A recent letter from Sandra Chantry explained, “My project is to paint my way around the world, thus combining my interests in observation, people watching, and travel. Perhaps I should add exploring! So far I’ve managed St Petersburg and part of the Baltic, Thailand, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and now Venice. My preference is really for sketching and drawing. I love to draw buildings, exploring the shapes and spaces the architect has managed to achieve. I can’t remember not …being able to draw.’ It came with my mother’s milk.”
While not all of us are off on such a dedicated journey, Sandra’s project gives some clues to the linear nature of an artist’s trek. Her project may also point the way to the highest levels of satisfaction and of possibilities for progress. First of all she thinks the capability is within her to start with. It’s perhaps innate and even unexamined. She doesn’t doubt that things are possible. Then there’s the sheer joy of looking. Curiosity, pure and simple. Further, there’s the need to record and keep. Clever is the artist who collects her own stuff. Whatever the stuff she makes may float away or be left behind, but it is the line of her life story — the “artist’s collection.” It’s important stuff.
In places where the landscape, the face of humanity, even windows and doors are different and new, a travelkeeper may have to endure more failures than winners. “New” requires understanding as well as appreciation as novelty. But you can bet your bottom drachma that the results become more unique as you go. You can also bet that the work takes on more integrity because it’s part of a greater journey. Art on the road, like a journal, grows and comes out of itself. Here are a few ideas that you may find useful:
Go slow. Pay close attention to what you have just done. Look for clues to your next move. Embrace your next spot and add your will. Let the work tell you where you need to go. Keep stepping. As you inhale life, your art enriches.
While hiking and painting in southern France, going from one small hotel to another, I noticed that a favorite dish was the Cassoulet. It’s a big stove-pot that may be on simmer for weeks at a time. New ingredients are added daily. It gets what it needs. It gives up what is required. It never stops nourishing.
Esoterica: You can do your travelkeeping right in your own studio. Think of yourself as Don Quixote coming onto one challenge after another. Each is a learning experience and sometimes a breakthrough. It’s a fantasy anyway. Maybe a fantasy is all you need. Collect your fantasies. Put them in order and line them up right there in your studio. “I see myself going where I’ve never been.” (Diane Arbus)
Wants to follow in Sandra’s steps
by Barb Rees
I relate strongly with Sandra and her need to live her dream to paint and travel. Yes, it is a need for some of us to push the limits, to live out our passions. When we traveled across Canada last year, I was writing my second book and an artist friend introduced me to watercolour pencils. That was the best gift. I discovered a hidden talent as my husband drove and I drew and painted. By the end of the trip I was hooked and have now moved onto acrylics. As you say, start simple, we don’t want to travel with copious materials, so watercolour pencils fit the bill. My dream is to travel more, and paint and write all over the world. I want to follow in Sandra’s footsteps. What a role model she became for me today!
by Melanie Peter, Gainesville, FL, USA
Poet Denise Levertov taught students to learn to analyze our work (in this case poems) by “practicing” objectivity. She suggested that, as a daily exercise, we walk through our homes and rooms imagining we had never been there before; as if it were someone else’s books, lamps, furniture, even to imagine it as some new planet. Experiencing our familiar rooms and belongings, our local supermarket and neighborhood streets as if we had never been there, is also traveling. It’s good practice for experiencing our artwork as if we had never seen it and good exercise for the faculty of imagination.
by Sian Lindemann, Ashland, WI, USA
I once knew a traveling artist who located a gallery in each city and took in his small local sketches — shrinkwrapped and left on consignment. He opened a checking account in each town and coached the gallery owner (he was astute to choose honest dealers) to deposit the money from each sale. He made this his career and traveled the world.
Refinement of the journey
by Janet Badger, Austin, TX, USA
In the course of my adult life, I have lived in several different states in the US, in the US Virgin Islands, in Antigua in the West Indies, in Puerto Rico, and in Moscow, Russia. With each new move, I faced an interruption in the flow of inspiration, after which came new ideas. In the Caribbean, my etchings were hand-painted, as I attempted to capture the colors around me. In Moscow, my etchings went to the gray/brown of a wintery cityscape. Now I am settled in Texas, and the only journey I want to take is the one that goes from the beginning of a new art project to the end. In that journey is my true escape, my best distraction, my ultimate joy.
Landscape of the mind
by Dermot McCabe, Wicklow, Ireland
There are many ways of traveling. Edward Dyer’s beautiful little poem encapsulates the richness within our own internal landscape of the mind.
My mind to me a kingdom is
Such perfect joy therein I find
That it excels all other bliss
That world affords or grows by kind.
by Chris Calohan, Panama City, FL, USA
Regarding curiosity, I was reminded of my art bible, How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci, by Michael Gelb. For anyone unfamiliar with this book, I cannot urge enough the need to embrace much of what is written in this delightful insight into the seven steps of knowledge. I use it as a text for my incoming freshmen students, beginning with his first chapter, “Curiosita.”
Life on the road
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
I just got back from a trip through Spain, Portugal and Morocco. There are other wonderful aspects of painting on the road, as well; it’s a fabulous way to make friends, and even the roughest sketches become valued souvenirs once I get home. Something amazing happens when I plunk myself down in a shady spot and just paint whatever is in front of me. I am no longer a detached tourist on the run, shoving my camera into the face of another culture. By taking the time to sit and honor the beauty of someone else’s home town, I open myself up to all kinds of new connections. How can anyone enjoy travel without a pocketful of art supplies to sustain them? I always bring along extra paper and brushes to share, just in case I meet an artist (or a potential artist) who has come away without their paint.
Travel journal as springboard
by Dianne Middleton, Calgary, AB, Canada
In order to grow, it is vital for artists to continually track their work using written and visual means. Though we all need to look forward to plan ahead each day/week/month/year in an effort to attain future goals — it is important to combine this planning with a knowing of where one has been. I keep a daily art journal in my studio and even on a non-painting day, there are entries made that will keep me inspired to pick up where I left off. The journal is my springboard.
Life’s a beach
by Peggy Horowitz, Austin, TX, USA
I just finished a commissioned pastel painting of a beach scene in Cape Cod. It was a really satisfying experience. I love the beach and applying soft pastels to sanded paper is my idea of sensual luxury! On this particular painting, I worked from photographs, not real life. Not my first choice. But it helped me to see how much the subject matter is so natural for me. So now my ambition is to travel to the world’s great beaches and paint them. My next journey will be to Hawaii in a few weeks’ time. I feel very lucky.
Seeing the future
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
I have reference from my journeys through life. Memories from childhood, the military, and places I’ve lived over the years. I’m not able to travel and paint (yet) due to work and family, I have to envision those places — thanks to television and the internet. We artists have the benefits of modern technology including worldwide exposure and reference material. I can see the future.
Memory adds to photo reference
by Alev Oguz, Istanbul, Turkey
Sometimes it is valuable just to look even without any sketching. Just watch and feel the moment. Feel the birds flying, pay attention to the ripples. Listen to the silence of the landscape. Recharge yourself with the beauty of a specific moment. Then, come back to your studio and paint what you have absorbed from memory. I had painted some birds from a photo and they were there on the canvas like decorations. I was unsatisfied and went out for a walk. I just watched birds flying. I dreamed what flying would be like. I felt their wings. I wish I had a sketchbook with me. But I had not intended for it, so there were no chances to take any notes, no chance for collecting the facts. I didn’t watch them for painting purposes. I just watched them with joy.
A few weeks later I started a new work. I used the very same reference photo for my birds. To my surprise there was quite an improvement. This time they had more life in them. I was astonished to see how my memory added to the subject.
Watch your cassoulet
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia
Regarding your French cassoulet analogy, any stale food begins to accumulate products of disintegration. The longer it sits — the more disintegration there is. The products of disintegration then need to be processed in human organism by kidneys and liver. These organs have the resource and limiting individual parameters of loadings. Also, simple, natural food can be spoiled with conservants, hormones, food additives etc. It is the large problem to keep health now, when the genetic modification of natural products is allowed.
Into the soup
by Lois Ericson, Reno, NV, USA
Your cassoulet story reminded me of these lines by Mary Bartrop:
I think we’re all like a slow cooking soup.
We’re born — broth — stock in the pot.
The longer you live, the more ‘stuff’ goes into the pot.
Some you like and some not.
(RG note) Lois Ericson publishes The Good News Rag that includes sewing tips, book reviews, and sometimes quotes from the Twice-Weekly Letter.
Holding back in Florence
by Elizabeth Schamehorn, Washago, ON, Canada
I’m back from Italy where David, Pontormo, Bunelleschi and Mary were on every street corner. Thank you to all who responded to Robert’s call to send emails to me while I was in Florence. As I traveled my circadian rhythms were difficult to analyze. I painted some for the first three weeks, but was not thrilled with the results. Then my traveling companion, cousin Jane, said she thought I was holding back. Hmmmm, I thought. In the next four days I turned out fifteen onsite paintings of the streets of Florence. Florence makes you fall in love. It’s the colour! — blue hills and golden houses and red roofs and bronze river and green gardens and red geraniums. But now I’m back in the green pine trees on the purple rocks by the tea-coloured river.
by Suzette Fram
In response to Mary Bakker’s letter about the high price of art, I would say that if someone falls in love and is deeply moved by a painting, I would bet that most artists would be happy to take monthly payments to allow the person to buy a piece that they cannot afford to buy all at once. Most artists would be immensely gratified by another person being so moved. I know I would be happy to make such arrangements.
(RG note) When I was first starting out I cut a deal with a poverty-stricken pre-med student to buy a painting from me for $6 per month over two years. It hardly hurt him, and it was fun for me too because I had lusted for some time to have a steady income.”
Looking and reading
by Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, ON, Canada
Between 1976 and 1986, I traveled back and forth to Europe about six times and lived there for one year. I visited every major and minor art gallery, church and museum. I cried in front of van Gogh’s Sunflowers and remember seeing Michelangelo’s, Madonna and child in Brugges, and stood in awe of such beauty. I love looking and reading and looking and reading. Sometimes it inspires and sometimes it paralyzes. Reading these letters makes me feel at home, where my friends are, where my heart is, where people speak the same language and have similar concerns. These days I can’t always paint, but coming here keeps my desire alive. It is my current gallery.
Orchestrating the Drama
oil on masonite
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 Caroline Stengl, who wrote, “I’m going to Germany for three weeks this summer. I’m taking some blank watercolour postcards and some pre-cut Artist Trading Cards so that every day I can make a miniature from my day’s experience.”