How I overcame my fear of drawing

One of the unexpected paths that emerged when I decided to follow my fear this year was the fear of drawing. If you're not in the boat with me here, it may seem a bit silly. Seriously, how scary can it be to draw? That's something most of us have done since we were kids. Well, for me, that was the problem.

My main fear consisted of not having tried to draw since I was a kid and remembering that I was bad at it. I remembered shame and disappointment, frustration and envy. I was convinced of how hard it was and that I'd fail instantly if I tried.

So, in short, I viewed the craft as hard and myself as bad.

A very good argument to avoid it at all costs, if you asked my brain. Still, I had this little voice inside of me that was curious, that wondered if I couldn't try to draw, after all. My goal has never been to face just any fears, but the creative fears I feel hold me back, the things I fear but also kind of want to do. So when this idea come seemingly from out of nowhere, I realized it was a fear I needed to face.

Since my fear consisted of a fear of the craft itself and a fear of my own abilities, I needed to do two things.

  1. Change my view of my abilities.
  2. Change my view of the craft.

Let's dig a little deeper.

To be honest, I don't know much about drawing. In school, we never got any tutorials and my view on "good" was that it was neat and close to reality. Clearly, my ability to draw free-hand without help and successfully turn reality into drawing was not very good at age 10. No kidding I thought I was bad. My inability to make what I wanted gave the conclusion it was hard.

So here's what I've done.

Giving myself the permission to suck

Now, this is important. Since I feared being bad at drawing, I had a demand of myself to be good, or more precisely, draw neatly and realistically. To break this fear, I didn't have to be good, I needed to give myself permission to suck.

When we fear the outcome of our efforts, it's not the outcome we need to change but the fact THAT we fear it. We need to be okay with imperfection and not put our bars too high. If we dig deep enough, this is really about accepting that we are not our creations, that our worth is not tied to the worth of what we can make.

Still, it's not so extremely fun to make something you're displeased with. But the displeasure comes from some kind of imagination or vision of what's "good", and having that as the goal. So I changed my goal from pretty to just anything, pretty or not. I took pretty out of the equation. This lowered my fear, because I didn’t feel the pressure to reach something I didn't think I could reach.

Starting with the least intimidating

Sometimes, people think they have to start where it's the most scary instead of easing into it. That's not the case. We don't have to make fear facing harder than it has to be, in some kind of superhero attempt. It just makes it more difficult and less likely that we succeed. Instead, choosing something that feels a little bit less scary than that Big Scary Thing can be the perfect way to approach the fear.

Since my fear came from the view of drawing as having to be realistic and beautiful, that kind of drawing style was the most intimidating. I looked for a different style, something that felt less intimidating and found a whole little world of people embracing the imperfections, playing around with unrealistic shapes and putting emotions and feel over perfect shapes and straight lines. It was just what I needed. I even fell a bit in love with the style.

Get some help to get started

To get started, a little bit of help can be just what you need. Since I remember how hard freehand drawing was, following a tutorial seemed like a good option. So I watched tutorials for beginners. I followed them step by step, not trying to do everything at once but slowly dissecting the process. I got a basic feel for how they did it.

After doing a few tutorials, I had a basic feel for how they did it and could start doing a little bit more on my own. I still looked at others drawings of things I enjoyed, in this imperfect style I'd found and allowed myself to mirror others and erase, try again, erase, try again. And with this, I've started the journey to finding my own style.

How my view of the craft changed

Before this, I viewed drawing as something really hard where the goal was to make big, detailed and realistic drawings.

Now, I view drawing as a medium for a myriad of techniques and styles, all with their own charm, none of them more worth than the others. Instead of seeing drawing as a skill to perfect of time, I see it more as a way of showing emotion and ideas. Drawing to me has everything to do with discovering how the visual world works, what effect a small twist of a line has, what the bare minimum of an object is so we still can identify it as that object.

I knew very little of what drawing really was, except putting pen to paper, and I still know very little. But now, it's less of a big unknown. I've started to understand the basics and it's changed how I think about this craft.

How my view of my abilities changed

I used to think I was almost incapable of drawing. I had a strong view of myself as inherently bad at everything visual, and drawing especially.

Now, I view myself as fully capable of doing basic drawings and be satisfied with them. I also believe that if I decide to learn more, I can grow and get better and better. Drawing isn't something I'm doomed to be bad at, it's just something I haven't gotten much training in. With time and effort, I could probably be quite good at it.

Does this mean I'm going to be fantastic at drawing?

Probably not. I've enjoyed learning the basics but I'm not sure how far I will take this.

The important thing is that now know that I can take this further if I want to, I'm not afraid to do it. And who knows? Maybe I will.