When I Just Can’t Create


Art has been my friend, and given me a great sense of accomplishment in spite of the fact that I cannot keep a job and I can barely leave the house, due to the fact that I am Autistic, a diagnoses I just received a year and a half ago at the age of 41.

by Penny Rae Tuffendsam

I woke up this morning with such high hopes. I had plans to paint, as I usually do. But somehow this morning, just like every other morning, I sat down in front of the easel and felt totally overwhelmed.

In spite of being on meds that are very helpful (or at least have been in the past) at helping me concentrate and focus, I still sit there and stare and feel stuck. I thought to myself “I will research competitions I can plan to enter, and collect call for entries, and make a cup of coffee to get inspired.”

After doing all those things, I sit in front of the easel and think, “I just can’t. I just can’t do it.”

Somehow, there has to be a perfect harmony of inspiration and cognitive functioning ability lining up so that I can manage to paint.

Penny Rae Tuffendsamn Jackie Hill Perry
Penny Rae Tuffendsam “Jackie Hill Perry” Charcoal

I can even do without the inspiration honestly, since I know what I have to do and I know what it takes to finish my paintings. But that pesky cognitive functioning problem just won’t leave me alone, and it makes me sad, angry and depressed.

When I was a kid, people would complement me on my art. My father encouraged me greatly by buying me art supplies and lovingly critiquing my work.

My dad is still my biggest fan along with my husband and kids. I think that is what kept art in the forefront of my ever-changing list of priorities and special interests. I knew I was good at it, and I wasn’t good at much.

As the years went on I kept working, one project at a time, sometimes taking breaks for years at a time to raise my children.

Penny Rae Tuffendsam
Penny Rae Tuffendsam “Aunt and Uncle” Oil on Canvas

Art has been my friend, and given me a great sense of accomplishment in spite of the fact that I cannot keep a job and I can barely leave the house, due to the fact that I am Autistic, a diagnoses I just received a year and a half ago at the age of 41.

The irony, is that I credit my Autistic mind with the artistic gift that I have.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it’s the unique way my mind works that gives me the ability to make the kind of realism that I make.

Obviously, there are plenty of non-autistic artists out there doing similar, and way better quality work. But when I am painting or drawing, my mind is just functioning on some kind of level that I can ONLY describe as related to all the best autistic parts of myself, and I am extremely grateful for that.

Penny Rae Tuffendsam "Rindille Woman" Colored Pencil
Penny Rae Tuffendsam “Rindille Woman” Colored Pencil

Autism has created challenges my entire life that I am only just now beginning to understand. But through all the challenges there is this gift. And I’m ready to develop it full time, to the best of my ability. I have all the time I could ever need to create freely. My kids are old enough that they don’t need all my attention. My plan is to try and work on my paintings several days a week, for several hours at a time. I want to exhibit in galleries, enter competitions, and get my work out there so it can be seen. But many weeks I can only give it 15 minutes a day, once a week. That breaks my heart, because I have dreams. I have something to say.

I have beautiful images in my head and I know I have the skill to make them come to life. But the ability is a whole other thing. I can literally feel the disabled state of my brain. The numbness. The depression. The anxiety. It’s like my brain is just…broken.

It’s not just my art that suffers from this crippling feeling. It’s my relationships too. As a result of my social inadequacies, I have found myself incredibly lonely on this journey.

Seeking out a community of artists, of autistic people, and even making friends in my own church (my husband is the Pastor of our Church), is like doing complex math. Even writing this blog feels like pushing a boulder up a hill, because I really want to be involved in the Art of Autism community. But what will that mean? I have no idea. And as much as I want it, the unknowing is utterly terrifying.

Penny Rae Tuffendsam "Annie Murphy" White Charcoal
Penny Rae Tuffendsam “Annie Murphy” White Charcoal

Yet I have decided, and I’m confident, that making friends here is exactly what I need to bring my brain, my art, and my inspiration back to life.

So this is my first blog post. I hope to be able to continue to write along with all of you. And thank you for this opportunity, and this community. I do not want painting and creating to continue being such a lonely process. I also need a place to share my feelings about my late diagnoses of Autism, which has completely changed my life. So, having said that…It’s so nice to meet you all.


See more of Penny’s art here.
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2 replies on “When I Just Can’t Create”
  1. says: Steve Staniek

    Welcome Penny Rae Tuffendsam.

    Very nice writing! The quality of your art work is excellent too, and my favourite is Nyko Bunny. I’m impressed with your ability to blend shades and colours.

    In wonder if your late diagnosis changed your relationship to yourself?

    When I focus too seriously on anything, the result is often mental gridlock, ie: constipation of ideas.
    Q – How do we ignite the fire of creativity, that can lift us out depression?
    A – Muses? Playful abandon? Before waking, and while still slumbering, envision a seed that opens into your creation?

    Make yourself at home, and good luck in all directions.

  2. says: Penny Rae

    Thank you so much Steve! Since writing this post, I have found some ways to help me focus better. I’ve moved my studio into my living room, as opposed to facing a wall in an empty room, so I wouldn’t feel so lonely and closed off. It has really helped! It’s amazing how such a little adjustment can make a huge difference!
    As for your question….”In wonder if your late diagnosis changed your relationship to yourself?”….
    My relationship to myself has changed drastically. Maybe that could be my next blog post! But in short I would say, it has made me much MUCH more forgiving and gracious to myself in all of my struggles.

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