The Art Biz ep. 150: How to Project Confidence Even When You’re Not Feeling It

I don’t know exactly what it’s like to move your art from the safety of the studio and put it on view for the world to see. As a non-practicing artist, I have only entered my art in a show one time—a fiber sculpture that was juried into an annual exhibition.

Because it was a juried show, there were many artists, so I could slip in under the radar at the same time I was comforted that not all eyes (if any) were on my piece.

Since then, I have felt the discomfort of the spotlight on a regular basis. In a different way.

Joan Chamberlain painting
©Joan Chamberlain, Floral Notes with a Lively Finish. Acrylic on cradled panel, 24 x 36 x 2 inches.

I’ve sandwiched this solo episode of the Art Biz in between two episodes about artist residencies to discuss a huge barrier that we’re faced with when unveiling our work or, say, applying to residencies: lack of confidence.

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You need …

Confidence in your art.
Confidence in sharing your art with others.
Confidence in your direction.

And confidence, as you have no doubt discovered, is slippery. It sticks around for awhile and then suddenly disappears for no good reason.

While I’m not an artist with a committed practice …

I know what it’s like to put my thoughts, ideas, and opinions out into the world in the form of this podcast, articles, videos, social media posts, my programs, and my book. I know what it’s like to feel shaky about my efforts. To wish I had a few more hours or days to massage my message.

I know what it’s like to work really hard on something and feel you weren’t properly acknowledged or rewarded for that work. To wonder why the heck you even bother making and promoting something if nobody—or fewer than you’d hoped for—responds to it.

I know what it’s like to look at your social media feed and try your best to resist comparing yourself to others.

Ellen Lindner art
©Ellen Lindner, Brainstorm. Cotton and silk fabrics, thread, batting, fusible web, permanent pens; raw edge collage; machine and hand stitched and fused, 17 x 25 inches.

And I know what it’s like to have naysayers and even haters. I don’t do well with negative feedback, and it’s taken me a lifetime to realize how important it is to divorce myself from my work and all feedback—positive or negative. I have been helped along by Tara Mohr’s book, Playing Big. In particular, the chapter titled Unhooking from Praise and Criticism.

She says, “Feedback is vital … because it tells us whether we are reaching the people we need to reach.” And adds that feedback is “just useful data, nothing more…. Feedback is emotionally neutral information that tells you what resonates for your desired audience, what engages the people you want to engage, what influences the people you want to influence.”

I’m getting a little off-track, but I wanted to put in the plug for Tara’s insights. The bottom line is that feedback and, worse, silence or indifference, can be confidence killers.

Fortunately, periods of confidence and lack thereof are intermittent.

Confidence is boosted when we make a sale, enroll a new student or client, or are invited to join a gallery or be in a show.

The doubt and fear come when we change course or try something new. They show up when sales are slow.

They never really go away because, as an artist, you are constantly reinventing yourself and your art. Every time you do this, you open yourself up.

This vulnerability is what makes you good at what you do. It is part of your authenticity.

Eileen Kennedy painting
©Eileen Kennedy, Circus Summer. Egg tempera on gesso panel, 18 x 24 inches.

If you’re playing it safe by staying in your comfort zone, you’ll avoid the bouts of doubt and fear. But when you stretch, when you try something new, and when you grow,  you can bet your last dollar that the troublesome duo won’t be far behind.

You are bound to go through peaks and valleys as you’re experimenting with your art and business decisions.

You need to learn to be comfortable with the discomfort when it appears. It’s a muscle you build, which is easier to hone when you expect it and can prepare for it.

That’s why I want to emphasize that crashes in confidence will happen. They happen to everyone—even those artists you would never suspect. You are not alone. You’re not going through anything that others haven’t gone through before you. And you’re going to be okay. 

Lack of confidence gets in the way of your success.

You are more likely to get the commission, sell the work, fill your classes, gain social media followers, and have your proposal accepted if we believe in you.

And we are more likely to believe in you if you believe in yourself and your art.

Next time you find yourself in the center of a confidence crash, use these tips to work your way out of it one step at a time. They will help you project confidence even when you’re questioning your talent and place in the world.

Anne Shutan Door
The thing I enjoyed most about meeting Anne Shutan is that she was as excited about her work as I was. When I complimented something, she said, "I know! Isn't that cool?!" I love that kind of enthusiasm. Here she is with the front door she carved.

Load up on experience.

The best potion for exorcising fear and doubt is experience.

Experience builds confidence 99x faster than walking on hot coals or loading your shelves with self-help books.

Make more art. And more art.
Enter more shows.
Apply for more grants and residencies.
Rack up the rejections. Keep counting the Noes so you can get to the Yeses.

I promise your confidence increases and you are less concerned with what others think as you become more experienced.

Spiff up.

Increase your confidence by honing your professional presentation.

Consider making these improvements.

  • Rewrite your artist statement with language that guides people to look more closely at your art.
  • Improve how you introduce yourself to people in order to pique interest.
  • Update your bio to better highlight your accomplishments.
  • Freshen up your website and branding to reflect your ambitions.
  • Engage art viewers at a deeper level so that they spend more time with your art.

Consider joining my Magnetic You program to help with all of these.

In Magnetic You, I walk you through a process of creating or refining your artist statement and bio, developing stories around your art, and clarifying your visual branding. And you have the support of my team, our community members, and me for feedback and accountability when you need it. MagneticYouArtist.com

Work on the outside.

Looks shouldn’t matter, but they do—mostly because they affect how you feel about yourself. Little adjustments can go a long way.

A new outfit can do wonders for your esteem, as can painting your nails, shining your shoes, or getting a new hairdo.

Wear your “power color” or a good-luck necklace. Or hold a talisman in your pocket.

Update your website and branding.

This isn’t gender-specific. Anyone can do this.

Anything that improves your appearance and presentation will give you a boost.

Stand up straight. Or sit up straight. Don’t slouch in the back of the room. Or hunch over your desk while on a Zoom call.

Pull your shoulders back, hold your head high, and introduce yourself to people.

Remember that everyone at an art opening or on a livestream is there for the same reason.

Act like you belong there. Because you do.

Jennie Schaeffer mixed media
©Jennie Traill Schaeffer, 35. Mixed media on wood panel, 36 x 24 inches.

Visualize the situation.

As you are preparing for an event that puts you in the spotlight, visualize how you want to show up. Imagine yourself firmly planted in the room, be it live or virtual.

Again, you belong there.

Anticipate the questions that might be asked, prepare talking notes, and know that you will rely on your experience, professional presentation, and preparation.

Consider: “How would <insert your role model> show up in this situation?”

I love Adam Grant’s interview on the Rethinking podcast with Steve Martin and Adam Gopnik, when Martin says: “ I think the advice of “be yourself” is the worst advice for humanity” and reveals how he channels Carl Reiner’s charisma in social situations. [ Transcript and No. 18 in 2023 ]

Try the charm offensive.

Introducing yourself to strangers is a quick way to relieve any anxiety around an event with lots of people that you’d like to connect with.

As you meet someone new, look them in the eye, smile, and call them by name. Repeat their name a couple of times as you’re speaking so you remember it.

Focus on listening—listening to connect and to understand rather than half-heartedly listening to respond with your own stories.

Confident people are comfortable enough to focus on others rather than talk about themselves all of the time. They leave space for conversation.

Now for my final tip.

©Magdalena Bogart, Opinions. Acrylic and multimedia (collage, pencil, colored pens) on cradled wood panel, 24 x 24 inches.

Never belittle your work. Never apologize.

When someone says something kind about your art, all you have to do is say Thank you. Don’t giggle and brush aside their compliment. Don’t look down at the floor and say, Aw shucks

Look them in the eye and express your gratitude.

Don’t apologize for poorly cut mats or the dirty display pedestal. There’s no need to call attention to imperfections.

Better yet, attend to these details before you show your work so that you aren’t tempted to focus on them anymore.

Also, don’t apologize for your pricing or offer discounts out of the gate. If you have done your homework, you understand the value of your art. Your pricing is where it should be.

As I said earlier. Confidence is a muscle that you build through experience. The experience of getting your art out of the studio and in front of people, and the process of anticipating and preparing for interactions around your art.

Everyone wrestles with periods of insecurity. Everyone! There has got to be some kind of solace knowing that you are not alone.

And that you don’t always have to be confident. You just need to play the part.

 

This article was originally posted August 7, 2014, updated March 28, 2018, and has been updated significantly with the addition of a podcast episode and original comments intact.

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56 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 150: How to Project Confidence Even When You’re Not Feeling It”

  1. and after you politely listen to others, practice saying these words, excuse me, but I must greet some of my other guests. Or, would you like to come with me to greet the guest who just came in? Do you have a card? Perhaps I can look at your work after my big night is over.

  2. Hi Alyson,

    Great points, all. In my years of experience teaching, training, and performing I’ve seen there are 2 things that really help confidence to skyrocket: experience and preparation. This is exactly what you’re talking about.

    Your advice about getting a vision in your head for how you want the event to go and preparing responses and actions in advance will definitely help anyone who takes this advice.

    I would just add that if things don’t go exactly as planned, don’t beat yourself up. Decide what you can do better and make sure you prepare for that the next time around. That way you’re always improving.

  3. I’ve learned that a big part of being engaged and welcoming is to treat each question or comment — even the ones you have fielded often and feel are awkward — as if you have never heard it before; stop and think, and take time to truly respond to that person. You should have a thoroughly thought-through answer to the FAQs you get the most, but don’t treat it like a rote thing; they ask because they can’t think of anything else to say, or they truly want to know. Err on the side of supposing they are genuinely interested, and have a concise, engaging answer, or better yet, a question for them. After all, they have never had that conversation with you before (even if many others have!) I find this keeps my attitude open and I don’t get impatient, even with the same old same old. My confidence about talking about my work has grown tremendously since I began trying to engage in conversations with viewers, not just reacting to their comments. And I hear a lot more from people about what my work is about and means to them. Always helpful and interesting.

  4. Great tips, Alyson. My favorite: never point out the “mistakes” in your work.
    When people compliment on your art, just smile, look them in the eye and say “Thank you!” Don’t insult their good taste. This is always included in my classes – especially for the beginners.

  5. Yes, learning how to take a compliment – just say “Thank you” – it’s so much easier than making excuses. Just say “Thank you!” and see what happens. I have found that the habit of blogging has helped me a lot when it comes to talking to people about my work. To write a blog post demands reflection and analysis of the work, and putting it into words – the written word – helps me to arrive at a deeper understanding of my work – and gives me a foundation for talking to viewers about my work and answering their questions.

  6. These are great – the only thing I might add is also don’t apologize for the price of your work. Just say it with confidence – you deserve to be paid for your work. Thanks as always, Alyson!

    1. Oh, that’s a good one, Lauren. You’ll never get what your art is worth if you apologize for it. And, if you have to apologize, you probably shouldn’t be charging that amount.

  7. Wonderful article, Alyson! I have learned this first-hand this past year. I was a painter/animator for the film “Loving Vincent”. I am also an introvert…and no longer apologize for that. However, I’ve been asked to give numerous talks about my experience working on the movie. My first time was terrifying. As I did more, it got easier and people couldn’t believe I am an introvert! I still get nervous, but I am confident in my ability to do it because of just doing it!

    1. WOW, Dena. What a wonderful experience and opportunity! I saw the film and loved it. My husband who does not like animation went along because I wanted to see it. He also came away loving the film. Thanks for your contribution.

  8. These are all wonderful comments, especially getting experience directly . I would also suggest that smiling, even when you are shaking in your shoes, will give the impression of confidence and others will smile along with you.

  9. Dena, you have a wonderful talent and you deserve all the accolades you have gotten for your part in Loving Vincent….the work must have been very hard but very rewarding. Keep on keeping on, we northern Colorado artists are so proud of you!!

  10. Heather Anderson

    Your articles are always so helpful. The line, ‘you don’t always have to be confident, you just have to play the part’ rings so true. In such situations, I think of myself as acting, I become the character needed for the time and place, and leave the quaking me at home. Smile, stand up straight, look delighted to see everyone and hear what they have to say to you, and develop a line of polite social chat.

  11. Your articles are very affirming of what I’ve been doing & getting better at with each new experience.

    Keep up the good work. We all benefit from your wisdom!

  12. Another way to belittle your work is to say “It just came together,” “It was easy,” or “I was just playing…” Although these might be true, you could rephrase them to say, “I was really in the groove on this one. Each idea led to the next and I got an Adrenalin surge as it all came together.”

    (Like the Adrenalin surge I got when seeing my work in your newsletter. Thanks!)

  13. Thank you so much, Alyson, for including my work in this post! This is so relevant to me right now and connected to the piece you chose – I’m working on rebuilding my business from home while being the primary caregiver for my kids, after running a brick and mortar art gallery / studio, where I was very much visible. So now I feel sort of hidden, except on social media, periodic exhibit openings, and when I teach. I find it harder / more intimidating to exude confidence when I’m coming out of my studio. Your tips hit the nail on the head. I can’t wait to share this with my followers!

  14. I always love to read your fab words!totally agree,l wish my self-esteem was better ,your like a magic fairy,thank you so much love caryx

  15. I’m so hooked on with your article Alyson. Confidence has been my biggest challenge to overcome….both in meeting someone new and in the process of creating my art. It feels like a roller coaster ride sometimes. I don’t have this issue as far as my Ad business is concerned. Since attending The Breakthrough workshop in Denver, I have decided to retire end of this year. May sound like a risk but am willing to take it and paint full time. I have signed up for The Magnetic You class and can’t wait to start the lessons.

    1. Wow, Thana! I wouldn’t have thought you had a problem with confidence. You don’t show it in person.

      Super excited to hear about your big goal. I’ll do whatever I can to help you achieve it.

    2. I must have created a good impression at the Breakthrough Alyson. I feel good now that you have said it. Speaking on confidence, I’m happy to share that I received an email announcing that one of my pieces was a winning entry at the 12 inches of Sin art competition at Las Vegas. This is a worldwide competition, only 12 artists are picked in each category. It’s certainly a boost for my confidence. As Cary mentioned, you’re our Magic Fairy…..please keep doing your “Magic” on us.

    3. I agree with Alyson! And there is every reason to be confident about your work! you will love the Magnetic You class and it was an honor to sit next to you and see your work at Breakthrough!

    4. Thanks so much for the confidence in me Brooke, it’s very thoughtful and likewise it was a privilege sitting next to you at the Breakthrough.

  16. I recently had a reception for a solo exhibit. So I was the ONE who people focused on (scary!) I dressed the part, stood up straight, smiled etc. When the gallery owner who set up the exhibit told me “We have been so looking forward to this exhibit”, it made a huge difference. I just held onto those words and it boosted my confidence. And having confidence made it a great experience.

  17. This article makes me think of the book Just Kids by Patti Smith. She and Robert Mapplethorpe move to New York and dress in their best bohemian clothes. Hang out in Central Park. They dressed and acted like artists until they both became artists. “Fake it ’til you make it.” So true. So good. Thanks, Alyson!

  18. It has been wonderful reading all the positive feedback on this topic! As my father said, “Keep that first team in there!” Dad’s advice seems so appropriate having read so many situations the artists shared in this conversation. Balancing the stress of feeling uncomfortable with the passion of art is doable! We each need to stay on that positive page and support one another. Thanks for the great input.

  19. In my first show( out of 5 more this summer into early fall! I’ll b 67 next month, but better late than NEVER! Your advice was very helpful, I just have to read and reread it until Sunday!:)
    see me on instagram.????????????????????

  20. Thank you! I’ve been in this … lack of confidence for awhile. I have been nursing an injury and with that I’ve lost so much. The physical does effects the creativity. I couldn’t get myself moving. But now with your information and a show coming up I’m painting like mad and it feels so good.
    I’ll say thank you again.
    Aleta

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Aleta: I’m sorry that you have been experiencing some insecurity, but very happy you find this helpful. You are not alone.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Very happy it’s something that resonates and you can use right away, Patricia.

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