Action Has to Come Before Motivation

I see many discussions in art circles around finding motivation or getting inspired.

The more I draw and am learning to deal with the natural ups and downs of the creative cycle as well as the fickleness of inspiration and motivation, the more I’m feeling we have it all backwards.

I rarely feel motivated to draw. I’ve struggled a lot with my health in the past years and rarely feel „inspired“. Many days I haven’t even felt baseline good. If I waited until I did, I would pretty much never draw.

I’m finding that motivation is often the result of my actions, not a precursor.

I become motivated when I make interesting discoveries during my work. When I‘m experimenting and something clicks and I start to get excited about what I‘m working on. That‘s the moment I begin to feel motivated. I become inspired when I break through my own perceived limitations and take a piece to the next level.

Then there are days I do feel inspired because I’ve been having a good week and I sit down to draw and it goes well for about five minutes and then I hit the inevitable point where the drawing gets hard.

If I relied on motivation or inspiration to keep me going, that’s the point where the drawing would die. Because I‘m learning not to do so, I know that I have to sit out that discomfort and keep going. Often I hit another phase where things flip the other way and I get curious and fascinated and things get fun again. Often I don‘t and that’s also fine.

I‘m always proud when I keep going and finish the piece. That helps motivate me now. However, that motivation wasn‘t there when I started, the work had to come first.

When we work we generate ideas, we get excited, we get inspired, we get caught up in the process. And sometimes it‘s a hard slog through the whole drawing and the only satisfaction we get is that we didn’t quit and that helps motivate us next time. The knowledge that we can do hard things. That we are willing and able to struggle for the the things we love. And that the rewards on the other side are beyond anything we could have hoped for.

Action has to come before motivation. Motivation is the result, not the driving force.

Drawing is Harder than it Looks

A lot of us go into learning to draw thinking it should be easier than it is.

We draw a handful of images and are disappointed by our initial results. We express horror at our abysmal lack of talent, decide that obviously drawing isn’t meant for us and throw in the towel.

We need to dismantle the myth that creativity has to always be fun and flowing and that if that’s not the case then you must be doing it wrong.

We don’t approach building other skills in this way. It is a harmful attitude that prevents many people from stepping into their creative gifts and experiencing the joy of fully expressing their creativity.

Creativity is a skill you hone like any other. Why should it be naturally easier to build?

Drawing for example is an INCREDIBLY complex skill.

There is so much that goes into making a good drawing: Shape, volume, contrast, composition, perspective, anatomy, light, shadow, colour, storytelling, the list goes on and on.

Yet people make a handful of drawings, are genuinely devastated that they didn’t turn out well, decide they don’t have any talent and quit.

Imagine if plumbers did that. Or carpenters. Or architects. Or programmers. Or teachers. Or babies when they‘re learning to walk. “Oh that first attempt didn’t work out, guess I’m not good enough for this, so I won’t bother.”

It’s just silly.

Drawing is a complex skill, it requires lots of practice, and yes, sometimes building that skill is frustrating and boring and hard.

Yes, sometimes creativity is flowing and fun and magical and easy.

And oftentimes it just looks an awful lot like hard work as your brain grapples to understand something new so you can create something beautiful. And that’s totally normal.

Can we let go of the romanticized idea that creativity is a magical gift bestowed upon a few but not many, and that instead it is a skill we can build with dedicated practice if we so choose.

How to Move Through Creative Anxiety

Pretty much the only way I have found to move through creative anxiety is to actually do the creative thing.

You can watch tutorials, read books and mentally prepare yourself until the cows come home. But the anxiety and fear around doing the thing won’t go away until you actually do the thing.

Theory will never replace the action. Trying to think and rationalize your way out of the fear likely won’t weaken the fear, it will make it stronger.

There is no preparation you can do that will lessen the discomfort of actually doing the uncomfortable thing.

You will get stuck for ideas. You will come up against your fears of being inadequate. Your inner critic will do their best to discourage you. You will make mistakes. You will make art that you hate.

The blank page will never stop being a scary unknown place where your primitive brain imagines invisible tigers.

It will all happen. It will be uncomfortable. It will hurt.

And the only way out is through. Trying to escape the pain by not making art will only allow your anxiety to grow and whittle away at your soul. The longer you put off the confrontation, the harder it will be to get started.

Action cures fear.

Doing the thing you are anxious about and doing it again and again and again weakens your inner critic by proving it wrong.

“You are inadequate.” “I showed up anyway.”

“Your art sucks.” “I’m making art anyway.”

“You’ll never be good enough.” “But I’m still here.”

Drawing by drawing you prove your anxiety wrong.

Drawing by drawing you choose self-kindness and gentleness over self-flagellation and hate.

Drawing by drawing you face that hidden fear that is eating away at you.

It’s the only way to get rid of it. The only way out is through.

What if we allow creativity to be hard, simply because sometimes creativity is hard?

Not because we’re failures as a human being. Not because we aren’t creative enough. Not because we’re not inspired. Not because of artist’s block.

Creativity means sitting with a blank page of nothing and attempting to create something of substance from that very nothing. Creating something from nothing is hard.

Creativity involves growing and evolving as a person and an artist and allowing the work that we commit to to change us. Change can be scary. Change can be hard.

Creativity means facing the uncertainty of the blank page over and over again. Our brain hates uncertainty, so it does everything in its power to move us away from this perceived threat. That includes invoking all our personal demons and past failures to remind us why we shouldn’t be doing this. Sitting with that discomfort is hard. It’s painful. And that’s okay.

Creativity is hard sometimes. Personally, I find it hard quite a lot of the time.

Nothing is wrong with you if you find the hard things in life to be hard. We need to stop perpetuating a romanticized version of creativity that says it is always easy and flowing and fun and that if that’s not the case, you’re doing it wrong.

Sometimes creativity just is hard work. And I feel we are forgetting the value of hard, deep work and the rewards that we reap on the other side of it.

Sometimes things are hard simply because they are hard.
But we can do hard things.

You Can’t See the Road Ahead

When you start out you may look at other people’s art and wonder how you would even go about getting to that level of skill. You look at where you are now and where you want to go and all you see is a gap in skill that seems unbridgeable in your lifetime.

You haved to keep in mind that learning to draw is a long-term process and it’s hard to plan ahead. You don’t know what you don’t know until you start trying. You don’t know where you need to build knowledge or skill until you collide with your lack of it. You can’t determine your style without trying a million different things and then subconsciously curating them into something that is uniquely yours.

Learning is not linear. You may be stuck at one level of skill for weeks or even months. Then you take a surging, massive leap forward to a place you couldn’t even have imagined before.

As you keep showing up, observing the world and practicing, your brain is doing a lot of work behind the scenes. Then it finally goes “ta-daaaa” and presents you with something unexpected and new.

But to get to that place you have to keep showing up though doubt and uncertainty and trust the process.

You never know how long it will take you to reach a certain level. Sometimes it will take much longer and sometimes it will take much shorter than you expect.

You can’t plan ahead because you never know what the struggle of the day will be. All you can do is show up and meet it in the moment, over and over again.

The path will reveal itself one step at a time.

Your job is to keep taking those steps.

Can You Redefine „Letting Yourself Off the Hook”?

We all have bad days. It’s normal. We all have days we really don’t want to do what we said we were going to do.

We’re tired, we’re sick, we’re sad, we’re mad. The temptation is high to let ourselves off the hook and sometimes it’s the right thing to do. If you’re trying to build a consistent drawing habit though, missing one day makes it easier to miss another. In the same way if you keep going for one more day, it will make it easier to do so in future.

In the past I’ve given up on complete challenges because I missed a single day.

It’s silly and it’s unnecessary. It shows I lost sight of why the challenge was important to me, and it’s happened to me several times. With Making Art Everyday I was determined not to let that happen again. So I had to redefine letting myself off the hook.

On days where I feel terrible, have no time or just really don’t want to draw, I try and reduce the pressure anyway I can.

I fall back on my minimum goal of 10 minutes. I know I can be uncomfortable for that long. I fall back on colour palettes, tools and techniques that I know work. I go back to simple shapes and let myself play with texture. I’ll sketch. I’ll turn a sketch into a finished piece. I’ll reuse a background from another image. I’ll recycle an old image into something new. I’ll redraw an image.

I do everything I can to reduce expectation and pressure, to make the experience as easy as possible. But I still show up. The important thing is to keep building the habit until it feels weird to not draw.

If I let myself miss a day, my brain will register that it got to take the easy way out by having a tantrum. And it will throw a bigger tantrum next time. Because I don’t give in, my inner critic has gotten a quieter over time.

But the moment I miss a day it gets louder, as each “failure” confirms what it was saying all along: That I’m useless, a failure, that I never stick to anything. If I persist in making art despite its nasty voice, it fades into the background over time.

I’ve created some of my best drawings on days I didn’t want to draw at all, simply because I showed up anyway. If I hadn’t shown up, those pieces would never have happened.

So let yourself off the hook if you have to, but don’t let yourself quit.

What if you Don’t Quit on the Bad Days?

Creativity is often sold to us as this wonderful, magical thing that is supposed to flow out of you with ease because you love doing it so much, and there seems to be a lot of people under the impression that if this is not the case for you, then you are somehow “doing creativity wrong” and you might as well not bother.

Reality check – this is not what my experience of creativity has looked like, pretty much ever.

Creativity is a form of problem solving and that can be frustrating.

Creativity means facing uncertainty in the form of the blank page, and to our primitive brain the uncertain is terrifying – because tigers.

Creativity means learning and growing and if you consider a child learning to walk you’ll see that learning and growing as an artist comes with the creative equivalent of frustration, bruised knees and falling flat on your face. A lot.

And that’s okay. There is a romanticized version of creativity that is oversold to us but rarely seen in reality. We stand in awe of the finished work, not realizing the sweat and blood that has been poured into a craft for many years for the artist to get to this level.

When you create regularly, you will inevitably hit a wall. You may hit it in every piece you create, you may go through weeks of blissful creating, but at some stage, you will hit the wall, and it will hurt. Sometimes you hit the wall over and over again for days or weeks or months and that’s what a lot of us call artist’s block. And that still doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, it just happens. It’s annoying, frustrating and totally, totally normal.

It’s how you deal with those difficult moments that matters. Do you gently calm the temper tantrum of your brain and keep going or throw in the towel and decide you’re obviously just not creative enough? Do you push yourself to the edge of your endurance a couple more times to see how much more you can actually give or do you immediately fold and Netflix binge instead? Do you show up even when you don’t feel like it and do your work, or do you buy into the myth that you have to be inspired or motivated to create and put off that day until someday never, because if you don’t use your creativity it just withers away.

People don’t quit during good times. They quit when things get hard. What if you decided to just not quit on those bad days? What might be possible if you just kept showing up?

You Don’t Need Any More Knowledge.

There comes a point where watching yet another tutorial on how to get better at drawing is no longer helpful.

Don’t get me wrong, tutorials are amazing and can be very helpful when you’re using them in a targeted manner. But if you’re watching tutorial after tutorial without actually picking up your pencil, chances are more information is not what you need.

For example: For getting started on ProCreate I’d say watch one quality tutorial on the basic functionality, and then start drawing. You don’t need to understand the whole programme or all the tools. You’ll learn most when you dive in and get to work.

You will never feel quite ready. You will never feel you know enough. You will not understand all the things you don’t know until you test your drawing skills in the wild.

All the preparation in the world will not save you from making mistakes. You will make many messy, crappy drawings until you learn enough to make better ones and that’s fine. That’s simply how it is. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

You have to work through the bad drawings to get to the good ones. Everyone does. You cannot cheat or shortcut the creative process.
More important than watching tons of tutorials is training your own skills of observation and translating what you see onto the page. Most important is that you pick up a pencil and actually put marks on a page. If you watch tutorial after tutorial you get good at watching tutorials. If you draw everyday, you actually get good at drawing.

If you watch loads of tutorials, but never draw, it is nothing more than inspiration porn. If it hasn’t worked already, watching more tutorials is not what will get you drawing.

Start before you feel ready. When you start, you’ll be able to figure out where your actual areas of struggle are and you can watch targeted tutorials to help you master those areas.

But if you’re not putting that knowledge into practice, it’s a waste of time. Time you could better spend drawing.

Feeling Your Work is “Never Good Enough”

No matter how good your work gets, you may feel it is never quite „good enough“.

Chances are, this is due to something called the perception gap. As you get better at your art, you develop good taste. You see what you like about the work of other artists and you begin to understand what makes a good piece. But your actual drawing skills take a while to catch up with your new level of perception.

When you reach a new level of skill, it‘s likely your perception will have evolved again. At each stage you become aware of new, more nuanced details that you can now focus on improving.

Because your perception of what makes good work keeps evolving as your skill does, the two never match up. This can lead to you feeling that your art is sub-standard and that you‘re not improving, even though you are.
Look back at your work from a few weeks, months or years ago. It might surprise you how far you‘ve come.

This perception gap is a normal and quite universal artistic experience. You aren’t doing anything wrong. Keep practicing. You will improve if you keep putting in the work.

And don‘t be too hard on yourself.

Don’t Quit on a Bad Day

It’s generally not the good days you have to worry about when you take on a long term commitment such as drawing everyday.

The good days are easy.
The bad days are the days that you need to mentally prepare for.

It’s the bad days that will trip you up and make you question why you’re even doing all of this.

You will not want to quit on the good days.
You will very much want to quit on the bad days.

I’ve found the best way for me to deal with this is to just not quit on the bad days. If I go for a long period and something isn’t working and I want to stop doing it even on my good days when I’m feeling reasonably emotionally neutral, maybe it’s time to consider if what I’m doing is worth pursuing. But if I just want to quit because I’m not feeling good or having a bad day, I don’t let myself.

We go through many ups and downs every single day, and every single day is different. Our emotions are not a reliable indicator of what we are capable of on that day.

Some of my best drawings were made on days I really didn’t want to draw. I’ve made terrible drawings on days I was highly motivated.

It’s worth showing up to the page with an open mind, no matter how you’re feeling. You might be surprised. And if a good day results in a bad drawing, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s nothing to worry about. It just happens.

Bad days are of course the days when you are most going to want to give up and throw in the towel. They are stressful, painful and you feel like nothing is worth it anymore. Those are the days you need to overcome. The good days are easy. It’s those bad days that will make or break you.

Don’t let yourself quit on those days. If you can survive the bad days, you can survive every other day too.

Don’t quit on a bad day.