Yearly Archives: 2019

Letters The Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (ca. 1830–32, Edo Period)
Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper
10 1/8 x 14 15/16 inches
by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)

Rajat Shanbhag of Ohio wrote, “I have been sneaking every chance at work and most of time between paintings to read much from The Painter’s Keys. Next year, I am planning to take a hard right and move from the US to Canada to begin my painting career. I began painting nearly 3 years ago while I was getting my Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering and have been working really hard at it every moment since then, and now I really do feel confident I can make a living out of it. I am looking for any light you can shed on steps to take the very first year.

Letters Dancer at the Barre study (1877)
by Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

It seems that a struggling young composer asked Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to give him a few tips. Mozart told him to go home and work at composing for a few years. “But,” said the young man, “you didn’t have to work at it for years.” Mozart replied, “Yes, but I didn’t have to ask for tips.”

Letters The Enchanted Owl, 1960
Stonecut on paper
Printer: Eegyvudiuk Pootoogook
60.9 x 66 cm
by Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013)

If painting is like navigating, you might want to put down your phone. Neuroscientists at the University College London scanned the brains of London cabbies and discovered that the volume of their hippocamps — the part responsible for spatial memory, visualization and narrative — was larger than average. As possessors of “The Knowledge” — knowing by heart over 320 routes, 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks — London cabbies are said to have had an atlas of the city transplanted into their brains. The magic is that “The Knowledge,” unlike a smart phone algorithm offering every driver the same directions, allows the cabbie to create novel routes based on a mastery of experience and to retrace, tweak and embellish these routes over time.

Letters The Lime Burner, London, 1859
Drypoint etching
55.6 X 40.5 cm
by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

A subscriber wrote, “I’m spring cleaning. Sketches, old matted drawings, paintings that aren’t my best, oil studies, unimportant works, etc., have finally found themselves in a big pile. Some, if properly matted and framed, could sell. The problem is that I don’t want to invest in the time, energy or frames. Would slipping them into poly bags with backing be appropriate to move this stuff? Right now, I feel like throwing them into the dumpster, but I have been told not to do so. What do you do with your studies and sketches? What do you think of having a fire-sale?”

Letters Pasture (1958) 
cotton, 394 x 356mm
by Anni Albers (1899-1994)

Recently, I received an email from an Italian contemporary furniture brand. Sandwiched between complimentary remarks about my work, they requested I send some paintings to Venice for an upcoming photo shoot. “We guarantee you a lot of visibility, your credit will be printed on the catalogue and we will share with you the hi res pics. Also we will tag you in every social media platform where your artworks will be.” They signed off by dangling the names of their photographer and stylist and telling me to let them know if I was “in.”

Letters Roots, 1943
oil on metal 
12 x 19.5 inches
by Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Last night I was giving a short talk and signing books at one of our local art clubs. I happened to notice no men were in the hall. The club has many male members, they assured me, but apparently they don’t come out on rainy nights. Not to listen to me, anyway. I wasn’t crestfallen — I was being sociologically informed. I’ve always noticed the 80/20 split in these organizations, but I knew the full-female thing was just around the corner. Anyway, it was a combined lecture and holiday-season windup, the shortbread was good, and no one asked me to dance.

Letters The unfinished Adoration of the Magi (1481-82)
by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

In the most recent issue of the journal Brain, Marco Cantani, professor of psychiatry at King’s College London has linked Leonardo da Vinci’s chronic inability to complete projects to undiagnosed ADHD. According to Giorgio Vasari’s 1550 seminal artistic biography, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Leonardo jumped from project to project, slept only in short bursts and had trouble finishing his paintings. To Professor Cantani, the tumbling evidence is enough to suggest a posthumous diagnosis and explore the creative edge ADHD could offer affected artists.

Letters Lake George (formerly Reflection Seascape (1922)
oil on canvas
by Georgia O'Keeffee (1887-1986)

In the recently published Against Happiness, popular writer Eric Wilson disparages our current love affair with putting on a happy face. With our “feel good” culture and the widespread use of happy drugs, everybody’s trying to be cheerful and there are no decent dollops of melancholy and sadness, he says. When this happens art becomes bland, unchallenging and redundant. Dr. Thomas Svolos of the department of Psychiatry at Creighton University School of Medicine thinks Wilson is right. “When you’re melancholy, you tend to step back and examine your life,” he says, “That kind of questioning is essential for creativity.”

Letters Drift, 2010
oil on canvas
36 x 36 inches
by Sara Genn

Yesterday, my twin James arrived in the evening with an early birthday present. I could hardly believe it when he wheeled it across in front of the window under the eave lights, where he knew I would see it from the kitchen. Sky blue, with 3 speeds and a basket, James might as well have given me a second studio. After I hugged and thanked him, we reminisced about every other bicycle we had ever known, and all the pleasure and inspiration that can be drawn from such a timeless creativity machine.

Letters Getting started on Ramparts, February 2004.

When I was a boy my dad owned a sign shop. There were four employees: Nort, Mort, Phil and Bert. Each had their specialty — show cards, banners, silkscreen, illustration. It seems my dad was always walking around and asking, “Do you have something to get on with?” Dad lived in fear that one or the other would run out of something to do.

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