Field of dreams


Dear Artist,

Not so long ago, I moved to New York to paint the paintings I had always longed to paint, with the dream of showing them in a place where they needed no explanation. I found a small loft behind Canal Street, between the fish market and the counterfeit handbags, and began filling my new-old studio with the largest paintings I could muster. There was no purpose or goal to it other than to see if it could be done.

I Love the Whole World, 1999 1524 x 1524 mm, Acrylic paint and graphite on canvas by Agnes Martin (1912-2004)

I Love the Whole World,
60 x 60 inches
Acrylic paint and graphite on canvas
by Agnes Martin (1912-2004)

With a loft full of work, I looked around for places to show and submitted a small watercolour to a works-on-paper exhibition at an artist-run space on Greene Street. It was for charity. About a year later, an art dealer emailed to tell me she had bought the painting, and that she might have clients for more. I took a livery cab to Park Avenue and when the elevator opened, I saw my tiny watercolour nestled salon-style between a Richard Serra oil and a Warhol silkscreen. “I have these big ones,” I suggested, “maybe you might like to try them, too?” She delicately deferred, but began slowly building a small following for my watercolours.

One day, out of the blue, the dealer called in a bit of a jam. Could I bring my largest paintings uptown, as soon as possible? I un-stretched the largest of the canvases and slid them into the back of a cab. By nightfall, I’d re-stretched and installed them in her Classic 6. A few weeks later, they were laid out in a glossy magazine pictorial, out of the studio and into the world.

Morning, 1965 1826 x 1819 mm, Acrylic paint and graphite on canvas by Agnes Martin

Morning, 1965
72 x 71 inches,
Acrylic paint and graphite on canvas
by Agnes Martin



PS: “If you build it, they will come.” (Phil Alden Robinson, Field of Dreams)

Esoterica: A decade later, I was looking for a new workspace in the up-and-coming rat’s nest north of Madison Square Park called NoMad. The broker thought it could be convincing if our party looked at the neighbour’s configuration. Behind a frosted-glass storefront burst a labyrinth of dust and oil-soaked cubicles, makeshift and leaning fire-hazard-style with massive canvases thick with a lifetime of paint. It was as if the artist had worked the same 30 canvases since he moved in, two decades earlier. As we moved from room to room, he switched a breaker to spotlight each set of mammoth works, imposing like monoliths in a one-person sanctuary. I thought of the songwriter Gillian Welch, who wrote about what we artists all understand as the compulsion to create without an end in sight — all of us filling up our rooms — in an act of, at times, unrequited love and always unyielding hope.

Buds, 1959 127 x 127 inches Oil on canvas by Agnes Martin

Buds, 1959
127 x 127 inches
Oil on canvas
by Agnes Martin

“Everything is free now
That’s what they say
Everything I ever done
Gonna give it away

Someone hit the big score
They figured it out
That we’re gonna do it anyway
Even if it doesn’t pay” (Gillian Welch, Everything is Free)

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.


Agnes_Martin_1954“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” (Thomas Edison)

Don’t quit before the miracle happens.” (Fannie Flagg)




  1. Sara, you are a true delight. I know your dad is proud of your writing, your painting and your art spirit. I started my quest, who knows why, as a 5 year old driven to make something look real with my box of crayons. That quest continues as I continue to not “quit before the miracle happens.” Thank you for your devoted help to us artists who can get discouraged sometimes. You are an inspiration.

    PS We met at a workshop of your Dads in NYC about 15 years ago. Such a fond memory that workshop! You were a fine teacher already at such a young age. You had a great mentor and role model!

  2. I have heard it said that creativity is a curse. We are compelled to create regardless of the reception. It’s the longing (loving) to make art that keeps us from falling into the abyss of rejection….even though it hurts to realize that not everyone shares our vision.
    “Keep Calm and Carry On” is a poster on my studio wall…..along with “Drink more Gin”

    • Yes, everything is free now after a life committed to doing it and still doing it. To rid my studio of old paintings, I’ve been giving them to friends who have enjoyed my art but never could buy it.
      It’s exhilerating to think that some of these gifts have wound up in museum collections in places I’ve never visited. Others make the owner smile.
      Thank you for continuing these letters!

    • I prefer Dylan’s, “Rage on, rage at the dying of the light. I have destroyed two bodies of work in my life. Sculpture is not very portable. At 81 I still wait with new work. I have tried to live a ‘normal’ live. No go, CREATE!!!!!!

      • Norman, Is that you? Rosemary KimBal here. Still Creating Contemporary Zen Paintings like you framed so long ago because you knew how and it needed doing. Happy you are doing Sculpture. I heard you were in Prague or somewhere close to there. This might not be the venue to re-connect but I was flabbergasted to see your name.
        Find me at

  3. Hi Sara. I love this letter. If you ever find yourself on a BC Ferry to Pender Island come and see me. I have moved into my dream retreat just above Poet’s Cove and across from the Enchanted Forest [ how dreamy is that] and now I have light and space to paint more ……… I have a space for people to come and see my art and talk about art and it makes me very happy. This is my new field of dreams . I am inspired by my surroundings [ great for the introverted spirit I must admit]…… Now that I am more or less settled, I am creating again …. new work to stand by the old …… its all good. [ I also have a new art critic…. Harry and Sally have gone to cat heaven but Lucy, my boxer puppy is managing to give me her advice …… and I do talk over my work with her…. ] … She is good for those necessary creative walks in the forest as well…. Love on your dad’s birthday… we should always celebrate ….

  4. Mary Manning on

    Dear Sara,

    I will never forget your offer to promote my first solo show in St. George. Today’s letter hit me in the heart, as I have found a space tucked away in the Arte Art Gallery, and began to paint large paintings of national parks and national monuments, endangered public lands. Also began painting in oils again, loving the experience. Sometimes I think I will never break the state line (equivalent of a glass ceiling for me), but know people are watching and reacting.

    Thank you for this letter!

  5. Dear Sarah,
    Thank you for continuing to share your beautiful words and your dad’s. I have been reading Painters Keys for more than 15 years and they are a gift with every reading. They inspire and delight. I loved the images of you and your dad painting at the glorious lake in British Columbia. I too love Agnes Martin’s work. I especially love your dialogue about the creative process. I forward the newsletters to my students some of whom paint, others write poetry, create Ikebana arrangements and paint.
    Warmest regards.

  6. Dan Clement on

    I love this post: mainly because it gets artists like us the drive and the hope to be more creative. What the world needs now is hope. And you give it, Sara. you gave it. Thank you. as I am going to print this one for future reference.

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Featured Workshop

Ghost Ranch, NM Art Workshop/Retreat with Darla Bostick
June 2, 2019 to October 5, 2019


Ghost Ranch, NM, Darla Bostick, (June and October) workshops Relax, enjoy, create! Floor to ceiling studio windows. Ghost Ranch Lodging/meals provided. See why Georgia O’Keeffe loved Ghost Ranch. Each workshop/retreat is different. The June workshop jumps into something new every day—textiles and dye, printing, paperworking and more! The October workshop is for painters—collecting photography for reference, watercolor, ink, acrylic and more–using watercolor paper, clayboard, etc! Daily demos, slide presentations, door prizes and optional happy hour. The website has all the information. Darla’s been teaching at Ghost Ranch since 2008… isn’t it time for you to see why?

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