Creative efficiency


Dear Artist,

Back in the dark ages I used to take whole days to stretch canvases or build shipping crates. I rationalized that I needed the exercise and the change of pace. One day I realized that all I was getting was substandard canvases, shaky crates, and blue fingers. It was really all about avoidance. I saw that I needed to spend more time working up my ideas and performing my art. And in my main focus — in those things that I figured I did best — I had to be more efficient.

Creative efficiency powers creative acts. I’ve noticed that artists who develop their own unique efficiencies — time-motion improvements, paint-order expediencies, labour-saving devices — tend to do fresher and more interesting work. Boring art, I notice, is often performed by bored artists who happen to be stuck in one process rut or another. At the risk of leaving out some good ones, here’s a short bombardment of studio efficiencies that you might find useful:

Have your canvases or supports made to your specifications by pros. Carry out dull jobs such as priming and varnishing in assembly-line manner. Give thought to your current processes and habits. Study your workstation to try to limit areas of awkwardness. See that things are handy. Know your tools, their individual wisdom and capabilities. Pre-mix colours when possible and avoid the tedium of re-matching. Use glazes (if appropriate) to tone down, pull together, or to execute otherwise difficult gradations. Use rags, scraping devices, sticks, sponges, etc., to add shorthand variety to your range of effects. Never underestimate the value of sponges — they suck up and they put down. Rethink the order that you normally do things. Cut back on time-wasters — the procedural ones and the two-footed kind. Do your work in a logical and yet creative order. While you’re at it, re-evaluate your workplace furnishings. A hard, spring-backed, armless, rolling chair, for example, can lessen position fatigue and other problems. Know that your peculiar efficiencies keep you up front as captain. Creative efficiency hones style.

“What could be?” is my question for all seasons. Here’s another for the studio wall: “Do I have to do this in the same way that I’ve done it previously?”

Best regards,

Sponge Bob

PS: “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” (Lin Yutang)

Esoterica: Efficiency frees the creative spirit. The idea is to clear the deck for maximum inventive flow. The idea is to make it possible to let go and surrender to the “queen-bee syndrome.” “You cannot govern the creative impulse; all you can do is to eliminate obstacles and smooth the way for it.” (Kimon Nicolaides)


Efficient moves
by Isobel McCreight, Orillia, ON, Canada

My one efficient idea is to mix your paints right on the canvas. This came to me as I delved into techniques from the past masters. This way, there are no blotches of mud colours from mixing too much. Every brush stroke brings a freshness to your painting and you discover wonderful gradations of colours as you paint away and discover little gems on your own Canvas! Colours that you never dreamed of using… all of a sudden are there and highlighting your painting. Now how did I get that colour?


Going the long way
by Stephanie Bridges-Bledsoe, Jamestown, NC, USA

A painter friend of mine and I were looking at brushes one day, and I asked him about the fan brush: “Isn’t this for foliage and such?” “Yes,” he said. “Seems like cheating… is that okay?” I wondered. “Hell no, you should work your ass off!” he laughed. Being at the novice level, I tend to agree, at least for now. I figure I can start using shortcuts after I’ve learned how to go the long way.


Scaling a vertical wall
by Anthony Emmolo, Beijing, China

I am going through a very difficult time in my career. I moved to Shanghai, China because I knew I could fund my lifestyle here as an English teacher because my paintings sales have dwindled to almost nothing since my wife and I split up about two and a half years ago. I’m often thinking about efficiency and business related ideas in relation to my art. Getting back to where I was is not just an uphill battle. It is like scaling a vertical wall that seems to just get higher and higher with time. But, I have something in me that doesn’t want to give up, no matter how hard it gets. I pray for strength.


Making it possible
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA


“Outdoor Cafe, St. Emilion, France”
original painting
by Eleanor Blair

The job of being an artist has nothing to do with the actual painting; putting paint on canvas is the easy part. The true ‘job’ of an artist is to create the life and the space and the time that make it possible for art to happen. Find a studio, buy the paint, turn on the lights and pick up the brush.




Organizing unleashes creativity
by Stella Violano, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA


“The Courtier”
oil painting
by Stella Violano

Organization in studio and in process really does seem to unleash creativity. What is an odd observation to those who know me is that while my life is otherwise an organizational nightmare my studio is always kept fastidiously neat. When preparation for an exhibit or show leaves the studio scattered, before I can begin to paint again, I have learned to organize again first or my work will be forced and uninspired.




Neurotic tendencies
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada


John and his ‘True North Strong’ works

I have developed what I always thought were neurotic tendencies as a painter. First of all, my career is about bringing in the experts. I have a web designer who manages to see my vision and creates exactly what I want. I have another guy who does all my graphics for my invitations and cards. I have another guy who does all my canvases for me, stretched, primed and delivered. Then there are a series of mentors who I discuss my work in depth with and get their feedback about my new vision of paintings. I am sure I drive them all crazy as I have to have everything perfect. But, this leaves me with enough time to do the one thing that I do well, paint. Although, my studio usually looks like a bomb went off. But to me it is my play ground and ready for me to create.


The messy artist image
by Dorit Pittman, New Orleans, LA, USA

What you write is so true. Once I committed to be a working artist, cranking out originals to sell on the street, I realized that I could not work in a disorganized area. The rest of the house may be in shambles but my studio has to be straight. Only then can I begin painting or planning. I know an artist who is very successful, who went from selling on the street to a gallery. He takes a shower and puts on clean and pressed clothes when he goes to work. He may also shower after he is done. I know, a little obsessive, his work is very detailed. So much for the image of a bohemian, slovenly artist working in a room of chaos.


Style comes from discovery
by Gabriella Morrison, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada

Your expression of the idea that “efficiency creates style” is not entirely accurate. In my opinion, efficiency makes it possible to work and continue working without obtrusion from unwelcome distractions. Personal “style” in art comes from discoveries made by artists during their many hours of plying their craft. A particular way of making marks with their tools, a personal kinetic approach, some conscious modes of selecting ways of working after experimenting with tools and methods of applying these are the situations which yield truly personal results and eventually show as individual “style.” Bringing efficient studio practices into one’s repertoire leaves an opportunity for concentration, experimentation and growth. There are many very efficient practitioners of the arts in our midst. Efficiency, however, does not necessarily equate with creativity, excellence or the creation of exciting works of art. Flowers developed by horticulturists don’t do well in anything but cultivated soil, full of the correct nutrients. Weeds, on the other hand, can thrive in uncultivated soil, in fact in road-cuts and ditches as well as in fallow ground. And we all know, one man’s weed is another’s flower, and vice versa. As to being efficiently organized in order to make ease of the working process, it is essential if one is to get to the task handily. And if one stretches lousy canvases, it is best left to those who make their living providing this service for artists, rather than waste energy in an aggravating and frustrating process which yields home-made but inferior products.


Efficient habits
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville FL, USA


“Alabama Lake”
oil on canvas
by Linda Blondheim

I try to be very efficient in my studio and plein air habits. I discovered that 12 x 12 inch marble tiles make fantastic studio palettes. I run my paints out in a row along the top edge of my palette. I do my mixing by pulling off the end of the paint ribbons and mixing further down the palette. At the end of my painting session I clean off all of the palette except the original rows of paints, saving them for the next session. The marble tiles are easy to clean, heavy enough not to move around and a scraper can be used on them if paint is left too long.


Efficiency adds up
by James Webb, West Chester, PA, USA

When I started doing art fairs a few years ago I became acutely aware of all the overhead costs that go into being a self-supporting artist. The least paper work I have to do, the better. My having to be efficient in all matters in doing these shows spilled over to my studio set up — initially, cleaning out my basement and purchasing several commercial, open-wire shelved storage racks, mounted on large casters. Each rack can hold up to 700# of supplies each and be rolled together, saving a lot of floor space. I purchased a number of folding cardboard boxes with lids from a local office supply store. All my supplies are now categorized and stored in separate boxes, plainly labeled. Paints, blank panels, framing supplies and special tools are now easily accounted for and easy to get at. A couple of months may go by when I need to get to an item, but I know it’s at my fingertips. A year ago, I cut and primed my own hardboard panels but no longer. I now use the pre-finished Ampersand panels which are offered in a number of finishes and sizes. Cost effective in bean counter terms. For the plein air work I make my own canvas panels by cutting 1/4″ Birch plywood to the sizes needed and then glue pre-primed canvas to the surfaces using a PVA glue, which is Ph neutral. I use the Lineco brand PVA adhesive for this purpose. The canvas I use is the Fredrix brand. The companies and products I’ve listed are for reference only. The other practice that has really helped my career is setting aside a percentage of each painting I sell above the overhead cost in cash, collected in a metal cash box. This money is set aside strictly to purchase material and equipment as needed and also to take advantage of art store sales. I do not use a credit card to purchase any material. Being efficient does add up quickly in the time available to paint.


Creative Nursing
by Marga Chavez, Delray Beach, FL, USA

Highly Sensitive Persons make the best Nurses, (Nursing being a very creative function if one wants to truly practice the Art of Nursing) and therefore the work can be almost overwhelming as we know what people want and what they need besides what “the Doctor has ordered”. For a long time in my life, I have felt as an outcast, (HSP as you have enlightened me). Others don’t think as I do and nothing appears as important to them, regarding the human condition, as it does to me. Artists meet a “human need” not as easily defined as a Healthcare need and maybe much more difficult to define. Art will touch us in undefined ways via undefined pathways that lead to some personal satisfaction of a different “need” that often we are not aware of until we experience the effect from an Artist’s physical rendition of a thought.


Facts cannot be denied
by James Kay, Fort Worth, TX, USA

In response to Pure Rubbish by Edward Berkeley: There is no issue! It is all a matter of perspective. You, as an individual, are either on the bow of the ship with the wind in your hair looking forward to what is ahead, or you are shoveling coal in the engine room mulling over the next big word you want to use in a sentence. H.S.P.s are like having blue eyes. You cannot deny the fact they exist. There must be at least a shred of “sensitivity” in you or you would not be reading the articles Robert Genn so graciously provides.


Ameliorating the intensity
by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, HI, USA


gouache painting
by Angela Treat Lyon

As for “treating” the highly sensitive person, it can indeed be addressed with EFT, the Emotional Freedom Techniques (free EFT basics book at However, let’s address it not by eliminating or deadening the sensitivity but rather by neutralizing the intensity of the anxiety we feel when we experience such feelingness — that way we get to feel and function, as we choose, all at once. It’s easy, once you learn how. And — bonus here — when you learn how to ameliorate the intensity, you get to use the power of the energy for — you got it! — more creativity.



Keeping both ears
by Ted Clemens, Sachse, TX, USA

Your suggestions for “HSP” are excellent. But I’d like to add that fueling the “highly sensitive” and the “woe is me, I’m flawed” parts of our natures is a deceptive “I deserve better than this” sense of self-importance. I wouldn’t be so sensitive if I didn’t expect better praise. I wouldn’t be “flawed” if I didn’t think I was so dang good to begin with.

We creative-types live by confidence, dreams and applause. Every once in a while a reality check is in order, too. After all, I don’t want people tip-toeing around my sensitivity. And I’m gonna try to keep both my ears for the duration of my art career.


Coping with the worst
by Donald Walls, Spokane, WA, USA

At last, here is the explanation! I read Ms. Aron’s book and found my profile, my life story in the pages. This is a profound turning point for me. I am not crazy or from another planet. All the “weird” stuff I did as a kid is not insane, it is simply my coping. I cannot describe what a help this is. I am re-reading and doing the exercises. Meanwhile, I am starting to read Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person by Barrie Jaeger. I am a 53-year-old graphic designer. (At least I am working somewhere in my calling.) I am also, as you describe, one of the “worst afflicted.”


The Gift and the Curse
by Niki Collins-Queen, Forsyth, GA, USA

I hate to shop — to spend money — take risks. Since I’m a woman I usually get some raised eyebrows. If I must shop I usually use catalogues and thrift stores. What I don’t tell many people is the extent of my “don’t do” list. But it’s confession time. My list is lengthy because I’m uncomfortable around crowded, noisy, environments. That pretty much rules out malls, fairs, chaotic parties, nightclubs, violent movies, and some restaurants. “What do you do?” is a common question. I sheepishly explain, “I love being out in nature especially around rivers or in the woods.” My husband and I usually socialize with our friends at home or around a campfire on a river while canoe camping or backpacking in the mountains. I’ve always felt a little guilty about not being able to enjoy what most people do for fun in cities. I don’t anymore…

Strong smells affect me more than others and I was the first to smell a gas leak in our home on a couple of occasions. After reading The Highly Sensitive Person I can see why I’m more effected by other people’s moods and pick up what is going on below surface interactions. I also seem more sensitive to the physical, emotional and spiritual suffering of others. Perhaps that’s why I spend more time than most people trying to come up with solutions to human problems. Although we HSPs may be a wash out when it comes to our social life, our sensitivities could help you or someone else in times of suffering or loss and could even save your life.

The last paragraph in Aron’s book The Sensitive Child sums up the gift and the curse of being an HSP. “Sensitivity is a gift — a gift that does not come free. Sensitive people are more open to suffering than others, and they are open not only to their own suffering, but to that of others. The weight of the world and its injustices can weigh heavily on the shoulders of the sensitive. But ultimately, the sensitive person has the gift of being open to the world and its delights in a way that less sensitive people are not.”

(Andrew Niculescu note) To find out more about HSPs visit The Highly Sensitive Person website. To take the test, created by Elaine Aron, click here. Niki Collins-Queen is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the author of Earth, the Forgotten Temple: A Spirit Quest in the Wilderness.


No labeling
by Susan Canavarro, Florence, OR, USA


“Down Under The Alsea Again”
acrylic gesso painting
by Susan Canavarro

I, too, read The Highly Sensitive Person several years ago when it was recommended by a friend. We had been talking about my shyness and how sometimes it makes it difficult to interact with other people. People often think I am a snob, or stupid or slow or boring, but I am just shy. Well, I may be boring, but that can have nothing to do with being shy. I immediately recognized myself as an HSP and at first felt some sense of relief at knowing that I was just “sensitive,” not crazy, not all those negative things as I had thought.

These days shyness and that sense of discomfort we shy people feel at social functions is discussed and labeled as a Social Disorder, a disease, a mental illness, and for many of us HSPs this just thickens the fibers of our cocoon. I can tell you it does not give any sense of relief to be labeled with a “social disorder.” We need to get out of the habit of labeling. And I’m not sure that calling it Highly Sensitive People isn’t just one more label, and that very labeling opens the door to more non-acceptance and self-judgment. Labeling is an act of judgment and exclusive thinking. It’s a we/they method of thinking in that it separates us, divides us into the good and the bad. We need to get out of the habit of categorizing things as right and wrong when it comes to personalities, and foster a more open and inclusive attitude. Everybody should be allowed to do what they feel is right for themselves, whether it be using medication or not. No more judgments. No more labeling. Indeed, why not foster an open attitude that embraces all personalities and differences?


Enjoying the community
by Mary Madsen, Henderson, NV, USA

I read The Highly Sensitive Person several years ago and recognized myself in the mixed personality — overly sensitive yet extroverted, ambitious, and something of a thrill seeker. I tell ya, it’s a fine pickle, and very difficult to deal with sometimes. One of the ways I cope is lots of silence, lots of time working, lots of emails and telephone conversations, as well as lots of travel alone. I also choose my friends carefully and throw my loyalty towards those who don’t take it personally when I just want to be left alone.

I enjoy the community you’ve put together, and appreciate the people I’ve met through your site. It enriches my life in so many ways. Last January I flew to New York to meet a member of your community (then spent the next few days wandering the city alone). I’ve got quite a few email friendships going with people I’ve met through your community, and I just received an email from one of them telling me she’ll be in town soon. We’ll be meeting up for a night on the town and some gallery hopping. Hopefully, I’ll be heading down to Texas in a few months to meet yet another friend I’ve made through you. She’s one heck of a sculptor, and we share our stories of battles with bronze, as well as our photographs of Italy. All these friendships, along with your twice-weekly letter, keep me inspired, give me a sense of community, yet I don’t have to endure all the hoo-ha of parties and other such nonsense.

You’re a fabulous painter, Robert, but perhaps your greatest talent is in bringing people together and making us all feel just a little bit better about who we are and what we do.





The Work Day

oil painting
by Rachel Constantine, Philadelphia, PA, USA


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, 2005.

That includes Marilyn MacDonald of Sechelt, BC, Canada who wrote, “In response to your statement… ‘Do I have to do this in the same way that I’ve done it previously?’ My favourite saying is… ‘If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.’




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