The Creative Cycle

I always thought I was the only one who experienced frustration and set-backs with my work. I’d look at everyone else’s pieces and think, “That looks so effortless for them. It must be nice to have it all together like that.”

I couldn’t understand how I could have skills and still make mistakes or run into a creative block. I would go through a project and doubt everything, all the while, working through my frustrations and hating everything I did.

I was and am my own worst critic.

Then, at the recent Houston Quilt Fest, I had a conversation with a friend who has won numerous awards for her outstanding work. As she explained the process of her current ribbon winner, I realized that she was describing the same frustration and anguish that I go through with my work.

Like me, she is her own worst critic.

It dawned on me that if someone this skilled and talented can get shaken by her own thoughts, then maybe we are all guilty of self-doubt about our work, and that no matter what anyone tells us about what we are doing, we sabotage our creativity by fabricating the demons that stalk the halls our own confidence.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the creative process is 99% of the fun. I personally think I thrive on the challenge of the frustration. I’ve always said that I am able to teach others because of my past mistakes.

When people see the finished product, they are only getting the tip of the iceberg. They don’t get to see the massive block of ice, under the water, that is the journey taken to get to the end. It’s the process that builds us as creative people.

 Henri Matisse once said, “A large part of the beauty of a picture arises from the struggle which an artist wages with his limited medium.”

Regardless of the medium, I think he was right.

Having said that, I have outlined the steps that I go through when taking on a project. These steps are interchangeable and can be revisited several times while working on something.

The Creative Cycle of Making Something

Unbridled Excitement 

You are beyond excited to start a new project. You’ve been inspired by something grand and you can’t wait to begin the planning and supply-gathering. You have a clear idea of where it will go and any issues you had with your last project are, but a distant memory.

Current mantra:

“A new victory is within sight and the sky’s the limit to my boundless creativity!”

Persistent Determination

As the project commences and you venture into the work, you run into a few snags and issues – nothing major, but your confidence in the project is now at about 92%. Still, it’s a good idea and you really want it to work. There are just minor setbacks and can be easily overcome with some more hard work.

Current mantra:

“I got the skills for this. I own it!”


Small mole-hills are becoming mountains and with every step you become more and more mired in fixes and on-the-spot engineering. At this point, you are second guessing every decision and doubt is settling into your creative process. You know you can get it done, but it’s just A LOT of work.

Current mantra:

“Did I just stitch that wrong? Dammit, where’s the seam ripper?”


What was once a fun has now become a complete chore and burden. You wonder why you ever started this terrible project and have no issue with balling it up and throwing it out the nearest window.

Current mantra:

“What’s the point of finishing it? Why did I go with this design? Who the Hell chose these colors? Is this real life? This thing is hideous.”

Determination Revisited

Come Hell or High water, you are finishing this damned thing. You don’t care if it kills you. You spent the money on the supplies, you’ve wasted countless hours on it and you will conquer this demon.

Current mantra:

“If I have to drag this contemptible pain-in-the-ass through Hell and back, IT WILL GET FINISHED!”


The damn thing is finished. All the mistakes are fixed, all of the second-guesses are quelled and for better or worse, you no longer have to work on it.

Current mantra:

“Where the Hell is that bottle of wine?”

Bittersweet Affection

 You know it was a ton of hard work and yes, it could have been made better, but everyone makes mistakes, right? It’s OK though. NO, it’s better than OK. You put you your best into it and regardless of what anyone thinks, it’s your baby and deserves a place of honor in the Pantheon of Awesome Projects. You just don’t want to have to look at it for a long time.

Your current mantra:

“I know there are mistakes on this thing, but if one person criticizes my baby, heads will roll! I’ll chalk this up to a learning experience for the next project because my next project is going to be AWESOME!!! I have the coolest idea for it!!”

I’m still in recovery mode from Quilt Fest, so updates will be sporadic, but it’s OK because I just started a new project and it’s going to be AMAZING!!! 😉

I’ll post pics as soon as I can.


5 thoughts on “The Creative Cycle

  1. Well written summary of the angst we all go through. It reminds me of “Art and Fear” which is an excellent description of artistic angst and so encouraging. I saw you several times at Festival and was unable to take the time to meet you-bummer! I loved your ensemble and truly was confused as to its placement-your work is exquisite with a truly unique voice.

  2. Oh my goodness gracious me! You certainly have captured the process. I’m at the “What’s the point of finishing it? Why did I go with this design? ….” phase on at least two of my competition projects right now. ROFL. But they will be amazing, I’m sure, at least amazing that I finished them,….when I finish them. 😀 Cheers

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