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Dealing with ‘Failure’

20 Pence. I remember the last time I offered my art for 20p. No one was interested.

I could lie and say I wasn't crushed but I was. It was an animated pixel logo. A ‘your character here’ commission on Deviant Art that I’d spent most of my weekend working on, but it barely got a second glance.

I remember at the time a lot of my friends and peers offered similar products and always seemed to have interest. And there I was, feeling embarrassed and disappointed.

I internalised the belief that my artwork, especially in financial terms, was worthless.

Over the years, I've noticed despite my profession, most people assume I can’t draw. When I show them that I can, it’s normally met with a quick gasp, and people asking how much I charge, and if I can paint their pet. They always seem confused when I say I just do it for fun and its not really worth anything, and I certainly don’t do commissions. Not only do I not have the time, but I’m perpetually doubtful they actually are interested. In the back of my head I think everyone is just hyping me up, the same way a loving mother does when she puts her young child’s picture on the fridge.

I realise it’s a bit of a toxic belief in my own work but it’s something I just can’t seem to shrug off. Because I feel like my lack of belief in myself is justified when I look at the dreaded analytics on social media, or the lack of interest in a cheap commission.

After all, if no one can see or buy your hard work, you can't be disappointed by its lack of traction, can you?

These are two YCH animations I made. I ended up never finishing one because it got no interest. The other I just changed to my own character due to no interest.

Allow me to introduce myself—I'm your humble marketing novice

Quick summary: I don’t know anything about growing an audience. Like at all. Even as a teen with a lot of free time, the concept of gaining followers online was something that was foreign to me. It certainly was something I was never good at.

With that in mind, let’s circle back to the last month. Last month was tough. I became quite obsessive over analytics and numbers. I knew I’d see a drop in everything due to having a prolonged break. I also knew since I couldn’t produce as much content as I did in the past that would dip things further. However seeing those numbers in black and white compounded a problem I’ve had for years.

I struggle with imposter syndrome

In hindsight I think it’s a big reason why I stopped posting my artwork online years ago – and its something I’ve really had to confront this month. I’d been blissfully unaware of how badly it affected my confidence in my work until I started posting regularly again because I so quickly and easily judge my worth by metrics, data and money.

Add to that how much art is such a personal expression and experience. It's one thing if someone doesn’t like a spreadsheet because a calculation on it is wrong. It feels completely different when you put your heart and soul into creating something, and you feel like you failed.

Which, in itself, is a silly concept! How does making artwork equate to failure?

But there it is, nagging at the back of my head. ‘My artwork is bad, no one likes it’ ‘what am I doing’ ‘this is stupid’...

The solution? I’m not sure... But this helps

I wish I could say after years of introspection and research I had found the magical cure to those intrusive feelings of inadequacy but I haven’t. I found things that help me, but I feel like imposter syndrome and failure is such an individualistic beast. YMMV.

What's really helped me personally is to take a step back from everything. To actually ask myself ‘why’ I’m doing what I’m doing, and figure out if I’m actually failing at it. I've realised, over the course of the month, that I tend to overthink the negatives and neglect the positives.

Why am I posting online again?

  • To get better at art – I’m drawing more so this will happen with time

  • To have a good portfolio for my career – I have no degree, so my experience is paramount

  • To be more consistent than I’ve ever been – videos help me keep consistency and accountability in output

  • To learn more about video editing – Da Vinci resolve is my new adversary!

  • To learn more about marketing – This is something I realise I really struggle with, but I’ll only get better if I post and try

To be fair to myself – I’m trying my best and at least attempting all of the above. So where’s the feeling of failure coming from?

I think my biggest problem is that I have a lot of ‘but it would be nice to have that too…’ factors in what I do, which honestly aren’t realistic or fair to myself. Especially at this moment in time.

But I’d love to...

  • Actually make money off my art – yes art is expressive and its not all about money of course. But art makes my heart sing in a way graphic design doesn’t. I’d love for it to be a future career option for me

  • Have an audience so I can market and sell my art in future – the massive con here is I’m terrible at marketing!

  • To be valued for my skills – I feel like in my personal and professional life most people don’t think I’m all that good at making things. And I want to prove to them I am

The problems with those desires are:

  • I have people who DO believe in me. My husband believes in me more than I do at times, as does my close family and friends. I don’t necessarily need to prove it to everyone. That belief does nothing but make me feel worse because you can’t please everyone

  • It's likely that making money from art is simply unrealistic, at least right now. Which is something I’m struggling to come to terms with, even 10 years after my last experience with selling art. Art will most likely never be an option for me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a creative job or well earning job and keep art as a hobby.

Fighting past those feelings

I think a big part of making art is dealing with feeling inadequate, and finding a way to work past it and make something amazing regardless of your negativity. I think a lot of amazing artists stop, not because they aren’t good, but because they truly believe they can’t ever be good.

Art is such a personal pursuit and it’s so hard to not take it personally when you feel like you’re failing. However, it's important to remember that when you're not engaged in commercial art with client expectations, YOU define your own criteria for success or failure.

It’s so important to look back and ask yourself: how are you failing? Are you really failing? Ask yourself why you started and if you’re just too in your own head.

I think at the end of the day most of us picked up our tools because we genuinely love what we do. So, while I can’t provide the cure for negativity. I think its important to stop analysing numbers and focus on what makes you happy: just making things no matter what.

Reflecting on me

So how am I going to help myself? Going forward I’m personally just not going to check analytics. I think much like putting <20p value on my artwork, it does nothing but make me feel bad. And who wants to feel bad about being creative? I’m also letting go of those desires. I’d love to do a lot of things but sometimes what we wish to do isn’t realistic or fair on ourselves. For now I’m focussing fully on keeping up with my ‘why’.

I’m very lucky I have a creative career. I’m also incredibly lucky that I have people who believe in what I do wholeheartedly. While artwork will probably never show in a gallery, and might only appear on two walls in the whole world, that doesn’t make me (or you, dear reader) a failure.

Keep working hard at your art. Take the time to jot down your motivations and be more compassionate towards yourself. Do not allow yourself to become your own obstacle!


Oct 06, 2023

love your work.

Thea Jackson
Thea Jackson
Oct 20, 2023
Replying to

Thank you so much! ❤️

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