The Power of Structure in Creative Growth: Navigating Discomfort and Finding Confidence

Creativity often feels like an unpredictable journey. It’s a blend of inspiration, experimentation, and exploration that can lead to both triumphs and moments of uncertainty. As a self-taught artist, sometimes we don’t know how to improve or what steps to take next. Recently, two of my coaching clients expressed similar concerns: the discomfort that comes from developing new skills and experimenting with different materials and ideas. One jokingly asked, “Have I forgotten how to paint?”

Boy have I been there before.

What about you?

Hey there! 👋 I’m Carrie. Here on Artist Strong I help self-taught artists who have a home studio, feeling stuck with their art, move from wondering what’s next to confidently expressing themselves through unique, original art. To date, thousands have joined the community.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽 If you feel like gaps in your learning hold you back from making your best art, sign up and watch my workshop, called How to Create Art from Your Imagination. It’s completely free for you to watch and the link is in the description below.

Today I’ll discuss how structure can be a crucial component in helping you grow as an artist, and why it’s particularly important during times of experimentation and skill development.

The Discomfort of Trying New Things

One of the most challenging aspects of being self-taught is the constant pressure to improve without a clear roadmap. When we try new things, we naturally expect the same level of satisfaction or confidence in our work. However, when exploring new techniques or styles, it’s common to experience what seems like a drop in skill. This can be incredibly disheartening, leading to thoughts like, “I must have lost my touch,” or “Maybe I’m just not good enough.”

The reality is that discomfort is an integral part of growth. When we’re experimenting with new skills, our usual patterns are disrupted, and this can create a sense of instability. This is where having a structure becomes invaluable.

The Importance of Structure

Structure provides a foundation that can support you through the uncertainty of learning and experimenting. It can be the guiding light when you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed. Here’s why structure is so important for creative growth:

  1. Reduces Overwhelm: When you’re exploring new techniques, it’s easy to feel like you’re all over the place. A structured approach helps you focus on one thing at a time, reducing overwhelm and allowing you to progress more steadily.
  2. Helps You See Results More Quickly: With a clear structure, you can track your progress and see the results of your experimentation more quickly. This feedback loop is crucial for building confidence and staying motivated.
  3. Provides a Sense of Security: Structure acts as a safety net, giving you the confidence to take risks and explore new territory. It can be a source of comfort when you’re feeling insecure about your skills.
  4. Facilitates Consistency: Consistency is key to growth, and a structured approach helps you stay on track with your practice and exploration. This is very important when you want to create art with a unique style.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽I’d love to know, have you considered the benefits of structure before for your art? Or have you always thought about structure as something that boxes you in? Tell me more in the comments below.

Creating a Structure That Works for You

One of my favorite methods for creating structure is working in series. This involves focusing on a specific theme, subject, or technique for a predetermined number of artworks (I say series can be anywhere from 6- 25 pieces of art), allowing you to explore deeply while maintaining a clear framework. By working in series, you can experiment with new ideas without feeling like you’re aimlessly wandering.

For example, in my own work, I’ve felt a huge discomfort as I’ve moved from exclusively portraits of women where I’m investigating gender roles to also exploring ideas around being a primary caregiver. And instead of using paint or colored pencils, I’m looking at incorporating collaborative elements and even have an Instagram account that I absolutely see as an artwork. (You can check it out linked below). 

There are many elements to this project I’m envisioning but I have structure for each part.

For the Instagram account I’m keeping an easy to use prompt for every participant to reply to and I have a Google Form I created for people to contribute their reply anonymously. I’m creating posts and Reels with the quotes and I’m keeping the same formats. I decided on a series of colors and fonts and those are the style I’m sticking to for this work. All of this has made it easier for me to show up and promote the work.

In another element of this project I’m doing some embroidery work. By allowing myself to explore ideas in a series, where I aim to embroider on 50 used (but clean!) cloth diapers I have a clear boundary and expectation for this one part of the project. And the specific structure frees me up to think about the design of the embroidery as well as the words I choose to use on them. Here is one of the completed works here:

This structure gave me the freedom to experiment while also providing a consistent focus. It allowed me to dive into the discomfort of learning without feeling overwhelmed by too many variables.

I’ve also seen students and community members benefit from this kind of structure. Shae Irving is someone I’ve interviewed before on Artist Strong and you can see her interview here.

When she completed my program Self-Taught to Self-Confident for the first time, she took my suggestion to work in a series. She was inspired by another artist who had done a series of artworks on post-it notes. The consistent substrate and scale of the work set her up for success. She decided to focus on portraits of pigeons. 

Here we see great structure: she chose a number of works, the scale or size of the work, the substrate she was working on, and even a topic and medium.

While you don’t have to have all of these elements decided when you begin a series, sometimes it’s just the thing to free you up to explore your ideas. Shae was able to explore her skill level with graphite and focus on value and composition, and she made a wonderful series of works that people gobbled up when she decided to sell them.

Today’s video is brought to you by my premium program Self-Taught to Self-Confident. If you are tired of spinning tires spending money on classes that teach you how to paint like someone else and are ready to make art that reflects your unique voice and style, this program is for you. 

Self-Taught to Self-Confident walks you through building strong foundations to draw and paint whatever you want so you can confidently build a practice to show up regularly for your art and begin to explore what you want to say. Hop on a call with me to see if you’re a good fit and walk away with a clear plan for your art today.

Not only does structure give you the confidence boost to take new risks and explore new techniques and ideas, but this can be the exact means and method by which you continue to grow and improve your art style.

The Value of Conscious Awareness

As we progress in skill, it’s easy to forget the discomfort we experienced as beginners. And I’d say many of you here part of Artist Strong fit this description. You are no longer a complete beginner and have achieved a level of success in your work (even if you are also thinking there is more to learn and improve upon).

However, it’s essential to remain conscious of this part of the learning process. When you encounter discomfort, it’s not a cause for alarm—it’s a sign that you’re growing. By recognizing this, you can better handle the uncertainty and continue pushing forward.

In my coaching sessions, I often remind my clients that the discomfort they’re feeling is part of the journey. It’s a signal that they’re challenging themselves and expanding their skills. With structure in place, they can navigate this discomfort with greater ease and confidence.

And when you want to keep growing, learning and experimenting, the discomfort never really goes away because it means we are choosing to push the boundaries of our work to keep improving. What happens is new things make us uncomfortable and those risks we previously took in our art are no longer the discomfort they once were because we’ve achieved a new level of competence with our art.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽What’s ONE thing you can start applying to your artist practice this week? I’m all about taking action here and helping you get results so I want to hear how today’s conversation can help you make better art. Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.


If you’re experiencing uncertainty or discomfort while developing new skills, remember that structure can be your anchor. It provides stability, reduces overwhelm, and helps you stay on track with your creative journey. By embracing structure, you can better navigate the ups and downs of growth, ultimately reaching new levels of skill and confidence.

So, don’t be afraid to experiment and explore. Embrace the discomfort, and trust that with a solid structure in place, you’ll find your way through. Keep creating, keep learning, and most importantly, keep growing.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽Be sure to like and subscribe to support Artist Strong and then share your takeaways in the comments below. 

As always, thank you so much for watching. 

Remember: proudly call yourself an artist.

Together, we are Artist Strong.