Imposter syndrome: The truth

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If you're an artist you probably heard of the imposter syndrome before. If not: You most likely felt it and now finally finding a name for it. The imposter syndrome is the feeling of doing something you don't feel eligible to do, because you think your art sucks, or are not as good as the others. A feeling you think you will get over as time goes on and your art improves. But let me tell you that the imposter syndrome is an illusion. An illusion haunting nearly every single artist, no matter their skill level.

Hi! My name is Tessa, I’m a Dutch artist, art director, and creative project manager. I love to share my passion for this craft, nature, art and fantasy, and do that by creating this archive and community, alongside my company Tez Art & Design.

Table of Contents (Click to (un)fold)

What is imposter syndrome

So, what is imposter syndrome? What’s the truth about this phenomenon? Well, nearly every person experiences this at some point in their lives. It’s the uncanny feeling of trying to fit in somewhere you think you don’t belong. All because others are better than you, or because you think they are. You’re the newbie in town, you obviously know nothing… You have a hard time with colors and perspectives, and oh! Look at that amazing futuristic cityscape on the wall! See? You’re unable to do anything close to that. How are you gonna function at this creative office? Or worse yet: How can you ever post something on Instagram! People surely won’t like what you’re doing!

Do you know the feeling? You feel like you’re pretentious, you have a goal in mind, you’re walking the road to get there, but there’s barely any light yet at the end of the tunnel. Maybe your lines are scribbly, or your colors are a bit off to your taste. Maybe perspectives are your weak spot, or maybe you just heard that having more than 10 layers in your digital file is a beginner’s mistake.

Psychology of imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome can be really overwhelming.
Photo by Caseen Kyle Registos on Unsplash

The imposter syndrome is a natural response, it’s a way of protecting yourself and your expectations. It helps you put your own world into perspective, relative to other people. But, and this is a big but: Imposter syndrome is usually more toxic than anything else. Any human being with common sense can determine if they’re ‘good enough’ or not. Or where they roughly are in their progress. Imposter syndrome just amplifies this feeling, giving a distorted image. This is mostly described with feelings like ‘not fitting in’ and ‘not good enough’ or ‘shouldn’t be doing this’ (because of prior reasons).

A brief history of imposter syndrome, discovery and description by psychologists

Imposter syndrome was first described in 1970. It was described by psychologists as ‘people being unable to internalize their performance despite external proof of their competence’. Because of this people keep believing that they’re imposters and don’t deserve their success. Even if that means a few likes on Facebook or Instagram. Most of the time, even when they have success, or likes, or anything positive really, they think they’re just ‘lucky’ or had good timing, rather than recognizing their own skills.

Mind you though: Imposter syndrome isn’t a psychological disorder, despite being described by psychologists! It’s not a serious diagnosis by any means and can quite easily be overcome by a person suffering from it, and more often than not it’s something experienced temporarily, Some people do need to visit a psychologist, however, but those are the exception to the rule, and nothing to be ashamed of.

Imposter syndrome and the social media

This is the big elephant in the room. We all know social media. If you can find this page, you know what social media is. You even know that despite the fact that I dislike social media: I do have a Facebook community tied to this website. Instagram will at some point be added as well. A business no longer can go without social media. That time is long gone. Everybody can share their stuff online. We compare ourselves to it. But the catch is: They only show their best stuff. Not the things they failed at, Not the steps they took to get where they are. And if you’re new in the field you might not be able to recognize photo bashed work (art made with pictures and little drawing) or 3D rendered work. (A model made in a 3d environment, or even a premade template someone painted over).

Heck! What social media is showing you are the most popular artists out there, people that have been in the field for a very long time and know exactly what they’re doing. Of course, you shouldn’t be comparing yourself to these people! Let them be an inspiration, but nothing more than that! And let me tell you a little secret: Even the big names suffered from imposter syndrome. They still do to this day, especially when they’re starting out on something they never did before.

The only difference between you and them is that they have more experience under their belt: Also when it comes to dealing with the imposter syndrome.

Recognizing bad advice

There’s also plenty of bad advice out there that can mess with your perception. Untested ‘quick fixes’, advice coming from people that only recently entered the field, or gotten really bad advice themselves. There are people thinking they know the answer to everything, but they heard the alarm ring, but don’t know where the clock is at. This is a sickly trend in social media. Some are outright scams, others are simply not aware of their (lack of) capability, and there are those that just blab on to please the algorithm. Having confidence is absolutely a good thing, but try not to sell advice (for money, or through big channels) if you don’t know the subject inside out.

As you see, there is a fine line between people thinking they’re not good enough, and (misguided) people who think they know everything. It’s a true balancing act to find not only a good mentor but also be properly aware of your own capabilities. I too suffer from imposter syndrome from time to time, but more on that later.

Why I’m not teaching or selling courses (yet)

I’m asked this question every now and then. If I can teach someone, or if I will monetize this website through courses. My answer is yes: But not just yet. Although, as mentioned before, I still suffer from imposter syndrome from time to time: I am quite aware of my own capabilities, but also of the things I’m not good at yet. I know what bad advice or bad examples can do to a person. Or even a lack of perspective or knowledge. I don’t want to be one of these people adding to that pool.

I don’t mean to say that the people that are are bad people, not at all. A good example is Boro Dante. He is a very decent artist, not a master, but certainly a good artist. But in his video’s he does make very clear that he’s recording his exploration in the art world. He doesn’t claim to be a good artist and frequently revisits and corrects things he said before. You might not want to take his advice blindly when you are new to the field, but he will certainly give you solid advice and can be very relatable when you have your art foundations largely down. The difference with him is that he makes clear to you where he’s at and doesn’t act as if he knows it all. And that’s totally fine. The problem is with those that don’t.

When will there be courses on LtL?

A little sidetrack here, but it helps to prove my point. What I (!) think could be a decent enough teacher, which of course, is relative as well. I’m just trying to do my best to pick the right moment, which can be a hard thing to do. First and foremost I want to avoid giving the wrong information, and I might do so if I were to start courses now. And I’m too anti-social to have people follow my progress through social media like BoroDante does, lol, sorry! Really, I wish it was different, but it’s just not in me.

Anyway, what do I think is someone that can actively charge money for courses and teaching:

  • Someone that has been in the field for at least 5 years.
  • Frequently sold art to more than just friends, family and associates (either as a freelancer or someone hired by a company).
  • Didn’t only follow courses, but also received revisions from leading artists.
  • This person has ALL fundamentals down, at least to some degree.
  • Is really specialized in whatever field they’re teaching.
  • Knows how to teach well (either naturally, or after a course/guidance from a teacher).
  • Has integrity (can receive critique well, has respect for your thoughts and opinions, puts everything properly in perspective, and can critique and guide you with respect).

A waiting game

I do give critiques, despite being in the field for only 4 years. I did more commissions for people I don’t know than I made for my friends, family, or associates. The critique I have no trouble with. I’m good with respect as well, but because of the following points, I do have trouble with putting everything properly in perspective. This is because: I didn’t follow a course that included revisions. I won’t until the end of 2023. Do I have my fundamentals down? To a degree, but there is still a lot to learn for me. There are some weak spots I need to address before even thinking of teaching someone else.

I know my field because I have a true love for nature, but I know it too little in-depth, like, literally. I need to understand anatomy and taxonomy better than I do now for example. And do I know how to teach? Well, I’m told I do, but I’m not satisfied with that notion. I want to feel like I’m capable of it, this is why I want to wait with courses until the end of 2023. By that time I should have my fundamentals down and tackled the other issues. I will have followed a one-on-one course with Adam Duff, an art teacher, Disney animator, freelancer, and a lot more, and I expect to be able to look you right in the eye while charging for said courses.

Why writing blogs about a subject you don’t know inside out?

Fair question! But allow me to help you understand the nature of blogs: Just like websites, they can be changed. revisited and republished. It’s just a website page formatted in such a way that it reads as a blog post. Also for search engines. In other words: I revisit all my posts once a year and filter out anything I think was inaccurate or I changed my mind about, or new scientific evidence became available. I also point out these changes in an effort to teach people (and remind myself) about these errors or changes, and why these happened to a point I dedicate a whole blog post about these changes if they’re significant enough. This helps old-time readers become aware of any possible changes or errors.

I learn from whatever I’m writing all the time. I write something and then fact-check. Sometimes I’m wrong about something and backtrack in an effort to correct these mistakes. This whole blog is a huge journey for me and helps me understand the subjects I address to a bigger extent.

So, what’s the lesson I can take out of this chapter?

Find an artist that meets the requirements mentioned earlier. Sure, you can do with Aaron Blaise and his amazing courses, he meets all the requirements except revisions (and/or one on one tutoring). He is absolutely amazing at what he does and he knows how to teach well. His courses are affordable for most of us, so he’s an extremely good go-to if you’re starting out or want to polish your skills. I do however want to stress finding an artist that does revisions or one on one teaching. The point is: If you don’t have a valid person validating you, confronting you straight on with both your qualities and your ‘flaws’ and you are already suffering from imposter syndrome, it might be very hard for you to overcome that. Or worse: With the wrong advice they will only do harm.

It’s very hard to pick up on your own weaknesses when you’re with your nose right into your artwork all the time. I experience the same. Sometimes we overthink things more than we should, while things we should pick up on, we miss altogether. A real teacher providing revisions or one on one tutoring will point out these things to you and will be able to recognize why you miss one thing and overthink another. Be careful with those that don’t and make sure you’re taking advice from leading artists. A few of those here: 10+ teaching artists on Youtube.

Note: Some teaching artists aren’t good teachers. While some good teachers aren’t good artists. Avoid the first, they will only hurt your progress. The second you can learn from very well. They may not be able to draw according to the ‘rules’ but they will be able to guide you in finding your own potential.

Me and my imposter syndrome

My first real panic attack, made for a colleague. Love how the dog reflects the way I felt, lol!
Illustration by Tessa Geniets

Ha! Yea, I know what that is. I experienced it when I just started out drawing. All these amazing people on Instagram! Oh, and I wanted to draw like Aaron Blaise, but when I put down my stylus I was incapable of even drawing a straight line, let alone make pretty lineart, something I really wanted to do. Instead, I needed vector-based tools to do that. My color sucked, the textures, proportions… That hit home. I was always quite decent when it came to art. But when I started digitally, I was confronted with my weaknesses Where I first thought I would do fine, I wasn’t at all. Doubt set in, and this was the first time I really experienced imposter syndrome.

I’m quite analytic when it comes to my own behavior and recognized what was going on. I know what it is and what it does and could address it, thinking it was a temporary thing. Well: No. It came back when I was asked to do an animal portrait for the first time. Then a landscape, characters, creatures. It happened when I was contacted through Instagram, but also through Fiverr. Every little different thing triggered imposter syndrome. And not just in art! It happened when I built a website for the first time. When I decided to build a site on a different platform when I first started LTL, both the site and the Facebook group. And I know it will keep happening. It’s this annoying Jack in the Box that won’t stop bothering me.

How to deal with imposter syndrome

There are many ways to deal with imposter syndrome. As mentioned before: These days, especially artists, determine their value by likes, shares, and responses to their art on social media. Because these markets are so incredibly over-saturated, not only with art but also by people who blindly scroll their screens randomly liking stuff for no obvious reason (and vice versa) it’s a very toxic way of determining your worth. Don’t do that. People don’t like your art because they don’t like it, but because you don’t fit in the algorithm, which changes all the time for reasons even the makers of the algorithm don’t understand. Yes, don’t let a code determine the value of your work, please. Also don’t allow square-eyed teenagers to determine your work (no offense, they’re just a lot more common than adults).

So what CAN you do to build your confidence in a healthy way:

  • Write about your knowledge
  • Post your art and ask for feedback
  • Ask questions about said feedback
  • Own your flaws rather than be scared of them
  • Find a community where people actively share their art and respond on that of other people
  • Take somebody under your wing
  • Understand that everybody just does a ‘well educated ‘something”

Write about your knowledge

A blog, or even on your Facebook- or Instagram page. Pages like Deviantart and ArtStation allow you to write out your thoughts and knowledge as well. Exploit it whenever you can because it will help you realize what you DO know. You’ll find out you have way more knowledge under your belt than you think. After all: You’re only confronted with things you don’t know and not so much by the things you do. It’s also a good reference to look back on years later. And just like that you can do the same with your art: Look back at it after a few years and see what you learned.

One of my first illustrations in 2017. Comparing your old one work with your new work will help you reflect and overcome your imposter syndrome. Image by: Tessa Geniets
A recent work from 2021
Image by: Tessa Geniets

Post your art and ask for feedback

I hear it all the time: I would never post my art online and ask for feedback! I’m scared because I know I’m not good enough!. But how will you learn? Most of us start with art as a hobby. Art comes from the heart, we’re usually very passionate about the things we draw, and it’s already painful enough to think we’re not good enough. But the best way to learn is by asking for feedback. And if you’re scared to do so: Find a place that’s actively monitored so the pricks are filtered out and banned from whatever platform you’re on.

Ask questions about said feedback

You finally posted your art, ask for feedback and get heaps of it! Some things may make sense and are very useful to you. Others maybe not. Remember to ask any question that pops up in your mind. Written words are a lot different from spoken words. Then there are also people that don’t speak English very well, or maybe you don’t. Not to mention the fact that there are many people out there that want to help you out, but may not have the proper knowledge yet. For this reason, it’s very important to ask questions so you can understand where the other person is coming from.

Own your flaws rather than be scared of them

Understanding anatomy is essential for creature and character design.
Image by: Tessa Geniets

We all have our flaws. I for one struggle with color and perspective, I’m understanding it better every day, but they still are my weakest spots. Instead of hating them and avoiding them (which is kinda toxic behavior if you’re into art) I instead practice them so I can challenge myself to get better at them. It’s hard to determine which the true art fundamentals are because it totally depends on the field you’re in. You may not really need color when you draw only in grayscale, or only make technical drawings or lineart. While you may not need to understand perspective when you only draw portraits.

Find a community

This is a no-brainer. Even if you’re an introvert like me, it’s essential to have people you can talk with. They will show you that they struggle with the same things as you do, and can potentially give you great insights. Even if you only read along this is very valuable. Sharing stuff is the best way to go, and these communities are great for that goal. It’s also very likely you will find like-minded people and build up really valuable friendships with these people. I have quite a few in the Life to Legend Facebook group even while I met none of them in real life.

Teach someone

Teaching goes both ways.
Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

Remember my notion about learning from the right person? Now how about YOU are the right person! Of course, you’re not an Adam Duff, or Aaron Blaise. But you can be someone’s Boro Dante. Just make very clear where you’re at and redirect them to the ‘masters’ whenever you get stuck. You know so much more than you think, and every day there will be more people knowing less than you and fewer people knowing more than you. You will be challenged by your student which is extremely useful for your growth and self-confidence.

Understanding everybody just does ‘something’

I want to end on a very serious note because I think this is very important to realize. Everybody just does ‘something’. Both in art and life. And not only when they’re teenagers, but throughout their whole lives. We think that the other person knows exactly what they’re doing. But even while they might be very well educated about something: There’s so much more going on beyond that. I saw people owning companies while their daily life was a shithole. I saw shop owners getting cold sweats when they need to present something and still blow people away. There are people out there that manage to become millionaires by storm and are totally incapable of taking care of their own families. And all these people were educated (or educated themselves) to a degree and just started to do their ‘well-educated somethings’ which, lucky for them, just happened to work out.

Of course, it’s important that you know what you’re doing. But ‘knowing what you do’ is just relative. There is so much more to life (or art, or a job for that matter) than the facts you’re given. So much more nuances and external influences. I mean, you yourself influence life in a completely unique way! Your journey will be completely unique as well. And just like on social media, where you only see the best side/art of people, you are too in the real world. What really matters happens behind closed doors. Behind your closed door. You see what people want you to see. Make people see what you want them to see.

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