The distraction technique


Dear Artist,

Last Sunday at 2 p.m. my friend Murray came to the studio. He brought with him a very nice 1999 “Carmen” Chablis (Chile) as well as some ripe Limburger and a good Brie. He even brought his own wine glasses and napkins. Although Murray’s not an artist — he’s a retired insurance salesman — we’ve been friends for years. Very diplomatic and polite (he comes from the old school), he never once mentioned what I was doing or what I had going on my easel. We talked about all the stuff that interested him — politics, golf, investments, food, wine, insurance. He told me about how he had once sold more “whole life” in one month than anyone else in his district — more than anyone else in his office in a whole year. As I painted, Murray picked up a stray chair and moved it around so he could have eye contact with me. When he finally left four hours later, I noticed that I had done the most part of a 36″ x 40″.


“Lake of the Woods Classic”
acrylic painting – view details below

Barely conscious of my painting process, I nevertheless caught onto some things that were happening. The emergent painting went slower and more deliberately than normal. While I listened and responded, there were pauses where another part of me was considering my various moves. I noticed tentative assays that were somehow overruled. There was a pleasant amount of patience. I was thrilled to hear of the passion that Murray had brought to his career — it gave me that “worthwhile” feeling — a sense of righteousness and accomplishment in my own choice of life path. As we talked and my empathy for him grew, I identified with his life as a salesman. I saw how, on our ride on this carousel, we all do our best with what we have been given. A sense of elan, a feeling of mastery, had me holding the brush by the end, gesturing, flourishing. No, I wasn’t showing off. I was being what I could become. Our friendship, our enriched conversation, and the soft, unbusinesslike space of an unspoiled Sunday did the job. His gift was a blessing of time and the use of my other brain.

Eventually we looked at our watches. He had to go. As we were gathering up the stuff and tossing remains of Brie to Dorothy, I asked him what he thought about someone sitting around and painting pictures. “It’s not for me,” he said. When he got into his four-by-four, he rolled down the windows and cranked up The Ride of the Valkyries. Then he sailed away as if he had just closed a big sale.

Best regards,


PS: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” (William Shakespeare)

Esoterica: What’s going on here? The human brain is a map of evolution. At the base of the brain are the most primitive functions, the unconscious automatic things like breath regulation, the heart, fight or flight, etc. As you go up and forward, the functions advance and become more human. This base is called the “lizard brain” because it’s the part of the brain that we have in common with lizards. The lizard brain holds what Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel calls the “fog of fear.” Regarding our creative competence, many artists carry the fog of fear in spades. The idea is to find ways to penetrate this fog. Simply stated, relaxation and the distraction of good company are what put the lizard to sleep and gave play to a half-decent painting.


Lake of the Woods details








Disinterested friends valuable
by Brian Jones, Tucson, AZ, USA


oil painting
by Brian Jones

I teach painting and I’m considering insisting that students and I do not talk about artwork while we are working on it. It amazes me how many visitors to studio spaces want to discuss the work as it is in process. Regarding friendship, I have often thought that my non-artist acquaintances are more important than artist friends. Both have their place. I enjoy having friends who enter my house and don’t take the tour of each painting displayed about, most of which lie leaning against walls in corners. We discuss politics, news, and business. I have been meaning to bring a bottle of wine to a new friend, I think I will set a date and do it.


Value of music
by Taylor Ikin, Tampa, FL, USA


“Magnolia III”
watercolor painting
by Taylor Ikin

Whilst I do not have a Murray close by, I think music is another medium for helping the lizard to sleep. For me, silence is distracting and creates tension when calling upon one’s creativity. I welcome the different sounds from classical to jazz, country and gospel music. I move about… hold the brush differently and make marks and shapes which come to life as I celebrate the musical rhythms. At such a time, I often cannot remember how I got to where I am going in the painting… but I certainly enjoyed the journey!

(RG note) Thanks, Taylor. You might be interested in Neil Locke’s letter, Musical accompaniment or Nana Banana’s Loud music in studio or Stephen Connor’s Distracting.


Stereotypical artists?
by Kim Goodliffe, Vancouver, BC, Canada

That exchange with the insurance salesman didn’t seem to bother you. Why? It seems to me that members of my family are like that guy. They like to talk about themselves and I play journalist and ask questions and have an interest, but when I try to invite them into my life, my writing, they usually can’t relate, close the conversation (“It’s not for me”) or turn it back to their own interests. Is it an untrue stereotype that artists are self-absorbed?

(RG note) Thanks, Kim. Many of the artists that I admire are what I like to call “highly evolved.” By this I mean that they can be curious of others and somewhat encyclopedic in their interests. Some are students of psychology — where the most ordinary and unremarkable person can be a source of interest and even astonishment. For many creators it’s in keeping with their character that they are not so self-absorbed, but rather absorbed by life itself.


Women artists want unspoiled Sunday
by Phyllis Rutigliano, Englewood, NJ, USA


“Bowl of Color”
watercolor painting
by Phyllis Rutigliano

I have been painting, teaching and raising a family for 30 years. I have 3 children, 6 grandchildren and a large extended family. I love and support them all. I wait for an “unspoiled” Sunday to enable me to relish the niceties of life. Once in a while would be a delight. I, and most women artists I know, struggle with guilt generated by interruptions, though loving, that are frequent. Lizard brain painting doesn’t face up to persistency. In my experience in general, men don’t have the same situation.



Mind works at boring times
by Mary Anne Tateishi, Vancouver, BC, Canada


“Favourite Things: Greg”
mixed media on canvas
by Mary Anne Tateishi

I’m not sure if it’s distraction or being forced to sit still, but I find I get some great ideas during meetings and classes, especially boring ones. My mind leaves the subject matter at hand and starts to wander, and suddenly I get art inspirations or solutions to creative problems. Then I quickly jot them down, and as a double bonus it looks like I’m working hard and paying attention!





Hands do well during conversation
by Joanne Gill Worth, Pinehurst, NC, USA


“Going Under the Bridge”
oil pastel
by Joanne Gill Worth

I noticed the same thing while demonstrating my medium, oil pastel, at booth shows. I demo-ed to draw and educate prospective buyers but found that my hands did quite well on their own while my mouth was carrying on a conversation. All the right hemisphere/left hemisphere info I’d shared with teachers in the past came back to me in a flash and I’ve been deliberately applying it ever since. I often paint long into the night listening to the History channel. It has a steady sound level unbroken by louder commercials. Of course, I now know more about World War II than I ever needed to, but that might come in handy someday, who knows?


Returned gift
by Vincent Whitehead, Harrod, OH, USA


“Oliver planter”
pen drawing
by Vincent Whitehead

You spoke about your friend talking to you and you working away with a patient and deliberate than normal stroke. In each of the shows I do, whether I am the only Fine Artist amongst the many crafters or whether there are, as in the case of last weekend, more than 75 other artists at the show, I always have a work in progress while folks are walking through the booth areas. I have found that this interaction with patrons keeps me mindful of the work I want to produce. I keep both sides of my brain active. Trying to stay in tune to what they are asking me and at the same time doing the detailed line work in ink that I thrive on is one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment. The time moves by quickly and I feel that I have given those that stop to look or comment more than they expected when they paid their entrance fee. But what they don’t know is that they have given me more than they could have ever hoped whether they purchase any of my work or not.


Books on tape do same thing
by Janet Toney, Greeneville, TN, USA


“Confederate Soldier”
original painting
by Janet Toney

I always use this technique. Not that I often have visitors while I paint, but characters visit — I listen to books on tape. I rent them or they can be found at discounted prices at the big truck stops along the highways. Sometimes I tune in to a favorite radio broadcast. Because we live on the edge of a National Forest and it’s been warm enough to leave all the windows open, I have been listening to the “wild.” Of course, now and then my curiosity gets me and I have to go see what’s making such noises, but those are good, happy breaks from the art. And, the painting I worked on, when last I listened to the wild, came out very nicely. And has sold! While painting the Confederate Soldier I listened to hymns, not planned but appropriate, and no doubt had a good effect.


Painting is teacher of patience
by Anne West, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

Speaking of lizards: did you know if you roll a blue-belly (Western Fence) lizard over in your palm and gently stroke its belly that it will ‘go to sleep’? I am a very impatient person. Things just can’t ever happen fast enough for me. But what I have found with painting is that it is the one thing that slows me down. I have found it very meditative. Time goes by and I have no notice of it. I can’t really think about other things while painting. Someone asked me a math question once in the middle of a painting, and my mind was a complete blank. There was no way for me to get from the meditative state that painting had put me in to a place of mathematical problem solving. Painting itself is my teacher of patience.


Work plagiarized
by Brad Rines, Tsawwassen, BC, Canada


original photo
by Brad Rines

David Wayne Wilson’s letter in the “World-class” clickback contained what he called an “original” painting of a Tibetan man. In fact, this image is an exact copy of a colour photograph from the cover of an issue of the now defunct Equinox magazine — probably the work of Canadian mountain climber/ photojournalist Patrick Morrow. Morrow was in Tibet in 1982 when he achieved the summit of Mount Everest, and produced several articles for Equinox. Using an image as inspiration is one thing, but blatantly copying it and calling it your own is unforgivable, not to mention criminal. Shame on Mr. Wilson.


“Tibetan Man”
original painting
by David Wayne Wilson

(RG note) Thanks, Brad. Sorry, we took that image out of David’s file from our own image bank without knowing it was a copy. We have removed it from David Wilson’s contribution and substituted what we hope is a more original image by him. David has been in touch with us and for his part he says, “I am angry, but not at all ashamed. That Brad esteems it to be “an exact copy” is flattering. It is not, of course. It is ‘reflective’ of the original photograph. The image was never for sale and belongs to a friend, to whom it was given.”




Last-name-only signature avoids gender
by Nancy Acosta, Glide, Oregon, USA


“Battle Smoke”
oil painting
by Nancy Acosta

I do Americana, and have a Civil War series. Early on I found that it seemed to take away from the authentication of a war piece by many if painted by a woman. I was adopted by the 7th Cavalry, a group belonging to the Frontier Association, in Washington. Some of my men became involved in a 2nd group taking on the period of the mid 1860s so they could do Civil War and frontier reenactment. I have been to many battles, rode wagon trains, have done re-enactments at forts with these guys and been very lucky to have them believe in me and pose for me, asking nothing more than to share their lives with me and my art with them. It has been a marvelous experience and made my life so much more interesting. Needless to say they expect me to have things correct and were always there to help me to make sure I got it right. Unfortunately, something about signing a painting dealing with war, soldiers, etc. by “Nancy” seems to take away from it by the minds of some people, thinking I don’t know or understand this subject. So thus I sign my pieces only by my last name. That way there is no prejudging of my work. Gender really has nothing to do with what I feel and paint. I don’t know if men painting children, flowers, etc. have the same experience. Anyway, I find by signing just the last name the work is judged only by its quality, style, etc. and what it is. This really is how art should be judged.


Establishing your prices at auction
by Scott Martin


“Ft. Funston Weekday”
oil painting
by Scott Martin

Pricing your work can be as simple as sending one of your pieces to a reputable auction. I don’t know if it is still true today but in the 1970s, when I was beginning my career, My Paris gallery, needing to establish a price base for my first show, did just that. After the piece sold at auction, there was a recorded and legal price established for one of my paintings in that size. All of my other pieces in the show were priced based on their size relative to the one sold at auction. The Gallery was responsible for dealing with the auction, with my permission. They also handled all of the shipping and insurance from New York to Paris as well as much of the framing. The Gallery organized and paid for all of the publicity, which was extensive. They also paid for a couple of opening night parties. They got 50% for their efforts and I was glad to sign an agreement to not sell my work for less than the prices we had established, for the next six months. I wish I had a gallery today that treated me so well.





Desert Shadows

oil painting
by Michael Stack, Tucson, AZ, 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 Jan Mancey who wrote, “This letter on friendship brought tears to my eyes.” Jan also sent this quote for our ever expanding Resource of Art Quotations: “Beauty, truth, friendship, love, creation — these are the great values of life. We can’t prove them, or explain them, yet they are the most stable things in our lives.” (Jesse Herman Holmes)

And also Frances Shaw who wrote, “I’ve found my best work has been done during a long telephone conversation while almost subconsciously painting away. Much later I can look at that painting and recall the conversation.”

And also Wendy Feldberg who wrote, “We are not made to love alone.”




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