Inspiration and motivation — how do you find it, where does it come from, how do you maintain it? Rankled by time and money considerations to say nothing of non-supportive others, some folks find it a tough order.
Like a lot of life’s struggles, the solution might just be a simple one. As many know, I’m a believer in effective habits and bold pump-priming. Right now I’m working with some painters in what we call “The Early Morning Club.” It’s very much like a prayer breakfast, except there’s no prayer and no breakfast. Active in several time zones, we meet virtually. People can start and stop when they wish, but frequent non-attendance can result in excommunication. If you’d care to join, here you go:
The minute you awaken, proceed like a zombie to your studio. Before your kettle has boiled, before you have checked your email, squeeze out and prepare your palette. Still in your jammies? Pajama painting is still not against the law. No matter how bleary or unwashed, start now — it’s the imperative of drying palettes. Don’t know what to paint? Doesn’t matter. Start anyway — bold, expressive, blocks of forms and colours are preferable to lines.
Our Patron Saint is Goethe: “Boldness has genius, power and magic. Engage, and the mind grows heated. Begin, and the work will be completed.”
Unless disabled, members generally stand during meetings. Dancing, jazzercise and even yoga are also encouraged — we are a cult known for exercising the cardio as well as the creative. Some of us sing nonsense or speak in tongues. We have yet to choose our anthem. “Land of Hope and Glory” and “La Marseillaise” have been put forward.
As the easel-dance progresses, ideas and motifs form and give clues to further directions. Like Boy Scout badges, stuff accumulates. As well as experiencing stimulation and excitement, members begin to feel a beautiful calmness, a connection with all of history’s dawnworkers, and the welcome procession of creative joy. Simply speaking, this miracle of private process is further understood, honed and mastered. The break for ablutions and breakfast comes a bit later. The meetings are well worth attending. Membership is free.
PS: “Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
Esoterica: The idea behind all of this is to re-jig the time-honoured system of waiting for inspiration, mood, or the appearance of subject matter. The act of art now becomes an event in which the timing is out of your control. The event happens and then the mood arrives. Like jumping into icy water, it’s not for everybody. For many, just thinking of jumping in makes fears surface. Some artists completely freeze up and can’t do it. For those who can, fears are neutralized, things get done and progress is made.
Working to find inspiration
by Mary Buergin, New Boston, NH, USA
I was just talking with a musician yesterday about this concept, but I didn’t know there was a club based on it! I truly believe if we want to continue to grow as artists, to compete in the highly competitive art market — we can’t afford to wait for inspiration. Sometimes it is there, and we all know what an amazing space that is to be in. But sometimes it is not there, and we still have to produce. We still have to grow and we still have to be working. I truly believe that just doing the work, touching the brush to the canvas or, in my friend’s case, touching his fingers to the keyboard, the creative process will carry us. I have produced some fine paintings during times when I wasn’t feeling particularly “inspired.” I could have easily waited another day, another week or maybe even another month for that inspiration to move me, but just starting the process and continuing to work in spite of a less than inspired mood, I was able create. Perhaps the difference between “inspiration” and simply “working hard” isn’t as big as we would tend to believe.
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by Georgianne Fastaia, San Francisco, CA, USA
I work in a large open warehouse in San Francisco among 70 other artists. There are a few of us who arrive at midnight, who know where the 24 hour Starbucks is and who turn on their headphones and among the sleeping city, begin. I love to sleep there on my couch and then catch the clear unclouded grace of the first sun, the still, empty studio and myself struggling towards something I am happy with.
by Coulter Watt, Quakertown, PA, USA
I always proceed directly into the studio, often zombie-like in the morning. No need to wait for the kettle to boil, I start with yesterday’s coffee and the frugalness of leftovers. This lets me ignore the requirements of the day, actually blown off until early afternoon when the fresh coffee kicks in. Of course I don’t have children to shuttle about in the morning nor city lights and short skirts to keeping me up late at night. A cacophony of frogs is the only thing that disturbs my sleep. Ah, the rural life. If Goethe were alive today he might say something like, “Get ‘er done” or that stuff happens while you’re making plans.
Starting the day off right
by Margot Hattingh, South Africa
Your letter made me laugh, as I can completely relate to the ‘early morning club.’ I really need the fix first thing. Unless I have put in at least an hour’s painting time or Imagineering in my visual diaries before my son rises, I am discombobulated for the rest of the day. Cranky, frazzled and disconnected are words that come to mind. That time, straight from sleep, when I’m still in touch with my subconscious, is the most creative and important part of my day. It’s so important to me, that if, for whatever reason, I haven’t managed to start the day that way, I’ll sneak back into bed after my son has left for work, nap, and start the day all over again.
Stress and intensity
by Max Elliott, Banff, AB, Canada
A quote from Eckhart Tolle’s wonderful book, A New Earth, speaks to ideas of creation and stress:
“We are learning that the act of creation may involve energy of the highest intensity, but that it is not ‘hard work’ or stressful. We need to understand the difference between stress and intensity… Struggle or stress is a sign that the ego has returned, as are negative reactions when we encounter obstacles.” (pp. 289-90)
Tolle’s message speaks to me loud and clear in the midst of preparing for a solo show while juggling financial, relationship, and ongoing daily concerns. Stress makes life, and art, hard work. Intensity lightens and expands possibilities.
by Faith Puleston, Herdecke, Germany
I’ve rejoined the early morning club. I was on the way to bed, when I was mentally struck by the stack of hopeless case efforts and realized that the way forward is indeed just slapping paint on willy-nilly. I grabbed a previously deleted painting now sporting a rather horrible blue surface after smother-priming with left-over acrylics and sloshed a layer of white paint on it. Exhilarated by this procedure, I then poured, shook and squeezed some liquid acrylics over it, did some shunting around with a water spray and rounded the whole thing off with well-directed clouds of dry red and black pigment! Then I slept for nearly 8 hours, as if a weight had been lifted off my mind!
I think I’m going to find an abstract painting in that conglomeration of color and free design. And that really is an achievement. Abstract painting is something I can only do successfully (I know that’s relative) when I have a surfeit of mental energy. Painting without the initial restrictions of line, shape and form seems to release my creativity more than painting a particular image, though I enjoy figurative work when going through a calm phase or working in other creative fields where abstract ideas would tend to push all else to one side.
Development of a painting
by Louise Francke, NC, USA
So far inspiration and motivation have not been a problem for me. My mind seems to go from the first inkling of an idea to the broadening of it until it becomes full fledged. I do tend to work in series thus exhausting an idea and moving on only to return at a future date when I have more to say on that theme. Currently, I’ve been very busy with my first Grandchild. Want to leave something behind for him to know me in the future. First there was the child, then the quilt with various biplanes. From there it was a Google search for the old aviator’s helmet with goggles. It was from there to Snoopy and changing it to my Dalmatian. And on and on… until there was an oil painting.
by Julie Williams, Sydney, Australia
Oh, what bliss it must be to awaken and to have only to think of one’s self — no breakfast to prepare for hungry mouths, no school lunches to make, no uniforms to iron, no traffic to contend with on the hour round trip of ‘dropping’ family where they need to be, only to return to housework and the office. I look forward to the day when I might be afforded the luxury of being able to find “inspiration” in the early morning! Will start saving a few old pairs of jammies now in anticipation!
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Jump in, get dirty, see what happens
by Helen Zapata, Phoenix, AZ, USA
My gosh, if I were to wait until inspiration, mood, or the appearance of subject matter struck, I’d get very little done! I go to bed at night thinking of my painting, and I get up in the morning thinking of my painting. Painting is the first and last thing on my mind, and takes up most of the day itself. I’ve been thinking of proceeding to the studio first thing in the morning, but am a bit afraid that if I start doing that, then my family will see nothing of me at all. But each day I plan ahead to be sure I get my studio time in. I don’t wait for inspiration… I simply go to the studio and begin to work.
If I’m in the middle of a Fear Freeze, instead of letting it keep me from painting, I burst through that fear with Boldness. It’s a war that I intend to win at any cost. I’ll crank up the music and starting flinging paint at my canvas. I dive in with both hands and just pour myself and the paint onto the canvas. I may well end up with a royal mess. I can easily emerge covered in paint from head to toe… but I will emerge victorious! Do not allow your fear to stop you! It’s only paint, it’s only canvas, it’s only paper and pen, it’s only clay… whatever it is, it’s not so precious that it’s best left on the shelf. Jump in, get dirty, and see what comes out!
Creativity begets creativity
by Veronica Funk, Airdrie, AB, Canada
Recently, on the encouragement of a friend, I began A Painting a Day (well, Monday to Friday) and blogging them. Though I don’t always paint a 6″x 8″ oil (which is my chosen size/medium for this project), I am finding that I am painting every day and can’t wait to get at it. It makes me focus on colour, form and light, and if I feel stuck on one of my larger pieces (30″x 40″), it seems to help me get un-stuck. I remember being taught in art school that creativity begets creativity. It’s definitely true. The more I paint, the more ideas I have, and I seem to run out of hours in the day to do all that I dream of. It’s a wonderful life.
Starting the day positive
by Richard Smith, Victoria, BC, Canada
Having diagnosed myself last year with having a walloping case of ADD, which I found out by following a link in your letters, I decided to stop waking myself up in the morning by channel surfing through the TV, gorging on all the overnight disasters. It did wake me up but didn’t put me in the best frame of mind, so I quit. But this didn’t work out all that well because my pre-frontal cortex needs to be stimulated to get moving. And so along you come and suggest the most obvious solution, belly up to my sculpture bench and mess about until the brain gets functioning. I’m going to try it tomorrow and see if it works. Once again a great suggestion comes through.
by Susanne Kelley Clark, Dallas, TX, USA
When I was ingrad school, a teacher gave us an assignment which forced us to paint every day. First it was paint a self-portrait every day for a month. Then it was paint a shiny object every day for a month. After completing these assignments, I was tired of looking at myself and so began devising more interesting poses using multiple mirrors, and for the first time developed confidence using paint. I lost the fear of the blank canvas; there was now a momentum and rhythm to my energy in the studio. It basically taught me how to PAINT. There was no particular time of day when I would paint. The painting session had to work around school and work and the sessions generally were 2 to 3 hours, no more. The paint on the palette never dried up.
Remembering Cecil Collins
by Sheila Griffin, Hitchin, UK, USA
Your letter reminded me of a time when a group of friends would come by on Friday evenings to my place. The main idea was to draw or paint but not to be serious. It was a social evening as much as anything. We produced some of our best work, laughing, talking, dancing and listening to music. We also took turns modeling for the group.
These gatherings were inspired by classes some of us had attended in London during the ’80s. We were very fortunate to be in Life Drawing classes given by the late Cecil Collins, RA. When I started I hadn’t painted since I was at school. His classes were so popular that I had to queue overnight to be sure of getting a place. We drew from the nude model. We moved with the model to music, held the position of the model then drew with whichever instruments he told us to. Chinese brushes, reed pens, pencils, red chalks, charcoal and Chinese ink we mixed ourselves, in 7 tones. Following his instructions we used our left and right hands as this helped bypass the mind.
During these lessons Cecil told us that his teaching “was about the study of the real nature of creativity, through the use of natural organic instruments.” He spoke of making oneself vulnerable as the only way to change. In this way we could enter individually, or as a group, the creative flow. When this did happen it was an unforgettable experience — the drawing seemed to ‘do itself.’ This year is Cecil Collins Centenary Year and lectures on his work, exhibitions and meetings are taking place throughout the summer and autumn.
oil painting by Peter Doig, Trinidad
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Tomm Fennell of Blairstown, NJ, USA who wrote, “Thank you for mentioning The Early Morning Club, but you neglected to mention how to join.”
(RG note) Thanks, Tomm. Would-be members apply by nominating themselves, accepting themselves, sorting out the rules to suit themselves, attending or not attending themselves, and empowering themselves as they see fit.
And also Mary Jane Cross of Newport, NH, USA who wrote, “It is 5:20 a.m. and a great deal of work is done. I already belong.”
And also Joseph Jahn of Denmark who wrote, “I’ve always replied to amateurs and pros alike, just paint, work, and it will start.”
And also Frank Gordon of Giggleswick, UK who wrote, “New work usually arises from work in progress — a sort of domino effect — it can start any time of day.”
And also Paul Uhler of Dallas, TX, USA who wrote, “After reading “The Early Morning Club,” I was reminded, for some reason, of the powerful active meditations devised by Osho (a.k.a. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh). The activity, sometimes vigorous, creates a meditative state that he calls ‘no mind.’ ”
And also Edward Vincent of Sydney, Australia who submitted a Shakespeare quote: “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
And also Julie Nilsson of Ft. Collins, DC, USA who wrote, “Your club is exactly what I need but, the question is, ‘How will I stop, once the painting starts?’ It may be that I won’t, it may be that all the others will have to wait… a good plan I’d say! Thanks for the invitation.”
And also Frank Hills who wrote, “May I suggest the Mexican song Las Mañanitas as our anthem?”
Proposed lyrics for anthem, Thanks to everyone who suggested music and lyrics. Here are two examples of original lyrics written especially for the Club…
Leza Macdonald of White Rock, BC, Canada
I’d like to paint a masterpiece
While in my jammies that are still sleep creased
But the lines I draw
Even though they’re strong
They have no form
Will they last this song?
(Sung to the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen)
Tom Pirozzoli of Goshen, NH, USA
“Money Isn’t Time”
If you think money can buy
Buy you back your time
If you think money can buy
Buy you back your time
You’re out of your mind.
Enjoy the past comments below for The Early Morning Club…