With the last few letters about losing your mojo and about negative and positive self-talk in the studio, there came a fresh wave of artists looking for a simple fix. “I need an answer here,” said one. Then there were others who, often through trial and error, were in a position to provide some of those answers. In many there was the theme of “just do it.” The truth, surprising to some, is that the business of doing it comes before the business of being any good at it. Learning by doing is the Broadway of art. “There’s nothing to it but to do it,” repeated several artists. Fact is, stroking the process causes an artist to fall in love. A blooming love leads to proficiency, plain and simple. As Picasso said, “My genius shines most when I work.” Among the letters, a motivational coach offered ten ways to see your life as a work of art: Treat life as a grand experiment. Make your life colorful. Stay curious. Find humor everywhere. Take risks. Live in evolutionary environments. Be open and spontaneous. Consider everything as potential art material. Live in the present. Express yourself passionately.
Remarkably, two more valuable ideas just happen to be the titles of Cole Porter musicals: Anything goes, (1934) and Leave it to me (1938). Anything goes implies painting something, anything, with the understanding that your creative intelligence will make it stellar. It seems so many artists are stuck on a bundle of recipes or expectations that they have lost the capacity to improvise, to dance and sing on their feet, to engage their emotions to the minutes of their being. Hit the canvas or hit the keyboard. All numbers start with one note.
Leave it to me is the great mojo. One artist we quoted in the current clickback simply shouts, “I’m great!” and then she’s on the stage and hoofing. The confidence in her own greatness may not represent academic greatness, art school greatness, or even “ring the cash register” greatness, but it is the very greatness she needs. “Leave it to me” leads to style force, joyous hours and long runs. The attitude develops tunes you can hum, replay, and not tire of. With this inside knowledge you begin to have the feeling that you’re the top, you’re the cat’s pajamas.
Birds do it
Bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it
Let’s fall in love (Cole Porter)
Listen to “Let’s do it” performed by Ella Fitzgerald (mp3 download)
Esoterica: Many artists addressed methods of getting into right-brain creative modes. Silence, wordlessness, elements of meditation and the welling of feelings and building desire are tricks that work for many. Some mentioned self-hypnotic actions like half-closing the eyes or repeating a mantra. Working in an uncluttered or uninterrupted environment ranked high on some lists. As Cole Porter discovered, there are some places you can do it better than others. What is this thing called art?
Steals your thoughts
by Eve Okumura, Hawaii, USA
Painting turns me on, I dream about it, talk about it and look at the world differently. I am presently in an en plein air class, here in Hawaii. We just had our first show and our instructor, Mark Brown, is one of the most encouraging people I have ever met. He comes to our work with respect, wonder, playfulness and great suggestions. Painting makes my heart dance and has stolen my thoughts.
Cleaning the studio
by Louise Zjawin Francke, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
I find that after I’ve completed numerous works and I’m prepping to move on to another media or to explore another idea, cleaning the studio helps me refocus. I also keep a box of photos, impromptu sketches, which help trigger those creative juices for many more works. My attitude is the glass full of ideas is always half full. My problem is finding enough time in the day, week, month to get them all out there.
Clutter unlocks inner wizard
by Timothy Atwood, Blubber Bay, Texada Island, BC, Canada
Working in an uncluttered environment is absolutely wrong for me. Creative mess equals creative thought. My tools and basic materials are organized — everything else in my studio is a torrent of creative inspiration. I see something — anything — which invokes an “a-ha” response, I take it to my studio. Magazine pictures, leaves, scraps of poetry, a bit of sea weed or moss. These get nailed to my walls. A piece of driftwood with the perfect curve or a rock with colours just so are set on a shelf. Beach glass, chunks of rusted metal, a twisted pop can, a raven’s skull, old bones, dragonfly wings. A project which had a good idea in it, but just didn’t work out — nail it to the wall! When I’m stuck. When I just can’t figure where to go next. All I need to do is look up. There on the walls and shelves are a hundred, two hundred things which had something to say to me. Ideas overflow from stacks on shelves. Inspiration nailed in layers to the walls. Hundreds of scraps of magic to unlock the artistic wizard inside.
A very good week
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
I just got back from spending a week alone at a friend’s lake house. There was no TV, no computer, no CD player, not even a radio! I almost always have some sort of media as background noise in my studio, but I was surprised to find that the lack of soundtrack didn’t bother me a bit. Now, having read the latest letter, I reflect back over the past week. I spent hours paddling around in my kayak. Enjoyed the sunsets and the moonrises. Had friends over for white wine and conversation out on the dock in the evenings. Took naps. Drank lemonade. Read Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz. Painted. But I can’t recall much self talk at all, beyond my usual morning journal. Maybe the first-thing-in-the-day writing drains my head of all the plans and complaints and miscellaneous drivel, or maybe there’s just not all that much going on in my head lately. It was a very good week.
Cole Porter helps me do it
Thank you for the insider references to Cole Porter. I guess you’ve been to the movie with Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd. If you haven’t, it looks at the bittersweet love and marriage between a supportive woman and a gay man and touches on the delicate and mysterious motives behind acts of creativity. Porter, whose own life was shallow, effete, and filled with misguided snobbishness and callow exploitation, was nevertheless able to write the most brilliant lyrics, heart wrenching sentiments, and melody lines that were totally integrated with his words. Listening to Porter lyrics while painting reminds me to be precise in my choices.
by Shannon Jones
I have suffered from years of negative self-talk and I know it has hindered my creativity. I have completed your suggestions of reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It helped me — but it is a continual journey. Negative self-talk is like a cancer that you don’t know is there until it is almost too late. It can rob and distort.
Let’s do it
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
I feel that motivation comes with completion of a successful piece. A successful piece is one that you had envisioned before and during the work in progress. And at its completion it is more than you envisioned to start with. Almost giving you the feeling that you didn’t create it at all. That it took on a path of its own. This is how I paint most of the time. I’m not creating it, I’m merely putting the brushstrokes where it tells me to. So when I sit down with my blank canvas, I look at it and say, “Let’s Do It.”
Float to fame
by Cathie Harrison
Several years ago in a small village called Esperaza in the south of France a Russian artist who described himself as a “much famous artist” invited my group of “not famous artist” to visit his studio. His version of getting his Mojo working was a sign over his studio door that read, “In here I float.” What a great way to think about what happens in the studio when we paint.
What am I trying to say?
by Peter McConville
I paint almost all the time. I find if things are not going well in the studio I go out with a camera and drawing book and record nature. For me it is study that ignites the creative fire. Many people skip drawing and go directly into a new series or large painting without doing the ground work. Before I start a painting I ask myself, “What am I trying to say?” The answer is in the finished work.
Start by starting
by Jamie Kirkland, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
My teacher Paul Davis told me that ‘you start, by starting.’ How many times have I told myself that since then, lets see, 1000000000 and 1 and again this morning as I head to the easel. My other teacher John Erickson used to say, “Every time you go into the studio it’s like chasing a greased pig.” Thanks for writing to me twice a week.
Kids “in the moment”
by Susan Geddes
I feel grateful to paint with young people under 12 and they are “in the moment” and don’t get hung up but just excited. I love watching them paint feet and walk around the paper or some other completely spontaneous activity. When I stay present the inner critic disappears.
Watch your animals
by Susan Easton Burns, Douglasville, GA, USA
I agree with Eckhart Tolle when he says animals live only in the present moment. They don’t worry about the past or future, so they are able to react or act instantaneously like the monk in deep meditation who knows precisely when to turn around and dodge an attacker. The present is all that is real… ever! Animals teach us this over and over. In a crowd, we have to be more conscious and present, or we’ll get stepped on. That’s when the collective conscious is awakened. While artists grow from being a part of something greater, they are an exact microcosm of that greater thing. Artists are (often times) a whole entity. They have a knowledge that goes beyond painting a picture or weaving a tapestry. That is just one part of the job. One can survive day to day while working in an office and not have a bigger picture of the world. Artists are more complex people who want to feel alive. Watch your animals. They are in the beautiful and powerful present.
(RG note) Eckhart Tolle is the author of Stillness Speaks and The Power of Now. Both of these books deal with the awakening of individuals to their true nature, the finding of wisdom, freedom from guilt, control of the runaway mind — a spiritual path to self-management. “Meet everyone and everything through stillness rather than mental noise.” (Eckhart Tolle)
Anything goes” in sketch journaling
by Don Getz, Peninsula, Ohio, USA
I’ve just made up an eloquently lettered sign, “ANYTHING GOES! — Cole Porter, 1934,” for my work area. That’s my birth year and I really believe, with art, that ‘anything goes.’ On a trip to Canada in 1999 I was dropped off by friends for three hours in Victoria, BC. How to sketch your way through that one? By having a college student pedal his three-wheeler and take me to some of the sights. What a delight! Photos would never have given me so many memories as that three-hour jaunt through the park, past the totems, the Parliament buildings, Chinatown, and the biker’s favorite ice cream shop. Since that time I’ve created travel journals in Maine, the Adirondacks, Blue Ridge Mountains, Ruidoso, NM, and Provence, France. I’ll do eight to ten watercolor studies with ink-pen in a day, compared to three or four studious watercolor half sheets — and they’re quick, sketchy and fun! It’s the most fun that I’ve had with my painting.
The basis of confidence
by Stella Reinwald
Remembering that as artists, sometimes we are not wizards is the flip side of the confidence coin. Personally, I have felt “the wizard” only in hindsight, never as a forethought. We are not unlike a musician who must practice scales before he/she can hope to perform a complete concerto with virtuosity. View your daily work as practicing scales and “keepers” will emerge more often than if you strive too hard. Take the pressure off yourself to create a masterpiece and let yourself create “bad” art, if that’s what happens that day. Take one of your yuckier paintings and tell yourself, “it’s garbage anyway so what’s the loss?” As you abandon your preconceptions about how fine it “should” be, your mind is then free to be risky and nonjudgmental and not so precious with each stroke. Some of my best work has resulted from consciously abandoning the self-inflicted (and immature) need to be brilliant every time I paint. By being willing to accept imperfections with calm, I can occasionally create truly spontaneous and beautiful melody. Unlike in music, we painters have the freedom to layer over the sour notes or crop off the discord.
A little humility is not loss of confidence, it is the basis of confidence. Only when you free yourself to be a mere beginner again (which implies experimentation), do you progress to the next level of excellence and so gain the confidence that comes as a consequence.
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, 2004.
That includes Pal who wrote, “Finding mojo — a lot of the time — is finding out what doesn’t work, and I become joyous when I finally figure out what does work.”
And also Meg Lauder, who wrote, “I find the white rabbit approach works best for me. I make a deadline. Then it’s ‘I’m late I’m late for a very important date… no time to say hello good bye I’m late I’m late I’m late.’ ”
And also Sue Conradie of Johannesburg, South Africa, who wrote, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for your letters of inspiration. It’s so good to be understood!”