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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tips To Stay Motivated To Paint

I always find myself chuckling a bit when someone, either a fellow artist, or a "civilian" (all non-creatives), asks me if I find it difficult to stay motivated to paint and produce large quantities of work. I follow with an admission of sorts: "I can't get myself to stop!!! I don't do anything BUT paint! You should see the state of my house." As an aside, my sadly neglected house is why I don't have dinner parties anymore. That and the fact my cooking's not so much. But I get this question a lot. How do I "make" myself paint every day? What if I'm not in the mood they ask, as if motivation comes before action. I have come to realize I have developed an important and vital skill: discipline.

I feel very gratified when fellow artists remark they really admire my strong work ethic, which is grounded in a deep desire to improve. Alternately, there's more than a few civilians out there that see me as a cautionary tale. As in: Look at that poor thing toiling away. Someone stop her and put her out of her misery! Well. Anyway. Putting aside the whole debate as to whether it's worth it (it is), how do I stay motivated? How did I grow this discipline to stay on task, and treat my work with the respect and dedication it deserves? 

First, let me be clear: I didn't start from day one being as regimented and putting in the hours I do today.  In the early days, I'd find myself getting kind of fatigued after about hour or two of slapping around paint. And painting a couple of hours a few days a week was not getting me anywhere much in the quality of my work. 

So I dug deep and tried to figure out how to keep myself on task. As one approaches any project, I needed a plan. So that's what I did. I made a PLAN. This plan included setting clear and concrete goals. My goal was (and is) to become a skilled and beautiful painter. And like it or not, that was going to involve hours of practice. Later, I discovered those practice hours eventually morphed into hours of painting for actual SHOWS). This was a real "ah ha!" moment: Hard Work + Discipline = Reward!

This is what I discovered helped me stay on the job. And I continue to use these strategies on a daily basis.


1. Time block in writing. So important. When I write down: 10 am to 12 pm work on large scale phone, I find myself so much more likely to do just that. I usually write out a week's plan in pencil as everything shifts a bit. A particular painting may get finished ahead of time...actually that never happens. They all take longer. But new projects do enter the scene unexpectedly and so on.

2. Work on several paintings at a time, so as to not get bored with any particular project.

3. Take hourly breaks for ten minutes or so. (I literally time myself)

4. Take an hour lunch. Clearly define a time for it so you know it's coming: I get to stop at noon.

5. Alternate your background noise.  If I find myself feeling get me outta here, I change what I'm listening to in the background. If I've been listening to NPR, I switch to classical music or some jazz. And after a bit of that, I switch to easy rock - Elton John, James Taylor, etc.). I strongly encourage you to try this. It's like magic.

6. Organize your work space. When I start to get particularly stir crazy, I stop painting and switch to cleaning and organizing my studio and work space. Also extremely effective. A tidy space is very uplifting to your spirit.

7. Seek inspiration. Go through artist magazines, Instagram or Pinterest and get motivated by others work. I usually do this first thing in the morning.

8. Use some creative self talk. Sometimes when I want to quit, I say to myself: okay, just work on this one section for another half hour. Then a half hour goes by and that feeling has passed. I might even get in a couple more hours past that first half hour.

9. Buy a new brush or tool so you feel fancy and fresh.

10. Do not paint in your pajamas. It's just depressing.
Most importantly, understand, accept and embrace that you grow discipline like a muscle. Push yourself just a little bit every day and you will build strength at staying on task. Or think of it like brushing your teeth. You're not in the "mood" to brush your teeth, you just do it so your teeth won't fall out. Don't dwell on the drudgery, just DO IT. Keep your eyes on the prize: putting solid hours in really will lead you to becoming a skilled and beautiful painter!


  1. Amy, this is so spot on! I hate it when all other stuff that needs to be done invades studio time.

    1. Thanks Gwyn! Right?! Like: why did I agree to two dogs that need to be walked, fed and bathed....I wanna paint!