Weekly Question No. 13 - On re-finding our muse

edited February 20 in General Discussion

Are there times when the desire to create seems to desert you? Do you run out of ideas or just can’t get excited by ideas you have for paintings; however good the ideas may have seemed before?
If this happens to you, what helps you to find your muse again?


  • It happens to me very often, that I selected references that don't excite me anymore. Sometimes what works in my case, is that instead on pushing myself to work on the selected ones, i again go through the particular lot of clicks and see what i like this time ignoring what i selected before, and most times i gravitate towards the ones i had selected in the first case, and it re-assures and gets me inspired to work on again.
    Second, I like to paint from freshly clicked references, the energy feels different.
    I used to keep a folder of selected references to paint, but as time passed the folder felt less like an inspiration folder and more like a long "to do" list, and i didn't like even opening it. Now i select just before starting to paint, may be that's why my paintings are so random and maybe it isn't a good idea :D but this is what keeps me looking forward to painting.. and not feel like a chore.
  • Thanks, @anwesha.

    Those sound like good ideas. I can really relate to a pile of references feeling like a  "to do" list. Good idea to keep things fresh.  :)

    If we get more responses to this week's question I'll put together a list of all the ideas people offer for re-finding their muse. 
  • #1 for me => Good sleep. The research* is clear - less than 7-8 hours sleep per night is worse for your health than smoking. *No, you're not an exception, you just think you are. Without the full cycle you don't get the full benefits, which include processing knowledge, skills, emotions. When i get good sleep the muse is more likely to be there and my painting is likely to be far more successful.
    (*eg, Why we sleep, Matthew Walker, summarises recent neurology and research on sleep. Very, very readable.)
    I do struggle to find things to paint. My seascape photo I knew had something but it was desktop on my laptop for a year and it wasn't quite right. Then I heard Andrew Tischler talk about editing someone's photo - move these rocks, they are blocking the entry. Bingo. I had a set of photos from other angles and was able to photoshop the fix. I heard a professional say 1 in 100 of his photos is paintable. That made me feel better.
  • edited February 20
    Thanks, @Abstraction . There's some sense, then, in the old saying, "I'll sleep on it". I'll have a read of Mathew Walker's paper. I know that if I haven't had a good night's sleep it's much harder to get into the "flow".

    And I totally agree with your friend about 1 in 100 photos being paintable. Even with my best photos I always have to move things around. Tischler has some good videos where he does this. I love his work. Not sure I'd have his patience though.  :)
  • Very relatable @anwesha.  Thanks for putting it eloquently into words. :)
  • There are so many times when a photo online is so beautiful and exciting to paint, and then a day, a week, a month later I have no spark for it.  

    I guess it's a fine line between spending enough time considering if one should really paint the subject at hand, and beginning it when you have the inspiration.

    When I'm totally over it in general, it's important to me to just lay off for a while.  And then it's just as important after a break to make myself paint something at some point, and not continue doing nothing.

    It's good to take a break, but it's essential to get back!  to pick a new type of subject that holds a challenge, but isn't completely overwhelming.  Again, a fine line.

  • Thanks, @allforChrist.  Good points.

    What you're talking about there is, I think, pacing ourselves, taking breaks so that we don't burn out and, on the other hand, not allowing ourselves to get into the habit of saying, mmm... maybe I'll start tomorrow, or maybe the day after when I'll feel more inspired ... That would be procrastination. So, yeah, it's a fine line.  :)
  • Some good points made above that I agree with.

    I often find coming back to a piece of work can reignite the sparks of initial interest I had with it. Remembering that there was something that I liked about what I am painting that made me want to do it in the first place and asking myself have I got there yet in capturing and representing that.

    Some times I will have more than one painting I am working on and that change of focus can help.

    There are some works that I will take a long while before I feel ready to get back to and others, though very few, that I have abandoned.

    The desire to create ebbs and flows so I dont stress if I am going through a fairly non productive phase, which I seem to be at the moment. I think those non creative periods are actually helping to absorb life around you and allow for ideas and inspirations to come.

    Better to allow for ideas than to force them, or try to.

  • edited February 20
    Thanks, @MichaelD

    Good points. You're right - ideas sometimes need time to gestate before they are ready to bring into the world.  And I like the idea of not stressing if we have a day or so where not much happens. 

    And, yes, I sometimes revisit old incomplete/unresolved paintings. If ever I'm at a loss for an idea to paint, I know they are still there waiting patiently for my attention.  :)
  • Great question @tassieguy.

    Actually, my problem is I have too many ideas, and not enough spare capacity to execute them. Averaging one painting per year is probably not sufficient!  I have a photo library full of interesting things to paint, but what I’m talking about here is ideas, not specific images. For example I always thought a series of derelict farm buildings would be fun. My inspiration here is one of my favorite painters, Graeme Sydney. Here’s one of Graeme’s  below.  I’m surrounded by scenes like this where I live, and for some weird reason I find them quite compelling. 

    And we have a nearby town with a heap of interesting mid 19th century architecture (Goulburn, for those in Australia). I’ve always thought the collection of homes and businesses in that town would make fabulous house portraits - channeling Rita Angus, from my mother country, NZ:

    These are just a couple of wild ideas I have running through my mind. 

    I found that once I picked up painting again a few years ago (and with the huge support of this forum), that I started looking at the world very, very differently, and that ideas just seem to present themselves - just due to viewing the world in terms of relationships of value and color, rather than just background noise. The problem is balancing life’s demands to execute those ideas. 
    Oh and yes, developing the skills to do them justice 🙂
  • edited February 20
    Great to see you here again, @Roxy.  Thanks for your response to this week's question.

    I sometimes forget that most folks here have lives outside painting. When you're working a full time regular job  and have family commitments it must be hard to fit painting in even though it's what one would like to be doing sometimes.

    You're right about Goulburn and the surrounding district. You're spoiled for choice there when it comes to landscape subjects and old country buildings. You would be familiar with Braidwood, I'm sure. As well as the rural areas and old country towns you've also got the Snowy Mountains and the South Coast nearby. So many possibilities, so little time.

    When you retire, Roxy, I guess we know what you'll be doing with your free time.  :)
  • The down time between paintings gives me some time to consider new ideas and direction, so I don’t get too concerned if I have a break between paintings.  I’ve worked strictly with still life setups so I spend some time sorting out the next still life, but I also give some thought to outdoor scapes and interiors.  However, I won’t venture into those until I have a sure sense of what to do there.  The still lifes keep me going but I know there is more to come.  And that keeps it interesting for me.  
    I am always reading articles about art and art shows and try to stay informed about what’s happening regionally and globally.  That keeps things interesting too.  I visit museums and galleries when I can too.  Though that’s been a little difficult the last couple years.
    From a “production” standpoint I have a set of shows that I target for the following year so I never feel under any pressure to create.  At some point when I go full time I will expand that list of shows and look at gallery representation, but I don’t feel rushed about any of that.  I am fortunate enough to not have to push too hard.  It’s all good.
  • edited February 20
    Thanks for your response, @GTO:) You make some good points.

    I like your steady-as-she-goes approach. I bet you'll love full time painting when you can manage it. And I have no doubt that gallery representation will happen for you pretty quickly. In the meantime, you have the annual shows that you target. Good strategy. 

    Keep doing what you're doing because what you do you do extremely well. We're all amazed each time you post a new still life.

    It sounds like you use your time well. You must have a good, balanced mind set and a good painting routine that you manage well when your not at your regular job. Otherwise you couldn't produce the those great still life paintings. 

    Keeping abreast of happenings in art and visiting art museums are great ideas, too. They keep it interesting and help keep the creative juices flowing.  :)
  • I am not on the train yet.  I have no studio, no still life box, one good light, a color checker, some cheap beginner supplies and golden open acrylics… I have made one cartoon and my first still-life study is under 10 hours in the making and yet has been many months on the table top easel.  I am intensely interested but time and excuses seem to override action. 

    I suspect that once I get going on that train, in the throws of artistic passion, it will be easier and more natural to make time… for now motivation as a beginner is tough.

    I am not qualified to answer this question but I have some thoughts.

     I suspect the muse is no more (and no less) than the artistic creative spirit which revels in meaning and imagery and yearns to capture and recreate it on a canvas.  I also suspect that the overriding motivation of that creative spirit are the personal and deep values and meanings each individual has in life.

    So, meaning, life, experiences, are all the fuel, and we need to take time to engage, experience, and contemplate them, to fill up the human being that takes care of and nourishes that creative spirit.

    We are not art machines… art and the machine are opposites, art and life spring from the heart.
  • edited February 21
    Thanks, @CBG. Yes, I agree that art is different to the normal means of production. As you say, we are not machines that consume power and churn out n items for sale over n hours. Art doesn't work like that. It's not just energy in and production out. Like you also say, we have to draw on life experience, on the visible world around us and on our own inner life. That's where and how art happens. And that's why it's not possible for us to paint endless masterpieces non-stop as long as we're plugged into power. We humans need time to internalize, to digest what we see and experience, before we can make something that will be meaningful to ourselves and, hopefully, to others. It's complicated and we still don't know exactly how it works, but it's that which makes art special. And it's why I don't think machines will ever be able to create real art until they have brains and lives as complex as ours. We, as biological machines, can write code that will cause machines that we make, to produce pictures but, in that case, the art is in the human programmer and not the machine. Human artists are going to be special for a while yet. And from time to time it will feel as though the muse has departed. But she's pretty reliable and, with a bit of rest, she seems, in most cases, to come back home.  :)
  • tassieguy said:
    Thanks, @allforChrist.  Good points.

    What you're talking about there is, I think, pacing ourselves, taking breaks so that we don't burn out and, on the other hand, not allowing ourselves to get into the habit of saying, mmm... maybe I'll start tomorrow, or maybe the day after when I'll feel more inspired ... That would be procrastination. So, yeah, it's a fine line.  :)
    Yes exactly, though I think you have a better gift with words :)
  • I can relate, @Roxy!!  After watching Mark's videos and reading through his course, my head nearly ached after the next few days from all I was 'seeing'.  Really!  
  • Love this quote! Picasso was a very great artist. He was also a pr*ck but he knew how to paint and he worked hard. What he says here is true. Sitting around waiting for inspiration is a great way to achieve nothing.  :)
  • Prickasso


    Yes @tassieguy, many creatives are difficult souls.

  • This does happen to me too. When this happens, I go look at art and learn about art and artists for inspiration. Either in person or online but, I find it really helps. I also try to take the pressure off of myself by just doing some informal sketches and/or paintings of everyday items around my house or just a still life of flowers. Also, I love watching art documentaries or fun shows like portrait artist of the year. 
  • Thanks, @Allie. Yes, sometimes just a change of scene can help. Instead of the studio, an art museum or a TV art show can perk us up. Or, like you say, a change of pace with something small and simple.  :)
  • Hi all, haven’t been around for a while- family stuff. I stopped painting regularly for maybe a year? There was a lack of purpose coupled with emotional/physical exhaustion. Over the last several months I’ve been painting most days and I guess for me, after the resolution of some more personal issues was the question of, what was the purpose of all this pushing coloured stuff around with a hairy stick?

    I decided to temporarily stop selling, and to give my paintings away for a period of time ( I don’t know what that period of time is yet, probably until I don’t feel like doing it anymore) So my purpose now is to give joy. I paint small paintings, hide them around my community, and post hints on social media where they are. This has not only given joy to those who have found my paintings but has given me much joy when people have found them. It’s very exciting to hide a painting and wonder when it will be found, who will find it, will they like it? It’s my Letting Go Project, and each day I feel very inspired to paint, knowing I am going to let a little painting loose on the world for someone to discover.
  • Hey, @Boudicca. Great to see you here again. And what a great way to re-find your muse. I'm sure the small paintings you're doing bring joy to all concerned.  :)
  • That's beautiful @Boudicca! I also like giving away paintings rather than trying to sell them :)
  • A treasure hunt, what a great idea.  I wonder how many wonderful stories will now be attached to your works, no doubt you may hear the odd one over time?

    I have given my works away and rarely sold, but never to strangers or with such panache.  
  • toujours said:
    A treasure hunt, what a great idea.  I wonder how many wonderful stories will now be attached to your works, no doubt you may hear the odd one over time?

    I have given my works away and rarely sold, but never to strangers or with such panache.  
    Hi @toujours, initially, on one level it was a way to get me painting again, and on another to practice letting go. It has expanded to give people the opportunity to own a piece of original art who may never have considered doing so. Also it’s an  interesting exploration of the value of art- is it worth more because you can’t buy it?

    one example- I placed a small piece on a bench that sits on a local walking track with a clue posted on instagram (@shonnagrantartist) and watched from my balcony with my young son. It was interesting to see how many people walked past without noticing it and then I saw someone coming up the track with a very purposeful walk. My boy and I watched with bated breath wondering if the painting would be discovered. When it was found we jumped up and down waving and the finder waved back- it was someone who was following me on Insta and had recognised the location pic I had posted and had walked a couple of kms up the track from their home to find it. It turned out to be someone local who I knew so I waved her up and we had a nice cup of tea together. I also drove her home after her effort!

    People will often message me that they have found a piece, and sometimes I never know where a painting has gone - that’s where I have to practice letting go  :) 

    It’s the best feeling to be able to give.
  • What a great thig to do, @Boudicca. I especially like the letting go bit.  :)
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