Drawing a Blank

Curving Crippling Creative Expectations

My expectation of perfection, right at the start, is a sobering reality. Simply, it is unrealistic. I can still sometimes feel paralyzed when I look at a blank page. I am pressured to produce satisfying masterpieces not only for daily consumption but all the while still being unique. What is a struggling creative professional to do?

I decided to re-organize my art supplies today. You know, that box where you leave all your paints, pencils and pens. I also gathered all my notebooks, sketchpads and sketchbooks. I ended  up with a heap of art supplies - all unused. On top of that, a pen tablet that I bought to learn digital painting and my DSLR camera to take photos with. It was an eye-opener! The amount of tools that I believed would make me a better designer and artist. The arsenal of any seasoned painter, illustrator or designer that I accumulated had not changed anything.

The great works that I fantasized would fill these pages or complete these design files never took form - all because of my fear of  imperfection. Pages of a new sketch book are crisp, clear and unknown. Files of research, mood boards and blank Illustrator and Photoshop files were never further developed. It still makes me anxious. I want every page to house a great masterpiece and every file to have some great design. Until I get over this fear, how will I ever grow?

I want to change this personal perspective. I have become more critical of myself and how I apply my creativity. As a child, before designing on a computer, a new sketchbook and art supplies meant exploring, experimenting, practising and creating. I can even remember scraping the last bit of paint and sharpening the pencil until I could not draw with it anymore. As a kid, the supplies were just tools to create.


The Tools Do Not Make the Artist

I have this underlying pressure. I want to make a living from my designs, photographs and illustrations, so this pressure does not only come from creating something good, but proving to others my worth. In some ways, I guess this collection of supplies was something to compensate for the lack of work that I am satisfied with. I thought, if the paper is this good and artists recommend these pens, then what I produce has to be amazing.

Several artists can use the same set of paints or paint brush, but what each one creates is different because all artists and designers have that special eye - their perspective, preferences and style. Our imagination and skills are our greatest assets. So if your sketch takes one day or several weeks, your imagination on the page is what matters, not so much the tools or how often we produce it. Your vision is what makes you an artist. The tools are simply how you realize and showcase that vision.


The Pursuit of Craftsmanship

In my opinion, design is a craft. Therefore a designer is a craftsman. Mastering a craft takes discipline, skill, commitment and time. It takes hard work. I feel, because of how easy creating content is at the moment, it can lose quality and even the purpose. I want to make purposeful designs - and to achieve that I need a purposeful perspective.

My pursuit of personal improvement as a creative professional demands change, adaptation and skill. No time to doubt, fear of  imperfection or experimentation - because what we think are mistakes, different, or weird might just be what makes us stand out.

This stifling pressure takes away the joy of creating. All I can focus on is producing work that potential clients will hire me for. It is a balance. We want to produce professional work that clients and users will enjoy - but it should not be the only reason we design, paint or draw.

Enjoy the journey and the struggle. Do not lose perspective - your perspective. Your craft deserves the attention and care it needs in order for you to feel satisfied with it. Do not feel like you are the only one. It can be done. It will be done. Keep going! ■

Patricia Atienza