Yearly Archives: 2015

Letters john-singer-sargent1000x574

The next time you have one of the instruments of your craft in your hand, take a minute to see exactly what it is, and try to rethink what it’s best cut out to do. Paint brushes are often asked to do things they were not meant to do. Whether from laziness or ignorance, the wrong sizes and shapes are pressed into service. Large passages are laboured through with little brushes, while detail is attempted with big ones. This is often because artists have their eyes on reality and not on illusion.

Letters Tlingit_Sitka1904

Here in Ketchikan, Alaska, the creek is thick with spawning Pinks, having leapt waterfalls and manmade ladders to now shuffle against the current and shimmy at the stream’s shallowest edges. They’re like an elegant, undulating carpet, building their redds in the riffles (shallow nests). Local kids wade in and scoop them up in their arms for fun — if the bears haven’t got there first. Scientists believe the salmon use magnetic fields and their sense of smell to return to the very beds they were born in. If they manage to make it, after spawning an inborn senescence kicks in, softening

Letters Leonardo-Da-Vinci_glider

Yesterday I visited an energetic fellow who has produced his first ten paintings during the past three weeks. At his request I gave him my dollar crit — my best, most thoughtful, encouraging and circumspect. Every artist is different, I told myself — the best a crit guy can do is to be empathetic. As I drove away I remembered how I might have saved him a lifetime of trouble by just telling him a few particular things that he was not to do. I’ve often thought this. But I dislike the word “don’t.” I don’t like to use it.

Letters dorothea-lange_white-angel-breadline

In 1918, photographer’s apprentice Dorothea Lange set out from her home in New York City to travel the world with a friend. In San Francisco she was robbed, forcing her to abandon her plans and work as a photo finisher. Within a year Lange had established her own busy portrait studio in downtown San Francisco — she was twenty-three — but with the onset of the Great Depression, something happened. “The discrepancy between what I was working on in my portrait frames and what was going on in the street was more than I could assimilate,” said Lange. “I set myself a big problem. I would go down there… to see if I could grab a hunk of lightning.”

Letters william-bradford_icebergs-in-the-arctic

Like the kid (and the dad) in the Disneyland ad, I’m “too excited” to sleep. It’s a good feeling. Anticipation is one of the greater pleasures of love, travel, painting. Knowing that something exciting is going to happen, and more or less how, gives vitality. You set yourself up for it.

We all know the feeling when looking at a work-in-progress or even a blank canvas. You have an idea how the forms and spaces will evolve, how a look or a feel will be.

Letters Joshua-miels_work-in-progress

A subscriber who signed off as “Over The Hill Portrait Artist” wrote, “You must be one of those Millennials, they don’t think like we mature artists.”

Thanks, O.T.H.P.A. Millennials are the generation born between 1980 and 2000. While this rules me out, 80 million are in America alone — the largest age group in history — and many are artists. In a recent article for Time magazine, Joel Stein describes a calm-looking anxious person checking a smart phone hourly and sending and receiving about 80 texts per day. This is apparently a kind of stress-reducing tick caused by

Letters piet-mondriaan_boogie

Just for a minute, don’t think of right- and left-brain thinking — think simply of thinking and not thinking. At your easel or workstation, think of “thinking-it-out” and “not-thinking-it-out.” Glimpse into your own brain while in the act of art — when you’re actually moving a brush or some other tool. Try to analyze this brain activity systematically at the start, in the middle, and towards the end of a piece of work. Every one of us manifests a different percentage of thinking and not thinking. It’s this percentage — and the changes of percentages — that makes our work interesting both to our selves and to others.

Letters sorolla_boats-on-the-beach-1909

A subscriber who wishes to remain anonymous wrote, “I can’t help wanting to begin again. It was in the beginning that I had the most fun, but now that I’m a professional with an audience and known style I’m not sure how.”

Thanks, Anonymous. Your email arrived while I was tying a bowline for an 80-year-old sailing captain. He watched from under a black wool fisherman’s cap, his eyes calm and crinkling upward. Not yet a sailor, I fed the line through and under itself, while a kind of mental untying occurred inside —  a smooth pridelessness — and I surrendered to my vast unknowns.

Letters egbert-oudendag_mount-baker

My late friend Bert Oudendag used to open his oil tubes from their back-ends, squeeze the contents onto a steel tabouret and carefully fold in 50% by volume of stand oil, a small amount of copal varnish and a drop of cobalt dryer. He then put the mixture back into its tube and put the remainder in a glass jar. All this was in aid of an extended and more fluid brush stroke that gave his work a kind of Franz Hals character. He was particular about his stroke.

Letters burt-shavitz

Until recently, a retired beekeeper named Burt Shavitz was living in a 400-square-foot converted turkey coop in Parkman, Maine. He had a refrigerator, a radio, cold running water, a wood stove, and the wag of his Golden Retriever’s tail. He called his home “Camp,” having built onto it 40 years earlier with scrap lumber and windows he’d found at the dump. When asked once if he needed the Internet, he replied, “Like a hole in the head.”

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