Being Your Artistic Self

Art trends will come and go, but that doesn’t always mean you have to change your art with them. Sometimes one of the most challenging things in life not just in art, is to truly be yourself. Resisting the urge to create what everyone else is creating because you think it might be popular or bring more attention to your work can be a struggle for some artists. There can be a fine line between answering the demand of the buying public and staying true to the artistic vision of your work.

One of the greatest gifts we are given as children is the ability to be creative without the restriction of what is expected of us. If you want to draw purple cats, you draw purple cats. One day, something changes, and we are told that cats aren’t purple, you should try using the “right” color and they don’t have 2 tails so you are drawing it “wrong” altogether. While in theory this is done in an effort to provide direction and constructive criticism, I often wonder if this is also the point where true creativity starts to die a little.

We are conditioned from a young age that we must learn to do all things the “right” way. For many things in life, this is extremely important. For instance, If you decide from now on to brush your teeth with the back side of your toothbrush, you may be dealing with more cavities than you can count. But when it comes to creativity, there almost needs to be a different approach to what is considered right and wrong.

I’m not a psychologist so I won’t try to convince you I know how to undo years of potential conditioned people pleasing. I can only share my thoughts and things that I tell myself when I feel like my creativity is being stifled by expectation. As a trained graphic designer there’s a part of me that always wants an assignment or direction that I then use my creative problem-solving skills to form a visual solution. However, there’s also that kid in me still, that wants to break all the rules, do whatever I want even if it’s not what’s expected, and draw my dang purple cats.

If you feel like your creativity is not where you want it to be, here are a few things you can do to try and get yourself back on track.

1. Get a Sketchbook No One Will Ever See
I’ve said this before in other blog posts, but not everything you create has to go on social media. Think of this sketchbook like your private diary or journal. This is the one safe place where you can have a bad drawing or 2, try new things and not a soul has to ever see it. Art by virtue of it being visual is meant to be seen, but that doesn’t mean it HAS TO be. There’s a freedom that comes with not having any pressure to make something awesome all the time because there’s a chance someone might see it and worse judge it.

2. Draw What You Want, How You Want to Draw It
There was a point in history where surrealism, abstraction, and impressionism were not well received in the art world. In modern times, art created by some of the masters in those styles are worth thousands if not millions of dollars. Had they not dared to try something different, some of the most moving pieces of art in human history might not have existed. I can’t imagine a world without Salvador Dali’s melting clocks or Degas’ ballerinas. You don’t need to break new ground in the art world but don’t have to conform to what you think is expected of you either.

3. Try Using a New Medium in a Different Way
I saw an artist on Facebook not long ago using colored pencil on seashells. His works were amazing and I would have never thought to do that myself with that medium. Creativity at is core is finding a way of seeing something and then translating that into your art. You may discover something on that journey that will lead you to something else.

4. If You Have an Idea You Believe In, Pursue It
Not every idea you have will be fully fleshed out right away. It may take a few iterations or even a couple years to get it to the place you envisioned it. When I get inspired creatively, I sometimes find the idea will haunt me until I create it. It WANTS to be made. It NEEDS to be made. I don’t know if that’s some sort of weird artistic madness or not but if you have a concept that won’t leave your thoughts, get it out however you can.

5. Find Your People. They’re Out There
Once you have figured out the vision for your work you may feel that you’re not sure who will even like it. If your goal is to be an artist for a living this is a tricky task. You may have a very specific audience for your work and it will take some research and maybe even trial and error to find them. Much like picking your partner in life, find the people who like you and your work for who you are and what you are doing.

The great thing about the human experience is how common some things really are. It’s within the commonality that we create friendships and understanding of one another. Art has a way of bridging that gap. Maybe the way you paint flowers resonates with someone across the globe who can feel the passion you bring to every stroke. People want to connect to something that’s meaningful to them, and that starts with creating art that’s meaningful to you as well.

If I leave you with one piece of parting advice, it’s to not be afraid to be yourself. Don’t create art you aren’t passionate about because you think it’s the only thing people are interested in buying. Find your voice, even if right now it may be small. Nurture it, explore it. In the end, your inner creative child will thank you for it.

Do you ever feel creatively stifled by expectations on your artwork? How do you work through it? Share with me in the comments!



Barb Sotiropoulos

Barb Sotiropoulos

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

8 Responses

  1. One of the worst things for my creative confidence was joining Instagram…I just felt so inadequate whenever I saw someone else’s clever/talented work. Although there is some inspiration, it’s too easy to compare and get down on yourself. However, I do agree that a new medium or new technique can give a huge creative boost!

    1. I totally know what you mean. I try to use it as motivation but some days I get discouraged too. I try to remind myself that everyone is different and I just have to keep trying my best. It’s only really a competition if you make it one. 😜

      1. Oh I’m very good about making things a competition, but it is easy to compare in those moments you’re feeling down about your own work (which is probably a smart time to stay off social media)!

    1. It’s so true. There’s so much vulnerability in sharing something you made with your own 2 hands. There’s even more so if what you are expressing within that is something very personal or emotional to you.

  2. I quit drawing years ago because it felt like everyone had suggestions of what I should do. I got weary of hearing “you should…!” I have started creating again out of a need to communicate with my therapist when I could not find words. Once I picked up my pencils I couldn’t stop. Now I think that getting a reaction means success. Some of my art is hard to look at, some is benign, but if it makes another person respond, then I have made an emotional connection.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story! I’m a firm believer that art created without passion for the subject matter often has something off about it. It sounds like you have found the way to create art that means something to you which is so awesome.

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Hey, I'm Barb!

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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