Dear Artist,

These days the wind blows on this island from the northwest, fluttering hard the worldwide flags of the beach-cottagers. Clouds form over the distant coastal ranges, building among the highest peaks. Then they move out into the great gulf and rise to pass overhead. Effortlessly they form and reform. They have their early character and their late. In the morning: blue-gray, transparent, understated. In the evening: warm, purpled, energetic, dramatic. These clouds present the perennial quandary: Do I redesign them to suit a composition — to add control and solidity to the work? Or do I go with the arbitrary mystery of the vapour — the magic of hiding and transformation?


“Extensive Landscape with Grey Clouds” ca. 1821
oil on paper on panel
28 x 19 cm
by John Constable (1776-1837)

Here on this shore there’s shimmering reflection in the rolling seaforms — the sun half in, half out of the clouds. A couple of kayaks knife the water, their paddlers laid back, intermittent, dreaming. I’m having that terrible feeling that I will never be able to do justice to this.

In Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, law number four is of particular interest to artists. It’s called “The Law of Least Effort.” Chopra’s idea is that Nature’s intelligence functions with “effortless ease, carefreeness, harmony and love.” He gets us into this blissful state when we fully accept our world at any moment, by taking personal responsibility for our current situation, and by forgetting about trying to defend a particular point of view.


oil sketch by John Constable

Thinking of my art school days, “least effort” is not a term I’d use. Those days were full of painful attempts at matching colours in sun and shade, fighting to get my pencil or brush around compound shapes, toiling over impossible gradations. Now I’m seeing Chopra’s point. That effortless business kicks in when you put your pain safely into your pocket. Like Chopra’s “Laws” the job requires repetition, practice, private effort. Whether you’re building your character or cutting out some clouds — you have to do the groundwork. You have to be alone with it. To float like a cloud you have to go to the trouble of becoming one.


“Cloud Study”
by John Constable

Best regards,


PS: “When we harness the forces of harmony, joy and love, we create success and good fortune with effortless ease.” (Deepak Chopra)

Esoterica: As we progress in our art-making we find it increasingly easy to fall back on our bag of tricks. Alone under the sky I can free myself of this tendency and happily burn through my expendable supports. Where there are few expectations, expediency wins. Nobody ever said you can’t use a six-inch tar-brush or the scrag-end of a cedar stick. Practical stuff is surprisingly at hand. Here on this mossy rock between flights of turnstones one can float like a cloud. Save for Dorothy, no one is looking.

This letter was originally published as “Clouds” on August 24, 2004.


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“I know very well what I am about and that my skies have not been neglected, though they often failed in execution — and often no doubt from over anxiety about them…” (John Constable)



  1. Sylvia Tucker on

    “He gets us into this blissful state when we fully accept our world at any moment, by taking personal responsibility for our current situation, and by forgetting about trying to defend a particular point of view.”
    Such a sweet and painful thing to learn….

  2. “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
    From up and down, and still somehow
    It’s cloud illusions I recall
    I really don’t know clouds at all” Joni Mitchell of course

    Could we ever tire of painting skies and clouds? – I don’t think so! So much beauty – so little time . . .

  3. Raquel Kleizer on

    Congratulations for the wonderful selection of John Constable´s works.
    Clouds always take me to undefinabie roads of beauty: shapes, shades, intense emotion
    I feel an anxiety towards self-transformation and vividly incorporate my surroundings with a loving approach.

  4. When I am under the pressure of time and weather I find I do my best work. I no longer fuss and get persnickety. I look, make a color, and respond with a brush stroke, never second-guessing myself. The wind blows my easel down and the canvas goes face-first in the sand. I pick it up, replace it, ignore the sand and keep going. As I am leaving with my canvas in hand and my backpack loaded, I get a final kick from mother nature and topple over in the sand. It was a soft landing and I laugh at my situation, feeling a bit like a turtle on its’ back, but I get up and keep going. Looking at that painting, later, I realize it’s one of the best I’ve done, with strong, sure brush marks and intense emotion.

  5. Back then, I listened to all the rules, carefully allowing them to guide my strokes and color choices. Then my father gave me a set of Italian painting knives, and a skinny set of Winsor and Newton Alkyds for my 25th birthday and I wondered, can I possibly paint with these strange things? The variety of sizes and shapes quickly became meaningful and the spring when they touched my canvas, as I scraped, pushed and pulled the various passages made me smile. Lack of control felt emotional and wonderful at the same time. I was painting with a speed I never thought possible. Occasionally, frustration would sit beside me and say, “Just where do think you are going with this?” I can laugh now. I have gone lots of places, and I take those knives and Alkyds every time I go.

  6. Clouds have an important story to tell with every painting. Changing them to arbitrarily suit something else can be fraught with deceit. Some artists sadly use clouds like window dressings…

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