The art of anxiety by Tracey Flynn… aka how to face the blank page

I love my job. 

I’m a semi-abstract expressionist artist. That means that I create paintings and illustrations that don’t look like reality, but you can kind of tell what it is.

I love to create a painting for someone that expresses something they didn’t feel able to express for themselves. It’s a wonderful moment when a client sees their painting for the first time, they make a connection and they can’t hold back the emotion.

I love the conversation I have with the canvas as I paint.  I work out my frustrations with the world; some I didn’t know I had before I picked up the brush. I love that I get paid to turn some raw, unassuming materials into a colourful, soul-lifting image that I could lose myself in.

Yes, I love my job, but…it’s hard. Not like brain surgery is hard, but like breathing is hard if you actually concentrate on doing it and tell yourself you’ll die if you don’t get it right. Sometimes it’s not a wonderful conversation I have with the canvas, it’s a full-on fight.

I haven’t always been a professional artist.  I’ve been a fashion and textile designer, Easter egg decorator at a certain high street chocolatier, a radio presenter and producer, a documentary filmmaker and a screenwriter.  I’ve never understood, as someone with anxiety and a fear of judgment, why I would become a professional creative and put myself in a position where I repeatedly invite judgement, often daily. The self-imposed torture doesn’t make sense.

Four years ago, I quit screenwriting as my anxiety became so acute that I couldn’t work and I sought counselling. She suggested I find a task where I didn’t have pressure to create. I knew instantly she was not the right counsellor for me and understood less than I did. To avoid or blame creativity for my problem seemed absurd!

I pulled myself out of that black-hole depression by drawing continuous-line doodles. It was my way of reconnecting with the world; to stop, look and appreciate; to see order, strength and accomplishment; admire marks made by others and to take my place in amongst it all.

Doodles became sketches for paintings, a print shop on and the growing business I have today, including design projects, exhibitions and four-figure sales.

I have to create. It is how I engage with the world. I love my new job, but the anxiety hasn’t gone away.

In his book “Fearless Creating”, psychologist Dr Eric Maisel suggests that anxiety is integral to the creative process and we cannot be productive without it.  I’m beginning to understand what he means as I become more aware of my practice. Maybe I was so crippled by mine in the past because I’d not yet learnt how to work with it.

As creatives, we’re always striving to inhabit “the flow”; the mystical moments when all the stars align and the work is creating itself.  For me, I’ve noticed a pattern of calm and wildness that leads to somewhere better. It is my favourite place: Bold Town.

Unfortunately the road to Bold Town is unpleasant.  It feels like the worst day ever.

I had one of those days today. It was horrific for about two hours and then wondrous bliss!

I’m working on a painting for exhibition, which means it’s not a commission, but a calling card; a passion project that tells people what kind of artist I am.  Although it’s a piece that I can experiment with, there is pressure in the ultimate goal and I’m forever mindful of it.

I started off strong in the past week, but today, I hated it. Then I hated myself. I felt the rage rising. I took it out on flies that dared to cross me; (there are quite a few in my garden studio); I threatened to ditch this piece of s**t; I questioned my ability; I’m very unkind to myself in these moments. What on earth makes me believe I can do this?!  What is ultimately just one painting, turns into the demise of my whole career!

In my wrath and dejection, I’m not yet aware that magic is about to happen. I come to a crossroads: I could throw the canvas out, but the thought of wasting expensive materials makes me choose the other road. I have nothing left to lose. An alternative tool or material brings uninhibited energy and transforms the ordinary into something unexpected.

And just like that…


In Bold Town there is no self consciousness, no restraint. There is abandon and risk-taking; no second guessing, no judgment.  There is freedom. There is true creativity. I make my best work in Bold Town.  The more often I visit, the less painful the journey as I grow to recognise the route.

In talking to other creatives, I’ve noticed that we’ve often battled throughout our lives to communicate in the traditional way: through conversation. We’ve always felt, on some level, misunderstood. Therefore we strive to find a way that works for us. We’ve discovered along the way that making something scary, funny, yummy, thought-provoking or moving works to make people listen.  Ultimately we all want to be heard.

When I was younger, I struggled to attract attention with my voice.  I couldn’t verbally raise a question, offer a solution or comfort, yet a piece of artwork could gain the attention of a whole room without me even being there. Through art [whichever discipline we choose] we’re communicating, telling the world what kind of people we should be.

I want to be connected, joyful, respectful of the past and, above all, bold. Therefore, I am learning, I must embrace the anxiety.

Discover more about Tracey Flynn’s art at
Search Art by Flynn on
Follow her on Instagram @artbyflynn_uk

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