Dear Artist,

Like the kid (and the dad) in the Disneyland ad, I’m “too excited” to sleep. It’s a good feeling. Anticipation is one of the greater pleasures of love, travel, painting. Knowing that something exciting is going to happen, and more or less how, gives vitality. You set yourself up for it.


“Icebergs in the Arctic”
oil painting 1882
William Bradford (1823–1892)

We all know the feeling when looking at a work-in-progress or even a blank canvas. You have an idea how the forms and spaces will evolve, how a look or a feel will be. There’s a sense of exploration about to happen, yes, but there’s also the “rightness” of your particular process. For me, getting the priming just right is currently important, as is thinking about the design and composition, and the ongoing dream that brushwork will remain fresh. It’s possible to remember previous ventures when magic happened. It’s possible to remember sustained periods of concert pitch. “Why not today?” we ask ourselves. At times like this it’s good to take a deep breath and ask the blessings of the Goddess of Patience and other personal Deities. For many of us a quality approach includes honouring the surface with a complex battery of private prejudices. Some may prefer violence, others the most circumspect tenderness. We all have our way.

I’m sitting in an F28 Twin-jet heading toward the Arctic Circle. The faces around me shine with anticipation. Our dogs are barking enthusiastically from their sky-kennels in the cargo hold. We’ve done our homework. The maps are out. There are new brushes in the carry-on. The vast land of Canada’s Northwest Territories scrolls beneath us. It’s a big canvas.


“Caught in the Ice Floes”
oil painting, 1867
by William Bradford

Best regards,


PS: ” ‘Tis expectation makes a blessing dear,
Heaven were not heaven, if we knew what it were.” (Sir John Suckling)

Esoterica: There are two parallel acts — assembling materials and assembling plans. This calculated outfitting is at the root of all and sets the stage for both laughter and tears.

This letter was originally published as “Anticipation” on July 13, 2001.



  1. Could you please check the date on the first painting, “Icebergs in the Arctic?” You list the date of the painting as 1812, but then say that Bradford was not born until 1823. I am easily confused, but love your comments – they often hit the nail on the head for me. Many thanks!

  2. I love the anticipation that comes with carefully clearing a space on an otherwise busy palette as I work. What alchemy can I cook up by combining pigments in different proportions, media, more or less white, varying opacity and substance? Yes, there is a unique pleasure in anticipating possibilities waiting to be explored.

    • These paintings are very inspiring. As a rock formation painter, it makes me want to go to the Artic to paint. In the meantime, I’ll anticipate the journey. Anyone else?

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