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Stamina

Louise Bourgeois' hands.

Louise Bourgeois' hands.

Stamina comes from the Latin “threads” and is synonymous with power, recovery, strength and endurance…vital capacity. You have to be strong to be an artist. It is physical labor and a psychological workout. It takes STAMINA. There are times when we interfere with our potential, wearing ourselves down…lack of sleep, excess of wine…not enough nourishing practices like yoga and exercise to balance the mind. This can wreak havoc on stamina, deflating our confidence and momentum.

Being a painter, there is no retirement, only the need to keep the mind and body strong enough to continue creating. I love this picture of the brilliant artist Louise Bourgeois’ hands…she stayed active and made work right up to her death at the age of 98 in 2010. Talk about stamina. I can only hope that one day my own hands tell such a story. Despite the odds, the elderly Claude Monet painted although he was going blind and Beethoven continued to compose even though he was nearly deaf in the last decade of his life. How will you sustain your own commitment to practice?

How much energy is available to us? If we work a 9-5 job and hope to paint at night…can you keep a little reserve? A little pocket of energy you don’t tap into no matter what happens during the day. You have to keep a cushion of potential for the evening work. Make a plan for the week. Schedule it and stick with it. Early on, when I would try to carve out time to paint, if friends asked me to hang out I’d just say, “I have a meeting”. Somehow then there was no trying to entice me out of the studio.

We have protect ourselves from burning out. Unlike some jobs where we can grab a triple espresso and roll into a cubicle, I have to climb 3 flights of stairs in an old lace mill, change into my painting clothes, stand all day, mixing paints and then confront myself for hours. Scratch that…I don’t have to...I get to.

In my 20s, when I was studying painting in Manhattan, I’d paint for 9 hours a day fueled by black coffee. By 10pm, running on a high of caffeine and turpentine fumes, I’d head to the beautiful dark bar at The Odeon in Tribeca for food and red wine. I’d step out into night, historic buildings up-lit in amber light. My occasional 3rd glass of wine, was always met with a cautionary eye by my older British companion. He was then, the age I am now, and had learned about setting limits so he could get up early and paint in his East Village garret studio.

Studio time is precious. It takes great discipline to get there and work. How do you create the conditions for creative flow? How do you get out of your own way? I used to zip up my black Dr. Martin boots and put on my blue suede cap (which I later gave to the British guy) and somehow this costume put me in the mood to paint. Some people like to journal before working, put a certain type of music on, look at art magazines…sort of like foreplay…whatever gets you there. Pay attention to it. Notice your diversions and excuses…things that erode your stamina. It can be difficult when no one is watching. Don’t squander your energy. Build it towards inspiration.

Until next week…nourish yourself, stay strong and build your stamina. CREATE.