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Design

"Can I Draw?"—How to Tell If You're Good Enough

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The desire to draw strikes the most when we observe a "talented" artist creating. We watch how they put the lines in the proper place, in a kind of magical way, and a whole new world is being created before our eyes. It seems so easy!

Then you try to draw something yourself, and all you get is a chaos of sloppy lines. No matter how strong your desire, no matter how clear the image in your head, your hand just doesn't seem to understand your intentions. You come to the conclusion that you're not good enough to draw, and finally you give up.

But have you ever wondered what "good enough" really means? Why must you be good enough to start drawing, but not to start driving or cooking? Why does every other activity allow for mistakes, for baby steps, but in drawing you have to be perfect from the start? Surprisingly, it's all in our minds!

The Torment of Ours: Internal Critique

The answer is, you don't have to be "good enough" from the start. You may think that the definition of "good enough" is set in stone, that it's something you must match, but the truth is we build this definition ourselves. Yes—we set the bar unreachably high, and then we suffer when trying to reach it. We stand in awe in front of a beautiful artwork, and we decide that a drawing must be similar to it to be good.

However, where does the other part, "enough", come from? Good enough for what? Once you answer this question, you'll understand where the definition really comes from—it depends on why we want to draw. Could it be any more personal, then?

I Want to Feel I'm Worth Something

This is the most common reason. We all want to feel important, we want to mean something to others. This is a basic human need, and its goal is to motivate us to search for ways of improvement. It doesn't really matter which way we choose—the satisfaction of being appreciated and admired is always amazing.

That's why admiration is so often combined with jealousy. The stronger the admiration, the stronger the desire to evoke the same feeling in others. We imagine how great it must feel, and we want to pursue this feeling. 

drawing jealousy i wish i was thatgood

There are many ways to achieve admiration, but drawing seems to be the easiest. You have hands and eyes just like the artist you like, so what's the problem? You start your drawing and disappointment strikes—your artwork may evoke pity, at best, which is the opposite of what you wanted. You wanted to feel great, and you feel bad instead.

This is why "failed" drawings may bring you to tears. The stronger your motivation to draw something admirable, the bigger the disappointment and the pain of failure. Because of this you are not very enthusiastic about "practice, practice, practice" as a way of getting better—you just can't stand looking at another failed artwork, another shattered dream. You want to base your self-esteem on the quality of your drawings (that's the real goal here!), so every bad drawing of yours proves you are worthless as a person. It makes the practice a torture!

my drawing are bad i feel bad

This mindset is a dead end for an aspiring artist. You can't draw unless you're good enough, and you can't be good enough unless you draw a lot. When you project this view at others, you assume that it's talent that makes some people "good enough" from the start, and that they're simply lucky—unlike you.

Let's work on your mindset, then. In your mind, go back in time to your early years. Do you remember any talented children from your class? This was the first time you felt worse than them. After all, your drawings looked like this:

childish doodles

While theirs looked more like this:

pro chilldish doodles

Wait... Is the drawing above really "good enough"? Would you be glad if you drew something like this now? You can say that it is good enough for a child, because children are just learning, so it's normal they can't produce masterpieces yet. But... why can't you be just as forgiving about your own results? Yes, you are older, but if you haven't been learning to draw at all until this point, you and these children are at the same level.

why i am not satisified my drawing art
Your expectations make you unhappy, not your lack of skill

You can understand it, logically, but your emotions have their own reason. This is why most people dump their pencil after school and never grab it again, no matter how strongly they wish to be able to draw. Here's the problem: they wish to be able to draw, now, in that very moment, without any learning.

When you want to be able to drive, you go to a driving school, and you don't expect you'll be great just by going. You expect a process: poor skills at the beginning and decent at the end. You also accept the fact that not everybody is born to be a great driver, and that for some the process takes longer. Same with any other activity.

Surprisingly, drawing is perceived differently. You can learn it as a child, but later you're either good enough, or you're doomed forever. No matter how strong your desire, every attempt will only make you feel worse.

The only way to break out of this vicious circle ("I can't draw, so I will never be good at drawing") is to change your mindset. You need to switch from "the value of my drawing is equal to the value of myself" to "I want to improve my drawing skills". Simple? In theory, yes. In reality it will take a lot of effort and perseverance, with a huge amount of patience.

Instead of thinking "I can't draw", ask yourself what you'd really like to draw. Then search for tutorials about it, analyze the topic; draw, make mistakes, and fix them. Give yourself time, maybe a month, maybe a year, for a complete terribleness. Tell yourself: "I'm allowed to suck for a whole year" and keep drawing. And don't flood your friends with your art, expecting praise—otherwise you'll see your works as "good enough for praise" and "not good enough for praise", which will take you back to basing your self-esteem on your results.

However, it may not be the end of your problems with "good enough":

I Want to Improve My Skills

You may have a lot of reasons to want to improve your skills, but let's focus on that desire alone for now. You define a particular "good enough" level and you practice to get there. You're very determined and patient, but the process takes longer than expected. In fact, there are times when you seem to regress rather than progress. You start losing hope you'll ever be good enough...

Here, "good enough" means being glad of the result, having the artwork meet our well-defined expectations. It's normal we have some goal we pursue, but there's one thing you must know about it—that goal moves as you progress.

Once again, look at those two childish drawings. When you can draw the first of them, the other one seems so much better. But once you learn how to draw it, it will not be "good enough" any more. Your expectations grow with your skill!

why i seem to regress drawing stop progress

Believe me—none of the artists you look up to feels "good enough". Each of them has some other idol, someone better than them in some aspect, and they still practice every day to keep up. You may think it would be great to be them, but in fact you wouldn't feel any different. You'd still underrate your successes and overrate the skills of others.

This "not good enough" feeling occurs in the process sooner or later for every artist. The only way to get rid of it is to accept that perfection doesn't exist. You may feel very strongly that there is this one single point you want to reach, and you may even be able to describe it clearly, but believe me—once you get there, it will not be good enough.

why drawing learning takes so long
A: time; B: levels of proficiency—a graph from my article "10 Drawing Myths That Block Your Progress"

With every step you learn more about what there is yet to learn, hence the feeling of regressing. It doesn't mean you're not making progress—you are, and people around you can certainly see it. It's only that your perspective changes, and the goal seems farther and farther away. Every time you forget about it, take a look at your older works. You'll be surprised how quickly we tend to leave old successes behind!

never satisfied we forget old success
Once we see a higher mountain, we immediately forget the one we've just climbed

Learn to see the process of learning as a journey. When you go hiking, you don't spend all the time thinking about the destination. The journey itself is more important than reaching the goal. If you asked "are we there yet?" all the time, it would be a chore!

Above all, you shouldn't feel angry at yourself for slow progress. Self-hate won't make the learning faster! This is who you are, these are your capabilities, and no amount of crying will change it. The only thing you can do is to accept it. Do your best, change your way of learning, search for the advice of more experienced artists, and never give up! If you really want it, you'll find a way, no matter what obstacles life puts in your way.

how to enjoy reaching goal
Setting your eyes on the goal only will keep you from enjoying the views

You don't owe being good to anyone. You can calmly learn how to draw, step by step, enjoying your improvement, but without expecting it to come with every drawing. This way you'll focus on what you really want to learn, instead of trying to appeal to others. Unless there's some other reason you draw for:

I Want My Art to Be Worth Real Money

This is a whole new issue. In the previous cases it was you who defined the "enough". Here it's your potential clients. However, you still have control over this—there are many kinds of clients, and you don't need to choose the most demanding ones. Yeah, the most demanding ones offer the best money, but your art may not be worth it.

Here's the problem. You may want to earn big money on your art so much that the improvement will be a side effect, not the final goal. It's quite similar to the first case—you want others to admire your artwork regardless of whether it's good or not. You don't really want to be good at drawing—you just want others to think you are.

This way of thinking puts the pressure on the wrong point. Instead of focusing on your skills, you adjust yourself to the expectations of others. The correct way of thinking should be: "Would I buy art from myself? If not, what can I do to make it more attractive to myself?" This way you'll learn what you want, and when you start earning money it will be by doing what you like—not what others like.

create for yourself not for money
Do you want to spend your life thinking how to please others?

Sure, everyone wants to earn big money here and now, but be honest with yourself: do you think you deserve it at the moment? Is your art good enough for the clients you're interested in? If not, keep calm, don't despair. Only a small percentage of people make a living doing what they love; if you reach this state, it will be a great success, but not reaching it isn't a failure—it's normal!

Focus on your improvement, and become the artist you would hire yourself. Become good for yourself and you'll be surprised when the clients come! After all, the final reason of drawing is:

I Want to Have Fun

It's easy to forget about it after hours of repetitive sketches, when you make obvious mistakes no matter how focused you are. After seeing the amazing art of others and comparing it to your pitiful efforts. After looking at your portfolio and not seeing what you'd like to see. After spending hours on a commission and getting far less money than you think you deserve.

Despite all of this, the primary reason why we grab a pencil is to have some fun. To feel the creative power uniting your mind and your hand. To spend some time on your own, in silence or in the company of some good music, observing how something of your mind appears on the sheet of paper before you. This should be pleasant no matter how good you think you are. You used to enjoy it as a child, so what changed?

The fun of drawing isn't reserved for professionals. It happens to everyone who's glad of their work, and you are the only person who has power over it. Even if your drawings resemble those of a preschooler, these are yours—you draw, you're making an effort to be better, and, above all, you're bravely facing your own demons calling you "not good enough". This, paradoxically, makes you good enough to draw!

i feel im not good enough
These are voices from your own head. Understand you're creating them yourself and you'll be free!

The High Court of Art Quality: External Critique

When we post our art online, we expect something. Usually we expect others to confirm that our works are good enough—good enough to be appreciated by them. By doing it you give them power over your own feelings towards your art. No matter how much fun you had creating this and how much you liked it before uploading, a few negative comments destroy it all.

No, they don't know better. They aren't part of some High Court of Art Quality, judging if you're good enough. They all have the right to their opinion, and they can judge your artwork all day long, but it has nothing to do with your art. Unless you want it.

Tell Me If I'm Good Enough

There is no fuzzier definition of "good enough" than one created by the public. After all, the public is made up of people like you, your neighbor, and your postman—similar in some aspects, but totally different in others. For every person that likes your art there is another person that dislikes it. Yet, we are eager to base the value of an artwork on the opinions we hear (not even all the opinions, only the ones available). Why?

We are social animals, and even such huge concepts like good and evil are based on what's beneficial and harmful for the community as a whole. Everything we do can be seen as normal (understood by the majority) or abnormal (rejected by the majority), good (liked by the majority), or bad (disliked by the majority).

However, we belong to many smaller communities, each with slightly different rules. What's normal in one group can be abnormal in another. What does it have to do with the concept of "good enough"? Depending on where you post your artwork, the opinions will vary. For example, a talented, but not skilled artist may be praised over the moon by family, friends, and even strangers, but if he or she goes to an art school, the value of their art will drop significantly.

subjective critique art value

It may not be so obvious, but it means that you can control the value of your art just by making it available only to people that will judge it positively. "But value is something constant, it will not change no matter who sees it!", you may say. It may seem like this, but what really is the definition of value? Think for a moment and you'll realize it's not objective. For example, I don't find Mona Lisa that fascinating at all. I've seen many more beautiful paintings created by young artists in our digital era. I would also choose a sketch of a creatively designed beast over a photo-realistic landscape every time.

But maybe my opinion doesn't change the value of Mona Lisa, because I'm not an expert? Maybe you need special qualifications to be able to judge an artwork? Why, then, are you so happy when a stranger, not an artist or expert at all, leaves a positive comment under your artwork? They don't know what they're talking about, so it shouldn't matter!

The value of an artwork is all in your head and the heads of others. None of them is more true or right than others, though we tend to think that the more people share an opinion about something, the truer it is. And this is how we come back to the concept of small communities.

how to judge art value

We can say that all the people commenting on your artwork make such a small community. If there are, let's say, ten of them, and if all ten give you positive comments, this is 100% admiration. Now imagine that an 11th commenter comes along, bringing some negative opinion. Even though it's just one negative comment, your 100% value has been broken and will never be fixed again! So, even though that one commenter is worth the same as every positive one, you may treat them as an intruder and enemy.

But here comes one unfavorable fact: even if all your commenting community agrees upon the extraordinary value of your artwork, it doesn't mean there aren't even more people not liking it at all—they just weren't interested enough to come and let you know. But because they aren't part of your community, their unspoken opinion doesn't matter.

how to tell if im good enough judgement rate system
Your information may suggest the graph of popularity of your artwork looks like A, but you never know if it's complete—maybe with a bigger sample of commenters it would look more like B?

So, can you really tell if you're good enough by the comments of others? I don't think so. You may get a lot of positive opinions just by drawing something they like, no matter how amateurishly in technique. You may get a lot of negative comments just by posting to a site with higher standards, and accordingly, get a lot of positive ones just by avoiding sites like that. Also, the lack of any comments doesn't mean you're deliberately being ignored—maybe you're just invisible among all the other artists trying to make it. And what about comments from people who don't share your views on aesthetics?

how to decide if im good

And, after all, who are they to tell if you're allowed to draw? You don't hurt anyone by posting your "not good enough" artwork online. You don't force anybody to look at it. But, accordingly, you can't force them to think positively about your artwork. You don't owe them good art, and they don't owe you admiration.

Sometimes you may meet people who go and tell you, out of the blue, that your drawings suck and you should feel ashamed. This is because they're under the impression that by posting your art online you're saying, "My art is beautiful", and they must let you know they disagree. You yourself agree with this approach, when you think: "I'm not good enough to post my art online". You may have other reasons to share your works than to show off, right? The fact of posting alone doesn't mean you feel equal to the best of Internet artists! If someone acts as if you did, ignore them—they're not worth your attention.

The Hell of Comparison

I saved one very important definition of "good enough" for the end, because it's based on every other definition we've already described. This one comes from awareness that there are many great artists out there, talented and practicing for ages, and here you are, struggling to draw a stick figure. How can you ever reach their level? Why would you even try, to get ridiculed?

Look how it derives from the other definitions:

  • If I draw worse than them, it means I'm worse than them (basing your self-esteem on the admiration you get).
  • They've been practicing for years, so I'll never catch up with them (the fear of slow progress).
  • They're already so popular, the competition is just too strong (the disbelief you'll ever find clients).
  • They'll compare my drawings to theirs and they'll die of laughter (the fear of unfavorable comparison).

All these fears come from the belief that the value of their art influences the value of yours. After all, if all these great artists suddenly died out, you would be the best! However, this way of thinking is close to the attitude: "I'm unhappy that my neighbor bought a new car, because it made me look poor."

Your art doesn't change because someone is better or worse. If you draw something for yourself and you like it, why does it matter if some professional draws better? When you're eating a pizza, does it taste bad only because someone in the world is having a sumptuous dinner?

comparison makes unhappy

The fear of unfavorable comparison is another adaption mechanism leading to self-improvement at a cost of suffering. Comparison is our way to tell if something, seemingly neutral, is good or bad. A child doesn't know that its drawings are anything other than they are, until it notices that adults react more positively to certain ones. These drawings are called "good", and the others, by comparison, are "bad".

But these "good" and "bad", in the case of art, are only labels. They mean nothing more than "I like it". Nothing stops us from changing the label when we meet something better; a good object automatically becomes bad only because there's a better one.

comparison better is the enemy of good
The artwork itself doesn't change, but its value isn't dependent on it

Therefore, you can't control whether you're "good enough"—in terms of comparison it will mean "as good as others", and you don't have any power over how good others are perceived to be. In fact, they don't either—you're all in the same situation!

Doesn't it sound absurd? No matter what you do, how many art schools you finish, you can never make yourself "good enough". It's others who judge it, not you. Sure, you can analyze their criteria and try to fit them, but for what? And what if you don't agree with their criteria?

The only way to get out of the hell of comparison is to have faith in your own opinion. Do you like your art? Great! If you don't like it, work on it until you do. Don't let others decide what and how you should draw, only because they, the majority, like it some particular way.

No matter how good you are, there will always be people better than you, in one aspect or another. Accept this fact, and try to feel it with all your heart. The only person you should compare to is yourself from yesterday. 

After all, other people are too different from you to compare by just one aspect. Maybe they started years before you. Maybe they attended various art schools. Maybe they met someone who showed them the way. If you took it all into account, it could turn out that you're actually better than them, considering your circumstances! But does it really matter?

Conclusion

Because good art evokes admiration, it's easy to come to the conclusion that it's the only purpose of it. Therefore, most people are afraid to even try to draw, because they may fail. You need to understand that failure is completely normal and even expected when you're a beginner, but also that it's you who defines it. The real way is to accept failures and go on despite them, not to avoid them altogether.

If after weeks of practice all you do is draw stick horses, what's bad about that? Random people around you may tell you it's not good enough for them, but why would you care? Sure, it's nice to feel admired, but it's also so easy to become a slave of this feeling. Learn how to manage without praise as your fuel, and soon your art will be worth admiration without your intention.

Your drawings are good if you like them, and good enough if you accept them as they are. When you say "I don't like my art because others don't like it", it's not the fault of others that you don't like it—you yourself gave them too much power over what you're allowed to like. And if you don't feel strong enough, draw for yourself only. Enjoy it without any pressure, with the only goal that matters—to improve for yourself.

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