Last weekend I drove up to Cambridge to lead a drawing workshop. I was incredibly anxious beforehand—my palms were sweating a few hours before I even arrived. This was only my second time teaching in real life. I do a lot of online lessons and tutorials through my Patreon but of course it’s so different in when you can’t edit your words as you go and you have to wear an entire outfit instead of just a shirt.
When I arrived at Black Sheep Bagel Cafe it was crazy busy. I couldn’t figure out who was there for the workshop and who was just hungry so in a haze of confusion and social anxiety, I avoided making eye contact with anyone. I started setting up my materials, which included a variety of pens and papers plus a whole sack of fruits and vegetables that I’d picked up at the grocery store on the way.
By this point, my sweat had soaked through two layers of clothing despite the fact that I was feeling quite cold.
I hid in the back of the cafe and shuffled papers around, watching out of the corner of my eye as more and more people came through the front door. I knew that they could see me and that they probably recognized me and yet I couldn’t engage. I was paralyzed by the fear that I would disappoint them.
In the weeks leading up to the workshop, I’d gone through a crisis that most artists go through many times throughout their career. I’d been questioning my abilities. Who’d given me the right to tell other people how to draw? I still feel like a beginner in a lot of ways. I think the better you get, the higher your expectations are—I can never seem to meet mine.
I imagined that my students would interrupt my drawing demonstration to point out some critical error I’d made, like a shadow drawn too darkly, a bumpy outline or misplaced highlight. I imagined that their disapproval would cause me to stutter and shake, only further proving their point: I was a big fraud.
The kernel of truth at the heart of these anxieties is that it is a lot easier to present yourself online than in person. When I make a post I can choose the photo or reshoot the video or even scrap a drawing altogether if it’s not up to par. It’s just a single moment from my day, and it’s rarely a complicated or vulnerable one.
Social media has given me control over how I appear; teaching this workshop meant letting go of it.
Once I’d done my demonstration and chatted with a few lovely people, anxiety and sweat levels decreased (thankfully I’d worn a black shirt). It helped immensely that someone told me I was doing a great job, whether because he actually thought so or because he could tell I was nervous. Regardless, I was finally able to relax and enjoy the experience!
I ended up losing track of time, so we drew for much longer than anticipated. A few people even stuck around to chat after they’d finished. I’ve always been most comfortable in smaller group settings so it was a great way to end the evening.
I said my goodbyes, packed up my things, and headed out into the Cambridge cold, taking comfort in the fact that the best and worst of it was all behind me. The drive home would be a chance to reflect on and recover from the workshop in peaceful solitude—then summon all my newfound courage and plan the next!