Do you  struggle with perfectionism that sabotages your art?

Perhaps you avoid your home studio or refuse to finish an artwork because of what might go wrong? 

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.

Today let’s define perfectionism, recognize how and where it shows up for us, and what we can do about it so that we make more art.

When I look back on my perfectionism in art, it has always come down to being “good enough.” And if I wasn’t, it was the belief that I couldn’t change my circumstance: that was as good as I’d ever be.

Every time I reached a plateau in my skill I worried that this was it, this was as good as I’d ever become. And while I was in school, nothing else was ever discussed. I didn’t know there was a process to learning and growth that was essentially infinite, if I was willing to practice and put the time in.

In the beginning, when I applied to group shows or grants and I received a rejection, I always assumed it was because my art isn’t good enough. And I’d let that dictate how much risk I’d take with future applications or opportunities. Why put myself out there when I’m just not enough? (Notice how it stopped being about the applications?)

Do you struggle with perfectionism that sabotages your art? Perhaps you avoid your home studio or refuse to finish an artwork because of what might go wrong? 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. Today let’s define perfectionism, recognize how and where it shows up for us, and what we can do about it so that we make more art.

One big aha I had while I was living in Ottawa, Ontario and applied for a local residency. I got the big no and was feeling rather sorry for myself, as I believed I had more evidence that I’d never be, well, perfect. In the email, however, they offered me an opportunity for feedback. I wasn’t going to take it, because I worried they’d tell me my skill wasn’t up to par.

My husband encouraged me to go for it, what did I have to lose? So I did.

And in that feedback I realized they liked my work and my idea, I just needed to adjust the proposal in the application and they might take me for a future residency.

It was a big moment where I realized sometimes a no wasn’t about my worth or the quality of my art.

Today I still struggle with perfectionism, but I also have grown to see my so-called failures are actually stepping stones to where I want to be… when it comes to my art (and life, really).

How does perfectionism show up in your life? What unkind words does it whisper in your ear? Tell me more in the comments below.

According to the American Psychological Association, perfectionism is, “the tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation. It is associated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health problems.”

As artists, symptoms of perfectionism include: 

✅ procrastination, 

✅ always seeing everything wrong with our art (while never seeing or celebrating anything that goes right), 

✅ never finishing work, 

✅ avoiding our home studio, 

✅ and/or sticking to the same safe topic or technique rather than trying the new thing that actually excites us. 

✅ We quietly wonder, “What if I’m actually no good?” “Can I actually do any of this?” “What if I can’t?”

✅ And unfortunately for us if the answer is we can’t, somehow our mind has convinced us that we are unworthy. We don’t deserve our art interest, we will never be good at art… and for me, if I’m totally honest with myself, my perfectionism has always meant I’m not worthy of love. 

Ouch. It hurts saying that out loud.

This is why I believe art block can be so hard to overcome. If at the heart of things we don’t believe in ourselves and our inherent worthiness, then facing any obstacle that rears its ugly head becomes a sign we should give up rather than a sign we’re learning (because that’s what it is).

The good news is we can unlearn these beliefs and approach our studio time with a different perspective that helps us show up more, and start to believe in ourselves, no matter what our latest drawing or painting looks like.

Get a railroad spike

The first story I want to share is one shared by author Stephen King in his book On Writing, which I highly recommend. In it he talks about when he first started applying to publications with his work. Each and every time he received a rejection letter he added it to a nail on the wall of his room. 

He didn’t hide them. 

He displayed them. 

And the number of rejections became so weighty he had to switch that nail out for a railroad spike!

Those rejections were not proof of his mistakes or failures that meant he should give up. They were evidence of doing the work. He kept writing. And applying.

How could you start to see your perceived failures as proof of your creative life? 

You are showing up, doing the work creatives do in this world. And every single piece of artwork you start, even those you don’t finish, become stepping stones to the art you will create when you keep going.

What do you currently perceive as a mistake or evidence of failure? Share in the comments below.By being honest with ourselves we can start to look at our art and progress with fresh eyes.

And if you are enjoying today’s conversation please be sure to like and subscribe to Artist Strong. It helps me reach more people with messages like these, and helps more than you can imagine.

The Good, Better, Best Approach

I have to say while I love King’s take on rejection and it still inspires me, it didn’t initially improve my perfectionism. My rejections and bad artwork remained evidence of failures that had me ask, “why bother?” 

One trick I learned from an entrepreneur by the name of Steph Crowder really helped me shift my perspective. She talks about goals in relation to the idea of good, better and best.

So let’s talk about that art studio you’re avoiding right now, or the work you refuse to finish because you worry you’ll ruin it. What is the absolute best outcome you can imagine for the work?

What would better look like?

And good?

Because if we’re honest with ourselves, our worst outcome is already happening: we aren’t showing up for the art we feel called to create. You might be saying, “no Carrie, that’s not the worst thing, making something that’s bad is the worst outcome.” 

And I’m genuinely curious, please answer in the comments below: is making something bad worse than not showing up for your art? 

In a sense: would giving up on your art be better than making something you think is bad?

I’ll offer an example. I have a series of artworks I’m making right now that reflect my journey into parenthood. I have a big vision of what I might do with this work, it includes in-person and online workshops, a group exhibition, a website, international participation… I mean, let’s dream big. That’s my best outcome.

When I think about better, I think about hosting a few small local workshops, maybe one online workshop, and an exhibition in a space I host myself.

Good for me in this scenario is finishing my series of works and then deciding what to do with them after.

The worst outcome would be to never finish this project.

If I only focus on the best outcome I feel overwhelmed. It’s too much for right now. But I can totally see myself working on my good goal. And the funny thing is, when we start working on the good goal and see strides, the better and best goals start to look possible. 

It’s scaffolding that helps us build our confidence and trust in ourselves that we are capable of the work we wish to create.

So, how can you use this good, better, best strategy to help you get out of a creative rut? What is a small step you can take, that’s low stakes, that helps you show up for your art? This could be something because you are stuck right now, or a strategy you prepare to use on the day your perfectionism is exceptionally loud. Tell me in the comments below.

Today’s conversation is brought to you by my workshop called How to Create Art from your Imagination. You can watch it today, for free, as soon as you sign up via the link below.

Now, I want to talk to you about some more hands-on strategies that can help get you in the studio.

How to get back into the studio: create a time minimum

When I’m in a funk or have had a break start to become an uncomfortably long time away from my studio I start with a small daily commitment of sketching or play, like 5-10 minutes in a little sketchbook. Recently, this has become a collage playtime, which you can see here.


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A post shared by Carrie Brummer (@carriebrummerart)

I don’t set a timer exactly, but I tell myself that’s all I have to do. And on some days I have no choice but to walk away. Other days I can’t wait to walk away! And finally on others, I start to get into a groove and more time passes. 

Having something small I can tick off as a to-do that’s short chunks of time rather than finishing something lets me show up, feel like I’ve done something (because I have!) and I get way more accomplished than waiting for the perfect time, or more time.

You could even extend this to larger works-in-progress and tell yourself you only have to work on it for 10-20 minutes. I guarantee with time that minimum remains but you find more time and get more headspace to stick around and work more on the art.

How to get back into the studio: use low-pressure materials

When I feel stuck with my drawings or paintings, I switch to embroidery. I actively use embroidery as a medium in my fine art and so I feel a sense of progress but also, with embroidery, if I’m already working on a piece it already means the planning and creative mind work is done. It’s about execution. Showing up for a task and technique I’m confident I can do helps quiet my perfectionist inner critic.

What medium or artistic activity can you do with confidence? Why not revert back to something that feels safe or easier to do to gain momentum and get started? 

Another way you can apply this strategy is to have a space dedicated to your messy experimentation or so-called “bad” art. Have a sketchbook where you make things in whatever media you want. Don’t show it to anyone, and especially don’t place it on social media if you know external validation can get messy and add to your perfectionist mindset. Let it be a place no one sees where you show up and use art materials.

I also know artists who will use less expensive materials when they are trying to get into the work again, so they don’t worry about “wasting the good supplies.” (You aren’t by the way if you do use them).

How do you plan to apply this strategy of using low-pressure, low-stakes materials for your artist practice? Tell me in the comments below.

Find your people

The last strategy I want to talk about today to overcome crippling perfectionism and art blocks is about community.

Find your people!

Art is a solitary practice. It can feel SO lonely and make us feel alone. And when we’re feeling this way, scrolling on Instagram only makes us feel worse.

You may not have people in real life you can reach out to, but there are all kinds of art communities online and offline. 

When it comes to offline and in person, everywhere I’ve moved I’ve joined a local art organization to make friends. And just today, as of this recording, I hosted my first local artist meetup group. I asked 3 lovely creatives I know if they’d meet every month to talk about art and help us all show up more for our art.

If you don’t have in person resources for the arts, you can absolutely connect with others online. There are so many amazing art challenges you can join, like the 100 Day project on Instagram for example, where people are all showing up and making a commitment to their art. 

Facebook has countless art groups and Reddit has countless conversations all about connecting and making art.

I started a measly little blog called Artist Strong over 12 years ago now and I have met the most awesome people as a result of that one endeavor. And it’s actually contributed to the quality of my in-person experiences as well. Everywhere I’ve moved (including Muscat, Oman!) I’ve met and made friends because of my commitment to writing and talking about art.

Also, I have friends I can’t see in person and I relish when we share our studio work via WhatsApp or Messenger. Being able to talk about my creativity with people I care about is paramount to me showing up and believing in myself. And quieting that inner critic called perfectionism.

Yes it takes trial and error, but have patience and you can find people you feel safe to share your creativity with, too.

Now if you are an artist with a home studio who has taken paint like me classes, and think of yourself as a hobbyist, but have this question of, “what if,” and you feel like there’s something more for you my program Self-Taught to Self-Confident is the answer you’re looking for.

I have an A-to-Z method that walks you through filling in gaps in your foundations, how to show up regularly to make art that comes from your mind. You walk away with a series of artworks that showcase your unique voice.

It’s time to embrace the calling in your heart to do something more with your art. Pick a time that works best for your schedule from the calendar below to learn more.

The missing link

There is something our definition of perfectionism that we started with today is missing. And that is a discussion of adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism.

I recently learned of this difference from the book The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control: A Path to Peace and Power by Katherine Morgan Schafler, which I highly recommend.

Today, our conversation has been about maladaptive perfectionism: situations where our perfectionism holds us back from being our best artist selves and living our best lives. 

But there are cases of adaptive perfectionism, situations where healthy approaches to working with our perfectionism increase the quality of our lives.

Reading this made my brain explode. I always had felt some shame that I was dysfunctional and something was wrong with me (how perfectionist, the irony no?) because I was a perfectionist.

I can use my perfectionism to my benefit and it’s not actually my real problem.

It’s how I respond to my perfectionism that is the problem. 

I always thought I had to rid myself of it, which has felt and probably is impossible. (How that nasty perfectionism decides to show itself!) And of course, that just reinforced my maladaptive perfectionism.

I’ll never be rid of it in all likelihood, but I can change the way I think about it. And how I let it either help or hurt my art and my life.

I have to constantly remind myself that it’s ok to make mistakes. And the more I make, and the more rejections I receive for my art, I’m really starting to see them as evidence of my learning and growth.

Learning is uncomfortable.

Mistakes are uncomfortable.

Improving at a skill is uncomfortable.

Growth is uncomfortable.

See any patterns here?

What if your mistakes are your superpower?

What if mistakes are the path to confidently expressing yourself through unique, original art?

Have no fear of perfection

Do you know anyone who is perfect? 

No? Bueller? Bueller, anyone?

How about in art history? (If you think someone like da Vinci was, think again, I have a video you can watch here or linked below).

That’s right. 

No one is perfect because we are human beings. We make mistakes by our very nature. And just for being alive, you are deserving of kindness, love and understanding.

When I’m struggling now I stop and ask myself, what would you say to support someone you love? Because if a friend or family member shared their struggles I’d offer comfort, love and care.

Don’t you deserve that, too?

Salvator Dali said:

“Have no fear of perfection, you will never reach it.” 

Reading or hearing that phrase that used to sting. Now I understand: it’s meant to set us free.

It’s time to go back to that studio of yours and make more art. 

The world is truly better with your art in it.

Today we talked about defining perfectionism, strategies to cope with it, and how self-compassion is key to moving forward with our art and facing our perfectionism. I’d love to know, what’s the biggest takeaway you can start applying to your art practice? Tell me in the comments below. Be sure to like and subscribe if you enjoyed today’s video and if you know someone who needs to hear this conversation, please share it!

Thanks so much for watching.

Please remember: proudly call yourself an artist.

Together we are Artist Strong.


Choose a time to decide for yourself if Self-Taught to Self-Confidentis right for you: