One brushstroke at a time

Overcoming fear, one brushstroke at a time, stuart bush, stuart bush studio, contemporary artist

Overcoming fear by taking one brushstroke at a time

I want to share with you, a story about how I overcame my biggest obstacle and my biggest fear. As I look back to when I finished my post-graduate course in Fine Art in 2007, aged 29 years, I am still surprised how naive I was. I thought I only needed to display my artwork in a proper gallery, it would be seen by someone in the know, and I would be an overnight success. 

How wrong can I get it!  I realise there is no such thing ‘god’s gift’. Unsurprisingly quick success didn’t happen. Instead, shortly after graduation, I had a massive amount of self-doubt and procrastination. 

What I should have done to become successful as an artist, was to keep going to the studio and keep working. But instead, I felt the need to stop and reflect. Overthinking got out of control and became a massive obstacle. I knew it was the wrong thing to do, but I couldn’t stop myself as I was unsure of where I was heading.  

stuart bush studio, you don't understand me, the soho strut series, stuart bush prints, stuart bush artwork, overcoming fear,
©Stuart Bush, You Don’t Understand Me, The Soho Strut Series part 1-4, gouache on paper

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I decided to follow the advice l received during and after art school and I started to promote myself. I looked into all possible opportunities to get my work seen, and that took me further and further away from creating work. 

In the following years, I entered my paintings into juried art shows and open submissions. I emailed images, completed forms, entered my credit card details and applied for funding. Eventually, I learnt to ask myself; does this opportunity contribute towards my goals? Will I accomplish what I want from this exhibition? But most of the time I said yes to every opportunity.  

Like many artists that came before me, and many the artists that will come after me, I wanted to climb the highest mountain. I still do. However, at that time, I wasn’t entirely sure why I was trying to climb the mountain. I just felt the need to climb any mountain. I was moving forward with getting my work out there. However, l was not showing my real passion through my work.  

Stuart Bush Studio, No bodies fault, one brushstroke at a time
©Stuart Bush, Nobodies fault, oil on board 70.2 x 50.4 x 3.6cm

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realise now I was craving recognition because I needed to have a positive outlook to keep me afloat. All I knew was that l wanted to be an artist and break the starving artist myth. I knew I would never give up, and I was on this path for the rest of my life. Luckily I also started to realise there was no rush to get there and I needed to get back to putting the work first.  

There were at least ten different directions to take and mountains to climb. Obviously, it clearly helps to know which mountain you want to climb. After all, you don’t want to waste time climbing the wrong one. So I opened my eyes to a wider variety of approaches.  

So there l was at the foot of a mountain. Unfortunately, my mind continued to overthink, like the fastest of supercomputers. My mind worried about, ‘How long will this take?’ ‘Is my work good enough?’ ‘Can I really achieve my goal?’ ‘What will success look like when I get there?’. The life of an artist is a life of uncertainty.  

I love my work more than what it produces ©Stuart Bush Hard to Concentrate, oil on board 30 x 40 x 3.5 cm

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“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” —Henry Ford

The fear of success leads to even more obstacles. What I didn’t know was that resistance is perfectly normal. If I didn’t have resistance, I might have played it too safe. I used excuses; I’m screwed because I’m too young; I’m too old; it’s the wrong type of economy for my art, this was before the internet really got going. l don’t have enough time or money. l wasn’t good enough, and l was afraid of failure. What l should have thought instead was that my life is fantastic, l can paint every day and do what l love.  

It wasn’t the situation, it was my story that was holding me back. It was my perception of the situation. My perception was the obstacle. It wasn’t fear, it was my perception of fear. It took many years to truly understand that. I had to change the story and change those thoughts. I needed to find a new way to view the situation. How would l feel if in 5 years and l was asked ‘what was holding me back?’ and the answer and situation were still the same, l was afraid. I didn’t make it because l was afraid. It wasn’t anything to do with money, it wasn’t that l didn’t have the time. Right here and now l say screw that story. That story is a lie.  

The story l now have is my superpower. Every time l look at my paintings, l remember this story. The pictures l make are my anchor and the foundation for the future, not my kryptonite.  

Stuart Bush Studio, a pocket full of dreams ©Stuart Bush A pocket full of dreams, oil on canvas, 120.4 cm x 160.4 cm

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The truth is that it can take 10,000 hours of practice to locate that thing I started my journey with. To dig deep to understand the reason why I wanted to make the work. To uncover what is inside of me and the reason why I am an artist. What l needed to know back then was that l needed bigger problems.  

If people say negative stuff to me, I now use my story as power. If I hear ‘you’re not good enough’, I think, thank you. You are giving me just what I need. I am doing this because of you, in spite of you. You have just given me more fuel. Any detractors need to hear that I going to give a hundred per cent they can’t make me feel bad. 

Although l had craved time to reflect on the best way forward, l had been mainly focusing on the small problems, like worrying about what to make next. What l should have done was to show passion and commitment by taking it one brushstroke at a time. Letting the painting lead the way. Painting comes painting. 

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My new story has restarted with an unexceptional and unrecognised idea. But it took time to show and fully understand the significance of the idea. It took time to draw attention to what l had located and noticed. To see the idea’s essence and potential development. As an artist, my job is to notice things that others haven’t noticed. Then become obsessed about raising this glimmer of an idea and to show its importance. There is only one way to do this, one brushstroke at a time. 

I should have congratulated myself when l hit resistance. It is a sign I was moving forward. I needed to find a way through the resistance, over it, past it and around it. My next level of art lived on the other side of my next brush stroke. As Winston Churchill said, that his definition of success is the ability to go from one failure to another, without losing your enthusiasm. 

So now that you have heard my story about how I overcame my most significant obstacles to become an artist. I feel I would be letting you down if I did not share the journey that is summed up in these paintings that l love so much. They encapsulate my heart.  

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I would love to hear about what mountains you want to climb? What fears and obstacles stop you from taking action? And I wonder whether my painting can help you? I love to hear if they can help you to. So please comment below.  

The paintings are available on my website as well as prints and signed limited edition prints. They are available to buy on my website right now.  

Due to it being Black Friday, from now up to the end of the month I would like to offer free shipping in the UK on these prints. Click here to direct message me to get the discount, or click here to buy now.  

Thank you for reading my story. 

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