Karaoke And Your Inner-Critic

A whole new world,

(Don’t you dare close your eyes.)

A hundred thousand things to see…

(Hold your breath, it gets better…)

I’m like a shooting star,

I’ve come so far,

I can’t go back to where I used to be.

The two tiny japanese girls belted that Disney love ballad like Celine Dion.

…if she was both drunk and tone-deaf.

They were terrible.

…and not just “untrained” terrible.

They were so bad that, if not for the karaoke backing-track and the memorable lyrics, their rendition would have been completely unrecognizable.

But they brought the house down. The crowd at the karaoke bar loved them. Most importantly, the tiny singers were loving every minute of it.

That got me thinking about how old and grumpy we “serious artists” can get.

What is it about our intense desire for artistic growth and obsessive focus on our freelance and/or studio careers that so often spoils our fun?

Is it possible for a serious artist to regain the ignorant bliss of the karaoke bar?

Your Inner-Critic:

Statler & Waldorf on 'The Muppet Show'The karaoke girls had no idea how bad they were.

…or maybe they did but they were just having too much fun to care.

Either way, their singing voices were louder than the voices of their inner-critics.

But if you’re a serious artist, you listen closely to your inner-critic.

Your inner-critic tells you to go to art museums, read books on painting, wake up earlier, draw from life, finish your projects, reach out, tweak your portfolio and stop wasting time.

It lets you know what you don’t know.

Your inner-critic is essential to your artistic growth.

…until it starts lying to you.

Your inner-critic is essential to your artistic growth. …until it starts lying to you.
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The Critic Wants To Be In-Charge.

Kronk and his "shoulder devil" from 'The Emperor's New GrooveIf you don’t keep your inner-critic under control it’ll never shut up.

And it’ll keep going unless a trusted friend comes along and interrupts the conversation or you experience something like what happened at the karaoke bar.

But what if you don’t interrupt your inner-critic?

Well, eventually, your inner-critic will bump into your inner-fears at a company mixer and after commiserating over wine and cheese, they’ll decide that you’re unfit to lead.

Then they’ll gang up on you and fill your head with lies.

Their goal is to get you so frustrated and depressed that you give them control of the whole operation.

And if you put your inner-critic in charge, you’ll live in fear, you’ll never take risks and you’ll consider giving up.

And every time you discover something you don’t know, your inner-critic will condemn you:

“I’ll never be good enough.”

…and that’s how we get old and grumpy.

Spoiled by seriousness.

Why So Serious?

There are people who believe that “art is meant to be fun” and that’s all.

To them, art is karaoke. Art is just play time.

I’m glad they’re having fun. As I’ve said before: Art is a discipline, not a punishment.

…but I’ve never met one successful professional who thinks that art is always fun, all the time.

I understand how tempting it is to just completely tune-out the inner-critic.

But if you do that, it’s back to the karaoke bar.

So how do you remain a serious artist but keep the inner-critic under control?

You master the art of serious fun.

Ignorance Is Bliss?

Glen Keane draws RapunzelConsider the true living legends like Glen Keane, Paul Lasaine, Bill Perkins and James Gurney.

These guys aren’t exactly karaoke artists.

They’re masters of the craft.

They haven’t tuned-out the inner-critic and yet they never stopped having fun.

…and they’re anything but old and grumpy.

You get them talking about art and they start acting like those tiny girls at the karaoke bar. It’s true. I’ve met most of them in person. I’ve seen it happen.

So what is the difference between these serious artists and those who succumb to the tyranny of the inner-critic?

It’s simple.

These living legends are inspired by their own ignorance, not intimidated by it.

When the inner-critic points out something they don’t know – they celebrate.

The discovery of something new creates a chain-reaction of curiosity.

Here’s a personal example: Each of these guys has, at some point, expressed interest in my art, my site and my life. They asked me questions. They asked my opinion about the topic! With Bill and Paul, I’ve had marathon conversations about the craft. Living legends – just talking my ear off about composition or edge control or whatever..

The only reason they would even give me the time of day is if they love to know about things they don’t know about. Even when it’s just some young goofball with a beard and a blog (that’s me).

And the vibe, my friends. The vibe. These dudes are so positive… …so passionate.

Glenn Keane, Paul Lasaine, Bill Perkins and James Gurney have all mastered the art of serious fun.

Serious fun.

Not karaoke but not old and grumpy.

They have the inner-critic under control.

Inspired By Ignorance:

So, the next time your inner-critic starts nagging you for a promotion you say “no” and remind it that it’s lucky to have a job at all.

And then tell it get back to work.

When it points out all the stuff you don’t know, start celebrating because you’ve just discovered…

(Yep. I’m about to go there…)

A whole new world,

(Every turn a surprise…)

With new horizons to pursue…

(Sorry. I tried to resist, honestly…)

Comment and Share:

Have you put your inner-critic in charge? Tell us what you’re going to do about that…

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{ 109 comments… read them below or add one }

Valerie

Its amazing how every time you post something, its always seems to fit into my timeline of events.

Just graduated from school last week and had a karaoke session. Gonna start work next week and the current thing I am worried about is whether my own critiques can be trusted since my life from now on will be instructor-less.

Luckily, for our last lesson, we had a chance to critique our classmates’ final works and I felt a really great vibe when I realize(again) that I am surrounded by people who can help in my work and give me positive vibes!

Was just wondering about how can I lead my new life working in the industry with limited amount of newfound confidence and this entry came. Thanks for being such a psychic! Cheers!

And take care of your health! :)

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ChrisOatley

Thanks, Valerie.

Well, your life doesn’t ever need to be instructor-less.

Some of the most exciting opportunities for art-education lie outside of traditional art school. Whether it’s local life drawing sessions or Oatley Academy (Shameless plug!) or something else, you should always continue to find good instructors to help you with your artistic growth.

Also, I recommend forming a circle of trust if you haven’t already: http://www.paperwingspodcast.com/2012/07/critique-groups/

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Andy

It’s funny, I just got nagged by my inner critic after about 3-4 weeks of back-breaking portfolio work that, while doing it, I was conviced I was awesome. I then released the work to various online galleries and got some good success. More awesome. Then I reviewed my whole portfolio and concluded that I suck.

But like you say, I should maybe say that I suck with a smile on my face because it’s the not-so-good artists that don’t even know they suck! And I know a few!

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Whoa Andy!!! What a statement!

That is one thing that I too have seen and wish for the best for those artists. If I see that they don’t know how much they have left to learn I think its either ignorance to what is still waiting for them or my heart goes out to them because they are in denial.

The latter is heartbreaking because they have put up a wall against their learning. I had fellow student in school who was a few years older and a GREAT artist. I had so much envy of him and wanted to be like him so bad that I soaked up as much as I could from him and through the late hours and miles of tears, I did what I could to learn. He and his situation were a great teacher because I used what he meant to me to push myself. Eventually he stopped and I continued. I greatly appreciate him and I pray that he pick up his awesome talent again.

All of this is to say that I want badly to support those people that have an honest, natural talent but end up stopping short and becoming that “denial” artist. My internal critic beat me over for 2 years of my life. I sat in denial and thought I had no more to learn…boy, was I wrong! Ha!

Andy, here are some words I have tried to live by and I hope you throw them against your portfolio hard! “Never doubt yourself yet never think yourself supreme.”

P.S. – I freak’n love your work!

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ChrisOatley

One of my Oatley Academy students encountered this “not-so-good-artist-obliviousness” earlier this week.

Another artist (not an Oatley Academy student) asked him for feedback on a painting. The painting was a mess. It was one of those “I don’t even know where to start” situations.

My student made one, constructive comment to this other artist (who had already invited the constructive criticism) and this other artist immediately started defending the area of the painting in question.

He rationalized the fault in the composition by explaining that my student was just looking at the painting from the wrong angle.

This other artist has so completely tuned-out the inner-critic that he can’t even receive some gentle (not to mention SIMPLE) constructive criticism from someone who is clearly a much better artist.

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Sarah

Thanks for this! It’s always nice to gain a new perspective.

I’ve been pretty hard on myself lately for not doing the “appropriate” steps to becoming a full-fledged animator, and just sort of bogging myself down with all sorts of negativity and anxiety about what I haven’t done and didn’t know…
and realized that I was so stressed out that I could barely breathe.

Sometimes it’s hard to have fun when you’re under constant deadlines (like my current freelance gig) but I find my ways to do so.

Serious fun. :)

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ChrisOatley

Deadlines can make it harder. Deadlines can make everything harder.

…but that’s the path of the professional. We have to find a way so we can experience serious success without turning old and grumpy.

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Andrew Cothill

Always so pertinant Mr Oates, sir! You’re like the bezier handles on my learning curve. You’ve opened my eyes to…. “A whole new wor–” now you’ve got me singing it xD

Still, this will take a while to seep in and i may need to re-read this a few times to overlay it onto my experieces and make it click. between yourself, Matt Kohr, me, some blind, unthinking 0200am effort and a generous dollop of reflection; i think my educational journey is solid!

All the best and thankies! (exchange rate gives about 1x”Many Thanks” to every “Thanky”*)

*not redeemable for cash or hugs

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

“Bezier handles on my learning curve”…!!!!

Andrew! You are one of my new best friends! That was brialliant!!!!!

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Mary Claire

…. I can’t help but also comment on the epic use of bezier handles!!!!!!!!

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ChrisOatley

Yeah. That was genius.

Not redeemable for HUGS?! What kinda craziness is THAT?!

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KlausPillon

One more time you’re in my mind! I’m always nagged by my inner critics, and yes, some days they take control on me and I can’t do anything, but in the end I always end up beat them, it just take more or less time!
When you have a passion like the artistic ones, it can get really tough mentally speaking I think, but fortunately you are always there to remind us what a passion is, and that someday efforts can be rewarded!
Many thanks for helping us in the constant fight that happens in our brains!

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ChrisOatley

You’re welcome, Klaus!

That’s why I’m here!

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Aaron

Hey Chris,

First time caller here, I have been reading the blog and listening to this and the paper wings podcast for about 6 months now and I love everything you do sir. Very inspirational stuff. Thanks very much for the hard work you put into these things.

I had to comment on this one because it is hitting home for me right now, I work at a game company and right now we are in the concept phase of a new project and my inner critic is trying to beat me down at the moment. At a time when I should be having the most fun my inner critic is telling me I’m just not good enough and I get discouraged. I always try to have a positive attitude so I can mostly keep it in check but this article just struck a cord with me at the perfect time.

So thanks for the inspiration, I have some fun/work/learning to get to.

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Aaron, fellow Winger here. It is awesome to see you here too (I really needed this too). I just want to pass something on to you real quick…

break stuff.

Remember when you were a kid and you just grabbed a toy and threw it across the room just to see what it hit and then knocked down? Now, get out a bbbbiiiiigggggg piece of paper and break things on it. Remind yourself of the breaking stage and apply it to your concept work. mess things up, toy with it and throw your “legos” across the canvas. Don’t worry about what you have to clean up, concepting is not clean and it requires the joy of breaking things. Make a mess and remind yourself that you are blessed enough to get paid for it.

Now go, trash some cash!

Best be to yee,
Captain

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Meghann

In response to another comment; Chris you must have your finger on the pulse of the artistic stream of consciousness, in other words you’re psychic. This weeks email made me check myself, hard. My inner-critic and I have been butting heads all week over the concept work for my second volume, and second graphic novel ever. Deadlines are looming. Nothing is good enough.
Concept work is not something I find easy in the slightest. I’ve never really been one to do planning for my paintings. The first volume of this series just sort of flowed from me. ( That probably explains the mixed feed back I’ve been getting and the confusion some of my readers have experienced. ) This in mind I’ve had a horrible time feeling confident with any decisions regarding the second volume. The script is more or less at a standstill and the concept drawings are not anything like I’ve been wanting to see from myself.
Captain Dutz, your words are magic to me. Like ice on a sprained ankle, I feel like it’s not ‘me’, it’s just the hurdle I need to get the most out of the process. I’m not looking at my concepts like a burden anymore, but as a prism of sorts with which to rediscover my ideas. Thank you all for sharing your perspectives. I normally skip the comments when I read online, but never on this site from here on out!
I’m feeling refreshed and refocussed to get back to work armed with a new perspective ( and new writing stratagies via paper wings! ). I have every confidence that I can accomplish my goals, ‘one next step’ at a time. Thank you again!

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ChrisOatley

Hey, Aaron!

Yeah, the inner-critic can go nuts when we step out of our comfort zones. But that’s actually a good sign. As I talked about two weeks ago, pain is evidence that you’re growing as an artist.

http://chrisoatley.com/painting-starts-with-pain/

Not to be contrarian to you and Captain Dutz, but concept art isn’t always fun. It’s a craft that requires discipline like any other kind of art. I’m not sure why so many young artists think concept art is just all fun and games either. It’s problem-solving. It’s really hard work that requires a high level of endurance and focus…

But the breakthroughs you experience when you buckle down, power through and create something good in spite of the struggle makes it all worth it.

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Thanks for catching me on my off point, Chris! I forget that my approach is not always the best ( I still need to calm my crazy with reality ) and I don’t do concept art professionally so my discipline is skewed. I DEFINITELY want to learn more about doing concept art better!

Awesome stuff! I love knowing there is still room to grow!

Onward to excellence!

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Jenny

Very well put! I struggle against my inner critic frequently and, as you say, I regularly see how it pushes me ever onward to creating better art. But too often I let it prey on my fears. Being a self-taught artist and self-employed freelance with paying jobs coming in fits and starts contribute to my fears, and the inner-critic knows just what to say to exploit them.

Sometimes it gets to me – anxiety attacks are often the result. But most of the time? I realize how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned in only a few short years. The inner-critic hadn’t driven me to quit during then, therefore it has no power to do so now or in the future. Hope that makes sense :D

Thank you for another inspiring and honest blogpost!

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ChrisOatley

Yeah, Jenny! That’s right! Show that inner-critic who’s boss!

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Greg Horvath

Chris, your blog posts are some of the best morning motivators and I look forward to them whenever you post them. I’ve even taken to writing down your main quotes and keep them handy in my studio when I start to loose my Flow, thank you.

I just got done fighting with my inner-critic last night, and every so often it keeps creeping up telling me that what I’m doing to pay the bills is all I’m good at, but ever since I started my web comic I have been able to calm it down.

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ChrisOatley

Great that you’re finding motivation here on the site, Greg! Thank you for saying that.

You bring up an important point – personal projects are a great way to “change the subject” and interrupt the conversation with the inner-critic when it has us wandering, lost in the vagaries of professional work.

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Lulie

Lying to yourself and getting into a depressed state is *uncritical*. It happens when you *give up* real criticism and just stop at thoughts like “I should do X” (where the reasons are vague and more about bullying yourself than actually giving a good reason, a good criticism of what you currently do and why X is better).

So I don’t think it’s your ‘inner critic’ that’s to blame. It’s when you start thinking of your inner critic as an authority instead of as a source of ideas that may help.

You said Gurney and that lot have serious fun, and that the reason is that they’re inspired by their ignorance. I think that’s exactly right. They’re not intimidated by their inner critic, because they know it’s only there to help them, direct them to interesting problems, and is not infallible.

Chris, I’ve heard you mention a couple times (like here and the Paper Wings episode on crit) something along the lines of “criticism can be good for growth but sucks to hear”, or that you need to go to some lengths make sure the crit is *constructive* or whatever. I don’t think this is right. Criticism is AWESOME. (And low-quality criticism is just trivial and nothing to be upset about. They were wrong, big deal. Or they were malicious/idiots/whatever, who cares if it doesn’t actually give you information about how to improve.)

If you’re feeling bad about it, that’s because you’re taking an *uncritical* attitude — you have some subconscious criticism of the idea (the bad feeling), and instead of trying to work that out and see if it has a point, it gets ignored.

So people get into a loop — they think this negative thing that makes themselves feel bad, and instead of criticising that negative thing and discovering the actual truth or a solution, they think somehow they ‘ought’ to take it on its word. If they were more critical — if they were fascinated by problems and driven by an intense curiosity to discover their solutions — they wouldn’t feel that way.

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ChrisOatley

I’m glad you’ve found a way to reconcile this, Lulie. While I don’t agree with some of the details, in essence we are saying the same thing.

It’s just important to keep in mind that it’s not as easy for everyone reading as it might be for you.

Thanks for sharing.

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Lulie

Yes of course, I would never want to give someone criticism they wouldn’t like.

I do think it’s possible (though in many cases, hard) to genuinely change one’s attitudes towards criticism, but that in no way means one should pressure people to or give them unwanted criticism.

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Christine

I needed to read this, so thank you so much. I can’t wait to search the names of the artists you listed in this blog. Thanks again.

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ChrisOatley

Great to hear, Christine.

You can click on their names for links to sites with more info about each of them.

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Andrea Femerstrand

Hey Chris!

Thanks for another awesome blog post. Been reading and listening to your podcasts for about two years now, and they never fail to inspire.

It’s really funny, cause I felt a bit down last week because of the same reasons, not feeling that I was good enough and so on. So this particular post was just perfect for me to get back on track – thank you so much!

Keep up the awesome work :)
Greetings from Sweden.

//Andrea

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ChrisOatley

Thanks for your support through the long-haul, Andrea!

So glad you’re finding value in my site. Keep in touch!

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Doug McGuire

Chris,
Great words…I appreciate you putting the time in to actually think through and articulate these issues. So often, I think we simply deal with them (or don’t) and don’t take the time to slow down and see what’s really going on in our heads.

I met James Gurney here in Columbus when he came through and you are spot-on. He is a master at the craft, but extremely approachable and “fun”.

Thanks for the reminder and for your continuing positive attitude even when you’re under the weather.

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ChrisOatley

Thanks, Doug. Yeah, JG is awesome. He’s the only one of the aforementioned living legends I haven’t met in person. But we’ve exchanged a few emails. Love that guy.

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Jennifer Sese

Dear Oats,

The concept of the inner-critic has always been a very difficult thing for me to understand fully. But with this post, I’ve come to realize that although it’s good to be critical with the technicalities of art (i.e. the formal elements-color, composition, etc), in addition to other important elements, I should loosen up more often. After all, if character design is what I want to do as a career, I should have more fun!

I have to admit though, it’s okay to be both critical and fun. But critical in the sense that I’m analyzing what is both awesome about a work and what can be further improved on. Overall, I should look at the whole and have fun with it.

Thank you Oats. I know what I got to do!

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ChrisOatley

That’s exactly it, Jennifer. It’s a balance. …and it’s all about how we perceive what we don’t know.

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Melissa

Hi Chris!
Thanks again for the wonderful as always blog posts. I shan’t tell a lie – I think I’ve let my inner critic have way too much control here as of late. Its the old spinning thoughts thing, until it spirals into a giant morass and even thinking of trying to make an image is stressful.

I think one of the things that can help is to not become isolated from other creatives. This happens a lot to art school grads. We go out into the world and some of us have to get “real jobs” to pay for things – and we get removed from other creatives.

Even if its just through Deviant Art, Illustration Friday, twitter ect – reach out and talk to people!

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ChrisOatley

That’s right on, Melissa! Gotta join a circle of trust!

http://www.paperwingspodcast.com/2012/07/critique-groups/

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Andrea Femerstrand

Oh, one more thing: I hope that you feel better soon! :)

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ChrisOatley

Thanks, Andrea! I’m still just a *little* shaky but overall, feeling much, MUUUUUCH better today.

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Scott Wiser

Well, I almost to a year of unemployment – and my inner-critic has had some hay-days during this time, but I’m proud to say he never got a promotion. I bet I would have had less blue days if I had “celebrated the opportunity to learn something new” more often. Unfortunately, my knee-jerk reaction is to feel discouraged, which is often silly because once I’m back to work, discovering new things, giddy as a school-chap, there’s no room for discouragement. And here’s the cool news – to celebrate my first year of unemployment (on the exact day, in fact) I’ll be sending my finished Misfit Supers picture book to the digital publishers – take THAT inner critic! You tried to convince me this wasn’t my thing, but look how I’ve grown and discover that … Whole New World. Yeah, I’m going to animate again, but I’ll be that much better when I do. Great Post Chris, every day we cross paths is a blessing to me.

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Keep on being your awesome self Scott. Thank you for doing what I cannot right now and I want to watch your book blow up!

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ChrisOatley

Wow. This comment is an inspiration-packed post in and of itself, Scott.

Congrats on the Misfit Supers book. That’s awesome!

So glad to know you.

You’re a GOOD animator. Hang in there. Stay strong.

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Amanda Acton

I find singing really loudly and badly quite therapeutic… generally don’t do this with an audience though. It’s more a personal meditation. I was recently going through some pretty emotional stuff and took that idea into art. I grabbed a canvas and some acrylics and just went at it. Whatever came into my head, got painted.. then other stuff got smooshed over it and so on. Is it a good piece of art? Heck no… but it made me feel a lot better. :P

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ChrisOatley

Amanda! Sing it out, sister!

I’ll join you… “(Hold your breath, it gets better…)”

;)

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Tim

DUDE! Did you like totally read my mind through these cyber tubes? This entire thing is almost written to me personally, well okay maybe not the WHOLE thing, but the part about being old and grumpy for sure. Is 40 all that old? I guess when you’re a cynical grouch it multiplies your real age by like 1.675 or something like that

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Ha ha! I think we all need to start wearing foil helmets….or the Oatley will make us better artists or something!

And no, 70 is not too old (40×1.675 then carry the grouch), it just means that you are 7x a 10 year old! That is awesome! Congrats!

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ChrisOatley

You’ve got it, Tim. How does the saying go? It’s not the years in your life but the life in your years…

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Ahoy!!!

Hi, my name is Derrick and I have lost a battle to my inner critic…

(Hi Derrick)

Yep, I lost and ran away (avoided) my drafting table for almost 2 years. Yeah, that sucked. Then I remembered why I ever even started art in the first place; art is one of the things in my life that helps me to value me. It helps me be whole. Art is something that I was made for.

That cannot be put aside.

I am better now than I was back then and I also know what I could loose if I stop…a piece of me. The rest of my world is too important for me to attack it as an incomplete person.

The biggest struggle I face right now against my critic is balance. I am a professional graphic designer, so “artist” in many respects, but my livelihood is based on droning out fliers and collateral. It is really cool but there is a whole half of my skills set that is barely touched. I can illustrate. I really enjoy it. I fear that it is not strong enough and honed enough to properly supplement my income. I am working on my first children’s/all-ages book but getting it from my drawing table to the world and creating the impact and income that I would need scares the poop outta me. I have to “balance” all of that against getting freelance graphic design gigs that will put money in the pocket.

That is the serious side.

The fun…sketchbook!! I have picked up a 70 page 8×11 book for $4 from Walmart and it is awesome! Just having it at hand means so much. It helped to initiate a new sketch series that lead to some really awesome, gamey, geeky fun finished pieces that I posted on my blog and sent out to people. I even had a friend that printed a couple copies of one 24″ x 32″ and set one to me. The whole project was fun and made me feel good. It just reminded me about what I (and others) enjoyed about my art. Just jump over to my site and look for the post titled “Deck Monsters” if you wanna geek out.

Ok, I’ve talked enough, sorry.

Best be to yee,
Captain Dutz

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Scott Wiser

Wow, Cap’n. You’re building an epic Thor drawing has taken your work to a WHOLE new level. Way to go!

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Thanks Scott!!! would you believe that I made that back when I was in school in ’07! Yeah, it is still in my portfolio as a piece of pride.

here is one of my latest, it is the colored version of one of my Deck Monster Series sketches. It came straight from a sketchbook drawing and then I accented with colors and effects in Photoshop. Whew, it was a blast! (and yeah, its supposed to be scary)

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-5IxHTqCocVw/UF8-QK30uTI/AAAAAAAAA6Y/SfEMalt8VTI/s1600/Deck+Monster+Series+-+Black+%2526+Green+Color.jpg

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Tim

the part about missing a part of yourself ,ad the graphic design thing kind of struck a note of familiarity with my own situation. fr the past 8 years I have been a digital imaging specialist (AKA photoshop man.) of product photography so I work on cans of soup and boxes of cereal and bread bags and crap all day. I was interested in that at first but… well I have done no real creative anything except a few pieces of vector clipart about 4 years ago which I see as barely qualifying as creative.

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

you know Tim, I think in situations like this we have to make our own balances. I think that there are more creatives wanting to be geeky & artist-y than there are jobs for that. I realized a while back that “fun” design is really limited to agency work (because they get a huge variety of clients) and per project bases which really only happens on freelance and personal projects. Otherwise, we fun creatives need to find our way into creative, entertainment-based companies like Disney, Pixar DreamWorks and many smaller ones.

This is not a bad thing, it just means that we need to be more personally disciplined and intentional. I had to choose to create a big project, Kodi the Starfish (my all ages comic/book), to dump all of the energies into. It has been a real world changer.

In reality, we need to make money and most of the world needs designers to help them conduct business and promote products. Its not glamorous but it does pay. I have been with my company for 4 1/2 years and within the year I will be transitioning to an agency (i am determined) to get myself closer to that variety and to put myself into a position that will allow me to grow more. I am peaked here because it is a small department in a manufacturing company. I am looking forward to it.

I am right there with you bud, just find something to use as “glue” to keep that neglected piece of yourself attached to the rest of you. I know you are capable.

Best to ya

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ChrisOatley

Yeah, I’ve been getting a lot of emails and tweets from my subscribers who have recently (and seriously) considered just giving up. Although I understand, that just breaks my heart.

Don’t give up. Demote the inner-critic.

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Jose-Luis Segura

My inner critic is a woman and she is brutal! No cracks about the comfort level of my masculinity… I’m quite comfortable.

Between me and her it’s always a tug of war. Needless to say, I think she’s made me a bit neurotic like her.

Great post though… my favorite line is the one about inner voice and inner fear teaming up. Priceless! Thanks for straightening me out. I needed that. Now, I just need to control my inner child.

Jose

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ChrisOatley

Oh, man, Jose! I wish I’d thought of “inner-child” while I was writing this! It would have been funny to try to work that in…

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Adam Hartlaub

Chris,

How is it that every time you write an article like this its completely relevant to my life? Not only have I struggled with this before myself, but my girlfriend (who I might add isn’t necessarily a visual artist, but a pianist; an artist of a different craft) let’s her inner-critic get to her all the time. She thinks she absolutely sucks sometimes and is afraid to play in front of people when in fact she plays very well. The inner-critic instills fear and lack of confidence in her with something she’s perfectly capable of doing. And I have helped her through it thankfully.

That totally relates to your part about having a friend who knows when to pull you away from the inner-critic. I totally agree! We all need someone or something to support us, to remind us when to have the inner critic back off sometimes so we don’t drive ourself insane.

I even remember reading an article a few years back about Eddie Van Halen having a very similar problem. And most people consider him to be an extremely talented guitarist, but he too suffered from the inner-critic, and actually wound up seeking counseling to get through it.

This can actually become a very serious issue for some people, and we all just have to remind ourselves to stay in control of it, or rather focus our mindset on just enjoying what we love doing and learning more about it, just like Glen Keane.

Thanks Chris, you always seem to know what to say. :)

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ChrisOatley

Thanks, Adam. That’s really encouraging.

I don’t know how I “know what to say” but I’m glad I’m saying thing that help. I just try to listen well to my fellow artists online and in person.

Awesome story about Eddie. It’s always encouraging to hear that the legends struggle with the same things we do.

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Matt Westfall

Awesome article, Chris. I know that I have trouble struggling with my inner critic. It’s so bad sometimes that I don’t finish things that I start. Having a different point of view on it will certainly help me put it in its place and get down to having some serious fun with my own artistic education.

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Chris Oatley

Awesome, Matt. Be sure to let us know how it goes!

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Garry Lewis

Really great to hear (read) this today. After finishing a project many times i get that inner critic talking to me and leading me towards a depressive state. What you’ve written really helped to kick start me. Getting over that hump and back into a creative state. I’ll probably visualize this little inner critic from now on to help keep my mind in check.
Hope your feeling better bud.

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Chris Oatley

If you’re able to visualize your inner-critic, you could always sculpt a little maquette of it and sit it up on your shoulder when you work… #weirdideas

Ignore that last bit. Thanks, Garry. I am feeling MUCH better today.

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Mary Claire

I tend to over-think the simple things. So when it comes to complex things like… say, my life, I tend to make myself dizzy with constant second-guessing, re-evaluating, and mind-changing. I want to be the best I can be, but at the same time, I don’t want to suck all of the joy out of my work.
My comic René (in a million ways) is my big silencer for my inner-critic. I consciously ignored the nagging to do it this way or that, and instead just painted it the way I really wanted to. And I’m learning the pros and cons of that method. Then I changed the story. My inner-critic said I needed to base it off of something more popular (aka, generic superheros) but I decided to create a more normal protagonist. All these sorts of things…

Sometimes, this attitude results in drawing/writing blindly and it fails. But THAT is an appropriate time for the inner-critic to come in and critique *retrospectively*: What went wrong? Why? How can I avoid it next time? Evaluating mistakes is a hundred times more beneficial than perpetually trying to prevent them, in my (only recently formed) opinion.

I really like this article, particularly because I’m well aware that I’m too critical of my work, but I’m still trying to determine the right balance.

I hope you feel better soon, Chris! Stomach illnesses are the WORST.

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Chris Oatley

Thanks for sharing, Mary Claire!

It’s awesome to see how many artists mitigate the inner-critic with personal projects. That’s super-inspiring. I’m going to have to learn more about how that works for future posts…

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Petra van Berkum

That was good to read, thanks :).
I myself am sometimes a bit afraid that I’m actually not that critic at all, although I am..I really am. It’s like it goes back and forth from “I’m not good enough” to “I should draw way more”. But the thing is, if you don’t let yourself learn and grow, you never get there. Just don’t expect amazing things when you’re still young and just beginning. My inner critic doesn’t give me any space to make mistakes. The mistakes that are so important. But step by step I learn that it’s ok to take it slow and take my own steps and be more confident in myself!

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Chris Oatley

Right on, Petra.

The point is not to avoid mistakes. The point is to perceive mistakes as opportunities for growth and inspiration for new ideas and approaches.

Bob Ross was right when he coined the term “happy accidents.”

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Garrett McGillustrator

Hi, Chris!

Thanks for posting this. I totally agree about not being discouraged by your inner critic. It’s hard for me, because so often I get discouraged almost immediately after getting started, and the times I don’t and actually get finished, and maybe even enjoy my work for a bit the inner critic just catches up later and I can’t bear to look at it anymore and jobs all the pleasure I’d otherwise get.

When reviewing my own stuff, it’s almost like being backstage at a magic show; you see all the strings, so it seems way less magical to you than someone in the audience. I’ll get people that say stuff like “Wow, that’s great!”, and I’d say “thanks”, but don’t believe them because my mind goes over the process I used to get there, and thinks there isn’t much special about that.

What I’ve had to do instead is transform that inner critic into a frame of mind that says “You’re never done learning”; you try to take an instinct that would be by default negative, and instead use it to keep your mind open. It’s what you said about the animation greats–they’re exponentially more talented and experienced than me, but got that way by celebrating what they don’t know, and wanting to learn everything they could about it.

Anyway, thanks for the article. Hope to hear from you again soon!

-Garrett McGill

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Chris Oatley

That is great stuff, Garrett. “You’re never done learning.” Right on.

RE: Hearing from me: Right now, I’m thinking I’ll update weekly but take the last week of every month off. And I’ve been experimenting with days of the week (and surveying) and so far it seems like the best release schedule moving forward will be…

*New posts on Wednesdays…

and

*Key To Great Paintings Emails on Thursdays.

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Vince Aparo

Thanks Chris for that anecdote! I wanna have serious fun in MY art! just when things seem way too daunting I get this newsletter and am reminded to keep on trucking. :) I’m currently re-tweaking my portfolio and it’s hard goin through all your stuff or trying to make new pieces and you just aren’t satisfied with ANY of them. any suggestions on how I can imbue my portfolio with this serious fun you speak of?

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Chris Oatley

Vince,

Sometimes you just have to power through. C.S. Lewis said “It’s easier to act your way into feeling than it is to feel your way into acting.” And I think that’s really true. Sometimes the fun is buried under piles of fear or laziness or confusion and like the Tin Woodman in The Wizard Of Oz, we have to oil our creaky joints and start walking.

It also helps to have a mentor. You could consider Oatley Academy or another educational opportunity. Or just read some great books (about art or any other topic for that matter). I know that always gets me going. That’s why I read so much.

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Quinn Cole

I recently went to a gallery show at the local art museum. Many pieces were super creative and got my creative thoughts moving, but one series of vertical and horizontal lines stopped me in my tracks. Not that they were particularly awe inspiring (at least to me), but that my first thought was “I would have crumpled that up and thrown it away.” Sounds mean, huh? Stay with me.
What I took away from that AHA moment was that maybe, just maybe, I am too hard on myself! A lot of people at the show probably loved the series BECAUSE THEY GOT TO SEE IT. The artist didn’t immediately toss it due to self doubt. I finally got the lesson loud and clear. Thanks for your excellent reminder!

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Chris Oatley

Awesome, Quinn.

Yeah, if anything, artists tend to be too hard on themselves. Again, that’s why it’s so helpful to have a good mentor and a circle of trust.

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Jande

“[…]just some young goofball with a beard and a blog (that’s me).”
Heh! Sounds like the inner critic grabbed the tail end of that paragraph, Chris! <3

Fun article. Hope you feel much better really soon, too.

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Chris Oatley

Exactly! :)

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Monika Batchelor

Hi Chris!
I’ve been reading your emails and blog posts for a while now and thought I’d finally comment!
Very true about the inner critic, I am currently teaching myself how to draw, as it was always something I wanted to do, but of course someone was always telling me I wasn’t good enough to. Although I still don’t hold a candle to the amazing artists out there, each time I get down about that, I think of something you wrote in a previous post ‘Any kind of progress is still progress.’ I actually find I am loving the progress and loving getting better each day and believe with more constant practice and admiring work of amazing artists, I could be great one day!
I thought I’d also mention this artist to you, who I’m sure you already know, because he is just like the ones you mentioned, so passionate and excited about drawing everything and everyone and radiates enthusiasm, that is of course Iain McCaig! I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him now for over a year, and he inspired me to take his 6 month 1 hr a day drawing quest. I’m also half way through reading Betty Edwards book ‘Drawing on right side of the brain.’ So with those two quests and receiving emails of inspiration from you, I believe there is no better time for me to learn. I also just brought a Intuos4, so I can’t wait to play around on that!
Just thought I’d comment on this, and I look forward to meeting you at CTN Animation Expo, where I’ll be the Exhibitor Check in Assistant for the second year :) Best of luck for your preparations for the event!

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Chris Oatley

Oh, Sweet! Can’t wait to meet you, Monika!

Ian is awesome. Yes. Another living legend. I’d love to meet him some day.

Do you know about Matthew Archambault’s drawing site?

It’s a members-only kind of thing but it’s only $12.95 a month and it is awesome: http://ChrisOatley.com/dto (If you enroll through my link I get a 35% commission, BTW.)

So glad you’re making so much progress! That’s a fun season of growth to be in.

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Cynthia Blair

Chris, this is excellent! It illustrates the conflict I face daily. I must say, the Inner Critic usually wins when I feel tired and grumpy. But most days the joy of “making marks” (on any surface) keeps me thrilled to be alive and eager to explore new ways of doing it. I guess it’s all about balance.

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Chris Oatley

Indeed. Balance.

And just keeping an eye on that inner-critic to make sure she doesn’t over-step her boundaries.

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Caitlyn

Thanks for yet another thought provoking post.

I find it so incredibly hard to master the art of “serious fun” sometimes that even loud music can’t tune my own thoughts out. There has to be a happy medium between having fun with my designs and healthy critique. It’s just a matter of stepping through the threshold and finding the balance.

Hopefully, once I get there, I’ll find that loosening up will become so much easier!

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Chris Oatley

Yeah, Caitlyn, that’s the thing about balance… Just like trying to balance on a balance beam, it takes time to get good at it. And sometimes you wobble and have to make minor adjustments to STAY balanced. …and sometimes you just fall off and have to get back on.

…but it’s easier to balance on the balance beam if you’re moving forward.

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Joanna

Thank you for this post!

I was wondering… is it possible to be ¨not good enough¨ and ¨good enough¨ at the same time? Does that make sense? Or am I reading too much into this?

Perhaps the ¨I’m not good enough¨ statement is not per se my enemy. It’s the ¨I’ll NEVER be good enough¨ statement that is a blatant lie, mainly because it crucifies hope and anything without hope sucks the life out of you.

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Chris Oatley

I’m careful with my choice of words for this very reason.

You have hit the nail right on the head, Joanna. Yes. That IS the key difference. “I’ll NEVER be good enough” is a fatalistic thought. It’s a condemnation of the inner-critic.

But, of course, ANY serious artist will ALWAYS be able to find at least SOMETHING that they’re not YET good enough to do. But that’s where the “serious fun” comes in.

Well done.

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Lauren

Great post!
I’m just starting to put my portfolio together and I’m very overwhelmed! But I will keep what you said in mind so I can take more risks and stay positive!
Thanks so much!

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ChrisOatley

Yeah, Lauren! Stay strong!

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Perry

Very inspiring words as always Chris .

Perry

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ChrisOatley

Thanks so much, Perry.

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Lisa Wallace

I’m glad to read this post. I recently started getting severe beatings from my inner critic over my landscape painting ability, and feared I was going to crack. I had to step back and acknowledge that I’m still learning, and just do my best. Things got better. Thank you for reaching out to help us rise above our own worst enemy!

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ChrisOatley

Thanks, Lisa. Yeah, that inner-critic can be a real bully. All those legendary artists I mentioned got where they are by just doing their best.

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Lars Otterclou

Hey Chris,

just wanted to drop in and say thank you again for a good article!
“Serious fun” sums it up great for me!

/Lars O

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ChrisOatley

Oh that’s awesome, Lars! Thank you for telling me.

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Ryan James

Thank you so much for this post Chris. This is exactly what I needed to hear/read. My inner critic is a monster. He constantly keeps me down makes me feel like I’ll never be good enough, and never be good enough to take big risks, and it really holds me back, I second guess every move I make as an artist, and it has stopped me from enjoying the fact that I AM an artist. This was seriously a big eye opener, and a very uplifting post. Thank you again! Im gonna have to keep saying that to myself. Serious Fun Serious Fun Serious Fun!

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ChrisOatley

YES! That’s great, Ryan. It’s a tricky balance but it makes all the difference if you can find it.

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Chuck

When i made the transition from student to professionaI, i adopted a philosophy that kept the inner critic under control: if the client approves the work and pays for it, then the work is good. I could always improve next time. As long as i was paying my bills with my art, everything was fine.

The problem with this line of thought is: the inner critic hits hard every time work gets scarce. I then start to do all the things i shouldn’t suppose to: compare my work with other people’s, see a huge gap in quality and start wondering: “why bother trying?”. And there goes the enjoyment.

Thanks a lot for this post, Chris. I’ll take all of this under consideration.

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ChrisOatley

To be clear, Chuck. I disagree with the generally-accepted “don’t compare your work to other people” rule. In fact, I think it’s pretty much impossible NOT to compare work.

I think that much can be gained from comparing your own work and it’s by NOT comparing our work to what’s going on in the industry that we have so many artists aspiring to work in the industry who are clueless about where they need to improve.

Comparing your work only causes problems when the inner-critic is out of control. But if the inner-critic is doing it’s job the right way, then work-comparison can be incredibly effective and motivating.

For example, I’ve heard Glen Keane talk about how amazing the drawings of Michelangelo are and how he wants to be able to capture that power in his own work. GK is INSPIRED by how GREAT Michelangelo’s work is. …not defeated.

Healthy comparison is just one more balance achieved in getting our inner-critic under control.

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Lika

As amazing, as always! I think i have already lost to my inner-critic. that critic works only on myself, when it comes to someone else I become completely critic-less, starting to search for the good points. when it comes to me i go all depressed over tiny things that didn’t turn out to be as i wanted. everyday i discover so many things i dont know or i cant do. i guess its time to take over my inner-critic. start the fight again and.. may be make it draw. Be happy over those mistakes, no, not happy but ready, ready to take them on face to face and win. Expirience not only the joy of finding something i dont know, but also the joy of Learning that something.
Thank you very much, Chris. “Your inner-critic is essential to your artistic growth. …until it starts lying to you” awesome quote!!!

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Lika! It sounds like you’re fired-up! ;)

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Celina

Wow, that was beautiful. The last bit reminded me of a meditation technique I read where you treat your mind like a whining child (“I am in charge now!”) until it stays quiet.

I wonder, maybe you said this and I just became lost in translation because it’s three in the morning, but, how often do you feel we get our critic confused with our “gut” or intuition?

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Chris Oatley

That is a really thoughtful question, Celina. I think the frequency depends on the individual. I guess I think of “going with my gut” as a more of a heartfelt thing where my inner-critic, when he’s doing his job right, it more in my head.

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sean nicholes

Thanks for another great discussion, and at a time when ive been doubtful of myself. Im a bit of a mix. I enjoy the work up to the point i realize its a disaster. I find myself in what Matt Kohr refers to as “the monkey house” where youre oblivious to your own stink. Letting one good aspect of an image make me keep at it when there was a fatal error from the start that means i should abandon it. I often get criticized harshly bc i ALWAYS work outside my comfort zone. I was bad at blue based scenes. not anymore. Green is super hard to handle. Not for me, as i did so much hulk/tmnt/etc til i got it a little better. I guess this is somewhat a response to the struggle as well. Im a bit backwards than most artists. I know photoshop insanely well. I know comp, decent perspective, and all these other things artists forego, but am bad at things theyre good at, so since its assumed everyone knows these things, theres no one to teach them. Even endless studying of Gurney has not taught me the one thing that still makes me insane: Saturation levels of colors. They always seem washed out or too harsh. Id love a suggestion for a book that covers this. Maybe that Dice pixar book? Every piece i do gets ruined when i add color…

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Cheong Yi Wen

For colors I think the best solution is to go out and observe, get a sketchbook and watercolor pan sets and study the colors. The best way of studying is to observe real life situation, instead of just relying to theory. Even a master like James Gurney often do color studies or sketches in his sketchbook, that’s how he understand how different lighting affects the colors. I am going to buy a Daler Rowney watercolor pan set this Sat ( art supplies store is quite far) and start sketching!! Been only observing the colors by looking outside from the windows but no chance to record it, looking forward to use it!!!

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Chris Oatley

That’s great advice. Gurney’s Color and Light book is great as well as Alla Prima by Richard Schmid:

http://ChrisOatley.com/colorandlight
http://ChrisOatley.com/allaprima

(affiliate links)

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Cheong Yi Wen

Just finished reading all comment posts and not sure how much I’ve digested them but I’ve read them, one by one *sweats*, Chris, didn’t know you are so popular, XD. Inner critic has always nagged, maybe even bullied me whenever i’m starting a project. Though I felt scared, but still listen closely to what my inner critic can offer. During this process, usually I’ll feel down and depressed and often get frustrated, then finally snaps at one point starts to work like rage. Then feels happy when i get to solved lots of problem and finished something, xD. That’s usually how my process goes, though not really recommended to be mimicked =w=llll.

But what I’ve always realised is that ideas or concept or anything during the planning flows better when you throw in bunch of messy stuff then try to clean or arrange them into a better one. It’s like what Chris mention in The Gustav Klimt Drawings: Inside The Mind Of A Master Draftsman post, the more you sketch, the better and clearer your intention would be.

Been starting to stop thinking of images in my mind and instead starts to sketch and correct the mistakes as I go, letting the inner critic do its job after i finished a sketch, and the results are great!! And i have lesser headache now, happy~^^

and raging is fun, though it’s not advisable to do it in front of your friends or family, cuz you might scare them…. ^^;;; (i did….and they kinda go away when i’m all silent and frowning, XD)

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Chris Oatley

Yeah. You are so right. The actual final illustration has ENOUGH problems of it’s own. It’s best to solve as many as possible before we start the final piece.

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Shawna JC Tenney

Chris your class has helped me discover the new horizons and a whole new world. Art is exciting again for me. Thank you for the inspiration.

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Chris Oatley

Thank you SO MUCH, Shawna! I SOOOO appreciate the encouragement.

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Edward Charles Thomas III

This Article is EXACTLY what I’ve been going through since College. I never had this over critical judgement of myself until I thought I had to please my professors. Trying to please them defeated the purpose of my imagination. Then, I felt discouraged there on after and now it’s constantly bugging me!

After reading this, I feel a bit relieved with my situation. Thank you so much for your amazing blog, food for though and sharing your experiences to the masses! This has really helped me! Now, I have to take charge and start disciplining – Lets do this!

Be Safe! Edi <3

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Shona

Dude you are so right!! Every time I try to do something I feel so rushed its like “You don’t have enough time” and I end up making a mess of things and I get so restless whenever I forcefully keep myself in pace. But this makes a lot of sense thanks Oat.

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Jason pickthall

As many that have commented this resonates alot at the minute. The problem is amplified by the fact you can call up any one of a pure brilliant artist at a touch of a button via the internet just to torture yourself!

The trick is to try and be consistant with what you are trying to achieve i guess. Alot of times i think im making progress only to bump into a style that is awesome but thats contrary to everything i was trying to achieve in the first place. Somehow you need a kind of mission statement or something but that seems too serious and stops you from having fun and doing something whimsical. I drive myself mad chasing styles and doubting the work i do and im supposed to be a senior!

I was collating work for a new website and the work looked like it was from a number of people and im still not sure if thats good or not

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Carole Pivarnik

Such a good post. You should record it as a podcast shorts so we can listen to it repeatedly…and yes, WITH singing. Totally serious :P

I find that my sketchbooks are somewhat of an antidote in silencing the negative inner critic that preys on self-doubt. In my sketchbooks, I feel free to explore, work stuff out, and develop skills without giving a single thought to whether what I do there is terrible or not. I can just go with the creative flow, so to speak. But lots of stuff does get figured out in those sketchbook pages that helps me proceed more confidently with finished work. This is true for both commissioned work and stuff I want to paint just for myself (or for exhibits).

The other thing is that the more work I do, the sooner I am able to recognize when a piece has gone irredeemably off the rails–which is a good thing because it gives that inner critic far fewer opportunities to nag me. I basically just cut her off at the knees! This might not be such an issue for digital artists but as someone who works mainly in watercolor on paper, it’s much more productive to confidently know when to tear something up and start over vs. when to keep working my way through the weeds in the middle of a painting’s evolution.

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Meg B

Great post. Like usual it’s very appropriate for my life at the moment. Seriously, how do you do that?!

Today I’m taking away a reminder to have fun with the process of art, and instead of feeling bad for what I don’t know, I’ll get excited about something new to learn. Afterall, even the best can still learn new things so I can, too :)

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Autumn

YEAH! High Five!

You have a fine way of building community by addressing common problems for artists then giving us an opportunity to say “You feel that way too? Thank goodness, I thought I was alone! I’m so happy not to be alone!”

In the last two weeks, I started to keep a notebook at my work space and I write down truths when the critic gets toxic. I feel the build up of anxiety and defeat in my chest and I hear myself thinking ” You’re never going to catch up. I can’t believe you can’t remember this stuff about perspective. You may as well eat a six pack of cupcakes and give up.” I take a couple deep breaths and write in my notebook “Art is like life. Always changing, growing and learning. I am okay where I am now. It takes time and work to level up.”

It works, and I can move forward.

I really appreciate the idea you’re sharing. The inner critic is a great member to have on the team, but a terrible team leader. Same with the inner cheerleader who thinks I’m extra-special, and the inner child who makes mud pies (“I made this for you!”) It’s a fun, but effective image. I’m the team leader!

On this note, it’s time for me to get busy. I have Magic Box videos to watch and some art to make if we’re going to TAKE OVER THE WORLD. Thank you again for writing :-)

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Audrey

Wow Chris, it’s me all over! It seemed strange that as my skill-set grew, so too did the urge to give up, because it all seemed so hopeless! I guess it’s just because my inner critic got stronger, too. It’s always worse when the pressure is on to perform (you’ve got to do your PORTFOLIO and it has to be GOOD because you need a JOB and ALL THE PROS SEE WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR WORK YOU’LL NEVER BE AS GOOD AS THEM) never mind that I’ve never managed to inspire myself with that attitude. : ) I know I don’t really want to give up on art, but there are definitely times I want to give up on being a pro, at least for a little while. Not today.

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