Bonus creativity


Dear Artist,

Here’s a simple system that builds creativity immediately. (Writing that line made me feel like a snake-oil salesman. But I digress.) I’m talking about pushing yourself to doing just one more thing every day. Results are guaranteed if you do it for a week. (Sorry, there I go again.)


“Camille Monet and her Son Jean in the Garden at Argenteuil” 1874
oil on canvas by
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

With personal biorhythms, obligations, as well as climate, season, and other factors, we all have our times of maximum creativity and efficiency. In my case I seem to be at my best in the early morning before my studio staff arrives and the phone starts ringing. I run out of steam in mid-afternoon and often break for a Dorothy-walk or a snooze. The evening finds me cranking things up again, but the energy and focus level can be short-lived and I’m soon ready for bed.

The idea is to perform one more creative act before turning out the lights. Tiredness contributes in a way one does not expect. Casualness and the feeling of “something extra” make their mark. A lackadaisical twenty-minute afterthought becomes a creative bonus.

Renoir_La Place Clichy

“La Place Clichy” c.1880
oil on linen, 65 × 54 cm
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The system has some practical advantages. Using leftover paint is one of them. Renoir was known to have relished the system. He made ever smaller sketches until his day’s palette was clean. In my case I often find large blobs of unused colour on the palette. This “waste” is often the springboard to a new direction. Freshly eyed in the cold grey light of dawn the now-dry afterthought is again ready for action. The pump has been primed. Sometimes I can’t wait to play with the darned thing.

The afterthought bonus slyly adds further variety and range to your body of work. The human psyche is a deep well of untapped resources. While you may be mentally and physically fading, you are still “hot” enough to plunge in. Another thing — it’s easy to think of what we do as precious and deserving of major preparation. Not always. In my experience some of the best stuff comes from inconsequential, even happenstance beginnings. If you try this idea in your studio, be prepared for surprises, and don’t be surprised when some of the nighttime bonuses are substandard as well. It’s part of the game.

Seizing the day, even in its dying hour, gives another chance to be bold — a new beginning that just happens to be at the end.


“Woman Standing by a Tree” oil painting
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Best regards,


PS: “Boldness has genius, power and magic. Engage, and the mind grows heated. Begin, and the work will be completed.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Esoterica: After looking at those little videos that Michelle and I have been making lately, many subscribers have written to ask what’s going on when I rub the canvas with a rag. Actually, rag-action is generally one of the first things that happens to my half-finished, late-night afterthoughts–particularly the garish ones. Compositions are toned down and pulled together with a glaze or two. I generally work in Acrylic, so it’s often a thin mixture of medium, water, and a small amount of Phthalo blue, but it can be any number of darker colours. The rag rubs it on and takes it off. Not too much, not too little. This sets up the painting to “go back into” and to fine-tune the shapes and colours — a sort of two-step process that also gives an opportunity for half-time contemplation. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but useful.

This letter was originally published as “Bonus creativity” on August 14, 2007.


Sara Genn: New Paintings opens this coming Thursday, September 13th, 2018 at Voltz Clarke Gallery, 141 East 62nd Street, New York City. If you’re in the neighbourhood, I would love to see you there.

“The ideas come afterwards, when the picture is finished.” (Pierre-Auguste Renoir)



  1. This piece of Robert’s seamlessly flows into an exercise routine I am developing: instead of a huffing and puffing hike in the morning, I start gentle and then move all day long. Less depression, fewer ups and downs. This seems perfect for working on paintings! Thank you so much, Robert and Sara. Your advice and art are daily gifts.

  2. I live on a remote but beautiful in the gulf of Georgia.The previous owner of the place l’m living in built all kinds of small buildings and sheds. One of them l’ved made into a flammable material shed. In it l house paint thinners, solvents, gas,etc. So over time(18 years) l’ved cleaned my brushes containing oil base pigments in this shed and have made various colour designs with the residue of the cleaned brushes. Totally unplanned but beautiful.

  3. Perfect timing! I have just started doing exactly this at the end of a painting day. Setting up a clean canvas, I use a 3″ wide putty knife to scoop, scrape, and spread whatever oil paints are left on the palette, including the leftover blob of Liquin medium, which helps the paint to dry overnight. The next morning, tea-mug in hand, I squint, rotate, daydream, and trawl through my photo archives to see what this abstract underpainting might become. Some great and unexpected starts have grown out of this new habit! Thanks Robert and Sara for ongoing inspiration and validation.

  4. All the best for your New Paintings exhibit, Sara. My hubby and I spent an evening last night laughing our heads off reading the zingers at the back of your dad’s book of twice-weekly letters. We could almost hear him snickering. What a timeless gem!

  5. I wear 2 wrist watches- to remind me to use time wisely. I am Carpe Diem artist.
    The one more thing done is part of my artlife.
    Bob Ragland-Artist in Denver, Colorado

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October 1st to October 5th 2018


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Oil on Linen
40x30 inches

Featured Artist

A professional painter in both watercolor and oil for over 35 years, I have been creating plein air workshops in Europe for artists to join me since 1996. Plein air is one of the most exciting methods of painting, and I teach a very easy to learn way of capturing the light quickly, that any artist can apply to their own work during our adventures to Europe. Travel for artists is a great way to immerse yourself in painting and make great advances in your techniques by watching other professionals work, and by sharing your own ideas with other artists we all grow! Authentic locations, such as a 12th Century Castle in Ireland, a French Maison in the countryside of France, or an Italian Villa in an historic hilltop village in Italy are carefully chosen. We want our artists and non-painting guests to feel relaxed and at home, with en-suite bedrooms, excellent chef prepared cuisine, and convenient transfers to painting and exploring locations so you can be where you want to be to create. Join me on our next exciting journey!


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