Power hour


Dear Artist,

In my part-time, unpaid job as an art coach, I hear from folks who are suffering from lackadaisicalitis. While they may be naturally talented, they seldom produce art and have little motivation. It’s easy to say they don’t want things badly enough.


Every artist has unique ‘hot times.’ Planning and self-knowledge are balanced with opportunity and inspiration.

One of my suggestions is to try to rewire the habit patterns using the “power hour” system. This is where distinct times are set aside for concentrated, all-out easeling. The idea comes easily to some and runs against the grain of others. It may have something to do with fear of failure. “Organizational fatigue” is where a person gets tired of being in systems that are frequently aborted. In supposedly self-motivated lives, I call this problem “the contrarian trap,” and some folks have it in spades.

To make the power-hour concept work, you need some sort of day-timer. While regular calendars will do, I recommend a custom one pushed out by your printer. While mine is nothing much, we’ve included sample close-ups here.


For me, classical music during power hours helps with the ‘zone.’ I also sometimes use a telephone headset.

Entries can be made before or after the fact. Sometimes it’s not nice to push yourself around but nice to make note of missions accomplished. At other times it’s valuable to pencil in distinct power hours for the day ahead. Sometimes, minutes of preparation and starting at the top of the hour are good moves. I like to squeeze out first and get my ducks in a row. It’s amazing what you can get done in one golden hour. I’ve found the system works best when I’m not to be distracted and treat the exercise as a bit of fun. Music helps.

Theorists like Thoreau and Emerson looked at the value of self-regulation. While some of us are unexplainably driven, my experience is that the Achilles’ heel of many artists is simply lack of self-regulation. Further, many say “I don’t want to go there,” and that’s fine. For those who want things badly enough, a few items pencilled in before or after the activity might just become the tiny habit that produces big dividends.


The red mark may mean completion, or a somewhat satisfactory effort. Some days there just ain’t no fish.

Seeing motivational techniques as games may be key to their success. To be simply on the field, playing, is great, but those over-the-fence hits that you get with steady application can make it total magic.

Best regards,


PS: “Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)


Anticipated power hours are blocked in early in the day. Others (in red) are stimulated from earlier work.

Esoterica: Many self-regulating artists simply put in long hours and just keep chipping away. The word “sacrifice” often comes into play. Seemingly stubborn and limiting, artists often report they don’t do TV, card games or other frivolities. Surprisingly, many don’t put much emphasis on food. Some, particularly those with wider responsibilities, sacrifice sleep. Most value regular exercise as “brain changing” activity. One artist friend describes his daily life this way: “I’m like a zombie — the work rules me — I keep on plugging and smiling.”


Following the head-machine
by Richard F Barber, Watford, Hertfordshire, UK


“Studio view 2”
original painting
by Richard F Barber

From dawn till dusk I’m in my studio. My daily routine is to open my computer and check my email. Once done, I start working on whatever painting that I have started on, or check out my art supplies. My head seems to be like a machine that projects images for me to paint. At times it’s hard to choose which one I do next. I have no time in my life for TV or computer games, I have the occasional outing with friends but little more, having said this I have no wish to discard my best friends — my studio, and my art.


Motivated by time squandered
by Carl Purcell, Manti, UT, USA


“Morning Moran”
original painting
by Carl Purcell

I’m sure everyone in art has hit blocks at times, where the impetus to get going just isn’t there. I have found that drawing pulls me out of that quickly and restores excitement. Also time has the ability to motivate me. Now that I am pushing 65 I realize that I have less time left than I have already squandered to do all the art I want to do. I retired from full-time teaching three years ago, and now only put in about 12 – 14 hours a day in the studio. Seeing the increased production alone is a stimulus. I find so much enjoyment in the work I hate to call it work.

There are 3 comments for Motivated by time squandered by Carl Purcell

From: JR Von — Nov 25, 2008

Thank you for reminding me about the time lost. And a great motivator to use the time I have ahead. The best to you and your efforts.

From: Dianne Mize — Nov 25, 2008

I, too, retired from teaching art nearly two years ago and found an altogether new excitement as an artist by being able to begin every single day in my studio. I admit I have worried about all those years focused on teaching when I didn’t feel my painting was going anywhere. At the same time, I grew from those years and that growth is now finding its own in my painting.

From: Lorraine Khachatourians — Nov 25, 2008

Like you, Carl, I am in my early 60s, and have only come to painting in the past few years. I have just been told that I have the beginnings of macular degeneration in my right eye, which explains the blur that has developed. I have found out that it is a chronic, non-reversible condition so now I really need to focus – in more ways than one – on the painting that I love so much.


The crisis of uncovering
by Bruce Meyer, Arlington, MA, USA

Lately, I’ve found that as I’ve tried to push myself into doing art, I’ve provoked the mental and emotional crises that the avoidance of art has allowed me to cover up. Fortunately, I am under the care of both a physician and a counselor in a team of counselors and they have both worked to help me negotiate this crisis of uncovering. When I make art it is very similar to the eating habits of an anorexic — tell her, “Why don’t you just eat something? You know, take a forkful, open your mouth, and eat? What’s the problem?” Well, there’s a giant problem. And for me to make art, the Big Issue was sitting behind the door patiently like a cat waiting for the door to open up. If I walk away from the door, my cat will patiently just sit there for another hour until I come back. Likewise the Big Issue will patiently wait for the next time I do anything creative, play or write music, start a business or go on a job hunt, create a comic strip, paint a nude, whatever. For all those things I just mentioned, I have started them and stopped as soon as the Big Issue started to emerge. What’s happened lately is that I’ve gotten on the kind of productive schedules that you and others have mentioned, so that my clever avoidances failed to stop my train crash.


Not enough time
by Mary Rich

As an ex-professional illustrator, I know quite well the value and necessity of planned hours. That is not my problem. Rather, as a current high school teacher, my off hours are so taken with meditation (first and foremost to transition from 170 teenagers during the day), to exercise (before or after work), shopping for groceries, laundry, housekeeping, time with my husband, and then I find I absolutely must, for my sanity, have some unplanned time for doing nothing. This leaves very little time for my own work. I do get a few things done a month but I have to admit, sometimes reading your letters and replies from other artists, I do long for the day after day of being in the studio, even though I absolutely feel blessed to be ‘in art’ with the kids.

There are 3 comments for Not enough time by Mary Rich

From: Brigitte Nowak — Nov 24, 2008

I feel that one doesn’t “find” the time to do artwork, one “makes” it. While working fulltime in a challenging (read stressful) career, I raised two children, did the laundry, shopping, housework and bred, showed, walked and groomed the two dogs that are part of the family, and maintained an art practice that included a number of juried and solo shows over the years. Usually I painted at night after the kids had gone to bed, cutting back on my sleep in order to do so. Yes, it was gruelling, but it was important to me, and something I wasn’t prepared to give up.

From: JR Von — Nov 25, 2008

Maybe the very thing your trying to get relief from (The Kids)
Is where your cure is, use that energy and subject matter to your advantage.

Draw what you know so well!

The gift that lays before are feet is often stepped on first.

From: Bill — Nov 25, 2008

Dont despair, your time will come. I too because of the priority I put on growing up with my three children and managing a small business with eight other “children” had very little time for art creation. I did have time for some painting/drawing on annual holidays and instigated many drawing contests with my kids. Now they are on their own (two in art-related careers) and I have time to devote to creating my own art. It will come to you too.


20-minutes-a-day trick
by John F. Burk, Timonium, MD, USA

My notion is “to wet a brush every day,” even if my intent is to keep the session short — even just 20 minutes or so. No matter how tired, spirit-worn, or disinclined, I can do anything that’s good for me for 20 minutes. The trick is that once into it, I spend a good, productive period at it. This has worked exceedingly well for me when I had a day job, which I lost last February and have not been able to replace as yet. It kept me at it, and more importantly, daily. Anything you do every day, you’re apt to be good at doing. I am now enjoying 1st career status with my paintbrushes, and am enjoying it without having to resort to trickery.


No waiting around for inspiration
by Tiit Raid, Fall Creek, Wisconsin, USA


“Highway 12 Bridge”
acrylic on paper
by Tiit Raid

The more I’m in the studio, the more I want to be in the studio. What was an effort when I was younger has become something I want to do and look forward to doing. When you have a regular schedule it becomes a part of what you do, and when you haven’t been at the easel for a time you miss it. On the other hand, if painting is a hobby, it is perhaps fine to do it on weekends or when you feel like it. But if you want to improve and become a better painter you have to work at it regularly. There is no way around it.

Some of my students used to say that they only worked on their own when they were inspired. Sorry, that is not the way it works. Professionals know that there is no such thing as waiting around to be inspired. As someone said, “Inspiration favors the prepared mind.” The American artist Lucas Samaras noted that those moments when you are totally tuned-in with what you are doing are so rare that that was the reason he worked all the time, to experience those moments more often.


Covering all the bases
by Janet Toney, Greeneville, TN, USA


“Green and yellow cup on red cloth”
original painting
by Janet Toney

The demands and the emotional pull of family always derail me. Everyone else and our home come first! It is admittedly self-imposed. Still it IS and can’t be changed. And yet, the desire to paint is strong still! I never totally give it up. I do use scheduling and lists for most activities in my life, but, when I am finally into painting, I don’t need one. There’s nothing much on the schedule except “Paint”! Further, it seems I have a compulsion to finish what I start. Seems the best way to include more time for painting is to keep something on the easel at all times. So having more than one idea actually started, helps. Doing this gives me a chance to use your power hour example. Since things are out and ready to go, I can take some time to paint without feeling guilty. The other jobs are still getting attention. Oh yes, I want it bad enough. I’m just not smart enough or rich enough to do it all.

There is 1 comment for Covering all the bases by Janet Toney

From: Susan Avishai — Nov 25, 2008

Someone once told me when I had small kids and an art career that women can have everything, just not all at the same time. I found that reassuring. And it’s true — my kids are on their own now and I’m in the studio full-time. It helps to look at the whole life, not just a piece.


Hyper-focusing time problems
by Karen Meredith


“Great wall”
watercolor on canvas
by Karen Meredith

Once I’m in the studio it’s hard for me to leave. Thus one hour seems like it would be hard to manage. However, it’s getting to the studio that’s difficult. I once was told that this could be a sign of a form of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Hyper focusing is a common trait and changing between activities/focus areas can be challenging. Thus, doing things only in one hour spurts might not be best suited for those who like to work in blocks. That being said, I often tell myself that I know that I need to get these other things done but I will get to them after I get that one hour in the studio under my belt. Of course I might be lying to myself — since that one hour will probably lead to many more! Then again, some of the other things pulling at me might become less important when time is more limited.


Schedule needed
by Casey Craig, Wimberley, TX, USA


“Lone longhorn”
mixed media
by Casey Craig

As an artist with two kids and a nearby mother who sometimes requires assistance, I have to be extremely organized to accomplish anything. I started printing out weekly calendars about two years ago and it has made a huge difference in my productivity. Granted, some days are artistic write-offs if I’m to be attending school functions or helping my mom run errands, but having these written into my schedule forces me to take advantage of the unscheduled days to work on my art. At 3:30 I morph back into mom and my art day ends when I meet my kids at the bus stop and then supervise homework and get ready for dinner. If the homework is light, I can sometimes return to the studio to do something more mundane like varnish a painting, but the real creative zone is best attempted when I’m alone. I’ve frequently heard artists claim they can’t do a schedule — it’s too restrictive for their artistic spirit. I guess that’s great if you have no other obligations, but a schedule keeps me working and sane.

There is 1 comment for Schedule needed by Casey Craig

From: Bob Hutchison — Nov 24, 2008

What wonderful whimsy and cheering colors! You must be a happy person.


Feelings and fears get in the way
by Patricia Ryan, Beavercreek, OR, USA


“Oswego Creek Bridge”
acrylic on panel
by Patricia Ryan

“Lack of motivation” is a very big bag filled with as many bugaboos as there are artists, times ten. Some of mine were (and are) focusing on the idea that I have to make a “good” painting, rather than that I’m undertaking a joyful process of discovery. I also find myself thinking that I have to know exactly where I’m going before I start. I worry that I’ll never be able to recreate a previous success. I worry that I’ll have to choose one idea as better than another, as opposed to just painting them both. I feel like I’ve run out of ideas. I feel like I’m not going to make something “good.” Basically, I heap notions of responsibility and expectations on myself.

I’ve found it useful to notice all the thoughts that go through my head after I get that first feeling that it’s time to go paint something. They’re almost always expressing some fear of inadequacy, as if there were some serious negative consequence of my not being able to make this one a perfect painting. I finally started getting past these de-motivating thoughts when I realized that I can’t get to be a good painter unless I paint. So whether I feel ready or not, I have to paint something.

There is 1 comment for Feelings and fears get in the way by Patricia Ryan

From: Liz Reday — Nov 26, 2008

I agree that it’s important to not “should” on yourself, which ranks alongside the tyranny of the focal point and the need to recreate a previous success as stumbling blocks to our loose, joyful, explorations of painting. Just explore, the results will take care of themselves. Your last line says it all: “Whether ready or not, I have to paint something”.


Scheduling career forward
by Brigitte Nowak, Toronto, ON, Canada


“Georgian Rocks: Fox Islands”
oil on canvas
by Brigitte Nowak

A couple of years ago, I used a variation of your “power hour” concept to move my career forward. Having received what I considered undeserved rejections of my work, I decided that one route to success would be to get into a commercial gallery or two. First, I made a list of the commercial galleries that I decided to approach, and a schedule. The local ones, I visited ahead of time. For others, I reviewed their websites, and checked out the artists they represented to make sure my work would be compatible, but not identical, and contacted them to find out if they were reviewing artists’ work and to obtain the name of the appropriate staff person to contact. (As I hate this type of personal promotion, the list and schedule gave me some discipline. And then, once a week, I prepared a submission package and sent it out.

It wasn’t long before I started hearing back. I still got rejections, but I also got positive feedback, everything from “keep trying” to “let’s see some actual work.” Now, with six galleries in Ontario that represent me, my biggest challenge is making sure that my galleries have the appropriate “product” on their walls, I am in a position to “cull” one or two that aren’t working out for me, and I can rotate work that hasn’t sold.

The “Power Hour” provides focus and discipline: writing down when you are going to do a certain thing makes it more real than just thinking about it. Thank you for sharing another secret to your success.


by Cath Simpson, NF, Canada

For keeping track of the hours, one of the best daily organizers I’ve ever used is the free, fun, and completely customizable “PocketMod,” a wee book made from one piece of paper using downloadable page formats that you can select and personalize. Maybe you know of it? If not, some unsung genius has constructed this useful and rather addictive little website — don’t say I didn’t warn you!

There is 1 comment for PocketMod by Cath Simpson

From: Mariane H Tveter, Kenya — Nov 26, 2008

Hi Cath, just wanted to say Thank you for sharing this one! I’ve already spread the link to others…

…and, of course, thank you, Robert, for creating this forum and your insights – I’m always looking forward to your bi-weekly letters!



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Power hour



From: Cheryl Webster — Nov 21, 2008

I seem to work best when I know I HAVE to do something. Eg class work. I never have trouble doing my exercises and in fact going way past what is asked of me. My teachers love me. But when the class is over, the motivation seems to die too. An expensive way to paint – ha ha!

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Nov 21, 2008

Cheryl, I believe a lot of painters need group stimulous.

From: Mike G Gold Coast — Nov 21, 2008

Any act of creativity is from the soul. See your art as an act of worship and honour your God by the time you spend working. An hour a day is easy to do. Your time will be well spent and have a meaning far beyond that which is immediately obvious.

From: Jaxine Cummins — Nov 21, 2008

I find putting a pretty easel in my family room-livingroom, helps me to keep motivated. An unfinished painting to stare at when we are watching TV or chatting, gets my juices running.

My husband is becoming a very good critiquer. I have done this for years and it sure helps me to keep excited about my painting.

From: Robert Redus — Nov 21, 2008

As artists the self-regulating, self-motivating problem is a huge issue. I work in my studio every day and find on those days I’d rather have a coffee, or go for a hike, rather than view those as distractions or lack of motivation, I see them as part of the motivation process or part of the job, I’ll bring a camera at least. I treat my studio time as a profession as anyone who has a job does. Motivation starts for me by spending 30 minutes per day painting 5 small paintings on paper. They may be as small as a postage stamp or as large as one inch by three inches, but the process starts the system and soon rather than the process being just familiar it becomes a necessity, like showering in the morning. Those that work see the results.

From: April Thompson — Nov 21, 2008

I so struggle with this. I do good art and love it, but am so unmotivated most of the time. I have so many interests and have not been able to focus on one particular area. I feel a guilt and frustration with myself and can’t seem to let go of the pressure to produce.

From: Rick Rotante — Nov 21, 2008

Listening to your body is key for me. When I’m on a role I work until the mood passes. This can last from one hour to weeks or months. When the drive passes I then realize I need to re-fuel, I ease off. We put to much pressure on ourselves to produce and in the process we produce mediocre work or at the very least uninspired works. Being motivated isn’t hard. I have projects I need two lifetimes to finish. You just have to listen to your inner voice and produce when you’re in that frame of mind. When I work this way time stands still and my work flows from an inner source without my active intervention.

Sometimes when guilt sets from working which many times for me is only a few days, I go into the studio and read about art or go onto the Internet and view what others are doing. This is enough motivation to start a new project.

I don’t go to the studio and force myself to work. Not anymore. I did as a new painter. Good work is not something that can be forced. This is true with any endeavor. There is a natural rhythm to everything. When I paint this inner rhythm works until it stops. After which I shut off the lights and do other things.

The choice to paint or not is yours. Distractions are all around us. Excuses are easy to create. Those who wish to be artists ignore distractions and don’t make excuses.

From: sitting by the river — Nov 21, 2008
From: Helen Musser — Nov 21, 2008

Dear Robert, What insight to our private lives. Lead us on to more paintings and hopefully some day a masterpiece. Thank you for your encouragement.

From: Elizabeth Glass — Nov 21, 2008
From: Russ Hogger — Nov 22, 2008

My power hour Robert, seems to be between midnight and 2am. That’s when things start falling into place. I really don’t know why, but some of my best work is done at that ungodly hour. The crazy thing is, I still get up at 5.30am the next day. I know only one other artist who says he also ends up working into the late hours.

From: Paul Kane — Nov 22, 2008

I think low expectations are the key. If you have trouble working all day long, set an hour as your goal. If you have trouble with an hour, set ten minutes. The point is to find a regimen that you can sustain. Once you get regular with it, try to expand. Do twenty minutes instead of ten. Be patient. Don’t try to move on to thirty until you’ve got twenty down. And so on.

From: Jean De Muzio — Nov 22, 2008

I just read the Power hour letter. As always there are insightful and enjoyable. My question to you is where did you coach art? I also have been a business/career coach in the past and would love to coach others about their art. I’d be happy to volunteer this time. Any suggestions where to start?

From: Marjory Sampson — Nov 22, 2008

This sounds like an ideal way to keep me motivated with starting off at just one hour a day. I won’t feel so over whelmed and I will most likely keep on going past the hour. Just the idea of starting off small is a big step..

From: Jules Shaivitz — Nov 22, 2008

I have an almost unpaid job as an Art Coach… at a senior center…

From: Lori Lukasewich — Nov 22, 2008

I sometimes get similar sentiments from my students. And I can only say the same things time after time. Only painting produces painting. That’s it – no big mystery. The more you paint the better you get. No amount of rationalization has any effect. You either do it or you don’t. Pretty straightforward.

From: Lois Jackson — Nov 22, 2008

You forgot sparkly. It may not be in the official list of microsaccades, but anything sparkly, a snowflake, dewdrop, a bit of cellophane along the roadside, and my magpie gene kicks in. Why do we prize gold, diamonds and other sparkly gemstones? We can’t eat them. They serve no useful purpose except adornment, and yet we have built whole economies around them. Artists may be the exception, as we can grind some of them into pigments and use them in our work.

From: Yoby — Nov 22, 2008

I feel like coloring it in afterward for awhile may be a good idea, because it will show me when I consistently do my best work. I am one of those who have tried system after system, but am inwardly rebellious after awhile. Or I just lose interest and fade away, this is simpler. I’d be more likely to color in something done well as a reward than plan the time which feels like a straight-jacket.

From: tina — Nov 24, 2008

Lois, If you ever go snorkling, you will know right away why sparkly is attractive.

From: Sherry Purvis — Nov 25, 2008

Painting, for me is addictive as anything I do routinely. I go in the studio every morning and work for 2 to 3 hours. There are times that I continue throughout the day, but the early morning seems to give me the flow I need. It is about, at least for me, keeping that schedule and making that time.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Nov 25, 2008

What you call your “Power Hour”, is of course, a version of the kind of disciplined approach creative people of all sorts have devised for centuries (probably eons), whether unconsciously or simply out of a need to ensure creative time. Many years ago, when I was working full-time, going to school, and doing my best to be a single parent, I was, simply, overloaded. A friend told me to write in appointments with myself in my dayplanner. Time just for me. Some of the best advice I’ve ever had. It made the rest possible.

Now that my children are grown, and I no longer have those outside pressures, I keep farmer’s hours: get up early , eat breakfast, do dishes (from the day before), relax with a cup of coffee and a book, and then the rest of the morning belongs to my art.

But earlier this year I hit one of those walls, hard. I still worked at my art, but in a desultory and unsatisfied way. I finally gave myself permission to back off for a while.

Recently I was invited to submit a piece of my own choosing, in any medium and style, to a special exhibit about Lyme disease. The piece I submitted was unlike what I usually take to the galleries in my area, most of which are tourist oriented. I had, in my eagerness to become a recognized artist in this area, allowed myself to be seduced into a regional conventionality. I have decided to extricate myself. Your “Power Hour” concept is going to be useful to me, as I once again explore what MY art is. There is a delightful sort of tension that arises in that play that comes from the not knowing where I am going just yet. I can hardly wait.

From: Dottie Dracos — Nov 25, 2008
From: Liz Reday — Nov 26, 2008

It’s easy to be seduced into regional conventionality, I’ve been there. Despite commissions and sales, my rebellious artist-self struck out for the deep end, frequenting the undersides of freeways and painting plein air the layers of grafitti beneath bridges. This led to studio discoveries and the delicious free-fall of abstraction. There aren’t enough hours in the day when you’re onto something new and exciting. Getting turned on by painting (or music or whatever) is what it’s all about. This isn’t a job, it’s an adventure!

From: Joyce Goden — Dec 04, 2008
From: Carol Campbell — Dec 04, 2008

Thank you so much for this timely reminder. ‘Tis the season for burnout, and I’d already been feeling the symptoms nudging.

I’m definitely involved in too many things, trying to keep the wolves from the door, and I just need to take the time to focus.






oil on canvas, 24 x 24 cm
by Deborah Levy , Highwood, Illinois, USA


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 Kim Santini of Lake Orion, MI, USA, who wrote, “My power hour comes in the form of daily painting. It was originally conceptualized as just that — getting myself into the groove of painting, breaking down any boundaries, without fear of compromising a larger piece. Now, beginning my third year of daily work, I find that I immediately slip into productivity once that hourglass starts.”

And also Christopher Marion Thomas of Inglewood, CA, USA, who wrote, “I struggle with artist block often and a fear of failure / success. Your letters have encouraged me and help me to continue to fight the good fight.”

And also Patti Dyment of Canmore, AB, Canada, who wrote, “A wise and generous coach is a special boon, all un-looked for.”

And also Linda Crane of Ladysmith, BC, Canada, who wrote, “To be productive is to be focused.”

And also Judi Vreeland of Cedar Creek, TX, USA, who wrote, “There are no words that can be written to adequately thank you for your generosity, knowledge, support, and the humanity that you share for free. What you do is beyond price, cherished, collectible, dear, incalculable, incomparable, inestimable, invaluable, out-of-bounds, out-of-sight, prized, rare, rich, treasured, valuable, valued, without price, worth a king’s ransom, worth its weight in gold. Ok, so maybe there are a few words.”




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