Unnerving my inner critic

I’ve been creatively stagnating and unhappy about it for too long. Too many of the drawings or paintings I attempted ended up stuffed in a pile of defeat, or worse, destined for landfill, which always felt wasteful and discourteous. Worse still, so many of the sketchbooks or visual diary’s I’ve started have fallen out of favour because they’re full of scribbles and half finished spreads. Or mistakes. I know, there are no bad drawings in sketchbook art – except when there are and then you can’t unsee them. They are prejudged as worthless. My own condemnation is one of the biggest prickly barriers to creativity.

So, in an attempt to spur on creativity and thumb my nose at this creative despair I invested in a display pen tablet.

I’m not new to digital art and am fairly familiar with graphics software and pen tablets, but that was mainly for touch-ups or designing personalised books for family members. There was always a roadblock keeping me from getting in to digital art seriously – I had convinced myself it was cheating, or being lazy. After spending hours and hours over the first few days working exclusively with the tablet and really learning the software, I can say absolutely, digital art is every bit as challenging and time-consuming as traditional art, perhaps not for everyone, but that has been my experience, so far. Making marks on any canvas is easy, making marks you’re proud of is hard no matter the medium. But I don’t mind that.

I got to work setting up the tablet as soon as I got it and set myself the task of just learning the ins and outs of the digital environment. I had no expectations other than to familiarise myself with the tools. But, one can only play for so long so eventually I had to attempt a painting. The first half dozen paintings were crude and ugly and I was disappointed. But it was ok, I justified, everyone produces ugly art when they’re developing a new skill.

After a few more ugly paintings I started to do some soul-searching about why I was producing these sad looking pieces – it clearly wasn’t the tools. It was my own attitudes and unreasonable expectations. Making a lot of mistakes digitally helped me realise how much I struggled with style and the idea that I should have one. It turns out that was a large part of the problem – in trying to force a style I stopped being spontaneous, adventurous and receptive. Sitting down to create art became tedious. Every time I sat down to create I was reproducing the same conditions that led to the previous days “failures”. Monotony breeds contempt and that is the perfect habitat for the inner critic to do its work. I prejudged everything I did and believed I’d fail. That alone would create such inner turbulence that I started to flinch at the thought of creating art.

So, I stopped blaming the tools and instead threw away all my expectations and encouraged myself to forget my own artistic habits. I abandoned any idea of a fixed style and just explored and had fun with the new medium. But I also wanted to observe what I naturally gravitate to in terms of subject and techniques. My one true love has always been natural history illustration; I love the detail and fussing over a piece to produce something recognisable, but I also know I need to loosen up. I’ve been ignoring style and focusing on technique.

Ultimately I’ve learned some truths about art, at least in my estimation: the medium matters less than the time you’re willing to commit to learning it, and style isn’t a static thing, neither does it have to be exclusive.

Changing the medium through which I produce art hasn’t silenced my inner critic, but it has unnerved her. At the very least it has reminded me of how tenacious and dynamic I am. Inertia has no hold on me.

Digital painting in Affinity Photo by S M Egan (reference photo from Unsplash)

Lion Fish using Affinity products

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