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  • Filipina Pate

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Get Over Painter's Block

Updated: Feb 21

I've been struggling with getting back to work on my paintings. I'm working on a new collection for the upcoming Open Studios Night on June 14th. Normally a deadline is enough to keep me motivated. But this time, I feel hesitant and anxious about what to make and how it will be received. It is so easy to find an excuse, a chore that is so much easier to do than to make something out of nothing.


So this morning I tried something new to shake up my fears. I noticed the reds in the apples next to the reds of the raisin bag and I gave myself a 5 minute time limit to draw what I saw. I spent another 5 minutes to reflect on what I wrote. And then a final 5 minutes to draw and paint another version.


This is the result:


Gouche painting of three red apples with a a red bag of raisins. Apple-Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal for Breakfast Feb 20. 204. These apples are small enough to fit in my closed fist. Tart and crispy. Went well with the raisins. Seal the bag! Filipina
Morning Reds, 5 x 8 inches, Gouache on Paper


It's messy, but this quick painting captures the experience of what I was seeing on my kitchen counter this morning: the warm reds in the shiny raisin bag and the cooler, duller reds in the small apples. I also noticed how much better I felt doing something I love and instead of spending so much about what people will think of how it turned out. It was fun to just mess around with paint and remember how good my oatmeal turned out this morning.


We all have the potential to creative artists, but we tend to ignore these little sparks of joy in our busy lives. We focus on the things we think are important so we can feel safe and secure. My painter's block comes from a desire to be safe and secure and comfortable with my daily routines. But as an artist, I need to pursue working with the unknown so I can make work that is true to who I am and what I see.


“It’s not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channels open.”

- Martha Graham (1943)


One way to keep the channels open is to show up every day and practice making something. Setting a timer removes the fear because I know that I only have to tolerate working with the unknown for 45 minutes. And maybe over time I can gradually increase the time that I work.


The most important thing is to start.

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