Control, Frustration and My Creative Process


Control is the antithesis to the way I like to work.

For the sake of this post, here's an over-simplified version of what my process looks like:

I approach each piece with no plan, no preconceived idea of how it will turn out, and follow what feels good in the moment. I act from intuition. Each mark, brushstroke and color choice is a subtle reaction to the one that happened before it.

I get to be playful, get into my flow and above all, just be myself as I am in the moment.


When you venture to create in this way you are giving up any control you might have had of what will happen. While this is amazing and freeing and full of surprises, it's also disorienting. Giving up control tends to rub up against our human instincts.

These past few weeks I've been experiencing an extra heavy dose of frustration, feelings of inadequacy, and stuck-ness in my art practice.

While these feelings are as inevitable as they are valuable to the creative process, the whole thing's got me wondering: Where are they coming from?

Almost all of it can be traced back to an urge to control.

I'm realizing that when I start to feel tense it's because I've stepped into the driver's seat and grabbed the wheel. I'm trying to dictate what my style will be today or where a piece will go. I want to make my style more innovative. I want to make look like I went to art school and I like know what I'm doing.

My energy becomes that of forcing instead of allowing.

So, what's up with this? And why is it happening more often than usual?

Well, it's not at all surprising that when I'm seeking control in my life I seek it in my art practice as well.

I choose to paint in the same way that I want to live my life: intuitive, surrendered, in the flow. What does and does not work in my life is often mirrored back to me (almost exactly) in my painting world.

Spoiler: Trying to control things doesn't go over well in either arena.

What is it about control and this intuitive process that are so inherently incompatible? Why does trying to make a piece "good" bring so much frustration to the process? Why does dictating the destination cause such an issue for me and my paints?

Here's why.

My intention for making art is to communicate my truth, to be authentic and to learn more about myself by actualizing that "self" on canvas.

Doing this isn't about deciding what I want it to look like. It's about discovering what it looks like. It's about being curious, aligning with all of the above and simply allowing it to be what it is.

In this way, I'm not choosing what I want to create, but my creations are choosing me.

Cool, right?


Here's where this process can get even more difficult. My truth is not always pretty. In fact, a lot of the time it's angry, ugly, sad, emotional and dark. And my truth does not always show up in a cohesive style, either (which might actually be the thing that frustrates me the most).

But if I'm committing to being authentic in my process, to showing up for the moment, I can't block out the stuff I don't want and only channel what I think looks nice.

It's important to embrace all of it.

This runs pretty parallel to life. If we disown the parts of ourselves we don't like, if we don't give them the space to breathe, if we fight the moments and phases that are less than desirable, we're going to end up frustrated. Living life will start to feel like fighting life.

The more I deepen my relationship to the creative process and to painting intuitively, the more I realize that the whole thing is really the art of allowing.

The best antidote I know for that sneaky urge to control is surrender.

It's about trusting that what comes out does so for a reason and has a purpose. Trusting that if we follow the thread of intuition, we will be pleasantly surprised. When we do this, the end result will often look and feel so much better than we could've imagined.

And in terms of all the ugly, non-cohesive things that want to come out? They can just be for me. Not everything has to be a finished piece. Not everything has to be shared on Instagram (...guilty).

I'm curious about you other creatives out there. Does trying to control your creative process create tension and frustration? Or, do you create in a style or medium in which an element of control is essential and necessary? Let me know in the comments!


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