No time to paint


Dear Artist,

While mingling at an 85-year-old’s birthday party recently, I overheard a conversation between two artists: “How’s your work going?” asked the first. “It’s not. I haven’t picked up a brush in months,” said the second. “No time to paint.” They batted, back and forth, the creativity-hijacking perils of family, social obligations, sports, studio rent, Thanksgiving and the deadly word, “worthwhile” — as in, “I’m not doing it enough to make the sacrifices worthwhile.” The cake came, everyone sang, the candles were blown out and a wish was made. “The secret to life,” nudged our host, “is that you need to do what you really want to do.”

The Cradle, 1872 oil on canvas 56 x 46 cm by Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

The Cradle, 1872
oil on canvas
56 x 46 cm
by Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

The following day, I told my mum about the exchange, and her response was, “I remember attending a function with your dad, where several other artists were present. There was only one woman, and as the others compared their glorious focus, stretches of time and discoveries, I could see that the woman artist was about to burst into tears. An artist needs a wife.”

I thought about my own wife fantasies. Then, I remembered my friend Chris, a musician, husband, father and teacher, who once confided that he hadn’t written a song since his son was born. “No time” — frustrating, heartbreaking and potentially soul destroying — isn’t just for women. It seems no matter your circumstances, there will always be something to pull you away. Art, for an artist, is a solitary and focus-dependent quest that’s crucial to the soul, yet easy to de-prioritize. The consequences of this neglect can be irrevocably life altering.

In the Wheatfield at Gennevilliers, c. 1875 oil on canvas 69 x 46.5 cm by Berthe Morisot

In the Wheatfield at Gennevilliers, c. 1875
oil on canvas
69 x 46.5 cm
by Berthe Morisot



PS: “It’s been my experience that dedicated artists will always find a way.” (Robert Genn)

Esoterica: Just between us, I’ve noticed that I often struggle to enjoy activities that don’t somehow involve my creative work. How indulgently focused mid-life has become; child-free, with vibrant and healthy loved ones and a close circle of extremely art-enthused friends — including you. Each day, from the start, we make micro-decisions that, if true to ourselves, reflect our innermost drives and desires. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we’re each building our own Rome — be it family, community, security, adventure, or a creative purpose, which is, by the way, worthwhile and worthy of exploring by the very nature of it existing inside of us. If you’re short on time, carve out what my dad called, “one lovely little hour” and focus hard and exclusively on that which burns inside of you. Before you know it, you’ll have built something you really wanted.

Study, The Water's Edge, 1864 oil on canvas 60 x 73.4 cm by Berthe Morisot

Study, The Water’s Edge, 1864
oil on canvas
60 x 73.4 cm
by Berthe Morisot

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Real painters understand with a brush in their hand.” (Berthe Morisot)

“Work is love made visible.” (Kahlil Gibran)






  1. I make time to make art. Small notations in pen or pencil. I keep a good artbank of work.
    I know life stuff gets in the way. I have a long list of projects. I also have several works in progress, I work
    on them a bit a time. Thsi way ,I don’t neglect my disicipline.

  2. I have a wife. She’s the best person I know, and gives me all the space I need, but the real struggle is not getting away to paint, it’s giving up our time together.

  3. this is a very true and letter that must be felt by all artists. So many creative things go through your mind when you have time to relax a minute. When not able to sleep many times I have puzzled out how to fix a problem on a current painting. but pai noting creeps in and you do seem to find that enjoyable time of paint to paper.

  4. I can so relate, having started painting seriously as an early teen and then having my children young and raising them as a single parent while working and finishing an undergraduate degree. But I did paint and take drawing classes. In fact, it was the only thing I did outside of what had to be done. I had a couple of solo shows in the 90s but it wasn’t until 2009 when I had to give up my day job (after my husband had a severe bleeding stroke and was not able to be left on his own for the first year of his recovery) that I picked up my brushes to develop a full-time painting career. After the first couple of years and he was doing much better, he turned to me and said – why didn’t you do this years ago!?

    The question has haunted me every since. Why didn’t I? I never stopped painting from the year of my 14th birthday but I never ever thought I could make a go of it as a full-time painter… until life circumstances left me no other choice. It was the only thing I COULD do that would leave my inner being vibrant and whole while being a 24 hour caregiver. I could pick up and put down my water-mixable oil paints and my brushes as needed. As a landscape painter, our daily recovery walks and beach became my reference gathering. Also, as I was able to take more breaks and my husband could be on his own, I used this time for longer more focused painting sessions. It wasn’t easy but we made it work. Now, ten years later, I realize that it was mostly a lack of confidence and financial insecurity that held me back. But when there was no other choice, then I could both paint full-time and make a living selling those paintings. Unfortunately, I had to be cornered, with no other reasonable or desirable options and then a landscape painting practice became the solution in a heartbreaking situation. It gives me a full body shiver just to think about it….. the universe found a way to get me to stay in front of my easel… but it almost costs the person I love his life.

    So now, all I can say is paint – just paint. Paint first, paint in that precious hour, paint late into the night. Do whatever it takes to paint! And don’t give in or give up! You can do it. I know you can.

  5. This post certainly hits home with me. I’ve long said I need a wife. I think it’s built in to many of us to put others needs and cares before our own. But time travels swiftly and I do see more and more time to dedicate to my art coming my way.

    • Wow….Thank you for this post. I have 24 poems waiting to be put into a chapbook.They have been sitting on my desk, waiting for me, for far to long. What I need to remember is to say no to chores, lunch with friends etc. and just do it.

  6. I can’t just do an hour. It takes me that long to mix color. I find it hard to engage when I must watch the clock & have been late more than once because the art took over.
    Money has been tight the last couple of years, I just got into a gallery but in the meantime the couple of thousand dollars invested in those materials has meant that my bills are behind, my teeth need work, the car needs work, the cats’ vet visits are overdue. I am working a part time job & if I don’t get my 27 hours… (I know that should leave extra time to paint, but I find myself wanting to do more still life paintings & darn it the models don’t hold up in these chopped up time windows).
    There’s no backup from anyone. If I had a partner who just took up some of the chores and contributed $10,000 a year my life would be different. The very successful painter Laura Coombs Hills, whose work Sara featured here once, had a sister who lived with her, took on the “wifely” duties, and kept the garden to supply the flowers. Hills once said “thank God for an unmarried sister”.
    Just venting. Sorry. At least the gallery is happening, that’s movement, and I’m finding small ways to stay engaged, even if it’s just to go over old magazines or do a bit of calligraphy.

    • I am sad to hear how stressed you must be. Think of your stolen moments going over old magazines or doing a bit of calligraphy as your ‘art hour’. It doesn’t have to be scheduled or productive. It’s all grist for the mill. Having a gallery supporting your art is a major achievement and will provide you with the challenges and inspiration to keep you going. And hopefully some financial reward.

  7. Your father had such good advice. I will start with an hour sometime in the day, even if it is just to sit and think about my art. Thanks for sharing your insights, Sara

  8. I have learned not to be irritated with myself for the time spent away from my canvas. It is crucial to live life and observe it. It is from my life away from my canvas that gives me the sparks, the motivation the need to paint what I’ve experienced, to capture the essence of my time away from that canvas, into my art.
    So, basically, time away from painting is a must. But man oh man once I get back to it, truly personal strokes become apparent in my work.
    Does that make any sense to anyone out there?

    • I totally get it. If I stay in the studio all week, my work gets too inbred. I need the stimulation of other art, other people, other views to give me something new to bring to the canvas.

  9. Just what I needed to read today! Thanks, Sara! I agree with all the previous comments. What we really need to remember, I think, is to not be hard on ourselves for not being more regimented in our approach to our artwork. Whatever you are meant to do will come out one way or another. It is part of the nature we are born with.

  10. Just yesterday, at a Thanksgiving table, a lesbian couple asked why my partner and I why we hadn’t any children, or hadn’t adopted, as they had. I answered as honestly as I could (knowing my partner didn’t enjoy his childhood): I’m an artist; I know myself, I’m too selfish. I saw how much my parents gave of themselves to raise me, an only child. As a preteen, I asked for gifts to be canvases, not toys. I am amazed by those who manage to have it all, but always wonder: what if you’d been more selfish? What would your creative output looked like? Everyone’s answer, of course, would be different, which means we are who we are, and that’s just fine.

  11. I may be the luckiest female artist in Canada today. After supporting my 4 kids, husband and aging mother on the home front for many many years, my husband retired from his day job and took on groceries, laundry, and cleaning so that I might pursue my art. He puts on his music and sings his way through the chores. And he gets it all done way faster than I ever did!

    I still do the Granny visits and dinner prep. but in a few short years, I have become an elected member of the prestigious Ontario Society of Artists and am now preparing for a significant solo exhibition.

    I’m not bragging, rather, just saying to the other husbands/lovers/partners that this is a gift that truly keeps on giving.

  12. I think the most profound message here is that, “you need to do what you really want to do”. For me I find my joy when I paint and when I go for long walks. Sometimes this is solitary and sometimes it involves other people who also find joy in the same way. Maybe golf in the nicer months and bowling in the winter need to go. I do them both at a level of mediocrity that doesn’t change, the joy is meted out in very small amounts. Now painting is something I do quite well. Our talent is a gift not to be squandered.

  13. Really lovely letter Sara. I find that there are times I am unable to paint, but I view them as creative rest periods, when I can think about the painting in hand, or what I want to paint next, maybe take new reference photos or go over old ones. I think there are natural rhythms of rest and activity that apply to painting as well as other things, and if I’m recovering from surgery or having to deal with a death or illness in the family, then I just know that I will get back to painting as soon as possible, and plan that painting in my mind. Sometimes I can steal 15 minutes to paint, other times I use that 15 minutes to stretch my paper or do something art-related, so that when more time becomes available, I will be ready. No need to feel guilty, we just do our best with the time we have.

  14. At an open day when I was thinking about going to college to do an art foundation course, a tutor told us we shouldn’t even think about applying unless art was the most important thing in our lives. I can remember thinking that there were several things more important to me, my family, my faith, and possibly several other things. I still got in. At uni another lecturer told us to be a successful artist one had to be utterly selfish and even ruthless. Again I wasn’t impressed. Maybe this means I was never an artist, but I think the time your friend gave to his family wasn’t wasted.

  15. Thank you everyone. What a wonderful stream of wisdom and inspiration all the way down from Sara’s letter !
    My “hour” can be spent in tidying/organizing my small studio space, all the while thinking, pondering, “housecleaning” my mind, jotting ideas down as they come. We need to be tuned in, to ourselves AND all that is around us, and let go of the shoulds and musts of art, and go with the flow of life. My art activity has even become seasonal as I find gardening, for example, a wonderful outlet, and inlet, to my creative self!

  16. I always enjoy reading the Painter’s Key. In this issue, however, there are a number of troublesome points. I want to comment on the following points in this article. These include the following.

    1. The article contains the statement that “the creativity-hijacking perils of family, social obligations,” etc.

    There are indeed higher priorities than artistic creativity. They do include family, social obligations, etc. As an artist, if you feel that these are “hijacking” your artistic creativity, then the artist needs to assert that time is needed to do such work. To claim that the artists family, etc., are deliberately diverting artistic creativity appears to blame them for this shortcoming. These statements are quite disparaging of an artists social circumstances. The only person responsible for not having the time to be creative is the artist and their ability, desire, will, to negotiate that time. This puts the artist at the same level as their circumstances. Your statement implies that the artists creativity is somehow more important than their social circumstances comes across as quite elitist.

    2. Your inclusion of statements to further an artists creativity like, “… An artist needs a wife” and that this “isn’t just for women” is also problematic. No one should advocate the subjugation of their spouse, partner, especially well-known artists like the Painter’s Key to its subscribers. Essentially, artists that exploit the work of their wives/husbands so that they can go and be creative are oppressors similar to those in a hierarchical position over others. It’s long past due that these statements should be abandoned in favour of equality. An artist needs to discuss and make arrangements with others in their circumstances to do their creative work and not assume or expect that someone else will simply step in and fill the void.

    3. Perhaps the most challenging point you make is: “It seems no matter your circumstances, there will always be something to pull you away.” This statement makes the artist appear disinterested in their social surroundings and gives the impression that these are somewhat undesirable and even inferior to what the artist wants to do. Yes, there are other claims on an artist. That is part of being human and having to live in a patriarchal society. However, it’s up to the artist to make a decision about what to do about them, to participate or not, to see if other arrangements are possible so that the artist can have time to be creative. Stating that an artist is always being pulled away omits that the onus is on the artist to do something constructive about that.

    4. Lastly, while I would agree that it is correct to state that an artist is the producer of their creativity, to conceptualize art by artists simply as a “solitary” endeavour or work, crucial to the “soul”, that is easy to “de-prioritize”, is an understanding that is woefully inadequate. Virtually all art has never been nor does it exist in a social vacuum. Art is a socially organized activity or work. A person engaged in doing the creative work of art, an artist, is entwined with others such as providers of materials eg., paints, brushes, canvasses, mediums, and so on. Artists are also the embodiment of other artists, their theories, methods, techniques, etc., that they may choose to adopt or change in doing their own art. The individual work of creativity involves these shared parts with social organizations, businesses, galleries, etc., other artists and is reflected to others in the creative result of the artist. That result, such as a painting, is usually shared, seen, perceived by others. An artists creative work, while undertaken individually, is never an isolated activity. The image of a lone artist omits too much understanding of the creative process and the resultant art. Art and creativity is a consequence of hidden organizational activities. The work of bringing creativity to fruition, as art, by an artist, originates in socially organized circumstances, is carried out through invisible social impacts on an artist and their work, and results in a typical viewing of it by others (even if it is limited to a family or friends).

    I should mention that it was this article that inspired me to write this response to the Painter’s Key and for that I am grateful. I’ve had to sort out some of my current thinking about creativity, art and artists. As an artist, thank you for reading my somewhat different thoughts about your article. I look forward to reading your next article.

  17. Jake, you are certainly gifted in expressing yourself in the written word. It, to me, is very impressive the talent it takes. The points that both Sara and you articulate are to be pondered with thoughtfulness. Each creative person needs to find what works the best for them. Love the paintings created by Morisot. Thank you, Sara, and thank you both.

    • Peggy Fox-Warren on

      Very interesting article and comments, thank you all! I was always troubled by a comment a female artist once made to me many decades ago when I was striving to be a “full time serious artist”, that my husband should fully support me so that I could be an artist, which at the time sounded like, “you shouldn’t have to worry about anything else”. Given my “equal” marriage (and still going strong after 40 years), it never occurred to expect, let alone ask to be “supported” as an artist, except perhaps from a wealthy patron, and even that has its dilemmas. So, I integrated art with my many other life ventures until financial realities became a higher priority than creative expression and I gradually gave up my art life, but not the identity.
      Twenty years later with much financial stability in my 70’s, I now contemplate the choice to “pull away” from other meaningful activities in order to do creative work again, but am seeing that without a strong inner drive to do so, finding time isn’t the main problem.
      Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone wrote an article from the perspective of the artist who opines, “No time to play, love, or help others” as though other longed for means of connecting to others always feels out of reach. Perhaps we idealize the “artist” a bit much? I was always amazed at how people projected a lot of their ideal fantasies when I was a painter. I totally agree that an artist is very much influenced by and has to survive in a social context, and a political one as well. Deciding to “stop painting” means very little to other people, it turns out, if they have internalized their view of you as an artist and still love your art work. That’s grand!

      • I am in a similar situation as yourself Peggy and in my 70’s. You have written a highly informative response that I hope many others will read. I would also like to read about the article that you suggest. Thank you for your wonderful and thoughtful response. Jake

  18. Thank you Sara.

    Sometimes it seems to me that the decision (compulsion) made years ago to have children who then had children, many of whom live nearby, as well as a family replete with very very elderly relatives leaves me with time to clean the kitchen for the next batch of mega-meals. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy preparing food from scratch, knowing the ingredients, canning, giving stuff away (esp to a family with four teenaged boys with hollow legs and a seriously ill younger sister), as well as to busy family members … It’s perhaps time management that I need to focus on.

    Instead I pray for creativity, focus and direction, and recently time has opened up during which I have been able to “re-purpose” and recycle and refinish, for instance, stackable old fashioned plywood chairs. They will have somewhat “wild” paint jobs on them soon, ready for the Christmas festivities. Little by little, as the home becomes whipped into shape, there are precious hours to spend seeing what is the difference between ultramarine blue and thalo blue (green shade) when applied over black gesso. (It’s actually quite amazing. … well, to me)

    Little people take precedence when they are on site, but when not, those sweet hours spent with an understanding spouse (who stays clear) are precious indeed. For me, art is therapy which I get to do.

    And after a several years long hiatus of sorts, now those carvings and paintings are starting to really take shape. SO exciting!

  19. Unfortunately being a full time artist is pretty similar to building a business from the ground up, with same time commitments, work/life balance issues, social obligations. Waiting till you are 70 might work for some but I simply can not imagine such a hellish existence, so… I’ve chosen not to be a mother.

    Not a decision made lightly and not a decision anyone around me understands or supports. If I was male things might have been different somehow, but I’m not, and that’s the reality of it.

  20. One of my all time fave posts, thank you so much. (((HUGS))) ~paintings by Julie Northey~ on Facebook, my website is so far behind, I spend any time possible on making new work :)

  21. I read most of the comments and i would like to add I am now 77 year old and have been making art for forty years. In a ntshell I paint most everyday. I have a wife but we share chores. I get no special treatment being an artist. Yet, I go into the studio and work. Recent events have caused much heartship in my life.
    I live in CA. but opened A gallery/ Studio in New Mexico. I was successful until Covid forced my closure and return to CA. While there I lived on my own. No wife. I also had students Four days a Week. But I have to say this was the most productive time of my entire life. Every day was either teaching or working or mounting shows of my work or my students work. if you want to be a painter, you find a way. My wife and choosse to NOT have children. I am alone a lot of he time but never lonely. I have formed few friendships by choice. The few I have know to give me space and not demand my time. this may all sound selfish and self centered, but I live a good life, sell and work and I am happy. My life is as full as I want it to be. The point here is if you want it, really want it. you can have it. but there is always price .

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