Why lack of clarity is destroying your creative confidence

Why lack of clarity is destroying your creative confidence

This is the story of Janie.

Janie has just celebrated her 57th birthday. She’s an ‘aspiring’ textile artist. ‘Aspiring’ because she tends to ‘look’ rather than ‘do’.

She spends hours browsing textile art online and ends up beating herself up for not being as skilled as the ‘professionals’.

She’s filled with insecurities about not having a formal art training.

She wishes she’d found her passion earlier in life.

Even when she does get around to making something, Janie’s approach is tentative. She’s nervous and confused about making the first marks. And she often loses faith in what she’s doing halfway through and gives up.

And on the rare occasions she sees a piece through to completion, she wouldn’t dare show it to anyone outside her immediate circle because she’s not ready. The work isn’t good enough yet. Other people would hate it.

So what’s holding Janie back? On the face of it…

Lack of confidence.

But let’s dig a little deeper.


At the next junction…

Imagine you’re going on a long car journey in a foreign land. Somewhere you’ve never been before.

You know that it’s 100 miles to your destination; a small village buried deep in the mountains.

But you only have a vague idea which direction to head in.

And there are infinite possible routes.

It’s mid winter and the fog is thick.

You’re alone.

No map. No GPS. No phone.

How optimistic do you feel about starting out on that journey?

You see without clarity, it’s very difficult to be confident.


Joanna Kinnersly-Taylor: A Thread Runs Through It

Joanna Kinnersly-Taylor: A Thread Runs Through It

Decisions, decisions

It can be tough for an artist to accept that clarity is empowering. Words like ‘open’, ‘free’, ‘eclectic’ have become synonymous with creativity.

But you don’t need to sacrifice being open, free and eclectic simply because you have a clear path forward. In fact, a clear path forward can help you become more open, free and eclectic.

So, where does clarity come from?

Brace yourself. I’m about to throw in two more words that have the potential to send a lot of artists running for the hills; rules and guidelines!

Author of the popular Dyeing and Screen Printing on Textiles, Joanna Kinnersly-Taylor told us that at first she resisted what felt like a ‘formal’ approach to making. But when she embraced ‘structure’ in the development of her work, she found it ‘strangely energising’:

“There is so much to work out when generating ideas and a ‘system’ can really help to focus, define and shape complex thoughts”.

Self-imposed rules and guidelines are formed by making strong and sometimes painful choices about your process. Which influences to dismiss. Which techniques to set aside. Which materials to donate to charity!

Tough decision-making can help bring clarity to every stage of the making process.

Check out the freebie we made to go along with this article. It’s called How eight textile artists find clarity in their process and you can download it by clicking on the big yellow banner below.

Click here to subscribe


Shona Skinner: Low Winter Sun, West Sandwick, 2017

Shona Skinner: Low Winter Sun, West Sandwick, 2017

Clarity helps you find inspiration

Seeking inspiration everywhere can make you blind to seeing it anywhere! But making decisions about where to seek inspiration can unveil possibilities. Even a seemingly limited subject can produce huge bodies of work.

Free machine embroiderer Shona Skinner doesn’t create work inspired by nature. Or even landscapes in general. The source for every piece she makes is much more specific.

“I am fortunate enough to live on the stunning island of Yell in Shetland. The light up here is very vivid and constantly changing and that is what inspires all my work.”

Being specific and clear about you sphere of influence can galvanise the creative process.


Ruth Lee: Mermaid Tail

Ruth Lee: Mermaid Tail

Clarity shows you how to start

Ever been in that awful state where making the first marks feels like torture? That’s something we discussed in detail in the article Diagnosis: Artistic Paralysis.

A crippling insecurity about the best way to begin often comes from having a seemingly endless amount of options. Which leads to being confused and overwhelmed. Which makes it almost impossible to get started.

Making bold choices early on can be tough but very worthwhile.

Textile artist and former lecturer at Cumbria University Ruth Lee spoke to us about her process:

“I usually have far too many starting points and it’s essential for me to sift and refine down to find my focus”.

Clarifying by paring down gives Ruth the impetus to begin. And the confidence to continue.


 

Dee Thomas: Woodland Observation

Dee Thomas: Woodland Observation

Clarity makes you more productive

Having a clear goal, a direction for a piece or a series of work, drives you forward. When you plan how to reach that goal, you have markers to hit along the way. And when you hit those markers, you’re empowered to forge ahead.

Without that clear end in sight, staying on track can become a struggle as textile artist Dee Thomas knows:

“Without the discipline of a project and deadline my work tends to stay unfinished, I procrastinate and become even more of a butterfly jumping between ideas constantly!”

But with a definite objective to aim for, artists achieve amazing things. My mum, Sue Stone, was asked to exhibit at the Knitting and Stitching Show in 2016 and gave herself the task of documenting her entire life in stitch! She made 63 self portraits, an 18-piece family tree and 2 larger pieces in less than a year.

Being specific about what she wanted to achieve, in what timeframe and for what purpose, brought clarity to Sue’s process.


Clarity frees you to be more inventive

Have you ever seen a child playing with a handful of LEGO bricks? A limited repertoire of piece types holds the potential for an unlimited range of constructions; a pirate ship, a school bus, a cheese burger…And yet inherent in the building blocks are rules; they’re attached vertically and at very specific points. The rules are what fuel the possibilities.

As we discussed in our recent article exploring how 6 incredible practitioners use a few simple stitches to create intricate areas of pattern and texture, having clarity in your techniques can empower you to make bolder choices with them.

Clarity can be especially important in the experimentation phase. Aimless ‘play’ with unlimited materials and random processes can be fun and will sometimes reveal interesting discoveries, but there’s a huge element of chance involved.

When you have clear boundaries around tools, materials and techniques, you can find the most creative ways of pushing those boundaries.


Susan Hotchkis: Once

Susan Hotchkis: Once

Clarity offers solutions

What happens when you hit a roadblock in the middle of the creative process? When something isn’t working.

If you have a plan, you can adjust it. If you have rules, you can break them. Without any of that structure, you could find yourself scrabbling around for the best solution, never feeling sure you’re making the right choice.

Even perceived failure can be overcome if you use it to bring clarity to you process.

Susan Hotchkis, who has exhibited her abstract forms all over the world told us:

“I might spend a lot of time on a piece only to be dissatisfied and turn to something else which almost immediately works. This second piece is of no less value just because it took less time; it happened as a consequence of the work that failed. The work that gave me the clarity I was seeking.”


So, let’s go back to Janie for a second.

If Janie started to make some conscious choices about the way she approaches her textile art, she could bring a new level of clarity to her process. As well as enjoying a heightened sense of focus and greater productivity, she’d find more inventive ways of bringing her newly defined vision to reality.

And what of the hang-ups about not being good enough? The feeling that her work doesn’t meet the standard of her peers? Let’s be honest. Those thoughts aren’t going to disappear over night.

Finding faith in yourself as an artist is an ongoing journey. But every step you take, no matter how small, is a step on that journey.

Finding clarity in your process will help you ensure you’re stepping in the right direction!


We’ve got help with HOW to find clarity when experimenting with textiles coming up soon. In the meantime, why not tell us in the comments section which part of the creative process you struggle with?

Saturday 24th, June 2017 / 14:08
Joe

About the author

Joseph Pitcher is the son of textile artist Sue Stone. He is an actor and voice-over artist and has worked at the RSC, the National Theatre, West End theatres and several other leading regional venues across the UK. Find Joe on Google

View all articles by Joe

31 Comments on “Why lack of clarity is destroying your creative confidence

  • I am not a textile artist. i can hardly call myself an artist of any sort these days as I don’t even make my greeting cards anymore but I related to everything in this article and found it so inspiring. Whether I get off my arse and do something is another matter but thank you anyway. 🙂

    Reply
  • JANIE IS ME! Even the same age…I volunteer in a scrapstore and have access to an almost infinitely random stream of donations, a selection of which make their way into my ‘possibles’ collection. Having planned the next twenty projects roughly in my head, another batch of goodies comes in and shunts all ideas along a bit, not many of them getting made, despite being at a part of my life when I have plenty of time. Fear is definitely a factor: of wasting materials (even though I have come by many of them at low or no cost…), looking for originality and having spent a long time online, fearing all the really good work has already been made, fear of making a knick-knack rather than something that actually represents a real stage of my creative understanding. I do knock off quick makes for the scrapstore to stimulate others to take the materials and try the idea for themselves, and I am utterly fearless in this, knowing that the thing will be left anonymously in the store and I do not have to justify it in any way. It is nice working in the store and overhearing positive comments about my pieces when I walk past. And more ambitious things that didn’t quite come off end up on the walls of the store too, or left as items to take away to incorporate into pieces of their own (these always go really quickly…) So my own lack of focus is casting out some creative ripples but it doesn’t really help with that ‘blank page’ feeling. I am distracting myself by rearranging/redecorating my worksoom but the time will come when it is just me, no excuses left and a desperate need to get – something – out. ARRRGGGHHH!! Thanks for your wonderful articles, they are great and are certainly offering some help and the knowledge that none of us are alone in this floundering. Hope to offer something more positive myself soon…

    Reply
    • Joe

      Hi Helen – sounds like you’re overwhelmed by the options! How can you purge your stash a little? Focus on one thing at a time? It’s really tough I know not to become distracted by new possibilities, but sometimes it’s necessary to stay the course with just 1 small project and then another small project…Momentum can be a wonderful motivator. Thank you so much for being part of the TextileArtist.org community. Joe

      Reply
    • Hi Helen
      I’ve been reading about neuroscience lately and discovered that we can only hold 3 or 4 things in our head at once.
      Jot down ideas and quick sketches no matter how rough to remind you when you get back to it. Leave the notebook open in your workroom.
      It sounds like you are still being creative doing the smaller pieces. How about putting a few together into something larger?
      Just have fun

      Reply
  • Thank you guys, once again you have been reading my anxst diary. Clarity is the biggest issue on a regular basis for sooo many creatives.
    However, since you started this latest series based around paralysis and finding ones way, I find myself beginning to reconnect with my work, feeling clearer, stronger and finally refocused. Pleased be encouraged to keep going down this brave path and challenging preconceived notions of what is in reality, fear induced inaction.

    Reply
  • Wow! Again a “hit the target article”! This really pertains to all types of artwork-I weave and also paint oil on porcelain. Thank you for clarifying so very much!

    Reply
  • Thank you for a wonderful article. I can so relate to this! A group of us decided to take a shoe box fill it with only those supplies we would want to have if we were on a desert island and only work from those supplies. By doing this I found clarity, I was limited to the supplies I had on hand, so I became more creative with them!

    Reply
  • I, too, am Janie. But after many years of searching for a path and exploring and talking about wanting to do it and reading your stories — I broke down the first barrier.
    I think the impetus finally came from the Artistic Paralysis article and another piece by fiber artist Leisa Rich in which she advised: Make work. Make that work constantly. I copied her full quote on a sheet of paper and kept it in front of me.
    I already had the plan, from Barbara Sher’s excellent books including “It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now” of working just 5 minutes a day, but every day, on stitching.
    The trouble was not knowing where to start when all my visions are so grand. Sher urges us to find the part you love most about what you like doing, and do that every day if only for five minutes.
    So I got a fabric scrap from the basket and put it in an embroidery hoop. Had no idea where it was going. Used leftover emroidery thread and began to stitch. Before long a complete idea occured and I ended up sketching it.
    I’m doing it freehand – it’s just a practice piece, I call it my Ode to Imperfection – and the stitches are inconsistent and the spacing is off and it’s not symmetrical like it should be … but It’s recognizable and I’m learning and most important I’m stitching every day and it makes me happy.

    Reply
    • Thanks for this LC! I have the worst time getting started too. I have so many things I dabble in. I love the “Make Work” advice!

      Reply
  • I see people struggling with this a lot and although I am not actively creating at this time, know what it feels like to have ideas and then get sidetracked on its execution… The most “successful” artists that I see tend to work in series and I think that helps flush an idea out. As you work on something, a variation might surface and having a series helps explore where that can go and in the exploration, clarity develops.

    Working on a smaller scale also helps people achieve workable goals. I really like working big, but it takes time, which I have little of, so having smaller projects that can be finished helps me move forward. And, if an idea doesn’t translate well into its execution, there isn’t a huge investment of time or materials. A smaller piece that goes well can lead to larger works once that clarity has been found, too.

    Worrying about what other people will think is a waste of time. The process of making should give the maker pleasure. There is a relationship that happens between the person and the materials, a conversation of back and forth that only happens when the maker let’s go of outside thoughts and plunges into the discovery of how something takes shape. This is the closest I have come to truly experiencing prayer or meditation. I can “pray”, say the right words, but it usually feels shallow to me, while engaging with materials and letting them speak takes me to a different space where a special chemistry starts happening. One of the joys of what we do is that we can use similar materials and processes and translate them into something completely new. So, let go of judgment and worry and let the Muse take over! 🙂

    Reply
  • What an excellent article. I began tapestry weaving nearly two years ago. I’d never articulated my journey so far, even to myself. I recognise everything you’ve written and illustrated. I know where I’m going. Thank you for an excellent and well considered article.

    Reply
  • Averil Stuart-Head

    Thanks guys, I wrote about this very topic years ago on my blog. Long story short. Found a house, with studio on ground floor. 2 years house and studio renovation. Finally, my first REAL space all set up, shelves full of collected materials, books, paints, fabrics. Well you know, I walked around, patted and stroked all my lovely stuff, read my books. All these years of waiting to be in this place and I didn’t have a bloody clue where to start. This went on for ages. I got really down, like Janie.
    This was my method to get started. I spied a piece I really liked in a mag and dissected it. Yes, I sort of copied. Get the darks down, then the other tones etc. I was so timid, even though I’d been a traditional quiltmaker for years. My finished piece didn’t look anything like the one in the mag, as my own creativity took over, but it made me look at structure and clarity instead of going blind, so to speak.
    Great subject guys. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • Picasso said “good artists copy, great artists steal” i.e. we all inspire each other throughout history. Copying an old master is a standard lesson in oil painting: it will never be the same and nor is it meant to be, it becomes our “own”.
      Unless you are a forger, which none of us are!!!

      Reply
  • This is the best article I’ve read in ages. I so agree. A number of years ago, an English embroiderer wrote an article on the ‘Butterfly Effect’ – where people feel the need to buy the latest gadget or engage with the latest fad technique. As a teacher/exhibiting artist I see this so much, yet these same people wonder why their work isn’t going anywhere. It’s hard work being an artist – I don’t stop – but you do it because you love it and the process and systems you establish gets you through. Having boundaries is a huge part of any artistic endeavour. Well done.

    Reply
    • My friend and I went to a quilt show recently and agreed that we wouldn’t buy anything that didn’t support the sewing we are presently working on. No looking at mosaic making, or art materials or even ‘just because I like them’ fabrics! I came away with two reels of thread only in colours I’d been searching for, for my latest work. It felt good. I still thoroughly enjoyed the show.

      Reply
  • Joanne Agioritis

    I recognise myself in this article. I have many started and then abandoned projects. It idea of having a process appeals to me so I hope you can lead me on. It seems that the only pieces that I finish are ones with a purpose , for example a piece made for my son’s new house. Thanks for your articles they are giving me the structure that I need .

    Reply
  • My goal is to have all of my supplies fit into a walk in closet. I do my best work with limited materials. I have tried several “art techniques” over the years, collected the materials for those techniques and have them sit in a box or on a shelf. I always go back to needle and thread. When I go back to my basics, I create more. I’m still purging, but purging is good.

    Reply
  • Brilliant article. Just what I needed. My trouble is I am besotted with crafts. I Eco-dye, weave, embroider, paper mâché, knit and occasionally mosaic. This means I tend to lurch from one to the other and have literally dozens of ideas for each craft. It also means finishing anything is a problem. I will look forward to your next article eagerly!

    Reply
  • Amazing… you have me (us all?) sussed. I can identify entirely with “Janie” and I have really found it difficult to stick to any one medium, or complete any one project, this is perfectly timed for me so I am looking forward to reading more.

    I am a collector and hoarder of mediums and the thought of getting rid of anything brings me out in a cold sweat… interesting journey ahead me thinks!

    Reply
  • I’m 74. I completed my City and Guilds in Patchwork and Quilting approx. 10 years ago which opened my eyes to a multitude of directions I could follow. All these years
    later I’m still floundering unable to focus on a style, subject matter or technique. I tend to dwell on techniques before even having any idea of what the piece will portray or represent and often influenced by someone else’s work. All the above comments describe my angst to a T. This week I am tidying up my muddled sewing room with all its art materials and ‘stuff’ which I’ve collected. Hopefully doing this and reading these articles will CLARIFY what I do in the future. Thank you everyone for sharing your anxieties.

    Reply
  • Thanks for this fantastic article. I’m just starting my journey as an independent artist but really struggle with focus. Coaching and mentoring opportunities would be fantastic to find, that aren’t part of a structured course. Maybe Textileartist.org could start offering them?! Or worksheets etc that help people narrow down and get stuck into exploring one subject/technique etc.

    Reply
  • Thanks for this series of excellent articles. They have really helped me focus down and came just at the right time for me. Reading the comments has been good too, knowing that many others face the same problems and they can be resolved is very encouraging.
    The most encouraging part was seeing an article which basically tells me that my unfocused thoughts about say simplified technique, going deep, was on the right lines. It has certainly helped me move forward from what could have become a paralysis of crisis.

    Reply
  • On point article. Thanks! The focus you describe was a challenge for me as I moved from being a crafter, interested in many things and techniques, to an artist setting my own parameters. Without the benefit, (it IS a benefit, most of the time) of art school, I had some excellent workshop experiences with some well known, respected and successful teachers. While each provided a tidbit of skill that I use today in my work, what relates to this article is the sense of boundaries the class assignments had. With the blank slate in front of us, the teacher would provide a set of instructions that set the requirements of the design exercise, but not the how to’s in accomplishing it. Each person in the class completed the exercise in her own way. It was eye-opening to me to see how original work emerges from the essential limits one sets on oneself. I’ve seen artists use this concept in many different ways, and call it different names, but it is invaluable in moving forward, at least for me. Thank you for publishing this article.

    Reply
  • Gracias por el artículo y los comentarios.
    Me ayudan mucho para verme a mi misma y tomar decisiones que me permitan avanzar en este camino del arte textil

    Reply
  • I am another Jane and just starting, I am 56. I have read all the comments and can clearly submit to them all. I brought my anxiety and pressure down by giving myself the task to “freewheel” before “making art”. This took the pressure of and made me literally feel what I was doing. Now, if the going gets tough I go back to this and enjoy a while the feeling of the cloth, the rhythm of the needle and the sushing sound of the thread without plan. I use very soft fabric, worn and washed a hundred times and nearly threadbare. It is soothingly soft and pliable and it calmes me. Nothing more. I discovered that also my cat responded, sat aside from me, purring and lying completely relaxed. That helped to. When vague ideas come up I put them on paper with some text about what I want to express. Even after a longer time when I look them through my goal comes right up. Many times with a sudden idea of what technique, colours etc. I will make them. For me this more intuitive way is right. Thinking rationally won’t do it because I get stuck in the pitfalls that are so clearly described by others. I know them all.

    Reply
  • This article may have just saved my life. Your article doesn’t just explain my creative paralysis but my entire world, my life. Thank you so much for writing this. You have no idea how this article just changed my thoughts…

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hello and welcome to TextileArtist.org

TextileArtist.org is a place for textile artists and art enthusiasts to be inspired, learn from the best, promote their work and communicate with like-minded creatives.

From the bookshelf

What the artists say

"Textileartist.org is an invaluable resource. I am constantly sending students there and sharing it with other practitioners".

Nigel Cheney
Lecturer in Embroidered Textiles at NCAD

"The beauty of TextileArtist.org is that whenever you visit you'll discover something that you didn't already know".

Rachel Parker
Textile Study Group Graduate of the year 2012

"TextileArtist.org gives contemporary textile practice a voice; leading artists, useful guides and a forum for textiles".

Cas Holmes
Textile Artist and teacher

"This website is exactly what we need in the textiles world. A fantastic inspirational resource".

Carol Naylor
Textile and Embroidery Artist

  Get updates from TextileArtist.org via RSS or Email

Most Viewed

Get our free guide: The Creative Path

  • 20 Top Textile and Fiber Artists Share their Creative Secrets
  • Learn how professional artists beat procrastination, boost their productivity and consistently put their ideas into action with our brand new guide The Creative Path.