Just for fun?


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Grey Darden of Valley Head, West Virginia wrote, “Do you ever just fool around experimenting with your paints, paper and tools? Just for fun? Not trying to stay on style? Would you ever ask subscribers if they might show their experimental work on the Painter’s Keys site? Does anybody take time out for fun stuff?”


by Grey Darden

Thanks, Grey. I have to admit to a particular deviation. Let me explain. Anyone familiar with the miracle of acrylic has tried throwing in texture-enhancing items like muslin, doilies and leaves. Things I haven’t resisted include confetti, streamers and sparkle. My sparkle period lasted a full summer. While it added body and a crumbly texture and seemed like a good idea at the time, it also added an undesirable tartiness, like a girl with “George” tattooed across her front, especially when your name isn’t George. I didn’t feel guilty. The misguided nature of my sorties is not to be disparaged. For an artist, play is both necessary and unavoidable. Unlike the girl’s tattoo, creative play doesn’t have to be permanent.

Other items I’ve added to my acrylics include spaghetti, tortellini, vermicelli, the internal workings of clocks, radios, cameras, toys, nuts, screws, nails, bones, shells, pebbles, sand, bark mulch, crockery, springs, bathroom and toilet implements, human prosthetics, cellphone parts, computer motherboards, old automobile accessories and vintage engine parts. It’s inexcusable, I know, but I can’t help it. Maybe I’ve got a bad gene.

FYI, acrylics lock down this sort of stuff in perpetuity and seal away the bugs that eat the biodegradable bits.

Practically all the “great ones” have mentioned the value of play. “Play is the exultation of the possible,” said Martin Buber. “Play is the essential feature in productive thought,” said Albert Einstein. The American conceptual artist and minimalist Sol LeWitt declared, “Your work isn’t a high stakes, nail-biting professional challenge. It’s a form of play. Lighten up and have fun with it.” Using the above authorities as backup, I’m sticking to my deviation.

By the way, nail-bitings go nicely into acrylics too. Anyway, don’t say anything about this. I pretty well keep these things between me and my counselor. But if you feel you want to share your own ideas of fun and games, please do.

Best regards,


PS: “Whoever wants to understand much must play much.” (Gottfried Benn)

Esoterica: There’s a kind of purposeful madness when you deviate from your serious path. I see it as a recess from regular labour. It definitely reboots the muse. “Necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father,” says creativity coach Roger von Oech. If you ever doubted the value of play, take a look at what the great thinkers, inventors and artists have to say about play in our very own Resource of Art Quotations. (You may even find yourself quoted in there.)


Conceived in the same sandbox
by Susan Holland, Bellevue, WA, USA


mixed media painting
by Susan Holland

If anyone has ever taken time to look at the integrity of the direct, guileless artwork of children, they will see that art and play are conceived in the same sandbox. One of the best things a live model can do is be silly and playful in the warm-up poses. We had a lady of a certain age who got us rolling with such funny quick-sketch poses. This is incredibly powerful stuff with which to start a painting workshop!



There is 1 comment for Conceived in the same sandbox by Susan Holland

From: Bev — Apr 21, 2011

Love “Soxy”!


Simply play
by Dwight Williams, Meridian, ID, USA


various watercolour paintings
by Dwight Williams

I could not just write an ordinary answer to the letter on playing. So, for what it’s worth, here is a group of watercolors that all began with no thought except to move some paint, have fun and see what happens. Some of these have made it into juried shows and more than one received awards. Most of them are about 15″ x 22″. This is one of your best messages yet. Those who write you with various troubles painting would probably find the solution by simply playing.

There are 3 comments for Simply play by Dwight Williams

From: Carol Reynolds — Apr 22, 2011

Wow! These paintings are wonderful- I especially like the middle one. I confess I have been such a serious painter. Your work and the comments of others here have encouraged me to try to play and have more fun with my work in the future.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Apr 22, 2011

Wow X 2! Note to self: have a look at more of Dwight’s paintings, because if this is him playing….!

From: Anonymous — Apr 22, 2011

Rally nice work for playing around, thanks!


Anything goes
by Alex Nodopaka, Lake Forest, CA, USA


“Living Dough”
mold on sea stone
by Alex Nodopaka

Until Marcel Duchamp’s only human hair and bugs caught in drying varnish were sealed in silent compositions. Such additions come with boredom with media and the desire to add a third dimension by making a 2-D work 3-D. Trompe l’oeil wasn’t enough to gratify the eye and was too tedious to achieve, so why not glue in a whale or display a cow in a glass tank. Myself I went overboard with that technique. Now I enjoy leaving some such works for months outdoors and seal the mold and some have blinking lights and windup music boxes attached to their rears. I even incorporated found ready-mades into sculptures and called them Tableaux Vivants.


The Mad Hatter
by Maryann Hendriks, Kelowna, BC, Canada


“I am the lizard king”
original painting
by Maryann Hendriks

You go to your creative place, intent on doing something fresh and new, original, extreme, you’re going to spin heads this time, heck, you’re going to spin your own. You unharness that beast, the one that preaches the rules, monitors checks and balances. Now the lizard has no scales; the horse sheds its hide, roping that naked fauna inside the crazy journey begins, imagination has the reins, it’s the chauffer, you’re just along for the ride. This is going to be fun! Slashing strokes. Colour explosion. Canvas covered from top to bottom. Hit it with pigment again, and again. Breathe. Sometimes the ‘fun’ is just so intense you forget to breathe. Don’t know if you are sweating, crying or laughing, sometimes two together, sometimes three. Exasperation or exhilaration? A little more, a bit further, tweak it again. Just one more. Stop! Now you are totally exposed. Did you leave them in the dust, are they laughing, are they laughing at you? “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” (The Mad Hatter, Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass)

There is 1 comment for The Mad Hatter by Maryann Hendriks

From: p.k. cravens — Apr 22, 2011

I am enjoying this painting a lot. Love the lush textures and sense of whimsy.


Intellect takes a break
by Kristine Fretheim, Maple Grove, MN, USA


Lion Playing (left), Under The Tree (centre),
Wolf Many Moons (right)
watercolour paintings
by Kristine Fretheim

I call them my “In-Betweens.” I play with them between work on my larger, more “grown-up” paintings, and I pretty much keep them to myself. It’s sweet release to simply experiment and play with color — what happens if this color glazes over that one? Will it pop or recede sitting next to this one? Oops — too dark. Scrub it off. Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky is said to have experienced synesthesia, a kind of mixing of the senses. I like to play with that idea, particularly color and sound. Colors can invoke tactile sensations and scents, too. These are not your everyday kind of experiences. Sometimes I can get so caught up in busyness my senses go to sleep. Demanding nothing, these play-periods allow the senses to wake up and take the lead, while the intellect takes a break.

There are 4 comments for Intellect takes a break by Kristine Fretheim

From: Stephanie — Apr 21, 2011

These are amazing.Make me think of Klee.

From: jill — Apr 22, 2011

Love these! Just the right amount of hard/soft, solid/transparent…fun

From: laura reilly — Apr 22, 2011

these paintings are wonderful! and great titles too!

From: kaki — Apr 24, 2011

These are absolutely wonderful! So much fun to study….I love the ebb and flow of the squares…


The rise of ‘PlayArt’
by Ernst Lurker, East Hampton, NY, USA


motorized light sculpture
by Ernst Lurker

“Does anybody take time out for fun stuff?” almost borders on heresy in the art world, at least in the vast majority. It is true, Bob went all out with powerful quotes on play, and he has an impressive collection of those. But the sad fact is, art dealers, museum curators and even most artists want to be taken seriously. They worry about their reputation, and play generally does not qualify as art. Curators maintain they cannot get funding for such stuff. That’s one side of the story.

The other side is there is hope! We have a vast art movement with more than 1,000 artists called PlayArt. The chronology on the Website shows an extensive and colorful history, with early beginnings at MoMA and a museum project in Berlin that lost its funding. There are numerous images and videos on the site. These people are committed to their form of play and they are trying to educate the public. There were also numerous breakthroughs in the history, such as the Munich Olympics, but the bottom line is PlayArt is still an underground movement and virtually unknown outside its own circles, in spite of the large number of artists. There are reasons for this, and they are explained on the Website.


Quirky themes
by Jan Ross, Kennesaw, GA, USA


“Poultry Gothic”
watercolour painting
by Jan Ross

Sometimes a quirky theme can get the ball rolling to places one never considered. Recently, my work was accepted in a juried show encouraging work pertinent to eggs, chickens and roosters, as a festival in an area with a high number of chicken farms. It’s hard to take poultry too seriously, but I was inspired by a couple of historically famous artists to create two award-winning ones.

But speaking of odd situations, I learned of an artist who’s got more work than she can handle and is making money hand over fist. Very macabre concept to me, but truly ‘creative.’ She incorporates the ashes of the deceased in their portrait! I’m guessing the medium is acrylic. Have you heard of this before?

(RG note) Thanks, Jan. This is a new one to me, with the possible exception of “mummy,” a brown pigment made from the bones of Egyptian mummies from the 1800s to the 1920s. The idea of including ashes in a portrait might impart a unique authenticity. You might expect viewers of the work to say, “That’s him all over.” I once encountered a posthumous painting where the artist had used swatches from the deceased’s wedding dress and maybe even her baby dress. The dress was strong, but the likeness was weak.

There is 1 comment for Quirky themes by Jan Ross

From: Jackie Knott — Apr 22, 2011

Years ago I did some posters for my daughter’s school book fair. Similar to what you have done here, I took some easily recognized iconic art works and added a Texas Rangers basball cap and ball, cowboy hat, silly hat, egg beater, hammer, etc., to the images. The teachers fought over them afterwards. I never had so much fun.


Found objects saved the canvas
by Deborah Dicker, Belmont, ON, Canada


“16 sticks”
mixed media
by Deb Dicker

I knifed through a canvas that had frustrated me and in the process I cut through a perfectly good brand new one. It was 3 feet x 4 feet — too large to write off. So I started to play. I used gels and sands and torn canvas, trying different stones and shells. It inspired me to try papers and cardboard plaster and glue. Since then I have molded and sculpted some amazing creations. In the one I’ve attached, I found a bucket of what I thought were permanently abandoned drum sticks.



Painting on odd objects
by Steve Randall, Sioux Falls, SD, USA


mixed media
by Steve Randall

Just for fun, and maybe with some curiosity and a sense of adventure, I decided to experiment with acrylics and volunteered to ‘paint’ some rain barrels to be raffled off at local public events. Painting on a curved surface — in the round, if you will — was a great learning experience. I had to add ‘turning the barrel’ to ‘stepping back’ to review my work. Anyway, if you paint on fiberglass and throw on an auto body polymer coating for protection, it should last a while in the back yard and the raffles were quite successful. Now, on to that fiberglass horse.




There is 1 comment for Painting on odd objects by Steve Randall

From: Anonymous — Apr 22, 2011

I’d love to see more of the horse. It looks wonderful.


Forays into the unknown
by Veronica Funk, Airdrie, AB, Canada


“The Artists Pulse – Fear”
original painting
by Veronica Funk

Even though I love to paint interiors, there are days in which I am not motivated or inspired at all. In addition to coordinating and participating in local public art projects (i.e. painting on chairs and murals — www.creativeairdrie.ca), I also occasionally get involved in group-altered media projects for a fun creative diversion. Though I typically paint larger vibrant interior pieces, I find that working in a variety of media helps to open myself to new colour and methods of working. These little forays into the unknown help me to better understand the properties of my materials and also mean that I come back to my ‘regular’ work excited once again.


Letting loose in portraiture
by Sonia Gadra, Frederick, MD, USA


“Just for fun”
original painting
by Sonia Gadra

Funny you should mention this! For a recent class assignment, I painted a portrait in the manner of Guiseppe Arcinboldo (1527-1593) “just for fun.” Arcinboldo had a great sense of humor. He enjoyed painting the emperor in a humorous manner of which the emperor seemed to enjoy and never felt intimidated by the manner in which he was interpreted. At first I felt frustration in doing such a portrait but as time went on, it turned into great fun and an opportunity to be creative in a different way. I think it’s important for artists to let loose and not be so serious all the time, especially portrait artists. It’s relaxing and gives you a different perspective on life. Take time to have fun.



Best art quotes anywhere
by Edith Rae Brown, Greenvale, NY, USA


“Moving on”
encaustic painting
by Edith Rae Brown

I just had to tell you once again. You and your staff are absolutely amazing! Your e-mails are on the mark each and every time. If I was only able to get one e-mail it would be yours. Your website is fantastic. I just spent time going through the Resource of Art Quotations, which is something I love. I never took the time to go through the Play section. The site is so chock full of wonderful information and so thought provoking. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.



There is 1 comment for Best art quotes anywhere by Edith Rae Brown

From: tikiwheats — Apr 22, 2011

Yeh! I’m never so happy as when I’m doing a little Jackson Pollock whether its acrylic or oil, such fun to experiment, and I have won the most awards w/these fun happy paintings.



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Just for fun?



From: Becki Trachsel-Hesedahl — Apr 18, 2011

We just had a five day workshop with Judi Betts, well-known watercolor painter. She says being an artist is like recess all of the time! We should call them funshops instead of workshops. But it is often very hard work too!

Becki Hesedahl

From: Faith — Apr 18, 2011

As a permanent but optimistic dabbler, I only paint (“do” art) to enjoy myself. If it’s becoming a drudge, I pack it in for the day, or switch to some other medium (e.g. writing, arranging music for my chorus ….).

But my experiences as a professional artist in music (as an opera singer) shed a different light on art as a preoccupation. The most frequent question was “What do you do during the day?”, as if all artistic representation were like falling off a log.

I tend to think that it is the teachers of workshop (funshops) who are having the best time. They ARE falling off logs. They get paid (I hope) for getting others to try to do what they are masters of. They have the fun and you have the work.

‘If painting be the food of love, paint on’, I think Shakespeare once nearly said.

From: Tom Semmes — Apr 19, 2011

HAving spent the last four months getting ready for a show, this feels like a timely letter. In the need to pull together enough work in a short time I have eliminated all unnecessary work (fun?) from my schedule. If it wasn’t going on the wall, I wasn’t going to do it. No sketching, no figure drawing, no explorations with pastels or acrylics… While this pressure was helpful in inspiring me to pull off some larger pieces that have sat around, my work has begun to suffer as a result. Yesterday I slapped some paint on one piece that was not working, in time for the paint to dry before the show, and claimed it ‘good enough for the show’ though in truth it looked kinda schlocky. I can’t wait until this is over. First thing I am going to do is go back to the figure drawing group. I am also thinking of buying some of the paint spray cans I saw at the art store the other day. Maybe some sparkles too…

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Apr 19, 2011

“Human prosthetics”, Robert? The mind boggles! ;-)

From: Darla — Apr 19, 2011

One of the most fun things I’ve found to play with is the fake gold leaf that you can get at the crafts store. You can draw, stamp or stencil any shape on your dry painting with the adhesive, apply the metal leaf, and admire your garish creation! If you’ve got some restraint, it can even add to a serious painting.

From: Pixie Glore — Apr 19, 2011

I have considered play such an essencial part of my growth as an artists I started “playday” which is usually Wednesday. On playday I can do anything I want and it is fun how things I learn start comming out on Thursday and Friday. Monday is still pretty serious though.

From: ksw — Apr 19, 2011

For myself, work is play and play is work.

From: Walker — Apr 19, 2011

Make room for the magic to happen.

From: Susan Warner — Apr 19, 2011

Robert, I always learn something from you or relate to what you are saying. I had to laugh at this letter!

I just completed a large commission of 2 canvases ( 36 x 48″ each)

and they include “goodies” such as discarded mats, packing materials, cheese cloth and custom papers…all combined with Acrylics , with some metallic (copper) paint for good measure. All done with the approval of the client.

I have however, had a viewer at an exhibit peer over her glasses and really look at the textures. She then said :”Is that REALLY

packing material ?!! ” There is NO end to the fun of it!

From: Dick Salmon — Apr 19, 2011

I put some green beans in my acrylics. They changed color a bit but they didn’t shrivel up, and the spaces they occupied stayed the same. People say, “Are those green beans in there? It’s been years now.

From: Jennifer — Apr 19, 2011

if it’s not fun, then why do it?? of course, I’m not a “professional” artist (meaning I don’t make my living at it), but isn’t experimenting and playing what it’s all about?!? And adding different things to your artwork: fabric, texture, paper collage bits, found materials, etc. means you’ve taken your first forays into the world of mixed-media art, where anything goes!!

…but you still didn’t answer the question about whether artists ever show their “experimental work” here on the website… let’s see some of those experiments!

From: Jennifer — Apr 19, 2011

…forgot one thing- why do you say “playing” with your materials is a “deviation” or “inexcusable??” It’s not straight, “pure” acrylics, no, but mixed-media is an entire genre of art that’s been out there for years… there’s a lot of artists (including me, I guess, since I’m taking the time to comment on it) who would take a bit of offense to your classification of mixing materials and playing as “deviating.”

From: Marilyn Olson — Apr 19, 2011

I just recently saw a new product from Daniel Smith called Watercolor Ground. You can paint it on any surface and it gives that surface a watercolor paper characteristic. I tried it on metal, and a piece of wood and they are right. The possibilities seem endless. I also used it to build up areas on a floral painting to give the petals of a big flower texture, and that worked, too. I think experimenting is fun. Marilyn Olson (Watercolorist)

From: Wendy Robb — Apr 20, 2011

I have to say that this is such an interesting and inspiring idea – I have seen others using different “things” in their paintings, and love the concept. I have not had the chance to try it myself as yet, but such a delightful folly!!!

From: Daniela Andersen — Apr 20, 2011

One of my favourite question and answer articles ever on your website. Brilliant Rembrandt would have appreciated this considering what he went through with deviating from the rigorous ‘rules’ of painting for his patrons. One can only dream of having his genius to paint what his patrons rejected!

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Apr 20, 2011

When I take a break from my painting I experiment with my colors mixing different colors and making different brush strokes geometrical and other shapes. Sometimes there are serendipitous outcomes from these playful experiments which I think are quite beautiful. I also think that these playful experiments by famous artists gave way to different styles especially abstract art which set these artists apart. Their styles are recognizable and distinct as their own. I think that is how certain styles evolve.

From: Kathrine Allen-Coleman — Apr 20, 2011

Just wanted you to know I enjoy reading your letters, especially today’s when you talked about all the things you’ve incorporated into a canvas. Thanks from a fellow Canadian, even though I’m now living south of the border!

From: Nancy Teague — Apr 20, 2011

After reading through all the Play Art Quotes that were so delightful and inspiring this light bulb thought struck me –

Children at play don’t worry about failure they just have fun. Oh, as an artist, to remember and ‘be’ that child at play – not worry about failure and just have fun!

From: B J Adams — Apr 20, 2011

Play is definitely an important part of an artist’s creative thinking. Without it we would not have experiments, explorations, or examples to see what can be built upon in our serious art or what should never be furthered. I’ve found I can occasionally use one of these small playful developments and rev up the idea to an actual art work. Others I often cut up and put into greeting cards. Play is definitely a found fun time not a lost working time.

Some of the letters from your readers seem to spring me into action…..I must go play right now.

From: Dianne Guerin — Apr 20, 2011

This is absolutely hilarious! You made my day! Perhaps you should start a career as a comedian!?!

From: Susan Vaughn — Apr 20, 2011

I have to admit, I haven’t tried to be as bold in my paintings as apparently you have been, Robert. However, I’ve thought about it “often” and fear my play would be wasteful of expensive paints and canvas – so I settle back into my painting routines, and although I am having fun, I suspect not as much as if I were ripping off my clothes and running naked at a huge canvas to see the effect it would have on my work. Seems to me that Farrah did that once or twice.


From: Haim Mizrahi — Apr 20, 2011

It is sad that we need to play in order to experiment.

From: Peter Senesac — Apr 21, 2011

I recently did several acrylics in local “paint-outs” where I used found materials. I was experimenting, but I was making serious works and sold the best of them. Sometimes it pays to experiment! In one case I used grass. Part of the art experience is to watch the painting change from green to straw.

From: Patsy Tucker — Apr 21, 2011

On Sunday I got the inspiration to paint on the pooped out balloons. My 9 year old grandson, Shad and 80 year old neighbor, Claudine came over to join in the painting FUN….On Tuesday I stopped by the the Balloon retailer to check on the life span of balloons…that’s when I learned they are biodegrade-able….they will soon disappear. Truly FUN art. Thanks for your letter….

Fort Worth, TX

From: Frankye Oliver — Apr 21, 2011

Just finished a fantastic workshop with Ted Nuttall. One quote from the workshop I loved…I’m paraphrasing…There is no place I would rather be than in the middle of a painting. Isn’t that wonderful?

From: Ann — Apr 21, 2011

I totally agree with the need for fun – I was getting ready for a joint exhibition and had set myself the task of painting 12 pastels- by the 11th painting I was feeling more than a little jaded and kicking myself for setting that goal. But as I was committed I decided to do a painting purely for fun – it was a very quick landscape completely out of character and style. It was the most commented on painting in the exhibition – I learnt a lot from that painting!

From: Stephanie — Apr 21, 2011

I recently started playing with some rejects from my life drawing drop in class. I added a resist, scored the paper, added some gesso and watercolour pencil, then painted over the whole. The results were so amazing I think I’ll enter them in a juried show…..

From: Carol Reynolds — Apr 22, 2011
From: Cheryl King — Apr 23, 2011

At the beginning of 2010 I set a goal for myself to paint more from life and to achieve that I asked people to sit for quick portraits. At first it was more a color and brushwork study than anything. The first 2 I did I asked the models (my husband and a friend) to hold their paintings so I could take their picture and just for fun had them hold them up in place of their face. The result was amazing and I knew there was something there. What I now call my FACE project was born at that moment! It has many elements to it but the most fun is the photo taken after the painting is finished. It is the opposite of putting your head in the hole for a crazy carnival photo op. I have since painted 55 FACEs and I have lists with future ideas that my mind percolates with every day. For each FACE portrait I have the model sit for about 2 hours and later I pose them as a character for the photo and title it in a fun, irreverent or ironic way. I am using this as a way to parody Americans and all our complexities. Along the way it has evolved and taken on a life of its own! People are as excited as I am about being involved and seeing the new ones I post regularly on Facebook and blog about. It has also given me an outlet for my sense of humor and love of words. My other art is much more serious as I paint figures and animals for commissions and galleries. This exercise-turned-project has me setting higher goals and thinking BIG! I cannot dispute the reaction of the public and it has been completely positive. One of my recent FACEs is about to come out on the cover of the Washington Blues Society monthly magazine for May and will be distributed in Memphis at the American Blues Awards. I am so thankful for the serendipity of this entire deal! One always knows when one is on the correct path when the dominoes begin to fall in the right direction!

Cheryl King



From: jan aston — Apr 24, 2011

i’m in love with your dog!



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oil painting
by Kiki Kaye, Mexico


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 Brenda Estill of Alberta, Canada, who wrote, “My best works are when I abandon logic and reason and paint quickly, letting the child in me do my paintings. I can’t wait to get to kindergarten each day.”

And also Mark Hope of Wasaga Beach, ON, Canada, who wrote, “‘The more complex the mind, the more the need for the simplicity of play.’ Quote from ‘Star Trek’ the original TV series.”

And also Peggy Guichu of Phoenix, AZ, USA, who wrote, “I have a problem with my brain. Sometimes it thinks it has a mind of its own.”




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