Art + Design + I Design Stuff + Life + Health

Fear of doing it wrong = not doing it at all.

Little Anna

I didn’t really feel like blogging last week, in part because it was a week of several very sad events around the world, but also because I’ve been filled with an enormous amount of self-doubt after posting photos of my backsplash makeover. That might sound ridiculous, but the closing sentences from that post are really what set me off:

An unexpected side effect of working on this project is that I really feel like painting. Not painting houses, but painting stuff. I feel like designing wallpaper, too. And pillows. And blankets. And everything, really.

Right. So I established the fact that I want to do things, but I am still not doing those things. Last weekend I even went to buy some supplies — paints, brushes, canvases, etc. Until yesterday, they were sitting untouched in my living room. I finally got sick of seeing them out of the corner of my eye, though, so I moved them to the kitchen. Where they are sitting. Untouched.

When I was a kid (and by “kid” I mean birth through age 20), all I did was paint and draw and make stuff with my hands. Both of my parents are artists. I grew up in an environment where expressing myself visually wasn’t just encouraged, it was the norm. That was just what you did. When it came time to go to college, I thought I was rebelling when I became an English Lit major — a terrible mistake, of course, and eventually I transferred to the Fine Arts program. I took lots of drawing and printmaking classes, but my concentration was in Graphic Design/Book Arts…and that’s where I wound up putting in the majority of my focus. By the time I was a senior, I was pretty much holed up in front of a computer all the time. I started my job as a book cover designer within weeks of graduating, and I’m still at that same job now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a graphic designer. I love what I do for a living, and I really do believe it’s exactly what I should be doing, but I always thought I’d eventually make room in my life for stuff that isn’t specifically for a client or a product. I don’t even necessarily mean stepping away from the computer entirely, I just mean working on things where I am the “client.”

You know what? IT’S REALLY HARD. Not having a specific purpose or goal in mind creatively is like paddling in the middle of an ocean with no land in sight. Where do you start? Who is going to give you approval? What is the product you’re trying to sell? And wouldn’t it have been easier to have just stayed on the boat?

On the other hand, I guess all of the work I’ve been doing on my house for the past 7 years is client-free creative work, right? Not really, though — at the end of the day, I guess the house is the client. There’s still a goal.

It comes down to this: I need to be pushing myself more creatively, and not because someone is telling me to. My fear of making ugly things and failing miserably is pretty intense, but what’s the worst that can happen? There is no worst. Best case scenario? I actually wind up liking my work without anyone’s approval, and maybe there will be a few other people out there who like it, too. What more can you ask for?

p.s. I need to go back and re-read this post I wrote last year about advice from Chuck Close. And then I need to actually listen to him.

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  • Reply Andrea April 23, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    I often feel this way and I force myself to start with a canvas because if I make the worst painting in the world, I can paint over it. But the point is that it gives me a place to begin. And permission to make the worst art in the world. And I’m constantly surprised that it doesn’t usually come to that… there is great power in just starting.

  • Reply Jenna April 23, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    well, we can start a support group for former art students who don’t make art anymore. Though I guess the slight difference between you and I is that I don’t *love* being a graphic designer and never aspired to be one, even though I made a career out of it. Hmm..what is that all about?

    • erin April 24, 2013 at 10:35 am

      I need to be in that group! I know there are a lot of us out there.

    • Bibiana Silveira April 29, 2013 at 7:25 pm

      i want in as well!!! though i am getting back to photography professionally, so that is a start… and getting back to having an actual visual research… but it is weird going back after doing design work for a long time…

  • Reply Greg April 23, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    I love that you are so open about this stuff on your blog. I’ve been feeling the same way lately. Like I sit in front of a computer all day (fellow designer) but I’m not pushing myself creatively enough. I’ve actually been considering going back to school for industrial design to explore a more hands on design approach. BLAH. Did I mention I suck at making decisions? Keep blogging. You rock.

  • Reply Kerry April 23, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    I know exactly how you feel! It’s so hard to just express yourself for the pure enjoyment of it… there always has to be a goal. I’ve been trying to get back into art (I have a BFA in painting) after many years of not doing anything. I need it in my life… so while I feel rusty now I know I just need to keep at it. I read this quote from Chuck Close on Pinterest the other day that I rather liked and I think it’s relavent:

  • Reply Gaby April 23, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    Being an architect (former creative child and now a full time professional in front of a computer all day) I had the same process. I still haven´t found the path to return to the joy of painting, drawing , making stuff.
    My advise would be: don´t think about it. Do it, do not think anymore. We are overthinkers (I don´t know if that word exists, sorry). Be a little thoughtlessly, just for a while. Let it happen. Who knows…

    • Kristin April 24, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Gaby’s story is my story. When I was in architecture school I drew and modeled (by hand) every single project. Now I sit in front of a screen all day. Today I’m reinstalling my software (that’s not working) so that I can design inside a box.

      I never had to reinstall my pens or my x-acto knife.

      It’s frustrating and not nearly as gratifying.

    • Katie April 24, 2013 at 11:50 am

      Anna, I can totally relate. I’m been suffering from artist block for awhile. The fear of making crappy art can freeze me to do nothing. Or being inspired by something online, I’ll often stop myself from doing because “someone already did it and did it well”. I think Gaby has some good advice of stop thinking and just do. I think the first few attempts will be a little shaky, but it’s almost like building muscles The first few workouts are short, hard and you see little results, but after doing it awhile it becomes easier and stronger.

      This week I’ve sat down and made a few small watercolor paintings. Some are better than others, but the nice thing about is I don’t need to show them to anyone.

  • Reply aneelee April 23, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    around here, it helps to switch mediums entirely. visual designer by day, my husband turns to music for his creative outlet during downtime. my outlet turns to the very tactile business of food and knitting to get out of the numbers and writing that fill my work.

    good luck. you’ll find the right thing and time.

    • Anna @ D16 April 26, 2013 at 12:48 am

      I think that might be why I feel more drawn to painting than working digitally as an “escape.” Less blurring of lines, more fresh brain power.

  • Reply Adam April 23, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Thank you for this. I have tears in my eyes reading this because this has been me for quite some time in regards to my artwork. I’m having quite a hard time getting over this fear.

  • Reply Kerry April 23, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Ahhh Love that Chuck Close video! I haven’t seen that before… so inspiring! Thank you 🙂

  • Reply Karoline April 23, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    Being a long time reader of your blog and fan of the skillful diy renovation of your house/old apartment/new apartment I think you are cutting yourself short saying “at the end of the day, I guess the house is the client” and not creative work. I can’t speak for anyone else but I read your blog because I find your tastes, talents and aesthetic to be super awesome and when you posted about expanding your creative talents into other venues I got super excited to see what amazing things you would do next! I guess what I am trying to say is, although starting new creative ventures can be scary, I think you have developed a really supportive and interested community around your blog that would provide positive feedback around your explorations. So good luck with whatever you set out to do, I’m sure it will be great! 🙂

    • Anna @ D16 April 23, 2013 at 11:51 pm

      Thanks, Karoline. This is very encouraging to hear!

      I definitely do think that working on my house is creative work (I think that about my job as a graphic designer, too!), but there’s a vast difference between commercial design for a client or decorative/restorative work in a home and “art for art’s sake,” for lack of better wording. Answering the “what am I trying to accomplish” question is very, very difficult when you’re used to that question being provided by someone else.

    • natalika April 24, 2013 at 10:36 am

      @Karoline: “I can’t speak for anyone else but I read your blog because I find your tastes, talents and aesthetic to be super awesome and when you posted about expanding your creative talents into other venues I got super excited to see what amazing things you would do next!” <– Word! Thank you for bringing it to the point.

      @Anna: Maybe you have to get rid of the "what I am tryng to accomplish" question first? Just sit down instead and get started playing and see what happens? "Accomplishment" might just be the wrong "casing" for your current search…

    • Anna @ D16 April 24, 2013 at 10:43 am

      It’s the absence of that question that’s the problem. 😉 I’m not an Artist with a capital A, and I have no aspirations as such — I’m a commercial designer, which is really about problem-solving, and, ultimately, selling a product. Graphic design does exist outside of the commercial realm, though, and without a client. It’s learning how to be my own client that’s really my goal here.

      All art requires concept on some level, though, and it’s the clear expression of that concept that leads to the method of execution.

  • Reply amanda April 24, 2013 at 12:00 am

    I have a Biggie sketchpad that I use as a “crappy” art sketch book. The quality of the paper is not amazing and it’s not the most attractive thing in the world so I don’t feel like I have to make a masterpiece. When I feel like I don’t know where to start I just start doodling in there and if I hate something I just flip to the next page and start something new. I know that if I end up really loving something I can re-create it or perfect it somewhere else, maybe in a sketchbook that I really love with beautiful paper. This has been a really helpful step in creating for me because it allows me to make imperfect things and just get ideas out there or maybe let ideas generate on the spot. You’re certainly not alone and I hope you are able to start making art for you again soon.

  • Reply Amanda April 24, 2013 at 12:52 am

    Thanks for sharing this with all of us. Have been feeling the same way for longer than I care to admit and it is both reassuring to hear someone whose work I admire expressing this and motivating to remind me to get over it and just make things. Thanks for the push. Hope you can get started on some of the ideas you’ve had lately and have a great time creating in the process.

  • Reply kristy April 24, 2013 at 12:57 am

    Anna you know I reckon you are being WAY too hard on yourself! As a really long time reader of your blog (and absolute admirer), I am always so amazed about your creativity, design, passion and the amount of work that you do. I know a lot of it is your house, but what you do and have done is huge!!

    I ALWAYS think of things I should be doing, wish I was doing or want so much to be doing right now, but the difference between you and me is that you actually do it. You just need to look at all of those to do lists that you write and see how much you actually cross off. Amazing!

    I do understand the struggle between being creative at work and being creative for yourself. I just think that from what I read about you, you will do it. I just think you need to cut yourself a bit of slack. You have a full time job, 2 houses (!), a family, two fuzzy dogs, this blog… you have a lot going on.

    You buy the paint. I don’t! I think about buying the paint but I don’t buy the paint 🙂 I can assure you that there are many many of us that don’t ever buy the paint too.


    • Anna @ D16 April 26, 2013 at 12:50 am

      Thanks, Kristy. I don’t mean to downplay anything I have managed to accomplish, but it’s lame that there are things that I actually WANT to do and don’t have any reason not do…and yet, I don’t do them.

      I guess you’re right, though. Buying the paint is something. 😉

  • Reply Chris April 24, 2013 at 1:21 am

    I finished art school last year. I was actually super traumatized by art school…lol. I absolutely loathed showing work in transition, and then having it critiqued then. For some reason I can handle a bad review but no criticism in the process.

    I think it’s all about finding your own rhythm. Seriously, it’s personal. You talk about taking 7 years to reno something? Well it’s ok to work on one drawing for 7 years, too. It’s okay to conceptualize something for 10 years. Lots of creative people take a really long time from conception to birth…sorry cheeseball metaphor.

    I can relate to all of these feelings, because I have had them, too. But you know what? I AM PUSHING BACK. World, please make art whenever the hell you feel like it.

  • Reply Sara April 24, 2013 at 1:26 am

    I think it is so hard to make time to be creative for pleasure…I am not artistic at all, but my sister and her husband are. They invite me over for painting nights and we drink wine and paint. For some reason mine never turn out as good as I envisioned them in my head (or copied from pinterest!), but I think it’s good for me to at least do something creative every once in awhile!

  • Reply Elizabeth April 24, 2013 at 1:47 am

    A friend of mine just posted about something similar. Good luck! The nice thing about creating for yourself is there doesn’t need to be an end product or specific outcome it can be ALL about the process.

  • Reply Kit April 24, 2013 at 4:51 am

    I understand this feeling. I come from a really different creative background (dance) and while I still work in that industry, I don’t work as a dancer and sometimes feel a big sense of loss. I also want to find outlets for my creativity, but I was never an arty kid (just didn’t have the patience/talent for it) and so I’ve turned to photography. It got to the point where I was just aimlessly taking photos and I needed some direction. I’m now on a short course where we’re working on personal projects with some direction from the teacher and I’ve found having that little shove so helpful! Well done for trying to get back on that horse and start painting again- it will happen! Also, love your book covers. x

    • Anna @ D16 April 26, 2013 at 12:52 am

      Thank you, Kit. And good luck with your photography!!

  • Reply Emma April 24, 2013 at 5:06 am

    I think when you spend most of your days on a computer working on digital design it can be difficult to make that leap to painting; crossing the border from working with software to getting out the paints and canvas and setting up and getting messy. Particularly if you don’t have anything planned. Maybe instead of jumping into painting straight away you should start with just a sketch book? I find it’s an easier way to work through ideas as it’s so quick and simple. You can jump in and out when something springs to mind, and a quick turn of the page gives you a whole new blank canvas. Then when things evolve and you get some ideas you’re really excited about it’ll be a lot easier taking it into a different medium.

    • Anna @ D16 April 26, 2013 at 12:55 am

      Ahhh yes, the “getting messy” factor! I had never touched a computer until I was in art school, and I joked at the time about how great it was that I could make stuff without having to put on a smock first or scrub my hands after. 😉

      For whatever reason, I’ve never really been drawn (pun not intended) to sketching. I’m the same way with design and with house stuff, too, actually — I’m more of a jump right in there and do it kind of gal. I bought some cheap pre-stretched canvases, though, and I’m not opposed to painting on scrap lumber…

  • Reply Kimberley April 24, 2013 at 5:51 am

    Anna: I studied graphic design, painting and printmaking, and my work is in the creative field as an Art Rep, along with teaching Art Marketing classes at a local community college. For years I dabbled, but did not do much of my own artwork, feeling that my focus was to promote the work of my artists, not my own work. I thought to myself–someday, when I have time, I will do my own artwork again. However, during this time I also did house renovation projects, sewing, furniture refinishing, and loads of other things that were creative, but I did not classify as “art”.

    Several years ago I started taking printmaking classes at the college where I teach, because I get free tuition, and I thought “why not”? It was intimidating at first, because I also struggle to want to make that GREAT piece of art on the first try; but I decided that the best thing I could do was approach it from the idea that I did not have to make GREAT ART, I just had to make *something*. Giving myself the permission to not have to be great at it as I started back in was the best choice I ever made. It was very freeing to know it was okay to try something, and if it wasn’t the best piece I had ever done, then just go on and make something else. It took the stress out of things by not trying to be perfect, and gave me the ability to just enjoy using the materials and exploring ideas. Sort of a Zen exercise of doing the work rather than worrying about perfection. I have rediscovered my joy for the medium, as well as finding a great enjoyment in the process and the journey of making art. Over time, my work had gotten better, and I find that the pieces that don’t come out as well as I hoped are the ones I learn the most from.

    So–go and play. Make some “not perfect” art and have fun. It will make you happy when you lose yourself in the medium.

    • Katie April 27, 2013 at 8:48 pm

      Kimberley, I completely relate to what you wrote. I struggle with wanting to make GREAT art and it has held me back from making any art. Reading your words made me think of my time in art school and how when I was learning I struggled and yeah a lot of my work wasn’t all that good, but after awhile it got better and as I was learning, growing and struggling I found my passion for art. I discovered that’s what made me tick. You really helped me remember a special turning point! So thank you!!!

  • Reply mary s. April 24, 2013 at 6:51 am

    Long time reader and admirer..first time commenter. I too can relate to what you are experiencing. I teach art to K-6th graders. I love to start the school year off by reading the book “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds to my young artists. I often refer back to it when a student is struggling to begin a lesson or I am struggling to create my own art. We just begin with a dot..or a line..or a shape..

    I love the Chuck Close quote/video and I look forward to sharing it with my students. Thank you.

    • Anna @ D16 April 26, 2013 at 12:56 am

      Thanks, Mary, I’ll look up that book.

  • Reply Ella April 24, 2013 at 7:06 am

    There’s nothing more scary than to do what you most of all want to, and to do it just because of yourself. Right now I’m actively chasing my life long dream to make an illustrated book, and it’s heart wrenching. At the same time I ask myself where the patterns for wallpapers and textiles are, that I vowed to start making (number omitted) so many years ago.

    My husband recently asked me: Maybe you should only do the things that might make you immortal?

    This odd question has really stuck with me. Fortunately it doesn’t add any pressure (I’m already pressured enough!), it just reminds me to not get stuck on details, questions, fears and open my eyes to something possibly grander.

    To say out loud what you really want is the beginning of so many things.

  • Reply Lacey April 24, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Yes. I went to school for sculpture and printmaking, and have done very little work since graduating, despite being very “promising” and even having a residency straight out of school. I made it a priority to get a full time job so that I could do my own work on the side, and I’m now working in technology where the most creative thing I do all day might be working on a PowerPoint slide. I flip flop between feeling very fulfilled and very frustrated.

    This year I’ve finally started doing some work for myself. I carve out 30 minutes a day minimum – having that time set aside was what I really needed. And there is no goal, no end right now, other than “I need to do this for me”, which feels really good. It took time but I’m finally in a place where I realize no one is going to judge me for doing what I want!

    I recommend “The War of Art” if you haven’t read it. Second half is a bit dubious but the first part is motivating and it’s an easy read.

  • Reply Rebecca April 24, 2013 at 7:58 am

    I feel like I’m going through the same thing too. I’m a freelance web/graphic designer and I have all these plans to design fabric and greeting cards and I just don’t do it and I don’t know what the heck is holding me back.

    • Anna @ D16 April 26, 2013 at 12:57 am

      It’ll happen, Rebecca! We can do it!

  • Reply Anna April 24, 2013 at 8:02 am

    This is really and truly such a wonderful post! I just switched to being a photographer full time this year, and it is hard when you’re making things all day every day to come home and get started on something for yourself. I’ve followed your blog for several years and it’s truly one of my favorites because of how creative you are with all of your home projects and because you are so authentic! A few weeks ago, I signed up with a business coach to work on my business, and guess what? She suggested I start working on a set if personal projects – we call them the pee your panties projects – to highlight on my blog the work I actually want to do. The homework was to come up with 30 ideas…they didn’t all have to be good ideas…that I would be so excited to photograph over the next few months. The first week, I made the list and was terrified, for all the reasons you mentioned above, that the ideas wouldn’t work, and that it would be too difficult to make it happen. But…I’ve done two so far, and I love them! Some of the ideas are specifically themed, some are concepts to explore. And they usually don’t turn out like I imagined they would, but I’m learning lots of things about art and myself from it. Maybe making a list of ideas is a way to get started to give yourself a jumping off point, and maybe that doesn’t work for you…but the hardest part of anything is making the effort to get started. You are amazing at what you do!

  • Reply Mel April 24, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Yes! I’ve been feeling this way for quite a while now. It gets so difficult to balance my work life with my creative life, and sometimes (most times) I sacrifice my creative life or just don’t give it as much as I ought because of the things I do to earn money. I love my job more than most (how cool that you design book covers!), but even then it isn’t as fulfilling as a full creative life.

    Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  • Reply Jessica Rice April 24, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Unfortunately I can relate to what you are saying Anna…
    The greatest present I ever received were Derwent pencils when I was about 5 years old from my parents. Add 22 years and with a full-time office job, mortgage, etc and I feel like my talent of drawing and painting has come and gone. I have bought I don’t know how many sketch books in the hope of starting again but I end up using the first page and then they are discarded in a cupboard. I put it down mostly to the whole ‘time’ thing – too many responsibilities, too little time.
    I can still remember the smell of the art room which I spent the majority of my schooling in, but now I feel, i guess, hopeless. I have been spending the last 6 years renovating my house (which certainly is still creative and uses imagination) but I have become too much of a perfectionist so I don’t ‘have a go’ with art anymore. I have started a Graphic Design qualification as a means of winning back the last 10 years where I haven’t painted canvases or drawn pictures. If only I could be a child again scribbling with those Derwent pencils, where there wasn’t the need to be perfect, or at least I didn’t know any better!
    I hope you know Anna that your creativity isn’t limited to your home or work – your creativity has inspired I am sure many who read your blog or see your book covers. Renovating a house, painting your nails, picking your outfit and accessories for the day is all part of creativity for you as a client, just in a different medium…

  • Reply mommy April 24, 2013 at 8:57 am

    This is so wonderful! I love this picture of you, so completely absorbed and not at all worried about what anyone might think. We don’t necessarily have to get back to where we were at age 2, but it would help to have that attitude and the freedom from outside pressure.

    You inspire me!

  • Reply Monica April 24, 2013 at 9:00 am

    I loved the backsplash makeover you did and was excited when I read that sentence you just quoted. I believe any “mistake” you could make would be much better than not getting started.

  • Reply adalgisa campos April 24, 2013 at 9:16 am

    hi, Anna
    (i hope i’ll be able to make myself clear, writing in english, but i could not bypass and not write you this)
    doing not-for-a-client-art is hard, indeed, as it means facing an empty field where you can put your desires freely. un champ de construction symbolique. a free symbolic construction field, i think we can put that in that terms. the good news is that, once you put them (the desires) to work in that field, they know what to do and they’ll tell you what to do. and maybe it will even get to ‘touch’ your other projects, artistics or not. it sounds mystical but it is just a very old -and very human- practice. very concrete. sometimes forgotten. so, i would tell you to just take some of your brushes and pencils and paper or canvas an ask yourself about your desire – not what you would like the painting do look like, as you do with the house or the appartment, but really in terms of action, regardless of the final result. what you would like to DO. and them, after doing it, take a respectful look at it (as you would look at a child you raised, with its gifts and its problems) and keep it from the regards of others for a while. and them do another, and so on. well, i can tell you, it’s not easy (but who wants easiness?) but it worth it. i’m crossing my fingers here for you to come to that canvas/paper/brushes.

  • Reply Jennie April 24, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Ahhh….I feel like you just wrote straight from my head! I’m a graphic designer too and get the same anxiety about art. But I LOVE drawing and painting once I get started. Getting started is just so so very hard.

  • Reply Mona April 24, 2013 at 10:33 am

    I am in the same boat as you are. I sit in front of the computer all day and I long to paint my own artwork for my walls. It is HARD and I’m so glad you wrote this post. I don’t feel so freakish anymore. I thought I was alone in my self-doubt/procrastination to pick up a brush again! Please keep posting on this subject as you begin to draw/paint. You are so creative, you can do it! (so can I… thanks for the inspiration).

  • Reply Sarah April 24, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Thanks for posting this, Anna! I feel like fear keeps me from doing all sorts of things. It’s definitely a problem. Thinking, “Oh, I can’t do that” or “Oh, I’m not allowed to do that” holds me back from doing a lot of things that I would really like to try! But when I get past the fear and I follow through, I’m so pleased with whatever I made. And it feels extra gratifying because I knew I was so scared. I’m definitely glad that I’m not alone and it’s comforting to know that someone as successful and talented as you are has the same insecurities!

  • Reply Jenny April 24, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Wow, I can totally relate. It’s funny that when you turn a hobby into your full-time job, you get so sucked into your job that you forget about how enjoyable a hobby is. Not that my job isn’t fun; I love my job –designing bags is really fun and I’m lucky to do it and pay my bills with the result. But I used to have stacks of watercolor paintings, paintings and sketches. Now I have books full of bag sketches, which is not bad, but it doesn’t bring that same satisfaction that I’ve made something creative and reflects my personality as it once did when I was a kid (birth to 20, like you, hehe). 🙂 My husband makes time for his hobbies, and when he’s busy playing drums or at the basketball court, I use that time to do more work. Makes me realize I should actually get to all those empty canvases I’ve been hoarding thinking I will have time for them.

    Thanks for posting this! It reminds us all that we have to make art for ourselves a priority. Now I will make time for those empty canvases. 🙂

  • Reply Judi April 24, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Thank you so much for this. I read that backsplash post and thought, how can I be more creative for me? And here you are addressing the same topic. I know what you mean about a creative family…mom a writer/journalist, dad a composer/conductor, and it was always assumed that I would write. Somehow I got sidetracked into that fundraising/ strategic planning thing, for 20 years. i loved it, but is it any surprise that I worked exclusively in arts institutions? Good news is that after a year in a different environment (maybe that’s the key; NYC is soooo physically demanding although, yes, energizing) I did start to write, finally (the blog) and now, for some reason, I want to write a book. Finally. But the decision was organic, if that makes sense. In other words, I understand the itch, but hope you wont use that itch to beat yourself up too much over not acting right away. I hope for you that you’ll pick up that brush exactly at the right moment FOR YOU. And meanwhile, for sure I’ll be linking to this post this week.

  • Reply Liz April 24, 2013 at 10:52 am

    This post spooked me as it sounds so familiar.

    I didn’t study art or anything creative at college (I went in a completely different direction!) but I took art courses and continued to make for the sake of making until my mid twenties. Then I stopped. I made things every now and then but always for someone or with a specific need in mind. But I didn’t just make.

    A week and a half a go I bought supplies. I’d been thinking about it for a while and I had found myself wishing I had the things to hand that I needed. So I bought them. And now they are haunting me because they are sat unused.

    Last night I got things out and got myself ready to start. And then I packed things away. Quickly. I panicked. Rationally I know it doesn’t matter what I make but the perfectionist part of my brain (which is a far bigger part than is healthy) is way too worried that what I make won’t be good enough. (Don’t ask me what good enough is, as I’ve no idea…)

    I hope you find a way to be your own client or just to make. (And last week was one of those weeks when I think all of us were asking how and why rather a lot.)

  • Reply annie April 24, 2013 at 11:00 am

    hello anna,
    there must be something in the water because sweetfineday had an endearing and true post recently too. the quote you mentioned about chuck close stood out to me as well before i finished even reading your reference to it. ironically it’s a bit of inspiration isn’t it, or perhaps a swift kick… anyhow, i’ve followed you for sometime, i knew you were a book cover designer but hadn’t seen your covers until this post. this is unrelated to what this post specifically is about but what was your first cover? i’d be interested to hear more about this work you do! i’m a science major girl who has recently come over to the world of creating and making a living out of creating (i have an etsy shop called klinker) and i still get surprised when i realize that yet another thing i didn’t think of, book covers in this instance, were created by someone. i would love to know what goes into the creative process of your daily work! great post and i hope you do back in the saddle.

  • Reply Amy h April 24, 2013 at 11:01 am

    I am kind of going in the opposite direction. After years of just doing whatever I want with clay, I’m going back to school to finish a graphic design degree that was interrupted by having kids. And I’m pretty excited to work on projects that have boundaries and rules! I think there is something about a designer’s mind that LIKES to be creative within boundaries. Maybe it would help you to get going if you gave yourself some limitations and then dropped them as it starts to feel more natural again?

  • Reply Ellen April 24, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I could have written this piece myself. I too am a graphic designer, and I too dream about painting again-and guess what-I can’t get myself started because I’m afraid I’ll produce garbage. I feel like I’m robbing myself of salve for my soul. A friend of mine suggested that I do at least one sketch a day for a week and throw everything away, just to get started. I think it’s a great idea, but I haven’t done it. I’m painting my house instead.

  • Reply Jessica April 24, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Wow. I’ve literally been feeling exactly the same way, that my graphic design is fun but not completely fulfilling. I miss the days of college when I could just spend hours in the studio working on whatever I wanted. Thanks so much for writing this post, and after seeing all the similar comments it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one feeling the need to be more creative! Keep up the wonderful work, your blog is such an inspiration and I love coming back every day to see all the things you are up to!

  • Reply Morgan April 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    I love this post! I’m reading the encouraging comments and pretending they are for me. I am an artist-since-birth too, art school grad, graphic designer & photographer currently. Recently I redesigned my invoice (woah….haha) and felt so much joy in having done something purely creative for myself! It had a purpose, so there were some guidelines…I definitely want to branch out beyond, after knowing how good it felt to do that one little project. Love your blog, Anna!

  • Reply Fiona April 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm


  • Reply mary April 24, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    i tell my students that nobody ever died from a bad painting. and at the end of the day what matters is the work we put into our work. former art school drop out I went back when my daughter was in grade one. finished my masters and have never looked back. some days i come to the studio and do nothing but clean , read , and secretly nap. to make work for the pure joy of making is why we started this journey. just let it happen.

  • Reply Angela April 24, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Have you read the “War of Art” by Steven Pressfield? Changed everything for me. It’s a bit more geared toward writers, but I think it would be helpful for any creative person. He talks about resistance–doubt, self-criticism, inertia, anything that stands between us and creating–and has this theory that it’s an actual force that WANTS to slow us down and keep our art from the world. It’s helped me to see all of those things as OUTSIDE of me, and just sort of shrink them down and stop over them when it’s time to create. And I feel successful when I’ve done anything…written a few shitty paragraphs, picked up the pen, etc. Just getting started is a victory, even if you don’t know where the thing is going. Anyway, that’s my suggestion.

  • Reply Sara April 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Anna! I, like many others who have commented here, know precisely how you feel. I began working as a graphic designer for a veeerrrry large corporate fashion retailer (think uns-uns-uns shirtless dudes…) straight out of art school and I’ve been struggling with the creative/work balance ever since. I find myself so mentally and creatively drained (by doing the same thing every day, ugh) that I often only have the energy to shuffle into yoga pants and sprawl out on the couch with my dogs by the end of the day.

    Though graphic designers tend to approach things more as problem solvers than as artists making art for the sake of it, I do believe we are creative people first and foremost. I keep a tiny little moleskine in my purse where I write down all of my ideas that come to me, whether it’s for a song or for a print or for a new piece of furniture. It’s nice to have an archive to refer back to when I’m in a rut, and it helps to create a goal or a “proposal” for myself- which is something I really need to feel motivated. And I think you should give yourself a little more credit- your blog & your home renovations seem to be great outlets for you, as well as your tastes in fashion and music- and they’ve proven themselves to be cool and accessible & have an entire community of equally cool people supporting and cheering you on!

    I just watched this Ted talk yesterday, and though it gets a little mystical and eye-rolly at some points, it does frame the fear of failure creative people struggle with quite nicely:

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Mary April 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    BINGO! As a fellow graphic designer you have hit the nail on the head. And I think you can see from the comments that you are not alone 😉 I will also second the voices who are telling you that you are selling yourself WAAAY short by not counting the work you do on your house. It’s just another outlet for your creativity, truly. And who knows, your tilework just might outlive your artwork anyway 😉
    You will find the “client” (mine is often my 4 year old) and you will find the “reason”. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and allow quiet time to brainstorm. 😉

  • Reply Maureen April 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks for putting this out there, Anna! I feel ya 100%. I have a big piece of beautiful watercolor paper rolled up in a corner waiting for paint. Fear of failure is a powerful obstacle when it comes to creating. I need to be better about jumping in and just seeing what happens. Thanks for sharing… 🙂

  • Reply kate o. April 24, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Oh man, I don’t know what to write because you struck such a cord with me. All I want to do is make things and design interiors, but fear wins most of the time. I lost a lot of time professionally helping to take care of my dad who was sick with cancer. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it, but now my family is living in the Midwest and I stay at home with my little guy and for the most part I don’t even know how to begin pursuing what I love.

    I was checking out Lisa Congdon’s instagram the other day and I saw the wedding invitations you did for her. They were beautiful – you are such a talented artist. And thank you for cutting through all the bullshit. There aren’t too many people out there who are willing to be this honest. I really look up to you.

  • Reply Kate April 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    First, your homes are most definitely an excellent example of your abundant wells of creativity spilling over. =) Second, I so loved your backsplash painting technique that I’ve already decided to use it to cover an accent wall in my entryway this summer. I can’t stop thinking about how smart it was in the materials you used (freaking sponge brushes! $1!) and in how organic and awesome it looks both from far away + close up.

    So, believe it or not, your art, home renos and everything else inspire lots of us every day. Don’t doubt yourself! You’re awesome.

  • Reply trish April 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    I’m in the midst of a life change myself — moving to a stage where I do not have to “monetize” (god I hate that word) everything that I do. I’ve had many creative interests in my life, some of which I have had the chance to pursue part-time (sometimes for $$) but most of which have been subordinated to work, kid-raising, bill paying, old house renovating. I am fit-starting two blogs one of which is a “lifestyle” blog (hate that word too) and the other of which is really much more. And working on visual arts as well. And writing a book. Or two. So I can relate. Thanks for the honesty about how hard it is to have one’s self as a client . . . or a muse . . . or a slave driver . . . or a judge or a ________.

  • Reply Ryann April 24, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Been there, felt this, and am sure I will again. HUGS.

  • Reply Della April 24, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    I’m a photographer and when I was first starting out I told myself this:

    You will make a million horrible photos. You don’t have to show the horrible ones to anyone. Annie Liebowitz has thousands of horrible photos. She just doesn’t show those to anyone. The important thing is to just take photos.

    When I’m feeling down I listen to this piece by Ira Glass who talks about creative work. You’re hardly starting out but I imagine you feel like you are since it has been a while:

    So paint a million horrible paintings (or maybe they are brilliant) and eventually you’ll get there.

  • Reply liz April 24, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Chiming in with another book suggestion – The Artist’s Way – which is kinda cloying and possibly geared more toward writers, but also filled with valid perspective on how we get in our own way, artistically, and how to get out of it (plus you can just sense Cameron’s war with herself re: mentioning/not mentioning her relationship with Scorsese, which is entertaining).

    The last lines of your backsplash post stuck out at me, in part because I was suddenly surprised that you haven’t been contacted for some kind of mini-collection of, say, textiles, by a like-minded company. But you’ve posted in the past about your ambivalence toward turning the blog into a commodity, and maybe that type of project would muddy the artistic waters even more.

    Anhoo. I have a colleague who swears that it’s impossible to spend your workday doing something that you want to occupy your artistic life as well, but I write all day in the office then go home and work on my stories and novel draft. So there, loveable colleague. You are wrong.

  • Reply Cori Magee April 24, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    I think the response you’re receiving from this post should tell you something. Look at everyone you inspire, including me. You’re really hard on yourself. But aren’t we all? Is it a creative thing or just a human thing?

    Like you and everyone else responding to this post, I’ve been struggling with the same things lately. Often times, I’m in tears of frustration because I have so many ideas I’m unable to implement. I grew up in the opposite environment you did. I’ve been struggling with accepting a creative lifestyle and wondering if I can really do it, whether I can monetize what I love to do.

    Your post, everyone who has responded to it and Chuck Close make me feel like I can do whatever I want.

    Thank you

  • Reply car54 April 24, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    I think “making things” has been the most constant thing in my life. I have always had the impulse and the ability to do a number of creative things. I went to school and studied art–different area than you–and for many years did the work I was educated to do for a living with some success.

    But I had trouble doing it for a living AND for myself —if I threw myself into one- there was nothing left for the other. I had a life event that caused me to stop work for a while–and during that time, I found making things for myself came back to be my friend–I used that to get through a tough time and I learned to really value the process–to love the doing and not to worry too much about the final outcome…and that made all the difference.

    I changed what I do for a living to something less creative–I find it uses the same parts of me but that is not really my work anymore–but I am probably the most creative now that I have ever been in my life.
    I do things creatively for the sake of doing and not to accomplish anything.

    Try it….find some process you love while you are doing it–and see where it goes and don’t worry–really just let go of any expectation of the outcome and see if it brings you some joy.

  • Reply katie April 24, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Its true… the joy must be in the creative process, rather than focussed on the outcome – very hard to achieve in the outcome-oriented modern day!
    I’m 12 months into an incredible opportunity of having been given two years of time and space, in which I’ve had full support to pursue my every creative whim. I enjoyed so much the planning of this time, the lead up, the dreaming of everything I’d love to be doing and hunting down of everything I’d need to do it. And when I arrived here…. !!! My initial six months were spent screaming into a void! The next six months have oscillated between screaming into a void, and understanding that I’d need to inject joy – the expectation free joy that one would experience when creating as a youngster – into the process and start small, or slow. Simple works while my hands and eyes remember how to move together and my mind remembers how to detach somewhat and let the process take over. My belief now is this: the trick to making it happen is to commit to a time and apply backside to chair, inspiration tends to emerge in the making.
    Chip away at it Anna! Creative needs are almost impossible to deny, and it’ll be exciting to see what comes out of you.

  • Reply Carolyn April 24, 2013 at 11:37 pm

    For a long time I was more comfortable classing my work with craft, as I felt if I called myself an artist than I had better have the answer to some pretty serious questions about the meaning of life and man’s inhumanity to man (etc etc) at the ready. It’s true that when there is a client or a purpose there is an inherent justification for the work itself. Once you leap ship to make art qua art it gets scarier.

    Now that I am a high school art teacher and, ahem, artist (even without the answer to those questions) I’ve come to think about art as something that is made by people as a reflection of a type of thinking and being in the world — as in, I see and experience life in my own particular human way, and thus I make art to respond to and hopefully understand those things. The artmaking becomes a normal process of living, and out of that (hopefully) some powerful work emerges. I guess this is a little redundant, since it sounds like this is the kind of environment in which you grew up — oh, just go open those paint tubes — you can do it!

  • Reply MD April 25, 2013 at 1:28 am

    So reassuring to see someone write this, I have felt exactly this way too often. Learning to critique your own work effectively without anyone else’s opinion is such a hard thing to do. I am also going to show the previous post and video about Chuck Close to all my fellow art-student friends to sedate their constant anxiety about choosing such a ‘risky’ ( how very sick are we of hearing this) career direction. Thanks for potentially soothing some semi-sleepless nights!

  • Reply Noor April 25, 2013 at 4:02 am

    Hi Ana I have been a long time reader of your site. I just wanted to say that I was always creative like you as a kid and knew I wanted to go to art school. I studied fashion design in Chicago at an art school and after I finished all creativity that I had once has was just gone. It stayed that way for a few years and I thought I was never going to get it back and then one day I did and now I am back better than ever.

    Sometimes it just leaves us or wants to take a break I think until we feel very inspired. Surround yourself with like people and it really helps. I wish you the best of luck on all your endeavors.

  • Reply justine April 25, 2013 at 8:08 am

    You do it, because you have to do it! It’s a part of your makeup. You know that. Don’t let fear hold you back, someone will always hate your stuff. Why would you even care, their opinion had more weight than yours? I don’t think so.

  • Reply emily April 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    if the house is your client, could the canvas also be your client? you are improving (hopefully) upon it after all…

  • Reply suzanne April 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm


  • Reply Chris April 25, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    You might appreciate this:

    One of the artists is a local Seattle blogger, struggling with the same ideas.

    And I’ve often thought you’d be great designing other things.

  • Reply Tena April 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Thank you sooooo much for your honesty! I feel exactly like you do about your life, your art, etc…

  • Reply Melanie April 25, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    Anna, I love this post. I also love that photo of you! It’s adorable.

    I feel this way about writing. Not the fear of doing it badly, but getting so involved with other things that i’m working on that I don’t devote enough time or energy to the reason I started blogging for in the first place – to get back into writing creatively again.

    I started my blog in early 2009, nearly 10 years after I’d spent time submitting personal essays, short fiction, and a little bit of poetry to different magazines. After several “good” rejection letters (the ones where the piece is rejected but the editor writes you handwritten notes and says “submit more work”), I got into screenwriting and ended up optioning a romantic comedy (that died in development hell) and working in marketing for the movie business. After that I didn’t write creatively for a LONG time.

    When I got really into blogging, I found that people were actually doing that for a living – or at least a big part of their living. Before that I’d always considered my blog a place for inspiration, a vehicle for whatever my next project would be. I never really thought of it AS the project. Fast forward a few more years to now and I feel like I’ve been spending so much time thinking about what I can pitch and the “rules” of blogging that I’ve been getting away from the creative part of creating. That’s where I am today. I’m trying to figure out how to balance having a career where I can use creativity and also using my creativity for me and the projects I want to create.

    I’d love to read more about your journey with this if you decide to share it here. Take care.

  • Reply Heather April 25, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    I love your blog and have been reading it forever. I am a corporate interior designer who has been at my first job out of college for almost 15 years now. Design is my passion and the right job for me. I decided when I was 11 that I was going to be an interior designer, before I even knew what that meant. I too feel like making things and expressing myself visually, but am paralyzed with fear. I justify this by saying “I’m creative all day” or “I do art projects with my 7 year old all the time.”
    I’ll push past the fear if you do.

  • Reply Jennifer April 25, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Thanks for providing the space today where all our yearnings about creativity can be aired!

    One of the people I am inspired by is your friend and collaborator Lisa Congdon, who I have followed (online) as she moved from her day job to her new life as a freelance artist person. I even had a dream in which I thanked her for her generosity in sharing her work and process. I find her very brave (as well as an incredibly hardworker and genius at connections).

    I look forward to your next steps!

  • Reply satsuki shibuya April 25, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    anna, your posts are always refreshing, real & exactly to the point — the point being the heart. i enjoy them immensely & hope that you will continue to pick up your crayon. 🙂 i think your work is amazing & with wit behind all that you do, i feel wrong doesn’t exist in what you do. looking forward to your new explorations!

  • Reply Kellee April 25, 2013 at 6:27 pm


    I’m so happy to read this post! Which may sound odd, because you sound like you’re in a place of dilemma (expressed beautifully, as always), but I’m happy because putting ‘out there’ that you want to create things for the pure sake of creating them for *you* to look at is an enormous step in an exciting adventure. It’s the best adventure, in my opinion, for someone so in love with visual culture.

    Maybe you’ve read what Ira Glass said before. I’ve re-read it a hundred times since I first found it.

    “What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

    I came to drawing and illustration in my late twenties (I’m now 35). My bachelors degree was in Politics and Philosophy; I’ve drawn since I can remember. I drew throughout my degree because it was difficult and in places too much for my brain; I drew after my degree because I was lost and unemployed and full of regret that I hadn’t studied art, which is what I’d really wanted, in my heart.

    It was only after years of miserable, non-degree-related full-time jobs, after drawing every evening and weekend, that it finally dawned on me that I was so unhappy because I wasn’t taking seriously the thing I spent every minute of the day doing when I wasn’t working/sleeping/eating.

    Since my late twenties, I’ve taken part-time jobs and used the extra time to go at my work wholly. I’ve built a portfolio site, created a blog, made an online shop, sold prints of my work. All of this has taken time. It’s all required me to show up at my desk every day and work, while the amateurs sit around waiting for inspiration (man, I love Chuck Close). None of this is going to make me a milllionaire (well, maybe it will one day, in which case this comment will be looked back upon in glee), but it’s the journey that I’m loving. It’s working my tastes into my art, a slow process, and it’s finding out more about what I love every day.

    What you said about wanting to design wallpaper and pillows and blankets: yes to all this. And to backsplashes.

    Can’t wait to see what you come up with.


  • Reply donna April 25, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    I so relate to this post. I have all my supplies but my excuse is that I have no space in which to paint or create.
    The same goes for learning to sew. And I’m presently unemployed but I feel like I should be using all my time in a productive manner (i.e. networking or job hunting). I feel guilty if I do anything ‘fun’ and that sucks.

  • Reply arounna April 25, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    I find that even though I make things with my hands everyday – the creative part of it is a small part and the rest of the time it’s execution – I always feel the need to do something not work related – for myself, I think that kind of need to express ourselves in drawing or painting or whatever feeds our soul. the time will happen and when it happens it will feel right. xx

  • Reply Fritz April 25, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Vita Brevis Ars Longa

  • Reply Jade Sheldon April 26, 2013 at 1:09 am

    With all my heart, I know this feeling all too well. I was an illustration major in college and as much as I loved it, I also felt too defined by it. After graduating I set aside my drawing and painting supplies and took a much needed break. For the last few years, I have been working as a photographer, because that need to create has never faltered, but lately my first passion has been calling back to me. I was worried I wouldn’t be what I used to be: that I would have the same skills… but once I picked up that paint brush, it just didn’t matter. It felt so wonderful… like it was inside me waiting patiently for me to return. I am actually hoping to create a series over the next few months and get a gallery show in Portland… my heart is telling me now is the right time… And I think your heart is saying the same to you…

  • Reply gardenbre April 26, 2013 at 2:05 am

    Your post made me remember when my biggest fear came true.

    I did a little painting that was way way worse than the little Spanish restoration of the JesusMonkey. There was nothing I did that would fix it and it caused me to go into full panic. I was home alone, found a ladder and hid it where nobody could ever find it. I started again and did one of the best paintings I’ve ever done and someone important (to me) bought it. I remembered it years later and I climbed back up to look at it – it made me laugh so hard.

    Now I’m just remembering I left it up there when I moved. Moral of the story isn’t to flush it or swallow it or bury it – but to treasure it I suppose. I wish I still had it to look at and laugh at again – privately, of course.

    The books mentioned above are great recommendations. I know you read for a living but you might still enjoy flipping through this one as well – The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.

  • Reply Erika April 26, 2013 at 10:15 am

    You really hit the nail on the head with this one… or dipped the paintbrush into the paint… or whatever you want to say.

    “It comes down to this: I need to be pushing myself more creatively, and not because someone is telling me to.”

    Yes! I feel this same way. It’s like I want someone to TELL me what to do, when creativity a lot of times can be about expressing one’s own voice and vision, free from others (or, it’s a brand of creativity, just like making what others want is another brand, too).

    I’m glad I came across this blog! I really like it! 🙂

  • Reply Christa April 26, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I encourage you to take a Painting Workshop class one evening a week. Usually the school will have lockers where you can store supplies so you can go straight from work and spend an evening painting in a room full of painters. Even when you Totally Do Not Feel Like It, you make yourself go to class, put on your music and start painting. Where I go, they also have Open Studio hours on the weekend that students can use.

  • Reply Amy April 26, 2013 at 11:07 am

    The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
    I think this might be what you are looking for 🙂

  • Reply Laurel April 26, 2013 at 11:20 am

    I feel like artists sometimes try to do things on their own as individuals when what is needed is a network of support and company. For encouragement, yes, but not only that. For connections, for feeling like what we do even for pleasure in some way is connected to others in a way that matters. I know a lot of writers find writing groups to participate in. For myself as a songwriter/composer, I’ve found the process of sharing shows, going to concerts of friends, and finding ways to collaborate together on songs or shows really shores me up. So when I’m facing the notepad and the guitar on my own, I feel the connectedness and don’t feel so adrift. I feel a part of an interconnected web.

    I love your blog, Anna. It brings a lot of realness and interesting light into my day. Thank you.

  • Reply Stephanie Wells April 26, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Same boat! I’ve been mostly a package designer for the past 10 years, and sometimes I don’t even know whether I like a design I do anymore.. as long as someone else likes it, that’s what fulfills me and makes me feel like I solved the challenge. But being creative all day for everyone else really wears out the artsy side of me at times. I say this as I’m planning my own wedding, and trying to bringing to life the billions of ideas I have every day! I’ll never be a painter though. A blank canvas is the scariest thing ever. But give me anything that’s already finished, and I can reinvent, repurpose, or make it better!

    I do find my creative side coming out in everyday projects that I never saw coming, like gardening… I never thought I’d be into gardening, ever. But something about the lack of control I have over it all in the end is almost nice.

    Anyway, thanks for this. It’s comforting to hear these things when I start to feel phony for not churning out 85 sculptures a day or something.

  • Reply lori April 26, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    Here’s another video that kind of reminds of of that chuck close one – It reminds me of the Chuck Close advice of looking at the smaller pieces rather than the big picture. Maybe starting on canvas seems too intimidating in a way or too final? Sometimes I feel like that about sketchbooks and like to just have simple separate pages out instead… something where you can be messy and experiment. Maybe just being messy and drawing would help, on papers you can throw away later 🙂 And maybe some ideas will come out of that process too.

  • Reply dervla April 28, 2013 at 12:19 am

    Anna, I feel the same way. I work in publishing too, but on the editorial side and feel like I’m always the one wishing I was the author! hoping you find clarity.

  • Reply Julie April 28, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Anna: thank you! I really needed to read this. I am also a graphic designer, mainly with abackground in publishing and have been spending the last year trying to figure out what’s my next big move and allowing that fear to overwhelm me into paralysis. Reading this: I’m going to go paint something. Thank you.

  • Reply Jacinta April 28, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    I have never commented here before but I often pop in to see what you are up to (especially when I am crazy busy and need a break/laugh/little inspiration), and today, I got the break and inspiration along with a nervous how-did-she-get-inside-my-head laugh. I SO understand where you are coming from. I know that fear and frustration … and paralysis. Your words “My fear of making ugly things and failing miserably is pretty intense, but what’s the worst that can happen?” so resonated that I wrote them on a stickie, and I will look at them every day until all I see is the what-is-the-worst-that-can-happen part. Thanks for sharing so honestly. For what it’s worth, when I read that last line of your older post, I thought to myself “I hope someone saw that line about designing pillows and blankets and wallpaper, and commissions a line because she’d make really cool stuff and I know I’d buy it.” Not just saying that and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking it. Anyway, best of luck .. maybe some sessions at Brooklyn Artists Gym would get things rolling?

  • Reply Julie-Ann April 29, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Thank you for this Anna. Your title summed it all up for me. Oh, to be a kid again; nonjudgmental, expressive, explorative, unbiased, inquisitive. And to be rid of the accompanying ache of not fully being/expressing/finding/growing yourself. I can only bring myself to be an artworker (or dtp)… I, too, have unopened paints (pastels, pencils, ink), blank canvases (paper & found surfaces) and brushes only ever used to cut in around my window frames… as Paul Valery Read said “An artist never really finishes his work, he merely abandons it.” I abandoned it altogether, can you ever get it back? I hope so! No more “one day” or “when… then”! (Oh, and thanks for the advice fellow commenters, you’re a lovely lot!)

  • Reply Sally April 29, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    You can do it, Anna! That was a brave post, so there’s already proof that you have the one thing you need to start!

  • Reply Crystal Ingrid April 29, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Yes. The tyranny of fear. And yet, fear is the gateway in. We, as creative people (and who isn’t?) need not get rid of fear. Only through embracing fear can we become truly human and have the courage to engage in the full expression of the desire to create. Was Rembrandt or Van Gogh or Shakespeare or Jung unafraid? I think not or their work would not encompass as much of the human condition as it does. They were afraid and they looked; they got curious. And then some really interesting stuff happened.

    The Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa said, “To be an artist means never to avert your eyes.” That means we do not look away from where and what we are right now. Only in accepting whatever that is can we begin to discover the courage we already possess to venture forth. So good of you to articulate this for others–that is definitely part of it. You will paint when you are ready–and not a moment before.

    And I must echo what so many others have written here: I LOVE your blog so if that’s all you ever do, I, for one, am delighted and touched.

  • Reply Paul Groves April 30, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    I think sometimes we get caught up in life and forget what we really enjoy and find fulfilling. It is good to stop and think what is it that I really enjoy and go with it. Hope you find that thing….

  • Reply brett79 April 30, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Very nice post. I find myself writing down a ton of ideas and then when I manage to carve out a little bit of time I feel overwhelmed and end up doing work at home instead.

  • Reply Leslie April 30, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    It was the act of the hand that made you want to make more. That act didn’t have consequences — you could repaint, or redo a mark. In that state, you were free, no worries about whether it was ‘good’.

    But really, it’s always like that. What’s to fear?. It might be less daunting if the panels (or sheets, or boards, or boxes) are smaller. If you think of them as exercises. Or as units, part of a series, pages in a book, fragments of something larger. (Along the way, something will catch you, some odd fascination a line of investigation, leading off. When it happens, follow that.)

    But to start… it was doing, that made you want to do more. It doesn’t matter so much what. Start where you left off. Fill a page (or a canvas) with hand-drawn crosses, and get absorbed with the minute variations.

    It’s the action of the hand that spurs the mind, like getting an engine going.

  • Reply Ruth May 1, 2013 at 5:27 am

    Anna, I follow your blog from Norway and I love it but just remember this, we all have creativity inside of us, but if we never make mistakes we will never produce anything that is original, so go for it girl.

  • Reply jd May 2, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    where do you start? i love Sister Corita Kent’s “Rules” RULE 6 NOTHING IS A MISTAKE. THERE’S NO WIN AND NO FAIL. THERE’S ONLY MAKE. maybe that is a good place to start. at the beginning. just make something, anything. i would also love to do surface design (wallpaper, textiles, etc.), but i have other work commitments and demands in life and have to accept things developing how they will. (although i could probably use a little more of RULE 5.)

    i also want to make ‘art’, simple creative expression, with no larger goal. whether it takes 10 minutes or 10 hours – it doesn’t matter. RULE 4 – CONSIDER EVERYTHING AN EXPERIMENT. i am reminded of what was a bit of a mantra when i was in grad school. sometimes it is not the product, but the process that is important. RULE 7 – THE ONLY RULE IS WORK. IF YOU WORK IT WILL LEAD TO SOMETHING. IT IS THE PEOPLE WHO DO ALL OF THE WORK ALL OF THE TIME THAT EVENTUALLY CATCH ON TO THINGS.



    • Anna @ D16 May 2, 2013 at 11:57 pm

      I fundamentally disagree with many of these “rules” (particularly the ones about there being no such thing as a mistake and considering everything an experiment), but if believing in them gets you to where you want to be, all the more power to you. 😉

    • JD May 3, 2013 at 9:18 am


      they are not rigid mandates of course. i shared them because i think they speak to ‘process’. you know, maybe making it initially less about ‘what’ and more about ‘do’. you may make 49 things you aren’t happy with before making that 50th thing you love, but maybe you had to make those 49 things first. i think that is some of what what the ‘rules’ are speaking to when referencing ‘mistakes’ and ‘experimentation’, the whole idea that there is no success without failure.

      i do agree that having a project or assignment can be easier than having no parameters in a creative endeavor. i’ve been out there “paddling in the middle of the ocean”, so was trying to be both sympathetic and encouraging. these ‘rules’ don’t speak to you, understood. but you are smart and talented, so i am sure you will figure it out. all the best.

    • Anna @ D16 May 3, 2013 at 9:47 am

      Oh, I understand them, and of course I didn’t think you meant that this was some kind of mandate — I just disagree with them on a fundamental level. That’s all. I guess I was put off my the all-caps (“screaming” in internet-land) approach to the sharing of your “rules.” No worries.

  • Reply Robin May 5, 2013 at 9:23 am

    This post, and all the comments, were such good reading that I spent quite some time digesting the information & came back to comment.
    Regarding the self-doubt that brought you to this moment, I think that feeling serves a purpose. It’s painful and pain is such a great pointer. Like when a toddler touches a hot stove, the pain protects her from a much more serious burn. The pain generates an action. When I have felt self-doubt you described so well, it was a valuable sign that I needed to address something in my creative life. Looking back at the cycles of my creative life, let’s just say I can RELATE to what you are going through. It seems almost necessary as part of the process. In my own life, I can point to 10-12 year cycles in creativity.
    As far as “where to start”? I seem to have stumbled into an answer, for me, you know, everyone is different, so it may or may not apply. Anyway, I have this new and very strong desire to make quilts and at first I was a little overwhelmed at all the possibilities and ideas. I set about collecting the right tools, and took some classes and eventually got into a a groove that is really working for me and the whole essence of it is to set boundaries for myself. I settled on a group of fabrics I liked and made up my own rule for this maiden voyage – you can only use these fabrics. WHat a relief! Once I started playing around, it was such a huge relief to be actually started on working on something. After that things fell into place and I have a routine (get up early for an hour devoted to this) and I am moving along and greatly relieved.
    So. For me it was creating some “artificial” boundaries that let gave me a framework and, ultimately freedom to proceed.
    Long-time reader who likes your work.

  • Reply Lisa May 9, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Wow- You’ve got a lot of comments on this one. I’m going to come out of lurker-ville and comment anyway, even though I’m a little late to it all. It is fascinating to me reading these comments because I am in the exact opposite situation! I have a 20-something-year-old art practice that I love. I am comfortable taking risks in that arena, and while I work, I do it for me. I do what the work needs, what I want to do, and I leave the audience out of it. Then I hand it off to people who take care of the business side of it. I will never stop painting, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t pay much of the bills.

    SO, I’ve been putting some of my design training to use, and am starting a design business. It’s terrifying!! Seriously Terrifying!! I haven’t found my groove yet, so I don’t feel focused, and trying to do something that someone else wants a certain way is hard, after following my own gut all of these years.

    Here’s something that I learned that entirely changed the way I approach art-making: It is not about “success” or “failure”. It is only about action, about the act of making it. Each thing that you make, whether you love it or hate it, is a building block. Eventually, all of your art acts, your building blocks, add up to something that only you could make. Embrace “failure”, because it gets you a step closer to making something that makes you really happy. Bring vulnerability with you into your work space, and it will lead you to something so authentic, so essentially you, that it will make the hairs stand up on your neck.

    Vulnerability, resiliency, and hard work are the secrets to making your own work.
    I’m still trying to figure out how much of my studio ethic I can bring to design. Wish me luck!

    Okay, now I’m off to watch the Chuck Close video. Thanks, Anna, for getting me to think about this stuff this morning.

  • Reply Carrie May 10, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Playing catch up on your blog today!
    I seriously had this conversation with an artist last week! When did it become this way? When I was a kid and I wanted to color, I colored. I didn’t care if anyone liked it, I did it because I wanted too. Same with making awesome stuff out of play doh. When did we become so self aware and start doing things for approval? So odd. Sometimes I wish I could be 4 year old me again who broke out into a dance in the middle of the grocery store because I felt like it, would sing at the top of my lungs in front of total strangers and paint a picture just because I wanted to paint. Life wasn’t about pleasing or impressing then, it was simply about expressing.

  • Reply Nicole lecht May 20, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Anna, thank you for saying the things I’ve been feeling lately. I’m also a book cover designer, and I do feel lucky to be doing what I do for a living but like you I feel the need to put myself back out there the way I want to be out there. I’ve been designing for over 7 years now and I used to split my time between the books and just freely making what i wanted, I used to blog and make money from that to support my personal work. For me it was when I had my daughter that I had to sacrifice something and unfortunately it was the stuff I loved to do…I always go back and forth with the notion of going back to school for textile or surface design or deciding to get the guts to just learn things myself. I too went out and bought new sketch books and paints thinking that if I bought new stuff, I could start out fresh…’s still sitting on my drawing table collecting dust and I constantly sit and try to answer that question “where do I start now?”… It’s so strange to be creatively stumped like this when my entire life was all about the things I could make. it’s nice to relate to someone in the exact same boat as me.

  • Reply NW January 14, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    I am not in the arts but I feel the same way about my engineering degree so far. I have learned a ton of theory but I don’t really feel I can do anything and so usually I don’t. I have all these ideas for projects but I can’t get them going or see them through because I seem to be overwhelmed by this fear of not doing it right. And like your tittle states if you are afraid of doing stuff wrong you often end up doing nothing at all. How does one get past this?

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