A complex effort


Dear Artist,

Off the northern tip of Haida Gwaii lies Langara Island. It’s wild and lush, with great heaving seas below wheeling gulls and soaring eagles. The rocky bluffs are the home of puffins and guillemots, while the waters abound with humpback whales, orcas and sea lions. The weather is unpredictable — one minute it’s sparkling sunshine, the next, a storm is sweeping in from the Pacific. At one time almost every cove on Langara had a totem-fronted village — now all have been overtaken and enveloped by dark and mysterious spruce. Today, along the more sheltered shores, there are a few high-end fishing lodges where captains of industry arrive by helicopter to drag their lines for salmon.


“Stellar’s sea lions”
on Langara Rocks

Fishing is very much like painting. You hang out in interesting places and try to get inspired. Some days you hit big, other days there ain’t no fish. Sometimes the small fry are running, at other times you go for Tyee. You have to keep a lot of info in your head. Funnily, in painting you’re never completely skunked. You can fish all day, catch nothing, and still call it ‘fishing.’ But if you don’t paint, you can’t call it ‘painting.’ In painting, you always come back with something.


Haida totems in the last stages of decay

There are generally four customers to a boat, with a guide as the CEO. He (or she) has to be a swift multi-tasker. Wind, tide, drift, bait, depth and speed are concerns. The guide knows about vessel manoeuvres, set-up, local lore and species peculiarities. He carries both private knowledge and conventional wisdom. VHS radio has him in touch with other action. It’s competitive. Keeping lines in the water is basic. Losing attention or losing control can be deadly. Our guy, Pete Sloan, is on top of his game. We’re landing some nice ones.


A good place to fish – lots of boats

Dropping in on a new place is a valuable artist’s ploy. By suddenly arriving you can vividly contrast your previous inspirations. You begin to see new angles, colours and compositions. Ideas come on the flood tide. The details, unknowable from a distance, give the keys to potentials. Prior theory is overtaken by present reality. Further, the power of a place can be truly sensed and felt. Just as the sea’s dark mystery yields up the bodies of her beautiful beings, so arrives a creative understanding that would not be possible without a complex effort.


The wild edge of Langara

Best regards,


PS: “The profoundest thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until an equal mind and heart finds and publishes it.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Esoterica: Maybe it’s the salty air. There’s something to be said for a Nor’wester to blow out the studio fog. Also, out on the job, crew members get wired by their own contagious enthusiasm and mutual focus. You have to believe that a lure sent down will be ineffective without anticipation and excitement. “We make our best discoveries while in the state of high functioning because then we are clear-sighted.” (Robert Henri)


No pressure for Sunday fishers
by Clint Watson, San Antonio, TX, USA

Actually, if one is a professional fisherman, he can’t really call it fishing if he doesn’t consistently come back with a catch. Likewise with professional painters. Sunday painters and Sunday fishermen, on the other hand, are liberated from the pressure to produce and free to enjoy the process and while away the hours lost in the journey that is painting… or fishing. Sometimes the journey is more rewarding than the destination, even those destinations that are never quite reached.


New location awakens
by Andrea Pottyondy Stoffer, Fall River, NS, Canada


“Memory of Taipei”
mixed media, 20 x 30 inches
by Andrea Pottyondy Stoffer

I agree. Visiting a new location, whether abroad or close to home is a great way to awaken the creative spirit. Foreign countries present intriguing colour palettes, peculiar artscape features that we artists could not possibly conjure up from our own imaginings. I experienced this on a recent trip to Taiwan. On returning home I was eager to put onto paper and canvas my experiences of this beautiful island. We need to get out of our comfort zone at least once a year!





Childhood in a fly-over
by James Culleton, Montreal, QC, Canada


“Shawn Sage”
by James Culleton

I just recently experienced the place I grew up in, but in a completely different and inspiring way. I flew over it in a two-seat ultra-light plane, basically a hang-glider with a propeller on it. It was simply amazing, no windows, and five hundred feet in the air. It was peaceful and breathtaking. It was like someone had made an h/o scale model of the place where I had my first steps as a boy.



Inspiration for all
by Mike Mayer, Hong Kong

A complex effort reminded me of a quote in Philip Roth’s latest novel Everyman. “Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.” (Chuck Close) But what about those of us who are not professional painters? Could you say something encouraging to the amateurs in your audience who sometimes find it hard to “get up and go to work” especially when they believe they are not making the progress they think they should be making? How important is it to just “do it” compared to looking for “inspiration?”

(RG note) Thanks, Mike. Both amateurs and professionals need to try for excellence. And when amateurs try to put on the feathers of the pro, they become better artists and this gives them more joy. And as for inspiration, don’t kid yourself, pros need to look for and find it every day. But they do, as you suggest, have a little secret: Inspiration comes by “doing it.”


Painting as a foil for writing
by Valerie Norberry, Kalamazoo, MI, USA

I am a medical transcriptionist. I just basically type what I am told with a little quick editing at a rate of 1,000 to 1400 lines per day. We get foreign dictators to whom conversational English is a chore. It is my job to straighten out sentences like “Throw the cow over the fence some hay,” and “Throw mother down the stairs the old bag,” and such. That is an example of Penn Dutch, but you get the idea. Otherwise, I like to do watercolor plein air sitting in my ’03 silver Chrysler Sebring LX 4 door, 4-cylinder, at Long Lake Boat Launch.


Despoiling the environment
by Anonymous

What are you doing despoiling the world’s diminishing fish populations by taking part in the blood sport of so-called sport fishing? It shows disregard for the environment when you could be out using your considerable ability to help the world to behold its own beauty. You have merely joined the ranks of the ‘captains of industry’ who have a need to carry their capitalist aggression and competitive attitude into what should remain spiritual places.


The highway of the open mind
by Adriana Alarcon, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

As a young woman I travelled from Winnipeg to Vancouver Island and stayed on the west coast for three weeks. I travelled with my best friend and her family in their family van. We were eighteen and seventeen. We felt we were butterflies inside that van, flapping our wings mightily with our dreams and our observations of the Canadian scenery. I deliberately decided not to strain myself to capture photographs or too many sketches, although it was hard to resist. I wanted to let Canada capture me and record itself in my pliable soul. I am not too much older now than I was then, but I do feel a bit distanced from that young girl who then travelled unknown lands. I long for the memories to pour out of me and make their way onto a canvas. I vividly see a patch of wild flowers growing on a hilly corner of Nanaimo. I can actually feel the sunlight on my back as I leaned over to collect a variety of small, brightly coloured beauties, forget-me-nots, daisies, and many unnameable pink, purple and red wonders. My legs can actually feel the prickle of the dry wild grasses and branches as I made my way through the patch. As I recall those sensory memories, others come to mind as well and make me ache for the long vistas of the prairies, the wilderness of Alberta and the salty smell of Tofino. Even the smoke-drenched highway as we drove in the middle of August in an especially dry year. I ache for those memories and resent the balmy heat of the city. It’s not that the grass is greener, it’s that the colours are brighter when the mind is open.


by Denise Dupre, Vancouver, BC, Canada


“In Solitude”
acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 inches
by Denise Dupre

Honor Life and all its timing
Honor journeys of personal truth
Honor opportunities of private reflection
Honor discretion and solitude
Honor such freedom on wings to fly
Honor Mother Nature to the ends of the skies.



Symbolic colours
by J. Kwegyir Aggrey, Ghana, West Africa

In the traditional Ghanaian societies, the art of body painting plays en essential role during entertainment, war, religion, politics, medicine, etc. Different types of materials are used to decorate the body: dyes, earth colours, cosmetics, etc. During certain ceremonies, women paint their bodies with white and green patterns during festivals like the annual “Homowo” festivals among the Ga. Birthday celebration for twins among the Fante and Ga, twins at one point painted their bodies with white clay. Indigenous herbalist, priests and priestesses in the Southern Ghana, Volta Region, and Ashanti also decorate their bodies with white clay during certain rites. Green colour stands for growth, white colour stands for joy, victory and happiness. Both colours combined signify a bountiful harvest. Blue and white tinted with red, yellow and black stands for total sanctity or cleanliness. A suicide corpse is painted with grey (ash) to “disgrace” the body for a shameful act. Warriors or “asafo” group paint themselves with black and red during war, celebrations and rites. As black colour is for the spirit of the death and red is for blood relations. Those colours reflect the violet, aggressive, war-like behavior of the group. A person suffering from a strange sickness is painted with red and yellow patterns to symbolize the body’s life and its power over sickness. A combination of colours can be applied to a young girl going through puberty initiation rites and also during entertainments.


Keeping the buckets filled with chum
by Maryanne Jacobsen, Sarasota, FL, USA


“French Creek in Autumn”
oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
by Maryanne Jacobsen

As we age, fewer and fewer things in the world around us lend themselves to inspiration. Some of us continue to toss in the chum anyway, and hope for a hit. Many aging artists eventually give up the fight as the eyes lose their clarity and the joints ache with the effort of assembling a French easel. In Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, the old man refused to give up the hope of getting the big one in spite of the odds. Most artists understand how days of dearth can deplete the psyche of even the able-bodied young and talented artists, and would recognize that the old man’s heart was truely centered on his craft. Hemingway’s hero was a true artist. As a person who began painting late in life, most days I’d be happy with just a nibble.


Keeping track of art
by Tammy Woolgar, Edmonton, AB, Canada


card file system

I was wondering if you document each painting you do–as in, take a 35 mm slide of the piece. Or do you only document certain pieces? With the huge inventory of paintings you have done, I can imagine the immense catalogue of slides you have. I’d like to know your documentation process.

(RG note) Thanks, Tammy. For many years we have been documenting every delivered painting in an old fashioned card file. Each card shows a painting’s gallery history and other info. When the painting is sold the card gets transferred to a ‘sold’ file. I’ve gone through periods of documenting works by photo as well, but these efforts tended to peter out for one reason or another. If I had it to do all over again I would have made an excellent slide or high resolution jpeg of everything but everything. At the present time, computerized systems such as Gallerysoft are becoming popular with some artists.


The acrylic struggle
by Alexander Schaefer, Glendale, CA, USA


“4th Street”
oil on canvas, 34 x 38 inches
by Alexander Schaefer

I’m a painter and teacher and love both. I’m recently getting into acrylic, especially for underpainting, but find it a somewhat vexing medium. The best thing about it is the worst thing about it. I’m wondering if you have any advice on using acrylics. My difficulties are in the paint drying too fast, drying a significant value darker, and storage of unused paint at the end of the day. Are there any books that helped you and any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated!

(RG note) Thanks, Alexander. Books that I currently recommend are:


Acrylic Painting: A Complete Guide by Wendon Blake,
An Introduction to Acrylics (DK Art School) by Ray Campbell Smith
The Acrylic Painter’s Book of Styles & Techniques by Rachel Rubin Wolf
The North Light Book of Acrylic Painting Techniques by Earl Grenville Killeen. Also, any of Stephen Quiller’s books on Acrylics are worthwhile.

The Golden website is a valuable source of knowledge. If you ask the Golden folks they’ll send you ‘Just Paint,’ a periodical with up to date info. See also clickbacks such as: Golden girl, Maxfield Parrish, Creativity methods and others, findable by our search facility. A demo of my own acrylic technique can be seen in the Ramparts painting slide show.


Online gallery opportunities
by Barry Kleider, Minneapolis, MN, USA


Barry Kleider

What do you know about Saatchi Gallery and their efforts at online recruitment? I’m attaching a copy of their email below. I’ve received this same invitation several times — each from a different woman. And several of my friends have had the same experience.


Dear Barry,

My name is Kelly, I am contacting you from the Saatchi Gallery here in London. Whilst searching the web I came upon your site and was impressed by the high standard of work. I would like to tell you about a new development here at the Saatchi Gallery.

We have created a new resource entitled Your Gallery; this allows artists to post their work and information on The Saatchi Gallery site. You can post up to eight images, biographical information, information about you and your art, as well as your own contact details and website. This is not a transaction site and there is no fee, we have created this to assist artists in raising their profile.

Curators, collectors as well as thousands of visitors that we get everyday have the opportunity to view your work. You have your own page which you can update as much as you wish. If you are interested please visit: http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/yourgallery/ or e-mail kelly@saatchigallery.com for more information.

Kelly McCann
Saatchi Gallery

(RG note) Thanks, Barry. It’s an online gallery offered by one of the “enfant terrible” art collectors, Charles Saatchi, who happens to run a prestigious bricks-and-mortar gallery in the UK. We get lots of inquiries about this one, so they must be doing some marketing. The site is quite professionally done but I’m not sure if they have as many visitors as our Painter’s Keys Artist Directory. You might give it a try and let us know if it is useful to you.


Mentors and mentoring
by Drew Davis, Waukegan, IL, USA

I would love to hear what you have to say on mentors and being mentored. I am 45 and started painting when I was 30. I have had some mild success, one-man shows and occasional sales. I work full time in the insurance industry and want to take my art to the next level. I’ve been blessed with great mentors early in my art days in California but now live in Chicago. I feel a real connectedness at times with other artists and I’m wondering how it equates to personal success.

(RG note) Thanks, Drew. Lately I’ve been reviewing my ideas about mentoring. Perhaps it’s best if potential mentees go out and grab onto others that they truly admire. Asking specific questions and getting into the space of the mentor may be valuable. But too much mentoring creates dependency and diminishes precious ego-force. You have to feel when it’s right for you to paddle your own canoe. The best thing a mentor can teach is “rugged individualism.” Some useful stuff on this site is at:

Secrets of mentoring
Turning pro
Art director
Two guys in the same boat





Finn Slough

oil painting
by Tom Dickson, Hornby Island, BC, Canada


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2006.

That includes Ann Hardy of Colleyville, TX, USA who wrote, “One day, King Salmon fishing out of Sitka, Alaska, we were two couples captained by a capable and affable guy. I caught my two-limit (27 and 19 pounds) but was still fishing. I hooked another and ‘they’ tried to wrestle my pole away from me. Forgetting that I had already caught my limit, I wasn’t giving up my pole.”

And also Sheila Cheek who wrote, “Thoreau said, ‘Some men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish that they are after.’ ”

And also Barbara Ledger, near the Black Sea, Ukraine who wrote, “I live in Ukraine and am the spiritual leader of a growing new thought community ‘Science of Mind.’ I have two little cottages, both of which offer wonderful peaceful locations to create and be inspired. I go there to rejuvenate and write and dream and I offer them to others.”

And also Sandra Donohue of Robson, BC, Canada who wrote, “I used to consider computers in the category of ‘Pandora’s Box.’ Well now that I’m an ex-Luddite, the instrument is indeed, a ‘Magic Box.’




Leave A Reply

No Featured Workshop
No Featured Workshop

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.