Twyla’s habits


Dear Artist,

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.


“The Creative Habit”
by Twyla Tharp

“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.”

Best regards,


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


“Hat box”
original painting
by Linda Kukulski

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


“Chorus line”
oil painting, 6 x 8 inches
by Jennifer Bellinger

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.

There are 2 comments for The daily challenge by Jennifer Bellinger

From: Asma Abbasi — Jul 24, 2008

I agree with your concept of painting and finishing a painting daily. I do so too. The joy is unexplainable! but its a habit one needs to strictly adapt with temptations of being lazy. Good luck. Love your cherries painting!

From: Jennifer Harwood — Jul 29, 2008

I love this idea and love the work you are producing. I believe this concept may help relieve some of the stress and heartache of not producing finished work or losing the flow when life gets in the way. I see many benefits in this exercise. Keep the task small and simple. I plan to try this concept myself. Thanks for the idea.


Soldiering on…
by Veronica Funk, Airdrie, AB, Canada


acrylic painting, 36 x 40 inches
by Veronica Funk

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


“Badhof Gastein”
watercolour painting
by Jan Ross

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


“Isolated Permanence”
embroidery, 24 x 30 inches
by B.J. Adams

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.



Fluid progress
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.

There is 1 comment for Fluid progress by Dave Wesson

From: Anonymous — Jul 25, 2008

Fishing for compliments , Dave ?


Habits overcome chaos
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA


“F15A Fighter”
original painting
by Brad Greek

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.


Contagious creativity
by Alev Guvenir, Istanbul, Turkey


oil painting, 39 x 51 inches
by Alev Guvenir

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


original painting
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.

There is 1 comment for Ten o’clock club by Penny Duncklee

From: Merry O’Malley — Jul 27, 2008

Cheers to you and your group…keeping art local and mindful at the same time. Perhaps Ten o’clock clubs could become a world-wide habit.


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


charcoal and chalk
by Dorian Iten

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.


Costly commissions
by Anonymous

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.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Twyla’s habits



From: Alison Mackie — Jul 22, 2008

I am guilty of murder: Killing the hours in the way that I do. This timely post is filled with just the right words to reset my creative clock. Once again, many thanks Senor Genn!

From: Larry953bib — Jul 22, 2008

Some research says… habits can be “formed” by doing something for 21 consecutive days. THAT is the disciplined action required to create a “mold”. It also creates momentum in a specific direction. But best of all each positive habit lead to self respect and improved self image.

From: Steven — Jul 22, 2008

Thank you for stimulating some self examination. I find myself falling into the traps of bad habits. These are usually facilitated by some lack of discipline in one area or another of my life: Failing to check my blood glucose and developing the habits necessary for maintaining an acceptable quality of life; Making that quick stop for coffee and a donut on the way to work; Falling victim to the brainwasher (TV) instead of making my way to the studio; etc.; etc. …

The shroud of dust that lays over my studio is testament to what bad habits can bring. Changing the bad habits is something akin to a heroin addict going cold turkey. A painful process, but with great reward at the end.

Can I move myself into action long enough to create a good habit? I can only hope so, or maybe better – do so.

Thanks for the encouraging words.

From: Deb — Jul 22, 2008
From: J Sozzi — Jul 23, 2008

Twyla’s last thought is the appropriate one. It is when artists begin to see and feel art as escape that they truly devote their time and energy to it. The presence of disturbing environments can be seen as a prerequisite to falling in love with process. This is where habits become habituated.

From: J. Cantini, Florence — Jul 23, 2008

Twyla may have learned to focus on good habits and sacrificed all else for her art. Her ex husbands and only child have had to pay. One is reminded of Picasso who was a tyrant with his wives, children, grandchildren, to say nothing of the others who stood in the way of this “little man.” In the long run and in the great scheme of things, running a balanced life is more important than art.

From: Vincent — Jul 24, 2008

Are you kidding? Sacrifices are made in every family, workplace and community, according to the will of a driven individuals. At least people like Picasso and Twyla have done something good for the mankind with those sacrifices.

From: Vincent — Jul 24, 2008

…actually I should say “tyranic” rather than “driven”…

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 24, 2008

I dare say behind every hugely successful individual are fallen loved ones. There is a trade off for great success. Few are those who can really say their spouse or loved one didn’t suffer some neglect. I’m not sure J.Cantini is speaking without full knowledge of who Picasso was. All we have is hearsay from those who have written about him. I can guess their comments may be colored with some bias. In reality, few get known for being saintly, but notorious sells. Who is to say Picasso or other infamous artists didn’t choreograph a nasty public persona in order to gain notoriety?

In the end as Picasso said to a critic who commented his portrait of Julie Stein didn’t look

anything like her. Picasso tersely replied, ” don’t worry, eventually, it will.”

From: Donald P Johannson — Jul 25, 2008
From: W Warren, Oldham — Jul 25, 2008

Alison, there’s a difference between resetting your clock and really learning how to apply the discipline needed to move on. Reading Robert’s (or anyone else’s) magic words is not enough. It takes active, self-governing resolution to clear away a lifetime of bad habits. The longer one waits the more difficult it becomes. Beginners and virgins may be able to make it happen in one or two tries, others may take considerably more than twenty.

From: Gabriel Sos limbe — Jul 25, 2008

Thank you Genn..

From: Rick — Jul 25, 2008

To Fluid Progress

Having a degree in art doesn’t necessary make one an artist. Being an artist comes from a different place. The desire to paint is the start, diligence, study, observation; product moves you closer to that goal. You can get all the degrees available and be no closer to being an artist. Mostly, a degree affords you the techniques and methods you can learn from painting two hundred canvases and having a mentor. I get concerned when I hear people give up on art because they feel they need a degree or think themselves inadequate without the paper that says they have completed four years of study. Put in the time in front of your easel and paint hundreds of canvases and only then will you know if you are an artist? Recognition for being an artist gives validation, but is not the criteria of an artist. History has shown us many artists without proper schooling achieve great facility and never get noticed or sell their work. Are they any less an artist?

p.s. These comment were not meant to say people with BFA’s aren’t artists, so please save your replies.

From: Dawn C — Jul 25, 2008

Simply Brilliant.

From: Anonymous — Jul 25, 2008

Well said Rick.

From: Kim Rushing — Jul 25, 2008

Ah yes, the resistance to getting started; why does answering emails, or reading a new novel (or even housework!) suddenly gain much more allure when I’m thinking of getting down to practicing (I am a jazz singer/pianist/writer/drawing maker who also wants to get back to painting).

So, I “trick myself” into sitting down on the piano bench by telling myself–only for 15 minutes will I “force” myself to “work/play”–and then and then…usually I’ll be happy to stay much longer than that — and if not, I can get up and leave it for another day or later in the day.

Then again, there are times when I need distance from the practicing and constant thinking about my music–time to feed myself in other ways, writing, walking, going to look at art, etc.–then return to the art refreshed–

And most important, not waste precious thought on beating myself up for what I “didn’t” do…or haven’t done…

From: Jan — Jul 25, 2008

I complained of having too many other ‘tasks’ that cut into my painting time. A wise old lady told me, “Make your to-do list. Then choose only three items on the list and do them. The rest of the day is now yours. What remains on the list will be there tomorrow and you will add new things, but only do three.” When I followed this formula I found my guilt concerning jobs to be done lessened. They were being done, just not all at once. I am happier because I now have time for my art. Yes, there are days when the painting time is limited, but many when it is great creative time.

From: Martha In Sechelt B C. — Jul 26, 2008

Well said- re- Hugh G rice- lovely flowing lines- I used to paint in oil- have now switched to W C. However seeing you are in Winnipg- wondered if you rmember an artist named Alec- Sutherland? He was my inspiration- my humble beginnings were with him- he was hanging in the gallerys -there. My memory (for names) eludes me. thanks.

From: D.Wesson — Jul 27, 2008

RIck- just saw your mail belated, my friend. Thanks. Wes

From: Erin — Jul 27, 2008

Do you mean Gertrude Stein? Who’s Julie Stein?

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 28, 2008

Erin – Yes! Gertrude. I stand corrected. Thanks

From: Cathie — Jul 01, 2010

I remember Alec Sutherland who taught art to the veterans at Deer Lodge Hospital. He worked with my father.

I have a watercolour which was given to me for a baptism present in 1964. He later retired to White Rock (about 1970) and has been gone for many years now.

From: LEslie Ditto — Jul 02, 2010

20 years of my life was wasted because I had no god habits. I talked and good talk , but after years of telling my husband and myself I was going to create a body of work to submit to galleries and never really making those good habits so that I could achieve this, we both gave up on me.

Then I turned 40 and realized that if I didn’t start painting everyday that my chances of really succeeding would be gone. It was like a little spark inside me had turned into a raging fire. At first each day was a true challenge, but I had made up my mind I would try my best and I would wake up in the morning with thoughts that I am going to choose to create today and after a few weeks of this it had really become a habit. It seems now that if I must miss a day of painting or drawing I feel a void , an emptiness in my life. It has been three years and I am showing in galleries international and my art career is really blossoming.I feel very confidant that I can achieve what I set my mind to because it all comes down to those good habits.






Tievebulliagh II

oil painting, 12 x 12 inches
by Hugh G. Rice, Winnipeg, MB, Canada


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.”




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