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Overcoming Creative Fear

Lee May Foster-Wilson / June 28, 2022

Thoughts for June - Overcoming Creative Fear

Hello everybody, I hope this missive for June finds you well. It's currently pouring with rain outside, not very summery but my garden is drinking it up and it's actually making it easier to be inside working!

Earlier this month I had the great pleasure of attending my cousins wedding in the French Alps, my little family and I stayed in a huge out of season ski chalet with extended family and we had friends who were staying nearby come and visit for food in the evenings, we all hung out, had some great conversations, the children all played together and it was such a fun weekend with those I love most in absolutely stunning surroundings. The wedding itself was beautiful, more family getting together, meeting new people, more delicious food, drinks and scenery.

Unfortunately we had a little trouble with our flight home being cancelled which meant an extra night in Geneva and then a convoluted trip home to Cornwall via Liverpool Airport and a drive in a hire car to Bristol Airport to get our own car, but that didn't put a dampner on things really. EasyJet put us up in a fairly nice hotel with a pool, my children had an extra day off school and I had an extra day with them!

View from Our Chalet French AlpsThe view from our chalet...Just stunning!

Very quickly that special time away felt like a dream, as all holidays tend to do, and I was straight back to packing orders and sorting out the admin that had piled up while I was away, which was fine but my goodness was I tired! The trip itself was a much needed break but the travel chaos was a bit draining, despite it not being as awful as it could have been given the news reports.

We got back late on the Tuesday night and by the time Friday came I had worked hard to get on top of pressing admin matters and sat down ready to create, only, I found it very hard, nothing was coming and motivation was frankly non existent! So I dithered away an afternoon thinking about social media strategy and my garden, as you do... I felt very frustrated that I hadn’t got any art made.

I try not to work on the weekends, that is family time. Personally need my own space when I’m making art, so I like to spend my weekends with my precious ones knowing I will be back to it on Monday rather than getting frustrated that I can’t get time to create at the weekend. It leaves a lot of mum guilt behind too. There’s time for them and time for art.

So Monday came around and I did my admin and then again found myself doing anything and everything except create stuff. I was photographing new products, trying to figure out SEO, packing orders, TIDYING (a sure fire sign something is amiss!) Anything to not go into the creative part of work, I was really beginning to annoy myself by this point!

The week wore on with me still skirting around the edges of art making and I realised that I hadn’t been making time for my morning pages, a wonderful exercise from The Artist’s Way where you write down three pages of whatever comes to you while you are sat there to write. It can be anything and more often than not mine start out very banal but end up with me thinking stuff through, digging deep and either asking more questions or figuring things out. I find it SO beneficial and when I realised what I was doing I became quite cross with myself for neglecting this important part of my routine!

By doing my pages again I realised that all the time I was away I hadn’t had quiet time to think (which is of course fine because I was there to be with family) but on returning I also hadn’t restarted the habit and given myself time to think or made it priority and now my mind was essentially so cluttered I didn’t know where to start. A wall had sprung up and I needed to push it down again. This type of wall has a name, dear friends, and it’s called creative block, however the block has many nuances and the one I have been dealing with is called FEAR.

Feeling the FearThe fear wall is always trying to rebuild itself. I often find that when I am on a roll with creating that fear leaves me, I am in a flow and going for it, if I can keep this momentum going it can often last weeks, until something prevents me from working on it for a stint or I neglect to do my morning pages and de-clutter my mind, then the little fear bricks start to gather themselves together again and the wall starts to rise from the rubble I made of it. Personally I need to work on my own creative endeavours regularly to keep that wall from building up again, keep myself moving forward.

The fear can take shape in a multitude of ways: the blank page, doubt in my ideas, worrying that what I produce will be utter rubbish and that time will have been wasted, that I can’t actually draw…

It feels different to full on creative block, I have had that when there are no ideas, any motivation for ideas that do come is blown away as quickly as it came, confidence is low and the brain fog is a proper pea souper. Whereas the fear block is more rooted in self doubt, the blank page is a terrifying place and even though I know I can do this I’m not sure my hands will cooperate…that the discord between what is in my head and what ends up on the paper will clang painfully.

As creatives the need to have content for social media is always there too and that can also add pressure for everything to be spot on, just so we have something to share, which is like rocket fuel  for the fear, so much so that sometimes you end up making nothing.

In an even more nuanced way, sometimes it’s not even a fear of making the work (which I find is where it differs from full on creative block) it’s a fear of leaving the comfort of my sketchbooks and making a final piece. I’m feeling that even more so at the moment while I work on reviving my fine art alongside my illustration. My sketchbooks are safe, I don’t go in with any preconceived ideas about what I am making but I can play in there and if it’s rubbish I can try and learn from it and then turn the page. For some reason the final piece feels different to that, like it has to be more perfect when really maybe it doesn’t…the brushiness and playfulness of the sketchbook work is what gives it life so maybe I need to play more outside of those books too?

Self HelpThis month I have been working on overcoming all of this. I have been feeling it every time I look at a blank page even if I know what I’m going to draw. I feel it with digital and analogue but it’s stronger with analogue because there is no undo button. Sometimes though something more exciting can arise from trying to correct a mistake, not every time but there is a chance that it might!

So what have I done to try and over come it?

 - I have been writing about it. As I mentioned before I find doing my morning pages such a valuable tool. It’s a brain dump of stuff that is on my mind or ideas that need more thought and I will often get to a point where I can figure things out, including what I need to do next with my work. I urge you to give it a try even if you don’t make stuff, it really helps to figure stuff out and refine ideas and order thoughts. Read more about it HERE.

 - I have been doing this for a while but when the fear is bad I have been painting backgrounds to work on so that the page isn’t just blank and white. It gives me something to do when I would otherwise be tidying or doing shop work in what should be my creative time. I can lose myself with the pens and paper and because it is quite a meditative process it gives me time to think too.

Painting BackgroundsPainting Backgrounds... 


- Just starting, even if it’s not with an actual object that I am drawing, just mark making which is a step on from making the backgrounds. More often than not this will turn into something else, but I just try and begin with no expectations. In some synchronicitous way, I was listening to the Creative Pep Talk podcast last week and in the latest episode they talk about this, bringing expectations right down so that you have no preconceived idea of what you will achieve, just a starting point and then taking it one level of expectation at a time. This is advice that you could apply to so many parts of life, but as a method for overcoming the fear of the blank page it is very energising! They called it shooting for meh…I like that.
 Mark Making Lee Foster-Wilson SketchbookJust playin'...

- Once I had crafted these pages of mark making and just allowing myself to play (which also go back to stream of consciousness drawing, another thing I like to do from time to time and something I talk about in my first two YouTube videos) I then started photographing them, zooming in and focussing on the good sections or those that I was pleased with. This gave me a bit of confidence in that what I was doing wasn’t completely awful. There are good textures and moments in there to work with.

Sketchbook Moments Lee Foster-WilsonZoomed in sketchbook moments...they kind of look like little paintings in themselves!

- Perhaps the most frustrating way it shows up is when I have actually created something that I am really pleased with and then have to start afresh on something else, there is the fear that whatever I produce next couldn’t possibly be so good! So instead of sitting there needing to start totally from scratch again I use the same subject matter and just draw it again in a slightly different way, that way I don’t have to start with nothing each time. I just keep drawing the same thing over and over for as long as I need to. I do this anyway but it’s usually to refine the way I am drawing something, in moments of fear though I do it so that I can just have something to draw that I know I can draw. Here I did it with these thrush and geraniums, over and over again.

Lee Foster-Wilson Song Thrush SketchbookSong Thrush in my sketchbook

- The last one is catching myself when I am procrastinating! Something I need to work on regularly anyway, but especially when I am procrastinating about making art, the very reason I do this job in the first place and the backbone of everything I do. I just need to be brave, dive in and get started by doing some of the things I have outlined here!

 - Lastly I am trying to remember to go easy on myself when the fear strikes. It’s easy to say “but oh it’s just art, there are far more pressing things to be frightened of”. Yes, there really is but it is also my career, there is pressure there and as we all know, art can be very hard, especially if you have something you are trying to express well, you don’t want to let those ideas down! So I’m cutting myself some slack and letting myself play, trying to make it fun again.

I don’t really have any concrete answers to this fear but these are some of the things I am trying to do to overcome it. I know it won’t last forever which brings comfort, but for now it feels like it’s always at my back, snaring at my heels and there every time I begin again on a new piece. It’s a cliche but the hardest part really is just starting sometimes.

Do you ever feel this kind of creative fear? Not just with making art but with starting any project? If you do I would be interested to hear your ways of overcoming it and how you manage it, leave me a comment below!


P.S. There will be a new YouTube video up this week, I address some of the things I have talked about here and also some other bits and pieces, come and check it out later in the week!

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