. The saying “art is in the eye of the beholder” rings true. There will always be someone out there that likes what you create. Regardless, art is often very personal and is a journey. You will grow and change as you create, as time goes on. Art may be a talent but it is also a skill that can be learned. You will always be able to improve upon the things you need or want to. 

Tell me your thoughts on imposter syndrome below in the comments. Have you ever experienced it? How did you overcome it?

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Until next time my Creative Friends!

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