Harness the Magic of Protective Sentences


I think most people underestimate how vulnerable a person can feel creating their art and having people see them doing it.

When you’re creating something, it’s usually hard to finish it in one sitting. So unless you live alone, it’s highly likely that other people are witnessing your process, your “muck” half way through.

If you make work all the time, this probably isn’t a problem because you’ve got some key factors working in your favor:

  • momentum (huge)
  • confidence (huge)
  • habit (everyone around you is used to you doing it-huge)

But if you are trying to get back into the swing, or you create sporadically, or even if you make things all the time but are nervously TRYING SOMETHING NEW,  it can be hard to feel so……………exposed.

Which can stop you even before you get started.

Because really, this fear of exposure is most likely a fear of failure.

It’s hard to make something bad. Or risk making something bad. Because usually, you leap to the (incorrect) conclusion that it means that you’re bad/not talented/a big loser–you know the drill.

(Of course, it does NOT mean that, but a lifetime of conditioning can take a while to undo.)

So how do you move forward while still struggling with your demons?

Two words: Protective Sentences.

I have long relied on protective sentences as a way for me to do what I want and dodge “helpful advice” (not), potential or imagined potential criticism, or even just the potential need to explain myself or what I’m doing to anyone–friend or stranger.

So what’s a protective sentence? I’ll tell you.

Someone says, “What are you making?” or even better…”What is THAT?”

You say your protective sentence:

“I don’t know, I’m experimenting.”

or just “I’m experimenting.” (without pausing to look up because you’re too busy experimenting to stop.)

Then they say, “Oh.”

Because really, what can they say back? It’s beautiful in it’s simplicity.

In fact, if someone else walks up and says “What is that?”

I’ll bet you 10-1 that that first questioner will answer for you, “Oh, she’s experimenting.”

It’s perfect. It’s a huge cocoon that requires no further explanation. It’s my all-time favorite.

And hey, it may not be the bravest thing to do in terms of self-actualization or whatever, but I don’t care about that kind of brave, I care about a bigger braveyou making your stuff or you pushing to your particular edge, or digging deeper, or reaching higher. And if you’re stopping yourself because it feels hard or you may fail or look ridiculous, then it’s imperative to create the conditions you need to take that risk anyway–however teeny or pointless it may seem to someone else.

A good, simple protective sentence can do the trick.

And best of all, they’ll never know!

And while you’re at it, come experiment with me this Sunday!

Sign up for the Creative Breakthrough’s Collage Tele-Class–it’s over the phone (not online) and it’s super simple and fun to participate. It’s happening this Sunday,  October 21st, at 3pm EST.

(And if someone asks what you’re doing, tell them “I’m experimenting.”)

Do you have any protective sentences that you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!


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  1. I’ve always liked “I’m playing” or “I’m making art” – in my opinion art doesn’t have to be high & mighty & lofty (like Art with a capital ‘A”), and some of the best of it truly isn’t… :)

    The other thing to remember about protective thoughts / protective sentences is to use them with yourself. It is more important that we as artists don’t invalidate ourselves and we allow ourselves to experiment than that we have a comeback for someone else. When we question ourselves, internally asking, “What am I doing?” the intonation and intent tends to be a lot more judgmental than that of a passerby or friend asking out of curiosity…

    And the more we as artists play, the less inhibited we can become as artists. Whether or not we keep any of the results, it informs our “real” work in ways we couldn’t possibly anticipate. (Note: in my opinion it’s all “real” as I don’t really make much distinction between my life and my art at all, but I know a lot of artists who need to feel like they’re not doing anything so lofty or serious or “real” to allow themselves freedom to play and experiment away from that pressure, so just gravitate to wherever you are on that spectrum and run with it.)

  2. Anne Lockard says:

    I have not been asked this in a long time, except in a good way—you know what I mean.
    “What are you making/doing?” (excited tone)
    “WHAT are you doing….?” (less than friendly tone)
    Generally on the second, I give them what my DH calls THE LOOK.
    Then the answer/answers:
    “I’m figuring out some (insert a lot of technical terms here) to see if the substrate will accept this particular (more technical terms) or not.”
    Usually that gets a stare and quiet.
    Or I just LOOK, as if to say You don’t KNOW???? Then ask, “What? I missed that.”
    I seldom have to do this anymore because the people I encounter know I make really weird stuff and my husband KNOWS that I’m making art and I will bore him to tears with long explanations.
    I guess it’s good to blither a lot….LOL!!! ;D
    Plus, I couldn’t care less, really. I just enjoy the moment.


  3. R.M. Koske says:

    Oh, that’s wonderful. The best part is that I’m pretty darn sure it will work on the voices in my head, too.

  4. Sarah says:


  5. Sarah says:

    LOL! I LOVE the art speak mumbo jumbo approach!

  6. Sarah says:

    So true Jennifer, that the more we play the less inhibited we become! And yes, our minds are usually much more merciless than another person ever would be–especially when we’re imagining what “they” might “say”! Thanks for expressing that so beautifully!

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