Stage One of my Creative Process: Stalling

“Doubt is natural and healthy. It keeps us humble, but it needs to be partnered with strong affirming voices.”  Shaun McNiff

Lately I’ve noticed how beginning a new painting frequently brings up feelings of self-doubt and fear. Can I turn this subject into a satisfying painting? Do I have what it takes? Will it work or will I just be wasting my time? Because these questions can never be answered in advance, I often hesitate and start stalling.  My favorite stalling statics include shopping, reading, and spending time researching pet topics (happily, I can report that my stalling tactics rarely involve cleaning house!). 

I’ve noticed a few other things, too. Trying to resist doubt and fear doesn’t work, and trying to make them go away doesn’t work either. So, because stalling can lead to big-time procrastination and become a major obstacle to getting my work done, I’ve begun to anticipate that doubt and fear will definitely be showing up when I choose my next subject to paint. Rather than trying to resist or ignore them, I’ve decided to step out of the way, acknowledge their presence, accept them, and just let them be.  

Recently I had shelves installed on the wall across from my painting table so that I could display photos of some of my favorite completed paintings and paintings in progress. This has turned out to be a great source of support and encouragement when the inevitable happens and doubt and fear show up at my studio door. Now, when I start feeling anxious and want to abandon ship in favor of greener pastures, all I have to do is look up and I’m reminded that I’ve been there before and that these doubts and fears are natural and will probably always be stage one of my personal creative process. If you feel similar about your art and don’t have a starting point, you could try going for something from as a first starting point and then grow from there. Finishing a project at all is a great boost. I know that looking at my wall of paintings instantly puts me in touch with the confident part of me who struggled, persisted, failed, recovered, and went on to create some paintings that I really do love. Of course, I have to actually be working at my painting table for all that to happen, and showing up and working on my work is the best way I know of to partner doubt and fear with self-confidence, because when I’m completely and passionately engaged with my painting, my paints, and the creative process itself, doubt and fear seem to disappear all on their own. 

Happy Painting!    

8 thoughts on “Stage One of my Creative Process: Stalling

  1. Ian Fraser

    Hi I have even been known to hoover rather than beginning painting but I think my biggest stalling problem is keeping my brushes clean and prepared for painting. I still struggle with that and usually end up with a stack of brushes crusted with oil paint and that is not a good starting point.

  2. Ruth Armitage

    Hi Donna,
    It is so comforting to know that you face this same obstacle! I love your idea to display your successful paintings nearby for self assurance. I have a couple of ribbons from awards hanging near my table, for the very same reason, but I think I will put up some of my favorite pieces nearby too!

  3. Donna Post author

    Hi Ruth,
    Thanks for commenting! I’m trying to get in touch with all the little details of my creative process along with the quirky and insecure parts of my personality so that I can be more free and confident when I’m painting. I find that looking up and seeing some of my favorite paintings and reminding myself that I’ve been through the abyss before and have come out on the other side is very helpful to me to me when I feel discouraged or don’t know what to do next when I’m painting. In the end I guess it’s all about encouraging myself not to give up and to continue painting until I find that image I’m unconsciously searching for.

  4. Donna Post author

    Hi Ian,
    Thanks for sharing your favorite stalling tactics! I can see how having to start each painting session cleaning out brushes would really keep my from getting into my studio and getting down to work!

  5. Tammy Wiedenhaefer

    My favorite stalling technique is to watch an instructional video, read an art magazine or research an artist, etc. I trick myself into thinking I’m absorbing knowledge/ideas to use in my next painting but all I manage to do is procrastinate and muddle my mind with too much “stuff”. What a great idea to display your favorite works! I’m going to give it a try as well. Why is it so hard for us artists to aknowledge our ability/successes and constantly fall back into the trap of self doubt? That is my million dollar question. 😉

  6. Sharon Graves

    Well, I’m all over this post. I’ve been in a slump for 2 weeks and have not allowed my self to paint. I had a very very bad painting day several weeks ago and needed a break. Today I forced myself into my studio, read something inspirational, did two drawings and then painted a scene I knew I could do. I just painted on some poster paper so I knew this was not going to be something I would want or try to sell. That took some pressure off. Never been in this place before like this, so I’m hoping that tomorrow will be a better place. Thanks for the advice.

    1. Donna Post author

      Hi Sharon,
      Thanks for writing! I think our job is simply to show up and do the work. And if things work out in our painting, fine. And if not, that’s fine too. Expecting a fabulous results every time puts too much stress on us. I’m constantly reminding myself that sometimes it’s going to work, and sometimes it isn’t. If we show up in the studio consistently, eventually something has to work!

  7. . Charlotte Tanner

    Thanks for your comments. Have been avoiding the work! Today I will paint for two hours (the task I set for myself). Charlotte Tanner

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