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7 Strategies for overcoming Fear Of Painting (FOP🤣)

Why is painting/creating scary for many of us? We can all agree there is no danger there, it won't kill us, it won't even injure us (physically anyway). And yet, I hear it all the time from students in the student Facebook group, "I've bought all my supplies but I'm too scared to start!" And I too experience it. Yes, even though I have been painting for about six years, and have an art and teaching business, I am not immune. You would think I'd be done with the fear thing right? Apparently not. The fear grows whenever I start going in a new direction, one I'm less confident in. In fact, over the last two months, I've felt blocked creatively because I'm learning and practicing new things like drawing people and different subjects. I've written about the origins of this fear before in my blog post, Putting Fear in Its Place. In this post, I want to share some strategies I've developed or curated that actually work and are now my go-to list for when this happens. These are in no particular order, I use them all continually in my art practice.


1. Bring what is inside out in the open

Make a "Billboard" sign saying (exaggerating it with emotion as much as possible) what your subconscious is feeling, this will make you laugh at it when you see in plain sight how absurd it is. Just write it on a piece of paper, a card, or your phone notes app and read it every time you feel scared, it's very freeing! Here are some of my favorites:

  • PAINTING IS VERY DANGEROUS AND MUST BE AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS!!

  • IF YOU PAINT AND IT'S BAD, NO ONE WILL LIKE YOU!

  • IF YOU TRY TO GET BETTER AND NEVER DO, THEN YOU ARE A COMPLETE FAILURE AND LOSER!

I'm laughing at these right now and yet, the subconscious is often operating with these beliefs deep down. I'd love you to email me back your Billboards and we can laugh together!


2. Let the body take over: Daily marks pages

Usually when we are in this hesitant or fearful place, we are way too much in our heads but our bodies have wisdom too. Austin Kleon talks about this in Steal Like an Artist (which I highly recommend). Just put on a podcast or one of my youtube videos 😜 so your mind is occupied and get a few supplies out, put some paint on the palette, a brush in your hand, and just start making splotches/strokes/blobs. Or take a pen/marker out and start with squiggles and see how many different marks you can make. Fill 3 pages with whatever comes to mind, that's your only goal, fill 3 pages. Often this will lead to an idea or something else you want to explore. If it doesn't, no problem, you improved your muscle memory and you created! Do these "daily marks pages" every day and you will feel less stuck. This is just like the morning pages of writing that Julia Cameron advocates in her book, The Artist's Way, only with marks instead of writing. Have a sketchbook just for this!


3. Minimize and simplify drastically

Sometimes too many supplies or options can kill creativity. I remember Betty Franks (one of my favorite contemporary artists, here's her Instagram) saying that she really honed in on her current style when she put away or got rid of all the mixed media and variety of supplies and directions she was going and just got out a few things and played. As an avid collector of art supplies, I'm not suggesting you don't explore a variety of mediums, surfaces, etc. In fact, my next strategy below involves that. But for this strategy, giving yourself some very limited structure can make creating less overwhelming. I'm reminded of the adage that swimming in open water can feel scary but swimming in a pool with four sides feels safer, boundaries can help us at times. Try using only one brush and three colors, or 3 markers. Reach in and grab a small handful of whatever and make marks. Or pick your five favorite colors/tools and only use those. Do a Marie Kondo (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up author) on your supply table and see what happens.


4. Become an experimenter/scientist in the lab

Say to yourself, for this next hour, I'm going to experiment with paints, colors, textures, pens, pencils - whatever you have. Just see what they can do, can they be layered or not? In what order? What effects do I like and don't like? What can I use besides a brush to make marks (hint: raid your kitchen!) What happens when I mix a little orange with all my colors? What about a little Payne's grey or sepia? What happens when I add more water or go the other direction - a really dry brush? Just be curious about everything and see what you discover! Try a supply in a completely different way, do things you don't normally do, colors you don't normally use, marks you don't normally market, etc. Fill pages with your experimentations and put your lab notes right on them.


5. Scroll, study, and copy

Find some paintings online or in a book that really speak to you, study them closely, and make notes about what you really love in them. Is it the color palette? What about the colors? Brushstrokes? The way light is shown? Look at shapes, textures, lines, anything about it that really makes your heart go pitter-patter. Then pick out an element in a painting, like the colors or the way brush strokes are done or the way a hill has texture on it or a plant or house is painted and practice/copy that*. You can try and copy the whole painting but that can be intimidating. So pick one bit that contains something you really like and do that. If you fill a sketchbook with bits of things you like from work you love with notes on what painting or artist it came from you will have a wonderful library representing things you love. You can start with a Pinterest board of art/artists you love, (here's a link to my Pinterest art inspiration board as an example). Not only is this fun, but it helps you get past FOP and also helps you uncover your style. Call it your "Art love journal." I think I'll have to do a Youtube video on this idea - what fun!

*Remember never to pass on copied work as your own and to attribute copying to the artist.


6. Accept and attend to the experience of fear, resistance, and procrastination

Neurologists have learned through several studies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXi2gFR9zZ4) that if we give uncomfortable feelings like fear, procrastination, resistance, cravings, etc., our full attention instead of avoiding them or pushing them away - they dissipate. I think Yogis and Zen Buddhists have known this for centuries 😂. The findings are that if you sit with the unpleasant feeling, in this case, we are talking about fear or resistance and you pay attention to it, label it, breathe through it, and trust that it will pass, then it does, in fact, pass. I've done this myself and not only does it pass, it keeps it from coming back as much. It's as if the feeling needs to be seen and acknowledged, pass through us, and then we can move on without either clinging to it or avoiding it. This tracks so well with Michael Singer's The Untethered Soul, which I read many years ago and has been life-changing. Here's another article on this I found that goes deeper and shows the studies: Accept Yourself and the Feelings You Feel


7. Put on your five-year-old

I say this in classes and in my Youtube videos from time to time and it seems to help students relax and loosen up. We have all seen how four or five-year-olds create when crayons or paints are given to them. They generally aren't overthinking, they just start putting colors down in scribbles, blotches, or whatever they feel like doing (even on walls 😁). They create with abandon and freedom. We can emulate this at least for a warm-up, you can fill a page or three like this and you will have learned something and hopefully had some fun.


I know there was a lot in this email/blog but I hope some of these strategies get you creating and being kind to yourself. Let's accept and breathe through whatever shows up and find ourselves with a paintbrush in our hands and things being created 😁. Here are some of the pieces I worked on as the fear/block subsided, I guess color wanted to come out!



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