Count your blessings


Dear Artist,

Termites, dormant over the winter, issue from a small hole in the corner of my studio ceiling. When I “Raid” them, they withdraw momentarily. Today, apart from the perennial easel-struggle, this is the main distraction. Rain streams on the windowpane and distant, silent lightning can be seen on the horizon. Here, all is quiet, save Mozart, and this studioscape is blessed with peace.


“Breakfast in Bed”
1897 oil on canvas
by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

A friend, shaken by a personal disaster, phones to discuss “varnishing.” We have an inventory of our blessings: The privilege of making with our hands. The joy of working things out for ourselves. The fun of winding one up. The anticipation of starting another. What else could be asked for in this short span? I don’t think it’s for gold that we do this. There’s something else. Without being maudlin, I think it’s love.

Love of the life, the challenge, the personal nature of it all. The feeling that you have it all in your hands. The beautiful finality of the signature in the lower right hand corner. And the difficulties? Like the termites in the wall, they are legion. The highly-realized artists that I know love the satisfaction of overcoming their difficulties. These artists have the knowledge that creative evils are beaten with the power of knowledge and understanding. By taking pains. By not tolerating mediocrity and mediocre thinking in ourselves. By treating ourselves to the exhilaration of our honest and elevated desires. By honoring craftsmanship and attention to detail. By patience and perseverance. By appreciating the prior and current light of others. By the realization of the responsibility of it all. And the epiphany that even through the act of art we can be our brother’s keepers.


“Portrait of Alexander Johnston Cassatt”
oil on canvas by Mary Cassatt

There is always something eating away at what we could be. But the real termites of our studios are the ones that eat away at the clarity of our love.

Best regards,


PS: “There is no greater joy than that of feeling oneself a creator. The triumph of life is expressed by creation.” (Henri Bergson) “He who wishes to exert a useful influence must be careful to insult nothing. Let him not be troubled by what seems absurd, but concentrate his energies on the creation of what is good.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Esoterica: The final varnish in either oil or acrylic is your work’s ultimate compliment. It says, “My work is permanent — mess with me at your peril.” It’s the shrink-wrap that protects from household damage, smoke and fly-specks, as well as ultraviolet light. It allows your work to march out and cast its spell on future generations. “I have touched with a sense of art some people — they felt the love and the life. Can you offer me anything to compare to that joy for an artist?” (Mary Cassatt)


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“Find a place where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” (Joseph Campbell)



  1. Just a short note as I have to get to work…
    1: I was surprised by all the comments you folks made after I made my comment last Friday. I figure I annoy more people than I inspire. So thanks. I counted my blessing/s.

  2. I too need to get back to work, but was taking time to count blessings as I thought of an elderly friend who I wish to have model for me soon….always creating, always working. Perhaps today I will look up at the thunderclouds and dream of angels following me from the moment I rise, till that last moment of drifting to sleep. There is no other reality than this one. Moment to moment I have only one choice, what will I choose to focus on?

  3. I love this letter…… a favourite I think…. I am sometimes surprised how many of your words, Sara and Robert’s have become part of my own DNA. I guess that is why we learn and build our own practice and process on the understandings of other great artists. Thanks for my morning boost.

  4. Your response last week was a good one Bruce. Others chimed in so I didn’t need too. Good for you.
    It is certainly essential to count our blessings and I may be the luckiest one around so I do that exercise every day … but the Revenue Agencies expect us to count our income and actually make a profit – very challenging indeed. Paint on regardless!

  5. I have a good friend whose paintings are balm to many of our souls. I don’t paint any longer, and when I did, my ‘art’ was rudimentary. These days, I work with a sewing machine and fabric … or I ‘type’ my thoughts on a laptop computer … a far cry from the ‘hands-on’ work that I did with a paint brush or knitting needles for so many years. Age and MS have taken some of my expressive media away from me, but I’ve been able to keep others (though, truth be told, it never feels quite as it did when my own hands were doning the painting or the knitting, or the actual writing.)

    I enjoy reading all of your pieces, Sara. You carry your dad’s message forward very well.

    • Margaret van Eyk on

      Holidaying in the U.S. Back in 2008, I came across a Marie Cassatt that just moved me to tears it was so beautiful. I still think of it often and I t still gives me “b utter flies”. Thank you for a wonderful newsletter. I put two art quotes in our monthly newsletter and one lady tells me she cuts them out every month to keep . Love from “down under”.

  6. All true. Just finished a painting for an older woman. She wanted a painting of her deceased son, the oldest, tragically taken in a dirt bike accident. She gave me a small tiny photo, face hidden, sitting on a beach. This had to be a large canvas as requested. What to do, what to do…. So I painted him on a beach. But it was wrong, hence the struggle, how to capture him , alone. I did not want him to be alone, he was part of a family… I painted in his younger brother and then them looking across the beach to his folks out in the waves, enjoying the ocean. It came together after much twisting and turning, with rays of sun coming down onto him and his brother and his family out in the distance in a somewhat peaceful ocean. They were together as a family. When they saw it, they were overwhelmed. I was so happy I could bring that to them. Yes, the twisting and turning we go through to practise our craft, the termites if you will. But there are also the rewards. I so enjoy these letters Sarah. Keep them coming as each one teaches me something and how grateful I am to continue the work. Ken

  7. What a great way to follow ‘going pro’…brings a balance to thw whole picture..
    Way to go Sara and team!

  8. Worried about your termites. Professional termite people is the only way I know of to keep the termites from eating your studio, and they can eat it in a hurry.

  9. I had a bad night and so far this morning isn’t a charm either. This was the perfect column for me because I am so blessed with my companion, my unswerving companion, my art gift. Thank you from the bottom of my heart Sarah for keep sending these out. Well done. Your father would be proud.

    Beth Mahy

  10. I like his analogy re: termites. Once we have any good thing under way it’s all about upkeep and upgrades and never termites and backsliding or degeneracy of any sort. Yay RGenn! …and those who keep his spirit alive !


    CREATING? I am at “upper midlife” – and arts and crafts were NOT in the main as they are today. When my orphaned young Mother’s “in loco parentis” next door, a craft maven, taught one of her skills to me – the neighborhood stood stock still – a holy thing being passed down. The Polish nuns in grammar school reitterrated – creation of even the simplest thing is HOLY…mankind’s way of loving God and trying to be worthy of being made by him in “His image and likeness” , by making what we CAN – and in each creative process, there is the built-in reminder of the astounding nature of Creation – whether we tune into it or not. So when they have fun with “Artislifeisartislifeisart…..” it’s not reallly just a catchy fun phrase, but fun to remember and share it….and soooooo right.

  11. Stewart Hunter on

    +You do too wonderful a job to be plagued by termites. I agree with one above comment… get help to GET RID OF THEM! They extend , often, too often, beyond the range of RAID. Thank you for the continuing joy of Letters.

  12. “And the epiphany that even through the act of art we can be our brother’s keepers.” I have been out of my studio awhile, being my brothers’ and sisters’ keepers you might say. Time to get back in there and love them through my art. Thanks Sara. These letters usually bring just what I need. How do you do that?

  13. Ssomehow a whole summer of Robert and Sara’s letters got tucked away in a separate file, so I’m discovering them and opening them now, like summer mail piling up over the holidays in the front hallway. There’s a sense of time catching up and the lives of those I care for being brought back to the forefront of my attention again. I count these letters, scattered around me, as blessings that have arrived and lay patiently for me to open this fall.

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