The Curse of Self Doubt
I have been painting and creating for as long as I can remember. I got my first easel when I was two. I'd constantly be saving things like aluminum foil from dinner just to see what I could make out of it. Middle school was the first time I considered making it a career choice. My art teacher, who happened to also be my coach and best friend's mom, invested in me and showed me that you could make it in this world as an artist. While having sleep overs at my bestie's house, I spent time in my teacher's home studio and stared in wonder at the largest painting I'd ever seen in my little life. And this was all commonplace to them. That's what I wanted. Looking back, I can see that my life and goals shifted. It was subtle and not something I realized at the time.
Sometime around then, I started to talk to my parents about switching schools. Living in Louisville, there are lots of options through both public and private education to major or focus on art in high school. At the time, the school I attended wasn't one of those programs. Ultimately, I decided to stay put. After all, who was I at twelve years old to be making decisions that life changing? I was still so young - a child even.
Fast forward a few years. I was faced with the same choice, but this time I said yes. I was terrified. I'd been at the same school with the same people for 7 years. But needed a change. I needed a challenge. I needed something that would make me happy and set me free.
I switched schools and immersed myself in a visual arts program. I took as much as I could fit into my schedule, and even additional summer courses. I, for the first time, was part of a world of painting every day, peer critique, and a place where my instructors expected a lot from me. I was not prepared. My peers were ahead of me. They made the choice I didn't. They'd already been poured into and apprenticed for two years. I felt completely inadequate. My teachers pushed me and I experienced so much growth and improvement. The art school recruiters started to come around, and I immediately counted myself out. I didn't feel good enough. I felt like I'd constantly be fighting from behind. I didn't think I could take the intensity of constant critique, even though it was for my benefit. I didn't know what I was going to do, but art school seemed so far outside my reach that I didn't even consider it.
Two colleges, a full time job, wedding, and cross country move later, this ever persistent thought of pursuing my art returns. But, just as persistent, my doubt was not far behind. We had bills to pay and no time for me to frivolously follow a half-baked idea. Plus, I knew I didn't have what it takes. I haven't been to art school, I don't know anything about industry standards, and I definitely can't charge what a professional can.
So, I opened my Etsy shop in 2013 and listed all the paintings I had done to decorate our apartment. I did absolutely nothing with it. But as I painted, I added listings, and they sat there. It felt completely half-hearted, and at the time, I felt that was all I could expect out of myself. Occasionally, a family member would see a painting, and I would give them a painful discount and sell it to them. I continued like this for a few years. But, August rolled around, and everything changed.
I woke up one morning with a notification from Etsy.
I'd never had one of those before.
It was a woman - who I didn't know - asking me to commission her a painting.
I was in complete shock.
The really crazy part? I almost told her no. I believed deeply that I wasn't qualified. What business did I have doing that? I couldn't possibly satisfy this customer. What would happen if she hated it? I'm so grateful that I finally stopped listening to self-doubt and just went for it. I said yes, and from that moment on, my life as an artist changed. Of course, just to keep her expectations low, I sold it to her WAY under what I should have. After it was all said in done, I think I made $10 on a 30x40. Sitting where I am now, I partially want to laugh, and partially want to reach back in time and give myself a good smack.My client loved her painting. And that $10 profit didn't even matter. I suddenly felt like maybe I could do this. I hadn't yet voiced this idea, but sometime that same month, my creative bestie, collaborator, and biggest encourager for following my dreams (second to my husband), randomly told me about this artist who sells her paintings around the world for thousands of dollars. This artist's biggest platform? Instagram. My friend sent me a link to this artist's account and a text message that read "you're better than this chick. you should do this".
Now, I don't know if you could really say that I'm better than this world wide successful painter, but she was right about one thing. I could do this. For the first time, I really believed I could do this. I decided I was going to invest some time into promoting myself. Maybe I could even have a part time business.
So, I started my Instagram and Facebook accounts. And a funny thing happened. I quickly ran out of content. How did I fix this problem? I began to paint, and paint, and paint. I started this whole internet platform as a way to sell the things I already had, and in turn, it made me a painter. It pushed me into this life where there are wet paintings on the floor, my hands and legs are spotted with color, and I am really finding myself as an artist. I'm digging in and looking for a challenge. I'm looking for ways to push and to create something I didn't think I could. All of a sudden, I had that life I wanted so many years ago, standing in my art teacher's home studio.
A year later, I'm thinking about an LLC, building a website, getting ready for my first craft show, and contacting galleries. What started as a side business is rapidly growing into something real and big. I'm feeling momentum and leaning in. It is so hard. I am constantly having to choose to put myself out there and to ignore that self-doubt. I'm trying to insert myself into the artist community here in Louisville, and I'm terrified. The truth is, I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know what goes into my portfolio, I don't know what to bring to a gallery meeting, and I don't know if I'm spending money on the right things. But. I'm done listening to that voice telling me that I'm not enough. I'm diving in and can't wait to see what happens next.