The Stress Before the Breakthrough

Recently, I found myself experiencing a great deal of stress before an event where I was to paint live, before an audience. Painting in front of a crowd is not new for me, and the stress before the event isn’t, either! Time and time again, I have all kind of preparations to make in addition to planning a piece. In the case of last night’s event, which was at a performing arts center, the beforehand prep was especially stressful. My husband and partner knows this side of my work, so he stays out of the way while I am getting ready for the good of our relationship!

Shen and the amazing singer, Ms. Hazel Miller, after painting her at a live event.
Shen and the amazing singer, Ms. Hazel Miller,
after painting her at a live event.

The other side of this, however, is an incredible breakthrough, part of which comes with the completion of an event (whew!!!) as well as the result of all the stress and prep–the completed painting. I don’t know about you, but I often expect things are going to be much, much more difficult than they usually turn out to be. I let myself get all up in the stress of the preparation and think that the set up and the execution will be far more demanding than they usually are! However, 99% of the time, things go smoother, because someone comes out of the woodwork to lend a helping hand or for some unexplained reason, or just because I simply show up, all goes swimmingly. As I have often tell my children, “a job well begun is half done.” This saying has often helped me get up and start a project or a painting, and before I know it, it is almost finished, most often with excellent results.

My mind can often be my worst enemy, but it can also bring great relief when the stress is behind me. I’m not sure, maybe it is something I will be able to transcend someday, but for the almost three decades I have been a professional artist, the stress before the painting has been my constant companion. I am not sure that I would want to go through this process without it, because the relief is part of the rush for me. You see, being an artist isn’t just about putting the brush to the canvas, it’s about the creative approach to all problems in life–finding an alternative solution to a problem in my life is solved with the same part of my brain and creativity that I use when I need to find a new approach to my next portrait painting so that my work continues to evolve and grow.

I suppose that’s why the stress is an important factor in my process. I am always trying something new before I know what the results will be. This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson has been a very helpful one for me because it speaks to the way I work, stress and all:

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.”

This morning I am filled with the joy and relaxation resulting from an event that went better than I could have hoped for. But I look forward to hearing about your experiences in dealing with stress in the life of an artist! I look forward to learning from you!


Related Posts:


The Artist's Life Blog

About Shen

Shen loves making the flat surface come to life and adding color to a world often seen only in shades of gray.  A professional artist and entrepreneur for over 25 years, she lives to discover new techniques, mix media, and make difficult concepts simple!  You will often find her painting live at events of all kinds to "wow" her audience.  Her work has been collected by celebrities, corporations and galleries spanning the globe.  She is also an art instructor and keynote speaker, speaking to artists about how to market themselves in new, fun and creative ways.  Shen lives in Vail, Co with her husband and 3 beautiful daughters ages 15, 3 and 1.  More of Shen's work may be viewed on her website,