Small Steps

Original Photo: Rodion Kutsaev / Unsplash

Starting new art is intimidating.

But I’ve found that there are two approaches that help me to get started on a new illustration.

First, I start with the “next smallest step.” Fortunately, that rarely starts with a blank sheet of expensive paper. In fact, it usually starts with my sketchbook — testing out different layouts, perspectives, and proportions. After that, it’s figuring out color palettes, media to use, and the overall mood I want to convey. All done in my sketchbooks.

This seems to help because it’s harder to get nervous about lower-stakes tasks. It comfortably feels a lot like playing with my favorite supplies and colors. I can stay on this step as long as I need to before moving forward, and when I feel good about where I’ve ended up at these steps, it doesn’t seem as daunting to move on to the next smallest step…

Once I’ve got this prep work all done, I’m usually excited to get started. And even then, I just plan on starting with the smallest step. Just sketching. Just inking. Just waiting for it to dry…. None of that seems that hard by itself, and by the time I’m really going I have to force myself to take a break. Because at the end of the day, I love creating art. It’s why I do it. Even if I get a little nervous about it.

Which brings me to my second strategy — adjusting the goal. The nervousness usually comes from the risk of failure. Maybe the piece won’t turn out the way I imagine. Maybe the cat will jump on my lap and I’ll scribble all over what I’ve done. Who knows what could happen? Ultimately, what I don’t want to do is make something I can’t be proud of… but I’ve decided to shift my perspective of what I can take pride in. These days that looks like doing the work, and learning along the way. The end result is important, but it definitely isn’t everything.

Even if the piece isn’t that great, or what I expected, odds are very high I’m going to learn from the experience. Whether an illustration ends up in my shop or portfolio, or in the trash, it’s good practice no matter what. By changing my attitude, I lower the pressure on myself even more — that it’s okay to fail and success isn’t any one thing.

At the end of a project, I find that I’ve truly enjoyed each small step forward. (And even if I do make a mistake, I usually enjoy pushing myself creatively to solve it or work around it.) Basically, when I am able to remove the pressure from myself, and take things one step at a time, I remember how much I enjoy making art.


P.S. – Since this approach is working so well right now, I should have a few new items in my Etsy shop soon! Yay! (And if you haven’t checked it out recently, there are already a lot of fun prints and stickers available now!)