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Dear Artist,

While discussing the turning year recently with an actor friend, he confided that if he could do it all over again, he would have been a writer. Now in his early forties and after 25 years of auditions, he’s pivoting to the blank page. “Great news!” I said. “Unlike ballet or being a starlet, being a writer doesn’t depend on the trimmings of youth, and you don’t have to rely on a production green-light to get sweaty. Writing is a doing activity. Writers write. You can start today, and you’ve got plenty of decades to try to get good.”

winston-churchill_last-painting

“The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell” 1962
oil painting by
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

At 41, Winston Churchill purchased a box of oil paints and added to his lifelong passions of writing, bricklaying and politics. Though he always saw himself as a hobbiest and signed his work with the pseudonym Charles Morin, within a couple of decades his paintings were winning prizes and getting into important collections. He even wrote a book about painting, as he did for his other obsessions, which included history, strategy, politics, anthropology, evolution, fusion power and extraterrestrials. “Buy a paint-box, and have a try,” he urged. “When I die and go to heaven, I want to spend the first million years painting — so I can get to the bottom of the subject.”

Winston-Churchill_The-Tower-of-Katoubia-Mosque_1943.

“The Tower of Katoubia Mosque” 1943
oil painting by Winston Churchill

I asked my actor friend what he regretted most about his creative life. “How much time I’ve wasted,” he said. He implied that he was already pressurizing his new gig towards the markers of professional achievement. I reminded him to begin at the beginning — that embracing amateurism is where authentic passion is tested. Resiliency is honed and pocketed there. Like most pivots, the onset is bumpy and humbling, like it’s supposed to be. “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God,” wrote Sidney Sheldon. Celebrate the beginning. Learn by doing. Take your eye off the clock. “It is a mistake to look too far ahead,” wrote Churchill. “Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.”

winston-churchill_sunset

“Sunset Over the Atlas Mountains” 1935
oil painting by Winston Churchill

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!” (Ray Bradbury)

Esoterica: When starting over, it’s tempting to attach the same expectations we had of the old practice to the new one. But your former, best work took years to hum. The time is now to begin again, understanding that you are not yet professional — great news if you’re interested in getting good. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.” (Winston Churchill)

Painting as a Pastime — Winston Churchill

Winston-Churchill_easel

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“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” (William Faulkner)

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27 Comments

  1. Gwen Meyer Ethelbah on

    Well said. The gift of being an amateur is critical to eventual professionalism. And needs to be revisited from time to time..

  2. Three thoughts come to mind————-it’s never too late to start. No matter how “professional “ we become we can always learn from others. I also think that we need to keep our expectations humble and our minds open to new approaches.

  3. The Canadian writer, Margaret Lawrence, was told by a surgeon that when he retired he wanted to become a writer. To which she replied that when she retired she may become a surgeon.

    • Maryann Kovalski on

      I suppose I shouldn’t say this about the great ML, but that was a dumb, smart-ass thing to say. Creative self-expression like writing, drawing and painting can be delved into at any age, while becoming a surgeon or a professional athlete are mastered within a limited and defined timeframe, early in life.

      I don’t know why writers get so touchy about others longing to try their hand at their craft. I’ve heard it before from other writers and I think it’s unfortunate and ungenerous and makes the writer seemed threatened by people daring to step into their guarded territory.
      .

      • Barbara Belyea on

        I can’t agree w Maryann. What ticked ML was how the surgeon phrased his ambition. He didn’t say, “try my hand at writing” or “learn to write”; he was going “to be a writer.” There is a difference between making the effort and pulling it off. Like the difference between me on skis and a member of the Olympic team.

        • Maryann Kovalski on

          As I read it, he said he ‘wanted’ to be a writer. Not ‘was going to be’.

          As a children’s book author illustrator, I have encountered a few pregnant mother/lawyers who said that when the baby was born, they wanted to write children’s books in their spare time.

          Sure I was tempted to get all huffy and self-important, but hey, if someone is beguiled by what you do, encourage them. That surgeon may have turned into Chekov in his retirement.

      • I believe in the “10,000 hours” concept so don’t see ML’s comment out of line at all. If we’re talking hobbyist, then yes, start whenever the inspiration strikes. But does a professional artist require any less dedication than a surgeon or pro athlete? Excellence and mastery doesn’t come cheap in any field of endeavor.

        The difference between dabble and commitment is vast. In this DIY world we live in, it’s a pleasure to hear someone say, “I tried that once and have such respect for what you do because it’s not easy!”

  4. Oh, what a wonderful letter Sara! When I received my newest issue of Plein Air Magazine, Editor Steve Doherty included one of my paintings I completed during my last teaching workshop to Italy in its Plein Air Portfolio in the Feb.-Mar. issue. It was such an honor to see it in print and be chosen to be with the many professional painters they included who conduct workshops around the world. 2018 is the year I will take artists with me to the amazing Sacred Valley of Peru. I invite artists to join me!

  5. Thanks for this letter! I recently saw the movie Darkest Hour which is about Winston Churchill and highly recommend it to all. Amazing man. So many words of advice and quotes worth saving in my “notebook” . I too started painting and writing in my “senior” years ., I hadn’t had the time before. Thanks Sara.

  6. One ditzy issue facing those of us who start our creative endeavors after acquiring age (not necessarily wisdom) is the predilection of our culture to gravitate towards youth….all that emerging artist hooey is enough to put anyone over the age of 21 off the subject. Sidney and I do not share the same opinion of creativity….a blank piece of paper is an open invitation to explore, expand and express!
    So much art….so little room for it!

  7. SARA YOU PICKED MY FAVORITE WWII GIANT, WHOSE WORDS, ACTIONS, AND ARTISTIC PURSUITS WERE PHENOMENAL….SINCE I WAS ALSO IN WWII, AND HAVE BEEN AN “ARTIST” ON THE SIDE, MY PASSWORD, NOW IN MY NINETIES , IS MUCH THE SAME AS HIS ADVICE…”HAVE COURAGE TO CONTINUE” , AND SIT AT MY EASEL DAILY…….I HAVE A WONDERFUL ORIGINAL ETCHING OF WINSTON, BY HIS DAUGHTER SARA, AN ACCOMPLISHED ARTIST HANGING IN MY STUDIO, AND LOVE YOUR FEATURING HER FATHER IN YOUR BLOG…………GEORGE

  8. Deborah Boller on

    Dear Sara, I love this more than I can tell you. I’m sure your father is painting away somewhere for “the first million years,” figuring it out, and smiling at you.

  9. thank you for the inspirational letter Sara. I saw the Darkest Hour and thought it was very well acted. Gary
    Oldman did a good job. Did not realize Winston Churchill was also an amateur painter. Some of his
    works are very good.

    I’m also in my senior years and really love to paint. Not so much in oils now; due to odour issues (sometimes
    in the summer on my patio can manage a bit).

    Your letters are always uplifting.

    Thank you

  10. Vicki Easingwood on

    Apart from a quick water colour sketch done last summer, I have not picked up a brush in about 15 years. Retirement from a legal practice was quickly followed by 7 years defending my deceased father s Estate against a difficult and troubled former-wife while Dad s kids and grandkids battled to uphold his last Will. Having gone to court on 2 applications and one appeal, all of which were successful, the former wife finally died, even though it took a further 2 yrs to finish up all remaining matters. Some 6 months have past, and each day I see my brushes standing in vases like bouquets of roses on my dining room table. Maybe I, though unlike Churchill and who has not been voted out of Parliament (though I feel like I have come to the end of my usefulness) could begin again with an old and well loved pastime for painting even if politics, flying planes, traveling Europe, and writing profusely all of which Churchill was a master, are not in my bag of tricks. I need not be great to be happy.

    Vicki Easingwood Feb. 3, 2018.

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http://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/peter-hobden_bench-wpcf_231x300.jpgTwo Worlds (Alpilles, Provence, France)
oil on canvas
50 x 65 cm
2009

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