My New Discovery – How to Manage Creative Blocks, Anxiety, and Concentration Issues

I just moved across the country and my body and brain are exhausted. I can’t help it, however, that all I want to do is make art. I traveled the country with a very miniature version of my art supply collection with the intention of documenting the godly landscapes we traversed. I did make one piece just before we left New York, but we were going so fast from city to city after we left that my body couldn’t keep up with my heart’s desire to make art. Exhaustion from long hours of traveling coupled with chronic illness won out.

I’m starting to get my energy back. I have been keeping track of ideas. I recently visited the art supply store because it always exhilarates me to be surrounded by art supplies. And buying a new art supply is my version of retail therapy.

Except the other day I sat down to try out a new idea and not only did I inhale too many fumes from masking fluid and give myself a major headache, but the piece did not work out. I ended up getting frustrated and ended up spending more time moping and staring into space from disappointment than was necessary.

When I got over it, I realized that A) I trap myself with anxiety because I have such limited time and energy for art making. Art making is currently competing with writing a book I am contracted for and finding a day job. My savings account is starting to run low and the book has a deadline (in 8 weeks…ack!). The pressure’s on. And B) too much pressure doesn’t help my concentration and creativity.

I also realized that C) rough drafts and experimentation are often part of my process …so why was I so upset? When I write poetry or fiction, I go through many drafts, but always feel productive. Somehow I hadn’t seen it the same way with visual art.

Chapbook cover with tracing paper on top, soon to be transferred to the wood block for carving.

Chapbook cover with tracing paper on top, soon to be transferred to the wood block for carving

But my most favorite discovery is D) if I am having trouble concentrating on sketching, organizing and planning compositions, then why not finish a project I started where that part’s already been done?  My bad habit of not finishing pieces in a timely fashion can actually come in handy at times like this. So that is exactly what I did.

About three years ago, I drew a piece for a friend’s chapbook cover. My end goal was to send him a wood cut print. I have most of the supplies except for the ink, but there are so many steps before inking that it doesn’t matter. So what I did tonight was trace the drawing on tracing paper to get it ready for transferring to wood. It took little thought but getting graphite all over my hands while going over the lines I’d drawn made me appreciate the beauty of those lines, and being physically connected to one of my pieces made me happy. Making progress on this feels good. Plus, seeing this piece completed will be fulfilling, especially considering the long delay from the project’s inception.

All I’ve wanted to do for weeks is make art, and I’ve run into walls. I’m glad I’ve made these discoveries, however, and now I have a new appreciation for my unfinished pieces. They are no longer a reflection of my bad habits, but opportunities to help me when my mind is too dizzy to focus on starting a piece from scratch.


About JRow

JRow is an L.A.-based artist who also creates and leads online community-based art projects. Websites:

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