Dear Artist,

Many of the problems that plague artists can be traced back to common old garden-variety laziness. I’m an authority on the subject. Early identified as chronic, this malaise has plagued me for a lifetime (my grade three report card stated “Bobby has lazy habits”). I’ve also devised various ploys to cure it. People are always telling me I’m the most un-lazy person they know.

A Bigger Grand Canyon, 1998 Oil on 60 canvases 207.0 x 744.2 cm by David Hockney (b.1937)

A Bigger Grand Canyon, 1998
Oil on 60 canvases
207.0 x 744.2 cm
by David Hockney (b.1937)

How have I managed to fool them? Some say I’ve programmed myself like a zombie. I go about my interests, they say, like an automaton. I tell them I’m contented in my zombiehood.

But that’s not the whole story. Like a lot of teenagers, I found myself wasting a lot of time. I had to teach myself respect for time. If you too feel you might have a touch of sloth, here are a few ploys you might find useful:

To become enthusiastic, act enthusiastically.

Double East Yorkshire, 1998 Oil on 2 Canvases 60 x 152 inches by David Hockney

Double East Yorkshire, 1998
Oil on 2 Canvases
60 x 152 inches
by David Hockney

Retrain to the better habits you know you can have.

Keep track of time and pay attention to the clock.

Know that acquired proficiency breeds love of work.

Count your jobs completed, not your time spent.

Reprogram regularity into your life.

See the value in what you’re doing.

Be a loving collector of your own accomplishments.

Garrowby Hill, 1998 Oil on canvas by David Hockney

Garrowby Hill, 1998
Oil on canvas
by David Hockney

Unfortunately, in spite of all this picker-upper stuff, it’s important to keep in mind that what appears to be laziness or lassitude may be the result of clinical depression. Depressed people can have trouble with willpower. This may call for professional help.

Recent research at the University of Miami indicates that religious people tend to score higher in the exercise of willpower. It seems that the regular act of prayer or meditation gives the brain a sort of anaerobic workout in self-control. It may not be the content of the prayer or even the particular deity involved that tunes people up. Apparently it’s the regularity of the act and the committed repetition. A good example is the Muslim ritual of facing Mecca and kneeling on a prayer rug five times a day. Reading a different encyclopedia article at proscribed intervals might do the trick for some folks. For many of us, it means the formalized and regular act of entering the cathedral of our studios and rebooting ourselves at the altar of our easels.

Best regards,


PS: “He who would not be idle, let him fall in love.” (Ovid) “Work is love made visible.” (Kahlil Gibran)

Self Portrait with Red Braces, 2003 Watercolor on paper 24 x 18 1/8 inchrd by David Hockney

Self Portrait with Red Braces, 2003
Watercolor on paper
24 x 18 1/8 inches
by David Hockney

Esoterica: For many artists, particularly the overly thoughtful and imaginative ones, self-sabotage can be a big boo-boo. Procrastination, avoidance activity and general lying around are some of the symptoms. If you look at the big picture, you may see yourself as a minor player, but it’s also possible to see and hold dear the sacred value of each individual’s life and times, yours in particular. With this view, simply making a contribution lets work-effort seem worthwhile and even inevitable.

This letter was originally published as “Laziness” on January 6, 2009.

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“Paint something every day.” (David Hockney)



  1. I have a terrible problem with procrastination. I’m grateful you addressed it. I feel I could be a fair painter if I’d just stay with it. I don’t understand the hesitancy. Watching tv or reading is just easier.

  2. stephan chmilnitzky on

    No two people are the same so any rules or must do habits are left of centre…an artist friend of mine worked some times from 4 am to 11 pm and as a results lost his family(they walked away!) What you value, reasons and desire become the dance of struggling painter and some times the need to feed a family enters the picture.

  3. Discouragement, rejection, exploitation, these are issues which breed lethargy which can be mistaken for laziness. Artists need a strong sense of self worth to avoid feeling insufficient in the grasping world of commercialism. Of course, a true love of creating can’t be thwarted for long! Work is the best cure for pain….creative catharsis….a masterpiece just waiting to materialize and only you can make it so. Thank you David for getting to work, and Robert for helping with excellent tips, and Sara for hosting this most enjoyable round table.

  4. Yes, definitely need a “ kick in the rear” right now. I have been so complacent and unmotivated since 2021 ( in particular) began so thank you so much for this reboot! Hockney’s paintings are so colourful and they are inspiring me to get back to my easel and give my brain ( in addition to my body) a thorough workout!

  5. I loved the line: count your jobs completed, not the time spent. I am a very slow painter that sometimes gets caught in the trap of castigating myself for not being more productive. Yet, I do not like sending out any work that is not the best I can make at the time I attempted it, so time gets spent, sometimes lavishly on each project. I will slightly alter this admonition to count the jobs completed the best you can, not the time spent.

    I find a lot of my procrastination comes when I am not sure how to solve a problem with whatever is on the easel. I have found that even when I have tried to solve the problem and ended up wiping it all off at the end of the day that I, at least, learned what not to do. In the end, I find I literally sleep better having spent time working at the easel.

  6. Dorothy Murrell on

    Thank you for this article. David Hockney is my favourite painter, next to Robert Genn, of course. It was a very good start to the day to see them both in my inbox.

  7. I used to think that if I wasn’t self discipline enough to get into the studio each day by nine and paint for 8 hours, I was not an artist. It wasn’t always lack of motivation that held me back from doing that, I just allowed other things in my life to take priority over the painting time. I listened to fellow artists tell of how they hired babysitters so that they could get into the studio to work all day. My painting time always had to wait. Robert is right, count the paintings finished and not the time spent. I have laziness complex as well, tho, staring right now at some boxes of Christmas decorations that need putting in the attic, don’t want to do that, think I’ll paint instead. :)

  8. Thanks. Just what I needed right now after a couple of days of inertia & distraction by “the news”. Also interesting your thoughts on depression which had me in its grip in my early 20s. Not good & mostly still misunderstood. Loved the Hockneys. What an artist he is!

  9. Deirdre Ní Argáin on

    being a family carer means I have to watch the clock continuously. I try and get 2 hours in the studio between 11 and 1 but so far this year it hasnt happened BUT I have got into the studio each day at some stage and sometimes for as little as 45minutes. As a younger artists I would have given up and not used the time waiting for the perfect day to arrive but pushing 60 and with lots of unmade art in me, I have got much better at using these scraps of time and so far its working and Im off to a creative 2021, slow progress but engaged in making.

  10. Once or twice or maybe three times a week I begin painting right when I wake up, before breakfast, before showers and shaving , while still in my pajamas, and I work away for three quarters of an hour to an hour, and then stop for breakfast, etc. Almost every time I do this, I am enthused about getting back to work as quickly as I can. I am excited about what I began before breakfast and want to get back to it.

    I should do it every day, but instead ease into the day following the normal schedule of more carefully entering the day. Robert calls that laziness, but I think of it more as settling my mind, focusing on what lies ahead and preparing myself for the interruptions which are likely to occur. Then I work through to lunch and then stop. Anything I try to do after that is rubbish.

    Knowing when my creative energy is strongest helps me order my day. I know that other artists work best at night or in patches of energy during the day, but I have found mornings to be my best time for painting, and I resent having that time interrupted. That’s selfish, I suppose, but that’s the only way I can work effectively.

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No Featured Workshop Over the Farm #2
original pastel 15 x 15 inches

Featured Artist

Mary’s interest in pastel painting began during her years at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA where she majored in art and elementary education. Though she has worked in watercolor and oil as well as calligraphy, her interest has consistently turned primarily to pastel because of the medium’s potential for glowing, vibrant color and the harmony achieved in bringing together lights and shadows.