How to come back to the process

How-to-come-back-to-the-process-Beautiful-Hello-Blog
We returned from vacation and time away with family a few weeks ago.  I was excited to get back to the studio, loosen up my crusty brushes, and make something out of the stack of canvases I knew were waiting for me.  I left NYC with a head full of ideas and maybe even too much inspiration.  I firmly believe that time off and time away is so helpful to the creative process, and usually, I come back to the easel with waves of fresh ideas and excitement; happy to be in my place again.  But this time was completely different.  I was overwhelmed & afraid.  
Failure is hard to look at from the front.  It can harm you the most before it has even happened.  Fear of failure is the most ridiculous thing of all and yet, I fall into it so smoothly and repetitively, even though I know that no one “watching” me even really minds when I mess up.  We are all grown ups and busy enough to not have leisure time to dwell on such things, and of course we know that everyone is human…  But still I am afraid.  I am afraid of failing myself.
I spent a few days in the studio doing busy work, cleaning, varnishing… anything but actually make a mark on something lasting and new.  
Of course, at some point, paintings are going to completely “fail”.  There will be some terrible ones to make the good ones even brighter.  And you can’t just hop back into the process and assume, because you show up, that you will automatically create something magical…  but, if you want to get over the thing, to teach the fear some humility, then you must show up.   You have to disjoin the notion that your personal worth is united with the thing you make.  It absolutely is not.
“I *will* paint today if only to break my hands out of the thick, crusty leather gloves they seem to be trapped in”
I wrote this to some friends (peer pressure and accountability do wonders for my stamina!).   And I painted.  It was not good but I felt less afraid and like I knew the thing I feared wasn’t me, t was my hands trying to get their rhythm back.  And so I painted on and with every stroke I felt the gloves slipping off and my mind relaxing and then it was just me again and the fear was no longer singing loudly in my mind but was sitting quietly somewhere across the room where she belongs.
photo by Chris Isham
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21 comments

  • Nice one Emily. I started on a new stretched linen canvas last week and was intimidated by the material – such a great surface I felt totally inadequate to the task of marking it. Once I got over that and did as you did – just enjoy the brush strokes and mark making – all was well.

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  • Something I learned from leadership training that applies to art: “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.” May you get freed up and get on with your process – but overcoming this is part of it.

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  • I love this so much! And completely relate. I often find myself looking the thing(fear) in the face and telling it to be silent so I can get some work done. But the habitual returning and making even when things are stuck, frustrating or uncertain is the very ritual that ultimately unlocks those magical places.

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  • Loved this post! It applies to all aspects of life. I particularly resonate to the sentence in bold about “disjoining the notion that personal worth is united with the thing you make”. To me is speaks to your courage as an artist. It is good advise for us (me) that are reluctant to put ourselves and creative efforts out in the public for fear of rejection. You offer a wonderful challenge to overcome that fear of failure.

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  • I had that fear for a long time. I work full time so I don’t have time during the week to paint. When it came to Saturdays I just couldn’t do it. I did everything else I ‘had to do’ but paint.
    I was afraid because I didn’t have a plan for the painting so I didn’t even start.
    Now I tell myself – “just do the base layer” and it’s fun now 🙂 I can’t wait for the weekends to add to my paintings – even just a small brush stroke.
    Thanks for this post – it’s reassuring that even the best have troubles!

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  • I had this debate with myself just last night. I wanted to work on a watercolor… I had visualized what I wanted to paint but I was so scared to fail that I stared at the blank page until I convinced myself to just start. So what if it doesn’t look perfect and so what if I hate it?…Then I thought, “but what if I love it?!”

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  • The emotional place you felt here was truly worth expressing and sharing. As artists we live and breath emotion and naturally we all experience fear in different way. What I have learned in the process of my life in art is that mistakes or accidental parts of our process can be very creative in themselves, leading to a fresh different look or new idea. Fear is natural… Thanks Em, enjoy your day with family and friend. 🙂

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  • I relate to this so much! Just starting is probably the hardest thing for me. I took some inspiration from you and started my own 30 paintings in 30 days challenge. I like the idea of just painting for the process and seeing what becomes of it. Sometimes the painting itself won’t be worth sharing, but you’ll learn and grow from those experiences. 🙂

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  • Ah so true, Emily. Just show up! I and so many artists I know struggle with the fear that comes especially when we have been gone from our studio for a while, but after a few days of showing up, we get back into the swing of things. Your work is always so fresh and lovely, and brings joy to so many. Your inspiration comes from the Maker of all the natural beauty around you. Never stop showing up, except for days with family and rest.:)

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  • Thnx for your share. It hit home with me as with so many others.
    The truth is that so many “failures” are subjective as well. You may hate something that you’ve created and someone else may love it. And how many times have I posted something that I LOVE just to have it panned by others? Even though I tell myself this, it is still to easy to fall into the fear of failure trap.

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  • l can surely relate, thank you for sharing this. Thank you. l took home this, You have to disjoin the notion that your personal worth is united with the thing you make. It absolutely is not.
    Lately as a Spoken Word performer l had stopped such because l feared failure, l feared not saying something that people will relate because l had took a break. Thank you

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  • Hello ,
    I am very new at blogging, although I am young I hope you will consider looking at my blog. It is nothing amazing or artistic ,but it is simple and i write every Wednesday. URL: Pingieblog.wordpress.com

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  • I let my fear get the best of me too many times! Right now I am working on some illustrations and am so out of practice that nothing is coming out right, but I’m trying to keep going and get over the fear.

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