Notes from the studio / Daily rituals
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
– Jack London
I just finished reading a book titled “Daily Rituals / How artists work”, written by Mason Curry, in which the lives and work habits of 161 writers, painters, dancers, musicians and some scientists and philosophers are described, as varied as for instance Immanuel Kant to Jackson Pollock.
It’s a light and often amusing read. Beer, wine and liquor flow in great abundance, massive amounts of cigarettes, cigars and pipes are smoked and there’s a lot of napping and aimless walking trying to seek and find the Muse. Some of our heroes arise at dawn and start to work, some sleep until noon and work on through the night. Some handle very strict routines and schedules, others seem to have had no routines or discipline at all. The author Georges Simenon didn’t write for weeks or sometimes even months on end until he suddenly started writing in intense bursts of literary activity lasting for two or three weeks. Yet, Simenon was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, publishing 425 books in his career. Maybe it had something to do with his sex life. It is said that he had sex 3 or 4 times daily. That’s what I call discipline…
Inspiration is an elusive thing and a subject often discussed with clients who visit my studio or during exhibition openings. Pablo Picasso said:
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working”.
Or, as the painter Chuck Close noted:
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”
I think they are right. I know they are right. It is no use sitting around waiting for brilliant ideas or for the Muse to come flying in through your windows. In painting, at least, everything happens in the process. You just show up and begin.
Considering daily rituals, working habits and discipline I’d say I’m half disciplined. I rise between 8 and 10, but in the summer I often wake up at first light, go out of bed and lavish myself on the pristine silence of the early morning. I have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, walk the gardens with the dogs, count my blessings and maybe write some pages in my diary. When humanity begins to awaken around 6.30, I’m off to bed again, sleeping until 10.
However, I have one solid daily ritual. I have to be in studio from 11.00 until 14.00 and paint, five days a week and sometimes even weekends if we have no visitors to entertain. Through the long years of painting, I discovered that I’m at my best doing some concentrated, hard work during those three hours. After that, I’m usually quite exhausted and off to lunch. Three hours don’t seem much, but if you keep that going through the weeks and months you can get a lot of work done over a year.
After lunch, daily ritual number two comes into focus, which is not so much of a ritual, but more like an advice on how to keep the flow going. It is from Ernest Hemingway and I have taken it to heart. It is often tempting to do some more painting in the afternoon but along the way, I somewhere realized that, more often than not, I did make little progress or no progress at all or I got stuck.
Hemingway’s advice was made for writing but it is equally applicable on painting:
“Always stop for the day when you know what will happen next. If you do that you will never be stuck”.
So, during after-lunch hours you can usually find me sitting in my studio chair, staring at the painting I’m working on, trying to finish it in my mind. I might turn it upside down, rotate it 45 degrees, I might import a picture of it in Photoshop and try some things digitally to be worked out on the painting for real later, but most of the time no more real painting is done. When I’m satisfied on how to proceed I call it a day. The rest of the afternoon, until around 19.00, is spent on answering mail, writing, packaging finished paintings and arranging shipment to one of my galleries and all the other myriad entrepreneur’s stuff that comes along in an artists’ life, like carrying two hundred cardboard plates, that has just been delivered, inside the studio before it starts to rain. It’s a “glamorous” life and I love it.
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(I have decided to write these blog posts in English which is not my native language. So beforehand I want to apologize for any textual and/or grammar mistakes).