On Wednesday this week — it may have been the phase of the moon — there were so many questions in the inbox that I buckled under and lost it. Don’t get me wrong — I love being of service to others, and there was great stuff to talk about, like how to dispose of toxic thinners while painting on a boat, or how to get perspective into curved things. Some of this stuff I can answer. What I need around here is a Michelangelo who is willing to sit at a computer 24/7.
Funny though, when painters ask how often one should change their brushes, I’m sometimes thinking they really ought to be asking other questions. Like how the management team can be revitalized. That’s one of the big questions. How can I get better quality stuff coming out of this studio? How can I get my little solar system to be even more highly evolved? How can I prevent the blockage of my creative sun? Sure, brush-changing is part of the process, but I’m also conscious that when the planets are all lined up you can get good work out of a blunt stick.
Then suddenly there were three emails that asked how I do it — paint, write, etc. “Do you sleep?” they asked. This I could handle. “Reclaim the management,” I said. Look around the workplace and fire all the bums, sloths, doubters, and other negative seat-warmers. If there’s anyone left, pay attention to the creative, persistent and enthusiastic of the team. Start managing. Starship Enterprise may be moving along in the universe, but somebody has to take charge and drive it. The daily life of an artist is chockablock with a million minor issues. A lesson for me has been not to micromanage, but to watch out for the big picture — both in the art and the art career.
Then another funny thing happened. An email popped up that asked, “What do you do when so many trifles make you crazy?” They’re not trifles, I thought, but it made me warm all over to know that someone else was feeling the heat. “Try our Resource of Art Quotations,” I suggested. Try Michelangelo: “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”
PS: “Blocks are part of an artist’s natural cycle, and mine come whenever I reach a plateau. I’ll feel bottled up with negativism, but when I blast through the garbage, I find I’ve emerged as a better artist.” (Nick Payne)
Esoterica: A manager is not always the best worker. But he or she may have the talent to direct. They say that managers succeed when they are lazy. Managers get others to clean up, do the changing, the work and the renewal. In artists these opposing qualities need to be combined in one tiny imperfect soul. It’s tough and it’s lonely. “Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that’s where I renew my springs that never dry up.” (Pearl S. Buck)
by James W. Waster, Belgium
A Michelangelo is indeed needed to inspire and provoke. He was a combination of humility and bravado which any artist needs in order to keep going. It is rare to know the chemistry, as he must have done, and still be brilliant with the spirit behind the art. “I saw the angel in the marble and chipped away until I saw him free.” (Michelangelo)
(RG note) Two Mikes have so far applied to sit here 24/7. Thanks.
The Pareto Principle in management
by Carol Lyons, Irvington, NY, USA
What works for me is Habit 3 in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. To summarize, what I use most is the Time Management guide. Time is divided into 4 Quadrants. They are Urgent/important, II Nonurgent/ important, III Urgent/not important, and IV Not Urgent/not important. After an explanation of what comprises each of the Quadrants it is shown how to spend the maximum time in Quadrant II that will lead to the most effective results. According to this book this advice works for any line of work. In time management jargon this is called the Pareto Principle — 80% of the results flow out of 20% of the activities. “Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.” (Goethe)
Guilt and painting
by Dianna Anderson, Fryeburg, ME, USA
I think I was feeling guilty when I painted, like I should be doing something else more important. Having recently survived a life threatening illness my perspective has changed, with the help of your letters. Creating and keeping the positive energy flowing is really the most important thing I can do. “Do not neglect the gift that is in thee.”
Nothing sweeter, but…
by Sonja Picard (Picard, as in captain of the Starship Enterprise)
And they think we have an easy life — hanging out and creating all day. I can’t remember a day that did not go by with some administrative juggling act. Although, there is nothing sweeter than being an artist.
Bringing families closer together
by Vicki Schroeder
My husband is a manager extraordinaire and I am not. Your letter provides another lens to view our differences, and motivates me more strongly to incorporate some of his techniques. I will never have his talents, but then neither is he an artist. I’m fortunate to have him as my management mentor!
Write your way to creative health
by Suzanne Ste. Therese, Norwalk, CT, USA
I have been a big believer in the The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The idea is that one writes daily in the morning, three pages, long hand, takes walks and goes on an artist “date” once per week. (The last can be as mundane as going to an art store to look at brushes, a fabric store to feel the cloth and look at buttons, or a different sort of walk in nature or at a museum.) I am finding that when I do not write daily, I miss a part of myself that keeps the “management” grounded. I lose focus. When I do practice writing daily, I see that my skills are honed and ready. I keep several quotes at my desk for inspiration but, in regard to this subject, this one seems to be the most appropriate: “The cumulative power of doing things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind: You’re going to be dreaming soon.” Perhaps this is already included in your fine list of quotes but I certainly never expected to find Stephen King (a writer of a genre I cannot read!) saying something so wise about the artistic process.
(RG note) A couple of years ago Stephen King wrote a brilliant little book called On Writing. I have gisted his main thoughts and those that are most valuable for artists. This is at
http://painterskeys.com/king// Incidentally, the Stephen King page and its info is one of the most frequently visited and copied on The Painter’s Keys site.
The Creative Habit
by Elizabeth Azzolina, Cherry Hill, NJ, USA
I was racking my brain trying to determine how to regain the energies created by a successful show. It creates a surge of positive momentum but requires dedicated follow up and attention to detail to maintain it. Upon someone’s recommendation, I picked up a book called The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. In it there is a chapter called “Scratching.” The essence of it is that it is fine to have big ideas or goals. However, it is the generation of and attention to many small ideas that will take you to your end. An artist needs to take so many tiny baby steps to achieve and maintain quality and continuity. Thanks for reinforcing these thoughts and reminding me that slow and steady wins the race!
Trust the process
by Gina Chase
One thing I have learned by doing a lot of painting, is to trust the process. I have found that with almost every single painting I do, there comes a point where I feel depressed. I have put time and energy and paint into this canvas — and it sucks. So I feel depressed. I have learned not to worry about this little lull, because this is the point where the painting becomes less precious, and I am willing to take a risk and do something different, something crazy, something with life. So I do — because if the painting already sucks, I can’t really wreck it. Often this change of direction helps it widen my boundaries a little more. The more that I relax and trust the process in painting, the more I learn to apply this in other aspects of life also — like marketing, or dating, or trying to figure out what to do with my life. It is all a process, and sometimes it all comes together and is wonderful. All it needed was a little detachment, and a little spirit.
Vision for the future
by Sharon Voyles, Belle River, IL, USA
There are times when I’d like to fire my management team — but my management team is me! Life does seem to get in the way of late and it’s sometimes hard to fight off the seeds of doubt — such as will I ever be able to concentrate solely on my art and give up the day job (and night job) that buys my paper and paint! But my philosophy is to have a “Vision For The Future” — look beyond the here and now and also to find joy in the little things like 30 minutes free during a lunch hour to go sketch in the park. I think instead of firing my management team I’ll actively work to revitalize it. Too often I take for granted all the truly inspirational things I see and hear each day.
Reach toward greater minds
by Charlotte A
As artists, we go from one extreme to the other — from tripping over minor irritations (brush cleaning problems) to reaching for the limits (ecstatic flow). Sometimes when I find myself rummaging too much among the detritus of detail, I reach toward minds with a wider grasp of it all — by looking at books full of wonderful paintings or by reading biographies of artists. Right now I’m re-reading Suzann Langer’s Feeling and Form and wishing I’d had more exposure to theories of aesthetics when I was a philosophy major. Your letters connect me to other real people who, like me, find meaning and joy in art.
by Mary Madsen
The hardest thing for me to grasp in my former life as a writer was that, no matter how creative and romantic and esoteric my work was, it was still a business and I was the CEO. I had to learn skills I thought I’d be escaping in my life as a creative artist. I did escape them at first, but I also escaped having my work published and read. When I finally realized that everybody was looking for good reading material at Barnes & Noble and not my home office, I literally got down to business.
When I finally got an agent, it didn’t mean my business responsibilities were over, it simply meant that they changed; I now had to manage my agent and make myself a presence in the agency that made them want to spend more time on me. You better believe my agency worked a little harder on my behalf when requests for my manuscripts started flooding their office. And you’d better believe those requests came in because I sat on my office floor night after night faxing information about my work to publishers and film producers from coast to coast. I didn’t want to do it, and I didn’t even know how to do it, but I had an objective lined up in my aim, and therein lies the secret of conquering the trivial. Of course, all this came after I followed the sage wisdom of my mentor, who told me to write 1,000,000 words and throw them away! None of us are getting out of this without an apprenticeship.
Thank heavens I learned all this before I abandoned my pen and took up a paintbrush. I learned to accept the business end of it as a mental break and breather from the creative side; productive time while the broth boiled down to sauce. When I’m stuck in my work, I work my business. It’s plain old-fashioned mental and creative hygiene.
Hair conditioner for brushes
by Catherine Jo Morgan, Clarkesville, GA, USA
Several years ago I was on the phone with a technical support person at Golden Paints. The expert there mentioned that they recommend preconditioning a brush with hair conditioner. “Just put a tiny dab in the palm of your hand, and work it into the brush.” This is done before each use — after the brush has dried from its washing, but before wetting it to prepare to dip it into paint. When I asked about brand, I was told ” …the cheapest is fine. Here at Golden, we use Suave.” My first bottle of Suave hair conditioner is still going strong in the studio.
Art mom good for the kids
by Aaron Scott
I think it is fair to say that when it comes to an artist’s offspring, the apple never falls too far from the tree. I am fortunate to have three older brothers, and through our mother’s influence we’re all artistic in one way or another. I did most of my growing through Mom’s (Nancy Scott) professional artist years. She was finally successful enough to quit working an average job, and supported us with her art. From ages 6-14 I toured all over the country with her. I learned the ropes from the assorted characters I met, and was exposed to a variety of different ideas, styles, mediums, and cultures. I helped out where I could. I learned how to make a sale, how to identify a customer, and some of the logistics that go into successfully running an art show. I received an education at fairs, galleries, and shows that no classroom could, can, or will ever impart. I learned something about the fabric of America, the complexities of life, and the fact that people march to different drums.
Bartering for fun and profit
by Carol Jessen, St. Louis, MO, USA
I’ve traveled quite a bit, and have bartered for rent in the Missouri Ozarks, Apalachicola Florida, and a seaside inn on Amelia Island that needed a painting for a brochure and their web site. The best trade has been with a woman I met while painting in Naples. I was there for a week because one of the teachers at my old school had inherited her mother’s house in Naples and traded me a week there for a painting. The last day of my stay, a woman and her pregnant daughter came by and we talked. When she found out that I was trading for rent, she asked,
“Are you coming back next year?”
“Well, I could be persuaded. Why?”
“Because we have a guest house on our twelve acre estate!”
I’ve stayed there for a month for the last two winters! She’s also visited me at my summer place in Maine… so I got a new friend out of the deal. My dentist traded me a crown for a painting. The best part is, she wants a painting of her newly purchased house on the seventeen-mile drive in Pacific Grove, California! Other offers include a stay at a condo in St. George, Utah and Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. For me, barter has opened up a world of adventure. I think there may be a book in this, too!
by Judyann Traquair
As a rule I do not write to you as I feel you have much on your plate anyway. I read your last letter and felt a compulsion, as I am sure that many will, to simply say that I read your letters twice weekly with interest and a feeling of impending learning. I own The Painter’s Keys book and it is one of my best reads. The reason for my helping to fill an already full inbox is this: In my humble opinion, everyone under the sun, writing to you and asking for your opinion and guidance in all matters is simply a testament to the fact that you seem to be so wise, and very adept at finding the answers to so many questions. I feel you try to anticipate what people may not know and write on it, as opposed to what most folks can find out about easily. It is your writing style that puts people in the frame of mind that they can treat you as a neighbor and yell over the fence about what colors look best in a butterfly garden or how often they should change the oil in their airbrush machine. (do those things use oil?) Your style makes you feel accessible. One of the prices of holding a place in so many hearts is, I fear, that people are going to reach out to you and want to touch your special world and draw from it into their own. Overwhelming you with the draw is unfortunate. I wish you a reasonable amount of mail with happy questions and continued success in all your ventures. I am a reader and fan of all things Genn.
(RG note) My sincere thanks to all those who wrote with these and similar sentiments.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.
That includes Beaman Cole who wrote, “The synonym for veduta ideata is capriccio or caprice. It’s a little easier on the tongue.”