Every fear piece is always a work in progress. I never know where I'm going when I start. Never know where I'll end up. Each fear pieces carries with it its own small fear of the unknown.
Tess Marshall, the creator of the blog The Bold Life: Inspiration for Fearless Living, contacted me soon after the NPR story came out about the Fear Project and asked me if she could feature a Q & A about my project on her site. I've included some excerpts below (and made a few minor edits/changes). There's a lot here about the Fear Project and my thoughts on fear in general:
How did this all get started in the first place?
I teach courses in publication design, and in
my classes, I talk a lot about moving beyond the fear of that scary
The Fear Project sprang from my own fears,
one of them being how to manage the creative process. I also watched my
design students struggle with their own fears of creating and taking
visual risks, and I wondered how to best encourage them to move past
was deeply inspired by the concept of “automated directives,” where one
brings more structure to the chaos of doing creative work (I was
introduced to this concept while watching a creativemornings.com video
presentation of Oregon-based illustrator and educator Kate
sitting at my kitchen table one evening, I started the Fear Project. I
simply wanted to explore other people’s fears through their words and my
visuals. As a former newspaper designer, I felt this compulsion to
approach my project in a more journalistic way. I asked people what
their fears were, and I either wrote them down, or I used my iPhone to
record them describing their fears.
topics have run the gamut and have included failure, losing a child,
centipedes in the shower, the impulse to jump off high places, small
holes, escalators, dying alone and needles. Participants in this project
have included neighbors, students, colleagues, family members — and as
the project has grown, more and more people I do not know have reached
out to me with their fears.
decided that for the first seven months, I would create and post online
three fear pieces a week, come hell or high water. What started out as a
personal exercise to ignite my own creative process slowly evolved into
something more universal and more substantive.
I created my 90th fear piece (a mini goal I set for myself), I just
kept going and never looked back. I've created more than 125 fear pieces
so far, I think. Actually, I've lost count.
How does drawing one's own fears help a person?
have a heard from a handful of people that after seeing my visual
interpretation of their fear, they feel less burdened by it. One person
told me that she saw humor and lightness in my piece about experiencing
bumpy rides on airplanes, and it made her less afraid to fly.
person said that seeing her fear in a tangible way made it "less
scary." She said she felt a sense of peace and less weighed down.
Another person wrote on his blog that as he approached an impending
surgery, "being able to share my fears [with Julie] and have her create
art actually felt very supportive."
want to make note that I am not a psychologist — I have zero training
in the field of any kind of therapy. So, my ideas behind the power of
art to express fears is just based on my intuition and personal
I have come to learn that many people feel validated after seeing their fears visualized in an interpretive, yet non-judgmental way. They can come
face to face whatever fears they have in a non-threatening way.
What prevents people from breaking through fear?
I'm not a psychologist — but I have my own layperson hunches about what
prevents people from breaking through fear. I think, to start with, it
stems from a fear of simply naming the fear, of truly owning it.
may believe they're alone in having a certain fear. They may feel
shame. They can't find a way to face it, so they bury it, or do their
best to ignore it.
I worked on my project, I made a conscious decision not to explore the
concept of fear in a formal, scholarly way. I did not want to get bogged
down in others' definitions of what fear was, where it comes from, how
people cope, etc.
working with someone's fear, visually, I allow myself to "feel" my way
through the making of the piece. I let surprises happen. I try not to
analyze what I'm doing too much.
said this, I am at the point now where I feel ready to start making a
concerted effort to read more about fear and how pervasive it is in our
What have you learned about fear in your process?
my process of illustrating other people's fears, I have become much
more aware of just how pervasive fear really is. I'm starting to notice
more and more how the topic of fear creeps into the collective
conversation (interviews, articles, essays, everywhere) — and I started
to think about how fear can be either crippling to people, or a driving
force to motivate people to move past it.
often ask me if it’s depressing to work on these fear pieces. I’ve
never internalized all these fears coming my way (although I’ve
certainly shared some of these fears).
I didn’t expect were the responses I’ve received from people. When
people express gratitude, or tell me they feel less alone with their
fear, I am more aware of how fear is such a common thread for just about
have met very few people who are truly stumped when I ask them what
their fears are. One thing I notice about these (few) people is that
they are very laid back and they never appear to get ruffled, ever.
What's your best advice on overcoming fear?
If only I practiced what I preached, when it comes to letting go of
fear. I'm not really sure what my general advice would be for others to
overcome fear. It probably depends upon what the fear is.
My tendency, with myself and what I tell others, is to "Dare to suck."
I know that sounds crass — but it's just shorthand for taking risks and
proving to yourself that the sky won't fall if you fail.
"dare-to-suck" sentiment was drilled into me when I worked at a
newspaper that embraced taking chances and trying new things. In the
classroom, I encourage students to go for that far-fetched idea and risk
falling flat on their faces.
it comes to some life decisions that extend far beyond homework
assignments, or art projects, etc., I'm all for "jumping off the cliff"
and then, well, landing and having faith that you'll figure it out.
know, I know — platitudes galore here. I can only speak from my own
experiences with fear — but I have found that facing the fear head-on
and walking through it is one way to lessen its power. Sometimes, I've
discovered, things are a lot bigger and scarier in our own heads.
Tell us about one of your own fears that you still struggle with?
may dwell in this world of fear with my artwork, but, fortunately, I am
not frozen with fear in my day-to-day life. I've done some things that
some people might consider to be fearless, and I certainly felt fearless
when I was doing these things, at that time — I've lived in different
states, tried on different jobs, gone on a six-month hike with little of
that experience under my belt.
I've said "yes" to many things, before I had a chance to let fear blurt out the word "no." I just deal. I have learned that "Onward!" is a powerful word and attitude.
general fear I have has to do with the awareness of the fragility of
life. I was in a serious car accident in the mid-1960s, when I was 6
years old. My dad was driving the car, and he crashed into a telephone
pole. (Whenever I visit home, I am hyper-aware of that particular site
when driving by.)
flew through the front windshield, and had major head and facial
injuries. My parents were told at that time that if I lived, I'd be a
vegetable. The doctors were wrong. I was out of the hospital in two
weeks, and I recovered. A couple of surgeries later in life helped
minimize the facial scars.
After the accident, I became acutely aware of this fine line between the different paths one's life can take. In one moment, I was just a kid playing with dolls, wearing my new watermelon-print dress.
In the next instance, I was unconscious, had glass shards in my head and face, was covered in blood and near death's door.
this fear has to do with crossing over that line, again. There's no
telling when or how it will happen. It can be anything. I could fall off
a curb, crack open my head and die.
could get hit by a driver who's texting. I could … go on and on here. I
read news stories about the most random things happening to people
around the world, and I think, "Oh My God. What if that happened to me?
What if I get that extremely rare flesh-eating disease?"
My life could be so different in an instant. Or it could be over in an instant. But, as I said, this fear doesn't have a huge impact on my daily life. I try to keep it on the back-burner and think, "Onward!"
Do you draw your own fears?
have drawn a handful of my fears. My intent, when starting the Fear
Project, was to focus more on other's fears. When trying to produce
three fear pieces a week, though, sometimes I found myself sitting at
the table without a fear to draw, so I'd work on illustrating one of my
visualized my fear of having a brain aneurysm, my fear of playing an
instrument in front of others, my fear of driving down the road and
encountering an idiot driver who's texting.
I got sick last summer, and was dealing with some pain, I visualized
some of my fears around that (and they were horrible little drawings,
but I just didn't care. I still posted them).
this project, though, my main focus is still to visualize other
I have this outrageous fantasy of walking around the
world — could take me four or five years — and talking with people along
the way about their fears. I'd illustrate along the way. I often wonder
what we call have in common, as humans worldwide, when it comes to
fear. I want to learn about it first-hand.