Tune Out Unsupportive Voices and Focus on Your Goals

Tune Out Unsupportive Voices and Focus on Your Goals

All right, this week we’re going to focus on a darker side of the artist lifestyle: you have to learn how to tune out unsupportive voices if you want to succeed. Doubt can trickle in from any angle, whether it’s from a co-worker, teacher, or a chatty cashier at the grocery store.

Storytime: back when I was in 5th grade, a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said “teacher.” With an astounded look on his face, he responded, “Really? But you’re too quiet!” All I did was answer his question, but somehow I ended up feeling embarrassed and doubtful of my own capabilities. Now, clearly teaching a classroom full of 40 kindergartners did not end up being my passion, and I’m sure he wasn’t trying to crush my dreams. But this story stuck with me, and it does illustrate my point: even people with the best intentions can accidentally tread all over an idea or a goal that’s important to you. Sometimes their words end up in your head, transforming into an inner critic that holds you back from reaching for the next level.

So what can you do to tune out unsupportive voices and avoid being overwhelmed by negativity? I think the best way to go about it is to get to know yourself really, really well. I know that sounds corny, and I’ve scoffed at similar advice in the past. But really, where else will your confidence come from? You need your confidence to guide you through the murky waters of self-doubt. With this in mind, I’ve put together this list of 5 ways you can build your sense of self. Each item on the list has helped me tremendously, so I know they can help you, too!

1. Journal often

Admittedly, I have fallen way off the journaling bandwagon since I had Liv. I’m actively trying to work it back into my routine, though, because there is really no better way to get to know yourself. I don’t let anyone else read mine, so I can spill all of my mental garbage onto the page without worrying about what others might think. Sometimes I make up terrible song lyrics. Recently, I ranted a lot about how it feels to go without sleep for 730 days straight. Other times, I start a story and then switch to a more “professional” journal (or my laptop) to finish it, because it’s too good to be housed in my junk journal. There’s even a really rough sketch of my plan for a vegetable garden in there because it was the closest pad of paper lying around when I was struck with inspiration.

My favorite part about journaling is that there are no rules. If you use it to vent, great. If you just write the word “pancake” over and over because it helps you focus, go for it. Either way, you’ll learn more about how you work and how you think, which is the entire goal.

2. Check in with yourself

Every once in a while, it helps to touch base with yourself and gauge how you’re feeling at any given moment. What situations or actions make you feel the most relaxed? Which ones make you feel anxious? For instance, I lose all sense of time when I’m writing or drawing because I get into such a zone. Untangling a knotted ball of yarn makes me irrationally angry, though – part of the reason I decided against adding crochet to my larger business plan! Knowing your passions vs. your triggers will help you decide what route is best for you personally. When you know for sure that you’re making the best choices for yourself, it becomes that much easier to tune out unsupportive voices around you.

3. Find your tribe

It’s unlikely that your close family and friends will be passionate about the exact same things as you. Which is totally fine – the differences between us make us interesting. But it really, really helps your productivity and confidence to have like-minded peers to talk to when you need support, have questions, or want to workshop some of your ideas. It’s a lot easier to tune out unsupportive voices when you have a chorus of positive feedback ringing in your ear.

Of course, if you’re introverted like me, searching for a group of strangers to meet at a coffee shop sounds like low-key torture. Living close to Ann Arbor, I know there are writers groups all around me, but I have yet to convince myself to try one. Instead, I’ve embraced the internet. There are Facebook groups for everything under the sun, and some of them are fantastic. Look for the closed groups where you have to answer a couple questions to get admitted. These are generally moderated well, so you’ll run into way less negativity and off-putting behavior.

There are two groups in particular that have helped me: Artists Trying to Make a Living Creating Art and Blogging Like We Mean It. Both of them are full of people ready to help with questions and support.

If you want to help build a community, I’ve recently started my own group: VanDuinen Studio’s Inspiration Club. I have lofty goals to use this group as a networking and workshop community for fellow artists, but I’ll need your help and participation to grow it!

4. Get off the internet for a little while

In direct opposition to what I just said, I’m also going to advocate for logging off now and again. The internet is a varied and opinionated place. This means that you’re guaranteed to find people who love what you do, but you’re also guaranteed to find people who don’t. And they’ll tell you loudly, clearly, and often, making it difficult to tune out unsupportive voices en masse. When you find yourself getting caught up in criticism from virtual voices, close the laptop, put down your phone, and walk away. Work on some art, read a book, play with your kids. Remind yourself that no one knows your story better than you do, so no one can make better choices for you. When you log back on, you’ll hopefully feel much better prepared to let rude comments fade into the ether.

5. Use what criticism you can, discard the rest

No one loves to hear criticism, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful from time to time. If you’re hearing a lot of the same criticism, for example, take a step back and evaluate your work. Is there another way you could do it? It’s often easier to let ego get in the way of really listening to less-than-stellar feedback, but sometimes your audience really does have a point. Take me for instance: I hate hearing that there are pieces of my stories that people don’t like, but when I take a moment and think about their suggestions, they usually do improve the flow or clarify the logic. All it takes is me getting over myself to see the light!

There will be times, though, when it’s better for you to completely tune out unsupportive voices. I got a lot of guff about my English major, for example. What would I do with it? How is that useful? Did I want to confine myself to academia? I didn’t let these comments change my mind, though. Instead, I got angry. No, I did not want to teach (anymore). Yes, it would be useful. An English major, designed to teach communication and critical thinking, would prepare me for anything. That anger led to a determination that has pushed me through all the twists and turns of my career so far. I leveraged that English major to score a position as a technical writer for an immigration law firm, and I’m using it now to grow this blog. Don’t be afraid to forge your own path in life, if the traditional road looks too uninviting. Use the words of your critics to fuel your fire.

6. Develop a mantra

A mantra can help you refocus when you find your confidence wavering. The mantra can be anything that speaks to you; even something as simple as “I can do this!” can help you find your sense of calm, especially if you pair it with some deep breathing. If you’re a visual person like me, it might help to look at a quote graphic with your mantra on it while you breathe. I took the liberty of creating one for the phrase “I believe in me.” If you want to save this one for later use, click here for your download link:

“I believe in me” Quote Graphic

There you have it – now you know a little more about how to tune out unsupportive voices.

None of these tips are foolproof. Self-doubt is natural, and outside criticism is inevitable, no matter how confident you are. But if you have a goal you want or need to achieve, it’s important to come up with techniques that help you tune out unsupportive voices that may get in the way of your success.

Have any of these suggestions helped you reframe your thinking? Do you have any tips to add to the list? Let me know in the comments below or via email!

Until next week,






P.S. Want to read more about the artist lifestyle? Check out these related posts:

Find Creative Inspiration in Out-of-the-Box Places

Do Yourself a Favor! Take This Self-Care Challenge

A Simple System for Effective Time Management

Cozy Minimalism and Mental Health

P.P.S. Want to hear more from VanDuinen Studio? Join the email list for exclusive offers, information, and freebies!

Find Creative Inspiration in Out-of-the-Box Places

Find Creative Inspiration in Out-of-the-Box Places

If you’re an artist, chances are there are times when you feel too burned out to create new things, or you feel bored by your own ideas. Trust me, I’ve been there! Thankfully, the spark always returns one way or another. As a gesture of solidarity for anyone else who struggles to find creative inspiration from time to time, I’ve put together this list of some of the more unexpected ways I’ve jumped back into the game after a slump.

1. Reality TV (Yes, you read that right!)

For me, it’s Project Runway. I have logged many, many hours of Project Runway over the years. I am in no way a fashion designer; in fact, I can only successfully follow garment construction directions about 75% of the time. But for some reason, this show sparks my desire to create. I most often pull out my bead collection and make jewelry while I watch, but recently I tried my hand at designing my own fabric:

self-designed fabric

I’m obsessed! And I’m selfishly hoping the products I make with this fabric will sell really well, so I have an excuse to play around with that tool over and over again. I used spoonflower.com, for anyone interested, but there are a million similar sites that popped up when I Googled the idea.

So, if there’s a guilty pleasure show you like to watch, indulge yourself! You never know when and where inspiration will strike, so don’t limit yourself based on some self-imposed “worthwhile” meter.

2. Gardening

“Nature” is often listed as a source of inspiration, I know, but I’m going to get a little more specific than that. I’ve discovered that gardening is A) a much bigger job than I thought as a kid and B) that its components lend themselves well to creative reflection. Gardening takes planning and research: mapping out the space, deciding on the best plants for your climate, finding the best mixture of colors and textures, etc. It’s the same type of process I use when I’m putting together a composition on paper or canvas, so I often want to transition to drawing after I plan a new flowerbed.

Gardening takes a lot of repetitive effort (so many weeds….), which to me is relaxing. That enjoyable monotony gives me the time to mull over whatever stresses the day has thrown at me. Once I make it back inside, I’m in a better mental state for making art.

Gardening also provides ample subject matter – I love depicting flowers in any medium (including the fabric design, obviously!). In fact, I pulled the name of an iris out of a gardening catalog and used it to inspire my latest short story.

3. Highway Driving

This one may sound the craziest. When I picture a highway, I think of industrial complexes, concrete expanses, and hideous billboards. I never set out on a long drive expecting to find creative inspiration. But lo and behold, my family was on the road a couple of nights ago at sunset, and the view was beautiful:

highway driving for creative inspiration

The pastel blue and pink caught my eye, and I snapped several of these passable-but-not-great photos in an attempt to capture enough of the sunset to be able to reproduce it later. Sometimes being stuck as the passenger for a 6 hour drive isn’t such a bad thing.

4. Out of the Mouths of Babes

My daughter is an opinionated child. Has been since she was born. And she’s persuasive, too, because lately I’ve found myself drawing the things I know she’ll like the most! I’ve always liked butterflies and moths, for example, but her obsession with them has definitely convinced me to include them in more pieces than ever before. I even gave her some framed art for her second birthday, which she still points out when we’re in her room:

find creative inspiration in children

She (thankfully) loves it, and I love watching her respond to art from such a young age.

Find Creative Inspiration: The Takeaway

Even if you’re in a creative slump, don’t despair! As long as you keep an open mind, you’ll eventually find creative inspiration even in the unlikeliest of places. And, if you want to jumpstart your creativity with some easy but fun projects, I have a few tutorials you could dive into:

DIY Memory BoxHandmade Beaded EarringsHow to Draw a Flower

Have you found any unlikely sources of inspiration in your life? I’m always looking for new ideas! Leave a comment below or connect with other artists in the Inspiration Club.


Do Yourself a Favor! Take This Self-Care Challenge

Do Yourself a Favor! Take This Self-Care Challenge

Why is self-care important?

This past April was one crazy month. There were birthdays. There were two weekend trips. There was a craft show combined with a drop-off for my May art show at Go Java. There was a massive effort on my part to get this blog up and running. I took ZERO time for self-care, and I’m feeling exhausted just remembering it all!

As you may remember, I have posted in the past about the neat little organizational system I developed to keep this business under control. I print out a blank calendar page for every month, and I schedule two tasks for each day, keeping the mantra “variety is the spice of life” in mind so I don’t get bored and lose focus or momentum. Well, I have an update: I was scheduling two high-level tasks EVERY SINGLE DAY, which is crazy-making! I never scheduled myself a weekend, or even just a mid-week break. In other words, the system works, but only if you schedule some easy days here and there.

My reasoning behind this schedule was two-fold: one, it was only two measly tasks a day, right? Anyone can do that and still have time to relax! (Spoiler alert: I’m a mom. Such logic has no place in this realm.) And two, weekends are often my most productive days, because hubby can take over kid duties for larger chunks of time. (This may be true, but he also likes to see me and have family time. Imagine that.)

Lesson Learned

Long story short, I realized that I absolutely had to schedule myself time to relax. To reset, I took May “off.” Instead of pushing forward with everything I had planned, I used that month to dial it back and try to find the balance that allows me to not only achieve my goals, but also to recharge, relax a bit, and let the inspiration come to me once in a while, instead of actively hunting it down or forcing it. And you know what? I’m guessing many of you could benefit from the same action!

The Self-Care Challenge:

I have a challenge for everyone reading this: take a deep breath, and schedule in one extra hour of self care for the week. Just ONE HOUR. It’s doable, I promise! If you’re like me and keep a detailed planner, marker in that down time for yourself. Even if you’re not, write it on a post-it and stick it somewhere you’ll see every day. Take a walk, go to the library just to browse, play an old video game you haven’t dusted off in years, do some gardening – whatever takes your mind off the daily grind. Personally, I’m scheduling in time to relax by designating Wednesdays and Sundays as my “anything other than VanDuinen Studio” days. I feel better just thinking about it.

If it helps you to have accountability, feel free to email me when you start. If I have a free moment, I’ll even check in with you throughout the week to make sure you’re sticking to your plan.

What are your favorite hobbies or escapes? What is something you’ve been dying to do but have felt too busy lately?



A Simple System for Effective Time Management

A Simple System for Effective Time Management

I’ll be the first to admit that I have assigned myself a lot of jobs. In any given week, I am balancing:

  •      Being a stay-at-home mom
  •      Creating art
  •      Learning the ins and outs of the small business world
  •      Reading and voting on submissions for The Masters Review
  •      Keeping the house from being featured on an episode of Hoarders
  •      Being a writer

Whew! At the beginning of this year, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed – I was mostly spinning my wheels, not making it anywhere. In short, I was driving myself crazy.

effective time management calendar system

I. The System

Thankfully, in February, I managed to create a super simple but effective time management system. I downloaded this cute, free printable calendar, and I started scheduling myself two goals for each day. I space out different types of tasks throughout the week, so I don’t spend three solid days updating Etsy or give myself hand cramps practicing calligraphy too frequently. This also keeps the work interesting – since the types of tasks rotate, I feel refreshed and ready to tackle each one.

Here’s a week I made up as an example:

  • Monday: Master’s Review reading, market research
  • Tuesday: Write two reference letters, write blog post
  • Wednesday: Pin new blog post, write two reference letters
  • Thursday: Master’s Review reading, work on latest art piece
  • Friday: Send out newsletter, write two reference letters
  • Saturday: Practice calligraphy, market research
  • Sunday: Unpack a box in the basement, work on latest art piece

The amount of tasks in a week add up, but on a day-to-day basis it feels totally doable. And my favorite part? This system is totally flexible. If I miss a day because the kiddo decided to wake up at 4 am and I am a zombie, catching up over the next day or two is totally doable.

II. Who Is It For?

Now if I were really playing to the broad audience on this one, I’d be shouting “Everyone! Everyone! We can all use it!” But I think it’s most useful for people like me: people who crave structure in a setting that can feel completely unstructured. Maybe you’re a stay-at-home parent too, or you’re a freelancer, or you’re starting your own business. No boss is breathing down your neck, tapping a watch to remind you of your next deadline. No one is checking on your progress.

The idea sounds exhilarating, but personally, I like deadlines. Sure, they can be stressful, but they’re also a clear goal to work toward, and I can measure success by whether or not I meet or exceed them. (Can you tell I was one of the nerds in school? Feel free to insert eyeroll here.)

When I switched from my office job to being a stay-at-home mom, I struggled. Hard. I felt like I never got anything done; I felt like I was failing at everything. Slowly but surely (at times with the help of a therapist – no shame!), I’m learning how to take control when I can and let go when I can’t. This two-goals-per-day system sounds stupid simple at first, but such a simple yet effective time management system has done wonders for my productivity and sense of self. Sometimes, the simplest things are the best things in life.

III. Additional Tips

If you want to implement a similar effective time management system, I recommend making a master list of all the tasks you’re anticipating for each month. (To the best of your ability, anyway – life happens, so some tasks will pop up out of nowhere.) That way, as you build your rotating schedule for each week, you can make sure there isn’t a category of tasks being left off by accident.

Along with that master list, I’d also suggest writing down a few goals or desires you have in mind that you haven’t been able to get to. This part is totally optional, but if you end up with some space in your normal schedule, you could use that time to do something for yourself. (Crazy, right?!) Maybe there’s a book you’ve been dying to read, or a new cookie recipe you’ve been wanting to try. As you get a better grasp on time management overall, you will most likely find yourself with extra time you can spend on personal goals. I finally found time to actually read the books I get out of the library!

Do you have a tried-and-true, effective time management system to keep you on track? How long did it take you to develop?


Cozy Minimalism and Mental Health

Cluttered House, Cluttered Mind

I don’t know about you, but I have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. The “whole new YOU” mentality has never appealed to me. I am me; I don’t really see that changing just because it’s January. Last year I didn’t make any sort of resolutions, and I frankly felt annoyed by the world’s expectation that I change something. I was busy chasing a one-year-old, after all, and that felt like more than enough!

This year, however, I’m looking at it with new perspective. We moved to a more comfortable but slightly smaller house last year, so even though we pared down during the move, our closets/basement/garage are still overstuffed. My head feels overstuffed, too. Whenever I look around and see the clutter, I can feel myself getting more anxious and upset. So this year, I did decide to make a resolution: take back control of the house and my mental health.

In practice, this means that I’m asking myself, one closet or room at a time, if we really need what’s in there. For stuff we do need, I’m making sure the organization system in place actually makes sense. I started with my pantry and Liv’s room, and I’m already feeling better!

Cozy minimalist nursery

Ultimate Goal:

The big culmination of this project will be the basement. It’s unfinished but spacious, so my goal is to make it cozy and inspiring enough to function as live-in studio space for VanDuinen Studio. Right now, whenever inspiration hits, I have to go downstairs find and extract my materials from the perilous piles in which they’re hiding, and drag it all up to the couch. It works in a pinch, but I’m getting tired of a) having to dig to find anything useful and b) having my art supplies stashed in corners all over the living room because my daughter woke up and I needed to hide my paint brushes pronto.

Progress So Far:

Just before the holidays, I bought a big Ikea shelving unit, but it sat in its two boxes collecting dust while we celebrated Christmas and traveled for New Year’s. One day while I was idly browsing Pinterest (love that site), I stumbled across an OK Dani post about “cozy minimalism;” it kicked my imagination and drive into high gear. Last weekend I finally assembled those shelves, and I’m now working box by box through art supplies, knick-knacks, holiday decor, and everything else we stashed in the basement with an “I’ll deal with that later” sigh. For sentimental items, I used a tip from my cousin Steffani, owner of Fresh Coast Living: if you love it too much to get rid of it, keep it. If you feel some attachment or obligation but don’t really want it taking up space anymore, take a photo before you give it away, recycle, or toss it. That way, you’ll keep the memories without the clutter. (Genius lies in simplicity: I don’t know why taking a photo never occurred to me, but it’s been so helpful.)

Your Main Takeaway:

Living in a constant state of chaos can kill creativity. A messy house can feel like a neverending to-do list that’s too overwhelming to tackle. However, since I’m currently building a creative business, I simply can’t accept that chaos. That’s why I’ve started working in small chunks of space: one closet, one corner of the living room, one box at a time in the basement. Bit by bit, I’m creating a little more space in our lives, and in doing so, I’m putting myself in a more positive mental space for artistic inspiration to flow.

What was your resolution? Are you still working on it? What do you think of the “cozy minimalist” idea? As always, if you have any questions, ideas, or anything you’d like to share, send me a message on Facebook or email me. I would love to hear from you!