Your highly creative year


Dear Artist,

Ten years ago, I was scrapping along in New York City, showing my paintings and writing and recording in two bands, one of which was in France. While on a trip home to visit my parents, my Dad casually dropped into one of our one-on-ones that I “lacked focus.” It wasn’t a dig. I was in the throes of what I can only describe as a “highly creative year.” With professional demands not booming but steady, there was the chance to explore freely and with risk. With few personal encumbrances, adequate housing, healthy parents and friends busy with their own, stimulating projects, my days blurred into one another in the sole service of ideas. Life felt luxurious: excluded from consumerism, monastic meals, feet for transportation, and hours upon hours of improvisation. Perhaps in this way, what appeared as a lack of focus was really a kind of hyper-focus.

The Cradle, 1872 Oil on canvas by Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

The Cradle, 1872
Oil on canvas
by Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

Ten years later, many of you are writing to tell me that there’s so much going on in your life that there’s no time to paint. This would be fine except that you’re also expressing feelings of frustration, guilt, and even loneliness. Some of you are probably reading this between cuddles with your loved ones, or Thanksgiving dishes, community service, holiday shopping, or what my friend who is a mother, aptly described as, “putting on Christmas.” For some of us, this time of year can trigger pangs of creative self-neglect, when the summoning of the quiet, solo and long-game hardscrabble of art is easily edged out by more critical human urges. In our family, I remember my Mum, Carol, sewing, shopping, writing and baking for weeks; preparing for the moment on Christmas eve, when my Dad could drop his brush into his water bucket, appear in our living room and announce that he was ready to “Claus;” my Mum having laid every detail of the groundwork for this glorious touchdown. In that moment they, in their inspired partnership, were each jolly with fatigue and creative satiation, all within the pressures they surely faced supporting our family of five. Realizing that a Christmas Carol is an increasingly endangered species, or that you, yourself, may be her, here’s an idea:

Young Girl with a Vase, 1889 by Berthe Morisot.

Young Girl with a Vase, 1889
by Berthe Morisot

Let this coming year be your highly creative one. All that is required is your desire and your conditions, which need to be somewhere within the spectrum of perfect and totally impossible. Get out your calendar and write your name on its cover page. This way, you’ll know whose life you’re living. If these are fighting words, channel Grace Metalious, the 50s housewife and mother, who, while living in squalor, wrote Peyton Place under the kitchen stairs while her children slept. She was 30 years old. She then hand-wrote thank-you notes to every person who bought her book, which became one of the best-selling works in publishing history.



PS: “There is a time for work, and a time for love. That leaves no other time.” (Coco Chanel)

Self Portrait, 1885 Oil on canvas by Berthe Morisot.

Self Portrait, 1885
Oil on canvas
by Berthe Morisot

Esoterica: “The difference between successful people and really successful people,” said Warren Buffett, “is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” By this time next year, your highly creative one will be winding down, and you may be ready to drop your instrument in its bucket for a moment. You also may have developed with practice, a personal system for a long succession of future HCYs. You may never look back. “I lost some time once.” wrote Neil Gaiman. “It’s always in the last place you look for it.”

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“Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” (Epictetus)



  1. Darrell Tomkins on

    A beautiful reminder that it takes time to savour our one full life. “The art of life is lost in the pace of life.” Thank you, Sara!

  2. Ok, I will write MY name on the front of my calendars and remember time is precious, and given to work and love. And if we love our work we may somehow cheat the clock :)
    Thank you Sara for another inspiring letter. May we all have very HCYs …starting today.

  3. Making art for me is reacting to the rest of my life. If I didn’t have that first, I’d have nothing to say , visually or verbally. But I do make chunks of time to react.
    Beautiful words today, Sara, I’m having a slow day of the in between part and you made me see the thread.

  4. Love Berthe’s informal style. It took courage at the time. I work in this context. Find “young girls with vase” particularly stunning. Thanks for sharing effort drenched art,

  5. Your parents’ rare partnership, so fine-tuned, managed a multiple focus on art /work, daily celebration and sustaining relationships. Could one of your parents have managed all of these aspects of life on his/her own? I’ve been driven all my life, fortunately with enough short interludes of not driving, instead playing outdoors and savouring each season in my Rocky Mountain home. The play kept me going and informed the work. For several reasons this way of life is coming to an end.

    I take exception to Warren Buffet’s saying no to almost everything. I’ve just read the journal of Henry David Thoreau, as I search once more for a way NOT to drive, and here is what he writes, rather wistfully: “Thinking this afternoon of the prospect of my writing lectures and going abroad to read them the next winter [his art/work], I realized how incomparably great [are] the advantages of obscurity and poverty which I have enjoyed so long, and may still perhaps enjoy. … I have given myself up to nature; I have lived so many springs and summers and autumns and winters as if I had nothing else to do but LIVE them … Ah, how I have thriven on solitude and poverty! I cannot overstate this advantage. … If I go abroad lecturing, how shall I ever recover the lost winter?”

    This is the man who went into the woods to live deliberately. He turned his back on ambition and what is usually considered a balanced life. Instead he turned that normal balance inside out and gave us, almost 200 years later, the wisdom of his abnormal reflections. Perhaps the solution to “being too busy” is not Buffet’s steely single focus, not the agenda with my name on it, but letting go, giving in to life, letting the days slip by without tailoring them to my ambition. Then who knows what fruits can be gathered?

    • Thoreau actually wasn’t that alone or impoverished at Walden. The whole time he stayed there, his mother took care of washing his laundry and fixing his meals. It was only a 20 minute walk from his cabin to his mother’s home. And he entertained regularly as well…so much for being alone in the “wild.”

      • Barbara Belyea on

        I wouldn’t take “poverty” and “solitude” so literally, as if they were the opposites of, say, marriage and a career job (or a mother’s work of supporting her frivolous son). Too often the whole of life is conceived in terms of goals and achievement, as if life itself were a career job. Anyone who has devoted everything, or almost everything, to the successful fulfilment of predetermined goals, and who happens to up from this one-track existence, realizes how much richness and beauty have been sacrificed to it. “How shall I ever recover the lost winter?” asks Thoreau. Few of us are smart enough to anticipate the loss; instead, too late, we regret it.

  6. Sara, what a great post! I work most often in a improvised studio, in the sunroom below the kitchen, painting frequently in the difficult light of south exposure. I attempt to say “yes” to more than painting and the gallery and caring for the needs of my cognitively impaired husband but these “yes” responses are carefully selected around a painting practice that must come first. I have a suspicion I have lived a creative or work life more similar to your dad while still raising children and taking on as much as I could of being like your mom. Painting did take up a part-time position until 2010. Then, circumstances brought painting to centre stage and it has never lost its place. I can now say I not only have a creative year but a creative life while completing 30 to 40 works a year and this past year finding homes for more work in my inventory than I painted. I knew this day was coming but I thought it was another five years out on the horizon. This is why I started showing the work of other artists along with my own. To say I love this life is an understatement. It isn’t always easy and the hours are long and the Christmas decorating and shopping minimal… but it is a good life. I totally resonate with putting your name on the front of the next year’s calendar and then scheduling in permanent studio time weekly and other art related tasks for a creative year. It is great advice for the frustrated artist who is having trouble finding time to create. Happy American Thanksgiving! P.S. I am sharing the link with my name to my latest “A Brush with Life” newsletter which was published this morning and includes the story about the 30 paintings I sold during the past month, the adversity we are facing in British Columbia due to heavy rain and how I created new unique gallery space when the tenants in our commercial space were given notice to vacate by October 31, 2022. And yes, I am still painting through it all. In fact, I have five commissions to complete early in the new year so I had better keep painting! Thanks for keeping this space going Sara to connect and inspire each other. Most appreciated.

  7. Years ago I heard the comment, “Women can have everything, just not at the same time.” It did give me some solace during my years raising kids, when the creative force in me often got expressed (suppressed?) in unique birthday parties or hallowe’en costumes. I can now say, at the age of 72, grandmother to 10, that there does come a time when all my time can be spent actualizing my creative gene, and it’s so wonderful. But so were those somewhat frustrating years when I only dreamt of this time. Best to see life as seasonal.

  8. Bravo ,Sara! Excellent in both practicality and in a relieving dose of good will to artists who work hard and get overloaded with “too many things.”. The commerce of holiday shopping is a downer for me…and you have put it into healthy perspective.

  9. Started my semiretirement from a full time hospital job of 20 years while also being a single parent and quasi full time artist in all my spare time. Having one or two full days per week to actually paint and create stained glass pieces is unbelievable. The part time job is now enjoyable instead of a burden. Thanks for your words of encouragement!!

  10. THAT GIRL CAN WRITE! It’s YOU Sara, of which I am speaking. You described and captured exactly what I am facing daily as I leave the brush where it last lay. I do read and develops concepts for future work as I have begun larger collage/paintings; very unlike the small ones I have sold. NOW THIS IS WORK and it takes my breath away and scares me to death. I have taken your words of wisdom to heart and I refuse to give up so the only alternative is “FORWARD”. Thank you.

  11. I don’t need to put my name on anything to tell me how important my time is. Every second that I am gifted to breath in good health tells me how blessed I am. The puzzle pieces all fit into one image called love. Yes, the pressure to provide a glorious memory of another family Christmas takes away from painting, but they both get done, and the final rewards are worth it all. I can read in your words how thankful you are for your parents who also felt the same way.

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Mexico Art Retreat for Women January 23-30, 2022
January 23, 2022 to January 30, 2022

 DETAILJoin Ellie Harold for “Intuitive Painting: Permission to Paint Expressively,” designed especially for mature women artists of all skill levels who wish to explore this medium for soulful exploration. The retreat provides attractive accommodations (your own room!) along with lightly structured activities for centering, relaxation and low stress art-making. You’ll have plenty of free time to muse, paint, write and reflect while enjoying the colors, textures and flavors of San Miguel. This Retreat has the potential to transform not only your art but your life! You’ll return home with a specific art “care plan” to assure support for further creating. Details at

  Beauty, Autumn
16 x 16 inches
acrylic on board

Featured Artist

We all need beauty, especially at a time when it appears to many that the world is in chaos.

Painting is the way I view my life, and it helps me keep my mind straight and my eyes on the positive. I look for beauty wherever I go. For that reason, I know that my life will not be long enough to paint all the ideas that I have.

I am painting because the Lord put the passion and desire in my heart to glorify Him in this way.

I have dedicated my life since 1983 to creating a body of work that testifies of His Creation, majesty, power, beauty, life and love.

Light and how we see it on the earth is the subject of all of my paintings.

I paint the landscape because I believe that we can see the Creator in His Creation, if we just look for Him there.

Since all who are sighted may see our surroundings, I believe this is one of the most evident ways we may see Him.

If I were to give a name to my entire portfolio of paintings, I would call it “The Sight of Heaven Touching Earth.”This Scripture, Romans 1:19-20, is foundational to all of my work: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made, so they are without excuse.”

 Beauty, order, and the possibility to love is all around us—all we have to do is want to see it.


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