In the details


Dear Artist,

On Thursday night my buddy Don Getz dropped in. These days Don is hanging his hat in Louisville, Kentucky, but most of the time he seems to be wandering around doing his travel journals — Canada, Maine, Adirondacks, Blue Ridge Mountains, New Mexico, France. He’s even teaching the art of journaling. He’s also taken on a new job as art director for Automobile Quarterly. “AQ,” as it’s known, is the most prestigious publication for antique and classic car buffs. Don is about seventy. “Artists don’t retire — they can’t — otherwise they’re not artists,” he says.


“The Empress Hotel”
watercolour journal
by Don Getz

Art journaling is the Rolls-Royce of the current scrap-booking phenomenon. Don gets his special books from Cheap Joe’s — wire bound — 9 x 12 inches, 25 pages of 140 lb. T.H. Saunders coldpress. Don draws magnificently — years in commercial art and advertising have seen to that. He does his on-the-spot drawings with an Identipen, without benefit of pencil. Identipen is a double-ended, permanent laundry-marker. “Sharpies are okay but they spread a dot when you pause.” After he gets his drawing right, he floods on a bit of watercolour. He’s using the Russian Yarka box with a few special cakes added.

“I’ve never had so much fun,” says Don. “I’d draw all the time if I could. It’s the best.” He’s one of those guys where it’s all in the details. Incredibly particular about pigments, grounds, supports, etc., you feel you’re in the presence of a walking encyclopedia of art-material lore. Right now he’s enthusing about watercolour on gessoed paper. “You need to prime it fairly stiff, not too stiff, so at least there’s brush-marks — the right kind of brush-marks.” He uses a one-inch nylon house-paint brush — “79 cents, don’t pay more,” to put on the gesso. He believes in non-staining pigments so colours can be completely removed if need be. “It’s not what you put on, it’s what and how you take off.” Don takes it off with old oil bristle brushes with cut-off handles.

Recently another friend pointed out that a person’s life is a matter of getting ready for the last thirty years. “If you do things right in the first fifty, the rest has a chance of being stellar,” he said. Looking at Don, I know what he means. It’s in the details.

Best regards,


PS: “To retire is the beginning of death.” (Pablo Casals) “Creativity is not something you pluck off a shelf, it only becomes evident after years of practice, experimentation and effort.” (Don Getz)

Esoterica: Don’s automobile art is often in acrylic and large scale — up to 4 feet by 16 feet. Lately he’s taken to painting automobile engines — detailed but abstracted wonders of bright gradation and reflection. He also does huge renderings of license plates. Don says, “You’ve no idea how impressive large numbers are.”


Clarification of the phenomenon
by Karyl Howard

“Art Journaling” is not part of the scrap-booking phenomenon. If it needs to be part of anything, it is part of the collage phenomenon. While scrapbookers do journaling to go with their photos (or at least they should), art journalers are far different! Those of us who keep (and also teach) journaling are far closer to mixed media and collage artists! There is a great cross-over between written journals and visual journals, however, so I think that we’d rather be known as art journalers — entities unto ourselves! Now, I have to go find an Identipen.


Artpen colours spread into shades
by Margaret Norwood, NZ


“The road out” pencil drawing
by Margaret Norwood

Don Getz’s work excited and inspired me to work larger. I’ve noted the pen he uses also, as I have been rather discouraged after finding the ink fade in my favorite Rotring Artpens. (They hold cartridges of ink, available in different colours. Black or sepia is my choice) I use a wet sable brush to spread the ink into grey shades. My many filled sketchbooks are, so far, only about 6 x 4 inches, and fit in my pocket (with my field paintbox which I use when using my other drawing pen, waterproof). Scotland is the furthest I’ve been from Down Under and there began my passion to capture scenery and people. I look forward to more sketching and exploring, using larger books and now, journaling too. Maybe Don will visit our picturesque New Zealand sometime.


Happy accidents
by Karen Phinney, Halifax, NS, Canada

Don Getz sounds really interesting! I always like it if someone mentions, “it should be fun.” No point in doing it otherwise, eh? I have switched recently to oils (water-based) after years of watercolour, but as someone in the clickbacks mentioned, there’s so much versatility in watercolour. You allow the paint to roll around, and then drop in some colour, just one that takes your fancy, and watch it explode into a shape that morphs into something else… lots of fun. So, I do my “watercolour abstracts” on the side, as it were, to the more figurative oil-subjects. They’re fun too, but the watercolour is so… unexpected — so many “happy accidents.”


Brown bloom with Sharpies
by Willa McNeill, Matthews, NC, USA

Don Getz is setting a good example in not using the Sharpie pens for his sketchbooks. Although the use of Sharpies is widespread, Sharpies are not designed for journals or sketch books. In fact, they are quite acidic and will eventually have a brown bloom around each mark on paper. These days, there are many fine felt tips with archival properties available. While I regret not being disciplined enough to keep a journal or sketchbook, I would be really upset had I done so and seen it deteriorate from the use of an inappropriate tool.


Better off dead
by Jerry Lucey, Guadalajara, Mexico


“San Marcos”
original painting
by Jerry Lucey

I enjoyed the letter on Don Getz and his views. I once heard an artist being interviewed on TV and the host asked: “If not an artist, what other profession would you undertake?” The answer was clear and to the point — “Dead.” I will be 75 in December and live to paint, been an artist all my life and can think of no greater profession. About 8 years ago I closed my gallery in the USA and moved to Mexico. The quality of life is fantastic.


Getz works with his mind
by Coulter Watt, Quakertown, PA, USA

Your friend Don is right on the mark when he says, “Creativity is not something you pluck off a shelf, it only becomes evident after years of practice, experimentation and effort.” It’s all those years of cognitive learning and study that lead to what many readers refer to as “intuitive” painting, but they forget the intellectual process that got them to the point where painting became a fluid, natural act. And that is the heart of my bug-a-boo with all those touchy-feely, fuzzy-headed people talking about painting as an empty headed “creative” act. Your Clouds letter and the Deepak Chopra quotes really pushed my “nonsense button” and your friend Don is right in my camp — he works with his mind and he knows it.


Books pivotal in life
by Jeff Chow

I am often surprised how the subjects you talk about parallel my interests. Subjects that, although not esoteric, are not mainstream either. I’m a great fan of George Leonard’s book Mastery which I consider pivotal in my life. And also I am an even bigger fan of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas on flow. Perhaps the holy grail for me. As well, I’ve always been aligned to the idea of a leaderless crowd. I just thought I’d let you know you’re hitting bulls-eyes in the topic category.


Getting away from dictation
by Connie Powers, New Mexico, USA

As a teenager, I painted incessantly, almost always under the stipulations of my mother and other relatives. “Paint me this,” or “Paint her in a purple hat.” I loved painting, but hated the dictation. Eventually, when my own children started arriving, I put away my art materials. I’m beginning to paint again, almost every day; learning to trust myself and learn from mistakes; eliminating negative self-talk. My new husband and I are in the process of moving from Washington State to New Mexico, USA, where there is an active art community. I will continue to explore the blessing of my creativity there. I may never be “great,” but, gosh, I’m having fun and feeling fulfilled.


Buying habits of artists
by Mary Madsen, Las Vegas, NV, USA

When I first got hooked on the visual arts, I went to work at Dick Blick to learn the world of art materials up one side and down the other, without going broke. I quickly learned to tell the difference between the customers who where pros and those who were what I call “prosumers.” The ones who were “in it” because they “live it” bought the barest essentials, and their purchases were always a strange mix of the highest and lowest priced materials. For example, Yarka has some of the cheapest watercolor pigments, yet Gabby Hirsch, my first and favorite art teacher uses them, as does Don Getz. The prosumers bought all the toys, gadgets and the most expensive of everything, even if it was a pencil. It was as if they thought they could buy the time, experience, and unique love of the long-married the pros had so lovingly gathered in their relationship with their art. For the prosumers, God was in the gadgets.

Thanks so much for your story of Don Getz. As always, it was an inspiration. Each story that passes along the joy of being an artist helps erase the counterproductive fairy tale of suffering for one’s art. Art is a source of celebration, not suffering and sacrifice.


Let public be the jurors
by Charles Morris, Grand Junction, CO, USA

I have learned to not take juried shows very seriously. It doesn’t mean much when you win and it definitely doesn’t mean much when you lose. Unfortunately, the public uses these shows to get their “validation” of artists so to some extent we artists are stuck with these shows just as we are with galleries; both of which are pretty hard on artists. I agree with a lot of professional artists I know that do not participate in shows with awards but rather the shows that present all artists equally. Let the public be the judges by buying their art without the bias of a juror’s opinion.


Use of projectors
by Kate Barnholtz, Camarillo, CA, USA

I’m looking for advice on projectors. Video vs. overhead or any other advice. Can anyone help or know where I can go to get it?

(RG note) The Artograph Super Prism for projecting opaque material has the advantage of reduction as well as enlargement (by reversing the lens). Further, it takes ordinary 250 watt as well as color-corrected bulbs that have a life of about 25 hours. I use older Kodak Carousels and project slides because slides have been my reference of choice since I started gathering material for my work. I have over 160,000 reference slides so it would be a big job for me to convert to digital. Slide projector bulbs are expensive and getting more rare. Also, slides are not all that easy to get developed in some places these days. Various zoom and wide-angle lenses are available for Carousels and other makes. Perfectly good slide projectors sometimes show up at garage sales and can often be had for a song. The type of projector you choose depends what the medium of your reference is — print, slide or digital. All can be converted to each other, of course. In the case of the latest digital projectors, color truth, color manipulation and image blending are a plus, so this is now the choice of many cutting-edge projector users.


Makes progress with letter
by Diane Overmyer, Kalamazoo, MI, USA


original painting
by Diane Overmyer

I’m a BFA art student currently studying to receive a double degree, one in drawing and painting and the second in sculpture. All of your letters are so informative, I feel as if they and the feedback will be a very valuable addition to the education I’m getting at college!

I totally agree with your statements regarding the casual look to good painting. Richard Schmid is one example of this. It is something I have been working on in an independent study this summer. If I had read your letter when I first started my art training it may have saved me much heartache when it came to competitions! My mentor was head of the art department and I have been privileged to be able to paint with him in studio. I have a huge respect for his talent and abilities, yet he paints very tightly. As a result, I was painting tightly. This past summer I have worked on my own and am very happy with the progress I have been making toward loosening up. After reading your letter, I am quite certain that I am heading in the right direction!








Photoshop painting by Jose Manuel Oli, Zaragoza, Spain


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, 2004.

That includes Brad Greek of Mary Esther of FL, USA who wrote, “I recently started keeping a journal to log my paintings in progress and my shows. But I soon realized the drama overtook it and it became too personal. So I stopped writing it. I will pick it back up though, I may go after that book one day.”




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