Have you ever had the voice of your inner critic judge so loudly, so cruelly, you stop making your art?

The other day I was sad to hear from an artist that felt her art was ruined by a series of “bad decisions.” She had a vision of what the finished work should look like and it appeared that any artistic choice she made only took her further from that idea. As she made each new decision, that inner critic grew louder and louder: “What are you doing?” “Don’t you know this is wrong?” “I thought you were good at this art stuff?” She ended that day having spent many hours on a painting, feeling completely defeated. I felt this tug in my heart, because too many of us know that feeling all too well.

It is for this reason I strongly call for artists to separate creation and assessment as distinct and different steps of your creative process. I can hear you say, “Easier said than done, Carrie!” Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. That’s why I have strategies, resources, and more, here for you, today.

Learn a surprising solution for quieting your inner critic.

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First and foremost, as soon as you can hear your inner critic getting more vocal: take a break from your art. It sounds simple enough but I still hear some of you saying “Easier said than done.” There are also some of you who try instead to “power through” and when things go badly, you convince yourself you can work it out and keep going. By the end you are physically exhausted, grumpy, and generally unpleasant to be around (yes, I’ve done this more than once!). So, who exactly are we helping by powering through?

Here is a great example of me working through some ideas. Studying figures and then, when I’m DONE, assessing them for use in a cartoon… this is creative process:

This means you have to tune in and be receptive. Choose to be a listener. Practice being an observer. What happens while you create? When you begin to hear that voice of assessment (which can often be a bit harsh or picky), stop. Instead:

Take a walk. Research cited in Deep Work explicitly states that being in nature helps rejuvenate our mind. In fact, while we walk, we can still be working on our artwork in that wonderful subconscious or unconscious mind. When we return: problem solved. If snow is piled high around you, or you live somewhere like Muscat, Oman and it’s just too hot, why not bake? Or, get a canvas out JUST for play. Take an action that separates you from the work. Your mind needs to rest. And it’s truly amazing what our mind can solve and sort out when we give it time to rest and to percolate.

After you do all of this, decide: when IS it time to assess? If that inner critic is showing up, perhaps that’s a sign. Rather than seeing this voice as a source of negativity, why not instead ask yourself more about the concerns you feel? Why are you concerned? What can you learn from your critical, assessing thoughts? What can you act on to then improve your work? You should NOT be making at this point. Stare at the work, or hide it away. Have a journal to work in. Or talk with an art friend. This is a reflection point and the trouble usually starts when artists try to do this while they are still putting marks on their canvas.

My embroidery has become a safe space for me. If my inner critic is too loud for me to really listen, I stitch:

Progress progress #WIP #textiles #embroidery

A photo posted by Carrie (@artiststrong) on

Now, when you realize you are at the stage of assessment, navigate it with kindness: if you know assessing your art makes you feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, why not try to create an environment that helps you cope with those feelings in safe, inviting ways? Light a candle and journal about the work. Take a bath. Do a short meditation. Or call a good friend for a laugh just before your assessment begins. Something important I want you to understand: assessment is not only valuable, but a necessary part of your artist practice.

Keep assessment on a separate day, maybe take a few weeks off from the artwork. It gives you emotional space to look more critically at the work and make better decisions for your art.

Ask your intuition how it feels about your assessment of the work. Ask the painting even: what do you want next? Or, are you finished? Treat the process as a conversation between you and the art.

This is one of the artworks I speak about when I tell you I ask my paintings: what do you want next? I’m proud of it, too:

I struggle with my assessment like nature. Between teaching in classrooms, and my slow but deepening recovery from perfectionism, a whole lotta assessing has happened in my life. Most recently, opening myself to my Women Strong series has showed me that I need to better trust my intuition, and that when I honor the assessment element as an important part of the process, my critic is quieter. Perhaps thats because she feels heard. You can read more about that in my article on dreams and intuition here

Trust yourself. And listen. Truly: you know best for your art.

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Be Creatively Courageous: How will you make assessment an enjoyable and celebratory part of your creative process? Tell me about it below.