Artists Overcoming Self Doubt

Artists Overcoming Self Doubt
This week, discover how to overcome self doubt!


Artists are their own harshest critics, even the harshest and most critical of professional art critics would go easier on your work than you do. For years I was full of self-doubt when it came to my artistic ability despite making sales, and at more than one point I thought about giving up. It was all-consuming, it was wearing me down, until I decided that I would stop getting so heated up about it. I developed a strategy. In fact, I kept redeveloping a strategy.

There are still times and especially when sales are slow, when I still think of giving up art entirely, but those moments I think are normal. The difference between how it was then, and how it is now, is that now those thoughts quickly pass. They no longer consume me. I realise that not everyone will like everyone's art, and I realise that it's normal to go through slow periods in the art world. If something has sold before, it's likely to sell again. You just need to find the right buyer at the right time. It's no different than selling anything that is often considered as a luxury.

It struck me as something useful to write about when a friend called to say that they were feeling a lot of self-doubt with their artistic skills at the time. This was in January, and I am pleased to say that those self-doubts have subsided considerably since he phoned me. Not that I did or said anything remotely useful, I was merely a vessel who listened, and paid for the subsequent coffee shop visits.


Envy of other artists talents is something that artists also encounter. At one time I thought I could happily recreate a Jackson Pollock. How hard could it be to drop down some splatters of paint? Turns out it is more difficult that you'd expect. When I had completed it I was left disappointed. It looked nothing like a Pollock. It just wasn't as crisp, it was as vibrant, and it wasn't very good. I was mad at myself for even trying.

Now as I said in an earlier blog post, I look at other artists to provide me with inspiration, I no longer feel any envy, just a joy in seeing others work and learning from it. It took me more than a few years to acknowledge to myself that I was becoming accomplished in my artistic skills, but some 20-years or so later, I continue to look at other artists to learn new techniques. I eventually recreated a Pollock, it was certainly a much better effort than the original, it was a little different, I added a few of my own flourishes. I had learned that it was this all-consuming envy that had held me back in the first place.

Envy is probably the wrong word to use. You'll be comparing your work against that of others, using other artists work as a measuring stick. It's not really envy, this a form of beating yourself up. You will always perceive your art to be lesser than most other artists produce. Thing is, they're probably looking at yours or someone else's work and comparing their work too.

One other thing I wasn't very good at twenty or so years ago was dealing with the opinions of others. A comment from someone who really had no understanding of art, that had originated from a desire to help, felt brutal at the time and lowered my confidence even more. I just hadn't realised that they were saying what they said out of compassion rather than an understanding of art.


One of the biggest things I learned over the years was not to take everything to heart. You need broad shoulders in the art world, and now if I am in the company of someone who makes me uncomfortable or who I know makes veiled comments, I do something I should have done many years before, I move on.

If someone is intentionally making me feel down or less confident in any situation whether it is art or other things, I have developed a sense, and that sense tells me that I don't need that negativity in my life. It's no longer a problem for me when someone says that they don't like a particular piece of work, because I know that I don't like every piece of work ever produced in the history of art. But now I don't engage in any drama, just move on, and keep on creating.

Failure is part of the process
Don't be afraid to fail



Sometimes I know I get a piece completely wrong. If I attempt certain styles or certain subjects I just know that they will end up being deleted if they are digital, and being over painted if they are on canvas. If they're on paper, I throw them in the fire pit. In fact for every ten pieces I create to sell, there are usually three or sometimes four, that will never see the light of day.

Sometimes I get lost. I start a work knowing what the main subject will be, I have to get it down on paper or canvas, or on screen as quickly as I can, so even now I have lots of unfinished works. In fact I have almost two hundred unfinished works. One day I will visualise what else is needed or what direction I need to take them, or if they actually need taking forward at all, but for now they sit in the attic or on a hard drive. A couple are hanging as reminders to go back to them later on.

So if you get things wrong, or you have unfinished work, that's fine too. It's what being an artist is about and that my friends is exactly what you are supposed to experience. A work might take you twenty-minutes, it might take you twenty-years, that is what is supposed to happen to artists.

Leave it alone, get someone else to look at it, come back to it in a day, a month, or a year. I completed my Blue Mist Rising after leaving it alone for almost two years. I created a mountain, but I just wasn't sure what else to do with it. Blue Mist Rising is now one of my most sold prints.


It is assumed that every artist can draw anything. Not every artist can. I can't draw or paint certain things, ask me to draw a UFO and I'm up for visiting Area 51 and joining their reverse engineering design team to work on recreating crashed flying saucers, and I can draw them all day if I could. Ask me to draw or paint in the style of Mondrian and I just freeze with no idea where to even start. I only ever achieve a near Mondrian result when I fill the boxes with colour in an Excel spreadsheet.

That monster called self-doubt never leaves an artist. You just have to control it. Believe in yourself as those inspirational quotes keep reminding us. Also, why do your most unsuccessful friends always seem to post the most inspirational quotes on social media?

It can take years to become confident in your art, even if you are great from the off. That's fine. Again, any artist who never experiences any kind of self-doubt is either very fortunate, or not at all passionate about their art.

At the age of three I couldn't hold a pencil very well let alone draw anything that looked like anything. It took years before I felt I could hold my own even at school. It took even longer for me to think that any of my art might sell, in fact I get that feeling fairly often, even after 30-years of selling my work.

Patience is the key. Art and even professional photography is a long game whether you are creating, selling or buying. For more than 30-years I have been creating art in some form or other, but even after all this time I have realised that there is always room for improvement. What you need more than anything is practice and patience. The latter being a little harder to obtain. Having the patience as you create art will help you in achieving new skills, as with any new skill, it takes time to learn. With art, you never stop learning.

I thought at the age of 35 I was good enough to sell abstracts, but I waited a little longer after realising that I had more to learn about abstract art. I went to college to learn new techniques, to learn about composition, and more than anything, I learned that no matter when I thought my abstracts would be worthy of selling, there would always be more to learn. The point of this is that you can start as early or as late as you want, there's always something new that you learn on the way, so just do whatever you feel you want to do from the off.

Previously I had worked mainly in the area of landscapes and technical drawing, compared to abstracts both of these were relatively easy. Abstracts are completely different. You start out with a vision, you create the vision, and then you take away some of that vision. The trick is not to take away too much. Once I had that figured out, abstracts became a little less complex to understand. It just took me a really long time to work it out.

At 47, (I started writing this post when I was 46 FYI!) my plan now is to just try and make each painting better than the last one. For the last six or seven years taking this approach, I have become more engaged, and am enjoying every artistic thing I do.


It doesn't matter that you are a seasoned pro or a beginner, taking a class is the best thing you can ever do. Even if you have had a formal arts education, it is vital that you continue to learn. You can do this by reading books, watching YouTube videos, visiting galleries, or taking a part time class like I did.

I was lucky at the time I enrolled because the fees were a lot lower than they are today. But if finances are a concern then turn to the trusty old internet. This is how I now keep abreast of new techniques, I have even completed a few free online courses, some of which have been more insightful than my formal time in class. If you want to learn more about teaching yourself to be an artist you can read my earlier post on the subject right here:

Now I take the opportunity whenever I can to learn something new. It doesn't even have to be about art, Learning itself whatever the subject will give you a confidence boost. I'm currently learning to code in Swift, I've done the C++, HTML, Python, and Java thing, I started out with BASIC, a language that really taught you to be an efficient coder. An entertaining game could be made in 1kb of memory. Today coders need 10Gb for the opening screen and at least a few million dollars to bring it to market. A game I created in 1984 was coded in my bedroom for nothing. Just five nights and a detention for not handling in my homework on time. The result was £250 as an advance from the publisher. In 1984 that was like winning the lottery.


As often as I think I will give up I don't. I've been saying this since I was about 16. I'm 47 now, and for 30+ years I have had periods where I think, that's it. I've not sold for a week, a month, or six months, I'm giving up. Now whenever I say I'm giving up it means, it is time to take a few days away from art. For those few days I become a bear with a sore head, and I end up going back to a piece.

Art has to move you
Art has to move you

The reality is that any next piece could be the piece that makes a huge impact in the arts world. You have to hang on in there, insert motivational stuff as you see fit from this point forward.

It's a tough world and there are many players. Compared to some fellow artists I seem to be doing ok. I know artists who produce outstanding work, yet have yet to make a sale. I know others who by their own admission, just got lucky early on. Then there are those who have produced the next big thing, they sell, they receive hundreds of orders in a day, and then the pressure is really on. Can I do it again is usually what the first thought is after a period of success.

Art can be anything. There are more than 7-billion people in this world, let's imagine for a moment that somewhere within that 7-billion plus people, there are people who love what you do. They just don't know that you do it.

If you're thinking of giving up, then you haven't found your market. Believe me there is a market for anything, just ask Damien Hirst. In the 50's if someone had encased a cow or a shark, they might have been locked up, or viewed as if they had suddenly appeared on some kind of spectrum. But Hirst found his market and he did it with confidence.

Banksy walked in to a gallery and hung up his own work after nearly giving up when hiding under a train from the police, Van Gogh only ever sold one painting whilst he was alive, people who work with me never realised for years that I was also an artist. Anything is possible, it's sometimes that you yourself make it impossible. Whilst this all seems a little cliched, it is unfortunately the reality. As I said at the beginning of this feature, artists are their own worst critics.

Once you have built up this level of confidence you'll notice that other things start changing too. Your work will improve, your health will improve, your outlook will improve, your grasp of identifying new markets will improve, and ultimately your sales will improve. This lack of confidence business is totally controlled by you. It's nothing other than a feeling that eats away and breeds, a feeling that makes you feel less confident at every turn. Confidence is something that you already have, you just need to be able to turn it up.

Then there is the classic imposter syndrome, a term coined in 1978 and also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".

People say you're good at what you do, yet that monster of self-doubt appears, and you figure you'll be called out for being a fake, that everyone else knows more than you, and proof of success is down purely to luck.

Mark Taylor artist
See my complete range of works at


These are feelings that have been through the minds of every normal person in the history of ever at some point in their lives. As an artist you might experience this on a regular basis to varying degrees from very mild to a state of extreme anxiety. This is what self-doubt is capable of doing to you.


Never forget to promote yourself. I still do this, but I am learning that unless you promote yourself, you're unlikely to get many sales.

I have written many posts on this blog to help artists promote themselves, take a look through the archives, you'll be surprised what has been written.

But the main point of marketing is that if you are shy, you need to become an extrovert. I hadn't realised just how extroverted you need to be until a few years ago when I started observing what the big brands do. It seems they do things very differently depending on the platform they are targeting.

I viewed a few items on eBay and made the mistake of being logged in whilst I was looking. eBay know about everything you have looked at, as do Amazon, as does every other brand with a marketing strategy online, and increasingly offline too.

I started receiving reminder emails sometimes two or three times a day asking if I was still interested in a particular item, or that there was only a few left, I'd need to hurry. It suddenly struck me that that's exactly why eBay and Amazon are doing so well. They're almost viscous in their marketing and getting conversions. Converting browsing out of curiosity in to a sale.

This my friends is sort of what you need to be doing. If you have a mailing list, firstly don't spam people. Amazon and eBay are way too pushy for my liking, but actually doing something with your email list is critical.

Make sure if people have signed up voluntarily, that you reach out to them. They signed up for a reason, and that was in the most part to connect in some way to you. Tell people about your promotions, tell people about your new art, tell people about you, but keep them informed, just not two or three times a day. Consider a weekly or monthly newsletter. Remember that in many instances, people connect with the artist more than they connect with the art. Those people can eventually turn in to collectors.

Watch what the big players do, check out each of their social media accounts and look at how differently they get the same message across that says the same thing or advertises the same thing. They are catering to their demographics, they know their audience. Whilst you might not have their marketing budgets, you can mimic their plan in your own way.

I will be talking about analytics in a future post, but in the meantime, connect with people and especially connect with new people, but never forget the rest of the people.


Self-doubt, no-confidence, if these are familiar feelings then don't worry. You are not on your own. Hopefully this post will have at least given you a little reassurance that making it in the art world is tough, but not insurmountable. If you have feelings that persist, talk to a professional, but for the most part, self-doubt and no confidence is an experience that builds an artist. It's human nature, but it should never consume you. There is no Jedi skill in overcoming anything, it's all about recognising what those feelings are and why you are experiencing them, and working out a strategy.

If you have any strategies for dealing with self-doubt as an artist, I would love to hear from you. I'll publish the best in a future update.


M.A has been producing art for more than 30-years and specialises in abstracts and landscapes. His work is available on this blog, and in more than 150 retail locations across the USA and Canada, including Deck the Walls, The Great Frame Up, Framing and Art Centre, as well as other online outlets including Designer Prints, Earth Prints, Zazzle, and you can purchase directly from Facebook by clicking the Shop Now or Shop button at

You can also purchase M.A's work at and at Fine Art America. Orders placed through Pixels and Fine Art America come with a 30-day money back guarantee and are printed on some of the finest print stock available today.

Small signed pieces are also available directly, so if there is a piece you would like contact and ask for details.

M.A's other products include steel and acrylic prints, museum quality stretched canvases, posters, art prints, photo prints, phone cases, emergency phone chargers, apparel, home decor, towels, pillows, cushions, tote bags, carry pouches, and more.

If you would like M.A to attend a gallery event, review a product, offer home design advice, or even speak at your function, please email

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