Solo for a season


Dear Artist,

You don’t have to be an introvert to be an artist, but adopting the qualities of one could awaken your slumbering masterpiece. Extroverts may schmooze the salons and First Thursdays, but art is an inside job. Lone wolves eschew social distraction, the safety of institutions and domestic busyness in favour of ripening ideas independently. Unsung aloneness is where your process is permitted to take root and grow, unfettered by outside influences. Let your skill, style and work develop over time in the company of your cold, hard grit.


“100 Days of Solitude” 2015 art project
by Nidaa Badwan, 27-year-old Gazan artist

Google “Am I an introvert?” and you can take a quiz to assess your levels of misanthropy, shyness and how much you like parties. You can check your tolerance for silence or crusty pajamas. Recently, a painter-friend came for a drink and, while in front of me, discovered a hardened glob of unidentified paste in her own hair. I kicked her out so we could both get back to work.

If you’re not a natural introvert, you may discover that, like most of us, you’re an ambivert — something between a total shut-in and sociopathic butterfly. Ambiverts move between the realms of solitary focus and party animal, but may suffer from a lack of defined me-time. If it’s art you’re after, here are a few mantras for solo seasoning:


“All an artist needs is enough space to create real art. I hardly left my 3×3 meter room for more than a year.” (Nidaa Badwan)

I enjoy working alone.

I limit social obligations and protect free time.

I prioritize creative work.

Looking out the window is preferable to my phone.

I spend time with others one-on-one.

I prefer to be prepared.

I prefer to dig in.

I like to daydream.

I’m rarely bored.

It’s easy to not talk about myself.

I feel at ease when I have a routine.

I need to be quiet to be creative.

I have everything I need.

My room is my sanctuary.


“Everything that is not art, I try to transform it into art.” (Nidaa Badwan)

Your season is possible -– desire is the only requirement. Save up, clear your schedule and claim a future semester. Trade responsibilities with an understanding spouse or buddy by offering the gift in kind. Give it a go. A writer I know sets an alarm for 5 a.m. so she can peel off a few paragraphs before she hits the subway at 8. Or you can stock a friend’s off-peak cabin with a six-month supply of granola. Your season awaits.


“I want to return colours to Gaza, which knows neither colours nor peace.” (Nidaa Badwan)



PS: “Writers may be disreputable, incorrigible, early to decay or late to bloom but they dare to go it alone.” (John Updike)

“Go to your room.” (Robert Genn)

Esoterica: After three days, a house guest will inevitably mention that I ought to get out more. Last week, the UPS guy hinted at the same. “It’s a beautiful day,” he nudged. But I was pre-occupied with a potential something drying on the floor upstairs. With the exception of the occasional interloper of guilt, I’m as happy as a cow in her stall.

Nidaa Badwan biography


“Solitude is fine, but you need someone to tell you that solitude is fine.” (Honore de Balzac)

If you find these letters beneficial, please share and encourage your friends to subscribe. The Painter’s Keys is published primarily by a team of volunteers, with a goal to reach as many creative people as possible. Thanks for your friendship. Subscribe here!

“Solitude is the furnace of transformation.” (Henri Nouwen)



  1. I find these letters incredibly beneficial and share them on my FB artist page frequently. This is no exception. Hit the nail on the head once again. Sometimes I feel like I need permission to spend so much time in my studio, or just alone in nature. Fortunately I’m married to an artist who is of the same mindset…being. It’s always nice to know that one isn’t alone in their aloneness. Thanks again….and again.

  2. Thanks for this – it is a good counterweight to an article I read recently that basically said that if you want to ‘succeed’ as an artist (ie get exhibited by a decent gallery) the main thing is to go to all the openings, meet the right people and get yourself known, while of course maintaining your social media profile. How you are supposed to find time to learn your craft and make work (and pay the bills!) is a mystery.

  3. Thank You! I am past (age 78) needing someone to reaffirm solitude but it is still nice when it comes along. I have always preferred my own company and find groups boring but in the last 4-5 years all I want to do is WORK! Unfortunately my turned wood sculpture takes more physical strength / stamina than painting and the body protests. Most days I ignore it with the help of exercise and pain killers. ( My best work is not on my website.)

    • Hi Norman,
      I’m 78 as well and ike you have the physical problems but manage to get through them. I prefer solitude as well but it’s nice to know it’s alright to be like that.

    • Dear Norman,
      I had arthritis in my hands, took celebrex, vioxx, you know…. It took a few months of a low-fat vegan diet–but the arthritis melted away and I haven’t had ANY pain for 8 years now…… I’m 72….

      Gud luk

    • Norman, I too, am 78, but find myself urged to seek the company of others with like interests. I was schooled as an illustrator, and earned my living as an art director/illustrator, but now find my most enjoyment in sharing my painting expertise with students who are truly interested in the creative process. In between student sessions, I produce my artwork more than ever before in spite of nagging pain and old age taking control of my body. The best part of that process is the critique sessions with my students when they review and criticize my work. I keep learning, even from my students. I thank God every day for His gift of talent in my genes. I don’t know what I would do without this gift. Now I understand what my father went through.

  4. Ambiverts Unite! Why the hell did I say that? Leave me alone. Must stay home and work. Gotta go out and sit the gallery! Must stay home and work. Gotta go out and sit the gallery! Must stay home and work. Gotta go out and sit the gallery! If I wasn’t so sure of what I’m doing- I’d be confused. Party on! Gotta work. Gotta work. Gotta work…

  5. I am an introvert and love my solitude! It’s so hard carving out a time to be alone. I’ve finally managed it with studio time at 5am! At first it was hard – especially in the winter when it’s dark and cold – but it soon grew into a habit that I now cherish. I appreciate the creative start :)

  6. I really enjoyed this morning’s post, Sara…I enjoy most of them, but this one hit home. I’ve been told by my family, that I am “the most introverted extrovert they know”. Well, I come from a family of extroverts, so I know how to be social when I need to be…but OH MY, do I need my alone time! All of my creative outlets over the years, from writing to photography, to drawing and painting, have all been ALONE time, and I cherish and crave it. I didn’t even know the word Ambivert existed. And while I hate to label people, this is an interesting way to describe how most artists really are. So, thank you! I feel very much at home in my own skin, and in the virtual company of other “ambiverts” like you all!

  7. Comments from a few chronological peers (I’m 69) prompted me to add my own! I also fit in the introvert category and am a painter. How nice to find one’s tribe. It it took me a long time to discover my core introvertness. During the first six decades of my life, I attempted to emulate the extroverts – they were having the most fun, I thought. Then life painfully hacked away at this outer shell, bit by bit, shattering a lot of dreams along the way until I, very unwillingly at first, was left with no other recourse but acceptance. What I create now is coming from my true self (finally!) and the reason behind choosing to paint under a pseudonym (obviously not the one I’m using here). I definitely don’t imply that creativity only exudes from introverts but that it lives and flourishes from one’s intrinsic nature, be it intro/extro/ambi-vert.

  8. I am an introvert who looks like an extravert when I am with people. This party trick takes an in Normas amount of energy and requires sometimes days of recovery. Three out of four of my immediate family members are card-carrying introverts as well and we love our pyjama days.

  9. P.S. Loved your interview on AHA. I was one of the blessed painters who got to tag along with your dad on the first Bugaboo trip and have a show at Canada House.

    • Yah, me, too. In spades!! Today my paintbrushes finally reconnected with paint for the first time in 10 months. I am such a quintessential ambivert that it almost hurts. A psychologist friend told me that as the years go by, we explore that with which we are not accustomed. For example, I have been a raging Extrovert but now at 70, I am experiencing and experimenting with Introversion. Lovin’ it!!

      Thanks for this, Sara.



      PS. I, too, an one of the Bugaboo-tens!!!

  10. I’m glad I read this today. I love my time alone and sometimes feel guilty that I indulge often, thinking that I should get out more. Yet I realize that alone time is so important and I would be a much unhappier person without it.

  11. So refreshing to read this. I have made my peace with the fact that I find social activities to be vey draining, and prefer the company of one or two friends at a time. Some, but not all, of my artist friends share at least some of that leaning. I had a show last year which was great, but needed to take some time away from the easel when it was over, and finally gave myself permission to do so. After my self-imposed “vacation” I am finally getting ready to pick up the brushes and painting knives again. I am 66 and also struggling with arthritis, so Bobbie, I was very interested in your post about the vegan diet.

  12. Synchronicity rules — just feeling depressed about this issue again yesterday and I needed this support! Age 75 Myers-Briggs INTP here. Orthopedic problems limit the practical solutions to my need for solitude to do my (amateur) art and other creative activities to my own home which I share with my also long-retired probably ambivert spouse. If anyone has succeeded in getting a spouse not to take their need for reliable solitude as an affront and also gotten them to behave in a supportive manner I’m glad for suggestions.

    It seems that persons who don’t have this need for reliable solitude simply can’t believe that it can take an hour or more to recover from a 5-minute interruption.

    • (From Website, High Existence, on Jung’s view of the artist)
      True art is something “supra-personal”, a force which has “escaped from the limitations of the personal and has soared beyond the personal concerns of its creator.”
      Jung concedes that not all art originates in this manner – art can derive from a deliberate process of conscious, careful consideration geared towards a specific expression in which the artist is at one with the creative process. But for Jung, fascination lay in the artist who obeyed alien impulses where the work appears to impose itself on the author; an external force wielding the artist like a marionette. This is the creative impulse, acting upon the conscious mind from a subconscious level – it guides the artist in a way which they cannot understand, regardless of the conviction they may have that it has originated within themselves.
      For great artists, this impulse can be all-consuming. As Jung rightly observes, “The biographies of great artists make it abundantly clear that the creative urge is often so imperious that it battens onto their humanity and yokes everything to the service of the work, even at the cost of ordinary health and human happiness”. The biographies of the likes of Beethoven, Marcel Proust and many others are a testament to the creative process as “a living thing implanted in the human psyche.”

  13. To be inspired solely by one’s own introverted mind is to miss an artistic inspiration far greater than the inner puniness of our personal existence. At 77 years of age and with a life that has touched most parts of this Earth and experienced the people who inhabit it, what I don’t know as opposed to what I do, is a continuous source of artistic inspiration. Create alone if you must but be inspired by the world around you. It will provide more material to create personal artistic expression than you will be able to outlive.

  14. There is a time and a place for everything. One must have solitude to create but in order to “trigger” your passion it is equally important to “live” in the world , be part of it, enjoy life, take the elements and the influences in and soak life up like a sponge. Later all of these “feelings” will come out in your work, just you one on one with creation. Painting is and should be a solitary experience.

  15. Bridget Syms on

    Love my studio, my kingdom, my own island which I rule alone, a minute away is a minute wasted. The hard bit is breaking away back to the populated world, where I find I have to learn to speak again and pretend I’m normal, is it true you can have too much of a good thing? Thank you Sara, a great post as always.

  16. A number of artists who prefer to work in solitude also choose to not show their work in a pubic setting . The assumption by many is that work not Seen and Sold is inferior. On the contrary, I know many artists whose work is fine and strong that have chosen to remain out of the Art Scene. They prefer to DO the art work and not spend time on the self promotion and business end. In fact, a great percentage of quality art has quietly gone underground.

  17. I AM AN EXTROVERT. I know I need quiet time to organize my mind. But I LOVE to talk about art. Once I settle down to work the time flies and there is never enough. Finding that balance is a challenge. I’ve finally reduced my paying hours of work. Got projects on the go. But it’s sunny today. A walk first. Happy arting every one.

Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop

featured-workshop 17885

Featured Artist


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.