The art of innovation


Dear Artist,

When the stock market, home values and car sales tank, innovation soars. “Innovation,” says W. Chan Kim of the World Economic Forum, “goes up when the economy goes down.” Not just for now, but always.

In 1969 when the economy dropped 1.9 percent, the number of patents granted jumped 14 percent. Previous recessions have spawned Hybrid technology, the Internet, the Blackberry, the iPod, and fresh light on DNA. Recessions bring new materials, new products, new ideals and new ways of working.

“Necessity,” says a Latin proverb, “is the mother of invention.” As well as inventing and reinventing new ways of marketing and distribution, artists need, more than anything, to be sensitized to their own actions in the general vicinity of the easel — tools, paints, supports, ideas. Filling needs is part of the game, but it also means picking up a permit for creative play. A little stress lights the bulb. Here are a few ideas:

Be surprised by happenstance combinations.

Be prepared to overhaul your attitudes.

Be steady, be thorough, be nimble.

Be fresh, be rested, pace yourself.

Be aware that good stuff also comes when you’re tired.

Be open to collaborations and partnerships.

Be an eager student of your own processes.

Become a specialist and demand new quality.

Fall in love with your muse and serve her.

Remember, the best second opinion comes from you.

And by all means spread the “What could be?” religion, and start by converting yourself.

Be on the lookout for subtle nuances or the effects of minor touches. Further, be aware of the passage of time. Time is the stealthy ghost that hides the wisps of change. While epiphanies are worth watching for, slow and steady works as well. In the words of photographer Walter Hawn, “I’m an experimental innovator. I’m a tortoise with no hair.”

Things are going to get better. The innovators among us will not only notice it first, they’ll lead.

Best regards,


PS: “He who will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator.” (Sir Francis Bacon)

Esoterica: An essential of innovation is the tendency to err. Cherish your ability to make errors. A skill above all others is the appreciation and adoption of certain errors and the condemnation of others. This talent, whether intuitive or learned, is the key to rugged individualism, human uniqueness, personal style and creative progress. “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes,” says Steve Jobs, “It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”


Becoming stronger and more capable
by Dorenda Watson, Columbus, OH, USA


“Red-winged blackbird egg”
original painting
by Dorenda Watson

The making of art is a never-ending process of adjustments. Due to the economy, I have decided to scale down the size of my work to accommodate the budget of buyers and allow myself to re-invent my mind-set and abilities as an artist. It has become challenging to shift to the smaller format (and a change in subject matter,) and yet, this “challenge” has afforded me the opportunity to grow! I paint the same number of hours… I charge the same price per square inch of canvas and I am getting twice as many paintings done! This, in turn, allows for a bigger body of work to be shown to prospective galleries and more pieces to choose from for exhibition… a win-win situation if you ask me! Now is the time for new thought, ways, and resourcefulness. You will become a stronger more capable artist through arduous circumstances… struggle is growth.

There are 2 comments for Becoming stronger and more capable by Dorenda Watson

From: Kenneth Flitton — Apr 09, 2009

It’s funny, but I came to exactly the same conclusions as you this past winter. Thanks for confirming my thoughts so clearly.

From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Apr 10, 2009

Thanks Kenneth! Here’s to you accepting the challenge and continued success with your art!


Exciting tension
by Adam Cope, Lanquais, Dordogne, France


“The Last of the Stragglers”
watercolour painting
by Adam Cope

What a breath of fresh air to hear this! — after years of advice plugging continuity of style, continuity of supply to gallerists, etc. Innovation is, in fact, incredibly difficult. Whilst something might be new to an individual painter’s practice, it’s probably already been done a million times over by others. However, any in-depth study shows that innovations are, in fact, the product of group endeavour, with many hundreds of painters trying things out.

Each with their own take, their own slant. Cubism didn’t just belong to Picasso but to all Paris. The reason why there’s a never-ending change of styles in painting is that innovation is as important as tradition. The individual painter finds his/herself in exciting tension between the two poles of innovation and consistency.


Innovation at school
by Marty Gibson, Scottsdale, AZ, USA


original painting
by Marty Gibson

My parents scraped together enough money to give me a BFA in painting and design. It was difficult because they had little money for art supplies. That sent me scrounging everywhere for something with which to make art. They also cautioned me that every semester might be my last. It was the greatest gift they could have given me. I was frantic to learn as much as I could. It forced me to reuse mat board and canvas and experiment with unlikely tools. I always got good grades due to my creativity. Innovation was necessary during what was one of the best times of my life.

There are 2 comments for Innovation at school by Marty Gibson

From: Linda Mallery — Apr 09, 2009

I love this painting. I have no idea what it is, it just IS. Wonderful.

From: Patsy Tyler — Apr 10, 2009

Me too, Linda! I also haven’t a clue what it is; it’s just beautiful to look at. It jumped off the screen and hit me between the eyes. Your parents’ belief in you is justified, Marty.


Size down, quality up
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada


“The musician set II”
acrylic painting
by John Ferrie

As an artist who is about to open a new collection in less than ten days, I am looking at the new work in my studio and wondering if I have enough time to start over. I have spent the last several months watching the economy spiral down to an all time low. I have worried about my rent and phone bill and all the while hearing everyone is going through the same troubles. In this new collection of paintings I have scaled the size down and dialed up the quality of my painting in order to bring people to see this new voice. I have been locked away in my studio for last quarter, painting, drawing and pondering. Pondering if this work will read, will people respond to it or will people finally discover I am a no talent hack. Or maybe they will just come and buy something.

There are 4 comments for Size down, quality up by John Ferrie

From: Anonymous — Apr 10, 2009


why the crisis of faith. I have seen your art progress and grow. You have a signature style that is your alone. Is it not your work that was made into a jersy for Robin Williams? Was it not your work that became flags that hung on poles in the Capital of Canada.

There is a lot of fear right now in the market place and rightly so. But it is no time to go ostrich and hide. Now is the time to work harder and smarter and stay the course.

My friend you have talent, You have style. You are John Ferrie! Good luck with your show now go break a leg!

From: Liz Reday — Apr 10, 2009

John- I love your new work! It is a wonderful new leap and I can see you growing as an artist. Fear not, this art is GOOD.

From: Deb Strong Napple — Apr 11, 2009

Last weekend I heard Patrick Dougherty speak about his beautiful twig sculptures. One thing that he said really rings true…”Anxiety rides on the shoulders of every artist.” So you are in good company, John.

From: Murray Clarke — Apr 13, 2009

John Ferrie, I love the facial expressions. Look at these people, they are playing music yet totally immersed in it. They have that vacant look on their faces of some one in a different place, as a person totally absorbed oblivious to the audience. Where + When for the gallery show? Wonderful.


A studio full of inventions
by Terry Mason, Sarasota, FL, USA


“Quiet moment”
original painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Terry Mason

I fully believe that inventions go up when we need to be creative instead of looking for a thing to buy that maybe only half solves the problem anyway. Last week I created better… longer, really… hooks from wire hangers to hold my turps from my Open Box M. I find the longer… about 6 inch… hook gives me more room and less bumping into the turps can. I also built a long L shaped tool that I shamelessly copied from Don Demers. The short part of the L rests on the canvas and the long part allows me to draw a perfect straight line. Voila! I also copied Don’s drawing tool that lets me take two pieces of L shaped card board marked in 1/4 inches. I then mark my canvas in inches. I get a sort of grid then and my drawings and massings are better from the start. I spend less time correcting drawing mistakes and get to painting much quicker and easier.

Ah, but I am still looking for the best dirty brush holder! So far, my friend Carol Jenkins seems to have the best idea. She took an old glass wax can that is rectangular, about 8 inches deep and about 5 x 1 inches. She cut two holes in it and fashioned a hook for her easel. The longer rectangular holding area means fewer brushes getting other brushes dirtier. It works pretty well in the field but I am still searching for the best dirty brush holder. Any ideas? About half of my inventions to make painting outside easier show off my “tendency to err.” But some do the job just fine. I am always inspired whenever I or someone else makes painting easier… and any inspiration from any source inspires my painting too. Bring it on.

There is 1 comment for A studio full of inventions by Terry Mason

From: Beaman Cole — May 15, 2009


Of things tanking
by Tai Ward-Holmes, Queenstown, New Zealand


“Strawberry moon”
by Tai Ward-Holmes

Thanks for your “The art of innovation” letter. At the moment it reads as if the sentence does not match; ‘tank’?….can it be a spelling error? “When the stock market, home values and car sales tank, innovation …could it be SANK!” Oh dear, maybe it’s a question of another time another place. Maybe in 5 years? Let’s hope we do “tank” up the situation!

(RG note) Hi Tai. This one was not a misspelled word or other form of typo. Up here in Canada we say “The stock market tanked,” which means it really sank (went down) very badly. Further, whereas you are inclined to say “The petrol is in the tank,” we say “Gas tanked,” which means the price of gas went down. Furthermore, gas as we know it has nothing to do with natural gas, LNG, coal gas or the kind of gas we get up here when he have too many hamburgers. Does this make things a bit clearer? Tank yew.

There are 2 comments for Of things tanking by Tai Ward-Holmes

From: Patsy — Apr 10, 2009

Maybe it’s a hemisphere thing, Tai; we use English differently. “Tank” had me puzzled for a while too, and I originate from the southern hemisphere. But then I thought, he’s from North America, where they like to verbalise nouns – no offence, Rob!

From: Jennifer — Apr 11, 2009

I totally knew what was meant by “tank.” But I’m from the U.S. Tank, tanked, tanking. something can be “in the tanker” which would mean the same thing as something being in the toilet. Not a good thing.


About making errors
by Nancy Bea Miller, Philadelphia, PA, USA


original painting
by Nancy Bea Miller

A skill above all others is the appreciation and adoption of certain errors and the condemnation of others. I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean by this.

(RG note) Sorry, Nancy Bea, and others who found the sentence puzzling. Sometimes I’m like an Airedale on the beach where her rear legs get ahead of her front ones. We all make errors. It’s part of the human predicament. To make progress we need not repeat some errors, and be wise enough to repeat selected others. Properly selected errors can be the keys to style and individualism. In the sentence you quoted, my general sense of clarity tanked.


Why paint?
by Rosemarie Beresford, Toronto, ON, Canada


watercolour painting
by Rosemarie Beresford

I read your letter with particular interest, your reception of comments pro and con, in a vain effort to get to the nub of the matter: Is there a criteria of allowable reasons to begin to paint? Should one begin with a question, be it a moral/political issue that may be nagging at an individual artist, or formal, to resolve — a retinal impulse, an attempt to recover a sensory experience? And when one finds a compatible motif, or theme, this can become a spur to production, but then it runs its course. I do most of my work on site, ‘plein air’, but these long Northern winters kills my output. When it is nature that prevents me, setting up a still life is possible, but not compelling. Painting from memory or the residual and fragmentary is not enough, I haven’t enough to go on — that it is not true somehow to the initial experience and that I haven’t the material present to me to make a statement about it. If the foregoing has given anyone an idea of my perplexity and you wish to comment on it, I shall be looking for your thoughts.

There are 2 comments for Why paint? by Rosemarie Beresford

From: Russ Hogger — Apr 10, 2009

Great little watercolor. Have you tried using a digital camera? They make a very handy sketching tool. I know what you mean about the winters, I live in Alberta.

From: Michael Jorden — Apr 10, 2009

Rosemarie, the three references sources we have for our art are life, photography and imagination. Over-reliance on any of these can be problematical but photographic reference – especially if you have also spent time with the subject – can get you through the winter months. I also got a couple of good snow scenes this winter in British Columbia. Good luck.


Collaborative effort
by Colleen Obrien, Calgary, AB, Canada


original painting
by Colleen Obrien

“Be open to collaborations and partnerships” stood out for me. Last Thursday in my Gallery I invited all visitors to add their marks to a large canvas, 24 x 36 inches. I had the under-painting complete. I primed with burnt orange but when they were finished there was very little showing through. Dozens of people of all ages participated, some shy, some eager. The First Thursday of the month is a party in Art Central, the three story building in Downtown Calgary where I have the Colleen O’Brien Gallery.

There are 4 comments for Collaborative effort by Colleen Obrien

From: Anonymous — Apr 09, 2009

Colleen….great painting……..wished I had been there to add a brushtroke or two!!!!! Hope to be in the downcore soon…we’re usually downtown for dim sum brunch Saturdays or Sundays but don’t think about going to Art Central. Are the galleries open on the weekend????? Lemmeno and we (my husband and I) will pop over next time downtown!!!

From: Anonymous — Apr 10, 2009

Hi, yes Art Central will be open this Saturday April 11th, and I look forward to greeting you and your husband! Anyone who mentions Robert Genn will get a free greeting card on that day!

From: Georgia Hunter — Apr 10, 2009

What a wonderful project in Colleen’s gallery. The painting looks wonderful. I would like to have been there to add a splash of colour.

From: Ed O’Brien — Apr 12, 2009

Seeing the creativity inspired by opportunity to participate reminds me of why I am so proud of my little sister Colleen.


Innovative charity angle
by Susan Gifford Knopp, Shingle Springs, CA, USA


“Frida Kahlo”
by Susan Gifford Knopp

I haven’t made a sale in months. I mostly make cloisonné jewelry but some mosaic and sculpture too. I have won many awards and am featured in 5 hardcover art and jewelry books most of my work is over $300. So every year I make a donation to support three children in Uganda thru school, the charity is water and stone. And I thought, as I looked at my very crowded studio with art furniture — glass beads I made, etc, that didn’t sell — why don’t I ask a friend to hold a party and have some friends over and donate the entire sale to charity. They write the check to the charity I send it in, they get sent a receipt and a gift of lovely art. WIN — Win !!!! And I know my art is making a difference somewhere in the world. Of course the prices will be low and my masterpieces stay in the vault for better selling days. With so much need in the world would this concept work for anyone else? I won’t take my rejects but only good items that just haven’t sold or were a trip into another media. I am hoping we make at least $500. It is on a Friday night 6 pm only for a few hours we will serve cookies and coffee. I will let people know how it goes if you publish it. Artist can make a difference — please pray or meditate good thoughts for this sale. So many children are suffering daily.

There are 3 comments for Innovative charity angle by Susan Gifford Knopp

From: Bill Hibberd — Apr 10, 2009

Susan, Great response to a universal dilemma. I believe art can be used to bless people directly – through a beautiful or challenging image or, indirectly – using the proceeds to help others. You have a good heart, God bless you.

From: Virginia Wieringa — Apr 10, 2009

Let us know how it goes, Susan. At our church are having a silent art auction in May to build a new school building for Kabala Christian School in Sierra Leone. We have minimum bids set, but there’s something about this that makes me queasy. Does it devalue the work? or your future work? “You paid what? I only paid ‘x’ for her work. That must be what it’s worth.”

From: susan knopp — Nov 29, 2011

we made over 2,000. ! enough for 2 cisterns and an outhouse. I had the customers make the check direct to the charity, Water and Stone


Prescription for thriving art
by Richard F Barber, Watford, Hertfordshire, UK


“You Stole My Heart”
acrylic painting
by Richard F Barber

Music has kept ahead of the game by embracing its audiences at both ends the spectrum from opera to rap. Books are also very much in vogue, whereby bookshops are very busy compared to galleries. Whereupon galleries lay empty, silent morgue-like places where no one dare tread. Art has failed by trying to captivate the audience with what it thinks is sophisticated and misses the mark by miles. Music hits all bases. That’s how it wins over its audiences the same as sport. This I feel is down to bad judgment on the part of our galleries’ curators concerning what the public wants, by catering for the minority instead of the masses.

People need to be able to understand what they are seeing or buying, they are not all fools. So they need to be able to relate to it, not to be brow-beaten by something that they find intimidating or question their IQ when it does not bear any resemblance to what they are familiar with. So the artist with a more obscure art form becomes more threatening to the novice. As much as artists need the freedom to paint what they feel, they must not forget or lose sight of the fact that the buyers will only buy what they like. This also applies to the galleries — the people will only go to see what they like, so it’s a case of appealing to the masses not the minority. Then and only then will art thrive.




Seeing Blue I

original painting
by Elsha Leventis, 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 Vicki Cowan of Toronto, ON, Canada, who wrote, “Samuel Beckett, the playwright said: ‘No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ I recite it loudly to all my students in printmaking and painting. It’s posted on the wall of the studio too.”

And also George Mark of Birmingham, UK, who wrote, “To innovate is to live, to accept the status quo is to die.”

And also B. J. Adams of Washington, DC, USA, who wrote, “You give constructive ways to look beyond any business’s current policies and ideas and suggest heading along a parallel or even tangent road.”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The art of innovation



From: Finola Prescott — Apr 07, 2009

I always try to keep in mind the ‘wrongness of rightness’ – if we can accept that we may not actually be right after all, a world of exciting new possibilities and opportunities opens up. It’s not that we aren’t ever right of course, but we too easily get caught up in the need to be, it’s then that we lose out.

From: B Bergen Dennis — Apr 07, 2009

A few years ago I had a thriving, robust Siberian Iris in my garden, but year after year was never rewarded with any blooms . When asking our local nurseryman about the problem, he said the plant should be beaten with a rake or pole – it needed to be stressed and then it would bloom. I followed his advice and the result was a reward of many beautiful blue irises. I won’t bemoan the current economic slump, especially for artists, but will thank God for the stress and reap more creative, beautiful paintings as a result.

From: Dwight Williams — Apr 08, 2009
From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Apr 09, 2009

I was also thinking of making smaller paintings available due to the economy, but an interesting thing happened with my spring show. Most of the large paintings sold and none of the small ones. I guess the collectors have a different way of thinking.

From: Rick Rotante — Apr 09, 2009

I hope this doesn’t sound smug, but for the first time I feel I am ahead of the curve. When I started out I used to buy ready made canvas and canvas boards a great deal. For any new artist this is cost effective especially since much of what you created was going to turn out lousy and be thrown away, chalked up as experimental and a learning process.

After some time and many years, I realized that the manufactured canvases weren’t holding up to time. They showed signs of rot and deterioration. The canvas boards were doing okay but were not very professional for me.

So I started buying primed canvas in rolls, purchased the stretchers in more exacting sizes I was working in and prepared my own canvases. I gessoed them twice anyway, over the edges, to give the support I wanted, then toned them to match my pallet or give an undertone to the piece I was going to paint.

Now with the economy in shambles and money very tight, I feel what started out as trying to be more professional (in my opinion) now turns out to be very economical to say the least. I not only prepare my own canvas, I also re-use them, sanding if necessary and re-gessoing and re-toning sometimes doing this several times. This has not only turned out to be a proficient way to work and cost effective for me it also turns out to be very economical as you can get many more canvases from a seven foot roll than I can afford to buy prepared canvases. And the surface is exactly as I would like every time.

Not to mention the therapeutic value of keeping busy on non-productive days. I prep fifteen or so canvases every month as needed.

Also for years now I also have been buying paint in very large caulk gun size tubes and don’t buy from the local art store in those exorbitantly prices four-ounce tubes, which I would go through in two to three paintings. I sometime work in heavy impasto. These tubs hold the equivalent of six small tubes.

Also I started working smaller about a year ago and it’s much easier to sell smaller works. I exhibit my larger works along side and every once in awhile a big one sells.

So this is my way of being innovative in a down economy. I wish everyone good luck and try and see the cup as half full.

From: June Raabe — Apr 10, 2009

I refuse to be depressed by the global recession/depression. I was born during an economic depression and thrift and economy are second nature. I hoard old watercolour paint tubes, knowing that I can reconstitute the paint in them. I even went to the trouble of scraping out some really dried tibes, putting the powder in small containers and adding water and mixing like you would a cake batter. The reward was some brilliant colours I forgot I had, that still had some life to give to a painting. The containers I use are the little containers for my diabetes test strips . The labels peel off easily, they are a bit smaller than a film canister, but come with a hinged lid, and are white on the inside,black on the outside. Just too perfect and potentially useful to throw away! You can keep thumbtacks safely in them, pen nibs, small bits of charcoal. I also have about 6 palettes, and return to the old ones once in a while to see if there are colours I have not used recently that might be fun to try again. Struggling to find a palette for acrylics I “discovered” a Corelle serving platter in my cupboard, plain white and “perfect” for the job. The bonus is that dried up paint floats off the surface when soaked in hot water, no scraping no need to use noxious chemicals. Caution, do not let the residue go down the drain! I remove the paint lumps with a paper towel, before washing the plate. I used to use industrial handiwipes as paint rags. They were so sturdy I could even throw them in the washer! Now having none left I must resort to less renewable wipes, like Kleenex and paper towels. Another thought about life stresses and innovation: Germany and Japan were the losers in World War 2, yet rose to “beat the enemy” economically. Britain dawdled along with old inefficient factories, while Germany having had theirs flattened by bombs, had to rebuild. Like Phoenix from the ashes, their industry rebounded with new machinery and innovative ideas. Artists need to “carry on regardless” in tough economical times, but also to be creative and think of new ways to market their art. Even though BC, and our Island have many many artists, it doesn’t stop any of us from painting just because there’s a lot of competition!

From: Liz Reday — Apr 13, 2009

June, I love your spirit! I’m a hoarder and user of ancient art supplies also. Rick, I envy your ability to stretch canvases. Years of printmaking messed up my hands and resulting arthritis forced me to sell my press and do more oil painting. Trouble is, I can’t stretch canvases like I used to and keep painting every day so I’m forced to buy mass produced stretched canvases from The Art Store in Pasadena and they really don’t hold a candle to the ones I did myself. The quality of the canvas is inferior. You buy the pre-primed and then stretch it? I put so many coats of gesso on later that it wouldn’t make much difference, but isn’t it hard to attach it to the bars when it’s pre-primed? I find it easier to attach canvas unprimed so it can really stretch, but have used up all my store of old thick canvas now, but have plenty of stretcher bars from old slashed canvases.

From: Liz Reday — Apr 13, 2009

P.S. Rick – where do you get your paint?



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