Art Potion


Dear Artist,

Here, in France, potions are in fashion. Miraculous mineral waters, copper bracelets, Thalassotherapy, algae injections, mud activities, the pleasantries of colonic irrigation — there are ways of purging the bad stuff from the lungs, brains and bowels. Going by the number of Boxters and Beamers parked outside the fashionable Miramar in Arzon, Brittany, it would appear that the schemes that sell some of these elixirs are big business. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the perennial French interest in “The Cure.” I overheard one woman say, “Thalassotherapy has better odds than Lourdes.” As an aside, in my opinion, these folks aren’t getting enough roughage.


“Le Pont de l’Europe-Gare Saint-Lazare” 1877
oil painting by
Claude Monet (1840-1926)

I’ve often wondered if there was some potion that might clean out all of the bad stuff I have in me in connection with my work. For example, yesterday, attempting a complicated chateau, I caught myself laboriously drawing it out before starting to paint. What led me astray was my insecurity and lack of trust in my ability to paint it with spots, flats, flicks and gradations, as I like to do. It took me back to my grade six art teacher, Miss Ledingham, who was so impressed with one of my efforts that she asked me to remain after school and do yet another. After starting a large wash with a too-small brush — and letting it dry — she screamed so that everyone could hear: “Bobby, don’t draw hard and fast lines.”


“Boulevard des Capucines, Paris” 1873
oil on canvas by
Claude Monet

But I don’t think it’s the memories of the Miss Ledinghams that extend our creative lives. The potion we need is more like the sense of elan that some of these Bretons have. “I care,” and “I don’t care,” are some of the active ingredients that need to be put into the bottle. And the product has to be manufactured uniquely for each artist. This is not a case of one size fits all — turn your bed north and south, wear this ring, drink this and you’ll be okay sort of thing. In our business we have to write our own prescriptions. We have to write them so they can be read. And, because of the natural human frailty to become fouled up, we have to keep re-reading the darned things until the end of our natural lives. That’s it: A relatively small scroll that takes at least two lifetimes to produce, all rolled up and ready to be taken every morning with a dose of salt. Now where can I find a nice little bottle?


“Anglers on the Seine at Poissy” 1882
oil on canvas by
Claude Monet

Best regards,


PS: “I had to keep three things always in my mind: the reflection of the sky, the surface of the pond, the depth of the water.” (Claude Monet)

Esoterica: The doctor is in. The doctor is you. She is an excellent diagnostician and a fantastic surgeon. While she is sometimes inclined to be forgetful, she is fully capable of miracles. Only in rare cases does she ask for a second opinion.

If you’re curious, Thalassotherapy is where experts with special equipment rain body-temperature seawater on your horizontal body; backside, frontside, to the accompaniment of specific massage techniques, and the application of other sea-based products.

This letter was originally published as “Art potion” on October 4, 2002.


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Techniques vary, art stays the same; it is a transposition of nature at once forceful and sensitive.” (Claude Monet)



  1. That’s very true, for me too.
    Preparing for my forthcoming Exhibition of paintings in 2018, I have consciously tried to get away from my usual ways of painting. I am trying to explore a different me through fresh approach.
    But that old comfort drags me again and again, I pray universal energy to help me by sending some fresh concepts, some miraculous handling of mediums… But alas! Like Poulo Cohellho’s Alchemist, every time I find it above my cushion early morning.
    Thanks for relating the story of the Doctor for the potion.
    I will try to write and make one for me and send you soon.
    Thanks once again

  2. Thanks but I’m good took my ‘scription this morning, the roar of waterfalls turpentine on the wind….
    Heck I feel great! Keep up the wonderful work Sara.

  3. Douglas Newman on

    I miss your Dad’s wonderful and wise insights, always wrapped so elegantly and articulately in gentle humour. I’m very thankful that you are reposting his letters and posting your own wonderful insights in your own special way. Thank you!

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