In my post today I thought I would share some wise and sage advice and guidance received from an academic mentor. I thought it was really awesome and seriously applicable in any of the life-situations we are often faced with, be it heartbreak, buying a house, doing your taxes or being a stay-at-home parent. But for all you artists out there, this is how you do it: hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I did.


Being enrolled in a parttime, distance learning art programme is extremely challenging at the best of times. One has to proceed without the constant support, guidance and the infrastructure that full-time students have. We, instead, have a tutor whom we see once a month, and have two, one week workshops/assessment blocks.

These often leave you feeling a bit lost, overwhelmed or terrified. Being in my third year now I now realize that it is perfectly normal to be feeling lost and overwhelmed, as well as terrified; anxious ALL the time! Doubt: not going to get through this year wondering why you are doing this degree when it feels like such torture? Suffering from insomnia, eating / smoking / sleeping more than usual to ease the terror, engaging in serious work avoidance behaviour such as:
– watching anything on TV
– running out to movies
– fixing that crack in the wall that has been in the house for over 5 years
– running to the fridge every 5 minutes
– phoning all your friends to catch up

This is work avoidance behaviour!!!

This is a result of anxiety and uncertainty of how to proceed.

It is totally normal and part of the creative process.

The first thing to do (YAY) is:

get some rest: take this coming weekend off to rest and recover. It is essential to take time to recover, so take a break, spend time with your family, catch up on your life etc all without feeling guilty. Keep a leash on it though, set a specific time as I have: one weekend!


Take a big deep breath
Draw up an action plan
Go over all the notes and lecture information sent to you from the workshop
Highlight any dates to diarise
Highlight leads / artists / books / sources to follow up on
Go over your workshop notes and follow up on those leads
Go over the assessment feedback as well as the notes that were taken on your behalf during your assessment:
Be honest with yourself regarding the effort you put in and the progress you have made
Make decisions on which suggestions from the feedback resonate with you / excite you. This is the path you need to follow.
Do lots of research on contemporary artists suggested (and others) as this will help you get ideas for your own work and help you understand the process of conceptualisation.
Do some brainstorming while you are research other visual artists
Sketch some ideas / possible solutions for your own work

At this stage, you have only been working in your workbook. This work takes at least one week if you are really engaged with the process.

So lets call this stage:

One: REGROUPING– (back to the drawing board) and requires you to step away from the actual work and reflect where you are at this specific time.

Moving to the next stage is going to provoke further anxiety and procrastination I warn you. This is normal. What is needed is that you get involved in the making to see if your ideas will actually work.

How do you this without being overwhelmed or without getting lost? I find that consciously going through process of conceptualisation helps me:

a) investigate the problem by collecting and selecting: visual and theoretical research and data.

b) analyse the data: follow this by speculation and incubation, which lead to you-

• Digesting  the information

• Thinking

c) llumination: Ideas will come to you

Now comes the crux of this stage, decision making.

Break the task into smaller  ones, beginning with preliminary tests: trial and error. Most importantly though there must be making coupled with critical thinking; ongoing investigation and questioning right the through the process.

As a mentor said:

Remember, that all your answers lie in the making, in the actual process of trouble-shooting and testing your ideas. You can wonder, speculate, sit and think, run to the fridge etc etc, but until you actually get down to it and stuck into the PROCESS of creativity, you will not find answers.

As soon as you start doing real, engaged work, your anxiety will disappear and you will start to feel excited and alive, even if you do not know all the answers and how this work will eventually turn out.

So lets call stage two:

Two: Conceptualizing and Making

How do you keep moving forward during this time of doubt?

Simple things like staying focused on the actual stages of the creative process and conceptualization will remind you of how to move forward during those times when you feel lost and anxious in the middle of making. Inspirational quotes, as cliche and trite as this might sound, around your house / in your car / bathroom / on your cell phone / on your computer screen help as well to lift your spirits.

Some of my favourites and most motivating are:

 Aristotle quotes: 

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honour.

I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.

Then quotes inspired by Eric Maisel’s teachings: 

Brave the anxiety (this is directly outside my studio door, sitting there to remind me not to run away from my desk but to move through the anxiety by doing the necessary work)

Work in the middle of things

One step at a time

Big deep breath: CENTER

I am equal to this challenge. I can do this. 


Then one of my all time favourites by Samuel Beckett:


Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

Learn to embrace your mistakes and all the opportunities they give you to learn and improve

Release any expectations of expected outcomes / marks etc and embrace the learning process

Have fun with your work

Get excited about your research

Work from the heart / work with your passion

Work from your own experience


In this process it is important that you, as a student-artist, learn how to make your own decisions and most importantly, to find your way through the muddle when you feel lost (not only is this inevitable, as it is part of the creative process, but this will happen many many more times ahead). Ideas and suggestions need to be tested through visual exploration to see if they will actually work practically…. Sometimes they don’t. Again this is the nature of the creative process.

Creativity is HARD WORK: it takes lots of time and sacrifice

Creativity involves TRIAL AND ERROR: make the necessary mistakes and learn from them

Creativity provokes ANXIETY: it requires you to take risks, explore the unknown, search deep within. This can all be very scary.