Self Sabotage

“Teach yourself by your own mistakes.”

William Faulkner

Do you struggle with a self-sabotage compulsion with your artwork as I do? This goes way back. I remember being in high school and laboring over a tempera poster for an upcoming event. I worked hard detailing a figure in bright colorsthat glowed. Every line was laid down with perfection. It was almost done when I dumped a glass of water over the entire image. Tempera ran in rivulets over the page and my image was ruined. This week, I did a similar thing. I had painted a detailed landscape for an upcoming show and carelessly placed it on the floor ofmy studio. I then started working with acrylics, splattering color over thatpainting. As I looked at the floor, I realized I had splattered rust colored acrylic on the sky of my watercolor painting. Acrylic does not come off. The paintingappeared ruined. It seems there is something in me that wants to ruin the things I create. I have to guard against that impulse. I try to prevent disaster by eliminating potential damage-makers. No food or drink is allowed in my studio. I try to put my work in a safe place (sometimes). However, even with precautions I am often careless with a painting once it is underway. I should not have left the painting I was working on in a place where it could be spattered.Sometimes the self-sabotage takes another form. You have been preparing a painting for a show coming up for weeks. The entry day comes and you suddenly get a sick headache and cannot get to the appointed place to enter your painting. Or maybe you forget the day that it is due. Was this just a chance occurrence or did you somehow make it happen? What causes these self-sabotaging actions? Behind all of them is self-doubt. Self-doubt is the uncertainty of opinion or belief.

  •  Are you uncertain about the direction of quality of the artwork you’re presently doing?
  •  Are you uncertain about the reception your work will receive?
  •  Are you uncertain about the goodness of your past work?
  •   Are you uncertain about how to meet or manage the marketplace?

What you are is scared. You could be successful and not self-sabotaging if only you would let yourself do it. Tell yourself:  “I am allowed to nurture my artist” or “I am willing to learn to let myself create” or “my creativity leads me to forgiveness and self-forgiveness.” Recognize your self-sabotaging as what it is, a block to your creativity, and learn to overcome it.


I saved my watercolor by painting acrylic clouds over the spots.

Digging for Meaning

Do You Have Grit?