A charmed life


Dear Artist,

My dad used to say that I led a charmed life. He’d say, “He’s never had a job, he loves what he does, he’s a happy guy and he always seems to have enough money to do what he wants and look after everyone else.”

Hearing this sort of thing has given me pause to consider just what a “charmed life” is.

During the decade of my twenties, when all of my friends seemed to be doing just fine, I was struggling to make ends meet. My work was selling all right — for peanuts — and I was already developing a taste for cashews. The old bank balance didn’t always balance. I was an unfocused dreamer.

During my thirties the arrival of family responsibilities brought further pressure. It was at this time that I began to see that work habits were more important than almost everything else. In a TV interview I gave at that time, the interviewer asked what my goals were for the next few years. I said, “To work to get good.”

Fact is, I had a Damocles Sword hanging over my head. I saw quality work as my key to a charmed life, but I was constantly discovering my shortcomings. I lived with the spectre that I was a mediocre artist, so I was working daily to understand what was going on, and how I might improve. It’s a problem for those of us who try to make things look easy — no one sees the sweat.

As well as dealing with the frustration of my inadequacies, the nature of my independence required mutuality with others. The fine-tuning of dealers, agents and advisors became a sub-plot to my daily studio struggles. There were disappointments there too. Being nervous and maybe even neurotic, I’ve always strived for a minimum of conflict. In retrospect, I realize that there was plenty of conflict between my artistic dreams and the reality of my work. I don’t think I could have handled much more.

Somewhere along the line I became addicted to the fixing of my errors. The studio drew me in like a druggie to a needle, and I arrived early every day to get my fix. I’m still doing it. I’ve actually come to love this purgatory. Maybe that’s what a charmed life is all about.

Best regards,


PS: “The way to achieve happiness is to try for perfection that is impossible to achieve, and spend the rest of your life trying to achieve it.” (Winston Churchill)

Esoterica: While economics can be a driver, habits are better. When you’ve had one twelve-hour creative marathon, it’s a lot easier to have another. Even Fen Lansdowne (see responses in clickback Bird man), who ate and slept birds and loved to be in the field, was a compulsive studio worker. Speaking of fields, this sort of “charm” applies to any field. Adam Kreek, one of Canada’s Olympic Gold rowing eights, said, “We train longer and harder than anyone else in the world — we’ve rowed when our bodies are frozen.”


Filled with eager anticipation
by Gwen Fox, Colorado Springs, CO, USA


original painting
by Gwen Fox

A charmed life — that is the artist life. We are the luckiest people in the world. We see our surroundings in a different manner than others. The colors, shapes and design that we see are then translated onto canvas or paper for others to discover a new world to love. I tell my students… sleep fast. The excitement of the next day fills me with eager anticipation. Blessed… ah yes.





The waltz
by Dorenda Crager Watson, Columbus, OH, USA


oil painting
by Dorenda Crager Watson

The act of creating art is not only an addiction, but a dance with an unwilling partner. Outsiders think what you do as an artist is “easy” because they only see the final product and your joy at the end of the process… they are not there when you are tripping over Creations feet! They do not see the gallons of tears, the maddening frustration, the many false starts, and the multitude of hours that result in a piece of art… a charmed life (?) …yes, and I’m gleefully waltzing all the way!





Half crazy with apprehension
by Kathleen Thurston, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Work habits are the bane of my existence — and yes, I am broke. I honestly believe I am a visionary but I am almost always inclined to not attempt to reproduce my visions for fear of them not coming through on paper, canvas and other media the way they appear in my mind. Perfection is not my goal; reproducing what I see as I see it is. I feel I’ll start soon. I feel half crazy a lot of time, and what it requires is action to cut through the fog. I’d like to say my devotion to my son and grown daughters is motivation enough, but it isn’t.

There are 2 comments for Half crazy with apprehension by Kathleen Thurston

From: Dottie Dracos — Aug 26, 2008
From: Jennifer Bellinger — Aug 26, 2008

Hi Kathleen, I agree with the habit of a painting a day, but why not start even smaller, say 5×7 or 6×8 or a 6×6 square might be exciting if you haven’t worked square? A favorite quote by Leonard Wolfe “You can’t edit a blank page”. Nike would say “Just Do It”. Surprise yourself first without the worry of showing anything to anyone.


No silver spoon
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA

My dad was very poor. I grew up in his home, and I was very poor. At some point I met art. I was about twelve. I have been a rich man ever since that day. Art has been my career and my side money. I had no silver spoon, but I had a sharp eye, and an instinct for art. The only man that influenced me was my grand dad. I spent every Saturday of my life with him. That was 1959 until 1972. I was a young boy. But, my grand dad taught me things. The wisdom I first caught, and the bit I live by, was his claim, and his credo. “This falling down house is just a bunch of stuff.” What a lesson, he provided for me. My grandfather was fearless. He and I made his home a dream castle.

I bought my own place. It was “condemned.” It is 35 years later, and my home is about 130 years old. It has become a treasure. I did this myself. I had no money from my family. No silver spoon.


Lessening the risk
by Stacy Zimmerman


“Standing alone”
by Stacy Zimmerman

My life is likewise charmed — ha! Never see the sweat, that’s exactly right. You must allow people in, close enough for them to see the sweaty parts, and in my case I keep everyone out so it lessens the risk, you see. That’s why I must finish a project before anyone sees it, else it becomes cursed and impossible to complete. Most of my work ends up in the garbage but occasionally something decent emerges from the rubble. I keep the good stuff for myself and sell the crap for peanuts. I do accept cashews as well.


Making it happen
by Kristine Morris

I am a painter and freelance writer and am writing a book with the working title “Making it in the Arts in Rural America.” As with all things, the title and focus may change as I learn more about what others do to survive while being true to the vision they have for themselves. My hope is that you, and others of your acquaintance, might like to contribute their stories to this book. My thesis is that most of what we read about artists is based on an unrealistic, and very much surface, appraisal of what such a life entails — that those of us who are working artists want very much to know how others are making it happen — that we somehow belong to a hidden circle of those who believe that, in spite of what we have been told, it is art that will survive — that it is worth the sacrifice it entails to be makers of art, worth it not just for ourselves (it is not an ego-driven pursuit for most of us), but for our species, and beyond that, for the nurturing of the eternal Spirit that blazes within each of us.


On a mission
by Carolyn McFann, Largo, FL, USA


Carolyn at the beach

Like Robert, those who know me have thought I’ve led a charmed life. My twenties were full of play, having fun but also doing a lot of artwork and working hard. Back then, clients liked to tell me they’re broke but I can do the project “for experience and exposure.” Experience and exposure help a little; alone they don’t pay the rent. I learned to stand up for myself and my art and get paid. I can dicker, sell and talk business after years of practise and many hard knocks. There were prosperous and lean times; it was a roller coaster that was ever changing. When money wasn’t an object, I traveled. When it was scarce, I didn’t eat much. Freelancing isn’t for the faint of heart.

Now, from the thirties onwards, I have been on a mission to improve my craft, learn from my past mistakes and improve upon old techniques. My work is always evolving, and I’m always learning. It feels good to be older, to know myself and my craft better. But I’m never satisfied; always wanting more, better, etc. It is an addiction, this never ceasing feeling of happiness in doing what I love. I am also fuelled by the desire to live comfortably, which I do now. I’ve paid my dues and am proud of it. My life has been a sum of learning experiences, and it’s interesting how it all ties together eventually. I guess in my own way, I’ve led a charmed life, too.


The last coat of varnish…
by Kevin Obregon


“Tom Delay”
original painting
by Kevin Obregon

I know that we keep getting up earlier and earlier (I’m at 5:30 a.m. now) so I can get our day started, what with so much computer work necessary in keeping our small art business’ website interesting, tracking a rough-hewn PR campaign, e-mailing and phone-calling, and researching the market — all before noon! Five-thirty a.m., because that’s so the whole day won’t end up being spent on ‘the premise’ of being an artist and not ‘the product’ of being an artist.

But the charmed life really is charming. Almost existential in terms of what counts as an artist is your work, not the back-story, screams and shrieks of ‘Awe!’ and ‘Ah!’ that no one hears when you’re hard at work in your studio. But the real charm comes in the small reminders like when we have to venture out into traffic and exhaust fumes and remember why we left our jobs. Like having to wait in line at the post office when you could be finishing that last layer of varnish. Like waking up ten feet from a cantankerous money-printing machine that sometimes makes money if you move the right paint from one container to another. Like the unpredictability and ecstasy of depositing that check from a sale. It’s charming to hang out by the coffee maker, talking with your partner and deciding which color looks better with your sideways hair and dried spittle-smeared shirt.


More alive
by Corrine Bongiovanni, Windham, ME, USA


“Maine Barn”
watercolour painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Corrine Bongiovanni

I can certainly identify with much about your struggle to “arrive” so to speak. I once took a workshop with another Maine painter, Carlton Plummer who is best known for his watercolours of rocky coastlines. He stressed how to fix mistakes and the reality that most can be corrected or turned into something worth keeping. Given the nature of watercolours and former teachers emphasizing that you “lay it down once and get it right the first time,” there was no room for anything but perfection! However, since adopting Carlton’s persistence and beliefs in resurrection of faulty works, I have grown a back bone of courage and confidence that keeps me keeping on. The huge secondary gain to no longer throwing so much work out has been the need to actually learn how to paint better, smarter, and how to keep learning through a painting in process. Curiously, I now feel more alive, more challenged, and more connected to each painting. It now feels like a reflection of my brain at work rather than simply something I do. Obviously, I still haven’t “arrived” but now, I’m not sure if I really want to reach that status. You may be right in where the charmed life is at!


Fighting the fight
by Nina Allen Freeman, Tallahassee, FL, USA


“New life”
acrylic painting, 8 x 10 inches
by Nina Allen Freeman

As a young artist, I lacked your courage to fight the fight and instead married and stopped painting. Years later, the painting called me back.

People sometimes ask me about my current work habits in the studio. I am one of those who rise early, in my pj’s with a cup of coffee and work in the company of the cat until noon.

Regular habits will get you in the studio, but it is the courage of commitment to your art that will keep you coming back. When I started painting again I learned how important this is to my being and I will never be without it again.

I read between the lines of your letter describing your early struggles a commitment to being the best. Too many of us settle early on the expectations of other people.

Thank you for your courage to continue to fight for your independence in spite of your misgivings and difficulties and for finding this way to pass your wisdom on to us!


Accomplishing life goals
by Paul Kane, Bloomington, IN, USA

Sometimes I get pretty down when I think about the many life goals I’ve failed to fulfill — and it’s not that life is over, so far as I know, but I’m far from young now, and many goals have become improbable. Others seem barely possible.

I can think endlessly about some pretty discouraging questions. What if I’d sold more work? What if I’d worked harder, or done things differently? What if I’d handled conflict or disappointment better? What if others had been there for me at critical points, others I relied on, but who let me down? Etc. Such rumination can be selfish and pointless. Sometimes there are elements of truth to it.

But isn’t it amazing how easily one can forget that, when starting out, one didn’t know if ANY life goals would be accomplished? It’s startling to me to think back on how I felt when I started out. There are so many things I HAVE accomplished that I barely dared to dream possible then. It took courage to have dreams then. And it takes some courage now to accept that not all dreams come true, but some do, and those are so much to be treasured.

There is 1 comment for Accomplishing life goals by Paul Kane

From: Janet Badger — Aug 27, 2008

In elementary school I wrote poetry and my teachers would have me recite it to my class and others. Then in 7th grade I showed my English teacher my new poem and she termed it a “doggerel” which, when I looked it up, seemed rather a perjorative term. I didn’t write another poem for years and years. Now, decades later, I am back to my poetry, rhythm and rhyme Rule…Adults, mind your mouths when it comes to creativity. It is to be encouraged, at all times.


Encouraging the young
by Pamela Haddock, Sylva, NC, USA


“Cold press”
watercolour painting, 20 x 30 inches
by Pamela Haddock

I was at lunch the other day with some friends, one of whom is a 13 year old young man who loves art. His mom said, “He wants to be an artist one day.” I looked up and met his eyes and said, “He already is one!” The boy thanked me with his eyes and smiled to himself.

Later his mom mentioned he had trouble in math. One of the men at the table, a retired lawyer and hobby artist said laughingly, “Yeah well he better get good at math if he’s gonna be an artist so he can keep up with his losses.” The boy’s expression soured and he didn’t look at me this time. After the meal I went to his end of the table and put my arm around his shoulders. “You know what you want,” I told him, “Don’t let anyone’s words discourage you.” He hugged me and we parted.

I think I will copy your letter and send it to him. I don’t know his email address but I will probably try to register him for your letters. He is worth encouraging. You serve as an encouragement to me, thank you.

There are 5 comments for Encouraging the young by Pamela Haddock

From: Jane Alcorn — Aug 25, 2008

I had tears in my eyes when I read about the 13 year old young man who was told that he needed math to keep track of his losses.

My son is an artist. His first successful exhibition sold well when he was about 16 years old. He invited his math teacher to the opening. She commented that he shouldn’t worry about maths. “just hire an accountant!” Of course, her implication was that he would earn plenty of money and employ whatever help he needed. I have been forever appreciative of her confidence in his ability, the more so when I read of such opposite experiences.

From: Jennifer — Aug 26, 2008

I was at dinner a few weeks ago with a woman in her 40’s who told me that when she was about 12 she had an art teacher in school who told her that she had no talent and could never be an artist. Imagine that — a school teacher saying that to a child! So from then on, she thought she couldn’t draw so she never did. But a few years ago, armed with some courage after running a successful business, she picked up a paint brush and started painting beautiful abstracts. Of course, there were many bombs along the way. She still does not consider herself an artist. I do.

From: Dottie Dracos — Aug 26, 2008

If adults only knew how powerful their words are to young people . . .

From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Aug 26, 2008

I have always told my young art students that when someone gives them a negative comment about a life in the arts to look them straight in the eye and say, “Do you know that everything on the planet that wasn’t created in nature was first created by an artist?” I then arm them with examples: your clothing (fashion designers,) your houses (architects,) your furniture (industrial designers,) your cars, toys, computer game…even food (chefs are artists as well!) This knowledge gives the student power over the negative comment and gives the source of the comment pause to think…or re-think, as it were :)

From: Tatjana M-P — Sep 02, 2008

I have also been mostly discouraged about art as a child. While discouragement is absolutely horrible, some types of encouragement can be damaging too, especially by the manipulative adults. I think that helping children develop good working habits and understand all the oppotunities is the best than can be done.



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for A charmed life



From: Bortolo Marola — Aug 22, 2008

I don’t think I completely agree with you regarding your Prior Disappointment Syndrome and I just had to say so. I always find that no matter where I travel to, and for me all travel is work related, no matter where I go, I’m constantly seeing the world around me in terms of my next painting. Therefore I’m constantly on a creative high and full of energy.

Being away from the studio, and my familiar surroundings recharges my soul, my energy and my creativity to the point where I just have to paint otherwise I feel I might explode with the fire that is building up inside. There are no thoughts of failure, or self-doubt, there is no time in my life for either of these two crutches. If a painting doesn’t turn out as expected so what? Most end up being better. The important thing is what you learn during the process of painting that last painting.

Failure is a purely subjective notion. If failure means that a painting does not sell, I will tell you I have at least five or six of them keeping me company here in the studio. But I don’t consider them failures. They have become the milestones of my life’s journey as an artist. I look at them with fondness. For how can you know where you are, or where you are going, if you don’t know where you’ve been?

When I return from any trip I’m totally pumped and rearing to go. As long as I can keep painting I feel unstoppable and I’m happy and satisfied. The only anxiety and panic that sets in is that which I experience when I’m away from my work for any length of time. That is when I become an unbearable monster, for I sometime wonder if I will ever be able to recapture the previous highs in the work, and the euphoria that comes from the realization that I’m painting ever better. The horizon line of that which is possible continues to elude me, and that is the way it should be, for it is the race, and discovery that comes with it, that ads to the satisfaction of the artistic journey.

I take my hat off to Henry Ford, and I’ve actually owned several great Ford products, but history is not bunk. After all, if you don’t learn from your mistakes are you not condemned to repeat them?

From: Tinker Bachant — Aug 22, 2008

I tend to follow Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice: “You must do the thing you cannot do”.

From: Robert Redus — Aug 22, 2008

After reading “A Charmed Life”, I found myself reflecting on my immediate station as a painter. I have been an artist for 30 years yet moved to painting just 5 years ago. The completely different dynamic from being a jeweler to a painter is enormous as well as a whole new set of obsessions to work with. Working in jewelry for so many years required a level of perfection that has translated over to canvas in a much different manner than I expected. I still exam things in millimeters while painting on a 6 foot panel. That in itself makes the level of inadequacies very apparent and often consuming. Failures are a necessary aspect of any work and in many cases my failed paintings are reminders to me that minimal, small mistakes are also small issues on the grand scale of large paintings. I work everyday in my studio no longer fixing the small things but emphasizing the aspects that make the paintings work. If I need to remind myself of small yet monumental errors I’ll build a piece of jewelry.

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” George Bernard Shaw

From: Joyce Barker — Aug 22, 2008

In regard to disappointments, I don’t know of any artist who has not had a “white elephant” in his/her repertoire of artistic endeavors. It takes the blah works to show up the masterpieces. However, it is heartbreaking to spend days or weeks on a piece and come to the realization you’ve wasted your precious time. Or maybe not……..there could be a lesson there. Let’s not forget that “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”.

From: Greg Rapier — Aug 23, 2008

I am an artist that is trapped in a mechanics body. At 60 years old I have been a father, a husband, a provider, a fixer of the family car, and so on. Now I am just starting to use my time for my art. Your letter A charmed life is very timely to me. It is good to hear of the struggles that an artist of your caliber has gone through. It helps to know that the things I am going through are the same as top artist’s had to experience. I know that all other great artist have to go through a learning curb but hearing seems to help. I wrote a letter here a few months back and had a number of the artist write me and beat my art work up pretty good. At the same time I was going through some tough time at home with a 42 year old stepdaughter and a aging mother in law that was very trying. I almost gave up on my art and am still licking my wounds. I have returned to the studio and am once again working on paintings. I have to work a day job that takes up 12 hours of my day and take care of thing here at home before I can get to the studio. All that and I still fine the time to work on my oil paintings. So thanks for your letters they help me to keep going even when other artist put down my work and pressures at home build up.

From: Nick Stone — Aug 25, 2008

Robert, I don’t believe in a charmed life. That sounds too much as though we are ruled by luck. You need two charms: an enchantment with simple things and enchanting company. If you can be enchanted by a beautiful view and the need to get it on canvas, and if you have a partner who understands that need, you are complete. I think it is probable that your supportive family and your desire to learn and grow are your charms. Had you wished to become rich and famous, you might have succeeded but I suspect your letters would be far less charming.

From: John Ferrie — Aug 25, 2008

It seems that TV Psychiatrists tell everyone that “nothing is their fault” and everyone buys into it. Big Surprise! But having a “charmed life” seems almost derogatory. People think that fame and fortune is a sign of wealth. I think otherwise. First of all, being a painter is what defines me. Tapping into my creative is a gift and I am so lucky to be able to do that. However, I know that the bulk of the greatest work is still a head of me and I can always be better. But Wealth can be shown in so many other ways. We are on this planet for such a brief period of time. For some god unknown reason people seem to think their wealth has to do with the amount of money they have.

Whenever I have a friend in a difficult time, I always ask them what they are passionate about. Most do not seem to know. They throw themselves into a job or a relationship and let that define who they are. When it ends it shatters their life. A sign of wealth is when you have good friends, family, a relationship with a higher power and most of all passion. I am not sure if I have a “charmed life”, but I Know what defines me…

From: Jeanne Rhea — Aug 26, 2008
From: Rick Rotante — Aug 28, 2008

“A charmed life” With every life comes heartache, disappointment and problems as well as successes. Even for those viewed with “charmed lives” its all a matter of degree. I see it as envy/desire of those who have vs others who don’t have. “Charmed life could mean money, fame, beauty or artistic inclinations. Many have these attributes and have never acted on it. Some tried and didn’t have what it takes to stick to it. A charmed life doesn’t mean having all answers to problems. Being beautiful doesn’t makes ones life easier. These attributes all come with pitfalls. Those who put their talent on the chopping block and take risks everyday feel the results more than those who suffer in silent anonymity. The biggest travesty in life would be to say to oneself – What if? Artist’s, in every field, don’t say what if, they do it. They try it. Sometime they fail. That is also part of having a “charmed life.” Without failure the successes aren’t as sweet. To those who have tried and quit, their life is less than charmed. Or so they think. Those who look as though they live a charmed life, take advantage of opportunity, take risk and are willing to fail and still go on. They fall and continue to get up. This to me is a charmed life.

From: melinda wilde — Sep 02, 2008

Thanks…I needed that!!!!






Vermont stream

oil painting on canvas
by Aleta Gudelski, Durham, CT, USA


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 Phoebe Stone who wrote, “People have no idea how hard we work and how much pain we live with being sensitive and yes, neurotic!”

And also Mark Rue of San Antonio, TX, USA who wrote, “My father, a wise and artistic man, once told me, ‘Nothing in this world is perfect — the trick is not to reach perfection, but to get so close to perfect that no one can tell the difference.’ ”

And also Roger Thomas of New Zealand who wrote, “At a time when you start to doubt yourself creatively in a dull economic climate, the letters are very helpful. Keep them coming.”

And also Joy Gush of New York, NY, USA who wrote, “In life we do our best in all jobs that need to be done and somehow, at the right time, an ‘angel’ comes into our lives in meditation to help guide us and give us comfort. This has worked for me hundreds of times over the years when I have worked hard for that charmed life.”




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