Step by step, a path

Dear Artist, Last Saturday night, Carol gave me a great big birthday party. Among the fourteen friends who spoke was my daughter Sara. Here, in part, is what she said: “I have a memory from my childhood, of walking with my dad, somewhere in Brittany. I was about eleven. We were talking about the Post-Impressionists, about waiting all day for the best painting light — the magic hour. It was one of my firsts — my first recollection of our first conversation on a subject my dad and I are still working on. I remember how we walked together side by side, his ideas tumbling out like paving stones on a path in front of me. Sure, he had given me a journal and a camera, he’d even ordered for me my first endive salad. But it was our back and forth that etched the journey.” “There’s a more recent memory of following my dad up a snow-patched slope in Yoho Park in the Rocky Mountains. I mimicked his pace and frequent stops, and carried his lemonade and sandwiches. He paused at every detail of nature. ‘Bracket Fungi.’ ‘Clarke’s Nutcracker.’ ‘Indian Paintbrush,’ ‘Moss Campion.'” A moment of panic. I went cold and looked up into the larches. How on earth was I going to get the entire contents of my dad’s brain into my own brain before the end of our allotted time? The task felt colossal and ultimately hopeless. I overtook him on the path so as to better hear his classifications bubbling up behind me. After a few moments of silent walking I heard him say, ‘You have my good calves.'” “Once, we bought a bunch of books in a new-age bookshop. There was one called, Stoking the Creative Fires by San Francisco author Phil Cousineau. It’s an anthology of quotes by historical artists designed to inspire new generations — making sense of how to be creative. When tackling the fine art of building a creative life, however, the author quotes his own grandfather: ‘Step by step, a path; stone by stone, a cathedral.'” “I’ve had a master class in the reverence for both the awesome and the meek. Yoho got its name from the Cree word expressing amazement. Within the amazement of dad’s beloved, immoveable painting subjects, he’s shown me how to kneel at the beauty of a lichen-covered stone.” “Recently, my dad and I were talking on the phone from our respective studios — I was on 20th Street in New York and he was on Beckett Road in Surrey, British Columbia. He was asking me what I was up to. I was painting my usual broad strokes. He said to me, ‘Sara, you are capable of doing anything you bloody well want.’ That’s pretty well dad’s message to everybody.” Best regards, Robert PS: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable. (Kahlil Gibran) Esoterica: The ultimate in sharing can come about among your children. It is an opportunity too wonderful to pass up. Don’t let the joy pass you by.   Open communication by Brenda Swenson, South Pasadena, CA, USA  

“Colors of San Juan Bautista”
original painting
by Brenda Swenson

What a loving tribute from your daughter. What she said spoke volumes to the open communication you share… I was touched by her eagerness to listen so intently and coming closer not to miss a word. How blessed you both are to have cultivated a relationship of respect, trust, love and admiration. A father-daughter relationship can be a tight rope at times. You have managed to navigate the obstacles beautifully. I have memories of backpacking with my father in the High Sierra and receiving my first paint brush from him. Your story left a lump in my throat. Thank you for sharing this beautiful message. There are 2 comments for Open communication by Brenda Swenson
From: Brenda W. — May 20, 2011
From: Marie B.Pinschmidt — May 20, 2011

Robert, how fortunate you are to have such a loving daughter; but, of course, you already know that. Beautiful post, and you have also posted my favorite writing by Kahlil Gibran. I quoted this same passage in my recent memoir. I wish you many more wonderful moments with your daughter.

  Sara’s work by Nader Khaghani, Gilroy, CA, USA  

“Shadows Darling” (left), “Night Love” (centre), “Sleepyhead” (right) oil paintings, 36 x 36 inches, 2011
by Sara Genn

Can you post a few of Sara’s works so we see what kind of arrow you have been flying and what target Sara is hitting. Dad has already blessed her with inspiration: You can paint what you want. And that is magical. I am curious what she’s searching for visually. I read she likes broad strokes — great, I love those too. She loves dad and we all love the whole bunch of you, the entire family, including the dog. I wonder what she says looking at all your paintings: Probably, “Good job daddy and try another one! and another one, and …” The doggie knows the secret to creativity. There is 1 comment for Sara’s work by Nader Khaghani
From: Virginia Wieringa — May 20, 2011

You can google Sara Genn. I did and saw some wonderful work and listened to her music, which is lovely!

  The great gift by Sky Pape, New York, NY, USA  

ink on paper
by Sky Pape

It was very moving, and a bit odd, to open my email and read a daughter’s tribute to her father on the anniversary of losing my own. My dad wasn’t that kind of mentor to me, nor even encouraging about my chosen path, but right before the unseen end, he gave me the great gift of that message, “You are capable of doing anything you want!” with the added confidence that I’d be able to excel at it. Happy birthday, Robert, and peace, Dad.       There is 1 comment for The great gift by Sky Pape
From: Anonymous — May 20, 2011

I like this and am very curious about it. This is on watercolor paper? Can you tell me more???

  Signature style change? by John F. Burk, Timonium, MD, USA  

“Barrier Reef Island Station”
acrylic painting, 28 x 19 inches
by John Burk

Happy birthday! I have three grown daughters myself. Isn’t it wonderful the way they speak? I have a question that seems silly, but maybe not, if one is striving to attain recognition (for what that’s worth). My signature has been unchanged for at least two decades. It’s a script, or ‘handwriting’ form of my name, sometimes done better than others, often attempted six or eight times before I resolve to leave it be. It’s a blessing my names are short. I am considering a change to something that can be put down more easily and perhaps with more boldness and perhaps a bit of design. I don’t know yet what I’m talking about, but what is the hazard, if any, of ‘changing horses in mid-stream’? Styles of painting can change and certainly evolve, and it’s better that they do. But a signature may be a bit different. Can you address that for me? (RG note) Thanks, John. Keep your time-honoured signature. It may have faults but it has time on its side. It’s the signature of your work that really counts. And thanks, also, John and all the others who wished me a Happy Birthday. It was a slice. There is 1 comment for Signature style change? by John F. Burk
From: Virginia Wieringa — May 20, 2011

I find signing a painting in red to be a very bold choice. Do you always do that?

  Creatively inside the mind by Judy Kirtley, New York, NY, USA  

“Bryce Canyon, Utah”
by Judy Kirtley

Thank you for sharing and happy birthday. In your daughter’s message she mentioned her studio in NYC on 20th St. I also have a studio in NYC on 20th St. It made me feel a little close to… something… you, Sara, making art… While I know I’m surrounded by the creatives in my neighborhood, I, like many other artists, work in a solitary environment unless in a class or gallery situation and it’s good to know an actual person is near. Right now, I’m in the shed, as it were, working on the next right thing. This message is just to express my gratitude to you for reminding your readers of the universality of being inside the mind in the creative world.   Magic words by Sue Hoppe, Port Elizabeth, South Africa   I have been wanting to thank you for some time now, for the generous way in which you share your thoughts, wisdom, insights, humour and knowledge with artists around the world. What amazes me is how often there is some synchronicity between an issue with which I am currently grappling, and the arrival of your letter discussing the same thing. Since you have just celebrated a birthday (I imagine an auspicious one, given the nature of the party) I would like to add my greetings and best wishes. Here’s to many more happy, fruitful and healthy years behind an easel, and sharing wisdom. I think the metaphor your daughter used, “his ideas tumbling out like paving stones on a path in front of me,” is absolutely magic. What a privilege to grow up with a father like you — clearly she has inherited more than your good calves!   Precious words by Barbara Boldt, Glen Valley, BC, Canada  

“Manning Park Memory”
pastel painting
by Barbara Boldt

Thank you, Sara, thank you, Robert! You are very blessed having each other and sharing the art and the awareness of each other’s needs! How beautifully you, Sara, expressed your memories of your father’s guidance. My son Ken was a very talented young man, took painting lessons from my teacher Aeron McBryde, then had 3 boys to bring up, and did as much sketching as he had time for besides soccer and baseball runs for his boys. Ken used to tell me, “I will do it the way you did, Mom. I will get into the art fully when I am 45, after the boys are grown.” Neither of his boys had the same leaning towards art. Ken died at age 32 in a bicycle accident in 1990. My daughter Dorothy, who followed me into art lessons with the same teacher as well, took up painting and pottery, became a graphic artist and illustrator, learning all the technical skills of design. She married early, kept up her painting, became a busy instructor in her St. Albert community, designed and executed many murals. Our plan was to work together in my gallery, after her move back to B.C., letting her do all this complicated computer/technical stuff that takes so much out of me!! She would have her graphic business under the same roof, along with her wonderful watercolour, pastel and oil paintings. It was not meant to be. Dorothy died of brain cancer in 2000 at age 45. There is an extensive history of artists in my father’s family, and the Internet has helped to discover incredible documentation! Talent is inherited; the work ethic, the dedication necessary to develop and use this gift, is up to us today. Your words, Robert, quoting your Sara, are precious, and I thank you! Keep well, and keep painting, inspiring us!   Remembering by Louise Francke, NC, USA  

“Anchored Boat”
original painting
by Louise Francke

My memories are of my father and his rowboat. He taught me how to row the huge wooden boat quietly whiling away summer days fishing. Maybe this is how he taught me how to look and to see? He was a photographer when not doing his day job. We spent time in his darkroom where negatives were processed and then made into pictures which would slowly appear. I only wish that there had been discussions about art. I tried to be a different parent encouraging both of my sons to look at art and to create. There were no coloring books but plenty of paper and drawing/painting materials. One has followed and struggles to survive even though he is more accomplished in wielding his brushes than I could ever be. The other has found his creativity in science which is his driving force. So, in a way, I guess I have taught both to follow their bliss in life and to pass it on to their children in both their actions and words. Thanks for allowing me to turn to the beginning of my life’s book.   A father’s influence by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA  

“Where Dreams Begin”
original painting
by Diane Overmyer

I imagine I am not the only person who read today’s letter with tears filling my eyes. I, too, have a wonderfully brilliant father (who happens to be 81 years young). Unlike Sara, I have never attempted to retain even half of what my father has learned through a lifetime of study and reading. Yet I often thank God for his influence on me, both in building my curiosity about, and openness to what, the world has to offer. Today in less than 45 minutes my father is due to pick me up so we can spend a father/daughter day together that is long overdue. How wonderful the timing was to read your post right before my special day with my father. This post is one that will be saved and gone back over for years to come! P.S. Happy Birthday!    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Step by step, a path

From: Kay Christopher — May 16, 2011

Definitely the most touching of all of your Letters I have read so far, Robert. Beautiful all the way around. Had to just sit still for a bit. Thank you.

From: Carol Kairis — May 17, 2011

Our “children” touch our hearts to the depth, all the richness of lifes Vaule…WE hope to Pass on. We try…we love (not looking for our Own Interests~ THEIRS … We feel the moment…we know, their heart belongs unto themselves. They “sense” our intentions…our love. Yet in their beloved time before God they too will recieve Our Greater’s GREATER Confidence, knowing unto themselves they WILL stand because of HIS “undeserved Kindness” … Giving fruitation in intentions realized in harmony with HIS WILL…or not. From Youth on…the Values planted upon their soul remain…Never forgotten~ We inherit such an honored, respected position even before our Creator…enriched in blessings YET TO BE REALIZED.

From: Sandy Sandy — May 17, 2011

Happy Birthday week Bob! I really enjoyed your heartfelt letter today. You just keep getting better. Your enthusiasm and inspiration are contagious. Thank you, dear friend! “Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” ~ Samuel Ullman

From: Malcolm Willis — May 17, 2011

Wise is the parent who can share passions and enthusiasms. Some children are so fortunate. Others aren’t.

From: Kathleen Thiele — May 17, 2011

Thank you for your site. Your letter today was awsome. I have 5 children, so it especially struck my heart. I will be printing it so as to keep befor me and to pass the poem on to others and to my own children as they become parents. So many young folks do not comprehend the importance of our daily conduct and how….even when we are not aware…we are mentoring a silent observer. How true the Bible has proven to be, when it speaks of us guarding our speach and conduct,…. for we are molding our tomorrows America.

From: Dorenda — May 17, 2011

Sounds to me like you have a great kid there…it is so wonderful to hear of a parent/child relationship such as yours! :) Kathleen is right…it was not until recently that I realized (through my teaching) just how many kids have been affected by the “art bug”…I went to an exhibition of college-age art students and several came up and introduced themselves as former second-grade students of mine…WOW…it was an amazing day. Although I do not have children of my own, I can now imagine the feeling of pride you must have for your daughter!

From: Taylor McFlairey — May 18, 2011

I imagined a father like you once, they are far to playful to be anything else but good. Happy Birthday — with many happy returns ~

From: Maris Sherwood — May 18, 2011

A wonderful thing to read first thing this morning. I thank God every day for my wonderful children and grandchildren. They make my life complete!

From: Cookie Robertson — May 18, 2011

Robert, thanks for sharing this wonderful letter. How lucky you both are to have each other and the wonderful memories you’ve shared as father and daughter. Blessings to you always, Cookie p.s. Kahlil Gibran–one of my favorite passages from his writings.

From: Nancy Choat — May 18, 2011

Thanks Robert for sharing that with your readers and followers!!! I can just hear Sara standing up and telling those stories. What a great tribute to a great person AND artist. Savor the memories……

From: Mary Wilbanks — May 18, 2011

I have been mentored by generous, kind artists from the very beginning. Now when I am asked questions about painting or exhibiting I am happy to pass along what I have learned. Most importantly I surround myself with creative, generous and kind artists.

From: Meera — May 19, 2011

Happy Birthday! Sounds like you are a great father too :) Congratulations on your wonderful achievement. I have enjoyed your newsletters very much. Meera Rao

From: Leonard Horne — May 19, 2011

There’s a motto in Big Brothers that says, “A man never stands so tall as when he bends to help a boy.” So it is with all our children. Those precious times we give to them, uncomplicated by petty needs and domestic demands, that builds their character and promotes them to their own passions. They do not aspire to be just like us, but they appreciate our path.

From: Allan Pierce — May 19, 2011

Father daughter relations can be very special, often because they are different than mother daughter relations, which are often laced with expectations. With fathers there is a relaxation and an even handed friendliness. Fathers simply tend to adore their daughters, which goes a long way in making for a beautiful relationship.

From: Jackie Knott — May 19, 2011

It is a grand thing to connect with our children and grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, like that. You don’t start out to formally sit down and say, “I want to pass on my knowledge and observations to you.” No, it just sort of happens, more often by osmosis than anything. My communication with each often begins with their interests: one politics, another sports, one art, then gardening, military or business, and sometimes all of that in one conversaton with one individual … it’s a jumbled give and take that allows us to know and influence these precious souls. I would urge all, if you haven’t had the luxury of one on one contact because of distance, estrangement, whatever … to write down those conversations you wish you would have had. I say that after losing my own mother very young. I have scattered old photos but my greatest regret is a blurred memory without substance. I was too young to have those conversations yet. What kind of woman was she? What did she feel, what were her opinions? I have no idea. Call it a journal or a collection of essays, it doesn’t matter, but in later years your posterity can look back at your work (one reason for a self portrait) and have that artist fleshed out into a real person with your commentary. I have one letter of my mother’s: one brief page in which to try and remember her voice. One page of words describing a trip to Alaska to find a woman of intelligence, one typewritten note to search between the lines for anything to give me the essense of this person. Robert, if that walk hadn’t impressed your daughter with your thoughts she still can know them after years of these letters.

From: Bruce deJong — May 19, 2011

Yes, bloody well anything you want is the operative word. But you have to focus and really learn your stuff to become a master. And more than anything the fatherly, (and motherly) advice you give often isn’t advice at all–it’s the demonstration of work habits. When a parent has focus and application, and the child can see that nothing comes easily, then the torch is passed. Thank you for this forum. It is far and away the best artist’s forum on the Internet.

From: Ann Worrall — May 20, 2011

Robert, I look forward to all your letters, but this one was very touching! Your life seems magical to me! The father and daughter realationship is so special Happy Birthday! Thank you for sharing so much of your wisdom and inspiration!

From: Paul deMarrais — May 20, 2011

You have raised a great daughter who will add much to the world. I have no children. My wife has two. Both had kids at 15, did drugs, went skidding off the road, had more kids, did more skidding. One has managed to stay afloat. Her nine old just tested college age in math and all of her kids are doing very well. The other continues to struggle and seems to have been sapped of most of ambition by years of bad living. Another of Pam’s friends has a several adult kids who have also done badly thus far. I find it hard to feel sorry for them any more. I do grieve for the parents, though. So much energy and money expended….so little positive to show for it. So much grief and stress, guilt and disappointment. The parents carry this burden around with them every day. Having witnessed it all, I wonder why people take the huge risk of having children. You have answered my question. It’s got the potential to be magical not only for you but for many other people. I am happy that you made that leap of faith and that it has been such a success. Good luck, Sara!! I pray for peace for all the parents whose children went in another direction.

From: Judy Boyette — May 20, 2011

What a beautiful tribute from your daughter. We should all hope to influence one person like you have influenced her. Wow!

From: Florence — May 20, 2011

Thank you from a Grand Forks, BC. The poem is a perfect reminder for all parents like me who still want to tell their 40 year old kids ?? how to live. just cause we continue to love them.. They belong to God and always have……why did we think they were ours??? Who do we belong to?? We do grow wiser in our golden years.

From: David Arsenault — May 20, 2011

What a magnificent post—a true blessing to begin my day! The wonderful quotes from your daughter show her love and respect as well as her own beauty as a person; the Gibran quote brought a tear to my eye and led me to save it for a special gift to my lovely wife Sue. You offer many blessings in sharing your gifts as a mentor and an artist; obviously you do the same as a father. You are abundantly blessed, as you have acknowledged on many occasions. Belated happy birthday.

From: Brenda Behr — May 20, 2011

Your letter today brought tears to my eyes. Not only am I passing though life without children, I have one brother, my only family left, who chooses to make his wife’s family his family instead of his own blood. I had a wonderful show open recently at the University of North Carolina. I’m proud of all twenty-three paintings, the food was beautifully presented, the flowers were exquisite. Sales were just okay. The attendees were less than I’d hoped for and the lack of attendance was accentuated by having no family there. If Van Gogh were alive today and I could say something to him to make him more appreciative of what turned out to be his very short life, I would say to him, “The sales will eventually come. Embrace what you do have. Embrace your brother.”

From: Norah Bolton — May 20, 2011

Happy Birthday Robert – from someone the same age. You are blessed with a wonderful daughter! By hook or by crook you have obviously done some things right on the path.

From: Diane Voyentzie — May 20, 2011

Thanks for the beautiful letter. It brought back memories of walking with my father in the evenings to bring in the cows for milking. He would remark on the kinds of birds we heard, the wild flowers, and the cloud formations. These are special memories and have lived on through my own children.

From: Marita Jill Freeman — May 20, 2011

This weeks letter brought tears to my eyes, Robert. Thank you for bringing back similar memories of walks and talks with my two talented children. A belated, Happy Birthday to you.

From: Gwen Williams — May 20, 2011

Thank you for sharing this wonderful part of what must have been a fascinating evening. Your daughter’s beautiful tribute to your relationship is a tribute to the many facets of you as a father, mentor and friend. Some would say you’re lucky. Luck has nothing to do with it. Sara chose her parents well!

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — May 20, 2011

Thank you very much for “Step by step, a path” letter. It is really a very nice tribute to you, her father. It is often true that parents would like their children follow a path they prescribed for them or even follow their footsteps. Children crave for the approval of their parents and would follow whatever their parents would like them to be. Others rebel against a parent who insists on having their way not considering where the child’s interest lies. The child who has a parent who loves, guides and encourages his or her child where ever his own interests lies is blessed indeed. So are students in art classes with an instructor who gives lessons in the different styles and techniques of creating a piece of art and let their students follow their own style or technique. Encouraging and give constructive critiques in the work that is developing in the students’ work and let the students follow their own style.

From: Sarah — May 20, 2011

What a beautiful and inspiring letter. You bring such joy to your readers, such inspiration, such good advice, such humor. Thank you, and belated Happy Birthday, with best wishes for many more!

From: Lynn Feasey — May 22, 2011
From: Julie Chickoski — May 24, 2011

Particularly enjoyed the insightfullness of this and your May 17th letter, which reminded me of my Dad who I have been without (in body) for 38 years and only had with me for 17 but still is so much with me in spirit. Bless you for continuing to share your wisdom with us.

From: Miriam Krone — Nov 05, 2013

Thanks so much for your twice-weekly e-newsletter. Lots of good stuff comes from it! I tell my watercolor students about it and suggest they sign up. Hope you are feeling better and improving every day!

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Nosehill Fall is Coming

acrylic painting by Alice Helwig

  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 Bonnie Mandoe of Las Cruces, NM, USA, who wrote, “Sara speaks the unspoken that keeps us all reading you, Robert. It is love, nothing less, that moves the painter’s eye, mind and hand.”    

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