Do you find it difficult to express your ‘true’ self?

Do you find it hard to feel good about your art?

Do you struggle to find a steady flow in your creativity?


Chances are that you are battling perfectionism.


Perfectionism is ‘the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection’.


I am not a psychologist but I am a recovering perfectionist and I have experienced first hand perfectionism can how stifle, block and choke creativity. If you are a creative you probably know what I mean.




You have a constant drive to make things look (or so it may seem) perfect.

Not because you have nothing else to do but you can’t help yourself. Whether it is the way you view the world, practice our art or post online. You are not satisfied until things are perfect and you have mastered the art of covering up. You are your our own worst critic and find it difficult to celebrate joy and gratitude.


As a result you find it hard to get into a creative flow and you are often left feeling uninspired, frustrated and dissatisfied.


If we truly want to become artists that flourish and who live happy, healthy lives we need to recalibrate our thinking and get more insight into why we are struggling.


Here are 4 reasons why:




Perfectionism is the propeller that drives us to strive. Audiences could interpret this as ‘success’ but actually it is a cover up for fear and shame. We are applauded for all our hard work and dedication but we are overcompensating to cover up a secret. We don’t want to be found out.


The fear that people will actually discover that we are not really that talented, funny or clever drives us to perform and pursue perfection.


Great art touches the heart and exudes from a vulnerable, authentic soul. If we really want to make art that can impact our audiences we need to get in front of that mirror, preferably naked, and take a long hard look. We need to embrace ourselves…just the way we are. Your own beautiful self!!!


It is when we realize we are worthy of love and connection that we truly can be ourselves and allow creativity to flow.




Being an artist takes a lot of courage. We are continually being scrutinized. Judged not only by others but also ourselves.


Imagine you spend weeks in your studio painting a magnificent painting. With vulnerable abandonment you pour your heart out into every brushstroke and colour. The painting is an expression of something living deep inside of you and the mere fact you have painted it has changed you forever.


Pride and trepidation fills you as you meanders around the gallery on opening night. You observe a couple standing in front of your painting. You see them frowning and talking among themselves and you gaze just long enough to see them give their final scowl of disapproval. This rejection hits you hard and you are blinded and miss the tear and smile your painting brings some the other guests.


If you are an artist and look anything like me then this is an all to familiar scene.  Moments when you need to resist the impulse to numb yourself or run and hide.


The word courage comes from the root word ‘heart’ and as artists we need to choose to continue to live, love and work from our hearts even if we have no guarantee that we will get anything in return.




Artists are some of the most critical people I know. Not so much towards others but to ourselves. Our inner critic thrusts us forward and can even drive us to accomplish noteworthy things. But our inner critic can be a terrible guide and a cruel master.


This story, I recently heard, really brought this home.


Forensic artists were asked to draw 2 sketches a group of women attending a conference. Each artist was assigned a woman and had to sketch her blindly, based on the description she gave about herself. The artist listened and sketched as she described her hair, shape of her face, facial markings, complexion etc.


A second sketch was made but now based on a description that somebody else gave of the same woman. There was a notable difference between the two sketches. I think you can guess in which sketch the woman was more attractive. Not only was the second sketch more beautiful but also more true to life.


We need to sensor our inner critic. The next time the critic takes center stage you need to ask yourself these questions.


1. Is that what I am thinking true?

2. Is that what I am thinking beneficial?

3. Do my thoughts help me make better art?

4. Are my thoughts agents for better my health and wellbeing?


If the answer is NO then your criticism is not validated and they belong in the trash.




As artists we get to spend endless hours in our studio’s, lost in thought, dreaming, painting, drawing, sculpting and creating. We need solitude to function and often our own judgment is our only guide. As much as we need this solitude we were also made for connection. When you are working by yourself you can loose a sense of the big picture. Meaningful connections can help you put a painting or a feeling into new perspective.


Perfectionism flows out of a deep sense of not being worthy enough and as artists we can only thrive in an environment of genuine encouragement and affirmation.  Allow others into your heart and space and let them express to you just how loved and worthy you are.




I have good news. Perfectionism can be conquered! This is one the ways I did it.


I use to be terribly ashamed to show people my unfinished paintings or drawings. If they did happen to get a peak of what I was doing I would go to great lengths to explain that I was still working on it and that it was far from finished. …in other words what I was actually saying was: ‘Please still like me! Please still think I am ok..even if my art is not there yet!’


As my work and client base started growing so did the pressure to perform.

This pressure was not beneficial to my creativity and I needed to get this monster out the way.


I decided to take my art out of my studio and onto the streets. A great exercise to conquer my fear of rejection and embrace my vulnerability.


I remember going on a painting trip to Italy where I spent glorious days painting the villagers and the beautiful Italian surroundings.


The locals were super friendly and would shamelessly hover over my sketchbook expressing all kinds of things with theatrical gestures. I could not understand a word. But I heard their hearts. They were so honored that somebody saw them and took the trouble to come to their village to draw and paint them, no matter what the end result looked like. I just smiled and kept painting.


Later I did the same in my hometown. Painting and drawing on the streets whenever the weather allowed it.  Doing something creative in a public space stirs something in people. I have had conversations I otherwise never would have had. In brief meetings people explain how they once painted or how they felt inspired and wanted to go home and do something creative again.

As an extra bonus I have been able share more about my work and tell them that there was actually an artist living in their village.


This has proven to be a great antiserum for perfectionism. It reminded me that my art is bigger than the end product. It is a process I can share with others while enjoying art for myself.


Letting go of perfectionism has nothing to do with excellence. As an artist we strive to make good art, develop our skills and communicate our ideas, thoughts and feelings as clearly as possible.

But whereas perfectionism refuses to accept anything less than perfect excellence embraces reality, transforming imperfection into beauty.





  • ...


    Artist, Designer & Educator

    Sonja Smalheer is a passionate artist, designer and educator. She believes that art and artists play a vital role in any healthy society. She is the author of a regular blog empowering artists to flourish.