Art and grief

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Adrianne Moro of Curitiba, Brazil wrote, “I am very fond of your twice-a-week letter. But suddenly a new situation has taken me. It was the death of my grandfather. He was the most brilliant, loving, caring human being I’ve ever known. Since I lost him, I can’t work at my art and do not find a way to return to my daily routine in my studio. It’s been fourteen days now. Can you give me a word of advice in this situation?” Thanks, Adrianne. During the time I’ve been writing these letters there have been thousands of emails from artists who have lost loved ones. Some went through a period of non-productive mourning for months or even years. Others, almost immediately, found an energetic return to work to be part of the healing process. Still others, I’m sorry to say, put down their tools forever. Noticing my actions when my own folks passed on a few years ago, I’ve given this matter some thought. I appreciate your question at this time. We’ve taken the liberty to put some of your collages at the bottom of this letter. Just as life is a mystery, so is death. But there is one thing you need to think about, and that is to see your art from your grandfather’s point of view. He would not want you to delay your young life of creativity over the grief of his passing. He would want you to take continued joy in the universe while you have the breath and the energy. If he was a brilliant, loving, caring man, as you say, he would know that life has a purpose of enriching the lives of others. As an artist, you are uniquely positioned to do this. His passing is your gift; it is his breath you continue to breathe, and the brilliance that was within him is now passed on to you. It is a legacy not to be passed up. We in the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Artists need to be particularly aware of the continuum. Both alive and dead, we make our contribution. We, the living ones, are just the forward edge of the process. We have a responsibility not just to those who have gone before, but to those who will carry on after us. Do not drop your brush. Best regards, Robert PS: “Life is a song… sing it. Life is a game… play it. Life is a challenge… meet it. Life is a dream… realize it. Life is a sacrifice… offer it. Life is love… enjoy it.” (Sai Baba) Esoterica: My dad died three months after my mother. They were both in their nineties. About two months before my father died he asked if I might bring him one of his half-finished paintings to work on. After a half hour of shaky stroking, he said, “Take it away, Bob, I’ve had it.” That was his last. It made me cry, but not him. After his death I gave myself a little show of his paintings. I examined them close up — his brushwork, his details, his odd choices of subject matter. We do indeed pick up where others leave off.   Adrianne Moro

digital collage


“Elemental being”
digital collage


digital collage


“Golden lights”
digital collage

            Grief has its own timetable by Nancy Mayer, Charlottesville, VA, USA   When my son died suddenly three years ago, I was of course, stunned and devastated. One month after that terrible day, the day after what should have been his 30th birthday I began painting birds, small portraits. As I painted, I felt a renewal of wonder for nature’s perfection. I enjoyed the birds’ beauty and liveliness, their passionate sense of purpose and their songs. By the end of the year I had 70-80 birds. Working in the series helped because I did not require the jolt of inspiration to get going. There’s always another bird. My only requirement was that I see the bird myself. We made a weekly calendar of birds to give to friends and family, thanking them for their sweet support. The calendar was dedicated to our son and shared some family anecdotes. I am a watercolor enthusiast: during the first months, my tears added surprises to my efforts. I always felt a profound connection with my boy when I was painting — as if I was doing it for him and with him. To say the studio became a place of healing is an understatement. The work brought me to awe and helped me begin to create a transformed relationship with my child and with life. Grief has its own rules and timetable. I can only say that art helped me. There are 3 comments for Grief has its own timetable by 011411_robert-genn2Nancy Mayer
From: Margot — Jan 20, 2011

Your letter had me crying – think losing a child is the worst experience any mother could have. Birds, symbolically, are the carriers of spirit so you could hardly have chosen a more appropriate channel for your grief. I bow down in awe

From: Liesbeth Groenewald — Jan 22, 2011

Thank you Nancy, I also lost my son 7 years ago. At the time I was photographing cemetery angels…and these then became the inspiration for more than 150 images which I used to illustrate his poems and publish in a small 100 page book called Alex Angel. Many tears accompanied these, but at the same time it helped

From: Anonymous — Jan 24, 2011

Nancy, you words brought tears to my eyes too. For myself, after losing my husband after almost 30 years of marriage at the age of 55, I started making jewelery. I found I had to do something creative. Then I started painting and haven’t stopped since. That was nearly 13 years ago. Art is certainly healing

  Alchemical transformation by Margot Hattingh, South Africa  

“Night watch”
original painting
by Margot Hattingh

Grief is an enormous wellspring of emotion, and we all know that emotions give us physical energy. Grief tamped down and too strictly controlled for whatever reason turns inwards and causes a poisonous paralysis of the creative urge as well as other life affirming activities and can become deep long term depression. If you are an artist, that enormous emotional energy can, and I really believe and have proved for myself, must be allowed free expression in personal art work. The thing is to just start. Begin cutting, slashing and assembling collage pieces as deliberate, considered metaphor for how she is feeling with whatever she has on hand. Trust the process. If nothing else, she will lose herself in the making, gain respite for a little while from the grief. I have found that it is a true alchemical transformation, taking ugly and overwhelming emotions, rage, grief and coming out the other side in a purged, clear and tranquil state. She may have even created some unusually powerful and expressive artwork in a frenzy of grief. Further, I think that some artists create unnecessary drama in their lives, so they can access the huge creative energy that is not normally available. I hope she finds the lifeline. There are 4 comments for Alchemical transformation by Margot Hattingh
From: Cristina Monier — Jan 21, 2011

I liked yor painting, I love blue and you used it wisely.

From: Darla — Jan 21, 2011

Amazing painting! It has exactly what needs to be there, and nothing extra. Thank you!

From: Anonymous — Jan 21, 2011

A powerful painting! Thank you.

From: Rose — Jan 21, 2011

Thank you for the advise…

  Catharsis through art by Bill Smith, Duluth, GA, USA   I, too, found myself in a period where it was difficult to be creative when my 22 year old son passed away from leukemia. The care-free, take a risk, splash it on the canvas persona went into hiding. Then, after a reasonable period of grief recognition, a displayer of my work asked for a specific replacement. I felt conflicted, but compelled, to provide. Once I was able to put the first brush to canvas, the feeling and zeal came back. I was triumphant in the return as if it were a tribute to the lost. I wanted it to, not only be good but, be very good as it marked an event for dealing with the loss. I still don’t paint with the unabashed bravado that I did before but, I can now occasionally paint with the creativity that I had before the loss. Art, like life, is not a destination, but a journey. I can only hope that those conflicted with a major loss can take the first steps to continue on their journey of displaying life, as they see it, for others. It is cathartic. They’ll be glad they did.   Art is a conduit for the divine by Sigrid Tidmore  

original painting
by Sigrid Tidmore

Many of those close to me have made their transitions this year: a dear friend, my father and, 3 months ago, my husband of 35 years. For each I have grieved, and for each I have celebrated. Once I found equilibrium, I gained healing by painting “consciousness portraits” of my lost loved ones. While I have many photos to remember their earthly presence, these illustrations bring to mind our spiritual connection. For instance, my father was born and died on an eclipse. He loved nature and carved butterflies and birds from balsa wood. In life we were always at opposite ends of every argument but now the duality has ended. The eclipse is the only time day and night come together. Thus the attached painting symbolizes our resolution. I find great peace in these paintings and I find I am now creating them for others. Art gives us a wonderful opportunity to be conduits for the divine. There are 6 comments for Art is a conduit for the divine by Sigrid Tidmore
From: Rene’ Seigh — Jan 20, 2011

Your painting is beautiful! Peace to you, dear sister, on the loss of your husband. We are indeed conduits for the divine!

From: Sharon Cory — Jan 21, 2011

Beautiful sentiments. Making connections,whether to the earthly or the spiritual world, is the gift given to artists.

From: Jan Ross — Jan 21, 2011

My heartfelt condolences on your recent losses! Your painting truly captures your thoughts in a beautiful way. Some believe butterflies are, in fact, messengers from beyond. Regardless, I feel uplifted and transported looking at your painting.

From: Lynee Sapere — Jan 21, 2011

I love how your beautiful butterfies of the sun transform/meld into beautiful moths of the moon. Death is an eclipse of life but spirit lives on. This topic and these comments are HUGE to me right now and will light my own path. Thank you Robert and everyone!

From: Bev Bunker — Jan 21, 2011

What a beautiful statement and image of recognition and love for your father. I love what you said about an eclipse being the only time day and night come together…it is also the time when light and dark come together. Stay in Peace, my friend.

From: Leslie Wentzell — Jan 23, 2011

Sigrid, I am so sorry for your losses. Just one year ago we were in the MAC program together and you were (and continue to be) an inspiration to me. You are a special person and a special artist.

  Painting therapy by Elaine Woods, ON, Canada  

“Cottage on ravine”
watercolour painting
by Elaine Woods

I lost my husband more than 2 years ago. It was like I was enclosed in a bubble and could not touch or feel anything. A friend dragged me to her art class with my paint kit. I paid my money and sat in front of an easel. And sat, and sat and stared at a blank life. In the weeks to come I set up my paints and made feeble attempts at painting. The instructor looked on (not a stranger to death in his family) and made minimal comments just letting me know he was there. In time I started to paint and then more feverishly as the grief poured out of my brush. I now have several winterscapes with frozen icicles and waterfalls. I now paint in deeper tones and on larger canvases as I can really get in there, my painting, and work off excess energy with large heavy strokes. I have some lovely paintings, many incomplete, but I work on. Painting is therapeutic. Painting is my life.     There is 1 comment for Painting therapy by Elaine Woods
From: Nyla Sunga — Jan 21, 2011

Gorgeous painting, a frozen landscape. Maybe just a few months before spring greens start to push up. Hope we get to see some of those…

  Painting brings her closer to mother by Mona Youssef, Ottawa, ON, Canada  

“Golden Autumn lights”
oil painting, 18 x 14 inches
by Mona Youssef

I, too, second Adrianne that I have been enjoying reading your twice-weekly letter, in particular your response to Adrianne! It is so thoughtful, sensible, comforting and practical, as there is so much truth in every point you have mentioned! Adrianne, I feel for you. I lost my dear mother, who was my best friend and encouraged me in every way to paint since childhood. As much as it was devastating for me to see her departing life, as much I have beheld painting closer to my heart for it brings the precious memory of her, waking up nights to see me still painting. This memory of her beautiful smile and understanding is present and lives on the surface of my life continually. Recalling that my mother always wanted to see me a great artist, not that I mean I am, but as Robert said, we carry this kind of responsibility not only for those who have gone, but also for those who will carry on after us. Getting back to your studio does not mean that you will be having leisure or entertaining time, rather you will be doing what would have made your Grandfather happy, seeing you successful. So Adrianne, there is no need to feel guilty for continuing to paint, even with music on, and the sooner the better. If you were working in an office, would you have stopped working? Back to your studio will not only be healing but will also be continuation of your life with meaning and goal. Your grandfather would have loved to see that. As well, you would leave a good example for your children, if you have any, and make the rest of your family proud of you! In addition, you must have art lovers, why deprive them from your art!? With my deep sympathy take courage and carry on!   Overloaded with sadness and fear by Howard Cowdrick, Sarasota, FL, USA  

“Bindu #17”
mixed media
by Howard Cowdrick

I have been painting most of my adult life and have loved every minute of it. Two years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. It was referred to as an “easy” cancer. The treatment was external and internal radiation. I did great for the first 18 months after treatment. I taught classes, painted with great vigor and frequently worked up to 18 hours a day with no thought of exhaustion. I paid for my medical care but it did cost me all my retirement funds, insurance funds, and savings… but it was paid. Recently I have been going through a period of delayed radiation reaction. It has created a very uncomfortable situation where I have several trips a week to the doctor, several ER trips, pain, infections, blood, blood clots and more appointments than desired. My doctors have said I am doing fine but my numbers are not good. A famous cancer lab has tested my fluids and found no cancer. The constant medications, doctor’s office visits, ER visits, and worry have stopped me in my tracks with my artwork. In the past 9 months I have painted one work. In part I am sure that the block is due to the financial time bomb hanging over my head. While I have paid for everything to this point, the financial situation is at best thin and it is weighing on my mind. My heart and mind are frequently overloaded with sadness and fear. I love my time at the easel but find I can’t face it right now. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to separate the fear from the joy of working? “For every laugh, there should be a tear.” (Walt Disney) There are 10 comments for Overloaded with sadness and fear by Howard Cowdrick
From: Peter Eedy — Jan 20, 2011

Howard, I cannot offer any useful suggestions as you ask … however I will say that your work Bindu #17 is stunningly good – you must keep it up. Regards Peter

From: Donna Pierce-Clark — Jan 20, 2011

Your work is indeed stunning, and I agree please keep painting. The world needs to see your heart. Your heart is in your work.

From: Margot — Jan 20, 2011

Fear is stopping you from painting your accustomed calm, joyful subject matter – so change your subject matter to fear itself. Put some kind of visual ‘face’ on the fear and paint a portrait of it, could be a narrative of your relationship to it, perhaps even a spontaneous series of, I think they’re called, ‘retablos’. They do not have to be for public show, this is private process to get energy moving past the paralysis of fear.

From: Cristina Monier — Jan 21, 2011

Your painting is really excellent, I would like to see more, do you have a web page?

From: Debbie Baer — Jan 21, 2011

Howard, I am very familiar with your work and have admired it for some time. You are fearless when it comes to trying a new medium or material and the finished piece is always thought provoking. Step into your studio and allow yourself the freedom of that fearlessness once again. Be well my friend.

From: David G — Jan 21, 2011

Paint the fear. Paint the sadness. Paint the time bomb. Then paint the antidote(s). Fight back! “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. Your brushes are your weapons, take them up and fight! You’ve had the tears, so paint the laughs! Paint until the paint is gone, and do it for all the broke artists who ever did the same.

From: Christie Smith — Jan 21, 2011

Your image here stopped me cold (and hot!). I have returned to this page and your painting several times (a first for me in this group). Do you have a website? I can’t imagine that you cannot sell your work for substantial money (if your work is for sale). I will pray for your health, “wealth”, and renewed artistic adventures.

From: Sharon Cory — Jan 21, 2011

Howard, my heart goes out to you. My only suggestion is, stop being afraid of the fear and, instead, use it as a motivator, the same way you use joy. Grab hold of it, look it in the face,conquer it. Put it on canvas.

From: sarastar — Jan 23, 2011

his website is firebirdstudio dot com. I did a google search by his name plus the word art and turned it up. Beautiful!

From: Paddy Cake — Mar 13, 2011

Your work on the website is an inspiration to me as an artist. Thank you for sharing your story. I wake up every morning with fear re a family member’s situation, a situation that we are powerless to change. Focussing on breathing helps me. Also, if I look for something nice (eg. beautiful colours) in nature, I can redirect my mind to something positive. A man at the lodge in Volcano, Hawaii, noticed that I looked afraid. He told me that there are only 2 emotions: fear and love. I try to think about love. You are in my thoughts and prayers. I am sending you a big hug from Canada.

  Father’s spirit alive and well by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Clearing in Manganese Blue”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

My father died suddenly of a heart attack. He went to take a nap and didn’t awaken. It seems like yesterday. He was a heroic figure and rock solid leader for me and always encouraged my long-shot career in art. I can remember a period of numbness after his death. I recall no details of his funeral or of the few days afterword. My eating patterns were altered. In a couple weeks I developed a painful condition called a ‘spastic colon’ that bothered me for several years. I ended up in the hospital a couple months later. The loss of special people in our lives requires a reordering of our small universe. Things will never be the same. This process takes time and since art is so linked with our state of mind, the creative process is likely to be affected. Your reader, Adrianne, needs a lot more time to adjust to her new life without her grandfather being around on earth with her. I found that my father is still ‘with me’ even though he’s not around. He appears in my dreams and thoughts. In one memorable dream I had, I realized in the dream that something was unusual and asked him “Dad, aren’t you supposed to be dead?” He smiled at me and slowly vaporized. It was encouraging. I’ve come to realize that death is not terrible and that my dad is safe and happy in another dimension. I have confidence Adrianne will continue to produce art and will develop a desire to honor her grandfather’s memory by doing so. Art-making is healing and will help her in her own personal time to manage her grief. There is 1 comment for Father’s spirit alive and well by Paul deMarrais
From: Karen — Jan 21, 2011

Very powerful image of your Dad in your dreams…….I believe the dead are around us, with us. And that they want us to succeed and are there encouraging, and watching over our efforts. That, I think, is comforting……..when the loss is so hard to deal with. Best to all who are mourning.

  Life and talent must endure by Helen Tilston, Toronto, ON, Canada  

original painting
by Helen Tilston

My sister and pillar Philomena Glynn, mother of two young children, was diagnosed with a grade 4 brain tumor ten years ago. I quit my job and travelled to Galway, Ireland to be her caregiver. She died within ten months, the upside I had a year to say goodbye to her and our days included feeding the swans in Galway city, building sandcastles, attending the oyster festival, plays and dancing. I paint in oil, en plein aire usually. I purchased a watercolour set and painted several small paintings each day – usually during the evening when alone and Philomena was tucked into bed. On my return to North America I was still not taking up my oils. I created a mosaic on a side table as a tribute to my sister. The hammering of pottery and the assemblage of the mosaic, inspired by WB Yeats poem, the Lake Isle of Innisfree, allowed me to shed tears of grief and also cry in sympathy from the many cuts and bruises on my hands. I heated up the wax and painted in encaustic and the Visitation is a tribute to Philomena. Running and being in touch with nature slowly brought me back to the studio and my oil painting and plein aire painting returned. I believe my colours are brighter today and life must go on and we must continue to use our gifts. Robert, I thank you for your kindness and gentleness. There is 1 comment for Life and talent must endure by Helen Tilston
From: Sarah — Jan 21, 2011

What a kind and loving act — to quit your job to be your sister’s caregiver during a terminal illness. The work you have shared with us is absolutely gorgeous, and I hope that the bright colors reflect a lightening of your spirit, an easing of your grief.

  Painting father’s dreams by Trilby Jeeves, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

“Mel Made Me Do It!”
original painting
by Trilby Jeeves

Thank you for this most timely post. My father, the painter in the family, is very ill and is still “fighting” for his life but I sense the time is coming. I am very close to my father, and can’t bear the thought of him not being in this world. So, I finally painted. As a hobby I have always drawn, but I must admit it was incredibly freeing to paint. I did what I know my father still dreams of doing — a very large abstract. But, I can also feel the distraction of sadness and I worry that I cannot focus or function properly. You are right; he wouldn’t want me to feel that… even with him still alive.   Grief eats energy by Gillian Hanington, Ajijic, Mexico  

Gillian Hanington

I have been receiving your letters for a number of years, and they were sort of a lifeline while I was in Mexico. Eight months ago my beautiful young ceramicist husband of 30 years suddenly died, really with almost no warning. Since I couldn’t keep our country house by myself, I came home to the Northwest where our children are and where we had lived prior to the 4 years we spent being “Mexican artists.” Oh it was great, that period in Mexico. But since this shock I have been unable to paint or make glass until now. It is only in the last week that I have picked up brushes again. The glass studio will wait until spring, I think. I kept meaning to work, but I didn’t, and I eventually concluded the grief was eating all my energy. I think that was true, but I also have to say that the feeling of relief and healing from picking up a brush this last week is truly profound, and I am glad to be back where I belong… in a studio. I now think that I may recover after all. There are 2 comments for Grief eats energy by Gillian Hanington
From: Painter Woman — Jan 20, 2011

Deep emotional “work” is at least as fatiguing has day labor. TLC, rest are sometimes needed before returning (even) to creative pursuits.

From: jeannio — Jan 21, 2011

I lost my father quite suddenly twenty years ago and my mother quite suddenly ten years ago. I felt I couldn’t stop working after my father died because I felt I would be overwheelmed with grief. I stopped painting after my mother died because I was truly overcome with grief. I now cannot sit down to paint for very long but it does seem to be getting better as I get interested in the developement of the piece I am working on. I enjoyed reading the other artists letters and it made me feel so much better. Thank you all.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Art and grief

From: Richard Smith — Jan 17, 2011

A beautiful letter, thanks for writing it. R.

From: Margaret Mair — Jan 18, 2011

I expect that everyone grieves differently – in my own life, I’ve found that with each loss the process of grieving is different. Perhaps that’s a result of maturity, but I suspect it’s also because each person we grieve has held a different place in our lives. The greatest lesson I have learned is the importance of acknowledging and accepting loss, realizing that the pain and grief we feel is the other side of the joy we felt in having someone in our life. Then, over time, past joy can lighten present pain and we can honour the memory of the person we love in our thoughts, in our actions and in our work.

From: TH — Jan 18, 2011

Some years back, we knew for 6 weeks that my Dad was dying, and it was the hardest time of my life. When he died, I was in the middle of painting for a solo exhibition and had planned a larger, more complex painting as a centrepiece. After much thought, I resolved to do that painting and was filled with determination. I worked on that painting each day, knowing it was for him, knowing he’d have loved it, and also that he would have been very upset to think his passing had made me too sad to work ..which could so easily have happened. There were at least four people in the queue wanting to buy that painting at the opening, and I just knew he’d have been so proud to see that. We lose people we love, but mustn’t lose ourselves, and what those we loved have helped make us.

From: Eric — Jan 18, 2011

Maybe a component of the fear in this case is that the creative drive was in some respects a response to the ongoing encouragement and reassurance provided by a loved grandparent, and that his death has removed that reinforcement. Perhaps 14 days is too early to assess the loss. As hard as it might seem, I would try to be patient and wait for the creative impulse to overcome the grief. Forcing oneself back to work might be okay in the business world, but when the creative drive is involved there’s bound to be an emotional element. That’s something that might be better allowed to return on its own.

From: Cora — Jan 18, 2011

While I think that grief does dampen the spirits and make one question life and the value of what we do; one needs to remember and celebrate life. No matter what type of work we do. We are all descendants of our parents. grandparents and all who went before us. Every fiber of our being and gene is part of a long line of unique characteristics and gifts. To bury the dream is to forever erase that part of their legacy to you. While grief needs time to abate, there are those in the psychology field who would encourage you to take those feelings and put the dark night of the soul into a work of art. Obviously not for sale but as a way to channel those feelings. Pain is pretty intense on the creative soul. I have recently experienced it myself and it leave doubt and indecision. Might be worth a try to just do a dark night of the soul painting.

From: Lynn Bleasdale — Jan 18, 2011
From: Jackie Knott — Jan 18, 2011

Give yourself permission to grieve, however long it takes. When you’re ready to go back to work you will. Some push themselves through these times to meet a deadline and if that works, fine. Illness and death are life events and thank God we’re not robots we sail through such extraordinary emotional upheaval without breaking stride. That would be the ultimate nail on our own coffin: not to feel the passing of a loved one. I’m embarrassed to say how long it has been since I’ve painted, although I have written. We have a close family member that has gone through a ten month-long odyssey of near death several times, recovery, relapse, crisis, recovery, and the roller coaster is not over yet however it turns out. The constant travel to support that side of the family is draining. The cloud that hangs over all of us saps energy and concentration that I would normally reserve for painting. And that is totally all right. There will always be another painting, but not another of this guy. Losing a loved one is a life event, a milestone. Our life’s work is placed in perspective at such times.

From: Helen Opie — Jan 18, 2011

14 days is no time at all considering that he has always been in your life! Respect our grief and allow yourself to mourn him. Seeing your work in the clickback, I suspect that you may return to your art via a memorial piece for your grandfather. When you are ready, dip into that well of grandfather-memories, drink long (which is what you are doing now) and then, when you are refreshed sufficiently, resume your work. This will come in time.

From: Linda S. Hill — Jan 18, 2011

Dear Adrianne. I lost my sister a couple years ago. She was only 52 years old. My mother died in 1984 and she was only 57 years old. Ironically my sister and mother lived a similar lifestyle which ultimately led to their early deaths. My parents moved to an apt. when my mother was ailing and sold my childhood home to my sister and her family. My particular way of grieving for my mother and sister was by painting a portrait of my childhood home the way it was when we all lived there together as a family. It was a very healing and cleansing activity. I gave a print to each of my remaining siblings and to my sister’s husband and children. Perhaps painting a portrait of your Grandfather or something to honor him with will help in your healing and creativity. You can view the painting on my blog.

From: D. Simpson — Jan 18, 2011

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it” “Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret to life is to “die before you die” — and find that there is no death.” -Eckhart Tolle

From: M Chapman — Jan 18, 2011

We are born and we live and than we die. All part of life. Those who go before us, who we have known, influence us good and bad. We are a collage of the genes that came before us and we pass some of those on to our children. Hopefully some of what we do in life will add to the history and betterment of mankind. The process is the adventure

From: Suzette Fram — Jan 18, 2011

I think you should allow yourself time to grieve, to remember him, to remember all the wonderful times you had with him. The pain will not really go away, but it will dull, and you will learn to live your life fully in spite of it. You will even find joy again. In the meantime, I would suggest you go to your studio, spend some time there, organize your supplies, look through reference material, jot down ideas, make some sketches. Take off the pressure to produce a finished work, just be there by yourself, feel and remember while keeping your hands busy. Sooner or later, your drive to work will come back. Just being in your studio will help that happen, and just think, when you’re ready to work, your studio will be all organized and you’ll have ideas and reference material ready to go. Perhaps there might even be a special piece lurking in your mind somewhere, just for him, to honour him. Good luck.

From: Carol Nelson Fine Art — Jan 18, 2011

My father died slowly over a period of six months from cancer. Two months after his passing, my mother came from MN to CO to stay with me for a while. While she was visiting, I taught her how to do stained glass. When she returned to MN, she plunged into creating windows, lamp shades, you name it. She made stained glass windows for every window in her house. She said learning that craft was the greatest therapy for her after my dad passed. It opened up a whole new world of creativity she didn’t even know she possessed. Art heals.

From: Sydney Metrick — Jan 18, 2011

I’m an expressive arts therapist and a writer. Any art form can help in the grief process. Whether one is experiencing a health-related loss or any other or whether the loss is simple or profound, grief can be very debilitating. The arts provide ways to address feelings. I’ve seen incredible art arise from a community in response to disasters, as I’m sure many readers have. And on a personal level, art supports people of all ages in so many ways. Children, who do not have the words to deal with a death, are often well-served by the arts. When grieving, it’s not important that the art be good or even that those grieving consider themselves artists. I wrote a book and created a permanent altar to help me when I was mourning the loss of my father. The altar still stands years later, and I still find it comforting.

From: R. Duane Hendricks — Jan 18, 2011

Mr. Genn, I always look forward to the arrival of your e-mails, but I must say that today’s response re: grief is perhaps your most eloquent and wise letter, yet. In my own case, with a mother who still lives, but whose memory is steadily fading, the comments are also timely, as she was an important influence in my own work in the music and visual arts…and she will always be. Thank you.

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Jan 18, 2011

Very high quality letter this time. Grief is too often crippling. My grief is that my subject is dying, the Coral Reef. I need to see what I paint, but it’s gone from beauty to silty lumps. I don’t know what to do. I’ve lost my joy in painting. Historian I must be now, wanting to or not.

From: Shari — Jan 18, 2011

Adrianne, I sympathize on the loss of your grandfather. I had a very close relationship with my dad and missed him terribly when he died (and still miss him 15 years later!). I’d suggest that you create something as a tribute to him. I did a collage filled with favorite people (my dad included of course) and things that had special meaning in my life using photos and painting other areas. I wasn’t trying for a “work” to exhibit, but instead, a very personal outlet to express my feelings. It was very healing and looking at the collage today still gives me a warm connected feeling to all I hold dear. When we lose someone close to us, it helps to continue to celebrate their life! Thanks, Robert, for sharing your writings with all of us. I always look forward to your twice-weekly letters!

From: Madeleine Wood — Jan 18, 2011

My current lover gave this to me as a present, which I wear around my neck. It means, Art is long, life is short. He knows what matters to me. After a dear lover and artist died suddenly, 14 years ago, I found I could no longer paint his image, nor the body at all, which had been my subject for years. I took a break. Then life surprised me: I began to see the garden in my backyard and neighbourhood. Picking up a brighter palette, I painted: cosmos, roses, daisies, daffodils and tulips with levity. It was easy to make it fresh. Then I began seeing the voluptuousness in peppers, apples, bananas, zucchini, aubergine… creating new families of them. Then the magic of leaf patterns leaped out at me. Following that, the brave arbutus tree. All this time, I have used the materials and tools he left behind. It never occurred to me to stop, in fact, I felt the need to continue what my lover could no longer do. I imagine him, to this day, watching over me and laughing encouragingly. Take a break, make a change, but don’t stop. Please. It may lead to a whole new practice. painter of natural delights

From: Robin — Jan 18, 2011

This was what society sees as an acceptable answer but you said just the wrong thing. You did nothing to acknowledge that her sadness is to be expected and that she should allow herself time to grieve. It had only been only two weeks two weeks since the death of her grandfather. It would be abnormal for her to be creating the way she had been. All you did was tell her that by not creating she was doing something wrong. I love your writing but you really missed the mark this time.

From: Ginger Child — Jan 18, 2011

Thank you. My husband died in Dec, and I am looking forward to picking up my art soon. I don’t paint, but am a multi media artist, and love your letters.

From: Maureen O’Keefe West — Jan 18, 2011

Thank you for your comments on mourning a loved one – you are right, we must press on and keep painting. I lost my brother Dennis yesterday to a heart attack. I am the last of the original family. I feel quite alone now but I know I have to try to find joy in living and painting once again.

From: Cindy Mawle — Jan 18, 2011

About 10 years ago I lost a very close friend to cancer. I have always had a difficult time dealing with grief after losing my mother when I was 14 to cancer. Back then I remember that drawing was my escape and my way of dealing with thoughts and emotions. The day my friend passed away, I closed myself into my studio and painted my tribute to her. Painting the portrait of her surrounded by her beloved garden flowers with her gardening gloves on and giving an optimistic “I will be OK” thumbs up was just what I needed to deal with my loss. I cried and laughed, remembering our great times together and each brushstroke carried a memory within. I felt that she was there with me the whole time with her sense of humor, critiquing my little errors and laughing along with the memories. I gave the painting to her husband and they placed it up front of the funeral, reminding us all how vibrant and beautiful a woman she was.

From: Lyn Westfall — Jan 18, 2011

In the course of being an artist – in my case – a painter, we all either have or will have, personal experience of this painful ‘life fact’. When my mother passed away in 2001, my life seemed unbearable, as she had been my only living parent, since my father Flight Sergent Wilfred W. Lavers, RCAF was killed in WWII. However a friend suggested that I listened to Gabriel Faure’s REQUIEM, a gentle, hopeful piece of music, dealing with death. After many, many listening and tears, I decided to actual paint the music that I was hearing. Over a period of 3 years I completed a suite of paintings that I call THE REQUIEM SERIES, in memory and as a tribute to both my mother and my father. I have had the honour of having these paintings exhibited in Gallery Lambton in 2003, when the local orchestra and choir was brought into the Gallery to perform this piece of music while my paintings were being shown. These paintings continue to be the biggest tribute I could give to my parents – as their daughter, a painter. Please feel free to check out these works on my website under the heading: Requiem In addition I have also composed a DVD called LUX AETERNA (Eternal Light) which can be ordered from me personally through my email address. I hope this response will be helpful to others in this very difficult time in their lives.

From: Irene Ward — Jan 18, 2011

I lost my brother last February. I too, came to a full stop. I simply did not want to paint. I talked to friends and they advised that it was part of my grief and to go with it. It turned out to be time for me to re-evaluate, I was able to “play” with mixed media collages and acrylics for part of this time, but it didn’t come to much. So I embraced this stoppage and took time to reflect, re-evaluate, and recently, recommit to my art work. It turned out following my gut was the right thing, even though I was not actively painting. I advise to take some time to see what this event wants to tell you, see where it takes you.

From: Susan Avishai — Jan 18, 2011

Last year my mother died very suddenly and I was devastated. It took a few months before I was even able to return to the studio. But when I did, I began incorporating bits of her into my collage work: letters she sent me, recipes, pages from her daybook, all sorts of things she had written down and left in her desk. I cannot tell you how much it helped me. Since you also work in collage, you might want to see if making these tangible memories of your grandfather part of your art gives the intangible grief a place to be expressed.

From: Anne Alain — Jan 18, 2011

In reading about dealing with grief and being ‘productive’ in art I was able to relate to this terrible feeling of nothingness and loss. In 2002, following the death of my husband, I called the art instructor with whom I had been painting and told her that I felt that after only four months of this horrific loss, that I should not return to the sessions. I was very gently advised that I needed very much to continue on my journey of learning in art at this particular time, and that it would help in the healing process to remain a part of this discovery. It truly was the right advice in this particular situation. I have never regretted continuing to paint and to enter that great state of being and to ‘create’. I am still striving to be the ‘me’ that was always there.

From: Maria Weed — Jan 18, 2011

I lost my husband of 31years in 2007, he was 61years old and my whole life came to a halt. I went into a deep depression and could not focus or sleep. I had been working in sales at the time and my art was just a personal hobby. My Hospice counselor told me to try to reinvent my-self and so I enrolled in a fine art school for a summer class. At the time my medium was watercolor. The instructor I choose had my husbands name ( Robert ) and was not so much teaching the medium in which you worked but looking to help you move forward with you particular talent. I explained to him what brought me to his class and how I needed more than anything to find something to save myself and be happy again. I began painting morning, noon, and night, sometimes at 2 or 3am., when I couldn’t sleep. I am still taking this mans class as we have formed a society and do shows and so on. My medium has changed to Acrylic and I am HAPPY! My art takes me away and soothes the soul in ways that music and TV couldn’t. I feel so lucky to have this talent that is always growing and changing. It is my everyday inspiration, it allows my feelings happy or sad to go into my paintings and move someone.

From: Gena — Jan 18, 2011

Thank you for your letter, as usual, it hits home. I have been struggling to get back to painting since the death of my son, Sgt. Kelley Lance Courtney USMC, October 30, 2004. Art was about love. Art was love. Our lives revolved around art and family. I feel everything but love. So far, I haven’t given up. My husband and I have channeled energy into creating a Japanese-themed water garden and koi pond as a memorial to Kelley, complete with a tree-house, tea house and peacocks. This spring we’ll add plants and open it up for the annual water garden and pond tour. I’ve taken creative writing classes at the local college and started writing. Recently, I was invited back as artist-in-residence at a local elementary school. I miss the children but I know I don’t have the same physical energy to teach art to 500 children a week. I haven’t found the energy or inspiration to paint one single painting. The turning point was when I started a portrait of Kelley in 2005. Your advice sounds so well-founded, so reasonable. A continuum of our loved one; carrying on the legacy. People have said over the years, “Kelley would want you to continue your life, your art.” My only response has been, “Yes, but Kelley would know it is going to take Mama a long time.” I’m counting my blessings, fasting, and praying for inspiration and a breakthrough. Something.

From: Edna V.Hildebrandt — Jan 18, 2011

I know grief is very overwhelming. I lost my mother as a child of three or four giving birth to her third child who was still born and my younger brother died within six months of her death. My father was devastated and had constant headaches so he went to our nation’s capital to find work and while there second world war broke out. Imagine a little child who lost her loved ones with a brief period of time and a husband who lost his family literary in one blow of circumstance? My grandmother and my aunt who took care of me consoled me with their reassurance that my mother is with me forever in my heart and is watching over me. She is with God together with my brothers. She said when you need her just call her name and she will hear you. Although at the time as young as I did not understand but I believed them. Still I was constantly reminded of their loss with relatives and friends of my parents looking at me with sympathy or pity in their eyes so I was shy and did withdraw somewhat from new schoolmates except my neighborhood friends until I really got to know them. As I grow older and growing up as a church member I found solace and my belief that they are in heaven watching over me was strengthened. Now that I have taken up painting it is my goal to give them tribute by painting them from old photographs. What better tribute to their memory than this? I also believe in faith and it is also my belief that we celebrate their lives with the memory of their love when they were alive and time shared whether in joy and in sorrow. Don’t let grief engulf your life to paralysis. We shall join them we know when but some day. I love poetry and one poem that encourages me is “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow. The lasts stanza goes like this “Let us then, be up and doing with a heart for any fate: Still achieving still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.” So put up your easel pick up your paints and brushes and go to it.” That is my suggestion to Adrienne Moro with whom I empathize with what she is going through.

From: Rick Rotante — Jan 18, 2011

I haven’t been writing this last week or so due to the passing of my mother on Christmas day. She too was in her late nineties. My not writing isn’t so much due to grief so much as breaking my routine from normal life, to pause and pay homage to the women who gave me life, raised me along with my father and supported me through adolescence. When I returned home to California from New Jersey, where is was buried, I went right into the studio and stared work on a still life. I know this is what she would have wanted. Through her last weeks, when I went to see her, she always asked how my painting was coming. The three years I had her with me in California were filled with her asking about my work. Weekends she would visit and we would go into the studio and she would Ooo! and Ahh! and tell me which ones she liked best. Her passing wasn’t a sad event but a celebration of a women who came to America with nothing, married, had two sons and prospered. She along with my Dad made it possible for me to become an artist. Of course they would have preferred I become a lawyer or doctor, but they realized you are who you are and need to fulfill the plan laid out for you.

From: B. Brown — Jan 18, 2011

In my instance, the death of my step-dad brought out in my a new talent I never thought I had. I have a very busy life and during the time of my loss I tried to fill my time up even more with doing things to get through my pain. I discovered I could draw and got started from there. That was about 8 years ago and I’m a professional artist. BTW my step-dad was an artist and oddly enough tried to encourage me to draw when I was a youth. My first few pieces were done in dedication to him. I remember my aunt asking, “I can’t believe it. Did you know you could do this!?” Sometimes loss works in the reverse and forces us to dig down deep within. I’m a living witness of this. God allowed the death of my step-dad to bring this out. So, am I glad he died — of course not — I still miss him but I honestly believe I would have never “discovered” this gift if he had not died. Thank you for this article and for all the insightful letters you write.

From: Debbie Baer — Jan 18, 2011

On June 14, 2009 my husband and I were driving home from a shopping trip when we saw this image in the clouds. It was a perfectly shaped doorway. For some reason I noted the time as 4:51. We had a camera, but it never occurred to us to take a photo. The next afternoon, at almost the exact same time, I was standing in the emergency room while a doctor informed us that my father had passed away very unexpectedly. Lost in my grief, it would be almost two weeks before I remembered the image in the cloud and when it came back to me I was instantly consoled. Four months later my father-in-law passed away. My return to the studio would take months. My second painting to come off the easel after my return was painted from memory with my husband helping to verify details. This work had a cathartic effect that I’m grateful for to this day.

From: Genell — Jan 18, 2011

My beloved art teacher passed on Sept. 1st and I have not really painted since…just cannot seem to bring myself to go there! Thank you for writing the article…I know he would want me to continue to paint and create…it was as if you and he were talking to me through it…and I will make the effort. Thank you.

From: Linda Blondheim — Jan 18, 2011

Death is the end result of life. There is no avoiding the inevitable. We have a very short time to use our wonderful gift of art, and to pass our vision on to the future through our work. I’ve always believed that artists are given an extraordinary gift and vision, to record our world. It would be a shame to give this up for any reason. We should use our time on earth wisely.

From: Linda Heminway — Jan 18, 2011

I was always an artist and life, kids, home, work, etc. kept me from it for years. After my parent’s deaths I was drawn back to art. It was not only a means to fill up the time for me but a way to get me out of the house and to stop feeling sorry for myself. It was a “regret” to me that I had never done what I wanted with my artistic talents. Seeing my parents (and three other relatives) die in a short period of time made me do some serious thinking about how I didn’t want to leave this earth without accomplishing certain things. I enrolled in art classes at a gallery after that. I cried the first week in January as a show with 19 pieces of my work is hanging at a local hospital for this entire month. I called my sister and said, through tears, that I wanted her to be proud of me as I couldn’t call mom and dad anymore and tell them that I had a show. They would have come, taken pictures, told their friends and our relatives proudly that their daughter accomplished such a thing. The reverse of what this newsletter talks about actually happened to me. Art was my way back, my therapy. I love the gallery I go to. There are people, smiles, colors, music. I’ve been to gallery openings and have stood there and heard people say nice things about my work. I’ve given select pieces of my art to charity and to family members and my heart beats with happiness when I have a brush in my hand. I’ve actually sold 4 pieces of my work, and for that mom and dad would be so very proud as well. So, I wanted to share this with you all today. If there is a regret you have, go pursue that dream. If you feel inspired, sign up for a class in something. Fill you time with a new interest. It could give you back a little something that you are missing so dearly. I can never replace my parents, my two aunts and uncle that recently passed away. But, I can find purpose and creative outlets that work for me personally. I hope you eventually find something that gives you joy. Why not take that piano lesson you always wanted to and never made time for? Why not join a choir at church? Why not take that evening course in computers or basket weaving or whatever it is your heart tells you? You may make a few new friends (I did) and you may also find a way to spend hours that you would otherwise be spending in tears and lonely.

From: Paula Timpson — Jan 18, 2011

Spirits from heaven lead us Artists ,freely Our hands & hearts are simply guided by the movement that is pure Love Baptism strengthens our joy in the One gift -giver, lover, friend~ Amen

From: Oryhtia Johnston — Jan 18, 2011

At times people cannot find words to express their emotions, even though they know what these feelings are. Art is a way of knowing. And to help with awareness the right pathway to healing may be to go down the road of art therapy. This is the art associated with the expression of feelings and it is spontaneous, nonjudgemental and important for the process not the product. For example; Depending on the stage of grief, the counseling, and the issues that are presented, one approach might be for the counselor to ask the client to draw lines that only represent thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Another way is for the client to use the mandala as a form of healing with the associations that can arise. You might also say to these artists that art in one’s life is too valuable to abandon and give up on. Oryhtia Johnston, Art Therapist, RN DTATI

From: Angela Treat Lyon — Jan 18, 2011

When my granny died, I was 22. I was the black sheep of the family (even more than now!). Everyone got money, bonds, antiques, etc., but me. To me she left a favorite art book she’d had since the beginning of time and that I was always bugging her to give me. My husband at the time thought that it was heartless and stingy of her not to leave me anything else, but just having the book was super special to me – kept me inspired, instead of thinking of my loss. And I was told that when her desk was cleaned out, she had saved the letters and cards I’d sent to her from young kid all the way to my 20s, but nothing from other siblings or cousins. I had no idea she held me in such favor. I still have the book.

From: Marygrace Perkins — Jan 18, 2011

Thank you for your letters. Grief comes in so many forms. Mine was realizing I had lost many years of life, due to guilt, shame and fear. Having broken the silence of my abuse only a year ago, I was honored to be featured in a recent gallery show “Resolutions.” While preparing for the show, I looked hard at my life, and was inspired to create 6 metal sculptures representing several stages of my healing. I’ve never created from emotion before and these pieces are my best work to date. The work lifted my spirits and helped with the healing process at an entirely different level. Best regards.

From: Barbara Boldt — Jan 18, 2011

I am a realist painter. I paint landscapes. After my 32-year-old son died tragically and suddenly, my painting style changed overnight. I poured my pain onto my canvasses with broad, colourful strokes, totally alien to my normal way of painting! I used bold, pure colour and did not use photos or pleine aire as a guide! My live-in partner had left me shortly before that terrible day, and his images and my son’s images appeared in my paintings, nothing but pain expressed at that time!!Images from my childhood during war times also managed to appear on my canvasses, and my “Heart Series” was born. The comfort and escape my paintings brought to me at that time did not work in the same way when my daughter passed away from cancer 10 years ago. I buried myself in my own realistic subject matter, that also happened to be my artist daughter’s style and preference of work. My need to make a living with my work has seen me through so many difficult times, that the time I strayed from my normal style and subject matter, has not affected the importance of the healing my “Heart Series” has given me! Keep painting!!! No matter!!!!

From: Meg Cook Pattillo — Jan 18, 2011

I appreciate your letter in response to the artist who was grieving over the loss of a parent. And your story of your own father and his passing and his art. Thank you so much for sharing. My father died in 2008 and there is no pain greater than this except for the sickness of my young daughter. Who is now fine. Thank the Lord. My father and my daughter were very sick at the same time. It was a living hell at times. The good Lord will always pull you through. Well, it is good to connect to other artists and I certainly need to connect. I have loved oil painting, but life and worries seem to get in my way somewhat. I am a middle school art, web design and yearbook teacher, former graphic designer and illustrator for many years and ultimately I want to oil paint more. Thank you for pulling artists together. I joined twitter for this exact reason.

From: Birdie — Jan 18, 2011

I went through an emotional roller coaster when my dad became sick last spring, and eventually passed away. There were a lot of trips down to the hospital to see him in between one of the busiest exhibition schedules I’ve ever had. Because I was so busy my grief was put aside, and when it hit, it hit hard. Adding to the problem was a dysfunctional family that turned to squabbling afterward. I didn’t do any serious work for almost 6 months. What got me past the grief and ready to work again was creating a piece for no purpose other than expressing all the feelings (good and bad) I’ve had throughout the ordeal. It was a cathartic experience which has allowed me to focus on my art again. Do what feels right and don’t add guilt about not creating to your problems. When you are ready you will create again.

From: Marsha Elliott — Jan 18, 2011

My greatest growth spurt has been over the past 2 years having lost my Mom to cancer & my brother to suicide. Both events totally knocked the wind out of my sails, but only for a short time to grieve my loss. It was very difficult to get back to normal, but I felt that the best way to honor them was to pick up my brushes once again & keep doing what they loved to see me do. Marsha Elliott

From: Beth Mahy — Jan 18, 2011

In my case the grief came from getting into my first “real” gallery. Three of my “friends” joined forces and before you know it, I was “out” and they were “in.” I hate betrayal. It has taken my three years to begin again. Tomorrow I begin a sixteen piece commission for a hospital. I don’t show at the gallery any more and I no longer have those friends. I have my hands, heart and your very helpful writings.

From: Pat Z — Jan 18, 2011

Only one phrase of advise (& everything up there is good): “paint it out.” In other words, paint out your grief.

From: Haim Mizrahi — Jan 18, 2011

I appreciate your response to Adrianne. I would like to add that we should be careful not to over glamorize death. Life and death are like two parallel rivers running in the opposite directions, sometimes the waters runs over from both sides, it is the way being vibrates, it is the reason behind the fermentation of the precious liquid called Life. But we are no match for the might of higher worlds. Therefore art is a nest that requires your might on the line constantly, answer every call, no exceptions. I say: whatever makes one happy.

From: Patricia Paine — Jan 18, 2011

Sometimes we can only express our deepest feelings through art. For me, after losing my mother, brother and father in a 4 year period I have done remembrance portraits of them for myself and made copies for members of the family. Even now, I receive comfort looking at them. It took awhile before I was ready to do them but it helped me to express my deepest feelings ……I think any piece in memory of a loved one might help …Peace and comfort.

From: doris weed — Jan 18, 2011

After losing my Mother, in her 80″s, and after losing my son and husband earlier, when not being in a situation to paint at all due to the business we were in, I got back into painting after her death and as a tribute to her I did a painting of Mom entitled “One Less Egg To Fry”. Dad had proceded her in death a few months before. This was the start of a very interesting series of “women” and was a catalist to what I am doing now. Thank you Mom. She was always interested in what I was doing, although she had six other kids.

From: Leslie — Jan 18, 2011

My brother passed away last February from cancer. I flew to Wisconsin from Oregon to be with him before he died and spent an afternoon in his home. While he slept I took pictures of the interior of his home because it reflected him so well and I wanted to remember as much of him as I could. As I was taking pictures I saw the sun shine through his front window onto a blooming amaryllis. It was so lovely and I snapped a photo of it. After he died I looked through my photos and was drawn to the one of the flower. I decided to try to paint it thinking that it may help me process some of my grief. As I began to paint the sorrow was so heavy I had to stop. Later I returned to paint it and was able to push through to a place where I got lost in the painting process. In the end I felt I was able to capture the of sadness of losing him along with the sweetness and joy of having known and loved him. I found the exercise very healing.

From: Jeri Corbin — Jan 19, 2011

As an art therapist, if I were having Adrianne Moro in therapy, I would, possibly, ask her to do a collage which she might title “Grampa’s Legacy.”

From: Rev. Diane H Waller — Jan 19, 2011

Your letters constantly inspire me. This one touched me very much. As minister and an artist (I call my art my ministry), I sometimes speak at memorial services. I shall save this letter and quote you when appropriate, which is for almost everyone, not just artists. Thank you for your thoughtful response.

From: Pam Craig — Jan 19, 2011

Your letter hit a raw nerve and I realize how much I can relate to this message and I find I am interested in learning how others cope. When my father in law died it was a very terrible time and he died in a terrible way. My work took on very dark tones and strokes….lots of gold paint, thick papers and found objects. I do not know what I was trying to express with those works, but they have been hidden away because I could not deal with viewing them and the memories they evoked. I poured a lot of energy into them and I am not sure I can even find them now even if I wanted too, but I continued to paint. The following year at almost the same time, my nephew died at a very early age (21) and as it happened, also in a very terrible way, I painted one beautiful bright abstract painting to express what his life meant to me and then I stopped painting. It took a lot of talking from an online friend to get me to paint again; he seemed to understand depression and encouraged me to get passed it by working again. He challenged me to paint a self portrait, as he painted one of himself and then show the work online to our group. Painting the self portrait seemed to some how free me of the dark cloud that was swirling around me. It was not a dark image as I feared it would be, but one of hope and faith in the look and smile that I depicted as me, so I started painting again. Now here I am 5 years later and again dealing with death, my father is terminally ill. He has been on hospice for a year. We have tried to understand his decline and sometimes, we even held hope that the prognosis was incorrect, but we know that time is fleeting. As my time is spent in finding ways to make him more comfortable, I noticed that I don’t seem to have the will to paint or work on anything except very small works that mainly hold a sense of nothingness. I find myself preoccupied with aging, death and dying and spend a lot of time worrying that it will cross over into my work, so…mainly there is no work. I also find I am wondering more and more about what will happen when my father finally succumbs to his own passing. I fear that his death will take my motivation to create with him and that will be the end of my painting. I need to talk about this and find a way out of the swirls again but more than anything else, I guess I just need to wait and see and not to project so much doom and gloom……..maybe in the end I will take off this blanket of nothingness and hopefully find that I will be able to feel once again.

From: Barrett Edwards — Jan 19, 2011

You’ve done it again, Robert. Your words move me, inspire me, heal me as an artist and urge me forward. In your most recent letter, Art and Grief, I felt each word in your Esoterica as though it were a physical touch. My precious grandmother, who died at age 103, painted into her late 90s. Her works made my heart sing, for she painted from her soul. She inspires me still, as does her daughter, my mother, now 87 and painting daily. The day your father put down his brush, the mantle indeed passed. It is settling on my shoulders soon, too. How I wish my grandmother had put her brush aside sooner. At age 94, she began “fixing” her glorious paintings, scraping the oil down, redrawing with pastel, making notes on the canvas. We mourn the loss of those sensitive and beautiful works as we mourn her, for of course, she never finished them. But she did leave something more precious: her insights and passion for painting.

From: Gail Allen — Jan 19, 2011

Let It Flow, Let It Blossom and Grow Stress in life may be the biggest contributor to an artists work diminishing. Speaking for myself, losing my Dad was the flare that ignited my passion to really create with all my heart and real meaning. It was the first of four devastating occurrences in my life over a ten year period, but I turned inward, to find out where these feelings would lead my work. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” I tried neutralizing my feelings of discomfort in the free time I had while raising a family – with yoga and meditation, gardening, tending to my dog with long walks with nature, reading, writing journals and listening to music with my favorite cup of tea. Some days I just sat at my easel and sketched. Everyday, I kept a sketchbook and willed myself to do a page of thumbnails and write out detailed thoughts on the images I was creating. I used colored watercolor pencils and Caran D’Arche Neocolor Crayons to work with, so there was little to carry around, (I felt like I was playing). I now have a lifetime of ideas…too many in fact! There is something magical that happens when you feed your soul and let all else fall away. For me, that is my painting and the peace I give myself.

From: Kathy — Jan 19, 2011

Thank you for a much needed support. After a lifetime in laboratory science, I finally had the courage to quit and state to myself and the world that I am really an Artist. But this was only after the encouragement and appreciation shown me by my youngest son, one of my closest friends. Then 2 days before his 18th birthday, he was killed while on the first trip of his life away from family, on an educational tour on Maui, just 2 months before his high school graduation. Not only did the earth suddenly open up beneath my feet, and destroy all my preconceptions of what was appropriate to expect in life, but I developed a creeping, aching doubt that my decision was the most foolish thing I’d ever done! That was 14 years ago and to my surprise, I’m still here and continue to move forward, but I still rotate between the sweet satisfaction of occasional accomplishments and acknowledgment, and the feeling of wasting my time on what most of the world (including my family and former husband) consider to be superficial at best, or worse: a sign that one really can’t think of anything more productive to do with a life. Last year I lost my father, who was born an artist, but never admitted nor appreciated his gift the way I did. He was self-taught and produced fewer than 2 dozen breathtaking oils, that now are my treasured inspiration and form the bond I always wanted with him, but one he was afraid to build. (only sons are supposed to have things in common with a father…daughters should be just like their mothers.) Now I am retired, and consider myself to be a self-employed professional artist who is unbelievably blessed to have found wonderful new like-minded friends, who gladly struggle as I do with the most challenging job there is: the often painful, but always beautiful process of figuring out why we are here at all and what to do about it. In other words, we make art and share it with others. My son is constantly with me, around me and in me, and has become my “cheer leader”, just as I was his as he was growing up. Your words reaffirmed all of this for me, lightened my load and lifted my heart during what has been a very long, dark winter of slow sales and a still skeptical economy. Thank you for being willing to share yourself with the world in this way – you may not realize just how much you give us.

From: Lorraine Khachatourians — Jan 19, 2011

This post hit home. About a year ago my uncle died. He was a long time BC painter, and we always had great talks about art and painting when we visited. Some 40 years after I first met him and he married my aunt, I took up painting and he was a great cheerleader for me. After he passed away, I kept painting for a few months as I had a couple of shows to prepare for. Once they were done, I totally stopped painting. I even put everything away for about 5 months. It wasn’t until the fall that I realized I was still grieving his loss. Only then could I get out my paints and begin the process of painting again. I knew he wouldn’t have wanted me to stop. Your regular letters kept me in touch with painting; I did some reading, and lots of thinking. I was ready to begin again.

From: Kathleen Scott — Jan 20, 2011

My 18 year old son was hit and killed by a truck 4.5 years ago. It happened a month before I was to re-marry. I did go through with the wedding, but it was truly an unreal time in my life. Not only did my personal art freeze but I was not able to continue with my job working for a potter where I line painted in wax to create images on Raku pottery. For me, I think I could not create because my worldview had been altered and needed rewriting. I made several attempts to paint during the next 6 months. I couldn’t. I might as well have tried taking up hand gliding with no training. Then a friend of mine gave me an art therapy exercise to play with. You take any sized canvas and choose any 3 to 5 acrylic colours. Squirt a good dab of each colour on a palette. Take a 1/2 to 1 inch brush and start putting colour on the canvas. If you start to ‘see’ anything, turn the canvas and keep going until it is completely covered, switching colours at random. Then step away for 10 to 15 minutes. Come back and have a look, turn it to all four sides, look to see what images might be in there. Go back with your colours and bring out any images you find. This part was harder for me. I work in oils and enjoy working wet on wet. I getting the feel for abstract painting, a style that had always made my inner creator squirm. I did this regularly for another year and then one day I did one that was a truly deliberate picture and a totally different style then any I had made before. My friend who gave me this exercise says it is the best painting I have ever done. I made her the proud owner of that one. After that I started a series of whimsical fish on many of the ‘therapy’ canvases in oils. I also applied to do a local 30 painting show in the original series. I was working on petroglyphs with about 16 completed pieces and had another year to complete the show. It was my first solo show and it was well received. I was able to come full circle and with greater ability than before.

From: Margo Goodman — Jan 20, 2011

I also recently lost my mother. Even though it has been 8 months the hole is still deep. For a long while I did not want to do anything artsy. Then I started scrapbooking pictures of my Mom. It opened me up to my art again as doing my art gives a sense of ‘being’ and grounds me to what I am. Although I do not paint everyday, I fit it in when I can. You know the saying “Work is the crabgrass in the lawn of life”. Work also takes time from art. It helps me so much to keep busy. Do not force the art, it will come as it is a part of you. Talk to your lost loved one and cry often. It helps. I am currently tackling a 3 foot square canvas and am loving it!

From: Paula Estey — Jan 20, 2011

I have been working with images of grief in my art for years — through several different styles and subjects. In the last two years my parents have both become ill and passed away. It has been the most grueling time of my life — however, I am beginning to see two things about this kind of intense, emotion and process. One, time passes and feelings get less intense — especially though the help of connecting with others, whether through art, conversation, groups, etc. Two, making art through the process has, for me, been a life saver AND a transformational experience.

From: Gilda Pontbriand — Jan 20, 2011

My beloved Father passed away five years ago. For about four months the only thing I could do was cry for hours in front of my easel. My Dad was my best friend, my confident, my dance partner, my everything; so when he passed on, it seemed to me like my creativity and a part of my soul had died together with him. Since I did not feel like painting, drawing or doing anything, I decided to create a collage with all the things he liked, from his vintage car and his cat to a good bottle of champagne, all the quotes he used as well as his jokes, the pictures of his favourite places, his favourite people, his favourite colors, etc., etc. I decided to celebrate his wonderful and rich life rather than mourning his death for ever. I enjoyed every minute of it and I ended up with a magnificent piece of art that stands in my studio and gives me pleasure every time I decide to go in to paint. He is there with me in spirit and the collage reminds me of all those wonderful things and people that made his life a marvelous experience and that he shared lovingly with me.

From: H. P. Gold — Jan 20, 2011

Fantastic site

From: Karen Gillis Taylor — Jan 20, 2011

I am in awe and respect of the wonderful testimonies of artists here who have learned to cope with life’s ultimate grieving processes. I have had my moments in my early twenties with a divorce and 2 years ago with my mom’s passing, not to mention other trials along the way. I’m so glad I learned early on that we can cope with our life’s tragedies by doing our art, no matter how simple, complex or even “down and dirty,” with whatever the spirit moves you. Just find an artistic expression for that one day, and do it. And relax. Then do it again the next day, a little different or more involved. Add to that the day following. One day at a time, and you will feel better, because you are realizing that God made you to be a creative individual and you feel best when you are doing what you are meant to do. It will help you get on through the hard times. It helped me, and still helps today.

From: Judy Silver — Jan 21, 2011

When you suffer an unbearable loss, don’t fight the grief. Let yourself feel it with all it’s intense power. It hurts, it is painful, it is debilitating. A cliche though it may be, time does help heal. Put one foot in front of the other as best you can. The pain will slowly become more bearable. Memories will shift from being painful to becoming joyful. Art and life will be possible once again.

From: Lynette — Jan 21, 2011

I lost my 13 year old grandson on November 1, 2010 in an accident. He was a beautiful and gregarious boy, well loved by his whole family and his classmates. Shortly before he died, I was asked to paint a picture for a charity that supports children with terminal diseases (a pay it forward started by a family who lost their 10 year old). I had just started the painting when the accident happened. Strangely enough, I have been able to finish the painting and I did learn that painting does help to ease the pain. He was an only child and I wish his mother and father were interested in painting and that it could help ease their pain. Thank you, Robert, for bringing up this subject. I think all of us will experience some of this pain at sometime (hopefully not in this manner) and it was such good timing for me to read it.

From: Nan Katzenberger — Jan 21, 2011

My friend sent me this site today, she thought it would help me. My husband died 5 years ago from a terrible end stage Pancreatic Cancer. It was just devastating and I felt as if 1/2 of me was gone and I did not know how to go on. I had worked for Hospice for 10 years prior to his passing but had been an artist all my life. After he died I used my art as part of the grieving process, I had a journal that had a page to write on and a page to do art. I just couldn’t bring myself to go in the studio but rather I sat with a stack of magazines and a glue stick and created little collages when I was done the words would flow and I could release some of the anxiety and grief. This helped me so much but then a couple of years later I lost my youngest brother and two months later my father. I still do not paint. I just find excuses to do anything but pick up a brush. I want to do it… I just don’t. Any suggestions? I will try to send a few of my collages but I am not sure I can do it with my scanner. I have always been able to let go of my feelings through my art but this time I need a giant push to get started again. I have actually taught in grief workshops how to let go and use art as therapy.

From: Dorothy Adams — Jan 21, 2011

Robert, in your poignant, gentle response to Adrianne Moro’s heart-rending grief I could picture your hands holding hers, consoling her. Your beautifully chosen words is a marvelous paradigm to guide many others who have experienced a similar loss. I commend you.

From: Corinne Soles — Jan 21, 2011

I appreciated your wise remarks about the continuum of artists. Recently I have taken on two projects. The first is to reproduce a painting that my great grandmother did in 1911. I have only a photocopy to work from. As I draw however, I feel the strong connection that exists between this woman that I never met and myself. I am moving my hand and eye with the same intent. It feels magical. My hope is that my handwriting on her design will be pleasing to the rest of our family. The second is to make a painting a year from large format photos that I found in a scrapbook of my fathers. He was a hobby photographer but was proud enough of a few pictures to enlarge them. I will use each to create a painting per year as a remembrance of him.

From: Dimitra Dwelley — Jan 21, 2011

When my mother had both a heart attack and a stroke, she was finally sent home on Hospice, where I was able to take care of her until her death. During this time I began painting – half to capture “her” and the poignant scenes of a dying life, and half to pour out my grief. When she died, the thing that gave me the most comfort was when people said a kind word about her, when they remembered good things about her. In time, the grief lessened and I went on to paint other things. So perhaps a series of paintings in tribute to your grandfather may be a way for you to start painting again and to invoke that “kind word” from people – only you can represent that great life to the world.

From: Kitty Clark — Jan 21, 2011

My husband passed away two years ago this January. He was a wonderful woodworker and had lots of the tools associated with this skill. To honor him, I painted a series things from his workbench in both oil and pastel. There was a degree of sadness, the missing of him, and there was even greater joy in the remembering, his attention to detail, his creativity and his humor. I can hear him saying “now, be sure to put all that back in its proper place.” And I did.

From: Mary E. Palmeri — Jan 21, 2011

Just had to reply after reading about your parents; mine died in the 1980’s, in their late 70’s (much too soon for me) – the striking thing is that my dad also died three months after my mother… same as yours. I was in Europe at the time and didn’t receive the info about my mom until it was all over; when my dad passed three months later I was able to return to be with family for some of my grieving. I did return to creating art very quickly because it was an important connection to my dad.

From: Tina Poucher — Jan 21, 2011

The first time I laid eyes on a Guiseppe Pino took my breath away. I was in a Santa Fe, NM gallery during the afternoon, and I literally stopped dead in my tracks when I saw it. His subject was a reclining woman, …a red shawl draping her body, and he named it “Restful”. From that day on, I absorbed his work. Two years ago, I splurged and ordered one of his books and it is truly inspiring. After his death, I felt I had lost a dear friend…even though I had never met him. It was hard to explain, but somehow I felt an intimacy with Mr. Pino that I had never felt for another artist….perhaps some of you will understand? My husband asked me why I haven’t touched my paints in so long. I told him that I’m tired of painting palm trees for the public…I want to paint like Pino. So that is my plan…to study his work and not copy him…but try and be influenced by him. It’s evident that he loved painting women…and I do too. I hope he’s allowed to peer into my studio now and then and guide my brush.

From: Brian, Upstate NY — Jan 23, 2011

@Tina Poucher Don’t paint palm trees if they don’t speak to you! Why waste your creative energy on tasks that aren’t firing you up when you think about them. You want to paint like Pino? What better than to start with life drawing and painting nudes! Study the Pre-Raphaelites, paint plein air like the Macchiaioli and above all, paint for yourself, paint what you want, what fires you up and worry not about what anyone else might say, you have nothing to prove to them only yourself.

From: Liz Reday — Jan 23, 2011

Nan Katzenberger- Since the collages worked for you before, why not start cutting things out of magazines again and maybe glue found objects and just start with a little paint here and there? I just saw some great collages of Romare Beardon close up and was surprised how much painting he did behind and on top of his collages. Some were just paintings cut up as well. Not all art needs to come from the brush, if that is what is holding you back. Glue, ink, pastels, pencils – anything and everything will work, especially if you start small and just play around for fun. I’ve been cutting up old paintings! My heart goes out to you in your grief and I hope that you will be able to return to creativity ASAP.

From: Moyra Ashford — Jan 25, 2011

Dear Adrianne, your collages are marvellous and full of life. Your bereavement is still so new, I think you must not expect anything of yourself yet, when you do get back to work you will have become a broader person and, whatever you do, it will contain what you have been through. I wonder if, in the meantime, there is any way you can make some art especially for your grandfather. When my mother died, I spent two days in the funeral parlour painting bright African textile patterns (which she loved) around her coffin, it helped me and made her funeral more personal.

From: Carol Berning — Feb 04, 2011
From: jon tobin — Mar 27, 2011

My health dog Zoe died in the spring 2010 ,She was a constaant companion in my apartment studio.Always close to my easel and work area .I miss her so much and my work is often interupted with thoughts of her and her spiritual connection to me .

    Featured Workshop: Heli-painting with Robert Genn in the Bugaboos
011811_robert-genn5 Laurel McBrine (left) and Black Forest Ridge (right) Heli-painting with Robert Genn in the Bugaboos   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

The Fire Next Time

collage and oil stick by Susan Avishai, Toronto, ON, Canada

  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, 2013. That includes Sandy Triolo of Silver Spring, MD, USA, who wrote, “Grief is a funny thing; it takes many forms. I have experienced each of my losses differently. It can be tiring and cause work stoppages. But, loss can also inspire. While I find it impossible to adequately, in one gesture or artwork, sum up any life that has touched mine. I believe that the circle of life, painful as it is, is what I’m working with. It is the essence of art, exposed through emotion, content and feeling in color, composition, line and texture.” And also Sue Martin of Melbourne, Australia, who wrote, “When my husband died five years ago I was directed to a book by Joan Didion called The Year of Magical Thinking. It helped me through my grief and I would recommend it highly. Everyone has to grieve at their own pace.”    

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