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My Top 10 List of Music to Paint By

Music to Paint By, paintbrush, musical notes

This will be an opinionated post. Music, like art, is a diverse selection for choice. There is no doubt that visual artists also have an affinity for beautiful music. It is a question that I get asked quite often. Inspiration comes from many sources, and music is one source.


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I am not ranking these in order of favorites. Full disclosure: this list is going to hint at my age. I'm not afraid of guesses.

Music choice in the studio varies from artist to artist. Many like classical or non-vocal sounds. Folk, blues, country, and modern jazz are also popular. From what I can gather, it is more about the tempo and the “feel” of the music that an artist seeks out than a genre. Many artists say they like listening to music in languages they don’t speak, as in perhaps Andrea Bocelli — so that the songs become more sound than words. Like other things, it's all relative.

Here's my list

1. Gabriel's Oboe

I started with what might be #1 because listening to this version of Gabriel's Oboe from the movie "The Mission" by composer Ennio Morricone sends chills up my body. I would have to be painting something smooth and visually dynamic. I can't say that I finished a particular work while listening to this music. but I titled a painting, "The Mission," based on the score by Morricone. In my mind, outer space evokes a mission, so this image resulted in the artwork below.

The Mission by Annie Mason abstract watercolor

2. You Can Go Your Own Way

By Fleetwood Mac

I have no idea, but I love the lyrics, the beat, and maybe the heart of doing things my way when painting. Fleetwood Mac is a part of my formative years, so there's that.

"One" by Annie Mason pen and ink mandala

3. Acoustic Soul. Album by India.Arie

This is the one playlist of mine that is a full album. I discovered this music artist when regularly joining Dr. Bertice Berry on her early morning Periscope sessions. (This video live-streaming platform formally closed its doors on March 31, 2021). Dr. Berry frequently had music playing in the background during her video segments. I discovered India Arie, a dynamic vocalist and songwriter. Inspirational in her content inspires me to be myself, to not render to another person's view of the world. Her songs, Beautiful and Break the Shell are wonderful lyrics that commit to being yourself and not the people who put ideas into your head, i.e., the parents, the spouse, the "best" friend, the teacher, and others who you listened to as the word of God. Just be yourself.

Free to Be by Annie Mason watercolor and pen

4. Everything by Michael Bublé

The soft, easy listening style of Michael Bublé sets a tone of a laid-back, devil-may-care, "life is good" atmosphere. It's a great way to paint.

Cat and His Thoughts by Annie Mason. watercolor

5. Shower the People by James Taylor

Speaking of "laid-back", what better choice than James Taylor . He is a tried and true singer/songwriter who cuts through generations who still love his stuff. Reflective of my youth, flower power, mini skirts, Vietnam war protests, baby boomer, but I won't go there). James Taylor is an icon. Pick a song from among so many: How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You), Shower the People, Fire and Rain, and so many more. Painting to his great collection is a joy.

Summer of Love by Annie Mason watercolor and pen

6. The Four Seasons by Vivaldi

I love classical music but do not often paint listening to classical music. I don't know why that is. Classical form is so varied with tempo, subdued, then vibrant. I think this might be why. I would have a hard time changing my brushstroke to match the sound. The selection of Four Seasons does just that, but this image comes close to the image I might have painted.

This is a tutorial (yes, artists do tutorials, too) from Watercolor for Absolute Beginner by Mark & Mary Willenbrinck. Chapter "Negative Painting" pgs. 84 - 87.

Solstice by Annie Mason watercolor tutorial

7. Water Under Bridges by Gregory Porter

There is nothing like Jazz, blues, or gospel to smooth the weary soul. Again, this vocalist was introduced to me during Periscope video sessions with Dr. Bertice Berry. Wonderful voice and pure soothing sound.

8. Seasons of Love

from the Broadway show Rent

Broadway shows and movies have some great songs. When you love'em, you can usually sing'em. We all have memorable songs that we can why not paint and sing? Sound of Music, Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, West Side Story, Wicked, Hamilton, Frozen , and many more.

Warms My Heart by Annie Mason abstract watercolor

9. Hello by Adele

I pay attention to current songs and singers, but not as feverishly as when I was younger. Our daughter's playlist has Taylor Swift and others that are contemporary. If I catch someone that appeals to my ear, you may find me adding that to my studio music. At Christmas, you can count on me adding Pentatonix. Their harmonies and interpretations of popular songs are amazing. Yes, "Hallelujah" is a favorite, along with watching the original video. It is an amazing group.

10. Josh Groban, Idina Menzel, Kelly Clarkson, Neil Young, Jason Mraz...

Oh. Oh. I didn't realize how many songs/singers I listened to in my art studio. I don't always listen to music when I paint. I find myself concentrating on what I am doing. The flick of a paintbrush, because I'm singing (and maybe dancing), can be catastrophic if I'm about to add my signature to a finished painting.


I can think of many more songs I can associate with particular paintings. This topic interests me, as I have asked about it in my Meet the Artist series. I googled (it's a verb) "Music to Paint By." Whoa. Search YouTube, and you will see the results are endless. If you are an artist and have a favorite genre of music to paint by, drop a comment in this post. I would love to hear from you.

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