20 Ways to Woo Your Muse; or, How to Procrastinate Productively


I often find it hard to get going again after my routine is disrupted by all the glitter and parties of the holiday season. Here are some of the strategies I use to get back to work.

1. Clean the studio: my muse, though generally forthcoming and genial, is somewhat picky about her working conditions, and prefers a clean and orderly studio. Then she just messes it up again.

2. Throw paint at paper: This is not quite as splattery as it sounds, at least when I do it. It’s just what I call doodling with paints to kind of get myself in the mood. Sometimes I wet a whole piece of watercolour paper and just drop paint on it to see what it does, and kind of zone out watching it spread. The results can be cut up for collage, cards, bookmarks, or used for backgrounds, so nothing is wasted.

3. Take a walk and notice everything: A time-honoured way of getting back in touch with the muse. It’s also good for us artists, who tend to be way too sedentary anyway!

4. Stretch canvas, or some other boring studio task that never seems to get done: After the studio is clean, there are always mindless prep or finishing tasks that can be done. I put on the music, or even a movie, and groove along.

5. Read an art book, then try at least one new technique from it: I have sooooooo many art books. It’s like having an art college in a bookcase

6. Pet the cat: needs no explanation. Purrrrrr.

7. Sort your paints; make a list  of ones you are low on for the next time there’s a sale: very useful activity, and also makes you want to squeeze some out and paint with it just for the sensual pleasure of seeing the colours spreading out over the page. (See #2)

8. Make colour charts of pure paints: (or your coloured pencil set, or your pastels) it’s the best way to see what the colours look like on the page. Lay them down thin, then thick. Label them. Pretend you’re a scientist cataloguing specimens.

9. Make mixing charts: Like #8, but here you get to be even more madly scientific as you chart your experiments. Oddly enough, it’s also kind of meditative.

10. Make a collage with old sketches or paintings; paint over it: Tear stuff! That’s right, rip up your art! Yell when you do it! Get glue up to your elbows and paper on every exposed surface of the studio! Then go back to #1.

11. Take a “ruined” painting and find part of it that you like and crop it: some paintings have several lovely miniatures within! This is a more controlled version of #10.

12. Go on a photo expedition, composing with the camera: I take reference photos, that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it! But sometimes I get shots that are works of art in themselves, and I feel as if someone just gave me a present. Looking through the viewfinder is like calisthenics for the composing muscles.

13. Paint an abstract to music: I think of my brush as a dancer sometimes, and let it go dancing while I turn off my left brain. Nice surprises often greet me when I tune back in.

14. Play, play, play: Seriousness is the Enemy of Creativity.

15. Take a class in something new and daring: I’m not all that bold, so daring for me is taking beginner Spanish; but others might like to take up bungy jumping or alligator wrestling.

16. Write a poem; paint it: or paint and write a poem. Haiku is good for this. And you can use it for a title when you show the piece at your next big exhibition, like I did once!

17. Paint a dream: I keep a dream journal with some very bizarre images and even whole epic tales, just in case the muse ever says “I’m bored…”

18. Go to the library and look at art books, picture books: kids’ books, travel books, science books: I love the library, the smell of the books, the quiet murmur of people talking softly, all those vibes of people loving books, the fact that you don’t have to pay for the books to take them out the door…

19. Write a journal entry: Me: “Dear diary… my muse is being recalcitrant. What do I do with her?” Diary: “Make a list of things to do when you are stuck.”

20. Don’t force it: go have a cup of tea and come back with fresh eyes and a caffeinated muse.

3 responses to “20 Ways to Woo Your Muse; or, How to Procrastinate Productively

    • Thanks Rachel! The picture on this post is one of a series I’ve done as class demos for my watercolour techniques class — I use a different texturing technique on each stone. I’m thinking of posting the handout from that one, with pictures, on Saturday.


  1. Pingback: Collage — making a painting with paper and glue | Karen Gillmore Art·

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