Get your mojo


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Doug Swinton wrote, “It seems lately I have lost my will to paint — or as they say I have lost my Mojo. Where does one go or what does one do to find one’s Mojo? I’m hoping for some Mojo wisdom from you.”

Thanks for that, Doug. Mojo is one of those words that popped into the language about 1926 and nobody seems to know where it came from. Merriam-Webster says it’s “a magic spell, hex, or charm — a magical power — probably of African origin, akin to the Fulani moco’o medicine man.” Other sources trace it to the Mojo Indians of Bolivia who are supposed to be the most skillful at river work and fishing. Some claim a connection with the incisive wisdom of “Mother Jones.” All kinds of musicians and animators have Mojo as their patron wizard. Lucasfilm, for example, has spun off crowds of Mojoists. While Mojo suggests any art that invokes supernatural powers, for us creators Mojovation means finding magic in what we do.

Here are a couple of ideas that might bring on your Mojo: “Random plunging” ought to be happening with you on a regular basis. Stewing, pacing, having self-doubts are the top killers. Try bypassing this common tendency and human frailty. Mindlessly grabbing reference material or errant imaginings and simply beginning is a time-tested way to invoke Mojo. Your muse is amused and willed to further renewal during this process. Goethe said it: “Whatever you can do, or dream, you can begin. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” Also, it’s a bit of a mind bender for some artists to see every start in Shunryu Suzuki‘s “beginner’s mind.” You might consider getting his book — Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. His little self-deception is a basis of simple productivity and creative out-busting. Magician — fool thyself.

Mojo is not the resin that a pitcher puts on the ball. Mojo is the magic that you make as you go.


Wizard hat bringing on mojo.

Best regards,


PS: “I see painting as an evocative magic, and there must always be a random factor in magic, one which must be constantly changed and renewed.” (William Burroughs)

Esoterica: In order to get your Mojo back you must revitalize the wizard (or witch) in yourself. Fact is, Doug, you’ve stopped believing in your own wizardry. That’s bad. Like the Wizard of Oz — it’s all about working weird levers behind a curtain. So here’s what you do: Take about five minutes to make yourself a wizard’s hat. Find a piece of coloured paper and roll and staple it in the form of a cone. Put a star or two or some other more personal design on it and put it on your head. Grab your brush and if you don’t notice a difference right away, please drop me a note and I’ll refund the cost of this letter.


Mojo comes after you’ve paid up
by Pat Chapin, South Padre Island, TX, USA


“If The Sea Could Be Fooled”
watercolour painting
by Pat Chapin

It’s dangerous to mix your magics — your hat is for a sorcerer or magician, an English and French concept derived from the cow’s horn head decorations popular in medieval times, first as ladies’ headgear (at that time you plucked your eyebrows and hairline clean, to draw attention to it). Mojo is derived from the African Fulani ‘moco’o’ (a medicine man), and in migration to the Americas, morphed into an amulet (object) and a verb, maybe via Muddy Waters, the blues singer, who sang: “Got my mojo workin’.” Mother Jones and the rest are later variants. To get your mojo working you have to work, and the magic arrives when it decides you have paid your dues.


Beret will do the trick
by Lindsey Santaniello, Bridgewater, NH, USA

The wizard hat looks like so much fun! But the idea has much more to it than wizardry. When I’m stuck and having difficulty manifesting my muse for any variety of self-inflicted reasons, I don a hat. Not just a hat, but a black velvet artists’ beret given to me some 35 years ago by my painter grandmother. When I wear the hat of an artist, given to me by an artist, then I am an artist. Sometimes I just need the reminder, or to play the role to get back to where I want to be. My beret has never failed!


“Quantum entanglement”
by Steve Hovland, San Francisco, CA, USA


“Pacific Coast”
original photo
by Steve Hovland

Your mojo comes from what you care about. If you have lost your mojo it may mean that you have lost touch with what you care about–what turns you on in your art. If your work is selling, you might ask whether you have been painting the same picture over and over because it sells. In that case you may need to leap into the void by painting something else, taking the risk that it won’t sell. If you don’t care about what you are doing it comes through in the work. Paintings manifest “quantum entanglement.” If you can’t put your passion into them your audience can’t feel it when they view them.


Reference material spurs mojo
by Theresa Bayer, Austin TX, USA

When I’m not working in the studio directly, I am constantly hunting for reference material. I have a large collection of reference books and art books. I also have an old edition of children’s encyclopedias from when our son was little, and these are richly illustrated; they have proved invaluable. Reference books make good after dinner reading and bedtime reading, too. I’ve kept favorite children’s books from our son’s childhood, and I’ll look through these. Another thing I’ll do to jump start the muse is go on a search engine to the “images” part of it and just type in any word that comes into my head. Like, “mouse” or “street” or even “mojo” and see what comes up (lots of pets named Mojo). Just surf around, then walk away from it back into the studio.

I don’t bother with my negative emotions. I don’t trust them; I don’t listen to them. Once I’m working I try to relax deeply into the work and make it into a meditation.


Dabbling in 3-D brings mojo
by Veronika Funk, Airdrie, AB, Canada

This past winter has also been a struggle for me in my work… so I took the opportunity to play opportunity to play – experimenting in mixed media, charcoal, plaster, gold, silver, and copper leaf, and dabbling in different watermedia and oil (my work is usually in acrylic), and even working 3-dimensionally (clay)… it has been so much fun. And it has been a revelation. My work is fresh, new, and exciting, and seems to be attracting more buyers. And, the most wonderful thing of all, I’m having fun again. The best of the best, including Picasso and O’Keeffe, turned from their main body of work to dabble in 3-dimensional work… maybe it was also due to a “block”?


Blind painting restores mojo
by Todd Plough, NY, USA


“Cabin interior”
oil on panel
by Todd Plough

In order to get your mojo back you should look at something you really want to paint and memorizeit. Then do the painting blind. Yes, with a blindfold and one color on a wet ground. Hold the edge of the canvas with one hand and paint with the other. Paint fast and with reckless abandon. See it in your mind’s eye — like Yoda said –“use the force.” Then open your eyes. Magic. From here choose the magic you want to keep and stay as loose as what you now see before you. I promise you will get vitality out of it — mojo — I dare you to try it if you have the courage. If you don’t then you have no business calling yourself an artist. We are after all explorers. Unless we venture into the unknown in search of exotic spices for the eyes — our images become ordinary. An artist who says, “I’m afraid” is a dead artist. Failure is only in the shadows of a great prize — a shadow that evaporates when you choose to be bold and shine from within. If you think you are an artist you must be a fighter. Fight to shine and illuminate the world. It takes courage to be who you are. Who are you?


Ideas that fit current outlook
by Ruth Armitage, Tualatin, OR, USA


“Music room”
watercolour, 15 x 21 inches
by Ruth Armitage

I agree that much of “mojo” seems to be in one’s own faith and boldness and random lunging. However, I also believe that my most magical moments come when I have a burning idea that needs to be expressed. Currently, I am searching for another idea that fits my outlook, as I have exhausted the last one. I think artists, as communicators, naturally go through highs and lows of needing to express. Doug may just be in one of those valleys.


Quick exercise pumps mojo
by Julie Eastman


“Red Roofed Barn and Field”
watercolour, 28 x 21 inches
by Julie Eastman

I enjoyed your thoughts about mojo. I teach watercolor, and often begin my classes with a ten-minute painting exercise, where I encourage the students to paint fast and try to begin, develop, and finish a painting in ten minutes. (They can use reference photos, a still life, or their mind for material.) This really helps to loosen things up, and it is amazing at times what the students produce. I also encourage them to use this exercise at home, if they need a push to get their creativity going.


New challenges bring mojo
by Maxine Price, Austin, TX, USA


“Life is a rollercoaster”
original painting
by Maxine Price

Eight years ago I switched from water media to oils for more reasons than losing interest. I was tired of the high cost of framing and having to frame under glass. I switched to wrapped canvas which was difficult to get used to but is oh so much easier to transport. I also like that I can get more in the market place for an oil than I can for water media. I also liked the challenge of trying something different. During my whole career I have challenged myself to do better than what I have already done. I also want my work to be not what everyone else is doing. Four years ago I did an assessment of what elements interest me the most in painting. One of them was texture so I decided to paint with oils using palette knife. I have not limited myself in subject matter. Both of these moves have proved to be successful for me and I’m enjoying the process of painting more than ever.


Thinking small primes mojo
by Liz Reday, CA, USA


“Sunrise, Akumal”
oil on panel, 11 x 14 inches
by Liz Reday

I have just emerged from a four week mojo-less place where try as I might, I could not get going. Then seven days ago I spotted some teeny-weeny linen panels (5″x 7″, 4″x 6″) I had made with leftover linen. I gave myself 1 hour and 15 minutes first thing in the morning to do a little painting of whatever caught my eye–my neighbor’s wall, a red chair in the back yard, whatever. Just a little exercise to get the hand-eye co-ordination moving, and within days I was back in the studio attacking a six-footer with gusto! My mojo was back with a vengeance. You can’t keep me out of the studio these days.


Mojo means MOre JOyous
by Jill Paris Rody, Campbell River, BC, Canada

If the thrill of a painting is to be found, then a Spirit must be consulted. For me, it is none other that the Creator of the Universe, God almighty. He has made us in His image, and He is a creator. Therefore we are creators too! There is already an awesome power for good created within us. The mystery and life of a painting comes not from a perfect plan laid down beforehand but from a living, breathing motion of creativity which moves and grows as we extend ourselves. Reaching out beyond ourselves to embrace the unknown is “safe” when we know our Creator is the one who wants the best for us. (have faith not fear) When I remember this, I ask Him for guidance, and then know I can give over my own fears to Someone who can guide my hand and mind to greater things than even I can imagine!


A buoyant workshop
by Margaret Coxall, Western Australia

Just recently I ran a workshop called ‘Keeping Afloat’ — Lifelines to the practice of creativity. This workshop was designed for artists who had lost their way. Like a boat weathering the storm, the artist needs to stay buoyant and this workshop covered strategies for staying inspired. Subjects we covered were weathering the storm — how to deal with criticism, negativity and disinterest whilst keeping a sense of integrity. Also navigating hazards, managing procrastination, dealing with frustration and boredom, lack of ideas, too many ideas, finding a sense of purpose. Catching and riding the wave — being swept along and riding it all the way into the shore and knowing when to hold on and when to let go, the excitement of starting afresh, the “aha” moment, actual joy of making art and effortlessness. Also keeping things ship-shape, dealing with time, promoting yourself without selling your soul, the importance of presentation, record keeping. Input from fellow artists was great and I think we all benefited from the shared knowledge that the need for buoyancy and confidence plus magic was essential for art practices.


Lost mojo example
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia

Recently one spring sat inside me and had causing a world-changing activity: I visited local children’s library and proposed to place small exhibition from our miniature giclees made of pictures of famous Russian artists — just free, might be for a charity or good humour. Library mistress said that they didn’t need them — they are the library. I said that then people will visit with more interest their library. “Oh,” said the library mistress, “today so many children have visited our library.” “Really many?” asked I. “Yeah, today especially many – about 15 children,” answered she. Municipal children library. Constant librarian’s salary. Lost Mojo example.


Losing her chops
by Dana Dabagia, Michiana Shores, IN, USA


“The Gossips”
oil on canvas, 14 x 18 inches
by Dana Dabagia

At least once a month, I lose my mojo — or as I call it “my chops.” I hate my paints, my easel and those empty canvases sitting in a box. But the strength of the hate as well as the strength of the love in equal portions pulls me back grudgingly to give it another go. Then I’m happy once again. I don’t know why this happens but it’s always after I’ve finished a particularly difficult piece. At this point, I’ve come to expect it thus I’m prepared (almost) for it. Now I must go and make my wizard’s hat!


Travel fixed it
by Kathleen Cavender, Spokane, WA, USA


“As you wish”
oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches
by Kathleen Cavender

One family disaster after another and my brother’s death took what little wind I had left right out of my sails. Needless to say, I had totally lost my “mojo” and could care less if I ever saw my easel again. Fortunately, I had saved some money to remodel our bathroom. So, rather than sprucing up our loo, I opted to visit the Louvre. A month of traveling throughout France and Britain was just what I needed. I have been on a creative high ever since! The loo can wait.


Mojo never quits
by Harold Popp, Wichita, KS, USA

Your letters provide one of the few times that I actually slow down enough to just read something for enjoyment. My Mojo never quits. I almost wish I had the problem. This is especially true with musical ideas. I have some commissions for compositions that I cannot focus on, since there are too many other projects that demand attention. I believe I will teach here at the university one more year. That will make 45 years for a career, and I’ll be 67. As much as I love teaching, I simply must concentrate on all of the projects on back burners. I have run out of back burners.


Comfortable with not knowing why
by Cherie Hanson


“Flowers neon”
digital image
by Cherie Hanson

We are told to believe that focus leads to fate. Shakespearean questions arise. How much of focus is simply constructing our own delusions like setting up a lean-to in the forest. When is it wise to allow chance and circumstance to happen and when is it wise to construct out the surrounding forces? I believe that as we get older we come to have more faith in our own abilities to be both frail, lost, out of time and uninspired and to know that the loss of focus is giving us a wider scope, a richer experience to bring to our lives and our art. And we become more comfortable with not knowing why.


Method for drying oil paintings
by Paul Alex Bennett, Victoria, BC, Canada


“Fall Surprise 2004”
watercolour, 11 x 14 inches
by Paul Alex Bennett

A friend of mine has a woman friend who paints in oils and has a few old cars on her property. In summer she “speed cures” new work by putting the paintings into one of these old cars that’s out in the summer heat, winds up all the windows and lets them bake for a week. What effect would this have on the paintings?

(RG note) It depends on the type of car. Vintage Duesenbergs and Bentleys are probably best for high-class results. My personal choice would be a black ’34 Buick Victoria coupe — soaks up the heat, no air leaks. Post war iron is less effective because of the rust. It has to be said that all cars are superior to drying ovens that use up all our fossil fuels. Besides, it’s good to see the old girls still active.







Unanimous self-portrait 1993

oil painting on linen
by William Robinson, Brisbane, Australia


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 Dorothy Chisholm who wrote, “There’s nothing like a bit of plein-airing to bring back the Mojo — it’s the only cure!”

And also Connie Frey who wrote, “Focus and momentum shorten the path to the finish line.”

And also Kimberley Cook of Calgary, AB, Canada who wrote, “Our bodies are talking. Just listen. Listen to your inner Mojo.”




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