Confidence (Part 1 of 5) – 3 Ways to Heat Up Your “Studio Confidence”

The comments you left on my last post about confidence made me realize this is a subject begging for more.

So let’s shake it out.

Let’s take each of the five points I made, last week, and expand in as many directions as we can in a 5-part series. (Well, if you count last week that would be 6 parts ;-) but who’s counting?)

And, I’m going to need your help for this. I’ll be able to nail down a few ideas, but it’s you, out there in the studio day after day, who can tell me what I can’t even imagine.

Here’s what I’m looking for, from you

I’ll tell you the 3 things that come to me about how to increase your confidence in the studio. Then, in the “comments” you tell me what I’ve missed!

As I said last week, no matter where you are on the career path, keeping your technical skills finely tuned is essential.

For some artists, execution comes easily. For others, it’s more laborious. In either case, mastery of your materials will leave an energetic residue that sends out a clear signal to the viewer.

I’ll give you two examples.

A Tale Of Two Artists: Confidence as Compliment, Confidence as Competence

Artist No.1: Her work is hanging in a local venue, a charming neighborhood bar run by a woman who is cherished by everyone in the community, in no small part because she supports local bands and local visual artists.

Artist No.1 has two things going for her: an engaging imagination, and enough drawing skill to tell a story through what I call fantasy realism.

Looking at her work framed in expensive, gaudy, gilded gold, you can tell that she is encouraged by her friends and family, and probably acquaintances who do not have her basic drawing skills—that her work is wonderful.

And so she has settled (and shows her work for sale) at a basic technical level that a fairly gifted, high school senior might be able to pull off.

And I’m guessing that no one is going to tell her the truth: if she wants this to be a viable, sustainable career (and, who knows, she may not), those pieces need to come down and she needs to go take workshops, classes, find a mentor.

Artist No.2 has the flip side to this story. She has been studying and mentoring with old master realist teachers for years. And years. Her skill level is so high that her pieces feel as if they are actually breathing, just took a step, just turned their head – only you missed it.

Suddenly Artist No.2 has an urge to create a couple of encaustic, abstract pieces – a series of straight, black lines intersecting at various points on the canvass. Simple. Plain. No color. Never did it before.

However, because her skill level at mark making is so advanced, these simplistic dashes of black lines are wildly exciting. The first piece evokes energy simultaneously contained, yet unleashed; movement transcending dimensions of reality. The second feels like a transmission from another world, a bird’s eye view of familiar, yet unknown, terrain.

The Moral?

Your level of core skills will always be reflected in your final piece – no matter how complex or how simple. You cannot hide behind, or be content with, a great imagination, compliments from those who love or admire you, or your own lack of… what? confidence? motivation?… to put in the hard hours.

3 Ways to Heat Up Your Studio Confidence

If you suspect you are shaky at any level, or bit-by-bit sinking into a routine that feels jaded or stale, here are 3 ways I recommend to send bolts of life energy coursing through your work.

1. Find A Mentor, Take a Workshop, Organize a Group Of Artists

There is always someone further along the path than we are, and someone who hasn’t caught up to where we are.

I don’t care how good you are, there is someone out there who can offer you even more. Maybe even two someones.

Find that person, or persons. Bow to their experience. Allow yourself to be taught no matter how good you think you are, or how bad you think you are, because neither is absolutely true.

2. Find Your Fear Point

“Fear” might be a little extreme for some of you, but only if you forget that fear is a continuum that moves all the way from mild caution up to stark terror.

When you get in the studio, where do you not allow yourself to go? Truthfully?

It’s so human-like to bliss out in our zone of excellence, or float there, or even sing along with.

Imagine swimming out into deeper waters – where your sharks live. Start there, with the imagining. Keep a notebook as you do this and write it all down, otherwise your brain will just love the chance to be a trickster and keep you where the fire is cozy and warm.

And remind yourself that at any point you can swim back to shore and dry out again by the fire.

Do this and I guarantee your zone of excellence will never feel the same again.

3. Be Alice In Wonderland

Work big? Go tiny, itsy bitsy.

Work small? Go so BIG it freaks you out.

And, no, I’m not taking the “my studio isn’t big enough” excuse.

Find an artist whose studio is big enough and ask if you can rent, join, play with. Rent a place for one month or one week or one day! And if you are setting yourself up for a “no,” I’m betting that’s your fear point. Your shark.

Work in oils? Try acrcylics

Happy with encaustic? Go for collage.

Into clay? Get out the canvas and brushes.

We jump the fear gun by imagining that whatever we do we have to do forever. Seriously, we take ourselves too seriously.

Who, I ask you, is an artist who can’t break free of his or her own traditions and play again?

If nothing else, set yourself a new challenge,.

Work out of your comfort zone – hard for 3 weeks -and see what changes in your skill level.

As I said before, there is no destination here, only continual arriving…


There has to be more ways than this for shaking up, and shaking down, your skill level in the studio.

What has worked for you? What have you have discovered out on the edge of the Confidence Universe?


In case you’re wondering, the “Home Study Edition” of the smARTist Telesummit 2012 gives you the competence you need around your collectors and buyers to stand strong in your confidence.

Here’s what one of your fellow artists told me,

Thank you from my soul for having this summit, for dreaming it, creating it and making it happen. It is wonderful. I came in thinking I don’t do licensing! I paint.

Imagine the surprise I felt when Maria Brophy started talking: my energy soared, my enthusiasm not just for her talk but all the possibilities she was calling out in my imagination was sky rocketing. I was glued to the head set.   ~Anneke Newman (from Australia)

And this is what Anneke was talking about -> “Your Collector Lifeline: How to Use Confidence, Connection, and Communication so They Buy Your Art.”

14 Responses to “Confidence (Part 1 of 5) – 3 Ways to Heat Up Your “Studio Confidence””

  1. Vicki Ross says:

    I did the workshop path, studying with every good tutor I could get close to. Now, I’m slowly going back and discovering the things they taught one at a time…until I feel some mastery. This is working for me! Permission to slow down and ‘get it’ by doing it!

    • Ariane says:

      Oh, yes! Thank you for putting fruit on my idea tree. If it works for you, it will work for countless others, even the ones who feel as if they’ve arrived!

  2. Marianne says:

    What helps me be more confident, in addition to taking workshops, which I don’t always have time for, is to watch art workshops on dvd. I can do this while I’m walking on the treadmill and watch several times until I get a really good feel for the concepts. Then go an paint with inspiration

  3. If a challenge makes me feel uncomfortable; silently screaming “no way” when asked, then it’s very likely I need to do it.
    Two years ago it was creating/posting a daily watercolor, last year it was teaching and this year it is public speaking. Listen for that silent scream. You need to confront that scary thing – whatever it is- and grow past it.

    • Oh, Paula, I’m with you on this one! Public speaking (yup, really) gets to me.

      I had a live presentation this spring and was resisting tooth and nail! Until… I realized it was another way to help the artists I love so much.

      That turned me on and I forgot about my own shakiness.

  4. Kay Stratman says:

    Last year I took a workshop in a completely different medium, one I had never tried. I am a watercolorist, took an encaustic workshop. Soooo much fun. The instructor and I hit it off and this year I am “team teaching” the same workshop with her, me teaching my particular (and peculiar) watercolor technique as a base layer for her multitude of encaustic techniques. So I get to enjoy my own comfort zone – a little – and build on it while continuing to stretch and learn more from her. The best of both worlds, it seems to me. And I am confident the students will have a ball with both.

    • Oh, Kay, I love this: collaboration!

      Isn’t it just the best? I’m always poking around to find whom else I can link up with and play off our strengths and shore up our weaknesses.

  5. Bob Pike says:

    Confidence is always about feeling comfortable with your skill level and your
    past successes. To be extremely confident, you must work as hard as possible to become a master at what you’re doing whether it’s about painting, drawing, selling or talking to customers, etc.
    My mentor Stan Perrot (was the head of The Alberta College of Art and Design) (Sadly passed away) Once told me ” If you want to become a painter, paint 500 paintings”. You will learn everything you need to know about paint and composition and, and , and. If you approach your career with the idea that you will need to keep critisizing and correcting everything you do for as long as you have that career, you’ll do OK and all that work will give you success and confidence.

  6. Kai Lossgott says:

    Confidence means trust. And you’ll never trust yourself if you consistently let yourself down. Set goals before you arrive in your studio, even if the goal is: today I am going to trust the unknown. And stick to them.

    Get to know what moves you. There is nothing that inspires more confidence than some thorough research. Make sure you know what others are doing, and I don’t mean just other artists. Strong ideas make for strong art. Do your homework, then be original.

    • Kai – I love this “Strong ideas make for strong art.”

      Even if you think all you are going for is beauty, that foundation of a strong idea will only increase the beauty.

  7. anon says:

    I don’t agree with this concept, but I think you are correct. I personally do a LOT of group shows (more than 80 of them in 3 years), and I’m the only one in my group who was classically trained at art school with tons of subsequent skill workshops in new mediums.

    I’ve also been the only one to have people buy pieces for $500 during a show where most pieces were priced in the $100 range. I personally don’t feel that the skill of the other artists is lacking, and I feel that some of them are actually far more gifted with better imaginations….but when it comes down to the money exchange….there it is. My experience cooberates yours.

    People buy the expensive pieces from the person who had the training…even when there are what I feel are amazing bargains of higher artistic quality at the same show.

    Patrons tell me that the pieces just grab them in their guts, and they need to own them. It’s much the same feeling that I get when I know a piece is finished…slight discomfort in the guts like butterflies.

    • hmmm, Anon (why are you anon?) this is a provocative comment AND I’m getting the feeling that if people are telling you that a piece “grabs them in the gut,” then I’m not at all sure I’d go along with your analysis that the people are buying because of former training (I mean, do they know that you have all this training in a conscious way?).

      Buying from the gut and “can’t live without it” indicates a far deeper level of work, which makes me wonder what about your own work you might be either missing or dismissing…

      • I completely agree with Ariane on this. I’m not a big collector, but have certainly bought artwork in the $500+ category. I have never once checked on the credentials of the artist. I doubt that, historically, there would be much correlation between those who have joined the ‘great artists’ list and their academic qualifications. I would go so far as to say that those who buy according to whether or not the artist has classical training have no confidence in their own judgement.

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