Impostor Syndrome and painting – a letter to the jungle

By Massive Voodoo

Hey Jungle people,

today we got something very special for you, like we always do in the jungle.

Let’s call it a virtual letter that arrived in the jungle mailboxes by Petra,
a german miniature painter on her very own journey like we all travel. If you want to see some of Petra’s work or follow her journey, check this

A solution?
Then one day I stumbled over Neil Gaiman, and even though I have never read any of his
books (yet), I felt connected. It felt like he was describing me (and lots of other people will have
thought the same):

Source:
http://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/160603396711/hi-i-read-that-youve-dealt-with-with-impostor


This is, what it is called! Impostor’s syndrome!

I’m neither crazy nor too dumb for the world.
Relief – finally! It is something I can start rolling up my sleeves to and attack. Something I can
hack into little pieces and devour one by one, making my life better again. I lived with the fact
that I have it (not tackling it at all) for a long time. Just knowing that this feeling had a name
helped a lot. Even though it did not stop my way down into the snakepit of what I also call my
brain.

Lots of webpages talk about impostor’s syndrome but I found this one to be a good overview of
all the aspects that also hit heavily in my life: http://on.inc.com/2sLeytw
Depending on the time and how well I felt, it was only lurking in the back of my head, not fully
there. Sometimes it unleashed its fury and pinned me down to the floor, unable to move, to
react and to tell people what was going on. Those were the times I just hid in the dark corners of
my soul, ready to attack everyone who came near. I cried, because I did not know what to do. I
asked for help desperately but there was none, because no-one near me could cope with it.
All of the information I gathered in the internet also meant that I am not alone on this road and
that there are lots of people that sometimes feel the same. And that other people can lift you up
again (just not by saying that “it’s only in your head”). I know now that I myself cannot get out of
it alone, but that I might need help, someone to mirror me, maybe to assess me and to reflect
on my achievements whenever I am not able to see them.


Introduction: the miniature world
For all of you with a miniature background: you know what I am talking about. For all of you who
don’t know: there is a community spanning the earth of miniaturists. People who play tabletop
games (not only Warhammer), people who paint little tin soldiers, plastic and resin miniatures,
busts, vehicles, aircrafts, trains, small animals, huge animals, sculpt, create, make art. It is a
small community, that is really active (and we grow). It is a vast field of gamers, enthusiasts,
collectors, painters, creators and builders. The community starts to get diverse, also women
take part more often in events. We have forums, facebook groups, instagrams full of tiny and
wonderfully painted art, flickr, Pinterest. We are everywhere. We have teachers who hold
workshops and seminars about light, ambience and painting. We have contests and community
events, big and small. Some of the bigger annual events take place in Bavaria, the Netherlands,
Italy, some in Australia and America, Poland and Russia – and even more. Those are the spots
where several hundreds to thousands of people meet one weekend a year and exchange
everything. It is about meeting old friends, finding new, conversate about painting, art and the
miniature economy. All in all a great place to find a whole bunch of creative people clung
together and exchanging creative energy.

Living in the miniature world with impostor’s syndrome

I am still on the road to escape the trap of not feeling worthy and good enough. In the miniature
world, it sometimes is still there; kind of returning “back home” to me. I was attending Scale
Model Challenge 2017 in Eindhoven and on Saturday evening after a splendid day, I found
myself holding a beer, surrounded by some of the (by me) most adored (and still alive) artists in
my life. Every one of them has been longer in the hobby, longer down the creation road than I.
They influenced the way we talk about miniatures, the way we see them. They created new
streams inside the hobby, new flows, new ways to work. They practise mindfulness, chaos,
anarchy and strictly ruled ways. They all had so much more experience, have done so much
more trial and error on their way. They have so much more to say. And then there was I – a
returnee into the hobby for roughly one and a half years. We chatted. And suddenly the wave
rushed over me again. I felt intimidated, at the wrong place, I wanted to flee because I haven’t
wanted to be detected as a fraud again. I write “again” because it felt like being close to the
edge of a huge cliff with being there. My brain was in uproar: Now, every moment! They will lay
eyes upon you, judge you and make you go!
They did not.

Scale Model Challenge 2017
– somewhere in the endless hotel labyrinth 🙂

I forced myself to stay. To listen (I always was a better listener than talker – and a better writer
than talker as well). I drowned in the laughter, the joy, the people. I was there. And I had the
right to be there. Even though I still did not understand why. They did let me stay and even
introduced me to new people. I was humbled. I was even fangirling a bit. And I was stuck. I
needed someone to ground me again. I was flying high, looking down at myself, standing there
in the middle of the night, surrounded by creative people. I adored each and everyone of them.
The creative energy that they exhaled filled my soul, and it was thirsty for more. But my mind
still tricked me into thinking I had no right to be here. I did not know what to do – please, please,
please do not turn on the spotlight on me, do not ask questions, do not interact with me; I am
happy for just staying here . Just smile and wave. They are all in all humble people and they
would never say any of those things, that were hammering in my brain at that moment, to
anyone. Still, my brain was firing everything of the above at full speed, light speed, even Warp
9.9 was not fast enough. It was a lovely evening that did not turn into a disaster – even if my brain foretold this a hundred times.

Fast forward to other events:
Everytime I show something to people, they are going mildly crazyabout what I created (or in the reasonable voice of everyone else: they like it). I receive the praise and the likes – but my mind was telling me ” WTF! This is nothing. It is not even worth thetime and effort to comment on it, you people! Why are you even doing this?! Now you go on, brush off those words as if they mean nothing and move on. Go, create, because what you just did was shit “. My brain kills the happiness out of creating something that others liked. This sucks. Big time.

In social media times it is even worse. 
I want to show the community what I did; also to train mywary brain to accept praise, likes and thanks. And with every like and compliment it feels like people overestimate what I did. Meanwhile I underestimate myself heavily – there are times Iunderstand that (most times I don’t). There’s no internal “success light” that switches on and enlightens the room when I finish something. Being proud on creations only lasts for a week max – which makes it a wee bit hard to always feel good about creating things. Being brave enough to show others has an even more limited time frame.

Looking around and trying to measure one’s own “success” by comparing to others is just plain
odd and nothing one should do. There are so many talented and hard working painters and
artists out there who are on a different journey and skill level. But still we do it from time to time
(some people more than others). People write “I will go home and snap my brushes, I will never
achieve this level”. Please don’t kill brushes; you are just on another level of learning. I know I
commented about breaking brushes once on a posting as well (mostly, because I haven’t found
another way to express my deep admiration for the piece), paying into the whole comparison
competition. I do call it “comparison competition” because we tend to make a competition out of
mostly everything. This person is evolving faster, that one is painting cleaner than me. We are
excellent in making “comparing” a competition.

I don’t know, but my own comment about snapping brushes might also have influenced another
person who read this comment back then to build up their impostor’s syndrome. I only
understand this now. People like me are rather sensitive when it comes to comments on their
own and other people’s works (mostly on their own works, though).

No brush should ever be destroyed.
They all should die in the name of painting.
Word.

It’s hard. It’s in my head.
I need to deal with it – but I cannot do this alone (which makes me
angry and sad at the same time, as I want to have control over my life). I need you. Each and
every one of you in my life to at least help from time to time. To recall for me that feeling
incompetent and being incompetent are two different things. That I sometimes have unrealistic
notions of what it means to be competent. Also that it is in my head and that I have to deal with
it; you need to tell me that I am being unrealistic in my own view on myself. I cannot do this on
my own. Because I do not see it.
It feels like lots of people out there might suffer from the same. Maybe not as heavy as I did
somewhen in the last year – but if this helps only one person understanding that they need to
become aware about their impostor’s syndrome before being completely shattered to the
ground, then all my words are worth it.

Now, what can I do to live a win-win life with my impostor’s syndrome?

I talked a lot about myself and my path, my journey in this article. I don’t know if it would help. It
is not a big deal (hello, impostor’s syndrome speaking again), and maybe no-one will read
through the end. But this is what I get from being open, and I need to understand that the
uncertainty that comes with publishing those words, might influence myself with even more
questions my brain might fire at me.

Lot’s of the following points actually can be distilled into one short and easy sentence:
“No matter what: You are worth it.”
(I don’t say that often enough to myself.)

Following I will line out some things I tried and that helped me on my way (some more, some
less). In the end it is up to you. Try, fail, improve; listen to yourself and what helps you. It is not
working if you just follow the rules and you gain nothing from it. Debug yourself. If things don’t
feel good, leave them and experiment. It is easy as that (wow, that took me long to understand).
So: not easy as that, but more like running a marathon. In a swamp. Even if done slowly (and it
will be exhausting), it will lead to your goal. The good thing is, there is no-one to judge you
except yourself. Be kind to yourself; it is like learning a new language or instrument or a new
painting technique. It might take some time, but you will master it eventually. In your own time.
Do not compete. Do not compare. You are good enough. You are worth it.
This really should be your mantra. 🙂

The nice thing about the following points is, that you can also use them for your daily work that
is not miniature painting.

Have a schedule of when you want to work on things.
With everything that you are learning or that you try to improve, there is a good way to
practice. When I was young, my music teacher told to practise at least half an hour a day
(max an hour) with my instrument. Try to get into a routine and do not do overtime , not
even if the brain commands you to – it won’t help (at least it did not for me). If afternoon
shifts do not work, try getting up half an hour earlier. Experiment. Maybe you are happy
with only painting once a week. Stick to it.

Come up with a plan on what you want to work on.
Write down the techniques you want to learn, the miniatures you want to paint. Plan.
Planning does not necessarily mean that you need to stick to it 100% (plans are not set
in stone). But it helps you focus on what topics are still there to tackle. And written down
topics can be ordered, scheduled and moved around. You can set your goals, and the
steps that you need to take to achieve your goals. Write it down. Make a plan. Even if
you don’t stick to it, you know where you want to head.

Make realistic goals.
Rome was not build in a day. If you want to learn a new technique, try it, make errors,
ask people, watch videos, read blog posts, and the most important thing: go to
workshops, meet people, connect. You are on your own road and journey, you will never
be a fraud there.

Take before and after pictures of your miniatures
(or everything else you create).
It helps getting focus. You can see what changed in the time you painted, even if it is
only minimal. And having all pictures lined up near each other also might help to see the
progress and improvements you have made.

Create a miniature diary and add
what you liked to work on that day.

Put in colour recipes that worked, brush strokes, random thoughts, ideas, base designs,
scribbles and drawing, pictures of the progress, everything that you find adds value to
your miniature experience. It will be little at first but it helps you getting your creative
energy flowing as soon as you revisit the pages.

Keep a personal diary and write down
at least one achievement per day.

This can also just be a Post It hanging somewhere – the key idea is to visualize it so that
you can see it. This challenge might be hard in the first time, as you won’t see
achievements a lot popping up. But try. Maybe it is something as tiny as getting a perfect
lining, a blending that you saw. Reading (or writing) a blog post that you always wanted
to do. There can be so many things.

Whenever viewing other artists pictures,
don’t get discouraged.

They all have different lives, different styles, different backgrounds. As written earlier: try
not to fall into the trap of comparison competition.

Another thing to keep in mind and repeat as a mantra:
It is not talent (even though talent gives you a head start). It is hard work (also: hard work can be fun work!). It is hours and hours of practice and study. Don’t expect to perfectly handle a new topic in one day.

● Don’t compare your life to someone’s Highlight Reel.
And yes, this most heavily applies to social media. The pictures that are shown only relate to
the achievements, normally not to all the failures on the way. No-one wants to look bad
on social media. Everyone is smiling. Stop thinking that other people only have luck in
their lives.

● If you suddenly feel like a fraud in a situation, voice it.
It is difficult and you need some trust and maybe a safe space to do so. But it helps to voice your concerns and that you feel you wouldn’t fit. Take care and time to approach people. Voice what you need right then. Tell people you cannot engage into small talk right now. Tell them you only want to
listen for a while because you need to have some space or you don’t know how to
handle social interaction right now. This might be awkward at the beginning, but making
people aware of your condition helps relieving the stress that your brain puts upon you.

If you see someone cope with impostor’s syndrome,
don’t approach them and tell them “Hey, you have impostor’s syndrome!”. Guide them passively. Tell them about your own way, your journey about not feeling good enough, and eventually they will open up. Help them see their achievements and the way they already went, if you are already closer to them. Offer an open ear and a helping hand.

Take a picture of your first and most recent miniature.
You will see the difference; you are not an impostor, you get better over time and this is your outcome. No-one else will paint like you do.

Just so you have something to hold in your hands and re-read it to understand that you are valuable and good in what you do: ask people to write you Kudo cards (it’s a tool that is usually used to increase recognition of valued work). Tell them they should write down
what they value in your work, your hobby, what they admire about you, where you are
succeeding expectations for them. Let them visualise a picture of you, so that you can
catch your mind as soon as it is out of the window again, telling you that you are not
good enough.

Try to hold on to praise once in a while, don’t shy away and go into duck-and-cover position. Gain trust in the fact that people tend to mean what they say. Even when they
say that they like something built by you. 🙂

There could be a million more ways to get out of the dark hole into which the impostor’s
syndrome is pushing us. Most of the ways apply to any other situation as well, it is not only
hobby related, I know. But this might be the first step into the right direction.

I am still on my journey. 
How about you? 

Petra 🙂

Original Post