First position


Dear Artist,

Ballerina Sarah Murphy-Dyson, once First Soloist for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, wrote recently to share her new passion. “I’m a little embarrassed to be asking you this… I started drawing and painting ballet-themed stuff a year ago and can’t stop. My style has continued to develop and grow and I feel I’m finding my voice on paper and canvas. I wanted to ask you about galleries and shows and such… I have no idea about that world. Might you be able to connect me with people from there or advise me yourself? I’d love to have a show and could perform at it, too…”


Sarah Murphy-Dyson, Gemini Award winning actor, writer, dancer and singer

Thanks, Sarah. Having recently taken up ballet, I was on the verge of getting in touch, myself. Unlike ballet, though, the act of painting woos by welcoming even the wobbliest brush and besots with an early high. This love affair is often accompanied, in this century at least, with a follow-up craving called, “Galleries and Shows (GAS).” Like a baby who claps back at her first parental applause, GAS is a kind of congenital creative side effect. But GAS is not painting, and GAS is not as smooth as painting’s initial, low barrier to entry. GAS is as sticky as the ten thousand hours it takes to get into a pair of pointe shoes.

Showing is part ambition, part urge to connect, part economics, part self-belief and part simply a completion of the creative cycle. To a seasoned performer, a pivot towards visual art with the idea to incorporate performance and explore all its end-of-the-rainbow possibilities is likely second nature. “Boldness has genius, power and magic,” wrote Goethe. If part of this golden period of exploration, discovery and play is presenting your work, here are a few ideas.


drawing in coloured Sharpie by
Sarah Murphy-Dyson

First position:

Have you got a few hundred paintings?
Select from this year’s production your best 20. If you haven’t got an embarrassment of riches to choose from, go back to your room and paint. Your shortlist should be thematic but varied in ideation and show an evolution of imagination, technique and skill.

If you crave feedback, gather a group of friends to rate your paintings in a blind vote, by secret ballot. You need to be your own worst critic, but anonymous keeners can help. You might even find some insight in the comments of this letter.

In the cold clear light of dawn, examine your technique, brush handling, understanding of materials, colour mastery, drawing, values, powers of observation, clarity and communication of ideas, variety, finishing, originality, style, titles, archival quality and signature. Like the stage, look around at the professionals in your midst and assess your own personal development and caliber. What do you have on offer that’s unique?

Second position:

Take high res, in focus, glare and shadow-free, colour accurate images, cropped to the edges. Label the files for easy identification by someone who’s never heard of you.

Build a website that allows you to make changes. It need only include your recent work, your relevant bio, CV, email address and a short, clear artist statement.


drawing by
Sarah Murphy-Dyson

Third position:

You may choose to take a workshop or embark on a period of independent study to expand your understanding.

You may choose to enter juried shows through artists’ organizations, sketch clubs or other calls to entry, in order to get your work seen and build an exhibition history.

You may choose to throw a vernissage — a private viewing of recent work, held in an alternative space, rental gallery, in your studio or at a friend’s place.

You may choose to invest time in researching and visiting galleries to get to know their exhibition mandate and the types of artists they represent. Whether they accept submissions and how they wish to be contacted can often be found online.

You may choose to look for answers and connectivity here with us on The Painter’s Keys. Consider this my heartfelt introduction to a few new friends.


“It’s very calming and meditative for me, opposite to what ballet was most of the time, in fact.”
(Sarah Murphy-Dyson)



PS: “Every artist was first an amateur.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Esoterica: As you know in all the arts, no degree, no license, no certification, no award, agent, introduction or promotion guarantees a spot under the lights. Instead, the long, private fulfillment of creation nourishes and sustains a would-be exhibitor until lightning strikes and she mounts a show. As you know in all the arts, “Galleries and Shows” is not the game’s name, but merely a hardscrabble chance after a million tear-stained tries. Call the game instead, “a million strokes in an applause-free room, inviting your grit and those delighted to be with you to grasp at what it means to be human.”


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Try to put well in practice what you already know; and in so doing, you will, in good time, discover the hidden things which you now inquire about.”  (Rembrandt)



  1. Terrific letter. A reiteration of a lot of the points your dad made, with the most important being…go to your room and paint. I’m always amazed when people who have had long careers that required discipline and hard work, take up painting Or another visual art, and expect that they’re ready for a show in a couple of months. The time they put into small, hopefully saleable work would be better spent learning composition, practising skill development or learning the range of materials available. But I know that the glee of actually producing some reasonably good work overtakes them and the first sales flood the brain with dopamine. Sales become the addiction, rather than achieving new levels of competence, and soon, when their family and friends have bought all they’re going to buy, they lose interest. Thx for making it clear how difficult the struggle usually is.

    • That is a great letter, Sara! One for the annals. P.S. I see you want my website address. It is 3 years out of date and is being updated. Please wait 2 months to check it out!

  2. Pingback: This Site Is Under Construction – Dr. Neil Greenberg » Bitten by the Painting Bug

  3. Great letter! Great response! Like any new passion, the fun is in the discoveries. The sharing becomes the work! As a gallery partner, and an artist, I’ve learned the difference between the joys of creating a painting and the challenges of connecting with buyers and prize awarders! The creating is the thrill. The rest is plain hard work, like any job that’s worth doing! The satisfaction is when the connections come to fruition! What joy to have a stranger love what you do and buy it!

  4. I’m tempted to say being successful is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. But in those moments of flow the lines between blur.

  5. I started taking art classes at my local art student’s league (I’m in my late 60s) and was enjoying classes very much, especially working with my middle-aged rebel teacher. I was invited to join a local co-op gallery on the basis of some of my work, and have been in the gallery now for about four years, and my teacher told me he thought it had ruined me. I needed to hear Robert’s advice much earlier and just stayed painting for the pleasure of it. I was definitely “gassed” out. I’ve kept working and improving to a degree, but my focus changed to trying to create commercially successful work rather than just enjoying making art for art’s sake.

  6. Your advice to her is timeless…one that I could read once a year to remind what exactly I could, and probably should be doing besides painting. With limitess choices I wake up excited to go to work on my next creation, as the could’s and should’s somehow fall away. Money? fame? How much do we really require? To live frugally and with joy is a gift beyond measure. The present is calling to me to listen carefully to the birds singing in the garden of my dreams, and the gentle fragranced breezes of summer delights in caressing my face….

      • Dear Michael Peter, I love your work. Excellent. I especially like your Native Americans. Thank you for sharing your website with me. If you wish for a garden you should have one. I have always had some sort of garden, even as a child. When I travel I buy a plant to carry with me in the rental car and I carry it to my room to greet me each morning. Any bright window is all you really need. If you touch them gently, water and talk to them often they will reward you with their unique calmness of spirit that I have found can help balance thoughts of lack. There is something about a garden that is worth more than money. Start with house plants, they are easy to grow, but will still require your attention, which is the fun part. Cultivation and horticulture is a secret of a rich and rewarding life, and it is wonderful!! I hope you will give it a try. Geraniums are my current favorite. They respond quickly to emotion and reward you with beautiful flowers! Cheers! (I hear England is a great place to grow a garden!) Let me know if you give it a go…! Sharon

  7. INQUIRY: Why do Hollywood movie stars all want to be artists??? Public Relations always reveals most Hollywood actors and actresses secretly always wanted be artist, even though they are rich , wealthy super stars ????

  8. Another good letter Sara. Several years ago your letter pushed me forward to do these things. As a result I have become a much better painter but also have learned the value of a regular country bonfire. Thanks for your continued inspiration. I was also fortunate to catch the eye of a gallery owner that will push me forward.

  9. I have to agree with Ben Kuypers above , I, too, am tempted to say being successful is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. But in those moments of flow the lines between blur….and, would you not agree, the joy of self discovery happens! ? I imagined a place for both my husband and me to work and explore and deepen our commitments to creation… and, it is taking Time. ..but we are getting closer each year! I won’t let the pain of personal injury get in the way- I hope to meet many of you someday once again in some joyful art collision :) Thank you so much for all of these newsletters, Sarah; they are nourishment for my soul. Peace.

  10. Terrific insight once again – to further develop R W Emersons quote, as the word amateur is derived from the latin amator/amare meaning to love , professional artists who love to paint are by definition also amateurs, ………….if that is not an oxymoron :)

    mary of

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Featured Workshop

to the Canals
Oil on Linen
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Featured Artist

A professional painter in both watercolor and oil for over 35 years, I have been creating plein air workshops in Europe for artists to join me since 1996. Plein air is one of the most exciting methods of painting, and I teach a very easy to learn way of capturing the light quickly, that any artist can apply to their own work during our adventures to Europe. Travel for artists is a great way to immerse yourself in painting and make great advances in your techniques by watching other professionals work, and by sharing your own ideas with other artists we all grow! Authentic locations, such as a 12th Century Castle in Ireland, a French Maison in the countryside of France, or an Italian Villa in an historic hilltop village in Italy are carefully chosen. We want our artists and non-painting guests to feel relaxed and at home, with en-suite bedrooms, excellent chef prepared cuisine, and convenient transfers to painting and exploring locations so you can be where you want to be to create. Join me on our next exciting journey!


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