Yearly Archives: 2019

Letters Zeus Weeps, 1972 
oil on canvas 
88 1/4 x 115 1/4 inches
by Dorothy Hood (1919-2000)

Yesterday, an artist emailed with a basic but vital question: “I was curious if you have any tips on how to motivate yourself to paint. I love painting; however, I haven’t had much motivation to do so. It’s been a few months. Any suggestions?”

It may be a help to understand that work is not work when work is loved. This thought brings affirmations from legions of artists who have no trouble being motivated.

Letters Francis Bacon: Three Studies for Self-Portrait, 1976; oil on canvas, in three parts, each 14 x 12 inches

The first rule of storytelling is that something must die in order for something else to be born. In your art story, this means that if you want your work to grow, you’ll need to kill something. The good news is that you probably have something to sacrifice lying around your studio — a studio barnacle you once deemed too good to slash but that’s not quite ready for the dance floor. As the sole, designated arbiter of quality control, you are beginning the rest of your life.

Letters Return of the Forest
30 x 40 inches
acrylic on canvas
by Robert Genn (1936-2014)

Artists need to be constantly on the prowl for ways to make their work more visually exciting. Art needs magic bullets beyond mere subject matter. Fact is, perfectly dull subjects can be made more interesting with a little extra thought and effort. You may already be applying some of these ideas, but if my request seems more like a tough order, perhaps these exercises will be all the more important for you.

Letters The Plow, The Perch, The Cross
acrylic on canvas
60 x 150 inches
by Sara Genn

When I was a five-year-old girl growing up in Canada, I remember opening the basement door of our 1959 split-level ranch house to tiptoe barefoot through the rain puddles to my dad’s studio. Inside was a world creatively ordered for one — an intimate deluge of feathers, beach stones, vintage English car parts, every size of nail, frame, canvas and brush and hundreds of partly squeezed tubes of paint. A giant, north-facing picture window was all that separated this universe from the nests of herons and eagles.

Letters Ray
ink drawing
by Anthony Jenkins

I was putting the title The Red Canoe on the back of a painting when my friend Joe Blodgett walked in and said, “Nice painting, too bad about the red canoe.”

After a couple of single malts I was looking at the painting through Joe’s eyes. I was pleasant enough when I urged him to go down to the smokehouse to get our smoked salmon, and while he was gone I took off the final varnish and hauled that canoe out of my picture.

Letters Blue Landscape (Paysage bleu), 1958
colour lithograph on Arches Wove Paper
22 4/5 × 29 7/10 in
by Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

“This is why you must love life,” says Bernadette Fox, the artist-turned-wife-and-mother in Maria Semple’s 2012 comedic novel about art, failure and the domestic cage. “In one day you’re offering up your social security number to the Russian Mafia; two weeks later you’re using the word calve as a verb.” Bernadette, a once-lauded star-chitect is languishing in the suburbs of Seattle, unable to put her finger on the cause of her erratic behavior, anxiety, sleeplessness and misanthropy. She loves her husband and child, but something has gone terribly wrong with herself.

Letters Common Crow
watercolour on paper
by J. Fenwick Lansdowne (1937-2008)

Three others hang out with me when I’m painting in our garden. Lester and Mary were around here last year. This year they’ve brought along an oversized teenaged layabout with an annoying voice. Jack is often on his own, but Lester and Mary, who may be married, spend a lot of time strutting about, discussing, among other things, Jack. The parents are a bit co-dependent, but they like each other and seem smugly contented with their day-to-day routine. Lester, Mary and Jack are crows.

Letters Fallen Star, 2012
steel-frame house, concrete foundation, brick, chimney, garden, lawn chairs, table, hibachi-style grill, bird bath and bird house
approx. 180 x 215.98 inches
by Do Ho Suh (b. 1962)

Over a recent 48 hours, an intimate group of tail-waggers embarked on a treasure hunt of public art. Our gang, like an itinerant, vibrating organism, scrambled up and down the hills and in and out of the eucalyptus groves to identify creative miracles, dotted like superstars among the natural wonders of this coastal oasis. Like an Easter egg hunt, the expedition signalled a kind of exultant celebration of worship and quiet human endeavour.

Letters Fête, 1989
screenprint on paper
 53 x 76 cm
by Bridget Riley (b.1931)

Recently, I quietly conducted a personal experiment in streamlining my art life. Like a big purge, after almost three decades of living a philosophy of multi-tracking, flexibility and expansiveness, I narrowed the scope and range of my activities to see if it would intensify what was most creatively meaningful and satisfying. The process came with terror, guilt and a fear of loss and failure.

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