Martha's Blog

stuck redux

I am revisiting the idea of being “stuck” in this blog post, as it seems to be a state I am in from time to time. Perhaps it is common among we creatives. I do envy those who say they have a non-stop flow of ideas, more ideas than they have time for in a lifetime. I am NOT one of those people!

After my last show in May, 2018 I had a hard time getting back to my studio. Partly it was life, and partly I think it was avoidance. I committed the error I had always warned my students against…I hadn’t left some work in my studio unfinished when I delivered my show to the gallery in May so that I would have a starting place when it was time to get back to work. Oh horrors! I returned to an empty studio, empty of unfinished paintings and empty of ideas. I used a variety of avoidance techniques so when it came time to get serious it just wasn’t there. I was freaked out for the first time in a long, long time. Maybe I was dried up, empty of new ideas after my last big push. I feared the worst.

But I knew if I wanted to at least have a stab at getting over this dry period I had to continue to go to my studio and paint, even though it meant making a daily mess that I removed the next day to start over. Day after day, at the end of the day I would look over what I had done and be horrified. And as the days came and went I had to force myself into the studio every day…it became the last place I wanted to be as my “failures” mounted.

The worst part of this was that I really began to believe I had permanently lost my way. I began to think that I had no more in me that was exciting, that was a continuing growth from my last body of work. I began to doubt myself seriously.

Every day would start off like this:


I would paint all day, only to having me scraping off everything I had done so that it then looked like this:


This cycle of adding a days worth of paint only to remove it the next day felt like it went on and on. But as hard as it was I just had to keep showing up. I knew I couldn’t stop trying because every day I missed was a giant step backwards.

So I adjusted my attitude to one where I decided to just work. Just paint. Don’t try to make a series or add content or even do the same techniques from painting to painting. Just make stuff and then edit later. I lost my attachment to the outcome and went to quantity with little judgement as to what it all meant or how it all fit together.

Then one day I spent all day in my studio painting. The first part of the day was the usual: add, subtract, add, subtract, and so on. The morning was a repeat of every other morning of the previous weeks. I took a lunch break and then went back to work, sure it was going to be another “scrape it all off” day again.

But then the magic started happening. I decided to try something I had been curious about, of using pattern created by my stencils in a more abstract way, and using large swaths of opaque color in combination with the patterns. Bingo!

Here is the painting that gave me a thrill, and hope again that I might have more good paintings in me.


So I’m off and running again. I look forward to going to my studio now instead of dreading it. I feel full of possibilities instead of feeling lost. I will remember this experience next time I get stuck. You’ve just got to keep showing up, no matter how daunting it might seem at times. The magic is there, you just have to be patient.