Bonus creativity


Dear Artist,

Here’s a simple system that builds creativity immediately. (Writing that line made me feel like a snake-oil salesman. But I digress.) I’m talking about pushing yourself to doing just one more thing every day. Results are guaranteed if you do it for a week. (Sorry, there I go again.)


“The blue river”
oil painting, 7.7 x 9.6 cm
afterthoughts by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1900)

With personal biorhythms, obligations, as well as climate, season, and other factors, we all have our times of maximum creativity and efficiency. In my case I seem to be at my best in the early morning before my studio staff arrives and the phone starts ringing. I run out of steam in mid-afternoon and often break for a Dorothy-walk or a snooze. The evening finds me cranking things up again, but the energy and focus level can be short-lived and I’m soon ready for bed.

The idea is to perform one more creative act before turning out the lights. Tiredness contributes in a way one does not expect. Casualness and the feeling of “something extra” make their mark. A lackadaisical twenty-minute afterthought becomes a creative bonus.

The system has some practical advantages. Using leftover paint is one of them. Renoir
was known to have relished the system. He made ever smaller sketches until his day’s palette was clean. In my case I often find large blobs of unused colour on the palette. This “waste” is often the springboard to a new direction. Freshly eyed in the cold grey light of dawn the now dry afterthought is again ready for action. The pump has been primed. Sometimes I can’t wait to play with the darned thing.

The afterthought bonus slyly adds further variety and range to your body of work. The human psyche is a deep well of untapped resources. While you may be mentally and physically fading, you are still “hot” enough to plunge in. Another thing — it’s easy to think of what we do as precious and deserving of major preparation. Not always. In my experience some of the best stuff comes from inconsequential, even happenstance beginnings. If you try this idea in your studio, be prepared for surprises, and don’t be surprised when some of the nighttime bonuses are substandard as well. It’s part of the game.

Seizing the day, even in its dying hour, gives another chance to be bold — a new beginning that just happens to be at the end.

Best regards,


PS: “Boldness has genius, power and magic. Engage, and the mind grows heated. Begin, and the work will be completed.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Esoterica: After looking at those little videos that Michelle and I have been making lately, many subscribers have written to ask what’s going on when I rub the canvas with a rag. Actually, rag-action is generally one of the first things that happens to my half-finished, late-night afterthoughts–particularly the garish ones. Compositions are toned down and pulled together with a glaze or two. I generally work in Acrylic, so it’s often a thin mixture of medium, water, and a small amount of Phthalo blue, but it can be any number of darker colours. The rag rubs it on and takes it off. Not too much, not too little. This sets up the painting to “go back into” and to fine-tune the shapes and colours — a sort of two-step process that also gives an opportunity for half-time contemplation. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but useful.


Creative clean-up
by Maxx Maxted, Nimbin, Australia

I regularly clean up my various glass palettes by soaking the dried acrylics in warm water, then peeling off the paint and laying the shards face down on a sheet of card, gluing them with PVA. This achieves a marbled finish over which can be phantasmagorified images. Can be used as sketches to graph-up to bigger pieces (or does that sound too much like a technique?). I loved using slide projectors as a TV Scenic Artist in the ’70s.


‘Garbage Canvas’
by Janet Sheen, Lethbridge, AB, Canada

The ‘frugal’ person in me has also, like you, used up piles of paint. I often keep a toned canvas handy to ‘paint-on’ leftovers. I can’t tell you the number of times I have become fascinated with the ‘garbage canvas,’ and eventually turned my attention to it. Several of the finished products have become my personal favourites. Of course, not all become worthy, but I find that I enjoy painting a new painting right on top of that ‘garbage canvas’ without gessoing it out. Some of the colours have created a ‘start’ — an image that became something wonderful. I love the idea of the ‘primed pump.’ It is something to look forward to when you next lay out your brushes. Who is to say what unusual things will spark one’s creativeness?


Ready to get going
by Judy Gorton, Duncan, BC, Canada


hand-knitted llama wool vest with painted buttons

I live on a farm, 30 alpacas and 10 llamas, chicken and ducks, cats and dogs. My brother Gary and another fellow, Robbie, both mentally handicapped live with me as well. As you may imagine, I am a very busy person.

I’m also an artist. I work with the fibre from my animals, but have also been a painter and sculptor ‘forever.’ Since I moved to my farm on Halloween 2005, I haven’t done any ‘fine’ art. Just the day-to-day running and working on my little bit of heaven. I can feel the creative urges bubbling inside of me and they will break out soon. I sort of know where my paints and sculpting tools are and intend soon to find them and GET going!

Your writings have kept me sane while I’ve had to build this place.


Painting creates energy
by LuAnn Sims

I work full time and also need to spend time with my family, but on weekend evenings when I finally get to paint, it seems to create energy in me. I don’t get tired, on the contrary, I have often painted well into the middle of the night without realizing how much time has gone by. So often I tell myself, “It’s LATE, go to bed!” …but I just want to finish one more thing — I have to force myself to stop and go to bed. If I kept going after I was tired, I think I would stay up all night!

On the positive side, I do sleep better when I’ve been painting, so I don’t need to sleep as long to feel just as refreshed.


Leftover paint leads to fantasy painting
by Corrie Scott, Hastings, Christ Church, Barbados


“Red-headed blues”
acrylic painting, by Corrie Scott

I love using up all of my paint. I am often broke and the thought of that good paint going to waste bothers me. Sometimes I use leftover paint to prime new canvases with colour, but most exciting is when the ‘leftovers’ turn into other pieces. And I find myself moving into another world of my own fantasy and allowing the paint to lead me. Here are a couple that came out of ‘leftovers’ (which now grace my client’s walls).





Working with studio staff
by Michele Rushworth, Seattle, WA, USA


“Riley & Merlin”
oil painting, 30 x 40 inches
by Michele Rushworth

I was very interested in your mention of “studio staff.” I just hired a part-time assistant and it seems to be working out well. She’s only been here four or five mornings and I still do spend a lot of that time teaching her the ins and outs of my business but having her here is already giving me more “easel time” and I have high hopes for the long term. Can you tell us how you work with your “studio staff”?

(RG note) Thanks, Michelle. I’ve had a studio assistant for thirty odd years. Her jobs include most of the ones I can’t do or don’t want to do: wrapping, shipping, banking, shopping, bookeeping and finding things. That’s Carol Ann, she’s been here for about four years. My other studio helper is Michelle. Being traffic cop for the Painter’s Keys is a full time job. She also builds clickbacks and installs those valuable links on the Painter’s Keys site. Andrew, our webmaster, manages the site from Seattle. In addition to these three key people, we have miraculous volunteers who share the workload, editing, etc. Quite an industrious place, this studio. Apart from my periodic writing skirmishes, I stick to painting.


Useful for oneself and one’s class
by Charles Peck, Punta Gorda, Florida, USA


“Alan Rubin fishing”
acrylic painting, 18 x 24 inches
by Charles Peck

This is another of those great ideas that is extraordinarily useful, not only for oneself but to pass on to those who take classes from oneself. It is like the silence idea and the fast, loose as goose “gestural” daily painting, in that it allows one to access a part of oneself not normally available for manipulation or brought to bare on a piece of work.

Your letters are the sort of conversation I have missed since college and art community days. Thank you for the push.


Tiredness, conscious mind and hypnosis
by Sharron Middler, Kelowna, BC, Canada


“French Creek Beach”
watercolour painting, 14 x 20 inches
by Sharron Middler

I am an artist who also happens to be a certified hypnotist. I haven’t been practicing hypnosis in the last few years but do make CDs and write about it when I am not painting.

What you said about when you are tired is so perceptive. As you become more and more tired your conscious mind is less interfering, leaving your subconscious (emotional) right brain to do more of the work. As you go to sleep at night you actually pass through a hypnogogic state which is pretty much the same thing as hypnosis. It is right around the time when your mind begins to wander off into dreamland. If you want to be really creative the next day you can use that time to give yourself some post hypnotic suggestions such as “I am going to create a wonderful painting tomorrow.” Just make sure your suggestion is positive, specific and about what you want and not what you don’t want. Subconscious mind doesn’t hear the ‘nots’ in your statement. Rewrite your statement without the word ‘not’ and you will know what your subconscious mind has picked up on.


‘Fun’ work for leftover paint
by Linda Walker, Bemidji, MN, USA


“Rodeo veteran”
oil painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Linda Walker

I am my staff, with the important exception of my husband who is willing to lend a hand at framing, packaging, posting. There are many daily routines that need tending to before I can settle into painting. The list is long but to keep up with the rhythm of my mind I put the palette, from the previous day’s painting, under a small ‘fun’ work, and spend 10 or so minutes working on this between chores. I used to just scrape the paint off and palette knife it onto a canvas building something impressionistic or abstract. Now I am more apt to paint silver or lace or something other than the wildlife that is my main subject. By the time I am ready to mix a fresh palette and start on my larger images I have finished my chores, stretched for my main work, and learned something valuable and often new. At the end of a good day there is nothing better than reviewing the bounty of my day’s creations.


Squeezing last creativity out of day
by TJ Miles, Spain


“Coney Island”
oil painting, 11 x 14 inches
by TJ Miles

I also try to squeeze the last creativity out of the day, but usually by that stage I’m sick of looking at boards and tubs of paint, as well as washing my hands for the umpteenth time in the day. Yes, I am one of those who also tend to wade in with fingers as well as brushes and knives.

I do find that a short period of intense concentration on writing poetry is enough of a change last thing at night, yet pushes me that little bit further creatively so I don’t feel I have neglected another part of my productive life. If I can cover all bases a little everyday, I feel I can justify going to bed and hopefully rest a little easier. The problem is, if that goes better than expected, I end up wide awake writing half the night away! It’s a constant battle between juggling and balance, of time and demands, of stress and promises, but what a way to live!


Small blocks of time
by Terry Scott Greenhough, Salmon Arm, BC, Canada


original painting
by Terry Scott Greenhough

In my effort to stimulate my creative juices, I had a look at the way my life revolved around work as I was an art teacher for many years. Upon my reflections I decided that I would use the model of 80 minutes (one art period) and do what I could do in that time. Add to that having my studio up and ready all the time and I was off to the races. I was quite amassed as to the amount of work that I could get done over a week or so dividing my time up into small blocks of time. As time has progressed and I am now painting full time the process is still the same but the amount of time has increased to 3-4 hours, a break and then an hour or two later on. Oh yes there is that nap too.


Late night sketching from YouTube
by Ron Grauer, Ben Lomond, CA, USA


“Le Grasse, France”
oil painting, 8 x 10 inches
by Ron Grauer

I’m a full time landscape painter so drawing is obviously important but I also love to draw the figure and I love opera. YouTube has operatic presentations. So I go through the singers and operas I like, and select poses, expressions, musicians, beautiful women etc., pause the action and do small ink sketches in a six-inch sketchbook. The ink makes you think more selectively before making a mark… if I’m pooped I will do occasional pencils but the best work comes from the more careful, harder work. I try to do one or two a day after my wife’s in bed. Try it, you’ll like it.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Bonus creativity



From: Kenneth Flitton — Aug 21, 2007

I find that staring at a ptg just before going to bed, conjures up vague images during the night as to what should be done. These are often quite useful. Also, paths cross, however obliquely. I was in charge of rebricking the Peter Munk cancer centre at Queen Elizabeth hospital in Toronto, for which he made a huge donation to get it going.

From: Evelyn Rose — Aug 21, 2007

I very much agree with Sharon Middler. If I write or indeed paint at night I just can’t settle into sleeping at all. I become very active and would very happily paint or write right into the early hours of the morning, which is fatal as I become so tired I cannot function well during the day. So I now go to bed and concentrate on thinking positively about the beautiful painting that I will paint tomorrow. It works very well for me.

From: Judith Prager — Aug 21, 2007

Robert, I think of you as always painting from reality, so I am interested in what kind of painting you do from your late night blobs. Is it totally out of your imagination, or do you use it as a base for an “observed” painting? Thanks, Judith (

From: Sandy Sandy — Aug 21, 2007

I too love sketching from YouTube, Ron! There’s a world of reference available 24/7 – instantly at our fingertips. Aren’t we just the luckiest artists to have ever lived on the face of this planet? Check out my blog:

From: Anonymous — Aug 21, 2007

I discovered something similar long before the days of digital cameras. I noticed that the first and last photos on a film were often more interesting than the rest of the shots. I used an SLR and loaded the films by hand, you could get 2or3 extra shots out of the film. This bonus creativity was quite unplanned but must have come about because I was never sure if these images would even come out so thought about them less and was more experimental.







The Sky’s The Limit

acrylic painting on canvas
by Courtney Simms, Canada


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 Jan Ross of Kennesaw, GA, USA who wrote, “It makes one realize she doesn’t need to be completely conscious to create successful work!”

And also Sandra Donohue of Robson, BC, Canada who wrote, “Pushing yourself to do ‘just one more’ is proof that we have a reserve of energy, creativity and power that we don’t always use.”

And also Patty LeBon-Herb of Middlebury, VT, USA who wrote, “Right now I set a goal to make 5 small acrylic paintings (within the hour) of landscapes from my imagination. If one of them turns out better than the next one, that is the one I will work on some more later, to make a finished piece of art.”

And also Marsha Stopa of Ferndale, MI, USA who wrote, “One of the unexpected advantages I’ve found of pushing the envelope at night, when tired, is that it’s not the creative side of my brain that’s tired but the analytical left-side critic and editor.”




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