Fear is a natural response to the unknown. You can’t predict how you’re drawing will come out. That absence of information can paralyze you from creating.
People want to fall in love with their creations, not hide in shame over them. The truth is, even artists of the highest caliber will fail. They’ll fail to create drawings that fulfill their vision and they’ll fail to learn new things as they attempt to bring their skills even higher. The difference between a beginner and an expert is that they know failure is a part of progress and not the opposite of it.
If you want to learn to draw, you have to accept failure as part of the process. Failure will happen. How you handle failure and learn from it will determine how rapidly you can progress as an artist. The more comfortable you are with challenging yourself and using failure to propel forward, the faster you can learn to improve your art skills.
In my first character design class, we were asked to adapt a book of our choice into concept art. I chose the book “Artemis Fowl” which followed the adventures of a 12-year-old criminal mastermind, Artemis, his bodyguard, Butler, and an elf police officer, Holly.
If your fingers could fall off from drawing too much, it would have happened that week. I studied and designed as much as I could. It was exciting to see my ideas come to life.
I went to class feeling confident. At the end of the week, I had pages of studies, my own designs, and even one fully rendered character drawing of Butler. I was dripping with anticipation to show all my hard work. That confidence and excitement all died when the teacher sat down next to me, looked through all my hard work, and told me “I don’t know what to say…these are high school level drawings”.
As a society we tend to focus on the wrong things, making it harder for new aspiring artists to understand the mental tools they need to be successful in their education. If you spent hours working on your new drawing assignment and the first thing out of your teacher’s mouth was about how terrible you are at drawing – something you already know and feel (duh, you’re learning) – you’re going to feel completely deflated.
Learning to draw isn’t about how skilled you are each step of the way, it’s about how much effort you put in. It’s about how fearlessly you try new things so you can learn deeply and make great discoveries.
I stopped going to that character drawing class about a week later. That teacher had all but ruined my excitement about learning character design or even drawing in general. It took some time before I was able to collect myself and continue forging ahead.
If you’re taught that skill is the name of the game, you’re going to value it over effort. That kind of thinking will halt your progress before you ever learn enough to have the skills you want. The problem is when you know that effort is the name of the game, you turn to fear. You fear that your drawing won’t be good, so you stop yourself from trying to draw anything.
You can’t make any breakthroughs if you don’t fail. You need those breakthroughs to learn and keep on improving. If you don’t fail, you aren’t really trying.
Denzel Washington is a great motivational speaker on failure but my favorite quote comes from his wife, Pauletta – “To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did”.
As a baby you know nothing. Everything you do is something you’ve never done. You try to take your first steps and fall. Today, you walk freely. Walking doesn’t feel like much of an accomplishment now, but it’s something you failed at until you mastered it.
Failure is as certain as eating another meal. You will fail. Coming to terms with that gives you a new perspective on failure.
If you are taught that learning is a struggle that involves failure, you’ll be more willing to tackle tough challenges. You’ll see failure as a lesson rather than a horrible mistake. Rather than avoid it, you’ll propel yourself toward it and take risks that enable you to make breakthroughs.
Overcoming your fear of failure only requires two things:
1. Understanding that failure is a necessary and inevitable part of learning
2. Rewarding and focusing on effort over skill
If you’re learning to draw, are you looking for validation of your ability or to acquire new skills? Social media has made many people focus on validation, unconsciously limiting their potential as they only draw to show off. This kind of behavior minimizes your risk of failure but at the expense of attaining any future success.
If you’re looking to acquire new skills, each failure brings new information and every drawing is an opportunity to try something new. You embrace failure so that your skills can compound into success in the future, rather than find some semblance of validation in the moment.
My character design teacher should have encouraged my effort instead of focusing on my lack of skill. It made me see failure as a mistake. Your teacher might do this to you too. You're fortunate enough to know now that effort is the key to success and failure is a gateway to great discoveries.