March 28, 2018 | Alyson Stanfield

How to Project Confidence (Even If You Have to Fake It)

You are more likely to get the commission, sell the work, fill your classes, 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.

©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. Used with permission.
©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. Used with permission.

Confidence is one of the most collector-attractive qualities an artist can possess.

And, yet, doubt and fear are endemic in artists’ lives.

To move beyond these demons, it might first be comforting to reread that last sentence. It’s endemic. You are not alone. Many, if not most, artists face both doubt and fear at points in their careers.

That’s right. I said points – more than one. They never really go away.

If you’re playing it safe by staying in your comfort zone, you’ll be immune to their visits. But when you stretch … when you try something new … when you grow … you can bet your last dollar that doubt and fear won’t be far behind.

You are bound to go through peaks and valleys as you’re experimenting with your art and business decisions. I realize it’s a big ask, but try to be comfortable with the discomfort when it comes.

Use these five tips to project confidence even when you’re questioning your talent and place in the world.

Load up on experience.

The best potion for exorcising fear and doubt is experience.

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 didn't dismiss it. She said, “I know! Isn't that cool?!” I love that kind of enthusiasm. Here she is with the front door she carved.

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

In particular, you’re looking for real-life experience rather than the online kind: person-to-person interaction, dialogue, and connection. Yes, I know this might be scary for some, but it’s absolutely necessary for building confidence.

→ This is why I created the Magnetic You class — to help you develop language around your art so that you can tell doubt and fear to take a hike. You know what to say. Your words are meaningful and serve as a strong connecting devices between you and your viewer.

Magnetic You, which I teach just once a year, begins April 12. I hope you’ll take a look at it and join us.

Visualize the situation.

As you are preparing for an event such as an art opening, visualize how you want to show up. Imagine yourself firmly planted in the room, welcoming each guest with a firm handshake, and cherishing the eyes on your artwork.

Anticipate the questions that might be asked and how you will rely on your vocabulary to respond with certainty.

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

Spiff up.

A new outfit can do wonders for your esteem, as can painting your nails and shining your shoes. Or try a new hairdo. Yep, you guys can do this, too.

Anything that improves your appearance will give you a boost.

Stand up straight.

Don’t slouch in the back of the room. Pull your shoulders back, hold your head high, and introduce yourself to people.

Remember that everyone at an art opening is there for the same reason: to be seen and to meet people. (If you want to view the art, go before or after the opening.)

Act like you belong there. Because you do.

Charm their pants off.

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.

You will charm the pants off of others if you focus on listening to understand rather than 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.

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.

©Magdalena Bogart, Opinions. Multimedia, acrylic paint and gesso on cradled wood panel, 20 x 20 inches. Used with permission.
©Magdalena Bogart, Opinions. Acrylic and multimedia (collage, pencil, colored pens) on cradled wood panel, 24 x 24 inches. Used with permission.

Don’t apologize for your pricing. If you have done your homework, you understand the value of your art. Your pricing is where it should be.

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

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

You don't have to always be confident. You just need to play the part.

47 comments add a comment
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

    • 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.

  • 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!

    • Dena: How cool that you worked on that film. And how wonderful that you stepped up to the plate and accepted that challenge.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • Dena, it was a such a pleasure to hear you speak and watch your demo! Keep on keeping on—it’s all working!

  • 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!!

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!)

  • 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!

  • 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

  • D Thanaselvam

    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.

    • 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.

      • D Thanaselvam

        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.

    • 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!

  • The world is geared towards extroverts, but we introverts can sneak in there in disguise>
    Thanks for spurring us on Alyson.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Inspiring words. I was never the confident one, but as I gain more experience in painting, I feel it growing. Thank you for these wise words.

  • 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.

  • 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.????????????????????

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