The value of creative frustration - why it's a good thing if you're getting stuck and infuriated with your paintings and what to do about it. :)

{Heads up: there’s swearing in this post. I don’t often swear online, but sometimes the topic requires it. ;)}

After I returned from the epic road trip last month, I found myself swept up in an unexpected period of hardcore creativity with an intensity that’s unusual even for me.

For about two weeks I needed less sleep, stopped reading or watching anything, and was laser-beam-focused on making. I needed zero downtime. I ‘lost’ a whole week and even now couldn’t tell you what exactly happened. More accurate perhaps to say that I lost myself for a week, in the best possible way.

Part of it was due to starting the 100 Day Project, and part of it was catalysed by the trip. Suddenly everything became about upgrading on every level – my work, my offerings, my art – and it was as though the path had been cleared so it could happen very fast and intensively.

I started cleaning and refining the website, making things easier and more visually appealing to use for visitors, updating posts and making things more consistent.

I found myself diving into new ideas and plans for expanding my visibility, in particular using Pinterest and Instagram.

I started writing a new course that’s been percolating in me for a couple of years {more on that soon!}.

I lived and breathed creation. Even my dreams at night changed.

So, you know, intense! I loved every second of it. I wished it could be like that all the time, even while knowing that wouldn’t happen or be sustainable. That feeling of focus and infinite creative potential is intoxicating.

And then it went away.

Of course I’ve been here many times. The frenzy followed by the dip. The euphoria that has to give way to the calm.

I used to worry it was ominously significant, which is hilarious really, given that it’s woven into the fabric of who I am.

Anyway, I felt the wave cresting and then starting to fold, and I tried to stay conscious of it as part of the cycle and not start labelling it as something I didn’t like, or ‘shouldn’t’ be happening.

Which kind of worked, but not entirely.

I noticed a little of the energy had gone out of the online and course creating. And then it dropped off in the studio. That was the kicker.

There just isn’t anything quite like experiencing flow in the studio for me. Perhaps because it’s not a daily occurrence so I want to hold onto it when it happens, which of course is the best way to chase it away.

Where I’d been putting brush {or charcoal, or oil bars} to canvas and finding every mark coming out as if preordained, suddenly it felt sticky and slow; each thing I did looked and felt wrong. It started to get more and more frustrating.

I began to feel a bit resentful of the 100 Day Project, in spite of the fact that it was my choice to do it!

Then I started feeling like I just couldn’t remember how to paint, and became frustrated with the awkwardness of every mark and the complete loss of flow.

That’s when I made the discovery that creative frustration is an absolute gift.

I knew this before really, but it carried a new clarity this time around, one that I think will stand me in good stead. I would be right there in the thick of it, getting more and more frustrated, and I’d reach a point I started calling the ‘fuck it point’.

You’re probably familiar with it. 😉 In your head it sounds something like, “Oh for fuck’s sake, this is a disaster, I’m shit at art, I can’t do this, what happened to all that flow last week? What is going on?! Why don’t I know what to do? Why isn’t this fun any more? Waaaaa.” 

And then just at the crescendo, I’d stop caring. What I was doing would be so uncomfortable and unpleasing to me I’d tip over the edge into, “Well I might as well just do a big swipe across here now since it’s all gone to shit and can’t get any worse”. 

And I’d start making bolder marks and more reckless choices, using the energy generated by the release of caring any more what happened.

And then – surprise; I’d make something I liked, or I’d discover a new-to-me mark, or have a new idea, or it would just start to fall together and the feeling of flow would begin to return.

In a way this is all rather obvious.

But at the same time I think we come across opportunities to learn repeatedly, and it can sometimes take many times for it to finally drop through and integrate. This was a drop through moment for me.

It doesn’t mean I’ll now always feel zen about the frustration! But it is a new tool, and a powerful one.

The work I’ve been making since discovering what happens on the other side of the fuck it point has been satisfying and interesting in both process and outcome in new ways for me.

New ideas are coming in, and although I’m not back in the Creative Intensity Zone, enough flow returned that I’m cruising at an even pace right now, and enjoying the challenges the frustration brings.

I’m calling that a win.

What do you do with creative frustration? Has anything interesting happened on the other side of it for you? Tell me in the comments!