• 5 Ways to Stop Being Your Own Worst Creative Critic

    It’s so easy to find fault in your own work, which can keep you from enjoying and continuing your creative endeavors! This blog post will help you to quiet negative self-talk and motivate you to keep on improving.

    "Rise above the storm and you will find the sunshine" - Mario Fernandez (pointed pen calligraphy quote)

    Today, I want to talk about something many of us struggle with: being our own worst creative critic. That little voice in our heads that tells us our work isn’t good enough or that we’re not talented enough can be tough to silence. Learning to ignore it or making it go away all together is so important for our growth and happiness as creatives! In this article, I’m going to share five ways to stop being your own worst creative critic. These tips have helped me, and I hope they’ll help you too, to embrace your creativity with more confidence and joy.

    1. Don’t Compare Your Work to Photos on Social Media

    Pointed pen calligraphy butterfly themed Mother's Day cards
    Photos like this one are incredibly eye-catching. They also involve a lot of fuss on the creator’s behalf. Remember that beautiful photos are not reality! The photo background is a painting that normally hangs on my kitchen wall.

    We’ve all been there: you see a project on social media, and you decide to make something like it. Once you’re finished, you’re disappointed to see that the result doesn’t quite measure up to the gorgeous image you saw. Before you get discouraged, consider the photo. Was it light and radiant? Crisp and clean? Did it include some idealistic element?

    White Calligraphed Janet Style Envelope | The Postman's Knock
    This is a pretty photo, but the handkerchief and dried branch are unrealistic and only serve to bolster the photo’s appearance.

    Social media often showcases a ‘highlight reel,’ and most creatives are no exception to this trend. Whenever artists make something, they want to ensure that the photos (and the videos) of their project are as compelling as possible. In addition to using props, many artists use photo and video editing software like Photoshop and Premiere Pro. Take away the props and the photo editing, though, and you’ll see this the same piece of calligraphy differently.

    Unedited Photo Comparison | The Postman's Knock
    This envelope calligraphy is pretty, but there’s no question that its appearance was bolstered by strategic styling in the edited photo. If this popped up on a feed, most people would scroll on by.

    Next time you make a project that isn’t “as good” as what you see online, don’t worry about it. Remember that 99.9% of social media is idealized, and what you’re seeing isn’t necessarily what the project looks like in real life.

    2. Find a Compliment for Everything that You Make

    Optimism is perhaps the single most important characteristic to have when learning any new skill. Yes, it’s important to be able to recognize flaws so you can learn from mistakes. Still, though, if all you see is mistakes, you’ll get discouraged and potentially quit.

    An Early Calligraphy Attempt | The Postman's Knock

    As with any endeavor, it’s important to celebrate the small victories along the way. When I made the piece above in 2012, I was so pleased with the stroke contrast and the striking simplicity of the piece. No one starts off being an expert at anything. Even if you’ve got talent, you need practice and knowledge to cultivate your skills and develop your potential. Yes, take note of what you need to improve on — but mostly, congratulate yourself on all of the things that you’re doing right!

    Three Envelope Art Mini-Tutorials | The Postman's Knock
    Yes! This envelope is lovely, but it has its mistakes.

    No matter what you make, there will always be a couple of mistakes in it. You should learn from those mistakes, but don’t let them engulf you. Chances are, no one can see any errors unless you point them out. To demonstrate, I’ll show you the mistakes in the envelope above: the ink in the “S” of “Ste.” ran together a lot more than I intended. Also, I wish the red watercolor would have dried more opaque. Those critiques seem trivial and silly, right? They are! While I see the flaws, I can also say that I love the energy of the envelope art, the color scheme, the calligraphy, and the shading of the banner. The things that I love about this particular envelope motivate me to keep creating.

    3. Be Realistic About Your Timeline

    It is simultaneously encouraging and discouraging to hear that you’ll improve with practice. On the one hand, the knowledge that you can reach your goal if you put in the time is wonderful! On the other hand, patience is tough. Consider that time keeps moving forward, though, so it’s a good idea to channel it into goals instead of distractions. In the photos below, you can see what a difference some time makes:

    White Ink Calligraphy Progress
    If you like these photos, you can browse more before and after comparisons here.

    My hope for you is that you just keep going. Whatever endeavor you’re taking on — becoming a better calligrapher, hand-letterer, watercolorist, etc. — keep working on it! Reaching a level of proficiency sneaks up on you, and even after that, you just keep getting better. Set aside at least 2-3 days per week to devote time to your goal, and you will reach it.

    4. Steel Yourself Against Outside Negativity

    It is absolutely incredible how one negative comment can take up more space in your head than 100 pieces of kind feedback. I have a personal example: last week, I was answering YouTube comments, which by and large are sweet. One took me aback, though. On a video I’d posted of me using watercolors to paint mint, one user said, “You are a great calligrapher, but you cannot paint.”

    How to Paint Watercolor Mint (Premium Tutorial)
    This was the painting that the Youtube user thought was terrible.

    I immediately flinched. First, I felt indignation — then came insecurity. What if they were right? What if other people think the same thing? I’m ashamed to say that my mood was affected for a large chunk of that day. When I woke up the next day, though, I realized: art is subjective, and that’s why there are so many different styles out there. Not everyone has to like what I’m making.

    Painting Created with Greenleaf & Blueberry Watercolors | The Postman's Knock
    I derive a lot of joy out of watercolor painting. While one person’s opinion might cause a momentary sting, it can’t override decades of joyful creation sessions.

    I had a friend at university named Titi (pronounced “tee-tee”), and she recounted an incident once where it was clear that someone hadn’t liked something Titi had done. She shrugged and said, “Yeah, it bugged me at first. But then, you know, I realized: You can’t be everyone’s cup of Titi.”

    “You can’t be everyone’s cup of Titi.”

    Sometimes, negative feedback presents an opportunity to grow, especially if the feedback is specific. If you can learn something from an opinion that stings, embrace that. But, don’t let it discourage you. You know what they say about opinions, and it’s impossible to please everyone.

    5. Try New, Challenging Projects with an Open Mind

    The only way to improve — in anything — is to step out of your comfort zone. As you devote energy toward learning any new skill, try to give yourself a serious challenge at least once a month. If you’re learning calligraphy, maybe the challenge this month could be to send a pretty envelope to a More Love Letters recipient. If you’re working on your illustration skills, try making an illustration for a friend or family member.

    "You Made This?!" Lily Drawing Tutorial
    If you think this project is pretty, try to make it! You can find the tutorial here.

    “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”

    – Joseph Chilton Pearce

    Any project that pushes your limits will teach you new things and test what you already know. The project doesn’t have to be formal; it can absolutely be something that you do for yourself. For calligraphy and illustration goals, that might mean making a special page in a sketchbook. For other creative endeavors, that may mean a DIY project at home. Don’t be intimidated by new things — you can do it, and you will learn from it. You can find plenty of tutorials here on the TPK Blog in the “Tutorials” category.

    I hope that this post encourages you to be kinder with yourself as you learn a new skill. I wanted to write this post because I know how it feels to be self-critical and unsure of your work! Keep an optimistic attitude and refer to these tips when you’re feeling discouraged, and you will continue on your way to success.