January is coming up, which is the traditional time for making new goals. If any of your goals are creative — “learn calligraphy”, “improve drawing skills”, etc. — your biggest obstacle will be … yourself! In this article, I’ll give you my take on squelching negative self-talk and continuing to create.
1. Don’t Compare Your Work to Photos on Social Media
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 your finished result doesn’t quite measure up to the gorgeous image on Pinterest! Before you get discouraged, consider the photo that you saw. Was it light and radiant? Artistically blurred around the edges? Did it include some idealistic element like a branch?
You’ll notice that you can answer “yes” to all of those questions if you observe both of the photos above. The photos are eye-catching and fun to look at … and that’s the point. They’re meant to get your attention! Whenever artists make something, they want to ensure that the photos of their project are as compelling as possible. Essentially, most photos on social media play dress-up with materials. There’s no question that the unstyled, unedited photo below of the red Janet Style envelope isn’t nearly as compelling as the photo above!
So, next time you make a project that isn’t “as good” as what you see online, don’t worry about it. Remember that most of Pinterest et al. 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.
Five years ago, I made the envelope pictured above. Note that this is a styled photo; in “real life”, it doesn’t sit on such a pretty background or have the cool stamps or botanical elements. Despite that, it is easy to see that that envelope doesn’t measure up to much of what I show you on the TPK blog today! Still, at the time that I made it, I gave myself a huge pat on the back! Though I still hadn’t mastered faux calligraphy, I was thrilled that I had achieved stroke contrast. I also was very proud of the creative zip code with dots in between the numbers! While the envelope didn’t look as professional as I would have liked it to, I focused on the things I was doing well — and the things I was not doing well — to move forward with my calligraphy skills.
Listen — here’s the thing. 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. The truth is, that time goes by fast and you may as well put it toward achieving a goal rather than watching television or scrolling through Facebook (my vice). Below, you can see a slideshow that shows how much of a difference time can make:
My wish for you is that you just keep going. Whatever endeavor you’re taking on, 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. Treat Yourself to Quality Tools
Success will come more easily if you’re using the proper tools to learn. This blog post is meant to apply to all creative endeavors, but I’ll use calligraphy as an example. Last weekend, I was teaching calligraphy workshops at The Paper Seahorse in Tampa. Tona, owner of The Paper Seahorse, was a student in the first workshop. She had taken calligraphy courses before, and used this plastic-flanged oblique pen in the courses:
My workshop, however, provided this hand-turned wooden oblique pen to participants:
After class, Tona came up to me and remarked at what a difference the hand-turned oblique pen had made. “Honestly, after using the plastic oblique, I thought calligraphy just wasn’t something I could do,” she explained, “but then I tried the wooden oblique, and a light bulb went off! I’m so excited to practice and get better now!” For Tona, using the right pen made all the difference!
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not telling you to go out and spend as much money as you can on tools. I just want to encourage you to do some research before you invest in your creative endeavor. Read articles, pore through reviews, and reach out to professionals in the field for supply advice. (Incidentally, if the thing you want to learn is calligraphy, you can find a quality supply list in this blog post. If you’re interested in watercolor, this post will come in handy!)
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 address holiday cards. If you’re working on your illustration skills, try making an illustration for a friend or family member.
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!
I hope that this post encourages you to be kinder with yourself as you learn a new skill. I wanted to write something like this before the new year because I know how it feels to be self-critical and unsure of your work! Keep an optimistic attitude and refer to the tips in this post when you’re feeling discouraged, and you will continue on your way to success.