Sixteen reasons why I won’t paint today


Dear Artist,

A woman wrote recently and told me she was unable to paint because a neighbour was “using some sort of Weed Eater or Leaf Blower.” Pressed for time, I wrote her a quick note quoting Confucius — “An inconvenience is an unrecognized opportunity.” I suggested she get a headset to close out the annoyance and tune in to Chopin. Then I started thinking about my inbox with all the excuses people give for not painting. With a little digging, I was able to find a few choice ones: “I ran out of yellow ochre.” “I saw ants in the studio.” “I was too hot.” “I was too cold.” “Somebody broke into our house and stole the TV.” “Our Jack Russell, ‘Jack Russell’ had to go to the vet.” “This day next week my sister-in-law is coming.” “I can’t think of anything to paint.” “My brother is moving out.” “I’m overtired from sleeping on the floor.” “My art teacher died.” “I had to help Dad with his walk-in bath.” “I couldn’t find my sketches from last year.” “My brushes are in too poor shape.” “My Pontiac worries me; it needs replacing.” The excuse, “I was fooling around with The Painter’s Keys search engine and it used up all my time,” was already taken.

Ritual, 1962 oil on canvas 51 x 63 3/4 inches by Norman Lewis (1909-1979)

Ritual, 1962
Oil on canvas
51 x 63 3/4 inches
by Norman Lewis (1909-1979)

While all the excuses listed above were interesting, “This day next week my sister-in-law is coming,” seemed overly loaded with possibilities. Have you any idea how golden a pre-sister-in-law week can be? The anticipated sister-in-law may be Jabba the Hutt (quote: “Spasteelia a bunkadunka”) with drool and a voice that shatters glass, but the eternity before her arrival may just turn out to be the most fantastic week of your life.

To a butterfly, a week is a lifetime. Annoying as all these impedimenta are, they shouldn’t bother folks with internal drive. Internal drive is the forge of productivity. In all self-starting activities where end results are dependent on you and you alone, procrastination is the default mode. You can pretty well always find a reason not to work. But like that headset mentioned above, there’s practically always a solution if you want something badly enough.

Best regards,


Phantasy II, 1946 oil on canvas 28 1/8 x 35 7/8 inches by Norman Lewis

Phantasy II, 1946
Oil on canvas
28 1/8 x 35 7/8 inches
by Norman Lewis

PS: “There is no waste of time in life like that of making explanations.” (Benjamin Disraeli)

Esoterica: The natural fears that go with original creativity can be neutralized by simple ruses: Get started on your work before you have a chance to think why you shouldn’t. Think of those who have real interference — like militia knocking on the door. If necessity is the mother of invention, the only thing stopping an invention may be self-sabotage. Self-sabotage is a negative habit that persistently stymies the joy of testing our will. “The most pernicious aspect of procrastination,” says author Steven Pressfield, “is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.” Henry David Thoreau put it in stronger words: “Despair and postponement are cowardice and defeat.”

Street Musicians, 1948 Oil on canvas 49 3/4 × 40 inches by Norman Lewis

Street Musicians, 1948
Oil on canvas
49 3/4 × 40 inches
by Norman Lewis

This letter was originally published as “Sixteen reasons why I won’t paint today” on July 15, 2011.

Have you considered a Premium Artist Listing?  With each letter, an artist is featured at the bottom of this page. The Premium Artist Listings are a means of connecting artist subscribers through their work. Proceeds from each listing contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. 

“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” (Emile Zola)





  1. An excellent reminder, and a good prod to go work. I find, for myself, that the longer I am away from my art, the more I continue to procrastinate…an unpleasant cycle!

  2. What a great chuckle, especially for those that of us that wake up thinking about painting and then paint while other things must wait until we have the majority of a new idea blocked in before we can step away from the easel. Frankly, I tend to organize all life activities around my painting and gallery needs, even a pandemic. I moved the studio work back to the great room from my gallery’s winter studio when we received “stay at home” direction. I ordered more supplies online and increased my social media presence to cover off what would have been in person sales in the now closed gallery. I expected a huge drop in productivity and art sales. I mean how was I going to paint and do all that sanitizing and cook all of our meals with no housecleaning support while looking after all of our other needs because my husband has severe cognitive disabilities due to a stroke? On top of that, I had already rented an additional room for the gallery in January and it needed top-to-bottom renovations. Plus, I had committed to three other emerging artists to share the west coast landscape focus on these new walls. I had to do the ground work behind-the-scene training with them so they would be ready to show their work. It all sounds impossible even as I write this. But, here we are in the first week of July. The housecleaner is back! (She is the only one we opened our bubble up to receive.) I am still cooking 80% of our meals and we haven’t starved or developed scurvy. In fact, we are eating better than ever. The new gallery room renovation are completed and the first show with the new emerging artists and myself is hung. A new solo exhibition of my work is also hung in the main gallery room. I am now receiving in person and doing online gallery visits by appointment. And… I have already completed and released 25 new works and 20 works in my inventory have sold with two new paintings on reserve for a competition. I generally complete and release 30- 40 works a year depending on the sizes so this is a excellent start to the year. Finally, revue at the end of the second quarter is very close to that of the whole of the previous year and slightly above the year before that. Admittedly, luck was on my side. I already had a solid online presence for showing, marketing and selling my work and I already knew how to work hard and strategically in adverse situations, as if my life depended on it… and in this case it does. My one piece of advice to want-a-be artists is to paint first. This forces everything else including partners, children, grandchildren, friends, grocery shopping, gardening, waiting for more art supplies to arrive and so on, to fall into the places and time between your painting practice. If you feel unable to paint, go gather reference or put work in the inventory for release or put a up an old favourite to talk about in your social media timeline. Do any small or large thing that keeps you thinking and acting like a painter until a bigger window of time and opportunity opens up. You are the only person that can take your painting seriously. Your painting practice and art career deserve your vision and persistence and ultimate success. Now I am off to paint. All the best to you at the easel today!

    • OK I’ll just drop what I was going to say about too much time needed to pay attention to politics–which does need to be done, this is a participatory democracy and people really are hurting.
      However, this morning I did organize my older pieces, seeing some that might be revived or repainted; checked my supplies inventory and am about to order, and am working on how to move forward in this situation. Not as far along at all with galleries and social media as you are, so that will need to be built from scratch. But excellent pep talk, thanks!

      • You are most welcome Kate and way to go! The point is that you are moving forward from where you are. In this way, together, we can do this hard thing. Congratulations! Keep going!

        • I just want to add… In case you are wondering, I am not in the epicentre of the international art world. I live on a small island on the southwest coast of Canada. I do not have several prominent galleries representing my work. However, I do have a vision and the drive to see it through no matter what. Adversity is often the fuel for breakthrough opportunities. Be on the lookout for these scarce and rare gems of possibilities. They are always there. We just need to notice them and then act.

          These things are not easy. They are often extremely hard. You will breakdown and cry in frustration. You will feel foolish at times for believing in your mission. You will be scared of failure or success or both. You will need to ask for help from others and trust that they will follow through and then be ready to come up with a plan B when they fail to deliver. But you can do it, against all odds, I promise you can do it. Just put out the paints, pick up the brushes and paint as often as you can before doing anything else.

    • Rachel Bushnell on

      Thank you, Terrill. You are amazing!!
      And thank you, Sara, for bringing out this wonderful letter from your Dad.
      I have visitors coming any minute now, but after they go home I am going to read this again. Maybe I’ll print it out and hang it on my easel or on my bathroom mirror. . .
      This pandemic time has not been altogether unfruitful for me, and yet I know that I do put so many things before painting. Must give this a lot of thought and make a new beginning.

  3. This brings to mind another bit of advice from one of my favourite of Robert previous letters. Time spent your strip us all creative time, even if it’s spent tidying your supplies, organizing, looking through inspirational photos etc. so one does not necessary have to be painting to be creating.

  4. Thank you for this reminder! I am admittedly, a very easily distracted person, unless I’m on deadline. To motivate myself during these strange times, I’ve allowed myself to play and experiment a bit more, or simply sketch things I care about. Sometimes I just go into my messy studio and stare into space a while before I decide to finally do something about that one spot of an old painting which has always bothered me.

  5. Richard Warner on

    Even when I have a rough day painting, I still learn something. That is “Don’t do that again”. We never become a better painter unless we paint.

  6. i agree with that.. i have those moment’s however had discovered that a long time ago to put my noise cancel
    headphone then declared ” i am devoting my time in painting , sketching ” for few hours or an hour
    ex turn off TV, no phone calls for few hours.. then do errands later. no procrastinating
    now is a part of my schedule everyday breathing

  7. If you paint from 9pm to 11pm, 5 days a week 50 weeks a year it amounts to 12.5 weeks a year. Now who wouldn’t like to have 3 months a year to paint?

  8. Thanks for the post. Life gets in the way, unless you are single! I have family and a large house that we are renovating, so it’s hard to stay in the studio all day. Also, I am surrounded by hundreds of my own paintings that I have not sold, despite a web site and constant social media postings. #myexcuse

  9. Around 50 years ago a drunk driver hit my Corvette head-on almost killing me and disabling me for life. After almost four months in the hospital I told the guy who hit me I forgave him and got on with my life. Being an above-knee amputee I flew airplanes, worked as a disc jockey in a big city, found my calling as a photojournalist and worked 31 years for a large newspaper chain all the while perusing my first love making photo-realistic graphite portraits while piddling with paints. I’m retired now with my remaining knee and hips eat up with osteoarthritis so I’m paintng a little more. Recently my doctor told me most people with my injuries spend more time sitting, taking it easy. I replied, “Doc, I didn’t want to spend 30 years sitting on my ass so I would feel good now.” He agreed.

    • Oh, and along the way I married and have a son who is a PhD college professor at a major university. Now I live happily with my cat Buddy.

    • Love this, Joe! Turning 80 this month and have done more painting since January than the whole previous year. I can relate to aches and pains, but as Buddha said, “ the problem is you think you have time”. Gotta do it now!

      • I have a quote on my desk where I see it every day.

        “One of these days you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. ”

        Ellen, let’s get going.

  10. I don’t paint, have no talent there but belong to a Stitch Meditation group. It is a non judgemental group, varying levels of talent. The Pandemic has made it difficult to concentrate but Painter’s Keys has been a bright spot in my life for years. This particular letter hit the nail on the head! I must dig into my creative side and go forward. Many thanks for the push. I have saved some letters for at least 10 years. What a comfort they have been.

Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop

Abstracts From The Ground Up (Online)
August 17, 2020 to August 20, 2020

P4s_2-768x767Abstracts From the Ground Up 

So you want to create abstracts but you haven’t a clue where to start.

Abstracts From the Ground Up takes you from the very beginning…how to find your designs, so you are NEVER without a design, then how to develop this design into a finished painting that is totally yours.

This workshop will be a live virtual event. I will be there with you during the entire four days. I can’t wait as I am excited. Please email me if you have any questions…

August 17 – 20, 2020, Location….Online

Register here:
 the Canals
Oil on Linen
40x30 inches

Featured Artist

A professional painter in both watercolor and oil for over 35 years, I have been creating plein air workshops in Europe for artists to join me since 1996. Plein air is one of the most exciting methods of painting, and I teach a very easy to learn way of capturing the light quickly, that any artist can apply to their own work during our adventures to Europe. Travel for artists is a great way to immerse yourself in painting and make great advances in your techniques by watching other professionals work, and by sharing your own ideas with other artists we all grow! Authentic locations, such as a 12th Century Castle in Ireland, a French Maison in the countryside of France, or an Italian Villa in an historic hilltop village in Italy are carefully chosen. We want our artists and non-painting guests to feel relaxed and at home, with en-suite bedrooms, excellent chef prepared cuisine, and convenient transfers to painting and exploring locations so you can be where you want to be to create. Join me on our next exciting journey!