Art is an expression and so are these books. They may not be related, but whatever brings you inspiration and joy will help you gently push the creativity along. 

Just yesterday I walked into the studio on a dreary day with a head that felt twice as heavy and used my audiobook to inspire me to follow through on my daily painting practice. 

I looked at my current commission and thought to myself: How long do I feel like I can paint today? It then occurred to me that I only had half an hour left on my latest audiobook, which seemed doable. I pressed play on “Ribbons of Scarlet”, grabbed my brushes and gently painted until the last sentence was read out loud by the narrator. 

This is just one example of how audiobooks can bring inspiration to my art. Finding an audiobook that inspires and keeps us company can ground us and spark creative ideas, bring focus to our task, or make the task itself more enjoyable.  

I listen to many audiobooks and I’ve decided to break this blog up into parts. This part is about the the criteria audiobooks need to pass for me to consider them good audiobooks to paint to, and the second part is about the ways I use audiobooks to my advantage in my daily painting practice. Each with its own list of top audiobooks to paint to.

Grab Your Brushes + Your Audiobooks

When I select the audiobooks to paint my pet portrait commissions to they need to align with the creative pulse of my proven process I follow. They can’t be too fast-paced or difficult to follow because I’m highly focused on getting the hues right, the brushstrokes thin enough and the essence just right. They need to keep my interest without drama or cliffhangers, and the narrator’s voice needs to add to the experience rather than distract.

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I find that I often return to historical novels or historical mystery with familiar settings and time periods, like London or the second world war (or the Gilded Age as in part two in this blog series), and they almost always have strong female characters. If the narrator is wonderful, I find myself going down a rabbit hole of adding several other books they’ve brought to life. Over the last year alone I’ve added a new favorite narrator to my list named Saskia Maarleveld and I’ve discovered many delightful surprises thanks to her. 

With a free trial of Audible you can listen to one or more of my recommendations for free. Simply pick up that brush, play that audiobook and plug into your creative flow.

Top audiobooks to paint to: 

Maisie Dobbs Series by Jacqueline Winspear
Read by Orlagh Cassidy

Oh what a delight to have found Miss Dobbs. Or did she find me? We start following her life in 1910 as an intelligent girl working in service then becoming an apprentice for a celebrated detective. When he retires, Miss Dobbs opens her own business in the 1930s and uncovers mystery after mystery over many decades (and books!). The author opens us up to a time that is endlessly fascinating and the people who come together. The narrator, Orlagh Cassidy, is a delight to listen to and does amazing accents. A shout out to Lauren Kiehna of the Court Jeweler who got me into this series.

Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon
Read by Davina Porter

Claire Randall, a former combat nurse during the second world war, is on her second honeymoon with her husband in Scotland. After touching a boulder she finds herself having time traveled to 1743 Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans and James Fraser. This is a world of heroism, romance and the constant conflict between past and present. The many books and the lovely narration will keep you entertained and inspired for months while you paint.

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin
Read by Saskia Maarleveld

An irresistible tale of Grace who comes to London for a different life and finds herself working in a dark and dust bookshop to earn a reference when WW2 breaks out. The world of books becomes the thread of hope for many and the last bookshop in London the anchor for friendship, love and survival. It’s beautifully written and my new favorite narrator makes the words come alive.

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict
Read by Alana Kerr Collins

As Clara Kelley steps off the boat from Ireland there’s a mistake in identity and Clara, a poor farmer’s daughter, ends up hired as a ladies maid for a wealthy family in Pittsburgh. Luckily Clara is brilliant in more ways than one and may even have influenced Andrew Carnegie to think more with his heart than his wallet in business. Narrator Alana Kerr Collins brings Clara’s soothing Irish accent and the emotional struggle of providing for your family back home to life.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Read by Lorna Bennett, Lauren Irwin, Lauren Anthony 

This is a fun mystery that takes place both in eighteen century when we follow the owner of the Apothecary and Caroline in present-day London when she stumbles upon a clue to unsolved murders some two hundred years ago. A wonderful pace that keeps you enthralled to find out more and the narrators are wonderful.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
Read by Saskia Maarleveld 

This historical fiction will enthrall you. It’s 1940 and three different women answers the call to the mysterious country estate Bletchley Park that later became famous for having broken the Nazis military codes. The women create an unshakable bond, or do they? It’s 1947 and the story continues with a traitor and one last code to break. This was my first introduction to Kate Quinn and the narrator whom I’ll now read everything by.

 The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Read by Saskia Maarleveld

After reading the Rose Code I couldn’t wait to read more of Kate Quinn. In this audiobook we follow two women: one British female spy during 1915 who joins the fight against the Germans via the real-life Alice Network in France, and one pregnant American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947. This is a story of courage, of saving others as much as being saved.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn
Read by Saskia Maarleveld

A chilling story of tracking down a war criminal after World War 2. This was borderline too intense for me at times and it almost didn’t make the list. If fact, I’ve almost removed it twice, but Kate Quinn does an amazing job bringing this historical novel of an English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot to life as they are obsessed to track down the Huntress, a Nazi war criminal. Again, Saskia Maarleveld is superb. I would read it as the last one of the Kate Quinn books listed here.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce
Read by Juliet Stevenson

What a delightful story of bravery and unlikely friendship. If you have big dreams, the story of Miss Benson’s adventure to track down a rare beetle in the 1950s and in the South Seas will surely encourage you to follow yours. It did for me. Juliet Stevenson is a wonderful narrator in this book.

And lastly, the only book related to creativity on my list. I strongly believe in allowing the art to come through us and much of that is getting our of our heads and into our hearts. And Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is a DELIGHTFUL book and I love that she narrates it herself. I recommend it to anyone who is a creative and a necessary read every few years. It will make you laugh and inspire you. It’ll make you feel all is well and sometimes that is all we need to ignite the spark within us and hear the whispers of inspiration. She’s one of my favorite authors and while I haven’t painted while listening to her other books, I’ve read several of them.

Leave a comment below and tell me: What audiobooks do you love to listen to when you create? Or do you prefer music, podcasts or silence?


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