Bashing them out


Dear Artist,

Artists and art-material suppliers come together at Pearl Paint’s Great American Art Event in New York. “Secrets” here are bought, sold and given away. Popular instructors demonstrate “trees, rocks and water” or “fruit, vegetables and lace” or “how to paint ‘itty bitty’ paintings” or “how to master abstraction.” With lots of free paint, brushes, stretched canvas and art boards, it’s a creative rummage. For many, the gods are in the equipment. Others come for motivation or inspiration. Most are looking for techniques to match the quality of today’s materials.


“Note in Red – The Siesta” 1884
oi painting by
James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

A feeling of entitlement pervades. People are attracted to making art, and while they have the idea that a period of apprenticeship may be necessary in order to develop quality, they also have the inclination to hold their noses and jump in. My group completed two or three 11x14s in a day. This while watching my acrylic demos, looking at my slide shows and listening to me pontificate. People are introduced to new systems and they try things they wouldn’t normally do. Some of them screw up. Others excel — you can see them growing in front of you. It’s all part of the game and everybody understands. Generally speaking, they leave happy.


“The Artist’s Studio”
by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

This business of “bashing them out” has value in and out of the personal studio. Painters, particularly beginning painters, need to lose the sense of preciousness about their work. I’ve noticed that preciousness often means “stuck.” After a lifetime of wonder, I still find it a mystery why some people improve and others don’t. Desire, character, and even economic pressure, are factors. Talent maybe. Ego and a longing for uniqueness are also in there somewhere. I look at folks and try to see in them an “iron will and a butterfly mind.” It seems that the imaginative ones who also work hard (“WF” — Working Flakes) are the ones who are soon subsidized by this worker’s edge. Through production itself, people grow. Whether they do it at a workshop or in a workroom, the working habit pays for the art supplies — and eventually that big studio with the panoramic view. To get to that place, a certain amount of sacrifice may be necessary. I’ve told so many people, “Go to your room.” I’ve suggested that they go for six months or a year. To work. To dig around in their potential. To really find out. This morning in New York, it may be an illusion but fewer people seem to be on the streets.


“Arrangement in
Pink, Red and Purple”
by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Best regards,


PS: “He rose early, worked strenuously, and retired late. He seemed to forget the ordinary hours for meals and would have to be called over and over again — unfinished work frequently being taken in hand just at this time.” (Otto Bache on J. M. Whistler)

Esoterica: The Working Flake efficiently prepares ahead more than enough supports for her work. The timeline can be an hour or a life. Bashing them out, one to another, the works develop and techniques and skills are honed. Some works are honoured and put under another light. Some become Frisbees. The WF has the feeling she is the caretaker of a giant personal event where freshness, understatement and growth are a byproduct. Joy prevails. Sweat forms. Ideas breed.

This letter was originally published as “Bashing them out” on November 1, 2005.

Whistler, James Abbott McNeill; Self Portrait; Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow;

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.

“Industry in art is a necessity – not a virtue – and any evidence of the same, in the production, is a blemish, not a quality; a proof, not of achievement, but of absolutely insufficient work, for work alone will efface the footsteps of work.” (James Abbott McNeill Whistler)



  1. Kathryn Taylor on

    Thanks, again, Robert and Sara for another encouraging and inspiring letter. I love the ideas of “bashing them out” and “butterfly minds with iron wills.’ That is a great description of Writers, Painters and Musicians. We have creative imaginations, yet have to work hard to produce work! There was a quote by Andrew Wyeth and I’ll parahrase it, where he said,”You don’t usually go to the studio with an inspiration of an idea. You go to the studio everyday and start working, and then, the inspiration and ideas come.”

  2. What a timely piece! I have been bashing them out since October. One or two little paintings everyday, and I am beginning to wonder if I’ll ever want to create a large piece that may take a few weeks to finish! The will and energy is lacking. But these little pieces keep me in ebb and flow. A few have turned into kindling for the fire. Most have ended up as one of a kind greeting cards! Oh well!

  3. I don’t just bash out my oil paintings. Most of them are commission paintings, of favorite places, brooks, nature scenes portraits of people, pets & homes. I go out with my portable easels, do lots of painting & drawing studies, and take a few snap shots along the way. Painting in the afternoons, 2 or 3 hours daily. I wear a small digital timer set for 35 minutes attached to my shirt pocket to remind me to get up and move around. To eat, drink, maybe a nap to keep your mind clear on your painting. Grant Strange

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Travel Sketching with Watercolours in Italy
April 7, 2018 to April 14, 2018

joanne-hastie_workshop-1Join Vancouver artist Joanne Hastie to sketch the landscapes of Italy. Joanne will share her art process during this 7 day adventure.

Highlights: See all 6 Mosaic’d churches in Ravenna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Visit & sketch the places where Michelangelo sketched in the late 1490’s in Bologna; Wander the house where Renaissance artist Rafael’s grew up; Tour the castle that inspired a chapter in Dante’s Divine Comedy; Paint while watching the sunset over a cliff-top castle; Ride a bicycle along the beach to a Roman Bridge built in 10AD that is still in use today!; Sketch alongside Canadian artist Joanne Hastie & experience how the Italian countryside inspires her art.
Included:  7 nights accommodations, 7 gourmet breakfasts, 7 gourmet dinners (wine included) at Hotel Belvedere in Riccione;  transportation to and from Riccione to each location; watercolor sketchbook, plein-air starter kit (watercolor), ink pen, eraser

$3325 CAD per person
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Oil on Canvas
48 x 48 in.

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Gardens are my enduring inspiration, and getting to the heart of the flower, my passion.


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