Saturday, 18 January 2014

Self-criticism and learning to take compliments.

I hold my hands up and happily admit that I am far too hard on myself. It has been pointed out to me by friends and family many times before and I am well aware of it, but it very much comes with the territory of being an artist.

With each piece of work I do, I go through a rollercoaster of feelings; I will start off quite liking the piece, then it will suddenly look very, very wrong at which point I have learnt it's best to take a break and come back only when my frustrations have lessened. I generally get off the rollercoaster feeling pleased with what I've created (although on very few occasions this isn't the case!) and this process repeats itself with every new piece.

When I'm at my low point, there is nothing anyone can say to me that will convince me what I'm doing isn't complete rubbish. I work through it and I come through the other side.

What I struggle with the most is accepting compliments. This applies to my personal life as well as my professional and I'm sure I'm not alone! I never know what to say when someone tells me my work is good; I even struggle with the obvious "thank you". It's not so bad when it's online as I can quite happily reply without feeling ridiculously awkward but when it's in the flesh, even with close family, I really, really can't handle it.

For example, on Thursday I went to a friend's birthday meal, armed with a portrait of her two dogs that I had spent the previous week working on without being able to share any progress shots for fear of her seeing it. I was excited to give it to her as she loves her dogs and I'm one of those people who finds great delight in giving people gifts.
So she opened it and was delighted, then passed it round the table for everyone to look at. All the while this was happening, I felt supremely awkward and had to suppress the overwhelming urge to busy myself on my phone so I didn't have to see the reactions of my friends. Silly really!

Why do I react that way? I was pleased with the piece; in fact I really enjoyed drawing it, so I'm struggling to get my head around why I find it so hard to share in everyone's admiration. Maybe it's because sharing something you have put so much into, emotionally and physically, is scary. You're making yourself vulnerable and open to criticism.

Actually, I have a slightly worse example. My step-mum commissioned me to draw her sister's westie for Christmas just gone, and naturally I accepted. This was before I remembered that I would in fact be there with them on Christmas day, so would see her opening it-but wait! That's not all! The westie in question would ALSO be there on the day, as he couldn't be left alone for long periods of time.

To recap; I would be drawing a portrait of a step-relative's dog, would be in the room as she opened it and the subject of said portrait would also be in the room, available for direct comparison.

Now, that may not seem like a situation worthy of panic to you, but to me, it only seemed to treble the normal levels of pressure I deal with when drawing someone's pet. Needless to say, when the day came and the portrait was unwrapped, it was warmly received and Snowy was more interested in tripping people up than looking at his likeness, but I STILL managed to feel uncomfortable, even more so because this time it wasn't a gift from me, I just happened to be the artist. So saying "you're welcome" in response to the thanks didn't seem appropriate to me.

I don't think my self-criticism will ever go away. It may well improve a little with time but I'm sure you fellow creatives can sympathise with me when I say that it comes with the job.

On the subject of fellow creative folk; do you suffer with same problem? How do you deal with it?

I would love to hear from you, if not only to make me feel better about my crippling lack of self-confidence!


  1. I'm exactly the same! And it is something that definitely comes with being an artist. I think it will always be in our nature to want to improve and therefore always look for what could be done better/different/etc.

    I think it's because with every piece we do, we do put time, effort and emotion into it. Whatever the subject, a little bit of ourselves is in it. Our individual style, our interpretation, our talent... it's all on that piece of paper/canvas/etc to be judged. So naturally, I think we are nervous and cautious, and this makes us doubt ourselves and rears its ugly head as a lack of self-confidence.

    Your work is absolutely gorgeous Emily, so you should never doubt yourself and your talent :)

    I have no tips on how to deal with it really. As you say I think it comes with the territory. But the fact we are hard on ourselves is a sign that we care about what we are doing, which I think is one very positive thing to take from it all :)

    Gillian x

    1. I completely agree with you Gillian-even if it's a commissioned piece of work, you are still putting a little piece of yourself into it and that makes you feel so unsure sometimes. You're right when you say it's a good thing that we care so much; I've never thought of it like that! Thank you :-) x