The Things Artists Tell Themselves

The Things Artists Tell Themselves

Today, I want to talk about the things artists tell themselves. Those preconceived notions that hold us back.

Self-imposed limitations.

Let me explain by using myself as an example.

The Things Artists Tell Themselves

I spent over forty years drawing and painting portraits of horses. I was confident doing head studies, full body portraits, and action scenes. There wasn’t a horse I didn’t feel capable of drawing.

But put a rider in the saddle or add a buggy or carriage, and I was a bundle of insecurity!

In reality, I should have been able to draw the person or equipment with the same confidence with which I drew the horse. I had the skill to draw horses, so there was no reason I couldn’t also draw people or equipment.

The same methods work for drawing people that work for drawing horses. There was no reason I couldn’t draw people.


I told myself I couldn’t do it.

So I avoided drawing people or equipment whenever possible. When I had to include a person or a buggy or whatever, I struggled.

The Big Lie

In novel writing, one of the things the novelist must decide is what lie each character believes. Often referred to as The Big Lie, this belief keeps the character from achieving a goal.

The Big Lie might be something the person heard as a child. It may be the result of a failure or misunderstanding. The character may realize it’s a lie, but more often, it’s subconscious.

Artists are the same way. Actually every person is that way. There is something I believe about myself that’s not true, and there’s something you believe about yourself that’s not true.

As I get older, I can more clearly see my Big Lie was that I couldn’t draw people or technical things. I’ve done both, now. I know I can draw people, and I can draw technical subjects.

They are more difficult because I’m not familiar with them, but when I apply the same skills that help me draw horses to these other subjects, I can draw them.

Big lies apply to what we think we can draw and what we think we can’t draw.

They apply to what we think we can and cannot accomplish with our art. They also apply to turning hobbies into businesses, or any other worthwhile endeavor.

What’s the Solution?

My husband has cited Henry Ford to me often enough that I sometimes hate the quote I used below. But it is true. That’s another thing I’m learning as I get older (and hopefully wiser.)

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
― Henry Ford

Whether I think or can, or think I can’t, I’m right.

And so are you.

The solution is two-fold and both parts can be difficult. Very difficult.

The first step is to be totally honest with yourself and identify the Big Lie you believe about yourself or about your ability. Get past the things that are skills you have yet to acquire.

For example, if you believe you can’t shade smooth color, that’s a skill you can acquire with time and practice.

But if you believe you can’t learn to shade smooth color, that’s a lie you’re telling yourself.

Do you see the difference?

Back to my example, I believed I couldn’t draw people or equipment and that was a lie. I proved it was a lie by drawing people and equipment.

The truth was I didn’t have the skill or determination to draw those things. Another truth was that I didn’t want to try drawing them because they were hard.

So ask yourself the following questions and fill in the blanks as they fit you.

I believe I can’t draw ___________________.

I believe I can’t draw ___________________, but I can learn how.

The first is the lie. The second is the truth and a plan of action.

If you don’t think you believe any Big Lies, then you’re either miles ahead of the rest of us or….

…maybe that’s the Big Lie you believe about yourself.

Think about it.

The Things Artists Tell Themselves

I decided to publish this post today because I’ve learned over years of blogging that if I struggle with something, some of my readers also struggle with it.

Self imposed obstacles and the things artists tell themselves (that aren’t true,) are some of the biggest hurdles we have to get over if we really want to succeed.

And I hope you do want to succeed.


  1. Vicky Autry

    Carrie, thank you. This is not only an art lesson, it’s a life lesson. It permeates everything about our existence. I do believe about art that with time, patience and concentration, I can learn anything. And when I don’t make that time, or exercise that patience and concentration, I tell myself that life has gotten in my way, but in reality I know I’ve chosen different priorities. When I saw this today, I heard that the work (corporate) challenges that I have right now in doing presentations (wallflower from way back!) are because my personality does not lend itself to the performance side of things. However, I was on a recorded webinar (of myself!) yesterday and I could not believe the logic and quality of information coming out of my mouth, and I did not even remember having done the live webinar. Apparently I have at least the foundations of what I need, and it’s my discomfort with the process that has me believing otherwise. Time to get over ourselves and do what our lives call up for us. This also means that when I prioritize my time properly, I will begin to make the progress and do the drawings that seem so out of reach. I needed that reminder, just like I need the invaluable, clear and encouraging information that flows out of you, week after week. I so much appreciate your ability to describe and almost channel what our issues are or could be. Your ability to express yourself so clearly and also to encourage all of us to patience and critical thinking (in a constructive way) is a great gift to us all. Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you, Vicky. I can’t tell you how satisfying your comments are to me. Sometimes it feels like I’m talking to myself and I don’t always want to hear what I say! So thank you!

      I have to chuckle at your account of doing a recorded webinar. I did one of those on landscape drawing in May. I was all sorts of scared about it leading up to it, and I thought I performed poorly (I do remember mine!) But it turned out well and the artists who attended were happy with the presentation!

      Thank you again for your encouragement and for sharing your experiences with this topic, which really does impact every part of every life.

  2. Mary Curson

    Today’s email I read from you is one that I wish I could post to me in a time machine, to read when I was much younger. I’ve told myself lies all my life and I believed the lies that were told to me. I am dyslexic and as a child in the 1950’s that condition wasn’t recognised. I was told I was stupid by my father and not bright by my school. I was put into the bottom sets. In those days you could leave school at 15 without having to take any exams. At 71 years, I have achieved several things in my life, I am grateful to have discovered this blog during lock-down. I am proud that I really battled with some of my drawings but you have been with me every step of the way, Drawing has given me so much pleasure,( I have never drawn before). I am learning every single day, this is so good for the brain. THANK YOU. The quote will be displayed on my notice board to be read everyday. I hate drawing landscapes, I tell myself I can’t draw landscapes – well best place to start is now.

    1. Mary,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I am so pleased that you were helped by it, as well as by all the other posts and articles you’ve read here.

      My husband is dyslexic, too, so I have some experience with that condition. Bravo to you for overcoming the odds and doing well.

      And you’re right! The best place to start drawing landscapes is here, and the best time is now. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

      And thank you again for a very uplifting story and encouragement.

  3. Gail Jones

    Hi Carrie, this is an eye opening article. For the longest time I have believed that I could learn to draw other things, but not people. So that is one type of drawing I have stayed away from. Your article here is making me re-think that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *