Forest Spirit


Dear Artist,

Last Tuesday was my birthday. I was getting ready for my day in the studio when the phone started ringing. For some reason it has become popular to sing “Happy Birthday” to people over the phone. The sentiment was pleasant and very much appreciated. Over and over I was enjoying the familiar lyrics. I put on my headset to fully grasp the beauty of the singing. Michelle, who is helping us out for the summer, eventually got my attention by sign language and asked if there was anything I needed for my birthday.


“Forest Spirit”
acrylic painting
by Robert Genn

I needed to get out of the studio. We jumped in the car and disappeared into the local forest. I set up and made a little painting while Michelle set up and made a little movie. “Forest Spirit” is another of those Shoulder Clips that we have shown you before, but this one is in real time, a bit languorous and laid back. For her first flick, I think she caught the feeling. It takes six minutes.

I’m not pretentious or even that proud of the stuff I do in the bush. But there’s something mind-bending about the outdoor act of art. I recommend it to anyone on any day, birth or otherwise. First, there’s the grace that overtakes you when you leave your other world and get onto the bosom of nature. I often think it’s more a matter of inhaling than rendering. When you find the spirit of a place, you need to honour it — and you bend your mind to do so. The brush slows but the heart quickens.


Inexpensive paintbox adapted to be more stable and to angle an 11 x 14 inch painting towards the painter

Second, there’s the ease in which things flow when there’s nothing riding on the outcome. It’s pure play when you let it happen. For some inscrutable reason, the “zone” is more happily found when the lone painter has nothing much to lose.

Third, there’s this remarkable sense of event. It’s like catching a wild salmon as compared to buying one in a fish shop. There are sounds, odours, movements — I’m sure the very air contributes to composition. The outdoor art event builds parameter and anecdote and carries more memories per minute than any incandescent room. I’m not saying plein air is everything, but it’s more than a breath of fresh air. It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on. For the maker of art, it’s the breath of life.


M Graham acrylic paint
M. Graham Acrylics

Best regards,


PS: “What’s the good of a birthday if you can’t get what you want?” (Gracie Fields)

Esoterica: Incidentally, this time I used. While I’ve grown used to and believe in the superb quality of Golden Paints, and I couldn’t live without their Jenkins green, Graham’s have something going for them too. They definitely stay wet longer — the palette was still useful back in the studio after some time outside. Graham’s are remarkably smooth and fluid while not lacking in body. I suppose the price you pay for this smoothness might be a sacrifice in opacity. The Titanium white did not cover as well as I’m used to — but at the same time, who needs it when mixing and moving it around can give such joy. Brilliant, strong colours too. A thumbs-up for Graham’s.



Artistic cleansing
by Veronica Funk, Airdrie, AB, Canada


“Lac des arc”
acrylic/watercolour painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Veronica Funk

This past year has been a time of questioning for me, as an artist. I have basically removed myself from the gallery scene to spend time just remembering the joy of painting for painting’s sake. At times I have wondered if this is my purpose in life, and now, after some cathartic burning of work (a past recommendation of yours — after the initial trepidation, it was wonderful) and allowing myself to experiment once again, the joy has returned tenfold.




Painting plein air embraces life force
by Sandy Davison, Lansing, MichiganI, USA


“August Sunflowers in the Drive”
pastel painting
12 x 18 inches
by Sandy Davison

My own compelling attraction to working en plein air is swamps. I discovered one last fall, just nearby and just a month before both my favorite uncle and my father passed, is filled with life force, crazy so. In August last year I was the main attraction for flirty little green herons who came within twelve feet to raise their crests and eye me before swirling around to the other side (twelve feet seeming safe) and flirt from there. Sitting one day with my feet a few inches from the water, I was abruptly startled by a large dark shape moving through the fabulous pond scum — a few inches from my feet and out of the corner of my eye. The startled reaction in me produced an equally startled reaction in the beaver. After several apologies to it and admonitions to not cross the busy road it took several minutes to get back to my work. On several occasions that month I arrived and worked among egrets who hunted in the back of the swamp or played like the overt stalking of Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau, between trees. Two dozen of the ghostly white things fed and floated about the air in August when I arrived there. So all magical, and very distracting and somehow all included in the “event” and the capture on paper.

The life force was so helpful in pushing my work, and recharging me so that I was clear as I danced my uncle and father out and I so appreciate the free way you share your spirit. Like the swamp, it is a connection in the life dance that we all share.


Acrylic paint brand reviews
by Judi Gorski, San Francisco, CA, USA


“The Surfer’s Chair”
acrylic painting, 20 x 20 inches
by Judi Gorski

I appreciate you speaking about the pros and cons of different brands of paint. I have been exclusively using Liquitex acrylic paints for more than 20 years and have grown used to the colors. What has been somewhat frustrating is that the consistency has changed: soft body, heavy body, medium viscosity, and the paint sometimes seems to have an inability to stick to the canvas. I like that the Liquitex comes in 2 oz. plastic jars with screw on plastic caps that make it easy to put the paint back into the jar if there is leftover paint from a session. I am not familiar with M. Graham Acrylics but will look for that name and will try it if I can find it.


Embracing art through music
by Darrell Baschak, Manitou Beach, SK, Canada


“Spirit Waters”
oil painting, 36 x 30 inches
by Darrell Baschak

I personally love working outdoors, there is nothing that matches the freshness of a piece that is done outdoors, or has its genesis outside. While reading your letter I was reminded of two songs I listened to on my satellite radio while traveling to Saskatoon yesterday. The first was by John Denver, called Rocky Mountain High, and it speaks of an individual walking in the forest seeking “grace.” I had a mental picture of you doing the same thing, in your own way. The other song was called Vincent and is about Vincent Van Gogh and his life as an artist. Both are wonderful testaments to painting in the great outdoors and finding the “spirit” of place and time.


Automobile easels
by Laurel McBrine, Toronto, ON, Canada


oil painting, 9 x 12 inches
by Laurel McBrine

I couldn’t help but wonder if you chose that gorgeous car more for the convenient tailgate than its sex appeal. It is thrilling to find a new, creative use for an object rather than the purpose for which it was intended. Watching you lay in those thick, bright lights behind the trees was almost as satisfying as doing it myself.






Natural connection
by Ann Heckel, Lambertville, NJ, USA


“Shef du Shad”
collage, 11 x 14 inches
by Ann Heckel

I grew up in the forest. I was a typical tomboy and would roam through the woods just inhaling the treasures, surprises, and miracles I found there. I could go to the woods for comfort when things at home got a little sideways. I bought a house that perched on a small mountain and was surrounded by this beauty. After a major back operation, I was in for a fairly lengthy recovery period but I had the view of my forest and felt protected. The beauty and energy of the trees, leaves, and ferns and creatures stayed right by my side.





Achieving the real deal
by Marie Louise Tesch, Rapid City, SD, USA


acrylic/gel painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Marie Louise Tesch

Just yesterday I received word that I have been accepted as an artist for the Spearfish Arts Center — that’s a little college town about 45 minutes from where I live. It’s a benchmark for me, after five years of learning. Along the way I have benefited from the generosity of friends who have allowed me to display work at their restaurant/ gallery. I’ve had a few single pieces accepted for juried shows. However, this is the real thing: a body of work to be on display and sale for three months in a gallery that exhibits some of the areas top artists. The committee was most interested in my fruits and flowers — a method I had started with five years ago. A little validation is a great thing. I am absolutely giddy with delight and terrified that I won’t be able to keep up. I’d better stop talking and get to painting.


Embracing the painting process
by Jane Champagne, Southampton, ON, Canada

Graham paints are excellent, there is such a juicy, free-flowing quality in all of them.

In the middle of my sixth melanoma operation the other day, the surgeon began asking questions about our profession. I tried to describe what happens when the process of painting brings more joy than the end result and lo and behold, you did it today, better than I could under local anesthetic. I sent him the relevant quote, and your site of Artists’ quotes — Coincidence? I think not. The surgeon would make a good painter or sculptor himself, given the elegant new nose he has created for me.


The public spirit
by Theresa Bayer, Austin, TX, USA


“Day Lily”
plein air watercolour, 9 x 11 inches
by Theresa Bayer

In my experience, painting en plein air is somewhat like real estate: Location, location, location. A beautiful site where you feel safe, secure, and have plenty of solitude is wonderful indeed. I’ve also done it the other way: in a public setting. One of two things happened: either I was blissfully ignored or I ended up being a sort of performing artist. Since I draw caricatures at events, I’m used to having people watch and question me etc., as I draw, so I figured a populated setting couldn’t be much different. At a popular wildflower park things got a little lively when a video photographer filmed me. At the same time kids kept trying to wade in a very deep, clear pool where I was perched on the edge with my paints — with a “No Wading” sign clearly posted. Actually the photographer was no problem, but oh, those parents! Where are they when their kids want to take a dive? Still, it was a fun adventure and I plan to go back there. I enjoy both spirits: the Forest Spirit and the Public Spirit.


Finding inspiration behind a strip mall
by Dennis Marshall, Paterson, NJ, USA

I love painting landscapes and abstracts. Every time I think that I am going to get back into the abstracts, landscapes pull me in. My favorite landscape subjects are trees in settings such as the ones you painted in. In 1992 I was out looking for painting ideas. I turned off RT 80 and eventually while traveling towards Hackettstown NJ I came across a stand of trees behind a strip mall. The sight was absolutely breathtaking — the sunlight shone off the yellow leaves. I went back after a week or two only to find that the trees were cut down. I then became determined to honor these trees and since then trees have been a constant theme in my painting. I then began the series “Hackettstown Trees” and though I no longer continue to label paintings under that title I keep going back to that subject. While some actions have been taken to stem this practice it seems that over the last few years the official government policy has been to pave over paradise & put up a parking lot.


by Lia Grundle, Campbell River, BC, Canada


“The Bobcat”
acrylic painting
by Jack Grundle

The timing of the film was special for me as today I was thinking about how much Jack and I loved to be outdoors and every journey was one of discovery. A rock, a tree, a bush, a cliff, and water (even puddles) took on a whole new meaning for me as I saw them through his eyes and would see them again in a painting. It’s good to know there are others who enjoy that world and can pass on what they see to others. Our world moves so fast and I feel such sorrow for those who walk the city streets and never even visit the parks because they are so caught up in their busy lives. They miss the truly important things in life. Jack’s been gone three years now, but the wonderful memories fill me.


Focusing on the forest
by Andrea Harris, Chicago, IL, USA


“Through the Aspens — Autumn”
oil/cold wax painting, 54 x 54 inches
by Andrea Harris

For almost two years I have been focusing on the forest, and my paintings evolved into a series of two large bodies of work, In the Forest 2006-2007. Many of the “series” paintings are “blown up” from smaller paintings that I created on-site, while others are from childhood memories of time spent exploring the wooded areas near my aunt and uncle’s mountain cabin.







Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Forest Spirit



From: Cathryn Brecka — May 28, 2007

When it comes to painting out of doors, I recommend the model of A. Y. Jackson, who was called “Pere Raquette,” Father Snowshoes, when he hiked around the countryside of Quebec. I can’t take the outdoors in winter to paint any more, as I find my old bones get too cold. But in summer, I have used the kind of stool he tied to his backpack. There is no better way to get that immediacy of the subject, to catch the mood of the countryside, especially subbing watercolor for Jackson’s oils.

From: Ann Heckel — May 28, 2007

Hi! I’ve responded by e-mail but figured I should probably cover my bases. I’m glad you liked my cat! I’m just a little confused with why the cat artwork was selected over the one of the forest called “Sleeping Beauty.” It seems to me to be more representative of the theme than the cat. ????? Thanks, Ann

From: Leah — May 28, 2007

I loved the clip and for a first, I feel it was remarkable … I loved watching the process … it was very informative … I’ve had very little experience watching artists work … I, too have a tilley so I noticed yours … about it, I have a question … it didn’t appear to be windy, so I wonder why you use the straps under your chin … I always keep mine tucked inside unless it’s windy finding it more comfy that way …

From: Bill Westerman — May 29, 2007

Your letters provide inspiration to others. Thanks for being willing to share. I particularly enjoyed your session filmed painting at the back of your car with your dog at your side. I’ve tried a large number of “kits” for containing supplies for use during plein air excursions. Finding some like the “French Easels” too cumbersome and heavy, and others awkward, I’ve finally gravitated to a unit made by EasyL. Like you, I have adapted the unit to my own needs. My painting is primarily in oils and this kit is deep enough to accomodate large tubes and enough material for a plein air session without any additional bags or boxes. I too paint with it at the back of my car or place it on a camera tripod.

From: Anonymous — May 29, 2007

Was the acrylic glaze put on top of an acrylic painting, or over an oil painting? Then you painted again over the glaze. Was this, then, done totally in acrylics? I didn’t think you could mix oils and acrylics like that. Also, nice job with the old car, the woods, and the young helper. You and Michelle seem to have found the timeless connection to the emotive aspects of art! I was totally captivated by the video.

From: Angela Treat Lyon — May 29, 2007

I think what I love most about your painting is that it is trackless forest, without the usual landscape-with-human-touch in it. No boats, houses, paths. Just unpruned wild trees and the real mess under them. Makes me remember all the wonderful times I’ve spent in forests like that. I like the red scumbling, too – didn’t notice that – will have to re-view the video. Nice to see on the lumps and squishes, now that I can see the enlarged version. Nice. You provide such a rich narrative, week to week. Thanks. aloha – Angela

From: Vernita Bridges Hoyt — May 29, 2007

Ah, I thought it was a Bentley. Beautiful car. Beautiful video. Beautiful painting. I enjoyed feeling the freshness of it all. Your letter is always read first in the very early morning. What a great way to start a day!

From: Kenneth Flitton — May 29, 2007

Thanks for the completed ptg!! I am the last guy in N.A. with dial-up Internet connection. So, I watched your video for nearly an hour and by that time you had only painted in 8 trunks. It took you 20 mins to get out of your car!! I often think my lifestyle is a lot like Kramers!! This may sound derogatory, but my friend and I got a big laff out of my viewing experiences. Beautiful painting!!

From: Janet Badger — May 29, 2007

I’m an Interior Girl. I went outside to sketch and had to pull one leaf off the tree and draw that; the rest was too immense, overwhelming. And another time I went outside with a class and sat in a mud puddle. Never Mind!

From: Rod Mackay — May 29, 2007

I very much like “Forest Spirit.” It is great to arrive at that time of year when plein air painting becomes possible. In Lunenburg, Nova Scotia the winters are not so much cold as damp and windy. This kind of weather precludes working out-of-doors. My late mentor, Edmund Pulford, used to manage this by carrying a flask of gin for mixing his watercolours in the dead of winter. He also explained that it could also be used to deflect the effects of cold. We have had four fine days so far. Our local tour boat sailing ship is still under plastic wrap and Bluenose II is just finishing her sea trials so you can see that this it not an easy place in terms of overall climate. Fortunately I do have a studio featuring a Scottish dormer and this provides three windows overlooking Lunenburg Harbour. The elevation is about 80 feet so the studio looks down on the movement of shipping all through the seasons. Almost like being out of doors, but the point of view is unfortunately somewhat static. I always opt for paint-on-site in the brief summer season. Have been taught to paint very quickly indoors and out but the change is good for the social contact that results. I like the “forest floor” approach to painting and have done a lot of that, but here in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, there is a lot to be said for painting publicly at a working waterfront.

From: Brad Greek — May 29, 2007

Happy belated Birthday Robert!! What a great way to spend the day and to have it recorded as well is too awesome! As a plein-air painter, the world is my studio. And all of you are in it. Thanks

From: Cynthia Egan — May 29, 2007

Dear Robert, I am new to your site, but found Forest Spirit to be most interesting and stimulating!! To watch another slip into the mode of a painter, solving and expressing, in such a simple way, was delightful. I am always so uncomfortable outside – dragging along “stuff” and overworking the painting. You gave me such permission to simplify my approach. I often get in my own way by trying to over prepare to express myself, both visually and verbally. Your painting was like watching a dance. I am inspired and thankful for your gift.

From: Karl Eric Leitzel — May 29, 2007

It was wonderful to be able to look over your shoulder and follow your approach to painting the scene in front of you. As artists, we rarely get to watch someone else, and I find it incredibly educating. Discussions of palettes of color to use, or appropriate brushes, are all well and good, but to really get at the creative and technical heart of an individual artist, I think you have to watch the movement of his or her hands, the decisions being played out subconsciously- of which elements to paint first, how to define edges as the work progresses, choices of color and contrast as they occur, and all in real time. Thank you for sharing, and to Michelle for so beautifully capturing it and putting together the video presentation. I have a daughter heading off to college in the fall as a fine art and communication design major, so perhaps in a year or two I’ll have my own in-house videographer, too!

From: Lamoine Dionne — May 29, 2007

I enjoyed your plein air piece more than I can tell you. Being relatively new, I have yet to try. I will use gazebo first rather than be the insects dinner. I have played the piece many times and sent it on to a few friends. Many thanks.

From: Janet Sellers — May 29, 2007

I started a community plein aire painters group, and we meet on weekend mornings and/or afternoons for an hour or more, depending on the skies above us. Yesterday we sketched and made color notes at Hidden Pond, which is behind my house. We used our hands to make a little square viewer to compose the scenes. We started with our pencil drawings and very much liked our move into our color sketches of the pond with the pine on the right side, water reflecting sky and scenery. I do limit the color palette to as few as possible, to help us get to work quickly. The limited color palette is for economy (both $$ and time), ease, and, as we found out in getting away from the sudden thunderstorm, speed in packing up and moving to safety.

From: Joy Gush — May 29, 2007

I learn something with every letter I read from you Robert and your artists in clickbacks. I have bookmarked the paint M. Graham this week that I can get through Dick Blick at 40% off. Your website is a classroom with many ideas from around the world. Thank you all who contribute your thoughts and experiences with pictures!

From: Ellie Edmonson, Dallas, Oregon — May 29, 2007

It’s my first visit to this part of the site and I very much enjoyed it. On my way home from town today we saw three small fawns in the middle of a field and another place one walking down the road. And then a bobcat jumping over a fence. Spring is wonderful here, so green and lush. We do have forest on the back of our property so I can relate to all the comments. I have been working on a series that always includes a pair of ladies sandals (too high a heel for my old age) and have been getting some wonderful blooms. Have been painting in the manner of Shirley Trevena. If you haven’t gotten her book Vibrant Watercolors, you should.

From: Debi Black — May 29, 2007

I loved the spontaneity of the trees and the atmosphere of the woods. How do I view the video?

From: Tracy Wall — May 29, 2007

Though I am not currently a plein aire painter, the place that fuels me is hikes in the Colorado mountains. For whatever reason, I am compelled by images of thick forests backlit from the low sun. I’ve tried again and again to recreate the feeling on panel or paper, but still seem to come up short. I continue in my quest! Even though it was your birthday, you give us all a gift twice a week. Thank you for all you do! Tracy

From: Diane Voyentzie — May 29, 2007

Simply: the best!!

From: Lillian E. Walsh — May 29, 2007

I have a garden of almost 200 rose bushes. I often go out in the early morning dew, or evening dusk to paint. So lovely, peaceful and serene. Fortunate for me I have it daily available. I have offered this same exposure to many artist friends. However, they seem reluctant to come. I often wonder why? Would you like to come and paint in my garden? Some of my best birthday presents have come outside. Happy, Happy a bit late. So glad you enjoy your days to the fullest. I love the words of wisdom that you send each week. WONDERFUL.

in rose petals and paint brushes, Lillian

From: Rodger Ashton-Smith — May 30, 2007

I have done some plein aire painting and it is a challenge. Doing it makes you rapidly choose the picture you want from what’s in front of you. The constraints can be any nature of weather and light. I have been out to a large lake to the south of us and spent a couple of hours painting a lake scene. Before I had finished the weather turned horrible and seeing I was using acrylics, I had to retire to my car and out of the rain. It was fun and I had little to do to finish it, but that is what plein aire is all about.

From: Beverly Wolsey — May 30, 2007

I enjoy all the letters. We were away and when we came home all 100 or more e-mails mostly got deleted. I rescued the Forest Spirit letter but could not call up the video. Is it possible to be able to send it to me @ I am attempting in my old age to finally try to paint outdoors. Cheers Bev

From: Tommy Thompson — Jun 02, 2007

Robert, Your letter entitled “Forest Spirit” was delightful. I also enjoy plein air painting immensely. You might like to see my most recent post, “Mystery Painting Mission,” on my blog at We are advertising your interesting newsletter in our next newsletter, which will be emailed this week to our collectors and friends. Best Regards, Tommy Thompson Florence, AL 35633 Email: Traditional Landscapes and Portraits in Oil

From: Betty Kersh — Jun 10, 2007

Have you tried the Genesis Paints?…..They never dry (only if you use a heating element) and the brushes can be used and put aside for a year (!) and still be useable. I saw an artist demo these paints recently…..they are awsome.

From: Robin Christy Humelbaugh — Jun 17, 2007

Your wonderful small video became available (the high speed Internet was down awhile) just before I am to leave for 3 days of painting with a group called Vistas and Vineyards. This is a Corvallis, Oregon based group with members all over the Willamette Valley. We meet every Wednesday in the spring, summer and early fall in various locations and have a juried show in October. We are going to a retreat center near the Columbia River and we are to paint for 3 days and don’t have to cook, worry about food or anything else for that whole time. Heaven! I love the concepts you proposed about painting en plein air, and sometimes my efforts please me, but I don’t think it hurts to rework from the original effort back in the studio. I find that the charge I get from the company and experience gives me a real boost for “getting ready” for a show. Keep up the good work.

From: Kay — Jul 09, 2007

I live on the southern coast of Alabama USA. I thoroughly enjoy your letters and the feedback from all over. I teach and always send your webpage to my students. I have learned many things from just reading here. Thanks

From: Tom Bowler — Jul 17, 2007

What do you think of the paintings and pastels of Wolf Kahn? He’s one of my favorites and has a show on right now in NYC at 20 West 57th Street, the Ameringer (and Kow or something). I studied a little with him in pastel workshops at National Academy of Design in the ’80s. The new pastels are large and mind blowingly beautiful.

From: Asma — Jun 21, 2008

i painted outdoors today on 18 x 24. my painting of two hours was frustrating i felt it was childish, incomplete. i came back with the intention of going back again. seeing your videos of smaller size appeal to me. i hope i can it right this time. thanks. so much love. asma






The Center & the Edge

oil painting
by Susan Downing, Mobile, AL, USA


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 Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki of Port Moody, BC, Canada who wrote, “So you do plein air with your clothes on… that’s what I was doing wrong all this time!”

And also Ben Howell Davis who wrote, “Paintings ALWAYS look better indoors if they have been painted outdoors. Always. No exceptions. Light is better outdoors, always. No exceptions.”

And also Marsha Finney of Dallas, TX, USA who wrote, “A picture is worth a thousand words… speaking of words, your words are pretty darn wonderful, too!”

And also Rita Putatunda who wrote, “I agree with everything except the fish metaphor.”

And also Pixie Glore of Andalucia, Spain who wrote, “Funny how the colors one sees from nature creep their way back into the studio.”

And also Carol Chapel of Corvallis, OR, USA who wrote, “It was also great to hear you praise M. Graham paint. I think it’s the best. I’ve met Art Graham a couple of times and he seems like a sterling individual.”

And also Lindsay Watson of Vancouver, BC, Canada who wrote, “I feel refreshed from my visit to the woods, and energized to try the same. Inspirational on all counts!”

And also Mardy Grothe of Raleigh, NC, USA who shared this quote by Jean Paul Richter: “Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time.”

And also Lori Farmerof Brandon, MS, USA who wrote, “With the help of my husband and son, I am working a new art studio in my son’s former bedroom. Once the finishing touches are done, I’ll be able to create. I’ve put my creativity on hold for most of my life, and I am now ready to pour myself onto canvas and paper. It needs to come out.”

And also Sue Smith of Redmond, OR, USA who wrote, “Even though I’ve got all the materials to go outside and paint, I’ve been resisting because I was afraid I couldn’t find that “perfect” scene. I’m reminded that the real purpose is to paint without having to worry about the results… something ironically I tell my students all the time but forget to tell myself.”

And also Moncy Barbour of Lynchburg, VA, USA who wrote, “As for me, where I live the outdoors is shrinking and giving away to suburbs or the city lights of night. However, I do sit on my upper outdoor deck and enjoy the songful sounds of the native birds as well as watch them and squirrels play around with their day.”




Leave A Reply

No Featured Workshop
No Featured Workshop