Feel the fear. Paint it anyway.

Feel the Fear. Paint it Anyway. 

10 Thoughts on Fear, Decision Making, and Painting

FYCS decisions pic

It is not breaking news to my close friends that I have trouble making decisions, not the sticking-with-it part but the first part, the choosing part. What you might not know is that this difficulty in making decisions is linked and will sometimes play out in my studio practice. Difficulty making a decision is also linked to that one time I almost moved to Paris.

Sometimes life altering choices will come with ease but the small choices seem to loom large as though they have a steep penalty for making the selection. Other times a large choice will lead to days of drawing cost benefits analysis charts and making extensive pro-con lists. Only to wake up the next day “knowing” the right way to proceed.

My studio practice is good for strengthening my “decision-making-muscles” for a few reasons.

1. In practice of abstract painting, I have the ability to “paint over” any mistake or misstep that happened in the moment or even in yesterday’s painting. This is especially true with oil painting and most acrylic. However it is slightly more difficult with water medium but not impossible. But the “mistake” is still there contained in the fabric of the canvas, as a fantom in the ground of the painting, or perhaps in a sliver of a mark on a figure. This feeling of being able to correct a mishap frees my hand to become more painterly, less contrived or stiff, particularly in the beginning strokes of the painting or work.

2. Sometimes the mistake is my favorite part.

3. My studio practice helps to strengthen the decision making process because it has taught me to relish experimentation in art making. I have learned to make smaller pieces to try out a new technique. I have learned that there is a very real learning curve when trying out a new medium. Meaning sometimes it will take a few weeks to figure out how to use that new india ink I just bought for my photo-transfer collage project.

4. I have learned that even if I don’t get the desired result or the outcome I was trying to control in my work, I now know something new about my practice. To see a side of my work I had not before seen. If I am lucky I will also learn a small truth about myself as an artist and as a person in that moment.

5.  Often times later I will be working and a once-seemingly-outlying-random-piece of experimental work will end up being the bridge I need to push my practice a little bit farther. Experimenting in my art making helps me realize that in making a decision, you need to trust the process, trust that you know what you are doing, and you might have a very good idea where you want to go, even if this process is working unconsciously. To read an earlier blog about this see: feel your body and move.


Can you see the earlier painting in this one?

6. Of course there are times, usually later in the process of a large work, where I will reach a stalling point. This is usually out of an intense fear that I am about to ruin a perfectly good painting by say pouring turpentine on it, as I have done before, or by deciding to re-gesso one area, or to begin using spray paint.

7. Often this fear is linked with a financial cost. It is not merely an emotional or inspirational block.  It’s expensive to make a 48×64 inch painting only to ruin it by pouring some crazy, silver, roof-paint on it which I randomly bought from the hardware store. It’s also a huge investment of time. My larger paintings each represent hundreds of hours of sketching, thinking, planning, painting, scraping the paint away, repainting, pouring, obsessing, obsessing, obsessing, and then more painting. So the fear that co-exists alongside the decisional question does usually bring real world costs that feeds the anxiety about the choice.

8. I can mitigate some of the risks of the costs by returning to my sketches, looking over my smaller experimental works, or reviewing the outcomes and assessments from working with the new medium. In the above example, look to see how the crazy, silver, roof-paint would look, act, and work in a smaller study painting.

9.  I have learned to stand in awe of this feeling because this feeling, the fear of moving forward, this feeling signals to me that I am about to learn something important or to grow in some way, even if I destroy a painting in the process.

10. I try to remember that old adage, feel the fear then do it anyway. In this case I am adapting the old saying to related to painting:  feel the fear and paint it anyway.

{The first painting in this post is the underpainting for the second}


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