A painting buddy

Dear Artist, Did you ever notice when you’re driving a car over familiar territory you can fail to notice high-profile landmarks such as tunnels, bridges or bypasses? Distracted by the car radio, fantasy, or in-car conversation, the miles can wind by in blind oblivion. On the other hand, truly alert and engaged driving is often reserved for new territory. Around-the-corner surprises make the trip more interesting. Something similar happens at the easel. While creativity depends on curiosity and discovery, the expression of art also benefits from some form of mild distraction. We’re all familiar with the value of music, discs, audio-books and radio. With benefit of speakerphone or headset, a few painters spend time on the telephone. Some others encourage studio companions — often family or fellow travellers. Even a studio assistant, bookkeeper, canvas primer or a non-vacuuming cleaner-upper is a welcome presence in many studios. During some periods of high easel activity, the Southwest painter R.C. Gorman was reported to have employed a foot-masseuse. The “painting telebuddy concept,” as pioneered on this site, is still in its infancy. Two or more artists agree to work together over the phone or by Skype. In the telephone version, wide ranging back-and-forth conversations set the creative brain into a kind of soporific free flow. Generally a specific time frame is chosen. Amazing things can be accomplished together over the phone in one hour. Skype has the added feature of pleasant, companionable periods of dead air, which may or may not be beneficial. Requirements of the telebuddy system include the avoidance of questions. Right-brain, free-flow creativity is made more effective with the benefit of gossip, anecdote, or some sort of mutual stroking. Leave the questions for the art. Creative questions and answers to the work at hand need to snake automatically through the neural ganglia. Quality art cannot be made completely in the automatic zone. That’s why, when the phone is hung up or Skype is closed down, you need to drive down that road again as if you are in new territory. Fact is, you really need to become fully alert at least several times in the production of every work. That’s just another reason to go down several roads at the same time. Best regards, Robert PS: “Art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.” (Saul Bellow) Esoterica: Regarding studio companions, Susie Cipolla of Whistler, British Columbia writes, “Four or five painters get together weekly for ‘Masterpiece Tuesdays.’ Some days there are just two of us and other days all five show up in my studio. There is no agenda and all conversations are welcome. We talk or listen and paint at the same time. Some days there is lots of chatting and other days very little. The casual critiques and one-liners (‘try glazing that’ or ‘get rid of that tree’) help us to see things we might not see until it’s too late.”   While talking on the phone by Becky McMahon, Surrey, BC, Canada  

“Bamboo Window II”
sumi-e painting
by Becky McMahon

I thought I was the only one who painted while talking on the phone! I have a weekly phone call to my Mother and we catch up on what’s going on in our lives. While we talk I often pick up my brush and paint on whatever is handy. I’ve done so well I even received an award for one of my paintings in a juried show. I am completely relaxed when I do paint, perhaps because I don’t have any expectations for the painting. I am “just doodling.” I have always doodled when talking on the phone or in a meeting. I find it helps fill the time and helps me sit still. I’m glad to hear it works for other people as well. There is 1 comment for While talking on the phone by Becky McMahon
From: Rose — May 10, 2011

Love your painting…

  When the talking stops by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“The Tower”
original painting
by Rick Rotante

Sounds like a dubious idea. With computers in every corner of our lives, I guess some will latch onto this and run with it. This seems to be going toward a future I will not be a part of eventually. The new technology has invaded every segment of society and now cyber paint-buddies. I think these already exist in the form of art clubs around the nation. Many of the members of these groups either don’t have the time or the knowledge to use computers. Also computers take time away from the painting process. I prefer to have my “buddy” sitting beside me on a porch in the shade chewing the “paint” fat. Even with buddies today, our time together isn’t used discussing art. We’ve learned that art is something done when the talking stops and you lock yourself up in the studio to hammer out your ideas. There are 3 comments for When the talking stops by Rick Rotante
From: Betty Newcomer — May 10, 2011

Rick, I love all the color used in your tower. Most people forget bounce light. Thumbs up!

From: Kirk Wassell — May 10, 2011

Rick, I agree with Betty, your colors are alive. But my real comment concerns your feeling expressed about technology. I agree it has invaded our lives and I believe with a great debt. It diverts our attention and takes us outside ourselves and silently robs us of those wonderful moments when we can look within…

From: Rick — May 11, 2011

Betty and Kirk- Art for me is a solitary business. I love to meet with others…after working in the studio to reenergize and get ideas, but work is work and best done with full concentration. Thanks for your kind comments.

  Interactive and stimulating by Barbara Allen Frost, Westerville, OH, USA  

“Black Bowl with Ginko Leaf”
metal enamel
by Barbara Frost

I teach metal enameling at the Columbus, Ohio Cultural Arts Center two nights a week, with very full classes, up to 15 students at 5 kilns. I find it is very, very interactive and stimulating to be in that situation, and I know that all the others in the class feel the same, especially the beginners. On occasion, I have friends or family over to my tiny basement enameling studio, and we have terrific enameling days with a lot of give and take going on even as we bump into each other. You are so right about having the buddy system, although I never thought of it that way before. Too bad my computer is on the second floor and my studio is in the basement. But, maybe I could use a speaker phone. I am in an online art club, but there are only 4 of us doing it now. There is 1 comment for Interactive and stimulating by Barbara Allen Frost
From: Mary Beth Parisi — May 13, 2011

I absolutely agree with Barbra; as a student in her class I find that the once or twice a week I have to share studio space with other enameling artists and students stimulates my own creativity. It encourages me to “test out” new and innovative techniques and bounce ideas off other enamelists in a casual and fun setting.I am also an active user of social media and have found that my discussions “on-line” with other artists to be engaging and validating although I am usually not working on a piece and trying to type at the same time. I have not tried the “telephone” idea…yet! Thanks !

  Real-life painting buddy by Rebecca Stebbins, Santa Barbara, CA, USA  

“Village Lane, Angles sur l’Anglin”
oil painting
by Rebecca Stebbins

Real-life painting buddy works for me — and gets me out, as well. She and I have also had multiple 2-person shows of our landscape paintings, “One View, Two Visions.” When I’m in the studio alone I have a variety of music, with and without words, so I can dance back from the canvas for a different view. Sometimes I don’t even hear it, and other times I do.           Plein-air painting buddy by Brenda Swenson, South Pasadena, CA, USA  

“Flower beds”
watercolour painting
by Brenda Swenson

There’s nothing like the real thing when it comes to a “Sketching Buddy.” Last month I got out of town for a 4-day sketching trip to Ojai, California. My good friend Judy Schroeder joined me. Judy and I have been friends for years and sketching with watercolor has always been the driving focus of our trips. We look at these trips as a way to recharge our creative battery and look for new subject matter. We have gone on road trips to Napa, San Diego, Sedona, a boat to Catalina Island, flown to North Carolina, and traveled on a river barge from the Czech Republic to Dresden Germany and I can’t forget wonderful Tuscany. I cannot express how important it is to have a sketching buddy. Neither of our husbands enjoys travel like we do. If I did not have a friend like Judy I wouldn’t have visited most of the places I have. Judy works faster than me but she is generally happy to do two sketches to my one. We are drawn to similar subject matter and seem to keep a pace that suits us both. I can’t say most people would like to sketch and paint as much as we do (more than once we have had friends join us only to have them drop off quickly). In the evening we finish what we started during the day. Often we will critique each other’s work. I trust Judy’s friendship and good eye. Judy is the owner of the Schroeder Studio Gallery in Orange, CA. Another reason it is important to have a sketching buddy is for safety. I hate to admit it but there are people out there who would like to do harm. Having a buddy nearby creates another set of eyes. I am very careful not to make myself an easy target for any crime. Most of the people we meet are genuinely interested in what we are doing and very friendly. Final reason to have a sketching buddy is it is always more fun to share the experience with a friend! There are 2 comments for Plein-air painting buddy by Brenda Swenson
From: Ginny — May 10, 2011
From: Brenda — May 10, 2011
  Best buddy on same wavelength by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada  

“Sunset On The Mountain”
acrylic painting, 24 x 30 inches
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

I am relieved that you added at the end that attention is needed a few times throughout the work. I was afraid that you were promoting zombie art. I don’t know very much about the brain, but I read about an experiment of measuring (some kind of?) brain activity while people did various things and different zones of the brain get “fired up.” Interestingly, driving to and from work showed no activity at all (of the kind they were measuring). Incidentally, that is the time when people reported to come up with solutions to difficult problems they were not able to solve during the working hours. So you have got something here — for creative solutions the brain seems to prefer doing a predictable, well known activity, rather than concentrating on a problem. For the studio buddy concept, your assumption is that the buddy is someone you can trust to have a similar mindset as yours, soft voice and overall a calming effect. That could work. I am okay alone, but a day is more enjoyable when there is a buddy in my studio. Mine produces a low level of pleasant noise, a feeling of happy self-sufficient activity and occasionally a cup of tea and a snack.   Getting into the zone by Moyra Ashford, Hereford, UK  

original painting
by Moyra Ashford

What a wonderful letter today! Of so many devices I use to get into the zone, your letters and the responses are one — knowing that there are people out there who think my thoughts is like having a buddy. I love the idea of “driving down the road again as if you are in new territory.” Sometimes when I find myself in the stuck/tight place, I find closing my eyes and reciting the Lord’s Prayer can do the trick. Can I offer three things that help me on the way to “snaking automatically through the neural ganglia”? One is going to art classes. As against getting friends together, I find the formality of a fixed time in an outside venue very helpful and, although I’d term myself in the professional category, being in a group of very mixed ability, sometimes doing quite basic exercises, under the guidance of a sympathetic teacher, is a wonderful balm. There is nothing quite like that silence of an art room full of people concentrating on the day’s task. It has often shown me new possibilities and knocked me out of habits I was not even aware of. The hard bit is abandoning everything I know to follow the teacher’s instructions to the letter as if I’m a total beginner. (Of course, one needs a sensitive teacher — ours is Jenny Lagnado from Hounslow, UK, who I’d love to pay tribute to on this site). The second thing I do — in fairly short bursts — is sketch while watching television. Most of the results are truly disastrous, but just occasionally I’ve captured something — a wicked-eyed Keith Richards, a gasping Andy Murray. I sometimes try to work really fast to capture movement — from programs like competition gymnastics or ‘Strictly Come Dancing.’ Finally, my third helper, a bit like the Lord’s Prayer, is the Alcoholics Anonymous pledge of ‘Just for today.’ As you can imagine, (to paraphrase AA philosophy) there are many things one can do for a day that would terrify us if we had to do them for a lifetime! There is 1 comment for Getting into the zone by Moyra Ashford
From: Kate P — May 09, 2011

Your untitled painting makes me happy… it’s just wonderful. Thank you

  No multi-tasking while painting by Sheila Minifie, Hereford, UK   Honestly, Robert, that sounds horrendous to me. I need time to get into the ‘zone’: into listening to the depths of my own inner voice/vision and also to being aware of what is on the painting or not on the painting. If I’m not attentive and can’t change it, then maybe some chore in the studio or a break might be in order. I don’t need or want distraction. Am I bored that I should want it? Am I painting the bathroom? I know that while in the free flowing of painting or sculpting you experience ‘things’ or ideas that you didn’t intend and are outside your surface but I wouldn’t want them mixed up with someone else’s thoughts and feelings however right-brained. Some people believe these new aspects come from the subconscious, from the Inner Self, or from God. Whatever you believe, the chances of them coming through, I feel, are lessened by your mind being pulled or pushed by another, however simpatico or usefully different. Perhaps one’s attitude to the limitations of the conditioned inner dialogue (art theory, art history, what to cook for dinner) and a positive view of a meditative consciousness helps. I can drift quite easily without distraction and not into unconsciousness but into the atmosphere of my own world or the voice of what is in front of me. A phone call from a creative friend might refresh me, but I would stop work to do that. I can’t listen with two ears or speak with two voices at the same time. I multi-task at other times. I do admit to sometimes using music, but that can be a two-edged sword. Am I listening to someone else’s vision or my own? I think I must be very introverted, because I wouldn’t want anyone else in my studio with their own atmosphere or their own priorities, feelings and ideas. The foot massage sounds fun but how distracting! There are 4 comments for No multi-tasking while painting by Sheila Minifie
From: Sheila Minifie — May 10, 2011

LMAO. I think I meant 2 sets of ears. We are all so different. An aquainance of mine (highly successful sculptor in Uk with a very powerful vision) had her own method of working (not sure if she still does it). For 6 months she would work furiously, head down, isolated in general and then the other 6 months reading, absorbing the work of others, talking to other creatives, getting out and about, enjoying life, being stimulated and challenged etc. I’m sure it wasn’t as cut and dried as that and I don’t know how she did it (financially), but it certainly worked for her.

From: Mishcka — May 11, 2011

You take the words right out of my mouth. Painting on automatic while you’re distracted by something else seems to me to be the formula for producing mediocrity. I may listen to the radio while I’m varnishing or gessoing, but certainly not while creating. Maybe this is the solution to the problem of being unable to quiet the mind, a common problem in this distracting world. Practicing meditation helps.

From: Mishcka — May 11, 2011

This is what I’m talking about! – Liz Nees said this below: “Paint and talk at the same time? I have no idea how that is done. I can only make art alone, and in silence. When I am working, and my husband comes into my studio and says something to me, I can see his lips moving, I hear the sound of his words, but I cannot understand what he is saying.” Yes!

From: anon — May 11, 2011

how insecure!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for A painting buddy

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — May 06, 2011

I use good music (Classical and ’50’s-’60’s Mainstream Jazz) to enhance the mood. Now I see that this is just one form of distraction. Engaging other distractions will help loosen up my processes.

From: Sally in The Valley — May 06, 2011

Oh it would be so nice to have some painting buddies! I am from Chicago and 2 years new to San Fernando valley here in Los Angeles. Anyone in LA reading this wishing for some painting buddies?

From: Carol Putman, Northern CA — May 06, 2011

Unfortunately, my forays into buddy painting have been very disappointing. I do much better to go off by myself and completely focus on what I’m doing. I am so easily distracted, that when I paint with anyone else, I cannot get anything done and come home empty handed. I’m one of those people who can’t paint and chew gum at the same time. That is not to say that I don’t have distractions — classical music is my prefered. And when plein air painting, I may be painting with a group of people in the same general area. But, aside from a break now and then and the comments of passerbys our attention is pretty much focused on what we are painting.

From: Dassy Shellenberger — May 06, 2011
From: Naomi McLean — May 06, 2011

I personally get driven mad by chatty people while I’m painting…perhaps there are two types of people?

From: Caroline Planting — May 06, 2011

I’ve had that experience, of my art self being more active when there is some distraction from the intense space of a studio – at some point the Skype idea might work for me. I have Skype on my computer but never use it.

From: Paula Timpson — May 06, 2011

unaware, yet awake Here , there lost in creation, free & in heaven touching grace melting in to the beautiful world of art~

From: Liz Nees — May 06, 2011

Paint and talk at the same time? I have no idea how that is done. I can only make art alone, and in silence. When I am working, and my husband comes into my studio and says something to me, I can see his lips moving, I hear the sound of his words, but I cannot understand what he is saying.

From: Rebecca Stebbins — May 06, 2011

Real life painting buddy works for me – and gets me out, as well. She & I have also had multiple 2-person shows of our landscape paintings, “One View, Two Visions.” When I’m in the studio alone, a variety of music, with and without words, so I can dance back from the canvas for a different view. Sometimes I don’t even hear it, and other times I do.

From: Dee Poisson — May 06, 2011

Yes, it is interesting how everyone has a different way of working. I find that it is also easy for me to talk and paint at the same time…I can do demos in a busy room no problem. Very odd…and yet quiet drives me crazy unless I am just breathing.

From: Tracy Jager — May 06, 2011

Very interesting! I usually find radio, music, chatter, etc. too distracting. My brain usually grabs on too much to the words. I prefer silence or birdsong or even some white noise like a fan blowing.

From: Kate Abbe — May 06, 2011

Music is great for that! Very mathematical.

From: Harriette Rosen — May 07, 2011

It’s quite a coincidence that this subject came up at this time since just this week I was invited to join a couple of my artist friends and paint together. In the past painting alone worked better for me but after reading this article I think I will try painting with buddies. It’s always good to try a different approach I think. Thank you.

From: mudito — May 07, 2011

This is so interesting to me as I love to listen to talk radio while painting. I go in and out of listening but it does seem to keep my mind chatter satisfied while I paint. I have always felt a bit wierd about this as most people I talk with seem to prefer music. However, I do notice that I cannot carry on a conversation without just stopping mid sentence as I switch brain hemispheres.

From: Annette — May 09, 2011

Yes painting buddies are a good balance with in studio alone time… Plein aire is especially good with buddies. Anybody interested in practising the art plien aire and possibly developing a plein aire group..around the lower mainland of Vancouver BC….contact. h2obeek@yahoo.com

From: Gaye Adams — May 09, 2011

A painting buddy brings me inspiration and motivation – all that and entertainment value as well. Too much fun.

From: Jerrold North — May 09, 2011

All art is self taught. Having a paint buddy is a downstream benefit.

From: Brenda Howell — May 09, 2011

It would be nice to have a painting buddy meet-up or way to connect to painters in different areas on your Painters Keys website. I would love to be able to meet some plein air painting buddies in North Orange County, Calif, being new to this area.

From: Jo Allebach — May 09, 2011

My best friend is also an artist. We go to my studio and paint every day. We may listen to music or not. When we are working we rarely communicate other than to occasionally ask for an opinion. I paint more representational such as landscapes she paints mainly abstract so we do not compete with each other. The different styles actually gives another view and thought process to judge the validity of work. When we need a break we will engage in a friendly game of scrabble. Somehow we have no problem spending all this time together without any altercations.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — May 10, 2011

My painting classes are ending in two weeks for the summer and I have been listening to my students planning how they will get together to paint over the summer . Some to go to workshops together, several to meet in a studio to paint together at the same time as our class. This is great! I am glad they will keep painting together, motivating one another, me, I am looking forward to lots of alone time in the studio working on paintings I have been wanting to do this Spring and haven’t had time.

From: Jeanean Songco Martin — May 10, 2011

Painting is a solitary experience for me and is not a social event. However, there is no question that having a few colleagues whom you admire and trust to look at your work can be very helpful. Bouncing ideas off fellow artist, sharing studio tips and shop talk can be stimulating and nurturing. Having a few “painting buddies” for occassional painting situations is really nice and I look forward to those communal painting sessions. I have a group that meets once a week to work from the model. We learn from each other and benefit by the reduced payment to the model. It’s a great group. I also enjoy travelling to new places with a small group from time to time to work outside in the field. I find the experience of having a sense of “comraderie” with other painters to be very comforting. Having said all this I still think my best work is usually done alone. When I work alone there is no question that I am in the “zone”. I am free of distractions and really have an experience with the landscape and am able to “connect”.

From: Karen R. Phinney — May 10, 2011

I think there are as many ways to paint as there are artists. Some people do well in a solitary situation, chitchat with someone else would distract them. Others may find the feedback or the distraction helpful. I belong to a painting group which is a great support. We talk, laugh and even eat together. The group ebbs and flows with who shows up, and it’s wonderful and stimulating, and for all the reasons mentioned already. We meet on Tuesdays and it’s sacrosanct for most of the members. I feel very blessed to be part of it!

From: Anton — May 10, 2011

Interestingly enough, the one piece that I value from my body of work as being, imo, the most worthy of being called “art” was done while lecturing to a small group of middle school student in a prep school in Brooklyn, NY. I figure that the lecturing unhooked my rational mind from the work and intuition was allowed to function more freely. Go figure.

From: Caroline Trippe — May 10, 2011

There was a time when I listened to music while painting, but not so much anymore. I don’t care to talk to anyone else while I’m painting, but as it happens, I have a “painting buddy,” I only realized after reading this newsletter that’s what it is –“moi.” Sometimes I talk to myself while I’m painting! Most often it’s about something completely unrelated to the painting at hand. The best part of this? If I need her to shut up — no problem!

From: Judi Martinez — May 12, 2011

Thank you for this article on Painting Buddies (should we paint one another, too — possibly ON the flesh, not on canvas…..what an intriguing notion!) I must come back to earth and express my pleasure in learning that I am not the only one who happily will paint with others, or even with observers who do ask questions. So many artists whose comments I have read seem to abhor having someone peering over their shoulder while they work, but I actually enjoy it and put myself out there for that purpose, at shows and markets. Even though I am accustomed to being just a tad odd, this one was beginning to concern me, at least in regard to my artistic acceptability. Though why that should bother me in this instance, and not in others, is beyond me !

From: Jessica Grehan — May 13, 2011

Aaaargh, this is the most awful idea ever – a painting buddy! ugh, what about a nice long stretch of silence so you can hear your own little self rattling around inside?! But yet another person .. Talking. *bangs head off table*

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oil painting by Alfonsina Bozzano, Milano, Italy

  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 Dee Poisson of Alberta, Canada, who wrote, “A distracted right brain lets the left brain work.” And also Carol Putman of Northern California, USA, who wrote, “I am so easily distracted that when I paint with anyone else, I cannot get anything done and come home empty-handed. I’m one of those people who can’t paint and chew gum at the same time.”