Don't forget the fun sheet!
Click Bonus Vault button below to access the downloadable PDF that accompanies this episode to help you learn to regularly check in with yourself. By taking a regular personal inventory of your moods and emotions, you can get yourself—and your creativity back on course when something throws you off.
Learning to be proactive instead of reactive is essential in succeeding in consistently showing up to make your art.
Show Notes Artists Can Take a Personal Inventory to Foster Creativity and Eliminate Fear
Building a habit of doing this regularly can greatly benefit not only your creativity, but your personal growth by helping you develop a growth mindset. Know that no matter where you are at, you have the power to learn, grow and become what you seek to become.
Before you read on, I’m obligated to remind you that I am not a mental health professional. The suggestions in this episode are intended to support you and give you an electronic hug of encouragement. If you feel you need a therapist for more in-depth guidance, I wholeheartedly encourage you to seek someone to speak with for professional support. I’ve done so myself over the years to grow and move through tough patches, with wonderful results. As an artist and a person, you deserve love and support.
Welcome back. In today’s episode, I’m going to talk about recognizing when something’s getting in the way of our creativity and learning to use that discomfort as a roadmap to move past it.
But first, it's time for Shout-Outs!
The first one goes out to Ciara Barsotti from Chico, California. Ciara loves to paint landscapes inspired by her travels around the United States that inspire people to reconnect with the land they inhabit. She has developed a completely unique mixed media technique that lends itself to the ephemeral quality of our changing world.
I love your podcast and the topics and guests you choose to discuss and interview - they've been inspiring and helpful to me. Thanks for all you do!
Thanks, Ciara. I’m so glad you’re out there and I’m looking forward to seeing you soon for our chat.
Her website is ciarabarsotti.com, and you can find the spelling of that in the show notes where there will also be a link.
You’ll also be hearing from Ciara soon on the show.
Next, shout out to Rodney for your comment about my interview with Brenda Robinson. Rodney said, “Brenda’s work is transformational and strikes a chord with everyone who sees it. Every stroke has meaning, and her background comes across in every work. It was great to hear her story.
Thanks, Rodney, I completely agree.
And a third shout-out goes to Marcy Bernstein, who says,
“Brenda Robinson’s authenticity has inspired me to be more open about my own creative process. I have been looking for a creative outlet although not formally trained in the arts. I am now freer to tap into my intuitive nature instead of waiting for formal training.
She is a gem”
Yes, she is. Thank you for your comment, Marcy. Please let me know how your art is going and send pictures!
Struggling with impostor syndrome?
Compare and Despair?
Uncertain of your next step?
But I’m working on it. And I’m getting there. I think confidence is a verb and we need to practice it to move forward.
So today, in my no fear episode, I’m going to share with you some of the helpful things I’ve learned in my art journey about moving forward not without fear but despite it. As always, take what you can and leave the rest.
So during my college days, I struggled with an eating disorder. And, as is typical with these types of struggles, it really had nothing to do with appearance. It had to do with self-acceptance, feeling worthy, things you can’t see on the outside.
Fast-forward to today, and I’m in a good place. I’m not going to say I’m “cured,” because I think that kind of attitude leads to complacency. And complacency is dangerous for so many reasons. I still struggle with self-image, but I’m no longer engaging in the self-destructive patterns from college. And I’ve put systems in place that help me to stay in a healthy growth mindset.
Getting to this point has been a process, and it started with doing the work on the inside. Some of the helpful mindset guideposts along the way have been things I was introduced to back in college, inside the rooms of 12 step meetings.
There are lots of slogans around the 12 step philosophy, but don’t let that fool you, to quote another slogan, “slogans are wisdom written in shorthand.”
I believe this wisdom can save a person’s life if they take them to heart and live by it. There are many 12 step concepts I could riff off, and I’ll look at more down the road. But today I’m digging into the concept of regularly checking in with yourself — teaching yourself to stop and regularly assess what’s going on in your interior world.
Learning to do this will can enable you to catch when you’re getting overwhelmed or stuck.
This is helpful for anyone to do, but we’re going to talk about how you specifically can benefit from doing this as an artist.
The goal here is to get to the point where you automatically asking myself “What’s going on with me right now?”
When you can do this, you’ll often catch yourself going off course emotionally before someone else notices.
Why do we want to catch this? Because when we’re overwhelmed or anxious, it gets in the way of the ability to create.
In 12 step programs, there is a very useful acronym: It is HALT — H.A.L.T.
This stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired.
We’re going to take these one at a time and look at how they apply to creatives.
I’m going to take them out of order as we take this apart, because two of them can be lumped together in that they both signal it’s time to stop an step away from what you’re doing.
So, taking the two off the ends, lets start with hungry and tired.
Making sure you aren’t hungry or tired when you are making your art will save you a lot of stress and frustration.
If you are pushing through discomfort while working, it’s going to take a toll on the quality of your art— whether you’re aware of it or not, but especially if you don’t learn to recognize it. And we don’t want to be in the studio creating and veering off course without being aware of it. We want to catch it as quickly as we can.
Working when you’re hungry or tired is like walking down an unfamiliar path in the woods blindfolded. If you don’t catch yourself early enough, you just might walk off a cliff.
So, stop and check-in. Take those breaks. Back up. Back all the way out of the room. When you come back, you’ll be able to view your work with fresher eyes. I recommend snapping a picture on your phone of your work in progress and looking at it on our screen. To this day, this remains my best go-to for getting errors to jump out at me.
Making sure we don’t need to stop and refuel, get some rest, and get a fresh perspective is one of the ways to catch your artwork going off course. To notice when you’re “in the weeds.” Props to my fellow former restaurant wait servers.
The H for hungry is straightforward. If you’re getting hungry as you work, you’re not likely to do your best creating. Anything that makes you clench and feel constricted, physically, or psychologically, is going to shut down your creativity.
On a less obvious note, you can limit simple carbs and sugars to help your blood sugar to be more stable. I used to be so hypoglycemic I couldn’t go more than two hours without my blood sugar bottoming out.
Disclaimer, I am not a doctor, so I’m not handing out eating suggestions here beyond sharing that a good way to eat more healthfully is to minimize packaged foods. The more you eat straight from the source rather than out of a box, the fewer ingredients you’ll be ingesting, including less sugar and sodium. This is called clean eating. When I started doing this, my blood sugar got more stable. I gave up gluten after that and got really stable. But that’s what works for me. What I recommend is to take care of yourself, including taking care of your diet. Get your doctor’s advice on the best diet for you. The better you fuel yourself, the less vulnerable you will be to blood sugar spikes and sudden hunger.
I mentioned battling through an eating disorder, so I now eat for physical, mental, and emotional health and nourishment. I’m suggesting you find out what works for you and do the same.
Okay so now let's touch on A for the angry. If something is bugging you that you haven’t resolved, it’s going to again pull you off course and affect your work.
It’s okay to make angry art if that’s what you’re going for. Those of you who are my students know what I’m going to tell you. Say it with me, “If you are going to do something with your art, do it on purpose.”
Training yourself to check in regularly with your emotional state is going to help you catch when you’re feeling angry.
If you find you are angry (or angry’s first cousin, Frustrated) — don’t stop there. Ask yourself “what’s going on?” “Why am I feeling this way?”
You may be surprised by what you learn.
And if you don’t think you’ll hear the answer (using air quotes here when I say “hear” the answer), then you’re not listening. Slow down, breathe, and be still.
With some practice, I’m convinced once you learn to be still, you’ll hear the answers. But you’ve got to stop and listen. You wouldn’t ask someone for directions and then turn and walk away while they were trying to give you those directions, would you?
Some of you know that my most significant angry art moment was on campus at UMASS Amherst. I was a double major in zoology and art. I was ambitious, I was motivated; I was SCUBA diving and taking calculus. I was going to be the next Jacques Cousteau.
And I was taking drawing classes and selling my airbrushed t-shirts in the student commons on Fridays, so I was also very, very tired. I was pulling all-nighters on Thursday nights to fill T-shirt orders (and to my long-suffering roommate Ingrid, if you’re listening, I’m sorry). I did eventually realize the compressor did not qualify as a sound machine for sleeping and moved my operation down to the lounge.
But the point is, I was fitting my art around the more demanding science courses thinking maybe because the art came so easily to me that I should be putting my attention on the harder courses. And I got through it. But I realize now that the harder courses were so tough because I wasn’t into them. There are plenty of technical things I can do that I don’t consider particularly hard because I’m interested. That’s important to consider when you’re struggling.
So, one day I’m walking across campus, and I see this woman leaving the fine arts building with one of those enormous black portfolios. Art student. And, I assumed, a full-time art student. Not being split in two as I was straddling science and art.
And then something amazing happened.
I got mad at her. I was actually resentful that this person got to spend their entire focus on an art major.
Luckily, the reaction was so strong, I stopped and examined it. And I realized my thought process was “Must be nice.” And “Why can’t I do that?”
Huh. Must be nice to what?
Must be nice to be a full-time art student.
And that’s when it hit me. “What was keeping me from doing that?”
Yes, I had all the logic in the world for having a double major. And I had what I considered a practical plan and my art, too, and blah blah blah.
But I was resentful.
It took me about a year from that revelation to switch majors. It actually happened when I came up against a moral dilemma in a lab class after transferring down to Stony Brook in my home state of New York.
The assignment was to dissect a nudibranch, which is a giant sea slug. This one was approximately nine inches long. Problem was, it was still moving.
I pointed this out to the instructor, who also happened to be the advisor for my major and head of the department. I said, “This is not dissection, it’s vivisection. The subject is still alive.”
And we stood toe-to-toe, and he looked me in the eye and said, If you aren’t willing to do this assignment, then I suggest you rethink your major.
And I knew.
And I said, “You know what, you’re right.” And I took off my lab coat and walked out.
Now, looking back I have those “Silence of the Lambs” pangs of “Maybe I could have grabbed a few squirming sea slugs and ran, but it is what it is. I just couldn’t be part of it.
So here I am telling you to use your anger, use your frustration. Use your discomfort. Ask yourself “What is going on here?” “What hurts?” “What is out of alignment?” “What do I need?”
Be patient with yourself. Be still. And listen to the reply. Practice this enough and you’ll hear it.
I meditate regularly in an effort to be still and listen. And for me it works.
Okay, so the last letter in H.A.L.T. I haven’t covered is the “L” for lonely.
Are you lonely?
Now for me, this is very relevant, but not necessarily the way you may think. I’m an introvert. Yes, I’m on a mic talking in your ear right now, but I’m not standing on a big stage in front of a stadium of people, because for me that would be terrifying. I’m often a chatterbox around the people I’m close to, but I prefer small intimate gatherings to big, rowdy parties. I recharge in solitude. And that’s okay.
So, the “are you lonely question comes down to asking yourself:
“What do I need to be my best self?” which as an artist, also means “what do I need to create?”
For me, being an introvert doesn’t mean I’m not. It means I recharge in solitude. I prefer small intimate gatherings to big rowdy parties.
As an artist, I’ve had studios in basements, attics, and garages, even on balconies.
I now paint in a spare room with enormous windows. My wonderful husband recently asked if I would have rather had a studio out in the back yard.”
My answer is that it’s perfect as it is. Because I have my own space in a central location in the house. I know that I need my people nearby. I can hear them around me and know they’re there, even if I’m working in the studio room by myself. They come and go. And I’m not lonely. It works for me. I don’t feel like I have to choose family or studio time.
If I had to leave the house and hole up in an outbuilding, I’d never get out there and the art wouldn’t happen. Because I’d feel cut off. Even when working alone in my studio, I need the sense of connection of being in the central part of the house.
What kind of setup do you thrive in creatively? Is it a quiet separate space, or one where other people are working in the same room? Or something in between, like my studio. What works for you?
My suggestion today is that you do some soul searching and ask yourself questions around HALT to keep you on your creative path.
The more you practice mindfulness by checking in with your emotions, the more ingrained it will become and the more you’ll catch yourself when you’re drifting off course with a particular piece, or with your motivation, or with shutting down and losing creativity.
Mindfulness is key.
Another way to catch yourself if you’re going off course is to learn your tells. You know, like in poker when you can tell someone is bluffing because they’re pulling on their earlobe or twisting their hair without being aware of it?
Twelve-step program also says “Learn to listen and listen to learn.”
This of course can mean close your mouth and open your ears to listen more than you speak, which helps with learning, but in this episode, I’m specifically referring to “listening to your inner voice”
I’m going to ask you some questions to give you a starting point. and you’ll find them in a downloadable PDF in the Insider’s Circle Download Vault available from the box at the top of this show notes page.
So ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Am I:
If so, why am I feeling this way?
See if you can identify what’s wrong. Backtrack your day in your mind. Did your significant other say something that hit you sideways? Did your dog give you the stink eye? See if you can locate when you went from “okay” to “not okay” because it will help you to know what kinds of things throw you off.
When you identify what you’re feeling, you can ask yourself, “How do I feel about how I feel?” This can will help you stop blocking certain feelings because you’re trying to shove them down, thinking they are unacceptable — hellooo binge eating.
Take a moment and consciously accept the feeling you are having. “I accept that I am intimidated by my blank canvas right now.”
Mindfulness about what you’re doing when you catch yourself going off course is helpful in learning ways you’re procrastinating,
Ask yourself, “Why am I doing what I’m doing right now?”
For example, “Am I weeding at 7 am because I’m avoiding facing a blank canvas in my studio?”
Don't forget to click the button in the box at the top of the page to access the personal inventory fun sheet that accompanies this episode, and all Podcast Insiders' free bonus material.