Letters sara-genn_early-work2

Rolf Reichert of North Vancouver, B.C. wrote, “I am a hobby artist and would like to exhibit my art work at sometime or another, but don’t know what I should price it at. I don’t expect a fortune for my work, but maybe just my material cost and a little profit for my time would be fair. Is there a formula that I could follow to take the guesswork out of my head? Or should I look at other artists’ paintings and gauge mine from there? If you could give me a rough idea how I could go about pricing my paintings, I would be grateful.”

Letters ernst-ludwig-kirchner

These days there’s a growth industry in what has been called the “modern epidemic.” Stress-related disorders affect 80% of the population. Funny, you’d think that there might have been more stress in the old days when folks were regularly eaten by wolves. Apparently not. Nowadays we are cooking up our own stress. “Stress is the body’s automatic default reaction to perceived threat,” says stress management guru Eli Bay. His Relaxation Response Institute in Toronto, Canada, offers deep breathing, nose-breathing focus, positive affirmations and other techniques to bring the body and mind into a state of calm. “You don’t have to believe in it,” says Bay, “You just have to do it. What’s real is what you experience.” Eli and other therapists offer what sounds like an artist’s wish list: More energy, calmer disposition, more control, clearer thinking, improved memory, increased productivity, enhanced creativity.

Letters agnes-martin_

A subscriber wrote, “Many online galleries these days have a money-back guarantee. I recall your father mentioning that if a buyer didn’t like a painting and wanted to return it, he would gladly take it back in exchange for another. When I think of business practices, this great customer service ranks at the top of the list. On pricing, if an artist has work showing in an online gallery and that gallery takes 40%, and she/he has work hanging in a local gallery at a 50% split, and then they also have work for sale on their own website, how does the pricing work for all those different venues?”

Letters gauguin_self-portrait-with-palette_1894

A subscriber wrote, “In judging an art fair this weekend, I found myself utterly affected by the input of a fellow juror. Suddenly my picks seemed wooden and overworked. He was looking for spark. I was seeking mastery. In my search, I lost my yen for a purity of expression. He brought it back again by describing his delight in seeing a single line applied with élan! I’ve been changed by this occurrence. I can see that my own future work will grow from the exchange.”

Letters master-class_sara

Patterns jump out of glaciers and fill snow patches, as interlocking warm and cool greys zip through scree and shale. Light moves across a thicket of evergreens. The first time Dad and I went up the mountain, I came face to face with the origins of abstraction. Yoho National Park and its jewel, Lake O’Hara, are nestled in the western slope of the continental divide in southeastern British Columbia. At the end of our first day, Dad and I hammered a few more presentation nails into the log walls of cabin 3 and climbed into our beds for a friendly crit. “That one’s a little bit potato-like,” he tendered, eyeballing a blobby mass on one of my canvases. “We might eschew form altogether, or try to get things more or less right.” I stared at my potato, now blurry through a tear of acquiescence to the cliff of learning ahead.

Letters grant-wood_midnight-ride-paul-revere

A subscriber wrote, “Right now I’m painting old structures, especially deserted homes — all with the same dark palette. There is difficulty with one — it looks like it’s in a cemetery. Do these works take on their own personality? Sometimes I can imagine or feel or know the story of the people who lived in the structure. Are these feelings real, or are they imagined by me? In this particular one, there was a little girl who was not treated well, who had dreams and hopes of escaping but never did. Her mother was a large slovenly woman with a greasy apron. Her father was a man of no consequence. Where did these thoughts come from? Should I let the painting emerge as is, or should I make it a happy place, thereby maybe helping the little girl whose name is Misty?”

Letters bruce-springsteen_e-street

A subscriber wrote, “What are harvest tools? You say they’re tools to help extract more value from ideas, but can you be more specific?”

Beneath autumn’s extravagant moons, I’ve been mulling over the same question. Art season’s cotillion boogies under these gibbous globes — it’s reaping time. For all the summer plantings, think of your harvest tools as multi-pronged — in both your equipment and your means of distribution.

Letters edvard-munch__ashes

At exam time in university I used to notice a curious burst of wild creativity. Due to the pressure — when I ought to be buckling down and attending to study — my mind somehow overflowed with inviting new projects. It was at that time I invented a method of applying paint to canvasses from great distances with the use of a hot-air balloon. Another time it was an idea for a series of paintings based on microscopic examination of a campus quad. I call this phenomenon “Anxiety creativity” or “AC.”


Acting on a tip, I downloaded from the app store a deck of imagination prompts. Originally created in 1975 by musician Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies began as a box of index-sized cards for artists, made of cut up, discarded prints from Schmidt’s studio. Now, in 2016, the cards can arrive on your phone. I found them by following the breadcrumbs from a story in the New Yorker magazine describing a world-renowned food critic who sometimes emails his editor around deadline time to say that he’s forgotten how to write. For him, Eno and Schmidt’s “strategies” have been a go-to during moments of creative malaise. But what about deadlocks at the easel? The “strategies” include:

Letters stephen-quiller_8

Rain drums on the studio roof. We wait for spring and I’m fooling with the colours of summer. A slip, perhaps, to a borderline zone: the goofy idea that colours are people. It started with a quote from Marc Chagall: “All colours are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.”

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