Fear of Drawing? Sculpture Anxiety? Creative Block?

Do you have potential paintings or sculptures in your  mind that are so real you can close your eyes and touch the surface of the canvas, or walk entirely around the piece, exploring it’s every detail? Do you have a short story or a novel in your mind that’s so real you can see yourself turning the pages? Is something stopping you from actually creating it, so other people can see it, too?

I’ve started thinking about what my next sculpture should be, now that my book project is starting to wind down. And whenever I start thinking about what I should do next, three “old friends” keep trying to get my attention. These are the three sculptures that I’ve been living with, (only in my mind, of course), for at least 5 years.

Is there such a thing as artistic phobia? Sculpture anxiety? A fear of drawing? Do you have ideas that you fully intend to pursue, but you never seem to feel the time is right?

I thought it might be fun to talk about this issue, because you, too, might have a great masterpiece in your mind that’s trying to get out. If so, maybe we could offer each other some support. I admit that I have a mild superstition that prevents me from talking about the three sculptures that I would love to do, someday. I think it was Earnest Hemingway that started my superstition when he said a writer should never tell a story until he has it down on paper. So I don’t want to describe the works that I haven’t yet created, but I would like to talk about the possible reasons why that they haven’t been created yet.

Obviously, there may be practical reasons why we hesitate to tackle a project. This is particularly true if we know we need technical skill that we haven’t yet acquired. Skills take time to develop, and it would be disappointing to see our potential masterpiece created by an amateur. That has certainly been an issue for me, since I’ve only been sculpting full-time for about 14 months. Perhaps we need to take more classes, or read more books, or just get more hands-on experience before we tackle “the big one.”

But is there something else that stops us, too? A fear of failing? The possibility of discovering that we just don’t have what it takes? Do we blame our job, or our family obligations, or our health, when there’s really something else stopping us?

There are other circumstances that might be holding us back. For instance, you may live in a small house or apartment that simply doesn’t have room to create something as large as you imagine it. The materials might be too expensive. You might need a private space that can be locked, to keep out children who could be harmed by the art materials, and you simply don’t have that space. You might need private time, so your mind will be free to think up new possibilities, work on new solutions — and you simply can’t find the time. You may have a “real” job that leaves you creatively exhausted at the end of the day.

These are real obstacles — but can they be overcome?

I’ve decided to challenge myself in the next few months: I will consider every objection that keeps me from starting at least one of those sculptures, and then find a way to work around those objections. I will commit myself to learning the skills I need, no matter how long it will take. When I think up inventive reasons to procrastinate (and I know I will) I’ll try to ignore them. I will look the fear of failure in the face, and work through it. The sculptures will not be museum-quality when they’re done — they may not even be good enough to show anyone — and that’s got to be OK.

I’ll commit myself to creating those sculptures because it will open up the possibility for new ideas, for the next great challenges.

The first thing I’ll do is ask for some help from some friends who might be willing to pose for me. Once I’m over that hurdle, (asking for help goes against my nature), I’ll see what happens next.

Would you like to join me in the challenge? Is there a short story, or a painting, or a novel, or a sculpture that’s been haunting you for years? What do you  need to do first, so you can actually get started?  Let’s talk about it…

33 thoughts on “Fear of Drawing? Sculpture Anxiety? Creative Block?”

  1. I promised a friend I would make her a pair of giraffes, this was when it seemed like she was casually interested in them. Since then, her daughter had filled me in about how long her mom had wanted a set for her living room, and I have learned how giddy she is about it. Now, I have put pressure on myself that I need to make these giraffes perfectly, have the facial expressions JUST right, etc, etc, etc that I keep putting it off, simply due to pressure I have put on myself to make them my own version of perfection. Meanwhile, I’m sure she would be happy with whatever I came up with, but I can’t seem to stop replaying how I should make them and picturing them in my mind long enough to actually get started!

  2. that is true. i had the same problems throughout my school days. its hard, but i think the person recieving the advice really apreciates it. 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for the suggestion of Corn Huskers Lotion. I’ll have to try it. I googled it and when I saw the pic I had to laugh because of course I’d seen it before – its always there with the other lotions in random stores but I never really paid much attention to it beyond a passing glance. Who knew?! I’ll have to use it after gardening too – maybe it’ll even take the green off my fingernails from plucking suckers off my tomatoes.

    Thanks a million.

    • I feel like that alot. I believe it’s because I’m intimidated, like it’s not “good enough” I enjoy writing and doing various crafts but I’ve always wanted something that i wrote to evoke the feelings of readers everywhere.

      AHHHHHH that was relieving

      • I recently read a story about a woman who gave up painting because she always judged her own creations against the works of the great masters, and of course her own efforts always came up short. Then, many years later, she learned to make pottery, and she ended up making a living at it. She said she could enjoy the process without judging her pots against the work of master craftsmen, like she had always done with her paintings. When a bowl came out slightly crooked, she said “the popcorn won’t mind.” For some reason, I really liked that story. Maybe that’s the answer to our issues about internal judgments stopping us from doing something creative — we should create something that doesn’t really allow judgments. Like paper mache, for instance… 🙂

        • i do enjoy paper mache vey much, it’s fun, but
          when i finish writing something and i like it is such an achievment! i recently just finished a story for kids. At this time i don’t think it’s good, but than again since i got married i’ve learned that support is sometimes happens when someone gently pushes you forward. that reminds me… i have always thought that if people are too kind in their feedback then it leaves no room for the person to hone their skills.

          • Yes, I agree. I can remember way back when I was a child — I would make a drawing and be disappointed because it didn’t look right. But when I told an adult that it wasn’t quite right (hoping for some instruction that would help me improve it) they would always tell me it was just fine the way it was. I can still remember feeling just a little bit cheated, although they were trying so hard to be nice.

            But on the other hand, sometimes a bright encouraging word is exactly what a person needs. The trick is to know how to give encouraging and positive feedback, while not holding back on the honesty. It’s a hard one –

  4. Hi there. I’ve been poking around your site and just have to compliment you on your beautiful work. It is fantastic and inspires my mind to trek down those paths of creativity that I rarely permit my real self to walk down. Where does creative inspiration come from and where does it go if we don’t give it wings? Your post above makes me want to push myself. I’ve only done a few simple papier mache pieces and that was years ago. Lately, for whatever reason my mind keeps returning to the desire to get busy with papier mache and I really CAN see some pieces I’d love to create (in my mind). haha I hope I do “unleash them” from my mind and set them sailing into the world!

    I have a very practical and basic papier mache question. The skin on my hands is somewhat delicate (particularly in the winter) and I try to keep it happy. I keep wondering if PM artists just sacrifice the skin on their hands for their art or just how they protect their hands from deteriorating. I can’t imagine wearing even thin gloves to do PM. What do you do?

    Thanks so much for sharing your work and maintaining your site. Listen to that creative voice!

    • Hi, Liz. I’m glad you’re getting inspired! You also have a very good question, and it’s one I can’t answer. I’m not big on self-sacrifice, myself, but this just isn’t a problem for me. I know a number of products are specifically designed to protect the hands of people working in certain industries, but I don’t know which ones would work for paper mache. The paper can be drying, and if you try the paper mache clay, you won’t want to get your hands in it because the calcium in the clay will also dry your hands.

      I’ll put up a new post just to ask this question. There has to be someone who has the same problem, and has found a good solution for it. Check the main page of the blog for the post.

      • There is a product called Corn Husker Lotion. It was originally made to help farmers and the like. I have found it works great to keep your hands from drying out no matter what you do. My Grandpa is a mechanic and has soft hands and I paint professionally and have very soft hands. Hope this helps!

        • Fantastic. Thanks for the suggestion. I think I’ll go buy some myself, for those gardening hands. (Our clay soil really dries out the skin).

      • Olive oil straight from the bottle on your hands do a really good job of revitalizing dried hands and cheap also. I was desperate for lotion as my hands were cracking and I put on olive oil and I have not looked back.

        • Great idea, Christine. I’ve tried a lot of hand lotions, and they don’t really seem to do much – especially when I spend a lot of time out in the garden. I’ll try the olive oil.

          I totally forgot about this post, by the way. In fact, I just boxed up a book that I should have mentioned in this post. Maybe I hadn’t read it yet? It’s called Art and Fear, and it’s a really good read.

  5. That’s great advice, thanks.

    Of course I took pictures, after all that work! I would be happy to send you some pictures of the project. It was definitely a challenge – and a lot of fun too!

    • Fantastic. Please use the contact form, and put “paper mache” in the subject line so your email won’t get lost in the pile of spam. I can’t wait to see it.

  6. I just completed my Bonhomme paper mache project. I couldn’t afford to procrastinate because I was given a deadline, Feb. 25th.(about 1 month start to finish – including sewing the costumes for Bonhomme and the winter queen). I was quite pleased with the finished project.

    I was wondering what the best way of storing it would be. I used white glue water and newsprint and paper towels to make my mache. The school hopes to use it each year. I would cry if it went moldy after all that work! Someone suggested a Rubbermaid plastic totebox, but I think it would be better if it was something that ‘breathed’. Any suggestions? Thanks.

    • Hi Maureen. Congratulations — it sounds like your Bonhomme project was a great success.

      I asked readers to give us some suggestions about storing paper mache, after receiving an email from someone who lives in hot, humid Texas. I think Jennifer summed up the consensus pretty well–the sculptures definitely need to breath so you don’t create a perfectly dark, slightly damp environment for mold. Her idea of wrapping the items in acid-free paper is good, too, because it would protect the item from dust and grime.

      I don’t suppose you took a picture of your costume, so we could see?

  7. This is a really great topic and something I have been thinking about myself. Yes, I do think artists sometimes talk themselves into a ‘phobia’, I know sometimes I see something so clearly, something so wonderful that I afraid of trying it in case I mess it up and can’t get the message through my hands. I’ve been considering the notion of artists fear lately and come to the conclusion that the best way for me to get through it myself is to take a deep breath and jump in hands first. You know what? If I can’t get it to look like the picture in my head, then so be it. But if I never even try, the idea dies with me and I cheat myself of the opportunity to realise a dream. There will always be some projects that are scarier than others (like getting a new art business up an running), but my new approach is to just try. It’s all I can do.

  8. I think we should make a distinction between self-motivation – doing it because you want to — and the kind that comes from someone else, either because the other person is pressuring us, or just because we know what their expectations are. Artists are “supposed” to be self-motivated, and when we’re not, we question ourselves as artists. But society, (and family) often try to push us to do a thing (or 100 things!) and our natural objection to being pushed or manipulated might be misinterpreted as a lack of motivation. We may even misinterpret it ourselves in that way.

    I can imagine this happening even when we promise to do something that sounded exciting when we first thought about it, but we then realize it wasn’t as much fun as we expected. Then it changes from a problem of motivation to a problem of responsibility — doing the thing just because we promised, and not because the project excites us. (I had an issue of this type just this week. It was a slog, but I got the thing done).

    Responsibility is a good thing, but I don’t think we should equate it with the kind of self-motivation that pushes us to create. If we keep the two issues separate, we’re less likely to question ourselves as artists. Maybe. And maybe if we spend less time questioning ourselves, we would have more time and energy to spend on our artwork.

  9. The more said on the subject the more it starts to make sense. I thought that I was the ONLY person stuck of not moving forward. I think now that it has been written “fear of failure” may be the culprit that keeps me bound.

    I’m sure that all of us of dabbled in one art form or another at some time. Well, after 9-11, there was an auction on Ebay where the monies raised from donated items would be given to the 9-11 Fund. Well, I put two t-shirts that I hand stitched sequins and beads and they sold for about 80 bucks each. Anyway, my husband got money signs in his eyes with these two sales but it absolutely FROZE me! I did not want to post anything else on Ebay for fear that my items would not sell.

    My husband cannot understand my reluctance in moving forward with my projects that sound great when I tell him about it (I do have to share with someone, you know). But I guess The Fear of Failure Monster just keeps rearing its ugly head, hmmm… now that’s an idea, make this monster ala Dan the Monster Man way.

    • Hmmm.. But there is another issue here, which I’ve run into a lot. I started my art “career,” many years ago, at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Ever since then, I keep thinking up things that I think people might like to buy. I’ve even started small businesses based on a few of those ideas, and some of them turned out to be quite popular. Then I discover that I’ve morphed from a designer-inventor-artist (which is fun) into a factory worker-business manager-accountant (which is not any fun at all).

      I think this brings up a really important issue: the connection between art and money. (The expectations of one’s spouse or parent or other relative would be an interesting topic, too.) Is it possible that the whole “failure” issue is built around what other people might think our work is worth, in dollars, and not on the work’s intrinsic value as art? Isn’t a lot of the true value of any artwork in the joy and pleasure we receive while creating it? Does the idea of putting our work in front of the world to be judged as a “product” stop us from doing any work at all? I know that’s a huge issue for me.

      • I think that you may have put your finger on the problem. My mom made these small personal tissue holders (she sews quite well by the way) and my sisters told her to make a 100 of them because they were going to have a garage sale. Well, needless to say, none of them sold. So now this incident has become a family joke when someone makes something, then one says “make 100 of them”.

        Anyway, on another craft item that I made, which really did come out beautiful, I was in designer-artist mode and again, my husband saw the potential of this and he didn’t say “make 100 of these” but he sort of left it unsaid. That pressure of now having to fulfill this like a factory just totally deflated my interest in continuing with that craft. By the way, before I got in freeze-mode I had made about 5 of these items and some of my family members even bought some! Boy, do I need psychological help or what?

        I guess if I’m going to be truly honest then I will need to add that I have given myself my own analysis and it is this: I grew up in a home enviroment in which we never received approval for anything that we did. Even as an adult I think that I still sought that approval from my parents and still did not receive it. So I possibly may not want to put myself “out there” for fear of more rejection. I don’t know but that sort of makes sense. Can’t escape that inner child and it’s need for approval. I only mention this here for that being the possiblitily of my not venturing forward. Just a thought.

  10. Here’s one more “excuse” that I forgot to mention in my post: instead of a fear of failure, do we sometimes have a fear of success? Would our worlds change too much if we really put our hearts and souls into developing a particular talent?

  11. Bang on, Jonni! I think the procrastination thing, is strictly a “fear of failure”. I also have had a couple of paper mache sculpture ideas floating around “upstairs”. In my mind, I can actually picture them finished! How’s that for optimism! Maybe we all need to set a date for “show and tell’?

    • Ooh — I love deadlines! (I’m weird, I know…) How much time should we give ourselves? Two months? Three?

      What do you think, Ann? Perhaps we could take photos to “prove” we started on our projects, and to let each other know how it’s going. I’d be happy to post them, along with any thoughts you’re all willing to share with a few thousand readers. This is actually starting to look like fun.

      Now I have to decide which of my unborn sculptures I’ll volunteer for the experiment.

  12. I think this also kind of translates to life too. There are always those things that we want to do, but no matter what is going on in our lives, there is always some reason we can find that now is not the right time. Often times the biggest challenge is just taking the first step.

    The Issaquah Window Cleaning Guy

      • Jonni,
        I am ready and happy to be there any time you want to vent, chat, inspire, conspire, think out loud, question, cajole or just have fun! I think we creative minds need to stick together.

  13. I have just the opposite “hindrance” I think my best work comes when I simply sit down and do it. It is that sense of spontaneity and discovery that I feel makes them special.As crazy as it sounds, I firmly believe that the clay will “tell me what it is supposed to be!

    So, no, I don’t really have anything tucked away for the perfect moment. My problem is getting myself to take the time to sit down and go for it… I want to try this new clay you use, and it sounds perfect for me. Up until now, I’ve been working in ceramics, but that has become difficult, there aren’t too many places here where I can fire my work without paying a small fortune. Your clay sounds perfect, no firing needed ~~ But it requires a bit of forethought in order to make the supports for the clay to rest upon. That is really intimidating for me!!! How silly is that?!

    I would love to set up a support system with you, and see if we can’t work through our blocks together. Whatcha think?

    Ann Thompson

    • Ah, that actually makes sense — the bit about how real clay is different from the process of making something from paper mache, whether one is using the new clay recipe or the traditional strips and paste. “Playing” with clay is completely intuitive, while one does need think ahead when making the inner form for a paper mache sculpture.

      However, I find that I can do the initial “creative” part by making a sketch first, and then translate the sketch into a full-size inner pattern for the finished work. That does seem to help, since sketching also seems intuitive, and the finished form looks pretty much like you expect it to, using this process.

      Good idea about working out the creative blocks together. I’ll vote for that.

  14. I can identify with you so much!! I have so many ideas that just go around and around in my head. When I tell my husband or other family members that I have another idea they pretty much throw their eyes up and ask “is this 1001” idea? I want to make paper mache Day of the Dead sculpture, I can see it as you mentioned but I just don’t know why I don’t start. Maybe it is all that you stated, I have arguments that state both sides of “yes, you are good enough” and the other side of “you just might screw this up”. Anyway, I would like to take this challenge with you of just going forward, maybe with your help I can get this sculpture done. Thanks for making me think about this further.

    • Perfect! If your sculpture is intended for the holiday, there’s plenty of time between now and October. We should both have something to show for our efforts by then. Let us know how things progress, and I’ll do the same…


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