Dear Artist,

At the dawn of computers they gave them acronyms like HAL and ENIAC. Here’s an acronym you might consider — BOOK. It stands for Bound Orderly Organized Knowledge. They’re handy — and the current state of their art is nothing short of miraculous.

As an artist develops there’s sometimes the tendency to close the books and get on with the work that rings the registers. This, in my mind, is a mistake. Continued growth through reading, as well as seeing and exploration is a vital part of the greater joy of staying with it. There’s so much to learn. On the other hand you don’t want to be a book junkie. I know some artists who are so excited by the art press that there’s little time for actual work.

The ideal, in my opinion, is a self-directed balance. There are three stations where you can top up your tank — nature, imagination and reference. Knowing the potential of each helps tell you which one you currently need.

There was some curiosity generated by the last letter regarding Genn’s laws. There seemed to be a lot of laws. Here’s three more: A leopard can change its spots. You can teach an old dog new tricks. You can lead a horse to water and get him or her to drink.


“Still Life of Books”
by Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606-1684)

Best regards,


PS: “By and large books are mankind’s best invention.” (Ursula K. LeGuin)

Esoterica: As I write this letter I’m realizing that it was one year ago today that I started this email project. On that day my first letter went to a total of twenty subscribers–all personal friends. Over the past year many whom I have never met have received these letters, some have written in return, and some have spoken of books that have helped or inspired them. A few of these books I have ordered and read with delight and profit, and in some cases I’ve passed on their insights. Writing these letters has been an exercise in enrichment, both in sharing with peers and facilitating others. More than anything I want my project to be of continuing value. For the next clickback I ask you to send me the titles and authors of books that you recommend. They might be “How to” books, art philosophy, biographies, or any books that you think other artists might value. If you wish to comment briefly on your favourites, please do. We will publish a few of the comments as usual, and we will tabulate a state-of-the-art book list for your interest. Thank you for writing.

The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.


Hit the studio computer and made it decidedly gzonkers

(RG note) After my assistant got over the initial explosive bombardment she settled in to make some order of your book recommendations. As I’m heading off this coming Friday to paint on the Mackenzie River we decided to wind up this list just before publication of the next letter. Recommendations too late to include will be held over for a more complete list a little later on. If you have something you feel ought to be included please send it along. Books that received more than two recommendation are followed by a star. * Books receiving more than five recommendations get five stars. ***** This list was compiled from recommendations received between last Tuesday and today, and are in the order of first receipt.


Taking the Leap by Cay Lang

Painting What You Want to See by Charles Reid* “Or any of his other books. Good thoughts, particularly about colour, in making watercolours and oils.” (Randy)

On Not Being Able to Paint by Marion Milner* “A psycholanalyst and painter whose writings show great insight into the processes and temperaments of artistic practice.” (Rose Frain, Edinburgh, Scotland)

In Praise of Painting by Robert Genn* “Out of print and difficult to get — shows lots of Genn paintings up until he was about forty. (Lucy Andrews)

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.* “Inspirational, practical, educational and good review of what is important about the ‘art process’ as well as the techniques to achieve what you wish in art.” (Marcia Riquelme)

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron***** “A spiritual workshop aimed at guiding the participant to a level of higher creativity.” (Sandy Sandy, Tabernacle, NJ) “A wealth of inspiration and comfort. When I am stuck, or feel like I am just posing as an artist, I have no real talent at all… I pick up her book. There are exercises on creativity and inner demons which help me on my journey toward creating. I recommend it to any one who has a desire to create or to the experienced artist who is having a hard time moving from the white canvas. My book’s binding is literally falling apart from use.” (Nancy Patterson)

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri***** “Purely inspirational and a re-read and a keeper on the shelf next to your paints.” (Marcia Riquelme)

The Possible Human by Jean Houston*

The Awakened Eye by Frederick Franck*

The Painter’s Handbook by Mark D Gottsegen***** “The best recent general reference guide to studio technique, supports, sizes, grounds, paints, pigments, etc, etc. Exhaustive and fun to read.” (Dick Wiggins)

Messages From the Real World by Ted Godwin

Oil Painting Outdoors by John Pellew

Los Genios de la Pintura Espanola Sorolla by Sarpe: Clara Janes, ed.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard* “A beautiful expression of the trials and beauties of being a writer. Applies to a lot of creative fields.” (Joseph Penn)

James McNeill Whistler by John Walker

Writer’s Market by Kirsten Holm, ed.*

Artists’ Materials by Ian Hebblewhite

How to Get Started Selling Your Art by Carole Katchen

Art and Artists by Herbert Read

Artist Beware by Michael McCann “An excellent source of frightening material on the stuff we breathe and touch when we work. (James Cannel)

Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison “A profound exposition of the relationship between the artistic temperament and manic-depressive illnesses.” (Jock Turner)

A Passion for Excellence by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin*

Art, Mind and Brain by Howard Gardner*

A Life of One’s Own by Joanna Field*

Dictionary of Art and Artists by Peter and Linda Murray “Definitive and well written classic information on lots of stuff.” (Pete Moon)

The World Through Blunted Sight by Patrick Trevor-Roper “Blindness, color blindness, myopia, etc., and their effect on artists in a historical perspective.” (Randy)

Art & Soul by Audry Flack* “Truly food for the artist’s soul.” (Anni Adkins)

Design Synectics by Nicholas Roukes

Art Synectics by Nicholas Roukes. “Some of the exercises in them are good kickoff points especially when I get stuck.” (Mary Bennett)

Being Happy by Andrew Matthews. “For any person who wants to grow happier. Matthews is a professional portrait artist.” (Leanne Cadden, Victoria, B.C.)

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

Man’s Search for Meaning by Alexander Solzenheitzen

The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell

The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David S. Landes “Unrelated to art but nevertheless has deep implications on my work.” (Gandee Vasan, London, England)

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Oil Painting, Watson-Guptill

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Watercolor, Watson-Guptill

Enliven Your Paintings with Light by Phil Metzger “This book captures the qualities of light: types of light sources, shadows, reflections and refractions, capturing time and place, suggesting distance, defining form and texture, creating mood etc.” (Lois Matthews, Coletti)

Art Class (A Complete Guide to Painting), Chronicle Books

Artist’s Manual, Chronicle Books

Collage Techniques (A Guide for Artists) by Gerald Brommer

Color Choices by Stephen Quiller

Painter’s Guide to Color by Stephen Quiller

Transparent Watercolor Wheel by Jim Kosvanek

Guide to Watercolor Paints by Hilary Page

Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie

Color Harmony 2 by Bride M. Whelan

Exploring Color by Nita Leland

Color and Light by Christopher Schink

Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson

Drawing & Sketching by Stan Smith

Alla Prima by Richard Schmid* “Beautifully produced insight into the methods of this widely respected artist.” (Bob Tenniel)

Pollyanna, E. H. Porter “Always be satisfied with your life. Even in bad times look at the good side of it.” (Denise Enslen)

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevallier “A fictionalized version of the life of Vermeer.” (Nina Stahlberg, PA, USA)

Memory of Fire by Eduardo Galeano. “A trilogy history as ‘told in story vignette form’ in lighter fashion with the unique proposal that we take a look at the planet and its history from the ‘viewfinders’ of those who were the original inhabitors of the ‘new world.’ ” (Marcia Riquelme)

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

I, Rigoberta by Rigoberta Menchu “A true story of courage, great love, and a chunk of history worth viewing through the eyes of a brave soul who overcame great obstacles and great personal danger and tragedy to become a ‘promoter’ of the best in the Mayan culture, and the best in peacemaking.” (Marcia Riquelme)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston “She is one of the finest writers of the Harlem Renaissance.” (Marcia Riquelme)

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold “This one is for the ‘child’ in all of us, and a more charming book has yet to exist.” (Marcia Riquelme)

Eva Luna by Isabel Allende “A young woman delights us as she shows how imagination and storytelling can lead to solutions in a charming, funny bittersweet, and brave way, and how a ‘lost person’ can help create a full and wonderful life through sheer guts and brains.” (Marcia Riquelme)

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting by John F. Carlson

Psychopictography by Vernon Howard

Watercolour by John Yardley

The Painted Word by Tom Wolff* “A simple expose by a non-painting truth-seeker of the power and sham of critical opinion among New York’s cutting edge.” (R. Baker)

Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

How I Paint by Thomas S. Buechner “He has spent a lifetime studying technique, and has been teaching art since the 1950’s. Buechner is an oil painter.” (Bonnie Hamlin)

Watercolor Secrets by Tom Lynch

Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. “This book made me feel as though the authors had crawled inside my brain and purged my thoughts and feelings into written word. It confronts the inhibitions that plunge us into inactivity or stifle our creativity and challenges us to look beyond these destructive forces and continue on the path of artmaking.” (Laurie Friesen) “Description of his use of techniques, values, colours, shapes, impact areas and mood. Plus I always enjoy looking at reproductions of his paintings. (Bonnie Hamlin)

No More Secondhand Art by Peter London

The Underpainter by Jane Urquhart

Making Room for Making Art by Sally Warner

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson “about consuming passion and love” (Joey Lindsey)

Lust for Life by Irving Stone “A biography of Vincent Van Gogh. No biography has ever gone deep into the soul of an artist like this book. Perhaps it is because Theo had the insight to save so many of Vincent’s letters that we can have the opportunity to have this view of a man, driven to create, who was misunderstood by almost all who knew him. I cherish this book and when I am discouraged by my own artistic achievement, I remember how many paintings Vincent sold during his life… and THAT fact did not alter him from his desire to create. His passion continues to inspire me daily.” (Nancy M. Patterson)

Zen and the Beat Way by Allan Watts

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, Shunryu Suzuki “speaks to the creative soul and encourages spontaniety.” (Radha)

(RG note) Thanks to all who took the time to help with this resource.



Peter Barton, London, UK

Do you have a method for scanning and evaluating books before wasting time reading when you have things to get on with?

(RG note) I treat books the same way I do museums and art galleries — I try to look for and find the things that are currently interesting me. A way of doing it is — breeze through, be attracted by, go back for greater depth. Use the table of contents and the index. A good system for busy people is to read IN books — the type of books we need don’t have to be read in their entirety, like novels. M. Garcia mentioned the Joaquin Sorolla book published by Sarpe. I happen to have this one too. The text is in Spanish but translations are available in other languages. I have held it in my hands and looked at the illustrations of his marvelous paintings many many times. Thanks to Joaquin everything in it makes me want to paint more and better.



F. W. Moss

I never read fiction. Is there something wrong with me?

(RG note) That’s something I’ve noticed about a lot of creative people. Perhaps it’s because the imagination of artists is already rich and not so in need of escape and fantasy as in others. There’s also the practical side — artists frequently just want the information so that they can get on with their own inner worlds. If the private inner world is rich enough to sustain — what could possibly be wrong with that? Would I purchase that piece of art and display it in my home? Perhaps. I would certainly value it as a touchstone to an intimate and insightful moment. What motivates anyone to buy art?


The Painter’s Keys

Ralph P. Nelson

It’s a small book. Because it’s in the format of a seminar it’s a bit mixed up and at the whim of the participants. But in its goofy and truthful way it’s one of the most useful books I’ve ever read. From somewhere over the rainbow to putting titles on your paintings, it deserves to be up there with the best.

(RG note) Though some people wrote, mentioned and praised it, we decided to leave it off the list. Couldn’t resist this letter though.


What an age we live in dept

(RG note) I saw Bernd’s work on the Internet and my assistant sent him an invitation to take part in the email project. He replied in what looks to me like excellent German which we ran through the translation software that we use when this occurs. Here is his letter for your interest just as it came out of the machine in this as yet imperfect world:

Unfortunately am I quite more plattfuessiger english men and I could never so wonderfully global express itself. Reading I mitgekriegt some, but rather any asseverations that everything is respectable and sowas. Thus an idea exchange with me is, so much I him me indeed required, very with difficulty, because one finds nevertheless each Unterton in its language important and I such a language idiot is. Now write me please letters or let it be, my responses become be so German, as I can do it only, whereby I whether this inadequacy do not praise myself. Very gladly I could answer in the familiar English, but I can understand hardly everything, what in such a way I read. Thus I make sculptures and erasures, live in Germany, love all women, if they please me and she tries to birds. Besides I make pictures and sculptures from wood, iron or bronze, have bad money scarcities, but a beautiful house. Women are me the admiration-worthiest and I always look their proximity up and admire them like cats. I am ungelenk and virtuos in everything which me inspired. A quasi Modo, which it lacks ugliness. Catch which with the Quatsch on or delete it simple, it is a bright summer day the clouds paint us pictures to the sky and the sea sings in addition. Prost, Streiter from Moedlich in Germanie on or RK the of river Elbe. Bernd Streiter


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