Fighting the blues

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Brian Crawford Young of Inverness, Scotland, wrote, “I’ve been having a crisis since I got back from a wonderful residency at the Art Students’ League, Vytlacil Campus in Rockland County, New York. The ambience was great, the staff helpful, the scenery brilliant, and the quick access to Manhattan exciting. But when I got home to the Highlands of Scotland everything crunched to a halt. All my fears and self-doubts emerged and creativity stopped. Any thoughts on this sort of blues?”

“Moray Coast #2”
original painting
by Brian Crawford Young

Thanks, Brian. You can get it after a residency, a show, a workshop, an art museum, or even going to a high-energy art centre. Just living in New York has put many fine painters into gridlock. The “What’s the use?” attitude can come from too much excitement, influence, competitive talent, or the disorientation of commerce. One is confused, disheartened and jaded. The good news is that artists can come out of this if they really want to. There are cures. Here are three: The sherbet cure. Like sherbet after the main course, take a couple of days of de-briefing. Intense influence has scrambled your cerebral neurons. You need to re-boot. I’d take a long walk in the heather and top it off with a few single malts. Near Inverness, I know just the places.

“Foggy Mountains”
original painting
by Brian Crawford Young

The solitary confinement cure. While any sort of intensity and learning is great, an artist also needs a private vacuum in which to gather thoughts and re-unite with personal processes. In the words of the writer Annie Dillard, “You need a room with no view so memory can meet imagination in the dark.” Leaving your intense experience and exciting environment behind, your work must now come out of you. Too many lambs spoil the haggis. The forced beginning cure. This is where you puff yourself up, squeeze paint and dig in. Awkward at first, the processes that sustained you before, augmented by what you have recently learned, will gradually take over and you’ll be your old self again. You must know that people have risen again in their studios after a bout of major trauma. It’s been done before. Fact is, the pursuit of art is a delicate balance between influence and self-assertiveness. As self-realized artists we all have different levels of tolerance for this mystery. Influence is like Scotch; it’s good to know your personal limit.

by Brian Crawford Young

Best regards, Robert PS: “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” (Oscar Wilde) “Be selective about your external influences.” (Brian Tracy) Esoterica: Excessive influence, even from the work of others in art magazines or books, can lead to malfunctions of the creative spirit. Fen Lansdowne, the brilliant and widely-published bird painter who recently passed away, suffered from a lifelong malady called “The Imposter Syndrome.” Comparing himself to others sent Fen into a dark and angry funk that sometimes lasted weeks. When he figured out the cure, it was pretty straightforward: Watch birds. Do drawings. Paint birds.   Brian Crawford Young

Box Car Ladders


Fieldscape #14 Blue and Yellow




Towards the Corries

            Take time to play by Lynne Windsor, Santa Fe, NM, USA  


“Meandering River”
oil painting, 10 x 12 inches
by Lynne Windsor

Almost every artist experiences this at some point in their career. I believe it’s part of the creative process and all the things that you have suggested, Robert, are things I have done to get going again. Years of travelling back and forth from New Mexico to the UK have been challenging, especially since I don’t really have a ‘proper’ studio set up here at my Father’s house. I don’t feel that I can make a mess and spread out, and I know this influences my work, but my love of what I do, overrides everything. My need to paint is overwhelming, even if it’s just to meet a deadline and I just ‘get stuck in’ as we say here in Lincolnshire! Brian, take time to play, go and dig yourself out of the snow, but most of all just get that paintbrush out and do it. Up in Scotland at this time of the year is tough, the days are short, but hold on to your beautiful memories of New York and don’t be too hard on yourself. I like the new work you did in New York, it seems that you made a leap, so don’t think too much, keep calm and carry on! There are 2 comments for Take time to play by Lynne Windsor
From: Brigitte Nowak — Dec 02, 2010


Wonderfully understanding, empathetic and supportive comments. And a beautiful, evocative painting, full of mystery and mood.
From: Shelby — Dec 03, 2010

Boy, does this sound familiar! I think “beware of external influences” is the real answer here. And also playing, enjoying hanging out with the brushes and paints. When I get into this midset (happens often after workshops) I take a lot of old watercolor paintings, cut them into different size pieces, and paint them on the backs — any color — and dab in more colors, watch the flow — It is magic, and reminds me that it is MY pleasure that matters, that no one can really judge me or compare me to a new teacher or other artist. Let them mix and dry and the paints will do their own thing — and perhaps eventually you will realize that just a touch here or there is all that is needed… And if they all end up in the trash, so what! They were already trash to start with.

  Misgivings supplanted by understanding by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“Gathering clams”
original painting
by Rick Rotante

This is a very common phenomenon and the only solution is within. There was a time in my life while an early student of art that I wondered if I should go further at all with all the great art and artists that have come before. It seemed to me they all said better than I could have hoped. What more could I possibly add? My contemporaries also seemed to have a far better handle on this than I could ever hope to achieve. I realized at some point that I’m not in competition with these other seemingly more advanced artists. I had only myself to compete with. I had to be better than I wanted. I wanted to have my view of life shown. We all have a unique vision. We all see with different eyes. Sit in any painting workshop with ten other artists and you will see ten different points of view as to how to interpret the subject. I no longer wonder if I’m as good as… At this point in my life, I’m as good as I can be. The proof is people buy my work. I get complimented and awarded. The sky’s the limit. Will I see work I think is better than mine? Sure. Will I be as good as Michelangelo? Only time will tell. It’s a matter of what you want to accomplish with the time you are given. There are 4 comments for Misgivings supplanted by understanding by Rick Rotante
From: Marti — Dec 03, 2010

Rick, your first paragraph is exactly what I have been going through of late. Having entered the field late, after raising six children, I often wonder if I have just missed the start of the race and should go home. But you are right, it isn’t a competition with others who are already famous, but a competition with myself to continually improve…………Thanks for the push.

From: Anonymous — Dec 03, 2010

My credo in life… is the joy you see in the people who admire your work that keeps us going thank you for your comment.

From: LD — Dec 03, 2010

Wonderfully stated! The key word here is “WITHIN”. Every artist is searching for this realization, and when they find it, it makes the “artistic” muse within us so much more enjoyable…it’s our own view of the world as we interpret it. Those who copy other’s work or fill blown up photos with color are faking it, and their muse will never truly be fulfilled…

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 06, 2010

Thank you all.

  Terrified but tenacious by Laurie Sain, Lander, WY, USA  

mixed media by
Laurie Sain

Brian’s blues were a godsend to me! I had just sat down at my desk after fighting the blues this morning, since I’m about to begin a serious business plan for marketing my art, and I’m terrified! Can I do it? Is my art worth the money to other people? What’s the point? I learned a few years ago, after a trip to Greece in which we spent all of our time looking at old rock foundations and artwork — the only remnants of ancient cultures — that art is what lasts after most of the other “stuff” is gone from our human experience. Art is important, not only to the artists, but to those who manage to come after us as well. Thanks for the Three Cures for the Blues, although I confess a tendency towards the Scotch option. However, today’s the day! And I’m off to both paint and start the visioning process for my works, called “murmurations of color,” which combine art and science: replicating the patterns of birds by adapting the “rules” the birds use themselves to fly about and avoid confusion, disorientation and dismay. May I learn to follow them as well as the birds do!   The graphite connection by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada  


“Arbutus on the Rocks”
acrylic painting, 24 x 30 inches
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

I am just now re-emerging from the deepest down I ever had since I started painting. I had dips before, but this was the first time I actually asked myself the “Q” question (shall I quit). It came about after a string of overwhelming events, just as you said — super exciting heli painting trip, a week-long workshop with about 100 artists and students, topped off by reading a book by a famous artist-teacher who apparently despises stylized landscapes. It is amazing how all the millions of ideas, plans and inspirations that I normally have, at that point made me nauseous in a real way, as if sailing on a rough sea. As a result, I”ve been under for about 3 months. For the first 2, I tried to ignore the thing and carried on painting with a sensation of disgust. In the last month a kind friend advised to stop painting the serious stuff and just do something playful. I discovered that I am not a very playful person when I am in a rut, but from some reason it appealed to me to do color swatches so I did that for a week. Then I started pencil drawing compositions, no painting for another couple weeks. That brought me to last week when I tried out painting and it felt ok. I painted at almost full speed through the last few days and it feels as where I left off before the rut — no miraculous breakthroughs, just ok, but what a relief! There are 5 comments for The graphite connection by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki
From: Julie Roberts — Dec 02, 2010

I love these rocks worn smooth by stormy seas, now bathed in warm sunlight, and a distant horizon so typical of coastal British Columbia.

From: Tatjana — Dec 03, 2010

Thanks Julie, so great to hear from you!

From: laura starrett — Dec 03, 2010

Beautiful painting: love the light on the tree and the sense of distance. You describe exactly what I’m going through–I’m in month 3. I have been asking myself the question too–the fact that I’ve gone three months makes me think I can go forever … I hope that’s not true: painting has been a part of my identity for quite a time. I am also *not* playful! But I am going to emulate you and see if that’s a way back for me too! Thank you for describing your journey!

From: Sharon Cory — Dec 04, 2010

I really understand that nausea, especially if I think I’ve lost my creative flow and my art is worth nothing. But I’ve learned to work through it, like walking into a windstorm. You just put your head down and keep going.

So many people are going to look at your beautiful painting “Arbutus” and see it as derivative of the Group of Seven, which tend to be the only artists that most Canadians have heard of. But I’ve painted in regions like this and can’t help but have my work echo this “stylized landscape”. It’s like, you get out there and you have this overwhelming desire to capture it’s grandeur, but it’s too big and wild. So you soften the strokes, almost lovingly,and it becomes romantically stylized. It’s almost a primeval response.
From: Tatjana — Dec 06, 2010

Glad to ready those excellent comments! Thanks!

  Left brain jump start by Sharon Cory, Winnipeg, MB, Canada   One thing that works for me is to let my left brain analyze what had been the basis of my excitement, the triggers, so to speak, and then use that info in my work. For example, I recently got back from a visit to Prague, the most beautiful city in the world, with layers of culture and sophistication that predate the Hapsburgs. I had first traveled there as an art student in 1969, just after the country was invaded by Russia and the streets were filled with soldiers and disheartened Czechs. To return 40 years later and see the city so alive, the streets filled with people engaged in conversation, the store windows and galleries reborn in Bohemian style… well, I walked around in a state of enthrallment for days. When I got back to my dull little Prairie burg, and looked around at what I’d been working on, I was disheartened and thinking “Why am I bothering?” But my left brain kicked in with “What did you like so much about Prague?” and quickly got down to the arches, the river and the warm golden glow that enveloped Wenceslas Square. Soon enough these elements were appearing in my new work and the levels of excitement were again bubbling through my veins. There are 3 comments for Left brain jump start by Sharon Cory
From: Jan Ross — Dec 03, 2010

I share your affection for Prague, and was there in ’08. What an artist’s delight! Any artist considering a visit to Europe should visit Prague first, as it hasn’t been taken over by fast food chains, cell phone stores and kitsch like other major cities in Europe. There are lots of local artists with nice works for sale, too.

From: Jan Ross — Dec 03, 2010

Also, it helps to have the level of the artists in the workclass identified prior to your applying, ie. beginners, intermediate, advanced, as perhaps you were in beyong your level of experience. This would make anyone question her abilities!

From: Jan — Dec 03, 2010

my second comment is for Cathie Harrison.

  Showing up is the first step by Cathie Harrison, Roswell, GA, USA  

original painting
by Cathie Harrison

Bravo to Brian! His work obviously shows competence, uniqueness and beauty. The aftermath of fear and sometimes hopelessness that he describes is familiar to me and I’m sure to others. I recently plunked down a significant amount of money and a full ten days to participate in a workshop with an artist I’ve followed and admired for twenty years. I thought I’d learn an approach different from any other and something about achieving an energy and elegance in paint application that was unique. Instead, after spending tremendous energy and effort, I learned that fear of failure is my biggest obstacle to moving to a higher level in my work. Now that is really worth something… but it has taken me a full six weeks of agonizing about “why I bother” to come to this conclusion! Needless to say, I failed in the workshop and felt all the embarrassment, self loathing and humiliation that comes with public failure. It has taken me many reflective hours to understand that it is a good thing to fail at painting something you don’t love in a way that isn’t intrinsically you. Again I am reminded that we all come to our own precisely personal way of applying paint, choosing a subject and attempting the impossible task of communicating to the viewer something as illusive as how we feel about the subject. I’m certain Brian will move forward and do more great paintings. As for me, I’m showing up in the studio this morning and remembering Robert’s wise advice. There are 3 comments for Showing up is the first step by Cathie Harrison
From: Jan Ross — Dec 03, 2010

Cathy, maybe you were being too hard on yourself by considering your workshop a failure. Having been to numerous workshops myself, and producing less than stellar works, I can tell you it’s not a place to expect a masterpiece to be created. The environment is atypical of your studio, you’re with artists of varying levels of accomplishment, and most importantly are there to learn. You probably absorbed more of the information the instructor was imparting since you signed up to learn not to impress. Your painting is lovely! Hang in there and know you’re not a public failure!

From: suzannej — Dec 03, 2010

“Trying to communicate to the viewer something as illusive as how we feel about the subject” is the nub of it all. Sometimes the road there is tortuous sometimes smooth..but ultimately we all stride down the same road. Thanks for sharing.

From: Liz Reday — Dec 03, 2010

So you discovered that to improve, you have to get over your fear of failure. Sounds like you did by going right out there and painting what you considered less than stellar work, felt like you were a failure, but then picked yourself up and showed up in the studio! Talk about meeting fear of failure head on. Most workshops and paint-outs that i do end in cringing misery and jealousy for anyone who did a “better” painting than mine. But I go back into my studio and somehow my work grows and improves. Why is it that this abject feeling of failure becomes creative growth?

  Criticism before compliments by Colleen Obrien, Calgary, AB, Canada  

original painting
by Colleen Obrien

I am now back from my 5 weeks at Artist in Residence in Italy. It was a whole life. I took time to do some thinking. There was a lot of time, which threatened to be boring, after working in the studio 3 or 4 hours a day. This particular Residency is a wonderful place, partly because of the host and hostess. She is sweet, very helpful and much more. She has a little English, her husband has almost NO English, and both of them smile a great deal. He had a second piece taken in to the collection of the MOMA in NYC, during the time I was there, so we toasted him with the good local wine, grown right outside my window in Chianti. His name is Duccio Trassinelli. The ancient buildings and culture were very inspiring. The hilly landscape, so much like the Vernon BC wine area, was also inspiring to this prairie person. The food and wine were incredible, the coffee, the bread, the olive oil, the pasta and the generous hospitality of the Italian people planted a deep impression. The Mayor of Greve in Chianti came to the exhibition at the end of my stay. A few high and mighty art people, a Professor, a Gallery owner and an artist, also came to the exhibition. They had criticism, that my work had colors which did not match the region, they were bright and chemical. (I use acrylics). I listened closely, felt uncomfortable and then felt like giving up. I explained that I had been influenced by the Group of Seven, which no one had heard of. I also considered that my works were studies for larger studio pieces in my 3×4 foot size that I prefer. I gave it some thought and realized these three men had their own agenda, and were immersed in their own visions. It is amazing what a strong sense I got from these three. The genuine compliments from other invited artists and guests had to sit in the background of my mind until I could process the criticism. Another thing which saved me was a little church bell tower. As I was walking along the gravel road, I glanced over to the little town in the distance, which I had painted. I had to view the tower from not only the place where it was painted, but to express it accurately, I had to walk to the town, and also walk in other directions, until I could grasp the darks and lights and the spaces. I realized that this work which I had done took a whole lifetime of study and looking and painting. A few comments could not erase all the force of my creative energy. There are 6 comments for Criticism before compliments by Colleen Obrien
From: Anonymous — Dec 02, 2010

Excellent Colleen – ‘love your UNTITLED piece (from italy?). You’re good, you.

Ron in Canada
From: Colleen O’Brien — Dec 03, 2010

Thank you, Ron

From: LD — Dec 03, 2010

I love your art and really like the energy in this painting!

From: Colleen O’Brien — Dec 03, 2010

LD, Thanks for the vote of confidence. This is one of my Italy paintings.

From: brian Bastedo — Dec 04, 2010

Your Untitled painting from Italy is quite simply stunning, Colleen. Ihad to keep going back to see it again and again, to study the design elements and technique that captured me. Well done!!

From: Ed in Winter Park, FL — Dec 12, 2010

Your skills are really quite amazing, presenting not just the beauty of the surroundings, but enough of the heart and soul of the Italian community to invite your viewers in for a taste.

  Coming down from the mountain by Randy Bosch, Jackson Hole, WY, USA   People returning to their “normal” environment from a fulfilling conference, retreat, residency, reunion or other intellectually stimulating adventure will always encounter some form of “re-entry” turbulence, whether the gridlock experienced by Mr. Young or another predictable challenge. One of the best descriptions I have heard is that you are coming back down to the valley from a “mountain top experience.” That experience was usually long planned with much preparation and anticipation. The experience was both exhausting, in a good way, and exhilarating. At last, the trip back down to the valley – home, work and normal routine — must be made. Without an also pre-planned re-entry period, anyone can experience being overwhelmed by the “to-do’s” and “stuff” that accumulated during absence. Even with the best planning, an emergency may have arisen during absence that demands attention and energy to resolve. Whichever scenario occurs, not only is the exhilaration of the mountain-top is lost, but the mind may actually build a mental barrier to lock away what was gained — a subconscious intention to devalue or lock away the learned skills and knowledge. Friendly family members and co-workers may either push for a detailed “what was it like” recounting too soon, or actively work to really bring you back down from the clouds to “reality.” The responses you propound are among the best of which I have read or heard. Several attempts and great perseverance may be necessary for each of us to find that which is best for them. The truly extraordinary retreats, mentorships and conferences have a thread running through them and a “summing up” that reinforces such methods with skills and an agenda to help find the best response, keep the spark alive, and thereby prepare for a genuinely joyful reunion with the studio, family, co-workers, and productive implementation of what was learned on “the mountain top.”    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Fighting the blues

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Nov 30, 2010
From: Livisart — Nov 30, 2010

Is it just a case of not seeing what you have got ? Having been away.

A bit like a new woman on the scene both women are beautiful but one is taking up more of your attention. Having lived in that area myself & spending time away when I visit I appreciate its beauty. But I also appreciate the winters up there. That is when some summer photography comes in handy.
From: Catherine Stock — Nov 30, 2010

Robert, I read your postings religiously. There is almost always something in them that strikes a chord, and often in the comments of your subscribers too. But the one thing that irks, I confess, is your constant sunny, positive, upbeat and constructive disposition! So I love it when some cantankerous character posts some snarly comment that I can relate to. The thing is that anything worthwhile usually involves some struggle with personal demons…

From: Rene — Nov 30, 2010

I feel your pain, Brian. At times I too have the same self doubts. Artists live in an environment of their own inadequacies. Did you spend some time reflecting on what the residency in the states meant to you and your art? Perhaps there were too many distractions. Take a break from your art. Remember, art like life is a journey not a guided tour.

From: Jackie Knott — Nov 30, 2010

I am reminded of Olympic figure skater Debi Thomas in an interview. She always blamed her floundering in figure skating on her heavy pre med academic load. She left school for a year and devoted every day to train for the Olympics. Then she said, “I have no more excuses. Now I have to skate brilliantly. The pressure is overwhelming.”

I can only imagine such an immersed experience at the Art Student’s League would produce a similar reaction. Brian has just been influenced by one of the best art schools there is. Now he has to produce top tier work, better than anything he’s done before, right? No pressure or anything … I would be tempted to take a short hiatus from painting altogether, maybe as long as a month if possible. Sensory overload can paralyze. Intellectually, the experience must have a terrific amount of information to process. A step back might allow one to evaluate all of it more effectively.
From: Maureen C. Shotts — Nov 30, 2010

Robert, I always relate to your posts, and this one certainly struck a chord in my personal struggle. I have been painting and selling my work for 12 years, but after an intensive (and inspiring) workshop last year with an amazing artist and teacher, I pretty much stopped painting altogether when I returned home. I did not understand.. here I had just been exposed to beautiful surroundings and this privileged experience, and NOW I stop painting? I was so filled with ‘what’s the use’ and self-doubts, that I had to force myself to my easel, only to give up in frustration. I am more grateful than words can express that you posted Brian’s comments and explained what was going on!

It has been a year since I have sent work in to a gallery, but I have been teaching privately during this time. Last week, faced with a commitment to donate a painting for a local fundraiser (with nothing to give), I pulled out a canvas and was amazed how fluidly and easily I was able to paint. No struggle.. no worries.. no block! Still baffled over my nonproductive year, your post today hit home. Thank you! I am not suggesting that everyone take a year off, especially if it is your only source of income, but perhaps the break, along with teaching others how to work through their problems, is a fourth way to work through your own.
From: Dwight — Nov 30, 2010

After six plus decades of painting, I like all of Robert’s “cures.” But the best one, at least for me, is the third one, the “forced beginning cure.” A long-gone teacher of mine in the late 40s and early 50s would scold us for just sitting. “Get moving” she’d say. I wish I could thank her today!

From: Nancy Bell Scott — Nov 30, 2010

That Brian’s dilemma is at least a little bit related to mine as called out in Robert’s “Overwhelmed by Images” via the Internet last month doesn’t escape me. There are many versions of paralysis, and many different reasons for it, but most are probably at least somewhat similar in origin, whether it’s exposure or overexposure to the work of others, a highly inspirational and direct experience with other artists, and/or an unusually spectacular and unforeseen movement ahead in one’s own unique direction. The paralysis these experiences can cause is painful, no doubt about it, but also probably necessary to growth in the future.

I like your work very much, Brian. Your originality will continue to find its way out.
From: Edie Maney — Nov 30, 2010

BRAVO and congrats! Your letters are so special!! Now rather than a pile I will get to later, I can go to bed with the hard copy!!!

From: Peter Fox — Nov 30, 2010

Thank you for your last letter, it happened to come at the right moment for me. My experience was similar to Brian’s. After doing the East Side Cultural Crawl on Saturday, I realized that creativity was alive in the city but quite dead in me. Although my artwork could pass as being accomplished it seems the skill employed is identical to that which I use when doing a woodwork project or laying rocks in our rock garden.

From: Leza Macdonald — Nov 30, 2010

Thank you so much for this mornings letter!!!

Now I know where I have been for the last little while. I didn’t realize that the mural took that much out of me! I was actually carrying the load for two people. I am painting a very dark thing of a man and woman and I call it ” Méphistophélès.
From: Sidne Teske — Nov 30, 2010

From the looks of the work it seems Brian lives in a remote area. I find the contrast of the loneliness of my workspace and recent lively experiences often put me into a similar funk. Allowing myself time to debrief and rest, and making (and keeping) a schedule of starting up again helps pull me out. Allowing the changes to happen in my work that are a result of the stimulation I’ve just received seems to be the hardest of all. It is so uncertain. Thanks for a good article.

From: Caroline Planting — Nov 30, 2010

Robert – thanks for printing this one! I’ve been having the same experience!

From: Linda Slasberg — Nov 30, 2010

Yet again you are helping me; I am myself a victim of the “blues”. After moving, recovering from a stressful time with my adult daughter, then discovering my arthritis and having treatment for it, successful I am pleased to say, I just cannot get back to painting. (Not that I was any good before, mind you!!!)

I have tried but everything turns out like crap. However I will try the forced beginning cure.
From: Edna Hildebrandt — Nov 30, 2010

Feelings of inadequacy after the euphoria of being in the midst of the hype I guess can set in. After the dust settled in and back to the familiar place; reorientation is required. One should not forget that the old familiar place is just as inspiring as any place on earth and the self is still the same. “Know thyself “the identity who mixed with the others in New York; talent and aspirations are still there. Get up and go forth and paint, paint ….paint .

From: Donna Pierce-Clark — Nov 30, 2010

I SO appreciated this today! I’m literally fighting the blues myself and so are several members of our family. Your article was specific for us “artists” but also for the general public.

It is drab here in Ohio today, overcast and has been raining almost every day for over a week. We need the rain. But today, I needed to hear what you wrote about to Brian. Brian, your work is beautiful! I love your emphasis on the train cars!! Do more of that!!! And, I will “study birds” (ie, paint what I paint) and keep plugging along. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, we just have to keep driving through it.
From: John McNeil — Nov 30, 2010

My advice to Brian Crawford Young is to get out into that wild and beautiful Scottish landscape with a sketch book and then take a look at the work of Frances MacDonald and Barbara Rae.

From: Robin Shillcock — Nov 30, 2010

The idea that “the best result of the painting is obtained during the first five minutes” doesn’t strike me as very true. The first five of fifty minutes can be fun, because you’re feeling your way towards —something. Sometimes that groping can be enough, if you feel you said it all in the sketch.

Sketches are charming, but there is more to strive for than charm. Excitement and emotion are there, but they have to take a back seat. Who ever heard of a writer bawling his eyes out while writing a sorrowful passage? The same goes for making a painting. Sure, you’re excited in starting something new, but it’s suppressed. Actually the attitude is rather one of cool, not the excitement of a child unpacking a Christmas present. Emotion? Sure, but it’s linked to the idea or subject you had in mind rather than in the act itself. It, too, is suppressed. You’re aiming at something and you don’t want momentary distractions like excitement and emotion getting in the way. When focused experience speaks. Fear is a bad adviser. It’s true in politics as much as in art. The fear of overworking is like Inuit fearing an influx of Muslim migrants —not likely to happen. It is a very sixties & seventies concept, that spontaneity begets good art. It hardly ever does. I had a good look at the painters of the Canadian Group of Seven. What they did is not spontaneous, it’s considered —in thick paint. I know dozens of artists and I don’t recall a single time we discussed the “danger of overworking” with serious countenance. I think we artists just don’t give a damn —we want to get somewhere, then we go to work. It what we do looks dead, we scrape it down and do it all over again. I believe the fear of overworking is only that: fear. Primarily a problem with amateur artists, who fear that what they have achieved at a certain point in a painting could be lost in the next stroke. It’s experience instead of excitement or emotion that tells the artist when to stop. It’s that innate voice of caution that says: Do you need this next one? Sometimes I listen to the voice, often I don’t, knowing that success doesn’t depend on a stroke or two, and that if it does go wrong, what I had and have lost, may be gained again.
From: Robyn Eastgate Manning — Nov 30, 2010

I know just how Brian felt, however please tell him his paintings are amazing….very strong and original and he has no need to feel overawed by anyone else! This is the first time I have been prompted to write, probably because I have experienced this freezing up often, like show and tell time after a group painting session, and I am too embarrassed to put mine on show in the company of such talented artists. But I paint quite happily at home. Makes me feel like a fraud, so thank you for your suggestions on overcoming that.

From: Susan G Holland — Nov 30, 2010

Fighting the Blues: Yes…the blues, and they seem to come in the “down months” often, too. One of my personal fixes is to get a completely new medium to play with. Just to play. Not the whole set…just a few colors and a different brush. Be brutal. Try anything. Be fastidious. Render it super realistically. Then cake it on. Dip it in dye. Try melting wax on it, or burning it or carving it. You can do bunches of them and collage them together. While you are at it, sew it with fine copper wire! Coat it with spar varnish.

Either throw it away, or frame it. Clean up when you are finished with the blues, and get going on the stuff that is waiting.
From: Olga — Nov 30, 2010

Just enjoy the after holiday effect. Any way life is full of dirty people not worth it.

From: michael — Nov 30, 2010

We all are in search for the perfect muse. I remember coming home for a certain workshop and feeling like I had accomplished something except when I went to paint, I seemed to fail miserably. I would say shake if by distractions.

From: george gordon — Nov 30, 2010

your art is wonderful – keep being you!

From: Mary Ann Pals — Dec 01, 2010

Last May I came home from a wonderful two-week vacation to Alaska (ahhh), and afterward I just didn’t feel like diving into my artwork. Other ‘stuff’ in life took priority again and again. Not good. But how could my artwork even begin to approach the beauty and grandeur of Alaska? Nothing compared to what I saw there. I was so humbled and awestruck that I found myself again and again looking back at my hundreds of photos, sitting mesmerized at my computer screen.

But I was determined to somehow dive back into my art. I was, for the millionth time, looking at my Alaska photos when one image struck me. It was actually quite simple in composition—a quiet cove with some evergreen trees, foreground rocks, low distant mountains, and a few reflections in the water. And it wasn’t gigantic and overwhelming in nature like towering Mt McKinley, just a humble little cove. Hmm, what size piece should I go with? I glanced at my stock of frames and there it was–a tiny window opening on a mat already in a frame with glass, all ready for a teeny tiny piece of artwork, only 3 x 4”. Well shoot, I could do that! It was 10:00 pm, but I started in immediately. By midnight it was almost finished. I went to bed dreaming about it all night. In the morning I bounced out of bed, anxious to get back to work. By 10:00 am I had finished it, I was still in my jammies, and had not even had breakfast yet, but I was pleased as punch. So had I successfully jump started my artistic engine? You betcha! I was off and running to my next project–a sea lion in Juneau. Moral of this story: Next time my artistic engine is sitting in idle, I’ll grab a piece of pastel paper and think small, very very small, a do-able size even if I don’t quite feel up to the task. The inspiration will surely follow. “Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down.” —Kobi Yamada
From: Lauri Luck — Dec 01, 2010

Dear Brian –

Shutting down after an art colony stint seems very natural, if also unnerving. My guess is that the experience was so important to you that you need time to sift through the information garnered from that experience and that you are also unconsciously preparing for a major change in your work and/or life. After two months at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts I went home, packed my bags and moved to California 4,000 miles away. I also no longer make small tight oil pastel drawings but instead make large loose acrylic paintings – who knew? Hang in there Brian and look out – sounds like BIG change is on the way!
From: Jeffrey Hessing — Dec 01, 2010

The world is in a constant state of expansion and contraction.

That leads to repeated anticlimaxes; after an exhibition, a residency, a sale, an article in the art press, finishing a big painting, an exciting trip, after dinner, after sex…….. it is part of life. Stay in bed as long as it takes, walk by the sea , in the country, or down Fifth Avenue. Call your girlfriend, your friends , your mother. Sing, dance, watch a stupid movie ,and, yes combine all or any of the above with a “moderate” dose of malt whiskey. Do whatever it is that makes you feel good. The main thing is stop worrying about it. Painting makes me feel good. That is why I do it. So eventually I always come back to it. Usually sooner than later. As long as the world expands one more time than it contracts we will all be fine.
From: Brian Crawford Young — Dec 03, 2010

I want to thank Robert and everyone else who has contributed to this thread. It was really helpful to get positive feedback, and the good news is.. I’m pushing paint again! Thanks.

From: Alcina Nolley — Dec 03, 2010

I met François Gilot and noticed that Picasso merely exaggerated the fact that she had limbs and digits that didn’t taper much.

From: Rae Smith — Dec 03, 2010

I never have a block more than a few hours ,or till I can get in my studio, then it a small decision as to which i will paint first.

From: colleen kindt — Dec 03, 2010

I scrolled back to see if the writer, Tatjana Mirkow-Popovicki was a woman or a man. I like to take that into consideration when I am reading most things. It makes a difference. I see their writing differently once I know their gender. It allows me to say, “yeah, I knew it.”, or “That is surprising, coming from a man/woman”. Men and women are so different, it is very valid information, which gender is speaking (writing). I can’t tell from the name, Tatjana, if the person mentioned here is a man or a woman, but I would guess a woman. I purposely sign my paintings with my full name to state I am a woman artist. Some women sign with an initial, and hide behind the uncertainty for the viewer, to not be judged by gender, knowing it will often work against them to be a woman. I have heard artists say it is beneficial to have a name that can be either gender like “Terry”. Colleen

From: laura — Dec 03, 2010

Thank your for thoughtful and “doable” response to Brian’s problem: I have been suffering from the same malady since 2 workshops in Sept. and cannot paint anything I’m pleased with; it has impacted even my desire to paint at all. A fellow blogger forwarded your post to me, and I’m so grateful.

From: Nancy Bell Scott — Dec 03, 2010

Interesting, Colleen. Several years ago, for about half a year, I switched and signed my work “N. Bell Scott” instead of with my full name. Felt cowardly, probably didn’t increase appreciation. Went back to signing “Nancy Bell Scott” and it hasn’t decreased appreciation or sales. Even if it did, I don’t believe, as you aptly put it, in hiding “behind the uncertainty for the viewer.”

From: Tatjana — Dec 03, 2010

Colleen, you made me laugh. I am assuming that you are a woman. BTW, most posts have a link to the artist’s website right under the text, so you can learn more about the person if that would be helpful for you.

From: Terry Krysak — Dec 03, 2010

I detested his work until I found out and viewed his earlier “realistic” works. He was a brilliant painter (as far as his earlier works I mean).

His later works do nothing for me.
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Sea Wall

acrylic painting by Tina Mammoser, UK

  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 Richard Rabkin of NY, USA, who wrote, “By the way, Brian, you don’t have to wait to feel like it to do these suggestions. You never will. You just say, ‘Feet move.’ ” And also Ken Paul of Eugene, OR, USA, who wrote, “That’s as good a take on what’s been called ‘post-partum depression’ that I have heard in a long time. The ‘scrambled neurons’ metaphor seems particularly apt. This phenomenon is also related to the age-old problem faced not only by artists, but most folks, I’m guessing: comparing my raw insides with somebody else’s well-tailored, carefully-presented outer persona. Some of us have to leave the single-malt therapy to others, though. Been there, done that, but after brief relief, it only made matters worse: more scrambled neurons.” And also Maxine Thompson of Rotorua, NZ, who wrote, “I’ve just finished a year of teaching workshops in New Zealand and Queensland, and fitting commissions and exhibitions in between classes. I’ve been a professional artist for 20 years and the ball is rolling for me now with working coming my way without my chasing it. I’m thriving. Art gives me a rich lifestyle through the people I meet and the students I encourage.”