Book reviews


Dear Artist,

Friends give books because they need to help you with their thinking. Fortunately, or unfortunately, most of my friends are pleasantly agreeable. Here are some from under our tree:


“Starry Night” Saint-Rémy, 1889
pen and ink on paper
by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)

Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings — This is a big fat museum catalogue with lots of illustrations and touching excerpts from Vincent’s letters to his brother Theo, and others. We see his life-loving, inventive, optimistic mind as well as technical delights such as the ‘perspective frame’ that Vincent used for six formative years. This is the book you need for “Vincent 101.” It’s also a story of enthusiasm and tragedy that comes alive as if it were happening today. And it is happening today — in other places and with other artists. Dreams are made and dreams are lost. We all have our “starry starry night.”


“Three Cottages in Saintes Maries” Arles, 1888
pencil, reed pen and brown ink
by Vincent van Gogh

The Biology of Belief, by Bruce H Lipton. This one blew away some of my notions about genetic determinism. It’s scientific yet visionary and has food for thought for creative folks by smartly saying ‘nonsense’ to all forms of victimhood. I kept saying to myself, “We are the artists we make ourselves to be.” Health, wealth, wisdom, earth-love and evolution are touched by Lipton’s bright mind while he leads us gently to a new understanding of Spirit. The book winds up with his unorthodox but plausible theory of immortality.

A Writer’s Paris, by Eric Maisel. Here’s a bang-on, thoughtful traveller’s guide to Paris (or Peoria) that suggests how creative folks might think and act in an enriched or a new environment. The reader feels our compulsion to see and feel at a different level than the standard tourist. It’s how we handle our private time, how we look at things, our essential aloneness, our ongoing work, play, work-play and work habits. Practically every paragraph ends with the word “write.” Writers write. Painters paint.

Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris. This first-person narrative by one of today’s funniest writers is just loaded with sly and observant humour. His story of his youthful foray into the avant-garde, conceptual, performance-art groupy game was so wildly goofy and full of truth that it made my cellphone pop off my belt and into a bucket of Phthalo blue. I didn’t care. It sits there now, soaking.


“Fishing Boats at Sea” Arles, 1888
pencil, reed pen, quill and black ink on wove paper
by Vincent van Gogh

Best regards,


PS: “Other group members stored their bodily fluids in baby-food jars or wrote cryptic messages on packaged skirt steaks. Their artworks were known as ‘pieces,’ a phrase I enthusiastically embraced. ‘Nice piece,’ I’d say. In my eagerness to please, I accidentally complimented chipped baseboards and sacks of laundry waiting to be taken to the cleaners. Anything might be a piece if you looked at it long enough.” (David Sedaris)

Esoterica: If you have a book or two that you think someone might value or profit from, please drop us a note in the comments section with a short review. Throw in a quote or two if you wish. We’ll publish your selection in the books section of Painter’s Keys. Thanks for your friendship.

This letter was originally published as “Book reviews” on December 27, 2005.


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.

“Your perspective is always limited by how much you know. Expand your knowledge and you will transform your mind.” (Bruce Lipton)




  1. Love every one of Vreelands Novels about different artists…especially the one about Emily Carr…It was sad to hear that she (Vreeland) has passed away in the recent year or 2 as I was always hoping to find yet another one of her poetically written books.(I think her first name was Patricia)

  2. Just an update, quick search resulted in finding writer Vreeland, her first name was Susan. Yes, sadly passed away earlier this year I believe. Her novel The Forest Lover about Emily Carr is now on my ‘to read’ list. Thanks again Linda Schedden.

  3. The book I most treasure being given by a friend is Daniel Quinn’s insightful ‘A Newcomer’s Guide To The Afterlife.’ In terms of sheer ‘thought-provocation’ and whimsical humour it’s hard to put down. A catalyst for the creative sentient.

  4. Hi,

    I am interested in purchasing the Fifty Letters Narrated by Robert’s son. I have an I Pod and am wondering how to get an MP-3 file onto my I Pod. The CD baby site was a little confusing to me as to how I would ask this question before I buy the narration. I would appreciate your response so that I can order this, soon.

    Creative blessings, Suzanne Gaff

  5. An amazing book that I have even reread is “Life with Picasso” by Francoise Gilot. Imagine stepping into Picasso’s daily world, as in, “Let’s go see Matisse today.” or hearing what she did to cheer him up when he didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. There isn’t a page of this book that doesn’t amaze me with one insight or another. Gilot has a photographic memory, writes like a pro, and is an exceptional artist in her own right. She was the perfect person to convey to the reader what “Life with Picasso” was really like – without sentiment. And did I mention that it’s a really FUN read?

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Featured Workshop

February 14, 2018 to February 28, 2018

mexico-pleinairTake a winter break! Join me, Hermann Brandt for one or both of these retreat/workshops in sunny Mexico.

Casa Buena is a gorgeous art retreat center, right on the ocean. Jane Romanishko is a fabulous host and goes above and beyond to make sure you have a fantastic time. Included: Most art materials, meals, accommodation, a jungle-river boat trip and several sightseeing ventures. For beginner to intermediate level artists. Figure drawing (Feb 14-21) – from life; nude model. Plein air (Feb 21-28) – beach scenes, fishing villages and surrounding hills. I look forward to sharing a time of fun and learning. of Fire 2, 2019
6 x 8 inches

Featured Artist

Christine Hanlon, whose work has been compared to that of Edward Hopper, creates ‘urban landscapes which quietly exude atmosphere.’


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