5 Ways to Rock Out in the Studio

 In 5 Ways to Art Archives

This is what I know: Sometimes there’s a big ol’ party in the studio. And I’m the only one there.

Music has always been entwined with my art. The first time I remember consciously repeating a song was when I was 17. I was drawing a large nude with the help of Bob Dylan’s Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, a song from Blonde on Blonde that takes up an entire side of an album. When the song was over, I’d put down my drawing pencil, get up, and put the needle back to the beginning of the record. I drew for hours this way.

Years later, I noticed that, without being aware of it, I’d spent the last 3 months – many hours of painting – turning over and over one single tape cassette. Crash Test Dummies was the culprit that time, with their album God Shuffled His Feet. My work this time was in oils on canvas.

My life changed when I could put one song on repeat.

I work to music – or more accurately – I work in music. The music I choose is specific to the emotion I’m looking to achieve in the piece I’m working on. It helps me sustain a mood over hours, days or weeks.

Sometimes I use music to mirror the energy I’m looking for. Intense, upbeat music brings out the wild in me – and in my work. Slow, deep music brings out depth, yearning, melancholy…

There’s certain music I listen to only in my studio. It reflexively brings me into my art zone – and I don’t want to dilute it’s power by listening to it anywhere else.

This is what I think: Music propels you into your creative zone.

I listen to lots of kinds of music in the studio. Here are some of my favorites…


5 Ways to Rock Out in the Studio:

1. Rock & roll with a touch of country: I’ve got so many favorites in this category I’m not sure how to cope right now. I’ll start with the breathtaking Lucinda Williams. I spent many hours making art to one of her early albums, Essence. But I love pretty much all of her soulful, poetic work.

When I’m painting in an intense fury, Pearl Jam’s Yellow Ledbetter, from their Lost dogs album parallels my movements as I smash paint into the canvas. ‘Course I mentioned the entire Radiohead album, In Rainbows, in my last blog. Fabulous for making art to.

2. Chanting: for that sustained hypnotic mood. For meditative work I sometimes paint to Deva Premal. I love Om Namo Bhagvate, on her Embrace album. Another I like is The Essential Snatam Kaur, my favorite chant is of her’s is Jap Man Sat Nam.

A little pen & ink to music

A little pen & ink to music

3. Classical: perfect for subdued intensity. I’m not an expert in classical music by any means, but for some good brooding music, my favorite is Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is great for drawing to with oil pastels. I once heard Maurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are, say that he always worked to Mozart. He said, “…when Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I can’t explain.” Beyond words. My favorite aria by Mozart is Morgan. Gorgeous.

4. Classic: Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd is pure joy to work to. In its entirety. It’s just a simple fact. You can paint to this album from start to finish and then do it again and your work will be the better for it.

5. Class faves: songs from my classes.  I’ve built a song list for my classes that’s more than 3 days long. My hope is that, by keeping to a similar vein of music, there’s a kind of post-hypnotic suggestion, allowing my students to return to the studio and quickly get into zone they were in when they last left off.

Every year for the last 6 years I’ve led a weekend Art & Yoga Retreat. Each year, I give a CD of some of my favorite music as a gift to my guests. That way, they can keep the retreat vibe going on the drive home. Below are some of the songs from the  first year’s CD. Hope you enjoy!

Photo from a student who's been to all 6 retreats!

Photo from a student who’s been to all 6 retreats!


Well, that’s my music roundup for today. Do you work to music? Do different kinds of music change how you work? What moves you to rock out in the studio? Do tell!

In my next post, I’ll share 5 Ways to Bring Creativity into Your Life! See you then!
To all you are,
P.S. My new book is coming out soon: The Power of Creativity, Transforming Life through Art. Stay tuned! Yippeee!!!

Some First Year Retreat Songs… Enjoy!

Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World    Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Be Careful       Patty Griffin

Box Of Rain    Grateful Dead

Clean Elvis      Dan Reeder

Give Me One Reason  Tracy Chapman

One Headlight The Wallflowers

Sleep To Dream Her   Dave Matthews Band

Superman’s Song        Crash Test Dummies


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