The Care and Feeding of a Muse – Skinny Artist

The Care and Feeding of a Muse

 

This is not the way we had imagined it to be. . .

When we first come to our art, we came to it filled with hope, secret wishes, and visions of unseen worlds.  We imagined our muse taking us gently by the hand and whispering inspiration into our ear as we recreated those ancient truths with our art. . .

Of course what we didn’t realize at the time, is that our muse has over the years become almost as jaded and lazy as we are. It’s not that she doesn’t care, but she has simply seen all of this far too many times.  After all, how many countless “artists” throughout history have woken her from her slumber, only to later abandon her to pursue more material ambitions.  

There is magic to effacing our human arrogance and humbly entreating help from a source we cannot see, hear, or touch ~Steven Pressfield

This is the reason our muse no longer shows up immediately when sit down at our easel, tune our instrument, or start tapping on our computer keyboard. She senses that we are there waiting for her, but instead of rising, she turns over and falls back into her dreamless sleep knowing that the majority of these seekers will be gone when she awakes.

There are always a few stubborn creative souls, however, who persist.  These are the ones who continue to type, paint, play, and silently whisper their incantations because they know that eventually she will heed their call.  Now lying awake in her bed, she can feel the compelling tug of these familiar souls, but still she resists because she knows how this story will inevitably end.

After an hour or two of dancing in creative circles not yet knowing which way to go, our muse becomes unable to ignore the ancient incantations any longer.  She now silently stands beside us and begins to whisper softly to that deeply hidden spark of divinity within us.  Slowly her silent words begin turning and shaping our thoughts, until at last they merge with the consciousness of that universal river where so many before us have stood.

Clutching our primitive tools, we clumsily attempt to describe what we see.  The words, the notes, the colors all seem to fail us, but we continue our work frantically, hoping to capture some small part of this vision before it disappears back into the faded mist of our mind.  We desperately try to hang on to what we have witnessed, but soon only scattered fragments remain.

Reluctantly, we pack up our paints, wipe down our guitar, and save our files — knowing there is nothing left to be said.

Tomorrow we will gather our tools once again and attempt to prove ourselves worthy of the call. . .

How do you care for and feed your muse?

What rituals or routines do you find yourself doing daily to attract your muse?

How long are you willing to work/wait before you give up on a particular day?

What do you do to make your workspace or studio a more creative environment?

  • Paintings/Books/Instruments
  • Music
  • Pictures of Mentors
  • Meditation/prayer
  • Specific Food/Drink
  • Candles
  • Talismans (ex. I once knew a writer who refused to write anything unless he was wearing a particular sweatshirt even if it was 95 degrees outside)

Tell us what you do! (we promise not to laugh) ;)

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.Image Courtesy of Wegs

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About the Author

Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.

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(24) comments

Amanda

How I decide what I want to paint are many different things. Number one what message do I want to send? What quality do I want to portray?It could be elegance.simplicity,love etc. I also think about what is marketable but not too much so that I am not completely controlled by that aspect. I am still growing in that . I think of things that really caught my eye enough that I feel enthusiastic about painting it. I have ideas from when I was young up till the present. As long as I am not overly stressed,tired or anxious I can look around and see new ideas just about any where I look if I try. Having time alone is best for thinking of ideas but not nessecary. I see things every where. Even a story can bring a picture to my mind. Music as well. All types of art can feed off of each other. For example I can listen to a poem and then paint a picture from it just as poet can look at art and write poem from it. Any where I see a combination of beleufitul colors I might take a picture so that I can remeber and incrporate those colors into a painting. For example in one of my paintings the background was inspired by the colors of a fiery opal.

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    Drew

    Hi Amanda!

    I have always loved the way that one piece of art such as a piece of music or poetry has the ability to inspire a different type of art. It’s as if they have all been dipped from this communal creative pool and as you say they all “feed off each other”.

    One of the most beautiful things about art to me, is the fact that it speaks so many different languages (poetry,music,painting,writing,etc..). It does its best to describe those ever elusive concepts like truth, and love, and beauty that we can only clumsily (at least for me) point to with our art.

    Great stuff Amanda!

    Reply
Amy

To attract my muse, it must be the right weather…yep…and the right light…and there must be silence and beauty in some form, however small. Then, there must be a connection to the divine. The divine is the source of my inspiration. Sometimes, fresh cool air attracts my divine. Sometimes it requires me partaking in a long exhausting energy draining 5 mile run. Sometimes it is incense burning while I fold laundry, or clean fresh whole food prepared with love, and sometimes it is just knowing that the day was lived honestly and in the direction of my dreams. (Yes, walnuts and all) (:

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    Drew

    Hi Amy, it’s always nice to see your sassy winged-pea avatar sticking its tongue out at me!

    I think you’re right that so much of our inspiration comes from nature and its divine secrets. As much as I initially loathe getting outside and doing any type of physical exercise, I am always amazed how much my head clears and my creativity (such as it is) is peaked after a long bike ride or a not-so long jog around the block.

    I can’t help but wonder sometimes how many of our creative blocks are caused by us being shut into our little windowless rooms with our laptops and our twitchy little atrophied muscles from way too much caffeine and way too little exercise. Now of course I realize that this doesn’t apply to you with your strenuous running and walnut throwing exercise regiment, however, I think I might need to go out and get some fresh air — just as soon as I clear out this e-mail inbox and . . .

    P.S. If you ever run out of laundry to fold for artistic inspiration just let me know! ;)

    Reply

Thanks. Sorry for the misspelled words. I don’t have a studio yet. My dad made an easle that I use and I have a card table for my paints. It is working out fine. It is a lot better than the kitchen table that I used before. I had to keep picking everything up and putting it away and then getting it back out.I am happ with my new set up. For inspiration in my workspace I have some of the great art from history hanging where I can study it . I plan on doing my version of some of them.

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    Drew

    I think it’s great Amanda that you’ve got your own space now to create your art. Keep in mind though, that it’s never the tools (or the studio) that makes the art anyway. It’s those people who sit around waiting for the perfect tools or setup, who usually end up creating nothing. It’s sounds like you’re on your way, so just keep going!

    I’m so old (well, not really that old) that I remember typing up my college papers on a Smith & Corona word processor that had a 3-line digital display that was cutting edge back then. My point being that the tools we use will always change, but it’s our perception and our experience that ultimately creates our art.

    Talk to you soon!

    Reply

Thanks for another entertaining and thought provoking article Drew.

For me I find that music always plays a role. Nature inspires me no end, so even if I’m not using flowers or branches for a particular piece I’ll have something nearby; a branch from a lemon myrtle tree or gardenia’s in a bowl.

And I always try to capture those little inspirations that seem to find me when I’m not really looking for them – jot an idea down on the back of a shopping list or a receipt – whatever I can write notes on.

Reply

    Oh and I have to mention – I always work better with a hot cup of tea! Each time I stop for a sip I’m reminded to step back and review my work.

    Reply
      Drew

      Hi Rebecca, it’s always great to hear from you!

      I think you’re absolutely right that having a close connection with nature is so vital to the creative process. If there was a true “textbook” for creativity, I think that it really could be as simple as meditating on a leaf, a flower, or a branch.

      And yes, tea or coffee is mandatory because thirst is a very dangerous thing ;)

      Reply

Interesting post and I really connect to the quote from Picasso you included. My primary art forms are photography and digital painting. For me being open to visual experiences even in the most mundane circumstances is critical to keeping the muse awake. I make use of my iPhone camera extensively and have created great images riding a subway, driving through a tunnel or just traveling down a back country road. I have also made some pretty crappy images riding a subway, driving through a tunnel or traveling down that same country road. My muse does occasionally drift off for a cat nap but usually returns if I just keep pushing and working.

Thanks and love the blog!

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    Drew

    Thanks for stopping by Frank and sharing your thoughts with us!

    I completely agree with you and think that any type of artist can benefit from taking a camera and a journal/sketchbook wherever they go. I only wish that I would follow my own advice more often, however, because I don’t know how many ideas I’ve been forced to jot down on the backs of receipts and Chipotle napkins.

    I think all of us have been abandoned by our muse from time to time, and of course not everything we come up with is pure gold, but I can only imagine how many ideas (both good and bad) that were lost in the ether because I had no way to record them. I think that’s how the muses get their kicks sometimes. After all, it’s no coincidence that “a muse” and “amuse” are so closely linked. . .

    Somebody’s messing with us ;)

    Reply
Gwylym Owen

Great article and comments, as per usual. My muse works me too hard. Give me a ruddy rest will yah, for petes sake :-)

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    Drew

    Thank you for your kindness Gwylym :)

    I’m afraid the only time my muse ever works hard is when I’m either driving or otherwise indisposed and unable to record these brief flashes of inspired thought (as you can plainly see I haven’t had any here yet!). Out of all the muses in the world, mine appears to not only have a twisted sense of humor, but a fairly poor sense of timing as well.

    Please send any excess inspiration my way!

    Reply
      Gwylym Owen

      You know what they say Drew, “No muse is good muse!” :-)

      Whenever I try to deny the existence of a muse, serendipity has a way of reminding me about the lessons that my muse previously tried to teach me, that I had either neglected to notice or dismissed as unimportant at an earlier point in my life – only to realise that everything is all too interconnected, for there *not* to be a muse drawing my attention to this phenomena.

      Reply

Lately I’ve been wanting to get an idea for a Twitter Art Exhibit that David Sandum’s organizing to raise money for a children’s library in Norway. My laziness won out and I convinced myself that instead of actually spending an evening sketching ideas to help get my creative ideas flowing, I would simply marinate some ideas in my head and see where that lead me. WELL, a couple of nights ago, I actually got woken up in the middle of the night with 2 (!) good ideas for paintings.

Laziness struck again when I tried to reason with myself that somehow I could remember my ideas and images in the morning without sketching them. Thankfully, even groggy from being woken up (thanks Muse…), I knew that I’d have to wake up completely and get it on paper.

So, I went up to my studio and sketched the original 2 ideas that woke me, but a nice surprise was that when I finished my sketching session and went back to bed, I had 4 (!!) workeable ideas – woohoo. Thanks a lot, Muse! Next time, please don’t wake me up, though.

For the Twitter-ers arting out there, @DavidSandumArt is David Sandum’s handle on Twitter, and the hashtag to search is #twitterartexhibit. Even if you’re not on Twitter (but you should be if you’re an artist since there’s such a supportive arts community waiting for you), you can Google @DavidSandumArt and/or #twitterartexhibit to get more info. If you’re just starting out on Twitter and not sure how to find other artists, search #followart , #art, #painting, etc. Happy hunting!

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    Drew

    It must be nice to have a muse that cares enough to wake you up in the middle of the night. Mine appears to be a bit more sluggish and unwilling to deliver any brilliant insights much past 10:00 p.m. . . . Actually, come to think about it, she doesn’t do afternoons or mornings either ;)

    You’re right, if you’re on Twitter (or even if you’re not) you really do need to check out David Sandum’s #TwitterArtExhibit project. You’ll find some great artists working for a great cause!

    Thanks for sharing it with us Julia!

    Reply
quinne

My muse . .is impatient, she strikes every alluring pose she can. She embodies sensuality. Right now, I make sure to stroker her, cuddle her and give her cat treats. The water color study- the first one, is done. TIme to take it to the studio.

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    Drew

    It sounds as if you’ve been treating your muse well. :)

    I sometimes wonder if my own muse is a bit put off by having been assigned to me. I can almost picture the scene in the muse waiting room, “Oh no, not him again. . . “

    Reply
Chandre

I haven’t seen my muse in three years. I miss her terribly but I ignored her to often when she called and I truly regret that now.
I shall however offer her many works of art and bug her till she finally answers my call again. I think I need to start groveling.
I wish, I knew when I was studying how much work she requires and that she will be my most difficult relationship ever. I wouldn’t have ignored her if I knew.

Reply
    Drew

    Hi Chandre, it’s great to see you here!

    I’m sorry to hear about your muse abandonment issues. The good news is that from what I’ve heard, each muse signs a lifetime contract so perhaps your groveling will eventually pay off ;)

    Unfortunately, I ignored my own muse back in my I’ve-got-a-job-that-actually-pays-real-money days (dark days indeed!) and it has been quite difficult to woo her back. I’m personally taking a page out of my first-grader’s playbook and I’m going with the persistent nagging myself. I figure if I can annoy her enough that eventually she’ll give into my demands. Still waiting however. . .

    Reply

My “muse” so to speak shows up at fairly sporadic moments. I can draw without inspiration in the slightest (it’s a difficult task but doable nonetheless) mostly because everything I draw is character driven. And by that I mean usually I just draw a character without a background or anything. And even then, I tend to draw other people’s characters (which is why I’m more of a cartoonist or fan-artist than an all around artist persay). I can mindlessly draw a Pikachu any day of the week. XD

However whenever my inspiration does strike to draw something meaningful or “big”, it’s usually centered around music. And usually it isn’t just an idea for a single picture. It’s a whole story that can’t just be told in a single picture. It’s something that either needs to be a comic or to be animated. Which is something that I typically don’t have time to do during school, especially when I’m working on other animation projects. Fitting my own thing in there typically doesn’t work.

In general though I just think I work better when music is playing. Mostly because I think it gives me something else to focus on rather than how much is left to do on a project or how much my hand hurts. The right song can always be very calming. And even if the song itself isn’t calming, it’s nice listening to music you like.

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    Drew

    I’ve always found it interesting that so many visual artists have music playing in the background while they’re working, while most of us writers have to sit in a perfectly quiet room as if we’re performing brain surgery (come to think of it, even brain surgeons listen to music while they work) hmmm…… I have to admit that I’ve always been a bit jealous of that fact because I would love nothing better than to listen to some music while I’m banging away on the keyboard. Of course you visual artists have always been the cool kids on the block with all your fancy shapes and colors. It just ain’t fair I tell you!

    Reply
Taylor

I have a ritual and incantations along with a little shrine i’m working on for them. :)

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    That’s pretty cool Taylor, and by the way if it ends up working well for you, please share the recipe with the rest of us ;) Whether we admit it or not, I think most of us creative types have some type of ritual that we use to invoke our creative muse and get us ready to work. My problem is that I apparently have been assigned a fickle muse with ever-changing tastes, so what may please her one day, will completely offend her the next — or maybe it’s just me.

    Reply
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