Monthly Archives: May, 2016

Letters Lawren-Harris_Saturday-Morning_c.1920

During the last week I’ve been back in the studio preparing for a solo show. I’m in here at about 6 in the morning and generally stick-handle through to about 10 in the evening. Sometimes there’s a short mid-afternoon snooze — almost always there’s a ramble with my dog.

But mostly it’s just easeling along, sorting out problems, taking half-finished works in and out of frames, painting steadily with a fair degree of simultaneity, trying to decide what to do next. As they say, “It’s a wonderful life.” I’m sure the “high” is similar to dope. I can convince myself

Letters RG286-Myself-at-Work-1969-12x16IMG_5338

Today is my and my twin brother James’ birthday and the second anniversary of the day we said goodbye to Dad. An old friend recently came to the door with an amazing gift. It was something my dad had given to his dad shortly after they met in Fuengirola, Spain in 1964. Bert, an Englishman, first noticed Dad standing at an easel near the beach. A hobbyist, Bert cruised up behind to take a look, and as he did, a little crowd grew around the painter. The story goes that after a long period of saying nothing, Bert suddenly exclaimed, “My, that’s a magnificent brush!”

Letters pablo-picasso_naked-woman-lying-on-a-blue-couch_1960

A subscriber wrote, “Some of my painter friends insist that I don’t have a unique angle in my work. I feel all I can do is carry on and paint as much as I can and not worry about it, and eventually it will come. To force it would be easy as I’m a professional designer and illustrator. It would also be shallow and dishonest, do you agree? Do you have some advice on this?”

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My friend Sam emailed some work from her latest series. Before I knew it, I was writing back, “You need a show.” “I was going to contact you about that,” she replied. “Maybe you can help me a little bit with the foreign language of portfolios and galleries and what to do.” No problem, Sam. Here are a couple of time-tested ideas:

Letters john-singer-sargent_an-artist-in-his-studio

There’s a marvellous painting by John Singer Sargent called An Artist in his Studio. It shows a balding man in obviously reduced circumstances, his canvas half onto his mussed bed. He’s attempting to match colours from what appears to be a postcard.

The painting is bitter-sweet, and in a way, sad. By the window’s clean light, the old fellow is trying to get it right. It’s even sadder when we realize that these days “trying to get it right” is in danger of becoming a lost art. We are in the days of anything goes. Verisimilitude is often suspect, and many artists bend toward fashion

Letters basquiat_boneless

When travelling as a girl with my dad to workshops and demos, I noticed that he always brought a frame. At points throughout the painting process, he’d clip in the canvas and place it on a secondary easel, a few meters from where he’d set up. The idea was to get the composition stopped and distance the maker from his object. In this sliver of detachment, problems could be addressed, decisions made and the potential treasure imagined.

Letters henri-matisse_bathers-by-a-river

A subscriber wrote, “It has been pointed out that all of my paintings have a center of interest on the right-hand side. Generally there’s a dark blob on the right because that seems to be how I like to compose. Is this something to do with one side of the brain? Do other people have the same problem? Is it serious and in need of correction? I’m sure it occurs entirely unconsciously.”

Letters Nidaa-Badwan_Gaza-07

You don’t have to be an introvert to be an artist, but adopting the qualities of one could awaken your slumbering masterpiece. Extroverts may schmooze the salons and First Thursdays, but art is an inside job. Lone wolves eschew social distraction, the safety of institutions and domestic busyness in favour of ripening ideas independently. Unsung aloneness is where your process is permitted to take root and grow, unfettered by outside influences. Let your skill, style and work develop over time in the company of your cold, hard grit.

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Like a lot of us I get quite a few calls from beginning artists in need of advice. Sometimes it starts off with a technical question that leads to larger, more motivational questions. Yesterday a neighbour lady, Carmen, phoned and wanted “general, overall mentoring” leading to “guidance on what she wanted to do.” She had painted part of a painting that very morning and wondered if she could bring it over. I gave my usual: “Paint a hundred more and then bring them over.”