Yesterday, as Dorothy and I were scrambling up and down a Cariboo creek, an e-mail came in from Karen Dawson of Burlington, Vermont. “I wonder,” she asked, “if you would be willing to talk about your writing process; how it feels to be committed to two essays a week, and how, or what dimension that commitment adds to your big picture.”
Thanks, Karen. Imagine a magic box with a screen in the lid through which you could talk regularly and share exchanges with like-minded members of a worldwide community. My Toshiba laptop is that magic box. (Today, as well as splattered with paint, it’s all sandy and sticky with the bloody bodies of sacrificial mosquitoes.) Indoors or out, this box is a studio window and a vital instrument of my private tutelage.
The writing of notes, letters and journals is good for creators. Writing is learning. Writing shares joy, delight, triumph, struggle, disappointment and disaster. The free exchange of ideas and processes helps us to think about what we are doing and where we’re going. This mutuality is part of our self-education. In a lifetime of painting I’ve learned that subjects taken for granted need often to be revisited and re-examined. And like all of us, I have minor epiphanies and esoteric insights. As if they were mosquitoes, I swat them down into this magic box. Sometimes, as you’ve probably noticed, the stuff gets a bit weird.
I generally write the letter the night before you get it. I most often write what’s on my mind. If I’m up some creek and I’m stuck for a theme, I look in my inbox — as I did just now. At other times I dig around in our own Resource of Art Quotations. As soon as a letter is completed, it goes out to fourteen of our “letter reviewers.” These volunteer editors don’t have to respond, but when they do, I almost always take their advice. Then the letter gets sent on to everybody. Right now, at the rate of four letters per second, it takes about fourteen hours for our dedicated server to personalize and send every one. I’m aware that many subscribers print the letters out and pass them around. Many are copied to blogs, e-mail lists, school curricula, club newsletters and print media. Because many of the concerns of artists are universal and timeless, I have the feeling that a few of these letters may be around for a while. That thought alone keeps me going.
PS: “All education must be self-education.” (Robert Henri)
Esoterica: As I’m obsessive-compulsive and have never had a job, loyalty to a regular essay of specific dimensions, and the insistence provided by a small deadline, is much appreciated. This is in contrast to the more natural, variable, linear flow of an artist’s production. More often than not, while stumbling along in the angst and joy of the art-making process, I open my magic box and find out what’s going on in my head. Thank you for letting me hang out my stuff in your studio. My sincere wish is that you get value from it. Believe me, it’s a labour of love.
From the heart
by Bobbe Bergen Dennis, Boulder, CO, USA
I always knew it had to be a “labor of love!” One could not continue to write an inspiring, motivating, insightful, completely enjoyable missive as yours for merely crass profit it comes from your heart. I’m reminded twice weekly through your essays I’m not alone in the joys and sorrows of this often solitary journey of art making.
The ‘why’ of our work
by Luann Udell, Keene, NH, USA
I find my own writing helps me process the turbulent flow of thought in my head. Getting it down on paper even cyber paper clarifies my creative process. When we get to the “why” of our work, the “how” of it follows more easily.
Higher frequency of consciousness
by Aliye Cullu, Gainesville, FL, USA
Writing has countless benefits for creators. I appreciate your generosity and commitment to sharing your wisdom and “weird” tangents. To me, it’s a higher frequency of consciousness when you get “out there.” It strikes a chord of resonance for me each time.
by Andrew Sookrah, Toronto, ON, Canada
Your words are like little brush strokes making up a masterpiece. I am heading up to the Arctic on a painting trip a week tomorrow as part of The Arctic Quest initiative and I have been printing and collecting these mini-masterpieces which I will be reading to 24 other artists when we have some quiet time together. I think they will share my appreciation.
Well worth the effort
by Sandy Sandy, Tabernacle, NJ, USA
At this time, I’m sending out nine blogs a week! I’ve got a new daily, “drawing everyday” along with my older bi-weekly, “spirit art.” They add up to a pretty hefty commitment of time and energy on a daily and weekly basis. It’s not as hard as it seems. The positive feedback, self-fulfillment and growth I’m experiencing from these endeavors are well worth the effort and keep me psyched and going back for more!
Universal desires connect
by Dianne Harrison, Atlanta, GA, USA
When I paint en plein air with other artists it is always exciting to see the results. We are all theoretically looking at the same thing, but experiencing it uniquely. I am a shameless individualist. I think it is something to celebrate; the unimaginable possibilities of difference that exists in human beings and yet we have these universal desires that enable us to connect with each other. It is the ultimate human experience. Thank you for the gift of sharing your life. It is an inspiration.
by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA
I have been bitten by the bug as well, and it is not mosquitoes. Your letters spark the writer in me. Sometimes I respond just for the exercise, and sometimes the spark is kindled further by having my letter posted on your clickbacks, and then truly the flame is fanned when other artists around the world respond to my response. You see, it is an infectious thing you have started!
Words on tape
by Moncy Barbour, Lynchburg, VA, USA
These days I do not keep a written journal, but instead, late at night, I record my thoughts into a tape recorder. This just seems more real to me, especially when I play the tape back and listen to what I had to say. Many times I record my thoughts on art and what I may have done for the day or did not do. Sometimes it has not a thing to do with art at all. And I do not have to be concerned with proper spelling and the whole process is much more speedy!
by Joy Gush, New York, NY, USA
We could not move forward so fast and so well in our lives without the computer. Many blessings come into our lives when we can write down our good and helpful thoughts and share them to bless hundreds, perhaps thousands of others. I am so glad I learned how to use a computer despite my later age and learning alone with the Dummies books. The hours spent were worthwhile despite frustrations. I am grateful I found The Painter’s Keys website too!
An artist’s possessions
by Beth Mahy, Dallas, TX, USA
Someone was talking about what it was like to become an artist and what impact that had upon one’s possessions. She was saying that first the person decides, “Okay, I will only wear such and such clothes,” and then… “Okay, I will only sit on such and such furniture,” and then… “Okay, I will only use such and such room.” But the day the couch goes is the day they “become.”
by Delores Hamilton, Cary, NC, USA
As a retired professional technical-writer now working full-time as an artist, I liken the deadlines set for writers to the artist’s mandate to “Get in your studio and do the work.” In the past, there were days I didn’t feel like writing, but the deadline loomed, so I wrote anyway. Now I have days when I can’t even spell “inspiration” much less have it or when my creativity clearly has been snatched by evil elves overnight. Still, I know that I need to be in my “studio” (a small bedroom) doing the work if I ever want to be a competent artist.
by Gene Black, Anniston, AL, USA
What a delight to see some things that I find part of my methodology. I find that when I am doing a labour of love, doing work the night before it is needed, I am amazingly better at my art. I don’t have time to fuss with it and try to “fix” things. Some of my favorite pieces have been those quick, gotta-get-it-done works.
Life’s meaning revealed
by Jeanne Long, Minneapolis, MN, USA
We were walking around the lake this morning, just after sunrise, discussing the meaninglessness of most human pursuits. I was equating my attempts at art to mere scribbling to record the profound beauty I witness when we heard an operatic aria drifting through the air. We searched about to see where it was coming from and saw that it seemed to emanate from the rose gardens. Crossing the parkway, we caught sight of her, a lady in white with a rose colored umbrella, walking through the sprinkled flowers, singing in full voice, alternating with a powerful whistling that a bird would long to be strong enough to echo. Part of Life’s meaning seemed to be revealed right there in the rose garden. Find your gifts, hone them to perfection, and share them with whomever has ears to hear. So restful.
Facing the emotion in paint
by Angela Lynch, Toronto, ON, Canada
Two years ago today, I lost my best friend of 45 years (we were 47 at the time) to cancer. Writing seems to be the only way I can deal with the emotions that erupt out of the blue. I am new in the painting world and am discovering, through watercolour, a world I didn’t know existed. The flow of water and paint can be uncontrollable and crazy, but it is also freedom, an escape, therapy, joy, and, oh yes, very sensuous! Not only do we learn to see and express, we face the emotions that come thundering in.
Protecting the environment
by Margie Murray, Encino, CA, USA
I love when you write about your walks and your love of nature. I am blessed to live in Southern California and am able to drive ten to thirty minutes in either direction for a complete change in scenery. I have oceans, mountains, woodlands and deserts close by. We live in a beautiful world.
The recent film An Inconvenient Truth was extremely moving and it does not matter what political persuasion you are to want to help protect our environment. I was so taken by the film that I signed up for “wind credits” to help lessen our demand on coal burning energy. If each of us took a small step we could help persuade those in power to do the right thing.
Not like any other
by Linda Schmidt, Franklin Lakes, NJ, USA
I have learned from your words of wisdom. I thought some of your readers might learn from this letter I sent to my daughter who is studying at the Westminster Choir College. I was writing to her, but really reminding myself of something important for me, and all of us to remember. It was after she told me on the phone that one of her voice teachers said she sounded like Sara McLaughlin, I wrote, “You are not like any other. You are uniquely you. Measuring ourselves against another is wrong. You are not like, and can never become like, anybody else because there is not another person on the face of the earth like you. You are not supposed to be like any other, and no other is supposed to be like you. We can never measure up to others, just as they can never measure up to us. We each have individuality, uniqueness, distinctiveness that is God given.”
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
The week I was at the Naropa University Summer Writing Program, they had a celebration of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. It was the 50th anniversary of that poem. What an energetic, ecstatic way to start the week. There were readings and songs and words honoring Ginsberg. Anne Waldman, one of the founders of Naropa, was on fire on stage. We, the audience and people on stage, read Howl in its entirety aloud, talk about resurrection! Another friend of Allen’s, Steven Taylor, had Allen’s shruti box (a small simple harmonium like instrument) and he and a few others performed William Blake’s Nurse’s Song. It was spirited!
Going to Naropa for this writing program was an incredibly creative experience. I learned that part of writing is the delivering of your writings in front of an audience. That opens up a whole new world of expression. It adds a dimension of human connectivity. There is something to be said for an oral tradition. We are present for each other. It is invigorating to be a part of a person’s passion in this way.
by Winston Seeney, Belmont Lake, ON, Canada
I majored in English in University and I buried my talents for the sake of my left hemisphere, in the pursuit of earning a living. But, deep within me that right hemispheric seed was waiting patiently to be watered. My wife gave me a child-sized box of watercolour paints and an art pad and a few brushes, and for a Christmas gift she signed me up to a waterpainting class. The seed not only germinated but it has been growing into a beautiful flower. I am 18 months into painting, and I never cease but to be amazed by what is happening.
by Veronica Stensby, Los Angeles, CA, USA
After painting in watercolor for several years, I took up oils a few months ago. I found the most helpful teachers were telling me to do a small painting a day (say 5×7 or 9×12 inches) and not to worry about a finished product at this stage of learning. It definitely took the pressure off to produce a “masterpiece.” The importance of design, working out values and the placement of masses rather than details has persisted whether it is the human figure or a landscape (my experience up until now). I’ve also heard that the West coast is known for looser brush-strokes and the East coast is more hard-edged. Any thoughts on one or both of these issues?
by Paul Massing, Amelia Island, FL, USA
The topics of your recent letters have prompted me to ask if you have heard of the term “Fractals.” Having done art all of my life, I believe that I have dealt with this phenomenon during the doing of my paintings and drawings without knowing of it. When I encountered the word “Fractals,” I mentioned it to my son, an Art Professor in a major U.S. University and he replied, “Dad, you have been working with Fractals all of your life.” A reference on this is a book titled, Fractals, The Patterns Of Chaos By John Briggs. His book discusses “Discovering a New Aesthetic of Art, Science and Nature.” The book is extremely comprehensive in the discussion of the topic.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2006.
That includes Adan Lerma who wrote, “From one of many, your work is definitely appreciated, passed along, and saved. One of my more recent surprises regarding writing and art, or verbal and visual art, was how much Renoir wrote. Amazing.”
And also Lori Witzel of Cedar Park, TX, USA who wrote, “I refer to my camera as ‘that chrome-plated shaman’s bag’ — what I use to catch those dreams and visions I find when in the forest of my mind/the cosmos. So I just grinned at the Magic Box metaphor.”
And also Lynda Anderson of Rosedale BC, Canada who sent this quote: “Love and magic have a great deal in common. They enrich the soul, delight the heart, and they both take practice.” (Author unknown)
And also Anne Hunt of Vancouver, BC, Canada who wrote, “Coincidence would have it that my partner and I just returned from a wonderful but challenging trip of the Bowron Lakes. A rainstorm of vast proportions on Bowron Lake itself on the last day gave me fabulous ideas of diamonds dancing on the lake surface.”
And also David Morgan of United Kingdom who wrote, “When I see that you are halfway up the wilderness and still writing and painting, I cannot help but wonder where you find time to eat and sleep.”
And also Natalie Barrett Cook of Houston, TX, USA who wrote, “Your writing this morning gives me a yearning to get myself a ‘magic box’ to take with me on my next trek through my favorite woods. Your wonderful musings and ideas are so meaningful to all of us who also live in our minds and hearts about art.”
And also Ruve Laidlaw of Gabriola Island, BC, Canada who wrote, “There is much to inspire a novice like me and I’m sure more experienced painters as well. I have papered my walls with your ‘stuff’ and refer to it all the time.”
And also Jane Faudree of Wilmington NC, USA who wrote, “Your labor of love is much appreciated by this artist. You have inspired, taught, encouraged, lifted my spirits and kept me on target so often, by being there with just the right topic at just the right moment.”
And also Fay Bohlayer who wrote, “Ah, Robert! You are the spoon that stirs our pot of artideas! Without your vigorous and repeated stirrings, the contents of that pot might just sit there, a damp, unproductive puddle of faint maybes… thanks!”