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The Incredible Work Habits of 12 Great Artists

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getty images

What does it take to make great art? Work habits and muses may vary.

1. Salvador Dali

Dreams were the greatest muse of the surrealist painter. So Dali concocted a trick to wake him in time to remember these visions. As he drifted off, he'd hold a key, his hang dangling over a metal plate. When slumber made his hand go limp enough to drop the key, its clanging on the plate would rouse him to return to work. Now that's how you power nap!

2. Gerhard Richter

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The German visual artist considers himself a willing slave to routine. Each day begins with a walk at 6:15. After making breakfast for his family, Richter goes to his studio until lunch, which is always the same: yogurt, tomatoes, bread, olive oil and chamomile tea. Then he returns to work until it is time for dinner. The routine has paid off—in February, Richter’s 1986 work “Abstraktes Bild” auctioned for $46.3 million, the highest price ever paid for a living European artist.

3. VINCENT VAN GOGH

Unlike Richter’s limited menu, Van Gogh wasn’t picky. At various times he was known to eat his paints and drink turpentine.

4. Willem de Kooning

The Dutch American abstract expressionist was so dedicated to his work that he and his wife Elaine went back to their easels right after completing their wedding vows. Typically, de Kooning rose late in the day, and worked late into the night fueled by a stream of strong coffee and by untold cigarettes.

5. Andy Warhol

The king of Pop Art was an incorrigible pack rat, who filled his four-story townhouse with an array of knickknacks and junk. But when it came time to work, he'd clean up by shoving anything on his desk into a box, which would likewise be pushed aside. Since his death in 1987, Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum has made it their mission to open and inventory the contents each of the 610 boxes Warhol left behind.

6. Henry Darger

One man's trash is another man's inspiration. This reclusive outsider artist, whose work became famous after his death in 1973, fueled his muse by collecting garbage that stood out to him and regularly attending Catholic masses. Sometimes, he'd go to Mass as many as five times a day.

7. Leonardo da Vinci

Since he was far too busy to waste time sleeping, it's said da Vinci partook in polyphasic sleep. Leonardo would take a 15-to-20-minute nap every four hours, which meant he spent two hours or less sleeping each day.

8. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

He worked hard he played hard. This 16th century Italian painter was notorious for the month-long drunken binges that he'd go on in celebration of completing a piece. Sometimes these bacchanals turned violent thanks to a short temper paired with the sword he carried.

9. J.M.W. Turner

Part of the Romanticism movement of the late 18th century, this English painter brought unexpected elements into his landscapes. He stunned onlookers when he smashed powdered tobacco into a still wet work to better suit the lighting of the Royal Academy. Turner was also rumored to spit on his works as a means of binding the pigments. Plus, he grew one of his nails long, the better to help him scrape away paint to create a signature texture.

10. Michelangelo

The High Renaissance master would sometimes let out his frustrations on his statues, screaming at them and thrashing their stone limbs. Take that, David! Attempting to coach up his works wasn’t Michelangelo’s only quirk. He was an infrequent bather and often slept in his clothes.

11. GEORGIA O’KEEFFE

Unlike Michelangelo, O’Keeffe wasn’t crazy about her clothes. The painter supposedly liked to work in the nude.

12. GRANT WOOD

Wood created his iconic painting American Gothic while living in the attic of a funeral home carriage house. To make the digs even stranger, Wood replaced the door to his place with a coffin lid equipped with a dial that let visitors know if he was sleeping, home, or having a party. This little eccentricity pales in comparison to Wood’s other quirk – the artist was such a sweets junkie that he even dumped sugar on his lettuce.

Art
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George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
This Crafty Bicycle Can Knit a Scarf in 5 Minutes
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo

Knitting can be a time-consuming, meticulous task, but it doesn’t need to be. At least not if you’re George Barratt-Jones. As The Morning News spotted, the Dutch designer recently created a human-powered automated knitting machine that can make a scarf while you wait for your train to arrive.

The Cyclo-Knitter is essentially a bicycle-powered loom. As you pedal a stationary bike, the spinning front wheel powers a knitting machine placed on top of a wooden tower. The freshly knitted fabric descends from the top of the tower as the machine works, lowering your brand-new scarf.

Cyclo Knitter by George Barratt-Jones from George Barratt-Jones on Vimeo.

“Imagine it’s the midst of winter,” Barratt-Jones, who founded an online skill-sharing platform called Kraftz, writes of the product on Imgur. “You are cold and bored waiting for your train at the station. This pedal powered machine gets you warm by moving, you are making something while you wait, and in the end, you are left with a free scarf!”

Seems like a pretty good use of your commute down-time, right?

If you're a fan of more traditional knitting methods, check out these knitting projects that can put your needles to work, no bicycle required.

[h/t The Morning News]

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THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
6 Works of Art That Were Hiding in Plain Sight
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this year, an 1820 facsimile of the Declaration of Independence turned up in Texas. Despite once being owned by James Madison, it had been shuffled among the papers of a family who eventually forgot about its provenance and came to consider it "worthless," at least until its recent authentication. As one of only 200 facsimiles created by printer William Stone, it was a rare document, but what made headlines was a curious footnote in the document’s journey: It had been hidden behind wallpaper during the Civil War as protection.

There’s something tantalizing about a precious object concealed by wallpaper or painted over; it suggests treasures might be hiding anywhere—maybe in our own homes. Here are a few stories of art that's been lost, and found, on the same wall, hidden beneath wallpaper, paint, and plaster.

1. ANGEL MOSAIC // PALESTINE

Conservators who began restoring the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2013 after centuries of neglect were prepared to clean its mosaics from years of soot and grime. They weren’t expecting to find new ones.

Using a thermographic camera, one restoration worker noticed a shape in the plaster walls. When the team started chipping off the material, they found the brilliant glow of mother-of-pearl tiles. Soon an 8-foot-tall angel was revealed, dressed in a flowing white robe, its golden wings and halo as luminescent as when they were installed in the Crusades era. It’s believed that the angel was covered up following an 1830s earthquake, perhaps to hide damage. Now the lost seraph (above) has rejoined the procession of radiant mosaic angels who are walking to the nativity along the church’s historic walls.

2. MEDIEVAL MURALS // WALES

Mediaeval wall paintings, Llancarfan church, Wales
Chris Samuel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

During the Reformation, the murals in Catholic churches of the British Isles were often covered with plaster, turning them into more austere Protestant spaces. In covering them so entirely, this art was sometimes inadvertently protected from centuries of decay. In 2010, conservators announced an incredible find in the 800-year-old Church of St Cadoc at Llancarfan in Wales.

Church staff had long been intrigued by a thin red line of paint on the wall. After conservators began the painstaking work of removing 21 layers of limewash, a dramatic painting of St. George slaying a dragon appeared. The discoveries continued with scenes of other popular medieval motifs, such as the Seven Deadly Sins, a royal family, and "Death and the Gallant," in which a rotting corpse with a worm creeping in its rib cage leads an elegantly dressed man to his mortal end. The murals are now on view for all to enjoy.

3. BRETON GIRL SPINNING // FRANCE

Paul Gauguin, "Breton Girl Spinning"
Paul Gauguin, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Now at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, French artist Paul Gauguin's 1889 Breton Girl Spinning is an enigmatic fresco of a young girl dancing at a small tree. In one hand, she is spinning wool; in the distance, above the water and shapes of ships, a huge angel with a sword is flying. In part because of this angelic figure, the painting is sometimes called Joan of Arc.

The work was painted right on the plaster dining room wall of La Buvette de la Plage, an inn in Brittany, France. After being forgotten under layers of wallpaper, it and two other murals (one by Gauguin and one by his student Meijer de Haan) were rediscovered in 1924 during some redecorating.

4. MAYA MURALS // GUATEMALA

While updating their kitchen around 2007, Lucas Asicona Ramirez and his family in the Guatemalan village of Chajul discovered some old interior design—Maya murals, hidden for centuries beneath the plaster.

The roughly 300-year-old artworks in the colonial-era home featured figures in both Maya and Spanish attire, representing a moment of European arrival. One may be holding a human heart, or possibly a mask used in a dance. Ramirez hopes to turn the room into a museum, but needs more funding. Other households in Chajul also have historic murals in their homes, and some are striving to conserve these memories of their ancestors even while local preservation resources are limited.

5. WILLIAM MORRIS RED HOUSE MURALS // ENGLAND

The 19th century British artist and writer William Morris is celebrated for his textiles, writing, wallpaper, and other work in the Arts and Crafts movement. The house in Bexleyheath, Kent, that architect Philip Webb designed for him and his wife Jane in 1859 was intended not just as a home, but an incubator for art. The "Red House" became a hub for like-minded artists, and Morris founded “The Firm”—which produced decorative objects such as stained glass and furniture—there in 1861 alongside several other artists. However, the Red House community was short-lived, and financial difficulties forced the family to move out in 1865, never to return.

When the National Trust acquired the house in 2003, they found that the group had left behind some of their artistic experiments. Behind a wardrobe, under layers of paint and wallpaper, the trust made a most extraordinary find: a full wall of almost life-size biblical figures. Researchers believe they were collaboratively painted by Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, and Ford Madox Brown, all of whom were major artists in the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

6. AMÉRICA TROPICAL // UNITED STATES

Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros had just been expelled from Mexico for his leftist activities when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1932. Local boosters commissioned him to create a mural on the theme of "Tropical America" on the touristy Olvera Street, which was an idealized vision of a Mexican market, but he had no interest in portraying some folkloric fantasy. “For me, 'America Tropical' was a land of natives, of Indians, Creoles, of African-American men, all of them invariably persecuted and harassed by their respective governments,” he said in a 1971 documentary.

His América Tropical: Oprimida y Destrozada por los Imperialismos, or Tropical America: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism, was a moody landscape with gnarled trees clawing at a Maya temple. At the center, an indigenous man is crucified, with an American eagle ominously descending over his head. Innovative techniques such as airbrushing gave the tableau a visceral edge.

The 18-by-82-foot act of subversion was soon whitewashed. Still, many people did not forget it, especially as Siqueiros became recognized as one of the most influential of the early 1900s Mexican muralists. Eight decades after it was painted, the city of Los Angeles, along with the Getty Conservation Institute, began a restoration. The whitewash had protected its details from sun and rain and finally, in 2012, its defiant scene was again revealed to the public. It is now the oldest mural in L.A., and the only one by Siqueiros in its original location.

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