As many of you know already, I firmly believe there is no such thing as bad art. No matter how skilled you may or may not be, there is always room to grow and we should always strive to improve our skills. We should also celebrate where we are in our progress and focus on doing the best we can with our abilities. Waiting until your work is “good enough” is a surefire way to ensure it never gets seen by the people who would appreciate it the most.
If you enjoy doing something, whether it’s writing or drawing or making music or whittling or what-have-you, sharing your work with others allows you to take credit for the time and effort you’ve put into a project and deepen your sense of accomplishment. It can also bolster your confidence as others give you positive remarks, making it easier to continue on your path.
Unfortunately, it can also bring criticism, which is what I want to talk about today.
Criticism, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Aside from outright abusive statements made purely for the sake of negativity (trolls, anyone?), criticism can be an important tool in our growth as artists. Sometimes the lesson is that everything isn’t for everyone and that we need to focus on a different audience. In other instances, it can show us where we need to work on a particular technique. It’s up to us to suss out the positive aspect of a comment that feels negative and take the necessary steps towards improvement.
Recently, I received a comment that I struggled to find the positive in, and after weeks of contemplation I finally stumbled upon the lesson, which I would like to share with you today in hopes that it may help somebody else down the road.
First, allow me to give you some context.
I’ve always been the sensitive-type. I have a tendency to take things to heart, and while this is largely a strength, there are times when it manifests as a weakness. Every now and then, I forget the lessons I have already learned and allow words to hurt me instead of rising above. After all, I am only human.
I am also a person who loves to create for the sake of creating. While my main focus has always been on writing, with music as a close second, I also enjoy reworking furniture, scrapbooking, sewing, and cooking, among other things. In the last year or so, I have also discovered that I love to draw, which is where this particular story begins.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a doodler. If I wasn’t writing stories in class, I was doodling in the margins of my schoolwork. In adulthood, I kept a pad of paper on my desk to avoid doodling on important documents at work. Once I became a full-time mom, I found myself doodling as I watched TV or as I waited for inspiration for a story. At some point, I decided I wanted to improve on these skills and began drawing more often.
Eventually, I decided to share my work on Instagram every Wednesday and got quite a good response. My confidence soared and I began to draw more and more, pushing myself to learn new techniques. After a while, I even released some of these designs as t-shirts, tote bags, and more in my Zazzle shop.
Pretty awesome for someone who’d never seriously considered herself an “artist” before, I think.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Soon, I encountered a piece of criticism that stopped me from drawing altogether.
I know, it sounds silly. Letting the thoughts of others dictate what we do is far from ideal and denotes a sense of weakness. However, it is also a very human response. When we create something, it is an extension of ourselves. Having that mocked very often feels like a personal attack, particularly when it comes from someone close to you, which is precisely what happened in this instance.
While sitting around with a bunch of family and friends, I was introduced to a young lady, who incidentally turned out to be an amazing artist. The person introducing us was someone I had known for over ten years and felt very close to. She turned to the girl and said, “you just have to meet Brandyn, she’s an artist too.” Then she paused and laughed. “Okay, so she draws stick figures, but she likes art.” She laughed again as she turned her attention to someone else.
My face grew red as a mixture of anger, hurt, and embarrassment shot through me. As I looked at this kid’s work, I immediately started hating myself for being foolish enough to share my cartoony creations with the world. Were all the likes I’d received on my images simply given out of pity? A silent “oh, good for you trying to be creative” while they laughed behind my back?
Defeated, I put away my sketchbook and completely gave up.
Fast-forward a good month or so to a typical afternoon with my daughter. She was drawing pictures and asked me to draw with her. I declined. “Mommy can’t draw, honey, but I love seeing your pictures.”
She, predictably, was not happy with my answer. To this sweet four-year old, mommy’s drawings were wonderful and she wanted to create something together. To be exact, she wanted to draw mermaids. It sounded fun, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself.
Later, I confided to my husband that I really wanted to draw a picture of Ariel for her, but that I didn’t think I could. I reminded him of the stick figure comment and he rolled his eyes.
“Because that’s in line with everything you know about perseverance,” he said. “The right thing to do is prove ’em wrong.”
I gave a small laugh and shook my head. He was right, giving up because one person doesn’t like my work is certainly against everything I believe in. If all the artists I admire most had given up because of a few mean-spirited words, none of the things I enjoy would exist.
With this in mind, I thought about my own work a little bit more. Sure, I don’t draw in a realistic fashion, I’ve never set out to. I love cartoons and doodles, so that’s what I create. And while I’m not a mind-blowing artist, I enjoy what I do and it’s not cringeworthy. It is what it is, and some people may dig it and others won’t.
The next day, I grabbed some paper and a mechanical pencil and sketched out a picture of Ariel from The Little Mermaid, then dug out my colored pencils and filled her in.
She may not be perfect, but this is the way *I* draw her, and I think it’s pretty damn good.
My husband apparently agreed, as he took one look at it and said, “And you think you can’t draw?!”
I blushed and put it up on Facebook. I was shocked when it got a ton of likes, and in that moment I realized that it had been ridiculous to allow someone else’s words to keep me from doing something I love.
And that is the lesson I want to impress on you all. Never let anyone get you down. If you draw stick figures, draw the best damn stick figures you can and be proud of them. Someone out there will get it and appreciate it. Take all criticism with a grain of salt, and learn to differentiate good criticism, which can be helpful, and worthless criticism, which does nothing but bring you down.
Wherever you are on your creative journey, you’re doing great. Keep learning and growing and honing your craft. One day you’ll prove them all wrong.
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