How to Win at Creative Adult – Dealing with Frustration and Fear

Comments (6) How to Win at Creative Adult

Ever want to rip a drawing up, throw it away, and burn the remains? Hide the evidence forever, no one will ever know of it’s betrayal.

Ever stare at a page and discover that it’s the most terrifying thing you’ve ever seen? Spiders would be better, even spiders holding dentist drills would be better.

Ever have a great start and then witness the horrifying downward spiral and slow death of your drawing?

What defaque is up with this drawing?

Dafuq, drawing.

I’ve been there too.

When I draw, frustration and fear go hand in hand. As I’ve drawn more, and gained more experience, I’ve gotten better at dealing with the head demons, but they’re always there. Here’s how I fight them.

First things first, how’s the machine doing?
Are you hungry?
And you thirsty?
Have you slept well?
How are you feeling emotionally?

Check all those things out. Remedy them if you can. If you can’t, be aware that they will affect your drawing ability. Don’t expect your best work on one hour of sleep with a construction crew jackhammering the pavement outside. If you’re already mad at the day, it might be best to exercise for a few minutes and burn off unwanted stress.

teaThree Quarts of oolong tea suits me just fine.

There might be a period of fear, so trick your brain.
I suffer from fear of the blank page. Before every drawing, I get the feeling that this drawing, this specific one, will be the one were I forget everything I know and can’t draw anymore.

I didn’t start to get over this until I did three things:
1. Work on colored paper or canvas – I use a recycled, brown paper sketch book and make my photoshop canvases a color, any color, before I start to draw
2. Start with a colorful brush in photoshop – I never draw with a black brush at first. I always start with a blue brush. This signals to me that I’m sketching and it’s okay to experiment and make mistakes.
3. Sketch with pens – If you can stand a bit of discomfort for the sake of reward, start sketching with pens. They’re unforgiving, so you need to learn to forgive yourself and move forward. Its brutal at first, but well worth it. My confidence level grew substantially once I had filled a sketchbook with pen and ink sketches.
*If you’d like to see recordings of my drawing, click here to go to my Patreon.

I bring up fear, because Fear’s little brother, Frustration, is usually close by.

There might be a period of frustration; be prepared for it.
It was hard for me to conquer my frustration at drawing until I accepted that I had a “discomfort time” during each drawing session. During discomfort time, everything sucks. My drawing is bad. I’m a terrible artist. It’s annoying to be drawing. I’d don’t want to be there.

Over time, I became aware of this period. I also noticed that if I recognized it, accepted it, and kept working, it would pass and I could finish my drawing. Drawings that I thought were a total failure would sometimes evolve into my favorite one of the week.

As more time passed, I began to notice that, much like using colored paper and brushes to fight fear, I could use various techniques to minimize this period of fustration as well.

1) Warmup – Just like a runner, an artist needs to warmup. Trust me, I have skipped my share of warmups both on the track and at the desk, and I always under perform. My favorite warmups are gestural drawings.

Do ten, sixty second gestures, and you should be ready to draw. If you’re still feeling rusty or awkward after ten, draw twenty. I like to ferret mine away and never show anyone because most of the time, they’re awful. However, I do like to look back a few months done the line to see improvement.

Quick Poses is a great place to find reference, mostly nudes. For clothed models, I recommend Senshi Stock.

Because I like you, here are a few unearthed gestures.




2) Have a goal for the drawing
– Is this a quick sketch or the start of a major work? Are you drawing to practice a specific thing or drawing just for fun? Knowing your goal for the drawing session will help keep you on track. For example, I might say, “I want my animal drawings to appear more lifelike. I need to practice gestural lines.” Then I’ll draw a series of sketches that might look sloppy and uninspired to someone else, but I’m learning from them, and that’s the important part.


3) Do studies and sketches before you start final piece.
DO THEM! Don’t think, I’ll kind of do one sketch and play with this idea like a baby with plastic keys. Seriously, do them. I only recently discovered the true value of this technique. I used to be the baby with the keys, and suffered for it, but no more!

I had to draw a hyena. I spent one full week doing studies. Every morning and some afternoons were filled with hyenas and by Friday, I knew every angle. That weekend, I drew the sketch for the final hyena in record time, with a very minimal period of discomfort.

A great place to do studies is at a zoo or aquarium, and I would also recommend stuffed animals at museums because they don’t move and provide a less stressful environment for starting out.

Here’s another example. I wanted to draw a banner for my Patreon and Twitter page which features a dog and a jaguar. You can see the process for my final banner here for free!

Dog studies



Jaguar studies



Plant studies



Final Piece

4) Make thumbnails – This is in the same category of studies and sketches and I find many people also play with the idea of thumbnailing like that baby with the keys. I’ve jumped into a number of sculpts and drawings without a thumbnail first and I always end up going back and thumb nailing once I inevitably get lost. Then I usually waste time re-working or deleting parts that I don’t like. The thumbnail is a guide to the final piece. Contemplate composition, lighting, colors, etc before you dive in. When something gets confusing, refer to your guide, the thumbnail.

Be aware that thumbnailing is very labor intensive, more so than it appears. There’s a lot to think about when making thumbnails and it’s very normal to feel more mentally drained after a thumbnail session than a drawing session. This is good and means you’re solving your problems, in a small, easy to alter space, before you attempt the final piece. Solve as many problems as you can in the thumbnail.

Sometimes, it even helps to make a first round of very quick, rough, and ugly thumbs, and then expand to larger, more refined thumbs. Remember, you’re solving problems, generating ideas, and making a guide. Make the best guide you can.

Here’s an example of thumbnails and how they saved my sanity. I needed to draw a jungle. I had never drawn a jungle before, and I was very intimated by the task. I concluded that I needed to start simple and build up or I’d become overwhelmed.

First round of thumbs

Second round of thumbs

Basic Sketch
Jungle Scene Development Sketch

Final Painting
Jungle Scene Spread Example

5) Finish the drawing no matter what. – It doesn’t matter if it sucks. Finish it to the degree you decided upon in step 2. Why? Because the entire thing is a learning process, which is teaching you things subconsciously as well. Have a crappy painting? Good. First of all, you won. You finished, and that’s a victory regardless of the quality of the drawing/painting. You’ve worked though a production pipeline from start to end. You’ve endured discomfort and accustomed your mind with discipline. You’ve gotten to know yourself and your habits a little bit more closely. You’ve become more acquainted with your strengths and weaknesses. With this knowledge, you can adjust, and try again. As always, remember to forgive yourself and write your findings down, after each session or whenever you think you need it.

6) Take time to think about the drawing after – What went well? What failed? What do you need to study? Which part do you want to improve for next time? Take a few minutes to think about your final piece. I never make this a negative time. This is a learning time. Try to step away from yourself and your work. Write down what you discover, and make a new plan for the next time. Most of all, congratulate yourself for finishing.

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. I want to see your work! Show me your sketches and studies. Post your thumbnails. Also, if you have any insights or tips, please post them in the comments below!


If you liked this post, you might like these others
How to Win at Creative Adult – The Two List Method

How to Win at Creative Adult – Mindfulness and Fighting Stress

How to Win at Creative Adult – Exercise

How to Win at Creative Adult – Drawing at Zoos and Aquariums

How to Win at Creative Adult – Dealing with Frustration and Fear

How to Win at Creative Adult – Focus

Fish studies

Fish studies

If you’d like to start sketching and studying with the same things I use, here they are!

All of these Amazon buttons are affiliate links, meaning if you use one to buy an item, I’ll get a small commission. Thanks for the support! I hope these help you in the quest to become the best you that you can be. Stay strong. Stay awesome. Cheers!

*All images are either mine or public domain

6 Responses to How to Win at Creative Adult – Dealing with Frustration and Fear

  1. Hey sarah! Your blog is so good, no really it is phenominal stuff, very personable and informative, you have a great style of teaching, being, reaching, you get what I am trying to say,,I am doing my best to be a good student and will do my best to bring others to this rejuvenating well you call a blog. It will take me some time to get through all that you have said and the examples you have posted but I will start to apply them to my own personal project and start to share the same when I can. On a side not I have gathered a ton of images and reference of all kinds so if you are having trouble with something drop me a line I may have something…

    • Sarah Dahlinger says:

      Wow Scott, that is so fantastic to hear! I’m very glad that you like my blog and that it’s helping you out. As you add some of these techniques into your workflow, definitely link me so I can check them out. Thanks for telling people about the blog too! I really appreciate your support and I’m looking forward to see what you make this spring and summer. 🙂


  2. Kate says:

    s/drawing/jewelry & I am right there with you. The specifics are different — sketching isn’t so much a thing (although it is for coming up with designs) — but warmups, finishing projects, figuring out what went wrong — yes, yes, all of this, yes.

    • Sarah Dahlinger says:

      Yay! I’m glad it applies to non-drawing arts as well. I was hoping it did. Have you ever posted your process anywhere? If you wanted to, maybe we could do a joint blog post about it?

      • Kate says:

        Ooh, that’d be awesome! I haven’t written about it in great detail though I tend to post stuff grumbles on Twitter when things aren’t going well.

        Gimme a holler at my email & we can figure out what’s what?

Leave a Reply

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

Working on updating my store. No orders at this time. Dismiss