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  • Writer's pictureJill

Learning to Paint - Managing Your Own Huge Expectations

After I mentioned the other day on Facebook that I'd had an ‘I Can’t Paint Day’, I received so many messages saying how good it was to hear that it wasn’t just them!

So, I just wanted to talk (waffle) a bit about Imposter Syndrome and managing your own expectations…

Lets Start with Imposter Syndrome - What is it?

It happens to most of us at some point in our lives - it's when you feel like you will never be good enough (so you may as well give up), or that you are a fraud; you got that job by accident - and you’re just ‘getting away with it’ until someone finds you out!

You get these feelings despite all evidence that says otherwise.

I Blame Art

I think that art itself is a tricky subject really, and one that is completely suitable to give you maximum Imposter Syndrome!

For instance - If I gave you 10 maths questions and you got them all right, then we could say you are officially ‘good at maths’, or if you got them all wrong, then equally you are terrible at maths. That is because there is a right or wrong, a good or a bad.

With art, there is no right or wrong, there is just your opinion, which can be completely different to the opinion of someone standing right next to you, seeing the same thing. I mean, I really don't like these paintings, but they're by Picasso and Mondrian. So someone likes them....

So how do you know if you are any good?

The answer is - You don’t. And that is why you get a feeling of imposter syndrome (in my opinion) when you create art. But are Picasso or Mondrian imposters?

Managing Your Own Expectations

The other issue is slightly different, and that is your own expectations of your ability to paint.

Lets face it, you start painting and you can be pretty terrible at it – I know I was – but over time and with practice, you get better and better. Along the way, there will be times when your brain expects you to be much better than your hand can achieve… and there will be other times when your hand paints something that your brain isn’t expecting, and thinks is amazing!

(note: this is usually followed by a terrible painting that puts you right back in your place)

Here is a lovely graph (I do love a graph or a spreadsheet)! Look at how many times your improvement falls below your expectations but then look at the overall growth!

My point is that the learning curve is not a straight one (I know, no curves are…) The learning curve in art is more of a learning squiggle. But bear with it, you’ll get there over time.


"Comparison is the thief of joy." – Teddy Roosevelt

Try to remember this quote next time you’re painting or doing something you’re not entirely confident about. As soon as you start comparing yourself to everyone else, you are guaranteed to find someone better than you – and choose them to compare yourself with – so you will always lose!

Remember, every time you look at someone else’s work and think ‘wow, I’ll never be that good’, there will probably be someone looking at your work and thinking exactly the same thing!

So don’t let your expectations stop you from pursuing something you would love to be good at!

Focus on your own growth and improvement, rather than from seeking external validation.

I get Imposter Syndrome all the time. After all, who am I to teach you guys how to paint, when I’m not as good as someone else may be at painting/drawing etc. Some days I have to give myself a good talking to and have to work at changing my mindset into a more positive one!

Ah, but they’re a Natural Talent!

Going back to my Maths analogy from earlier, when someone is good at maths, you think ‘oh they’re good at maths, they must have listened in school’, or if they are good at playing the piano, you think ‘ they must have spent hours and hours practicing’…

When you see a good artist, (like the fabulous Bob Ross here) what do you think....?

That they must have been born with talent?

Why is this do you think?

I bet Bob put hours and hours into practicing until he could put that paint on the canvas and make it look so damn easy!


I can draw and I can paint pretty well (honestly, it pains me to say that for fear of blowing my own trumpet !) But I really wasn’t when I started. And just to prove my point I will embarrass myself...

Here are some photos of my paintings and drawings of my dog Piper. The first was painted in 2015 ish. A big difference from the first to the last, and you know what, there will be a big difference between the last one and the ones I create in the future. It’s all about practice, and being patient with yourself. And a bit brave to try stuff out and be willing to fail for a while..

So, What can we do?

Well I have some suggestions for you....

Copy, Copy, Copy

This is probably not a popular statement… but find art you love and then try to copy it. Look at their brushstrokes, how did they do that? Try to recreate it for yourself.

Please don’t copy it and show it off online, or sell it - that’s not fair to the original artist. But instead, use their paintings to try out different techniques that you could apply in different ways. Copy photos that you find online, again, don’t share or sell your painting without agreement from the photographer, but you can learn so much about composition and colour by copying photos

Be Realistic

Set yourself realistic goals, so you don’t set yourself up to fail..

Don’t try to become a photographic style artist before you know how to put paint to paper, instead, set yourself easy challenges at first.

If you paint or draw something and it goes wrong, don’t get disheartened, instead, use it to learn something – where did you go wrong? Could you do it better next time?

If it was your friend who had ‘failed’, how would you speak to them about it? Is that how you speak to yourself? Or would you be much more compassionate with them than you are to yourself?

Opinions and Critiques

I can ask my family what they think of a painting I’ve done, and they’ll tell me it’s great!.

Although this is sometimes a lie – as they are also my biggest critics.

Sometimes, to my horror, they tell me it's rubbish!! And you know what, occasionally they're right. But I'm obviously never going tell them that...

Sometimes it's good to get an opinion based on facts, one that could help improve your artwork and be beneficial to your ‘journey’ as an artist.

Make a Plan

Decide where you want your art to go, and think about how to get there.

Ask yourself...

Who are your favourite artists? Your favourite paintings? (and what do they have in common?)

What do you like to paint? What do you struggle with?

Do you prefer to draw, or use watercolours, or acrylics, or oils?

Is this going to be a hobby, or a career? (everything is possible...)

Now, what do I do to achieve what I want?

Can I Help?

I've been running private art sessions for a number of years now, until recently they have been in person at my studio, but recently I've been doing them on Zoom which really helps for people who either just want to check in for a short session, or if they live far away

The sessions are tailored for you. We don't just paint in the sessions, (although we can if you want)

We can also look at how to progress your art, or start your hobby, or turn your hobby into a business!

We could use the time to work on something you are not sure about, try something for the first time, or that you want to improve, and we could look at your paintings so far and I can offer you constructive critiques of your work

I'd better stop waffling on now, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you manage your expectations, or how you would use a private art session to get the most out of it!

Please let me know in the comments!

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