The Artist Block September 25, 2018

“Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper

until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Gene Fowler, as quoted in “Art & Fear”

by David Bayles and Ted Orland


As a Gallery owner, I am often witnessing one of our artists going through some type of block to their artmaking. I thought I understood it fairly well, even though my own blocks seemed, temporarily, relaxed in the balm of forgetfulness. I am also an art seller now and the work practices, production and timing of our artists are important to the schedule, flow and inspiration at the Gallery.


Now I am writing again, and I have become one of my artists, experiencing a block.


There’s no planning for the dry periods, changes in direction, or personal growth shifts that happen in any of us, never mind in artists. But most of us do know they are inevitable and have been told so often that artists’ natures are to shift and change. When it does happen, production of work can stall, end, change directions, and all hell can break loose mentally.


Having twenty-five artists to work with certainly helps manage expectations of the ebbs and flows of our artist’s output for PEG. But there have been times, of course, when I’ve thought of a terrific exhibition only to find that a key member of the recipe is not creating at the moment or has decided to carve chess boards instead of paint landscapes.


Taking a pause and quitting are two different things entirely in the life of an artist.


“Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping.

The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens only once.

Quitting means not starting again—and art is all about starting again.”

(Art & Fear, underline mine)


Very few of PEG’s artists have quit artmaking entirely, but many have been or are in pauses. Stopping, in order to pick up somewhere else, is a change in direction. This change may harbor the seed ideas for your next masterpiece, or it may take you down a road you will eventually stop and move on from. A change in direction can cause Galleries to move on as well. If I have had success in selling a particular artist’s work, I will wait it out. Often, the stop will eventually lead to work that fits the mission of the Gallery again. Our goal at PEG is to follow the threads and trends of new artists, while maintaining close, helpful relationships with our current working artists. We’re not perfect, and often our gaze does flit from shiny penny to shiny dime, but our vision is to be a working family of artists to sell.


The hope is always that the shift will not cause artists to quit.


“Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail.

And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work—

for the place their work belongs.”

(Art & Fear)


Belonging matters to us all.


Recently, I have heard myself answer when asked, that I no longer paint. I have been getting my education in modern art these past four years. I have been learning to interpret and translate other artists stories to the public, who I believe is like a sponge ready to sop it all up. PEG as a tremendous quality of art for sale. Of course the inevitable question to myself as a painter has been: Do I have more to say on the canvas? Because I sell such good art at the Gallery, have I talked myself out of a place at the table…? Have I stopped or quit?


Right now, I don’t have the voice to speak a painting into life. I don’t have a space to paint in. I kept trying, a little, and kept stopping, a lot, and finally, when recently we moved our home, I decided that the tiny spare room would be my writing room, not a painting studio. My paints and canvases are in the basement. The thirty or so canvases I felt were worth keeping, remain in a storage unit, paid for month after month in an on-going currency of quiet desperation: who wants these? Who will ever want these?


Perhaps the last four years of running PEG, and having this conversation so often with myself about my own artistic path, were meant to lead me exactly here. Perhaps there is nothing whatever to worry about and these changes are bringing me back to my own first love—or my next true love.


“What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue;

those who don’t, quit.

Each step in the artmaking process puts that issue to the test.”

 (Art & Fear)


I did not get rid of my art supplies. And as I write this essay I am making promises to myself that I will paint again. It is only ever fear that causes these doubts and despairingly down ideas to take hold. I have turned toward writing again. What is drawing me is that recurring dream of writing my Book of Life. I want more than anything to fulfill the calling, whatever that may be; to use the voice that was given me; to speak out and up for what lives inside.

Who has not sat at a blank page or canvas or dance floor and watched the blood dropping from their foreheads? My job as an artist is to take myself the artist into the fold and family that PEG has created for her beloved and revered artists—nurturing the voices; encouraging us through the stops; never doubting the return, better than ever.


I’d like to invite you into a Family of Artists with me. A Family which nurtures the nature of creativity and believes that stops lead to starts and great works of art. Speak clearly. Mind your heart. Write your story. Paint your dreams.

We are listening….


Love and Love to you,

Paula Estey

Paula Estey