Art and fear go hand in hand
There may be as many different approaches to making art as there are artists.
For example, some start a painting, a sculpture…, work on it until it’s done, then start the next one. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I’m not a start/finish/next artist. I like to set projects aside and let them percolate.
This, combined with active practice and skill development allows me to keep ideas fresh, and relevant to my long term goals.
It can also mean letting some projects go if I decide they aren’t as worthwhile as I’d originally thought.
It’s up to you to experiment with, decide on and maximize your own approach. One thing I’ll advise about this: The trick, for me, is understanding when I’m letting a piece percolate, and when I’m avoiding it out of fear.
For production painters doing jobs with strict deadlines, there’s little or no room for percolation, whether strategic or fear based.
Procrastination can set in even when there’s a big job looming. I’ve been there and I know it can be very stressful.
I get scared
I look at a piece I’m working on, a table top, an art panel… and an internal voice starts to say things like “That’s gonna look terrible” and “You’ve never done that, what makes you think
you can do it now?” and “You’re going to mess up this stage, better to wait to do it later.”
Follow these guidelines to build the necessary skills for getting art and fear to work together to overcome procrastination and get your projects done.
Here are some tools I’ve found valuable over the years.
1. When lack of “inspiration” is excuse making
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
~W. Somerset Maugham
When Maugham wrote that, he was speaking to people who claim they need “inspiration” before they can “create”. The more direct message is this: Making art is work that requires consistent effort.
Set a schedule for practicing new techniques and generating new ideas. Set uninterrupted, daily time aside and focus for one to two hours or more.
This is your time to master the new technique for the job you’re about to start, get new skills down to add to your portfolio or just create new, awesome stuff.
2. Commit to just starting
In Neil Fiores book “The Now Habit”, he talks about how we tend to look at the entire project, instead of a series of small tasks.
“It’s as if you have your nose up against a skyscraper with the expectation that you have to get to the top in one, exhausting leap.” ~Neil Fiore. The Now Habit.
I like to think of it as one impossible leap. In other words, you’re not going to paint a perfect Walnut panel in one sitting.
I use many tools from Mr. Fiore’s excellent book, here’s one that really stands out for me: When some project has me scared and procrastinating, I commit to spend just five minutes on it.
By committing to a doable period of time, I trick my brain into overcoming any fear I was experiencing. “Five minutes? I can do that.”
Sure, sometimes I stop after five minutes, but over 99% of the time I keep working because I’ve started enjoying the process and it feels good to be getting the work done.
3. It’s just Practice
Warming up for painting is not only valuable, it’s critical. When I find myself nervous or procrastinating over a new technique, I try to remember that it’s because I haven’t mastered it yet.
Keep a stack of primed, sanded and base coated Masonite panels handy for practicing on. When you find yourself staring at a dashboard or other project and feeling nervous to hit it with a graining layer, grab a panel and practice the stroke a few times.
I’ll admit, I repaint more often than I should. This happens when I try to rush through a project instead of taking the methodical steps (like warm-up and practice) that I know lead to excellent projects.
4. Embrace ‘The Resistance’ and ‘Turn Pro’
Steven Pressfield wrote “The War of Art”, a brilliant look into how and why we fear creating things and how to overcome that fear.
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” ~Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles.
Imagine that! Fear as an indicator that you’re on to something great!
I cannot recommend this book enough. I tell everyone about it. It changed my view 100% of making art and doing work. It gave me tools and inspiration that I use every day in all of my work.
Another aspect of “The Resistance” is that it’s always there and always will be. I believe that it’s our ego trying to keep us from becoming our most amazing selves, trying to keep us mediocre.
Or perhaps it’s a long outdated survival mechanism in place to maintain the status quo and therefore keep us “safe”.
I’ll let Steven speak for himself in this 2.5 minute video.