One of the benefits of travel, particularly if you are staying as someone’s guest, is that you get to look over their libraries. Further, you find out what they are reading right now. Here, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp has caught some eyes. Funny to be reading a New York choreographer while hanging out in Tuscany. I have a hard time putting down books by achievers. They are often clear and practical, and speak with first-hand authority.
“Being creative,” says Twyla, “is an everyday thing, a job with its own routines. That’s why writers, for example, like to establish a routine. The most productive ones get started early in the morning when phones aren’t ringing and their minds are rested and not polluted by other people’s words. They might set a goal–1500 words or stay at their desk until noon–but the real secret is that they do this every day. After a while it becomes a habit.”
“This is no different for a painter finding his way to the easel or a medical researcher returning to the laboratory. The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration (perhaps more). And it is available to everyone. If creativity is a habit, then the best creativity is the result of good work habits. They are the nuts and bolts of dreaming.”
In my part-time job as coach and mentor, I frequently find myself wishing for small boxes of habits, like boxes of dominoes or tarot cards, to present as gifts to those requesting. Twyla’s habit-based creative progress is right on. There are, of course, a few rare folks who have lots of good habits, whose output still remains inadequate. To these, the only possible direction is the continued refinement and application of habits. For those with potential talent, unrealized progress and a dose of desire, habits still remain the key. It’s up to the individual to define those habits and put them into action.
Habits lead the way to personal processes. The idea is to fall in love with your processes. When you do fall in love, you’ll know it. Other doors closing can speed the joy. Twyla’s other lesson: “Concentrate: you can’t have it all.”
PS: “Discipline morphs into habit.” (Twyla Tharp)
Esoterica: They say that learning is finding out what you already know. We pack up our baggage, get onto aircraft, drift to another zone. Like snails we carry our shell. We look out at the new with limited feelers and sullied eyesight. In our haste to squeeze out and begin again we discover a thought: “Art,” says Twyla, “is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
Working hard and long and alone
by Linda Kukulski, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I have been a creative person all my life. There are not many art forms I have done in my lifetime that I was not passionate about. When I had children at home and I was working a full time job, I would rise very early and get as much creative work done as I could squeeze in before everyone got up and we headed to work and school. When I began drawing and illustrating I took my sketchbook absolutely everywhere and sketched almost every scene in front of me on my coffee and lunch breaks. Looking back, I am certain that people must have thought it was a bible I was carrying! I now pursue my art full time and can hardly wait to get at it in the morning, so I rush through the daily housekeeping chores so I can focus without distraction. Most days I will work blissfully for seven or eight hours, taking a 30 minute break to walk my little dog, which waits so patiently. Like the majority of creative people who concentrate on growth, progress and have a burning desire to achieve, I work hard and long and alone. But being in love with what I do seems to make it all worthwhile.
The daily challenge
by Jennifer Bellinger, Ketchum, ID, USA
Last October I joined the Daily Painting blog movement and committed to painting a little 6×6 inch or 6×8 a day for a year. The discipline of completing a painting a day is addictive because you are getting the reward of a finished painting each day. The added bonus is connecting with other artists, friends and collectors through a blog. While many things got in the way of this goal, like life, commissions, etc, by spring I had completed over 100 paintings. Two shows this summer and the need for larger paintings got in the way of the “dailies” goal yet I am biting at the bit to get back to the routine soon! I won’t reach 360 paintings by 2009 but I do hope to have another 100.
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by Veronica Funk, Airdrie, AB, Canada
I read The Creative Habit in spring and found it to be the most inspiring book I’ve read in awhile. It’s wonderful to hear the wisdom of a mature person who’s lived a creative life. I’ve also found the wisdom of other Canadian artists to be inspiring, such as painter Margaret Vanderhaeghe (also wife of author Guy Vanderhaeghe) who commented in the documentary series An Artist’s Life that you must keep painting. Even if the work is not currently receiving attention, eventually collectors and galleries will come back, but you must have work ready.
Internal alarm clock
by Jan Ross, Kennesaw, GA, USA
Once we develop good working habits, our minds are programmed to seek them out. Some time ago, I decided at 11 a.m. each day I would discipline myself to do something that would contribute to my art. Ideally, I like to start a drawing, continue a painting, research, discover the techniques or histories of other artists, think about my next painting, or envision how I hope a painting will appear once completed. Like Pavlov’s dogs responding to a bell, I find my mind ‘knows’ when it’s 11 a.m. and gets started! Wherever we go, whatever we do, our ‘creative minds’ can take over, even if just studying the light as it falls upon people, places and things. As this ‘habit’ is not illegal, immoral or fattening, it’s well worth pursuing.
Breaking bad habits
by B.J. Adams, Washington, DC, USA
That subject line drew me in under false pretenses. I thought there was going to be a George Carlin diatribe. I do have and enjoy Twyla Tharp’s book and need to get back to its teachings. Good habits are the best way to schedule your life and art for many reasons but I want to know how to break seemingly bad habits. Getting up and doing all you don’t enjoy first to get it out of the way and then going in to the studio to enjoy my work has been my bad habit, except when I have deadlines. I need to reverse this habit.
by Dave Wesson, Kanabi, Japan
I am a bit of a hermit. Networking is not so possible. However, I find within my world, a desire to paint. I have painted for some time now is all I will say. I have worried I have no degree; my daughter was born and I had to drop out of college before receiving my Bachelor’s. Now I have four children I wouldn’t trade for any degree, but find myself continuing in progress without one. I have worried paper will not record me as being fluid in my progress of education, yet I have done so again and again on my own. My folks send the books I need, or I order them. The people I find give me instruction of sorts. I have truly found internationalism, and inside of it, I have found art. I have no money to become a Master in arts at this time. Do I need this to become a painter? Or am I truly a painter already? Who sets the rules on where the finish line lies? Am I far from it? Or closer than I thought?
(RG note) Thanks, Dave. I have never heard of any customer walking into a gallery and saying, “Do you have anything by a BFA?” From what I know of Japan this also applies there. Acceptance and resulting success are greatly due to factors such as quality, consistency, presentation, venue, work habits, availability and perceived value. Your acceptance by the papers is secondary to acceptance by enthusiastic commercial dealers. In today’s world you are a painter when you paint.
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Habits overcome chaos
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
I totally agree that habits are a huge part of keeping the flow going. With working both a full time job as a property manager/ maintenance and building an art career, habits are a must. Keeping my mind focused is the biggest issue I have. I’ll be thinking about a series of work or a project for a themed show that’s coming up when I’m looking at carpet at the local hardware superstore. I try to block out hours for work, hours for painting and marketing, and a few hours for family. Sometimes I block out days for each. Without habits, life is just chaos.
by Alev Guvenir, Istanbul, Turkey
I had an interesting experience a couple of days ago, a friend has been writing a poetry book. We exchanged some ideas and established a friendship. She wanted me to read her book before it got published and asked for a reader’s review.
I started reading the book and soon I was captured into her world. At some stage, I wanted to gather my ideas for the review and started to take some notes. Surprisingly, I ended up with a poem.
I liked the poem, so does Linda. However, we thought it would not fit a review. So we tried to change the structure to make it a proper review. However, I gave up and suggested to leave it as is. It would be more interesting and honest to include a reader’s review of a poetry book which itself is a poem. It shows how much I was carried away with her world.
Ten o’clock club
by Penny Duncklee
Several of us painters have formed the Ten O’clock Club to help us establish the every day bit of painting. We meet once a month as close to the tenth at 10 o’clock at a pleasant restaurant with a beautiful view of ‘our’ mountains for coffee, discussion, encouragement and to show each other proof that we have been working every day. (My 10 o’clock seems to be at 4:30 in the afternoon!)
Several months ago, the restaurant owner allowed us to have a show of small paintings on one of the walls. That was after we got to paint a mural on a nice large blank wall.
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Honing your habit skills
by Claire DeLong Taylor, Horse Shoe, NC, USA
I paint on my lunch hour at a wonderful local art gallery that offers open studio days, the Conn-Artist Gallery in Hendersonville, NC. It is there that I really learned to hone my habit skills. Painting within a mere one hour time frame has taught me to determine roughly what area of the picture I am going to work on within that hour, to choose a simple palette and to lay out and clean up the palette quickly. It has taught me a great deal of discipline with regards to leaving areas of the picture alone and not fuss over them, even though I think I just have to keep on going. The strangest part is that I have completed as many paintings at the studio on my lunch hour in the past year as I had in the previous year, when I worked strictly out of my home. I’ve since begun to employ the habit skills I’ve picked up at the studio and use them at home so that painting has become part of my daily routine.
Discipline turns creative
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
I was just focusing on this topic of discipline because for the past two years I have participated in the “3:15 a.m. Experience” for writers. Basically you wake at 3:15 a.m. during the month of August to write semi-conscious and see what turns up without editing. The first year I did it like an army sergeant and found all sorts of negative things came up for me, but I just kept pushing to do it every day. I was getting run down probably from internal resistance to interrupting my sleep and then just the reality of not being prepared to get less sleep. It was mild torture the first year. I didn’t think I would do it again. As July rolled around last year I found myself waking spontaneously around 3:15 a.m. I took this as a cue that I actually wanted to meet myself at this hour to write poetry. So I decided to participate again but under more respectful conditions. It can actually be cool at night here in Santa Barbara in August, so tearing oneself out of a warm bed to write, and sitting in cool dampness can be uncomfortable and challenging. So I developed the habit of wearing a light wool sweater while writing. The other thing I did to make this work for me was I didn’t always set my alarm clock, when I felt I might need a break from interrupted sleep. If I awoke at 3:15 a.m. I would write. My internal clock works pretty well, so I often did end up writing. The outcome was a good chunk of time for writing without the interruptions one finds in the daytime and just the good habit of setting pen to the paper to exercise writing regularly. I have also found myself during the year not just during August, waking spontaneously with energy for writing which I usually follow. So I will continue to strengthen this nocturnal rhythm during this coming August as it has turned out to be a tool for building a writing practice. I would say discipline morphs into creative flow.
Having a vision
by Dorian Iten, Florence, Italy
I walk through the world with open eyes, often marveling at quiet phenomena other people seem to pass by without noticing. The more I learn to use my eyes the more beauty I can see in this startling physical world we live in. I try to keep a sketchbook with me most of the time and draw whatever catches my attention, comes to my mind or touches my heart. For me truth, beauty and love are the same thing and merging with them again and again is what keeps my fire burning. There are uncountable similarities to music and — maybe surprisingly at first — martial arts. Some people seem to ignore that learning a skill or craft involves the mind just as much as the hand. Reflection and careful self-assessment are as important as the actual process of drawing and painting. Also, knowing one’s goals is helpful. Having a vision. There is currently a workshop going on at our school, Angel Academy of Art with Maestro John Angel whom I’m assisting by cleaning floors and preparing canvases.
I am in a rather small, but very nice gallery in Sarasota, FL. They have an exclusive contract and their requirement is that I pay 50% commission to them if I sell anything from my studio that has been shown in the gallery. That requirement used to be for only 2 counties close to us but now they have recently extended that to be anywhere. The only exceptions to this are if your work is shown in a juried or invitational show. Is this a standard practice? What happens if I were to be in two galleries and switched work between them. Certainly I couldn’t pay both commissions as I would not be making anything. Yet I see where artists list numerous galleries — how does this work? This is the only gallery I have been in and am not knowledgeable enough about the system. Really enjoy where I am at, though I question the fact that they have no insurance on the art, stating that they cannot afford it as it is too costly.
(RG note) Thanks, Anonymous. Your gallery’s requirements are a bit stringent and atypical. That level of distrust often signifies trouble ahead. Many excellent arrangements are made on a handshake. That said, you need to protect your gallery’s sales area. Engage other galleries outside the reasonable sales area of the “nice” gallery. There will be even nicer ones — even ones that carry insurance. Anyway, it’s better not to be a “local” artist.
Enjoy the past comments below for Twyla’s habits…
oil painting, 12 x 12 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 Rick Rotante of Tujunga, CA, USA who wrote, “Art is twenty eight hours a day.”
And also Jill Charuk of Canada who wrote, “I just finished The Creative Habit. How odd, or not really. This happens all the time in an artist’s life. All I can assume is that great minds think alike.”
And also Helen Musser of Terrell, TX, USA who wrote, “I don’t know why but, art takes us to a higher plane and we enjoy levitation until we stop painting and touch ground again.”
And also Todd Plough of NY, USA who wrote, “There is a reason a painting is called a ‘work’ of art.”