When Life Gives you Lemons. . . Paint!

By Susan Holland in Art Business Advice > Motivation

It’s not the devil or poor lighting that kills the motivation to create. It’s LIFE.

Life wears us down and we use it as an excuse. I have a history of talking to myself, explaining why today isn’t a good day to make art.

Sometimes another artist in a state of “stuckness” will get my mind off my own excuses and force some truth into my head. Once I heard myself tell another artist who was really coming up blank and forlorn: “Paint about it.”

But how dare I to make such a frivolously blasé suggestion? I’m searching for motivation too.

As artists, many times we imagine how carefree the lives of the masters must have been. . . Van Gogh sitting in his asylum in the brilliance of Southern France making those great paintings, and Michaelangelo lying on his back in the comfort of a scaffolding with paint splattering his face.

Then there’s Gaugin all doped up and lolling around with his Tahitian girls on the beach, and Mary Cassatt enjoying the domestic scenes she painted of mothers bathing wiggling babies. . .

I think not.

I think those people had cussed things happening all the time (just like we do) but they kept putting lines and colors on surfaces of canvas, paper, plaster.

Some of them actually let us in on the stress, using intense colors and strong, passionate brush strokes. Were they angry at their paintings? Yes, I believe they were. Maybe they were angry because they were going over them for the fiftieth time, after forty nine attempts which were just no good.

How did Degas feel when he painted that little tipsy person ironing on a dismal work day? How did Goya feel the day he painted this execution scene?


Likely the the floor was achingly cold and the mind must have been reciting a thousand reasons why it was madness to persevere under these impossible conditions.

Not to mention, some of these master artists may also have had hangovers, or mothers who were dying, or chicken pox!

Here’s what Michelangelo had to say in a letter describing the ardous conditions under which he worked while painting the Sistine Chapel (from wikipedia ):

I’ve grown a goitre by dwelling in this den–

As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,

Or in what other land they hap to be–

Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:

My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,

Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly

Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery

Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.

My loins into my paunch like levers grind:

My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;

My feet unguided wander to and fro;

In front my skin grows loose and long; behind,

By bending it becomes more taut and strait;

Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:

Whence false and quaint, I know,

Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;

For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.

Come then, Giovanni, try

To succour my dead pictures and my fame;

Since foul I fare and painting is my shame.

Feel better?

Even if you’re down, even if life is tough, paint about it. (I am saying that to myself now.) Writing any longer will just keep me from my easel, where I should be.

So paint about it, I say. Paint through it! DO THE WORK.

I will try. Will you?


We'll send you articles & tutorials right as we publish them, so you never miss a post! Unsubscribe here at any time.


This post may contain affiliate links.