What motivates and inspires an artist?


I’m lucky enough to know many artists. Having written a weekly column entitled “Art Matters”, for a regional newspaper, I’ve asked that question hundreds of times. The answers to what inspires were as diverse as the artists themselves. In regards to motivation, the answers were quite similar.


Regarding their motivation, most answered they were just driven to do so with limited ability to explain why. I’m sure behavior experts might be able to talk about brain functions, but the answers to this part, came under the category of what I called, “nature”. Ask a fish what it is like to live in water and you’d get a similar response. Since that is all the fish knows, of course it does not know how to answer.


During some period in the artist’s life a brain-click occurred, and making their art become highly important. In some cases, it became everything.


For me with a big family, loving husband, and lots of other interests,  I would not say everything. However, never painting again? Well that would be tragic to me. The artists I’ve interviewed have all said something like that. Ask them what they would do if they couldn’t do their art and a look of horror comes over their face. There was a commonality at the horror of not being able to do their art.


So, I wondered at my own drive to paint and wondered if that drive qualifies as an addiction. It does feel, at the very least, kindred. The desire to paint is certainly as close as I care to come to an addiction. The symptoms of withdrawal are similar. Kept away from it for long, I get crabby, restless and distracted. I start thinking about all of the ideas I still have to express. I’ll leave other chores to just “check it out”. Before you know it hours have rushed by. So, maybe I am an addict. Perhaps it keeps me from other not so healthy addictions.


But that is as deep as I care to go on this particular subject, it starts feeling much too introspective and what if I figured it out? Would the motivation go away? In any case, I stop thinking about from whence the motivation comes and just start painting again.


An inquiry into what inspires an artist to create a particular piece is a subject of which I never tire.  I suspect there is an unconditioned human need to express ourselves. A need in every one of the six plus billion people on the planet. I believe we are all artists. Some chose to paint, sing, dance, write, build teams or business,  play an instrument, cook, or simply decorate their bodies with tattoos. Whatever the “it” is… it seems we all wish to create. Instead of calling myself an artist I say I am a painter.  It feels more accurate.


So many ways to create once inspired.  But, for this article I’m just focusing on painting.   That is, after all, what I know about.


But what inspires? Many when asked that question answered “nature”. Connecting with nature and observing a sentient being from another species is the best inspiration for most. Most painters begin to paint or draw it to feel closer to it. The artist inside wants to express the joy or wonderment one feels from a beautiful sunset, or the curve of a mountain.


Color, light, shadow, form. All visual sparks to paint.


Also looking at the artwork of others.  I had a profound spiritual reaction the first time I saw the Impressionists paintings in a collection.  Appreciation for other artist’s process or genius helps inspire us too.   I love to go to museums and art gallery’s to see all of the impressive art. I cannot get enough. It chases me back to my studio where I throw myself into my own process. It’s renewing, invigorating as well as humbling; this is inspiration.



For me right now I am exploring the idea of visually portraying chaos. I call it trans-formative chaos. Having the distinct feeling we are living in transformational times I want so badly to express that idea.  The idea is the subject and for me has no known form. I realize all of us, in our turn to live on this planet must feel great change taking place.  Perhaps it has been that way since we had the need to paint on the walls of caves. But, we only really know our own time and this time feels volatile, exciting and yes a bit scary.

Which brings me to fear.


Fear is a feeling and the emotions we feel must be expressed. Or so it seems. Great love, fear, lust, joy, deep gratitude; all these and more are the feelings we wish to express. Maybe I ought to say, must express.


It’s fun to wonder about all of this but, now I want to go paint.



Pulling Inspiration from the Rim Fire in Tuolumne County

The Rim Fire Painting


The Rim Fire in Tuolumne County is close to containment. This is good news, as to date it has burned 237k acres. Highly quixotic, it is likely one of the most difficult forest fires in history. But the thousands of hero’s fighting it are getting the upper-hand. The dastardly inferno is now about 85% contained. We are not relaxed but hopeful.


The five acres I live on was never on the advisory evacuation list, but in crow flying miles it came within 12 miles. Much too close. It caused me to question the wisdom of an at-home- studio-gallery. How would I move all of those paintings and where would we go? And then, it set me to wondering at the wisdom of doing all of these paintings?


I suppose introspection is a universal quality in an artist, but this fire forced the question.  I reminded myself of Camille Pisarro’s story (Impressionist 1830 to 1903). In 1870, France lost the battle of Sedan, forcing Napoleon III to surrender. The Prussians advanced so quickly into Louveciennes, France, where Pisarro resided on his farm. He fled for his life, leaving behind in his barn 1500 painted canvases of his own, in addition to many he had stored for Monet. The Prussians turned his studio into a butchery and used his canvases as aprons, soiled with the blood of slaughtered animals.

He was able to salvage only 40 paintings. Ouch.


There was a reason the Impressionists made their mark on the world. They painted every day; they painted passionately, turbulently and with fervor. We know of the angst many of them also felt, so I quiet my inner critic and start another painting, carefully monitoring the news of the fire.


My own belief is there is something good that comes with most calamities and it almost always has to do with compassion and kindnesses offered. There have been many shining generous examples of folks helping folks through this unfortunate fire.


I’m going to want to process the emotions of this volatile time through my art. The good, kind examples of heroism in juxtaposition to the fear a destructive fire like this evokes. A roller coaster of emotions. This juxtaposition is kindred to the art I have been doing which I call “Trans-formative Chaos.” I ‘ve started prepping a few canvases with this in mind. Who knows, maybe I’ll come close, maybe not. But in spite of angst, questioning and introspection my prevailing internal philosophy pops up and tells me to “just shut up and keep painting”.


The smoke is still too thick to go outside anyway.

Rim Fire