Many painters like to listen to something while working. Many find classical music to their liking, while others prefer a wide range of musical genres, ranging from folk to country-western. A few even prefer hard rock or rap (a bit extreme for my painting needs). The tempo of the music helps with the application of the medium and sets a mood. Besides music, talking books, talk radio, or television playing in the background can provide sensory stimulation. These non-musical background sounds may help distract the analytical over-thinking part of our brains, allowing for a more intuitive response to our paintings.
There are reasons why one works well for one person and not another. We are all different. We have different attention spans, different temperaments, and different ways of painting. These audible influences can play a big part in our work, providing energy, rhythm, mood and distraction, which translate into our finished paintings.
When working en plein air, the surrounding sounds provide the stimuli. Birds chirping, water gurgling, and the wind whispering all add to the moment. Only when the outside noises distract from that environment, like a busy roadside or crowds of people, does the need for artificial sound become necessary. If you don’t want to be disturbed, wearing headphones (even if the player is turned off) can prove helpful. With the proliferation of digital music players and online music archives, it is easy to travel with your entire music library in the palm of your hand. No more records to change, CDs to switch, or tapes to untangle.
Experiment with a variety of sound influences. Over time your individual working style will emerge. You will find what works best for you. Master pastelist Albert Handell often listens to opera in his studio. When I painted with artist Glenna Hartmann on location, she wore a small digital music player and listened to folk music. Personally, I prefer classical music, with a bent toward the Baroque and Romantic periods. Chamber music fits better than high symphonic. Even the individual instruments can have an effect. The piano relates to the “stroke” application of pastel, while string instruments, like the violin and cello, are better suited to the “swipe” of the pastel stick. Occasionally, contemporary dance music of the “trance” genre gets me going by providing an energetic beat. Other times a background movie on a TV provides the cerebral distraction I need to avoid over-thinking. It all depends on the day and individual painting.
What do you listen to while painting? I encourage you to share your personal sound choices by posting a comment.