Thursday, August 20, 2015

What do you tell yourself you can't do?

If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. -Vincent Van Gogh

Note: This post is an edited repost from May 2014.

Yesterday while reading illustration blogs, I came across a comment where someone said that she could never get an agent because she's in her 40's, and no agent would ever choose to represent a middle-aged woman.

I have never heard any agent say anything along those lines. It's entirely untrue, but as long as this person tells herself it's true, it will be.

I was at an illustrator meetup a few weeks ago where a new guy nervously showed us his portfolio. He was falling all over himself to point out that he's "not really an illustrator" and he "can't do color at all" and he "can't draw people." (Actually his drawings were very strong.)

While we all have our weaknesses and difficulties, but nothing is impossible unless you tell yourself that it is. When I started out at art school, my portfolio consisted entirely of pencil black-and-white drawings, so I told people "I don't know how to do color." But I set out to learn how to do color, and now I can do it; in fact, it's one of my strengths. What if I had told myself "I can't do color"?

What do you tell yourself you can't do?

That you could never learn digital?
That you can never go full-time freelance?
That no game studio would ever want to hire you?

That you can't draw children?
That you could never have a table at that conference?
That you could never afford to attend that workshop?

Last year my husband introduced me to cycling. It was very difficult for me, both physically and emotionally, because most of my life I have told myself that I am not a strong or athletic person, that I don't do exercise. Whenever I bike, the message "I can't do this" goes through my head. I confessed this to my husband and he said, "Remember your blog post, Kelley! It's not that you can't do it, it's that you don't know how to yet!"

That's right, he quoted my own blog to me. I should probably stop giving out advice on this blog.


  1. Great post Kelley! I do think in the case of women 40 and over it's ingrained in our psyche's that "it's over." Whether it's having children or nabbing the role of a beautiful woman in a movie, we are taught that when you get to that age your options begin to disappear. Obviously that's bullshit, to some extent. But as someone who is going to turn 40 next March, I'm keenly aware of where I'm at in my life and career. I think as woman ages, you have to fight even harder for what you want.

    1. Thanks for that perspective, Amanda. It's really sad that middle-aged women have "it's over" running through their heads. Reminds me of the Jack Donaghy quote from 30 Rock: "For men, 50 is the new 40. For women, 30 is the new 40."

    2. Yes, there's definitely an imbalance in the way age is perceived between men and women. I hope that's changing and or at least moving toward change. There's been a lot of backlash recently on how Hollywood is paring young women in their 20's with men twice their age, sometimes even older.

  2. I'm a reader of your blog but I had never commented before. This post is so true and something to remember, so THANK YOU! :)

  3. Thanks for commenting, Lidia! :)

  4. Hey there Kelley!

    (Since you've started a poll to know who's visiting your blog, let me tell you: I'm a 20-year-old argentinian translator with a passion for art -especially YOUR art!)

    I guess this comment will not be a direct answer to this particular post, but a bunch of them.

    A few months ago, I could finally gather enough courage to start taking art lessons (long overdue - those had been on my to-do list for years). Even though I'm thrilled to have done so, sometimes I cannot help but feel rather unfulfilled. I expect too much of myself, and get extremely frustrated when my drawings aren't "good enough", or I simply don't know what to draw (or I do, but I believe it's way too complicated, so I put that idea off). Since all I do is copy photographs, this also makes me feel like my drawings lack imagination and narrative... I end up putting myself too much pressure and avoiding drawing altogether.

    And that's when Kelley comes to the rescue! Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I visit your blog, take a deep breath, and let myself be inspired by not only your art but also your positive attitude and encouraging words. I cannot thank you enough :)

    I have decided that as soon as I graduate, I will enroll in an art school, and pursue an artistic career. In the meantime, I'll do what I can, I'll try to improve, and most importantly, I'll try to get rid of all the negative feelings that, sometimes, drawing entails.


    1. Gussie, your comment put a huge smile on my face! Thank you so much! Your feelings and experiences are normal when you're just starting to learn drawing. Don't worry if your drawings lack "imagination" or "narrative" right now. It's like learning to play an instrument - first you have to learn your chords and scales before you can start composing songs. Anyway, keep up the good work!


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