View Full Version : How Do you Approach the Anxiety of Creating?

06-17-2003, 11:14 PM
I'm currently reading one of Eric Maisel's books 'again' called "Fearless Creating". In it he discusses the stages of the creative process and the anxiety that comes with each stage. I won't go into a lengthy post about his book (I do recommend it to everyone) but would be interested in knowing how some of you deal with the anxiety or fear of creating.

In the past, beginning a painting was one of the most difficult things that I would try to do. I would spend hours working on the initial sketch and then seldom use it once I began the actual work on canvas! I realized that I used the sketch to actually keep me from beginning. And if the sketch wasn't enough, I'd also take even longer on choosing just the right canvas size or colors for my palette...and on an on. Paintings took months (and not because I'm a really detailed realist painter either!).

The anxiety of just beginning became my block. There were months on end where I just couldn't begin because I hated to feel that anxiety. Hated to work on something for so much time and still feel that I'd accomplished little. It became a dilemna because at the time, I was showing my paintings in a small gallery and they were selling. So I "had" to paint! Even more anxiety because of that. LOL

Now all of you are going to ask..."so how did you get out of it? how did you get rid of the anxiety?" The answer is...I didn't, but I did learn how to use the anxiety and channel it into a positive direction. I decided to approach my painting as a journey to an unknown place...maybe even a scary place that I'd never been before.
Setting up a new canvas on the easel became my ticket purchase. Laying out brushes and tubes of paint became 'packing my bags'...and when I squeezed out the color, I boarded the train....to wherever!

I made the decision to take the anxiety with me just to keep me on my toes! and gradually over a period of time, I began to relax and enjoy the journey.

Does this sound a bit crazy to you? I suppose it could...but I was wondering if you are challenged by the same anxiety and how you deal or have dealt with it.

Dr. Maisel talks about anxieties that are different during the creative process and how to manage them...wish I'd had his book years ago!

06-18-2003, 07:34 AM
:) Hey Carly and HI .
You are NOT alone in this . I always have a terrible time starting a new painting. Like you I spend ages on the prelimimary drawing and then hardly go by it. I use Watercolour mainly and after stretching the paper, transfering the basics of the sketch to it, I then go and make a cuppa, ( my studio being out the back ...down 5 steps along a path and up 2 steps)and sit in the garden and end up weeding!! Sometimes decide I have phone calls to make.. Then I might end up the rest of the day tidying my studio..fiddling and enjoying and sorting my tubes etc.
Sometimes its a week before Im back out there and have other ideas of what I want to do and discard the earlier drawing.

Today tho. I took myself to a Life and portrait day and never once did a preliminary sketch.. straight into the paint I went and feel great tonight. with 3 finished works( all about A3 size.)
Maybe packing stuff and going where others are quietly working helps. We have no tutor and can come when we can, paying our portion of the models fee.. We learn form each other and the actual DOING of it. Today was my first time this year !!

So often in the past I was told " Process ! Not Product !" Now
I know what it means and that is the way to enjoy the 'Journey' .. Not thinking of the 'Destination'... But getting packed and dressed and buying the ticket and getting on the train.. WOW.
Yes I definitely identify with you..
Its wonderful to have WC.. to be able to express and share our individual idiosyncracies. eh.

06-18-2003, 12:56 PM

I like how you handle it.

One of my drawing teachers taught us the importance of laying out your composition before you start but I spent so much time on the composition that I barely had time to do the drawing. (Making matters worse, I was doing it large scale.)

It got so bad that she started yelling at me, "Dana for gosh sakes, start on the next step." I didn't mind, we were good friends. And it helped.


06-18-2003, 03:10 PM
Funny, Carly - for me the anxiety hits BETWEEN paintings/when I'm not painting/with those little annoying things that take me away from it.
I get very, very cranky.

06-18-2003, 03:37 PM
Expectations are a creativity killer if you ask me; so I guess the idea is to paint not knowing where it'll take you and how it'll turn out. Right now an extra income would be really great and so painting with the specific intent of earning money is interfering with the outcome of my paintings too. When I have expectations my mind takes over my "inner creativity channel" and fear kicks in and I feel like a car being driven by many drivers that don't agree where they want to go.

When I don't have expectations I feel like a river following its course through a variety of landscapes. There is an "inner knowing" that is inside me, that IS me. When I am blessed with this experience, I feel like the past, present and future merge together in the "now" and I AM.


06-18-2003, 04:45 PM
well mame. that gives you more reason to paint then ;)

Gisele, your car analogy is so appropriate. I've done commission work and that's exactly what it felt like.

06-18-2003, 06:39 PM
Originally posted by mame
Funny, Carly - for me the anxiety hits BETWEEN paintings/when I'm not painting/with those little annoying things that take me away from it.
I get very, very cranky.

I'm like that, too.

Years ago, during my watercolor days, if I felt such an anxiety I just reminded myself that the materials and the work were not as precious as I would have liked to believe. Sometimes I dribbled tea on to the paper to "deflower" it and that got me going.

06-18-2003, 08:53 PM
Ah yes, San, the blank canvas syndrome. I know it well! :) Or, in the case of watercolor, the blank, pure white, pristine watercolor paper syndrome.

And watercolor paper is expensive and unlike canvas, non reusable.

06-19-2003, 01:25 PM
My sweetheart flies model airplanes.

They cost about $1000 each and can take 2-3 months to build from a kit.

They are very easy to crash and then they are gone.

I've been trying to learn to fly them - but I am a rotton piolt...

I was thinking to myself that the risk in making art is way less - at most, for me, a $20 dollar canvas - If I don't like what goes on it I paint over it. - a few dollars worth of paint - not much risk in comparison.

Thinking about it in this way has really put the risk in perspective for me.

If something dosn't turn out - I will recycyle it some how.


06-19-2003, 02:42 PM
Reading all of your comments is helping me.....
Since I stop smoking in december I have been experriencing big time blocks....stairing at white canvasses left and right!!:evil:
Reading your comments puts perspective on things....maybe it has nothing to do with the smoking......
I could just be in a funk....I'm aware I need stimulus and will get it by particapating in a course or workshop...somewhere with a new teacher....I need new ideas, new ways, that I am not aware of yet....I need to discover! Thats it! Sorry with the "I, me myself and I" but it help!:D alot....:D :D
Lets all keep on trucking!...I mean painting! of course!

06-19-2003, 08:49 PM
Sylvie, keep an eye out for the newest discussion group that is forming as soon as a book is agreed upon for the summer! I think it would be a great help to creative block to discuss it with others.

Mame, I know the feeling. When it rains and I can't get out to paint plein air, I feel like I'm lost or something. Right now I'm trying to do some watercolors to keep from having that "between paintings anxiety"!

I really identify with the "paint to sale" thoughts. Because I paint and sale on Ebay, there is always that 'pull' toward painting for the buyers! When I get to thinking like that...LOL...I go out and run or walk..or go shopping for a good book! I give myself a treat for not getting hooked into that circle...you know the one....

paint for the audience - the audience wants something different - you paint for the audience - the audience wants....you paint for the audience....the audience - you forget what you really paint...


06-19-2003, 09:38 PM
I most diffinetly will, thank you for the tip!:)

06-22-2003, 11:35 PM
Zen teaches us that these things are not "good" or "bad" in their essence.
Anxiety, tensions, listlessness, they all have their place along with joy and creativity. they are all part of the same process, part of the being which creates the art.
Even the procrastination or "in between" works, or other activites, have a positive place in the you that makes you you.

06-22-2003, 11:39 PM
I'm not familiar with zen, but I do know that probably without the anxiety, I'd would have never accomplished the goals that I've achieved this past year with my art. I realized a long time ago that I'm more afraid of not creating than I am of the anxieties that accompany it.

06-23-2003, 06:35 PM
I just recently came out of a huge long dry spell. 3 years to be exact - due to weird life things happening. I still painted during that time, but not regularly, so every time I picked up the brush again it would be like starting over. It was so frustrating- i didn't do a lot of stuff that I liked because it all felt so sorced, or awkward, maybe.

I am now painting like crazy, and feel so much happier- there is so much less "precious painting anxiety". I think a big key is to work consistently- regularly. even if you don't feel like working, just sit in your studio, or pull a couple of pieces out and stare at them for a while. It'll get your juices flowing.

Another great book is: Art & Fear: the perils (and rewards) of art making. I think this is the correct title. By two guys- can't remember their names. I bought it from Amazon, though. I highly recommend it!

Carly, i love what you wrote in your original message:
"I decided to approach my painting as a journey to an unknown place...maybe even a scary place that I'd never been before."

This is brilliant, and when you can think this way, it makes creating art so exciting!
(I haven't figured out how to quote another person's message, obviously!)

06-24-2003, 05:16 PM
to be honest, most of the anxiety comes now from something not going well.I dont find myself putting things off, i just get on with them.
but then, i didnt paint for 5 or 6 years, so now, there aren't enough hours in the day, and too many normal job hours, and too many other things unrelated that need doing.So i get frustrated when i have to do those things instead.
mind you, found that putting some kind of coloured ground helped, because then, the canvas wasnt white ( or whatever colour it is), and it encourages you to go mess it up.

06-24-2003, 07:39 PM
I get anxious ( and b*tchy) when trying to live through a dry spell/ creative block...I suspect my family could come up with a few colorful nouns equally suitable ;)

I get anxious when I have a good painting momentum going, then stress/events intrude and throw me off my course ( ...arrghh!!!...:mad: )

And this will sound odd (and is related to the above comment)...but recently I got anxious when I was having a spurt of inspiration ( finally! :rolleyes:) , flooded with ideas but it felt like life suddenly conspired to intervene before I could get them all down on canvas. You know when you are working on that one piece and suddenly it spawns ideas for several more, seemingly all at once? I feared that the inspiration would slip through my fingers untapped , I even tried blocking in the canvases/scribbling the ideas down on paper so as not to lose them...but then life kept me running for 5 paint-less days. I am back to where I started this evening trying to see if I can recapture the thought process that had me so inspired to begin with...

...I rambled, sorry :o

06-25-2003, 09:32 AM
Agreed, Julia, ideas never come to me when I'm in a position to act on them.
I'm always driving somewhere or in the middle of putting out some fire, etc.
I write things down A LOT. Sometimes I get them back, and sometimes they are lost forever!
At one time I actually carried a mini cassette recorder around with me and did the "note to self" thing.
It worked okay for some ideas (radio comedy scripts in particular), but I found I was bored and annoyed by the guy on the tape! (tehe!)

06-25-2003, 01:42 PM
Wow! This has been great reading for me, so good to be in company of people who know what I go through. ;) I thought I was alone, lol, in my frustrations as an artist. I too have gone through many dry spells and huge blocks and battles with my creative energies. Someone's signature here on WC said something to the effect that" Art is a Battle", lol and I'm believer.

I've been trying so hard to tackle this slack/fear demon for the past two years, forcing myself to create as much as possible so that I don't come under "the curse" again. I think that it has helped to keep busy and have materials handy to create and also I think of what I want to create most... next. Those small breaks in the day when not painting and between daily chores...when my current painting is close to being finished I found that preparing myself for a new work helps to keep the flow moving...so when my current project is done, the new is waiting.
This has helped me, anyway.

06-27-2003, 01:29 AM
Originally posted by O'Connor

At one time I actually carried a mini cassette recorder around with me and did the "note to self" thing.
It worked okay for some ideas (radio comedy scripts in particular), but I found I was bored and annoyed by the guy on the tape! (tehe!)

It never fails does it... sitting somewhere where I absolutely cannot do anything to act upon the inspiration at all...then I will get the vision of the painting...:rolleyes:

06-27-2003, 02:55 AM
Most of these posts have struck a chord with me at various points in my career... I've found that more often, it's better to just accept where I am at the moment. Not always easy, but it's all grist for the mill.

Yep, even those times when it's not possible to somehow record something that screams "PAINTING!" I paint it in my mind's eye... trying to figure out how I would paint it, what colours I'd mix.. just enjoy the thrill of a great vision. There's probably a reason why you can't paint it... maybe you're supposed to just look. ;)

I can still remember when I was about 5 years old... I got up, couldn't sleep, & sat at the window watching the full moon track across the sky. I must have sat there for a good 3 to 4 hours, really looking at that moon. I wouldn't dare to make any noise by doing anything... my mom would've killed me if she saw me sitting there. No wonder the moon keeps cropping back into my work. ;)

Even if I'm at a point where I simply can't paint (the complications of life, etc) ... I know that I'll get back to it, & I'll get myself out in the field, or to an exhibition, or go through a beloved art book.

It all comes back in the blink of an eye... that spark that makes me make art.

Good thread, Carly. I've been reading Maisel's "A Life in the Arts", & I found this site awhile back. I want to try out his Sleep Thinking. ;)


06-27-2003, 03:20 AM
Wow dodger. Thanks for sharing the link. Lots of good stuff there.

06-27-2003, 08:17 AM
Excellent site Judy, thanks. I like how this guy thinks...

06-27-2003, 09:20 AM
The real anxiety of creating for me is taking the time out of my "responsible grown-up" life to work on the arts.
Poetry (and lyric writing) is actually pretty easy, as one can compose both while driving, walking, working, etc. If I come up with good ideas and put a few good verses together, I'm even likely to remember them if I don't write them down.
Even so, writing them down on anything available is pretty easy and quick and can be accomplished just about anywhere.
My problem is, like many others at WC!, I have to carve out time to ditch all the other demands on my life and get my materials out and put some time into a painting.
Often I find a Friday or Saturday night, after my wife's fallen asleep and the kids are out, to be the least "demand and guilt-ridden", and I'll paint into the wee hours.
Occasionally I try to carve some time into a weeknight or a Sunday, but these are invariably punctuated by phone calls, visits, the dog needs to go out, the dog needs to come back in, the cat wants to go out, the dog wants to follow the cat out...:confused:
In another thread on a different subject, a working professional artist said her family "expects" her and her work to be artsy and professional, but family fawns and falls about with praise for her mother's craftwerk.
My anxiety is that painting is really a hobby for me at this point, and my friends and family don't realize that just because I'm not a professional songwriter/poet/musician/painter/photographer, that I still have a drive to create, and a true passion about my creative works.
If I had never married and had children, perhaps I would have been happier being alone, living in "The Village", being an artist, and dying young, broke and unknown from alchoholism.
Er...on second thought...I wonder if there's any good movies on satellite tonite. Popcorn in the microwave, cold pop, cordless phone & remote...

06-27-2003, 09:50 AM
Originally posted by O'Connor

If I had never married and had children, perhaps I would have been happier being alone, living in "The Village", being an artist, and dying young, broke and unknown from alchoholism.

Where does anxiety leave off and frustration pick up? The more anxious I get to not do what I need or want to, the more I feel the frustration build...

O'Conner: I have been collaging bits of my poetry onto some mixed media's I have on the go. I occasioanlly would sit down to write but never seemed to get any written piece finished. I have taken these drips and drabs and started working them into some canvases...
I am a such a sucker for poetry, I am surprised we don't have a forum for that here.

06-27-2003, 10:08 AM

I'm a poetryhead, too. I like the folx so much here that I thought I'd like to share some of my work.
This is, however, a sight dedicated to the graphic and physical arts.
Poetry.com is a good place to start if you want the wordsmith experience.

06-27-2003, 10:18 AM
Just pull the triger.....

06-27-2003, 11:03 AM
Hmmm, sorry about earlier typos, not enough caffeine in my system. Guess I should have used the spellcheck...

Thanks for the link O'Conner :D

Awww Borum, it's all an extension of the arts , LOL...:evil: