Much has been written about the creativity-stimulating rituals of writers because, well, they wrote about it. Balzac drank 50 cups of coffee a day, Hemingway drank to write, prolific novelist George Simenon (400 books) said he made love to over 10,000 women (to be fair, his second wife said it was closer to 1200). Good stuff about regularity in painters is a little harder to dig up:
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) figured the main problem for painters was boredom. Apart from appearing never to stop painting, he contrived to fill his life with a menagerie of birds and animals and the constant coming and going of models, students and admiring friends.
Joan Miro (1893-1983), fighting lifelong depression, forced himself into a rigid life of early rising, strict hours, little socializing, active physical exercise (punching bags, barbells, etc.), exactly three cigarettes after lunch and regular naps of no more than ten minutes’ duration.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) was a night owl who figured wine, women and song were the best bet. He stayed as long as bars and brothels were open, drank aperitifs for breakfast and spent much of the afternoon with “American Mixed Drinks.” (His favourite, “Maiden Blush” was a combo of champagne, absinthe, mandarin, bitters and red wine). He died at age 36.
“Speak for yourself,” said a friend when I told him we artists are best off living a quiet, well-regulated life. I still think there’s value in early morning arrival in a studio running on empty and spending a steady day trying to make the cup froth over. Uninterrupted hours draw you back and back again to solving your main problem — that thing that’s on the easel. Oh yes, walk with Dorothy, check the mail and the email, soft music or radio info, chatting on the headset-telephone while painting, feeding the wild birds and pencilling in projects.
If you think your own daily ritual might be of interest or value to others, please drop us a note and tell us about it. We’d all love to hear from you.
PS: “One’s daily routine is a choice, or a series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources.” (Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals; How Artists Work)
Esoterica: “Things get even trickier,” says Mason Currey, “if you’re married and have kids. A lot creative people conveniently solved this problem by finding absurdly supportive, almost self-abnegating partners. Freud’s wife not only took care of all the household and child-rearing duties, but she laid out his clothes, chose his handkerchiefs, and even put toothpaste on his toothbrush. Thomas Mann’s wife ensured that their children made no noise between 9 a.m. and noon, his prime writing hours, and between 4 and 5 p.m., when he took his nap. Gertrude Stein relied on Alice B. Toklas to manage all of the practical details of their life together.” Some girls get all the breaks.
Primed by impulse to show off
by Carl Nelson, Seattle, WA, USA
I write plays (or play-like prose). I find having an audience always waiting to be pleased greatly helps arrange my days and gets my work done. The impulse to show off is always keeping my work uppermost in mind. I’m thinking of what I’m going to write, even when I’m doing other things like shopping, exercise, working, cooking etc. I’m planning the next scene and further scenes; plotting this and imagining the dialogue of that. This way, I’m primed to ‘get it down’ when I finally have arranged a little quiet time to sit at the desk.
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Weather dictates activity
by Susan Marx, Orange, NJ, USA
Since I am a plein air painter, my daily ritual is obsessing about the weather and the weather reports, wondering if I will have painting, weather or not. I am often surprised at the last moment, and am ready to go paint in an instant. My paints and brushes, portable easel, etc. (my studio) is in the trunk of my car. I make sure a few containers of water are always there, too. On Spring days on which it is impossible to paint due to rain or strong wind, I sit and look and try to think what colors I would use to paint what I see in front of me. So, even when I am not painting, I am painting. What I find interesting, if I return back to a scene that I was unable to paint due to inclement weather, is when I wind up painting, I often do not use the colors I thought I would use. The mood and the color are different when I am standing barefoot on the grass by my easel with my palette in hand.
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Paid by rituals
by Bob Ragland, Denver, CO, USA
My ritual is to do all of my outreach by real postal mail each day. I spend the top half of my day being in touch with people. I send out illustrated mail. The envelope and letter is colorful. I make my to-do list, plan on getting two or three things done. I make my plan for the second half of the day. I may paint, draw, or sculpt. If I am stuck, I hit the books. I have a full art day every day — on purpose! My rituals get me paid.
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Classical music, half-hour breaks
by Kathleen Zann, New York, NY, USA
I think the best way to paint is to understand one’s own needs and follow them strictly. I have no set ritual but I do know how I work best. If I’m in the zone and the painting is cooperating, sometimes I am so focused that nothing can distract me, but that is not often. Since my only medium is watercolor, reversal of a mistake is difficult. I know I have to take breaks at least every half hour and if my mind starts to wander I stop painting immediately for fear of ruining the painting.
I work best in the morning but getting to the studio early is difficult with household maintenance, gym attendance and family obligations. I am easily distracted so I can’t wear headphones, talk on the phone or have a television, computer or conversation on nearby. I can’t have a completely quiet workplace either so I listen to classical music on the radio so that every half hour or so the news is broadcast and I hear from the outside world. Sometimes, depending on the painting subject matter, classical music doesn’t do it and I really need a blast of Stones or Blues which, since I share a space with 6 other artists who only tolerate classical music, I can do only if I am there alone. But I have a studio with fabulous natural light, time to paint and a supportive family — life is good.
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Feeding senses with aroma, beautiful sound
by Gena Lacoste, Medicine Hat, AB, Canada
I’m a watercolour (mostly) artist living in Medicine Hat, and am into my 3rd year with a daily painting blog (along with other projects as well), and I need to get my “daily rituals” done first thing in the morning.
The routine of getting my body and mind “sorted” and then clearing away the potential for worry by making myself aware of what is going on “out there” prepares me to go into the “zone” by feeding my senses with aroma and beautiful sound. That zone is, for me, the most intensely satisfying place to be and that time every day is critical to my feeling of being at one with all that is good in the world.
Raucus lifestyle leads to self-imposed absences
by Ron Bartczak, Newport Beach, CA, USA
A “Quiet, well-regulated Life?” That sounds like a snorer to me. I find that a wild, loud, and raucus lifestyle leads me to look forward to the peaceful, quiet hours of painting in the solitude of my studio. I purposefully don’t paint every day (and I truly love painting in my studio). NOT painting every day, makes me look forward with great expectation, to those days that I do paint. My most “satisfying, and productive” days in the studio, are usually those days following a self-imposed absence of two or three days. (There have been times following those days where, upon returning, I have painted from day break well into the evening hours and spent the remainder of the night asleep on an old studio sofa covered with a well worn Pendleton blanket, to arise the following day ready to continue. It doesn’t get any better than that! Which keeps my “expectation” level high and my creative output satisfying? I have yet to be bored or at a loss when entering my studio. As far as being quiet and well regulated? I don’t think that’s for me.
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Happier after car accident
by Grace Howl, Sarasota, FL, USA
I’m an intuitive painter and thinker. I’ve written short stories, poetry and quite a bit of ‘self-talk’ /inspirational stuff that keeps me motivated. I find life inspiring and therefore never lack for ideas for either art or writing.
As for my ritual, I try to arrive early, although that usually means 9:00 a.m. or after, as I tend to stay late. I’d prefer to paint in natural light, so the late night painting is difficult. I sometimes listen to music, other times I find it distracting. I get so involved in my work that time vaporizes, even forgetting to eat. My painting distracts me from my physical pains as well. Although I do remember to drink lots of water every day!!
I suffered from a bad car accident several years ago, which left me with some brain deficit. As therapy, I started using art as a means of communication. Initially, I cursed the accident, but now I’m thankful for it. It took quite a while for me to understand the limitations of my new life. Now I see images, where words and numbers used to dominate my life. But I’m happier now. My whole life has changed and I’m loving it.
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Small dedicated space enhances production
by Christine Gedye, Seattle, WA, USA
Three weeks ago I rented a bland little studio about a mile from my house. It’s a 10′ x 16′ room (with high ceilings and good natural lighting) which is solely for making art. The small, dedicated space means everything is handy, no running around the house looking for this, that, or the other thing. When I worked from home, it was far too easy to get distracted by anything and everything. I keep the space simple, there is no phone, no distracting paperwork, and I don’t even have Wi-Fi (Woohoo!).
I enjoy a beautiful walk to my new studio, walking through parks, rose gardens and even past the zoo. I use this time to plan out what I want to accomplish at the easel that day. I find that when I arrive, I am revved up and clear headed. I turn on some music, make myself a cup of tea, and start painting, with focus. Somehow even my dogs know it is a place of quiet, and manage to hold their tongues when they hear noises. After a few hours, I will take a break to eat a light lunch, check for urgent emails on my cell phone, then go for a short walk with the dogs to get some fresh air. Then, back to the studio for at least three more hours of painting.
The lack of distractions is a revelation, and the routine of “going to work” has resulted in enhanced productivity that will more than cover the added expense. I’m probably in a “honeymoon” phase though; walking there in the rainy, dark, Seattle winter might not be quite as inspiring.
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Please, no rituals
by Danny McFadden, Newark, NJ, USA
I don’t have, don’t want, rituals. A ritual is an action performed in a customary way, by custom, done a certain way for a long time and generally accepted. Acceptance is an indication that you approve of or believe in it. Belief is an idea one accepts as being true or good — something desired. No, I don’t want rituals. I’m not satisfied enough to accept rituals — always, there must be a better way and, always, I try to find it. My daily rituals are my daily discoveries. I question — as Robert often asks, “What could be?” — I ask, “What could be better?”
Dissatisfaction is discontentment, the opposite of contentment. To be content is to be pleased and satisfied, a recipe for mediocrity, as Robert attests. Excellence means “the very best” — seemingly out of reach but, by many, much desired. The desire for excellence forbids acceptance. Improvement is a change for the better. Change for the better is a necessity. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” (Latin proberb)
BTW, I do bathe every day with water and soap — have not yet found a better way of getting clean — but do experiment with how it’s done (not always the same order, same wash-hand, same locale). Outside in the lake is good, but not better — no soap. (I respect the environment.)
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Enjoy the past comments below for Daily studio rituals…
La Musica de la Noche
oil painting, 20 x 24 inches
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 Dana Mallany of Toronto, ON, Canada, who wrote, “Interesting book, The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud. ‘Artist manqué having sidelined her dream of creating meticulous shoe-box dioramas of living spaces of her personal heroines, Dickinson, Woolf. A very positive review in the NY Times Book review: ‘In this ingenious, disquieting novel, she has assembled an intricate puzzle of self-belief and self-doubt, showing the peril of seeking your own image in someone else’s distorted mirror.’ ”
And also Lee Mothes of Kaukauna, WI, USA who wrote, “Every morning I have to read some pages of a novel (unrelated to art) with a cup of coffee at hand and my cat Duncan on my lap for about 20 minutes before I start a day of painting.”