Letters Honore-Daumier_the-players

Visible instincts are personal items that bring magic and specificity to your paintings and, with practice, appear automatically. They’re at times universal and technical, but can be poetic or even self-honed nothings, unique to you and your brush. Your list is one-of-a-kind, and you’re probably already working it:

Grey to neutralize — a rest for the eye
Large and/or interlocking gradations — to catch the eye
Warm colours against cool
Strong value contrast

Letters Grant-Wood_Daughters-of-Revolution

I’m wandering in a magic farm called “Serendipity,” a place of fragrant gardens, hencoops, sheepfolds, shady arbors, scarecrows and a hee-hawing donkey. There’s fifty painters scattered in nooks and crannies, and I’m looking over shoulders. As I see it, everybody’s trying to make something a bit unique. This is not a body of workmen following a blueprint and constructing a unified monument. Everybody’s doing his or her own thing. Everybody here is a specialist

Letters mentor

Mentors come in two kinds: those who advise you about your work and those who will use their influence to advocate for you as sponsors. Like most meaningful relationships, both grow organically, one perhaps into the next, and the benefits are meant for both parties. Rather than “Get a mentor and you will excel,” think, “Excel and you will get a mentor.”

In Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 leadership manifesto, Lean In, she advises would-be mentees to look for solutions to specific problems rather than give vague help or hand holding. Do not, says Sandberg, seek out a mentor with the idea that you will be whisked away on a white horse to live happily ever after

Letters ed-hopper_cape-cod-morning

A beautiful woman came and sat at our table. We have known her for many years. She was married to a good friend of ours who died one year ago on New Year’s Eve. Anna is an artist and a mother. A few years ago she ran away, back to the country of her birth, Denmark. She took virtually nothing with her: a few photos of her sons, an unbelievably small amount of money, and a little red book that contained the addresses of the good people in her life. From her new home she divorced her then-husband and married another Dane

Letters 010915_gordon-smith

I recently visited a new-to-me forest near my home. Sycamore and oak leaves draped yellow and orange over a black pond. I stood barefoot and let November swirl around my ankles. In the dusk, I found a nest inside a fallen tree trunk that reached over the lake. I took it as an invitation to embrace nature’s coming sleep.

In Japanese art, the term wabi-sabi revolves around an idea: nothing is perfect, nothing is permanent, and nothing is finished. Intuitively, we sense that things are most beautiful when they begin to wither

Letters olwyn-bowey_still-life-with-a-thrush

A question I’ve been asked is, “What is often a problem for me is choosing subject matter. How do you go about it? Is it because you are often inspired by what you see?”

It’s interesting to note that many of us simply “feel a painting coming on.” Subject matter can be almost secondary when you feel the urge. Relegated to a minor role, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.” But by and large we generally start with “something.” My experience has been that professionals have to learn how to get gold from all of their mines:

Letters seurat_bathers-at-asnieres

With a photo habit, you can visually keep track of work over time, and collecting your own images allows you to offer accurate, quality-controlled snaps to anyone who asks. Here are a few ideas for a better photo archive:

It’s not necessary to kit yourself out with reflectors and other professional lighting aids. You can get natural images by taking advantage of even, ambient daylight. Hang the painting on an easel or wall and perpendicular to a large window, under a skylight or outdoors in medium shade or cloud cover. If the work is on an easel, make sure there’s no backlighting…

Letters cuban-art_Santiago-Rodriguez-Olazabal

A bus sits idling and cannot find its driver. A few ancient automobiles avoid the potholes. Workers shuffle. The hotel rooms are not yet ready and, when they are, there are no towels. When the coffee comes, it’s cold and it’s not coffee. The Cuban government has a hand in every enterprise — every farm, garden, store, hotel, factory and art gallery. Commercial galleries are few and far between. In this island of 11 million, a handful of chosen artists are the ones who are recognized, get the press and are hung in the public galleries.

Letters dale-Chihuly3

Recently, Jerry Smith from Dallas, Texas wrote, “I painted in watercolour for many years and then became mentally unable to paint, suffering with Parkinson’s and depression. I’m proud of my paintings but I felt compelled to give away my paints, brushes, supports and all other materials. The good news is that I have replaced my painting with poetry. I’m just a novice poet and have much to learn. I wonder if any of your followers have similar experience and how they dealt with it.”

Letters rodin

Back in the home studio with my faster computer I’m doing some of those personality inventory tests on line. According to the “Keirsey Temperament Sorter,” for example, I’m what they call an “Idealist Champion.” This gives me an idea of who I am, where I’m happiest, what sort of a mate I ought to have, etc. What I really want to know is what I’m good for. To put it with a little less humility — am I a genius?

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