At 9 this morning I pressed the send button and off went my manuscript. Designer Fiona Raven will now turn it into into Love Letters to Art. If everything goes according to plan, the book will be out of the printers and onto trucks on the 18th of November. A coffee table book, it contains 32,000 words and about 130 colour illustrations.
I adapted 60 of the Twice-Weekly letters that lent themselves to the project. In some cases we picked up illustrations from our website. Other letters were given material and paintings from private collections that I hadn’t seen for a while. It’s part of a larger project to publish all the letters. We’re trying to decide whether we ought to publish them year by year, or in one humongous lump.
Actually, I’ve been a neurotic mess for the last month or so. Maybe you’ve noticed. Now that I’ve pressed the button, I don’t feel so bad. But books are terribly final. You put yourself right out there, warts and all. An earlier coffee table book, In Praise of Painting, received the adjective “underwhelming” from one critic. (I shouldn’t care, I’m still painting and he’s not critiquing any more.) But this is why I love the Internet. If you don’t like something you said or did, you can instantly change, modify or delete. You can’t do that with books.
On top of that, hitting deadlines is contrary to human nature. “Why do we put ourselves through this?” we ask. It’s like exam time in high school when all sorts of avoidance games are played. “Nothing,” said Samuel Johnson, “more wonderfully concentrates a man’s mind than the sure knowledge he is to be hanged in the morning.”
And I found some concentration. Awakening at four in the morning during the past while, my scattered mind was spinning with corrections and adjustments yet to be made. It’s difficult to get a holistic idea in a linear medium. There’s also the fear of repetition and my weakness for hortatory pontification. Thank goodness for editors. It will be excellent to get back to the relaxed progression of self-directed painting. I’m not to be hanged after all. There’s been a reprieve. As soon as I finish writing this Esoterica I’m going to squeeze out and paint. Funny thing though, I’ll probably do it again.
PS: “A goal without a deadline is a wish.” (Cindy Rold)
Esoterica: I’ve noticed that advertising people, commercial artists and other folks who are used to dealing with deadlines, tend to do well when they parachute into fine art. It seems they start giving deadlines to themselves. Maybe everything worthwhile has to be done to a deadline. Maybe nothing gets done without them. At least in the studio they tend to be passive, or at least pleasant. Maybe we just fool ourselves. Life itself is an hourglass swiftly emptying. Time is precious and has to be managed. In the case of life, the deadline is not always firmed up. Maybe that’s why we need them now.
It’s all a journey
by Trish Booth, Cordova, NM, USA
Books aren’t much different than paintings. Once they are finished and ‘out there,’ then they are. There is always something you might have done differently. One can only edit and proofread and re-arrange so much.
Relax. The button has been pushed and now that book, though not yet released, is already history. Much like your last painting, you are on to your next. You did your best. Let it go and make the next one even better with what you have learned from your last. It’s all a journey.
Keep a diary
by Katherine S. Harris, Rome, Italy
Tell me about it! I began writing my book about 5 years ago, and it’s still not finished! I have spurts when I write a couple of thousand words a day for a few days, and then — nothing for the next week or two. I’ll try harder now! My advice to others: If you keep, or have kept a diary, it might help in producing any type book. Records, illustrations, etc., and details are so important. Sure wish I had kept one, as I’m writing about a school and summer camp I ran for 15 years, back in the ’70s and ’80s.
No deadlines — no writing
by Nina Patena, Philippines
I’m a 29-year-old stay-at-home mom based in the Philippines. I can totally relate about beating the deadline. I just recently submitted a short story for a local sci-fi/fantasy anthology, and even though I graduated with a Creative Writing degree, I haven’t submitted anything for publication since college. (Those never got accepted.) Come to think of it, I haven’t seriously written anything down since college, when there were deadlines galore.
Love the deadline rush!
by Sue Rochford, Melbourne, Australia
I’m an Editor — thanks Robert! But guess what, we go through exactly the same feeling as the writer, up until the point it is handed over to the printer, and then they feel the same thing too until that final button is pressed. Then suddenly, there’s not a darn thing anyone can do. After handover, there is this incredibly heavy feeling of anticlimax and nothingness — no hanging deadline, so now what? Days or even weeks later you pull the semblance of self back into some form of usefulness, and you know what, funnily enough, you start the whole process all over again. Robert — put the letters into yearly blocks then you can have this incredibly huge rush of adrenaline and then the crash-and-burn over and over again!
Book a ‘shot in the arm’
by Norma E. Hoyle, Abbotsford, BC, Canada
Allow me to loudly rebut the “underwhelming” comment of the critic vis-à-vis your book, In Praise of Painting. For my money it was (is) one of the best art-books I have ever read, inasmuch as it not only contains beautiful illustrations, the text is inspirational. Your honesty and the step-by-step sharing of the story of your own personal development, “companions” the budding artist and is a gift beyond measure. It is a great many years since I purchased that book, but even today, when I feel in need of an artistic ‘shot in the arm’ I sit down, re-read sections of your book and mentally bless you.
(RG note) Thanks, Norma. In Praise of Painting is unfortunately out of print and hard to get. Used copies sometimes show up on Amazon or Abe’s books at varying prices. If anyone finds a cache of them somewhere, please let us know.
No deadline – poor choices
by Jane Freeman, Bemidji, MN, USA
Deadlines can rip the heart out and once accomplished fill the heart with gladness. I too wrote a book over the last 1 1/2 years for North Light and every day was wild, my mind never shut down… but I accomplished more then than I ever have. Now without a deadline, I seem to put things off and then wonder why I am not getting anything done. Then I was up at 5 and painting or writing. Now I am up at 5 answering emails and playing solitaire!!! Go figure. Without the deadline, I am making poor choices. It seemed to keep me more focused and on track.
by Duncan Long, Manhattan, KS, USA
It is strange how those of us in the arts are so keen to hear the opinion of others about our work, and even place value in what is said, regardless of how ignorant of art that person may be. It used to be said that those who can’t, teach. But I have come to see that those who can’t make ends meet are the ones that often have to teach (fortunately there are those who teach for the sheer love of teaching).
No, I think “those that can’t” too often become critics. And often over time, as they see those doing what they wish they could but cannot, they become petty and jealous in their criticism. And these are the ones we as artists too often listen to.
Bad reviews? Persevere, have the last laugh
by Jenny Phillips, New Zealand
I’ve been a successful author — several best sellers. Your letters more than qualify. They hit the spot for the effortful amateur artist such as myself, and also no doubt for professionals who identify with your words. I am sure your book will be successful.
Funny, though, after years of terrific reviews, it is always the very few rotten ones that stick in your mind! Someone once wrote that one of my books made her ‘want to throw up.” No reason why was given. But meanwhile I went on to have 10 books published, all sold out and several were best sellers, so, you just persevere and stick around (it’s just like art) and eventually you have the last laugh!
Dying for the deadline
by Ulrike O’Flaherty, Neuss, Germany
Your comments on deadlines struck a very personal cord with me since I’m studying at the moment and last year had to produce several 3000-word essays while still going to work doing commissions, house, family — and fancy staying sane. I know this is pimps in comparison to writing a book but, hey, it was my dance with deadlines in this season.
As I handed in my final essay, it occurred to me, looking at the frazzled faces of the tutors’ faces who were to mark our laboured pieces of wonder, that “essays are the proof that civilized man is perverse! We all hate essays and yet we make sure our life is full of them.” Ah, well, as you said, anything worthwhile has to go through that moment of dying which we have so aptly called dead-line.
Intention focused with enforced non-activity
by Faith Puleston, Herdecke, Germany
I am typing this with my right hand. I am forced to do so because on 17 August I smashed my left wrist (keeping fit). As I am left-handed, most of my more exacting activities, including painting, are assigned to my left hand. Quite apart from the pain and discomfort I am obliged to endure, I find I am deprived of more than ‘just’ the use of an indispensable tool. I have tried to paint with my right hand, but it gives me no satisfaction, partly because I have far less skill, but also because my painterly creativity seems to be impaired (to add insult to injury). I expect it will take several more weeks before I can hold a paintbrush again and go through the (automated) gyrations needed to transfer paint to canvas. In fact, I don’t even know if my wrist will ever again be “as good as new.”
Why am I telling you this? Well, looking at my work done before my injury, I have at last developed a positive attitude to it, whereas before that I was skeptical and always just striving to improve without knowing how to go about it, or even why. In fact, I had more or less decided not to continue painting after this year, but now there is a genuine chance of not being able to, I realize how much it means to me. Enforced non-activity has obliged me to take stock. Now it is no longer just the process but also the intention that is in focus.
Self-inflicted deadlines for a cause
by Karin Snoots, Harbeson, DE, USA
I made the “Leap of Faith” last year. My husband and I left the full-time Corporate America scene and now live the good life 9 miles from the Atlantic Ocean in Delaware. Last weekend I had an opening reception here at a Gallery in Milton, DE, with the most work I have ever completed yet! I had a wonderful time preparing, both large and mini. The paintings range from 2 x 4 feet to some that are 1 x 2 inches. The show is titled “A Celebration of the Ocean.” I am passionate about our environment and have made it my mission to do what I can through my art to help raise funds to support local environmental groups here in my area. Each painting in the show has the beneficiary listed under the price so that the buyer will know which organization they are helping to support. I am donating part of my own proceeds either to The MERR Institute (Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute, Inc.) or Surfrider Foundation.
With all that said, the self-inflicted deadlines helped me produce work that I feel will be of good use to the cause I hold close to my heart. I had less than one week to get this Mermaid done for the show — a tight deadline!
by Mardy Grothe, Raleigh, NC, USA
I just put the finishing touches on my latest book, I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like, to be published next fall by HarperCollins. Given your recent experiences, I thought you might appreciate this passage from the introductory chapter:
This is my fourth book in the word and language arena and, like the previous ones, has been a labor of love. But the process of writing a book is always more fun at the beginning and middle stages than at the end. For the past six weeks, with a production deadline staring me in the face, the project has consumed me. Winston Churchill described the process best, and he did it metaphorically:
“Writing a book is an adventure.
To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement;
then it becomes a mistress,
and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant.
The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”
Deadlines create block
by Laurie Leehane, St. John’s, NF, Canada
In the ’90s when the local studio tour would take place, I would paint like mad for 3 weeks prior and produce more than I had all year because of the “deadline.” I would have described myself as someone who works better under pressure. Now that I am older and represented by a gallery, I have discovered that deadlines actually create a block. Maybe it is because I am more aware of the importance of quality in my work and much more is at stake, like my reputation. I take my work more seriously. This past Winter it was suggested I could possibly be in a group show in July. I froze. I couldn’t produce anything for months. It didn’t help that I had many other pressures at that time. Finally I got into a groove again this Spring and am riding the creative wave before a slump hits again. I will be in a group show now this Fall because the wise gallery owner suggested that maybe just a couple of my pieces would be possible. It took the pressure off. So whether it is a part of one’s character or immaturity, I don’t know. I just know how it works for me.
Busier makes for accomplishment
by Lori Faye Bock, Abiquiu, NM, USA
While I am passionate about painting and it is how I make my living, there are many other facets to my life & career — here on the farm in Abiquiu, New Mexico — which take up so much of my time… and it seems I just get busier and busier — fortunately with things I love… mostly! And of course the busier I become, the more I notice my accomplishments — as small as they may be at times.
Other than painting for three galleries, I am involved with animal organizations … donating work on a regular basis as well as creating imagery for their educational campaigns. I have a retail/wholesale business involving several forms of reproductions which are selling nationwide and I have a little visitor center/gift shop on a main thoroughfare here in northern New Mexico. In addition to that, my websites/online store continues to pick up steam. I won’t even begin to touch on the fact that my husband and I raise sheep, have six dogs and six indoor cats and publish a quarterly newspaper called, ” The Abiquiu Post.”
I came across a quote the other day by Annie Dillard I thought you might like. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I had never thought of it like that before — but how true!
Deadlines help focus priorities
by Scott Jennings, Sedona, AZ, USA
Originally an illustrator/advertising sort, I soon left it for the more bohemian lifestyle of a fine artist at the age of 26. I actually thrive well under deadlines, as long as I don’t over-commit. But having dates that have to be met helps me organize my time and concentrate on my priorities. When I work on a large painting, I generally have one or more smaller pieces going at the same time. This gives me time to analyze a painting in progress for a few days, so that when I sit back down for another session, I have a list of things in my head that I want to accomplish. There is nothing worse than sitting down to a painting not knowing what you want to do next. Muddling never achieves greatness! Focused ideas of what you want to see in your painting and a plan for getting there is of monumental importance. So taking a break from one project to work on another lets my brain solve problems in a much more passive way. Deadlines just keep me from becoming too lethargic and too comfortable with my time; staying focused and on track is an acquired skill! Attached is my latest large painting… done under deadlines!
Love Letters to Art
by Susanne Kelley Clark, Dallas, TX, USA
Thank you for putting yourself through the birthing of a book! Those of us out here who admire your work and amazing energy and focus, both the painting and the written word, really appreciate it. Will your book be available in bookstores in the U.S.? Or do we order one from you?
(RG note) Thanks, Suzanne. And thanks to everybody who put in a word for a copy of the book. I’m honoured. Love Letters to Art will be available direct from Art Galleries, the Painter’s Keys, Amazon, and some of the regular bookstores in both Canada and the USA. The price is $65 plus shipping (it’s heavy) but we will offer it to subscribers at $50 plus shipping. And for those others who asked, I’ll be happy to autograph it as well. I’ll let you know when we have some here in the studio. Thank you to all who asked.
Enjoy the past comments below for Deadline day…
Machine embroidery, quilted
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 Robert Bissett of Naples of ID, USA who wrote, “Printing truck loads is so twentieth century. Now we do print-on-demand and can change text and images as needed. For an example see my new hardcover. Also available in paperback and pdf!”
And also Fiona of the UK who wrote, “There’s something horrendously final about a book — in conversation we can backtrack or simply walk away but anyone can take books and find holes in them at their leisure — and the more popular the book, the more likely it is that some people won’t like it!”
And also Jane Chandlerof Cornwall, UK who wrote, “When the baby is born all the fear and pain is forgotten.”
And also Alan Morris who wrote, “Loved your observation that ‘it is hard to get a holistic idea in a linear medium.’ Deadlines and time management and production — as our measure of success — are icons in a linear world view that need to be applied to the holistic disciplines — like fine art — with caution. I also hope to finish well every day. For my own sake I pray that the sum total of my life turns out to be more about who I became rather than the little that I accomplished.”
And also Teddy Kell of CA, USA who wrote, “I’m picky about writing and I’ve found no warts in your letters, either in style or content. Your letters are a breath of fresh air when listening to a whole lot of verbal bull from critics and other art elitists.”
And also Eric Maisel of San Francisco, CA, USA who wrote, “Whenever I finish a book and send it off I get weird feelings and weirder cravings — usually for crumb cake.”