The Genn Method

Dear Artist, My workshops do best for those with the basics in their pockets. I don’t believe in long, drawn-out demos — mine are limited to twenty minutes or so, and only when specific areas need to be covered. Painters paint — two or three paintings a day is commonplace in my workshops. As well as one-on-one technical help and mentoring, we depend on spectacular environments to teach lessons of foreground control, top-half energy, counterpoint, colour and pattern bounce, multi-task creativity, and a pile of other ploys. For those who might need it, we also encourage time-limited and stroke-limited exercises. I think the definition of a good workshop instructor is a professional painter who has made more mistakes than you have. At the same time, I have the audacity to think that I can be of use to any painter, in whatever genre, at whatever stage. Gaye Adams is instructing the Columbia III trip on the West Coast of B.C. this year. Well versed in The Genn Method, she is a spectacular painter in acrylics, oils and pastels, and a brilliant communicator, as well. This vintage-vessel cruise out of Campbell River, limited to eight artists, takes place May 27th to 30th. A workshop I’m doing together with my daughter Sara Genn is called “From Plein Air to Abstraction.” It’s at a magnificent garden and seashore retreat called “Hollyhock” on Cortes Island on Canada’s West Coast, August 15th to 19th. Limited to 30 artists, it’s already close to being sold out. Still another is Heli-painting in the Bugaboos. This event, which takes place on September 4th to 7th is the only one of its kind in the world — a truly magical wonderland of high alpine painting and instruction accessed by helicopter from a luxury mountain lodge. Both Liz Wiltzen and Sara Genn will assist me in this heart-stopping adventure. If you go to the bottom of this letter you’ll see photos of what you can expect in all three workshops, links to previous twice-weekly letters and a list of websites and contacts where you can get further information. As I don’t do many workshops and they are all limited in size, it’s no problem if you’d like to phone me in my studio at 604 538 9197. I’ll be painting all this week — and I’ll be wearing my multi-tasking headset. Best regards, Robert PS: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” (Buddhist proverb) Esoterica: “The Genn Method” is a manner of working together. I believe our job as instructors is to tune in to the creative direction of individuals and help devise plans and techniques to enhance and build their craft. Getting more than one opinion is valuable, too. Last year at Hollyhock, Sara and I tore back and forth like ferrets between artists who were toiling on location. Joyfully contradicting each other at times, Sara and I deepened their capabilities. Using The Genn Method, our workshops are events where participants are re-energized and re-armed with techniques and systems that take them to a more professional level.   Columbia III

Plein Air in quiet coves on Canada’s West Coast


Spirited creative exchange in the wheelhouse


Going ashore to magical islands


Tranquil coves and rich environments


Twice-weekly letter about Columbia III


Creative excitement on the Hollyhock beach


A quiet bower in a spectacular garden


A very modest amount of clowning around


‘Could you please leave me alone?’


Twice-weekly letter about Hollyhock


A great way to get to great spots


Simply on top of the world


A thousand paintings from one location


And ‘ready made’ material in every direction


Twice-weekly letter about the Bugaboos

  Instruction by example by Michael Chesley Johnson, AZ, USA / NB, Canada  

“Glorious Evening”
oil painting, 12 x 24 inches
by Michael Chesley Johnson

That’s a good way to teach, Robert. I teach in a similar way, although I break my workshops into two levels — traditional or “all level” workshops, in which I lecture and demonstrate each day on the basics, and then “advanced/mentoring” workshops in which we paint together and I give help where it is needed. In the latter, I try to instruct by example — watch a short demo — and also by friendly suggestion. The method seems to work! There is 1 comment for Instruction by example by Michael Chesley Johnson
From: Michael — Mar 02, 2012

Glorious painting !

  The value of two instructors by Pamela Simpson Lussier, Willington, CT, USA  

original painting
by Pamela Simpson Lussier

My husband, David Lussier, and I also team-teach some of our workshops. I think this is a wonderful thing for the students. Sometimes we say the same thing in a slightly different way to make the teaching clearer, but most of the time we are concerned with a different aspect of the student’s painting. So the student is getting much more then he/she would from one instructor. It must be fun to teach with your daughter! She must have learned so much from you over the years and then has added her art school and beyond experiences to this. I’m sure you will fill that workshop.   No more long demos by Arnie Casavant, Chelsea, MA, USA  

“Morning Marsh”
original painting, 9 x 12 inches
by Arnie Casavant

Your letter on the Genn Method of limited time presentations with more one-on-one time at easelcoaching, hit home for me. I’ve been a plein air presenter for seven years through Northeastern’s U. Institute for Professional Development in Boston. My approach, which developed over the years of taking workshops and thirty years of teaching high school art, mirrors yours. I recently stood through a 3 1/2 hour demo, in freezing temps, which reminded me of my last 3 1/2 hour root canal. I felt guilty feeling bored, walking in place to keep the circulation going and aggravated as my mood went south. I’m still kicking myself for signing up. However, I was delighted to read your email as it clearly stated what I think is the best way to approach being an interesting, thoughtful, passionate, teacher/artist. It’s not about impressing the participants while working magic at one’s easel, it’s about coaching the participants to work magic at their easels. There is 1 comment for No more long demos by Arnie Casavant
From: Brenda Behr — Mar 04, 2012

Bravo! Your last sentence was right on. Teachers need to know it’s not about what they know, but about what they share.

  Teaching the basics by Suzanne McDermott, Nashville, TN, USA  

watercolour painting
by Suzanne McDermott

I teach the basics. Many artists do not have the basics in their pockets, so many who aspire to expression experience ongoing frustrations. I start with the foundations of drawing and watercolor in an absolutely safe, fun, encouraging — and challenging — environment. I believe in a sophisticated approach to the fundamentals while allowing for great amounts of imperfection. My intention as a teacher and guide is to help lay a solid foundation in drawing and watercolor (in my book, the next step after drawing) while pointing out the idiosyncrasies that identify each individual’s style. So, from absolute zero, I help students recognize themselves in their marks and exercises while connecting them to their unfolding spiritual practice. After fifteen years of teaching at the community level across the US in a multitude of venues, I have transferred my courses online, and the results are awesome. Here’s the link to my teaching pages. My next course starts March 15th. If your readers mention Robert Genn, I’ll pass along discount codes as a thank you for your ongoing support to us all. (RG note) Thanks, Suzanne. I’m glad someone is taking care of teaching the basics. You are right, of course, so many painters need to go back to square one. Teaching the basics takes a special kind of art instructor — one with deliberate care, patience, and the deep wisdom not to let the hind legs get ahead of the front ones.   A crisis of confidence by Sherri Donlon, Diamond Springs, CA, USA  

“Mt. Shuksan”
oil painting
by Sherri Donlon

While reading through several of your letters, I realized (shazam!!) what I was really lacking was confidence. I started thinking about the successful artists I know, and how they appear to have a great deal of confidence… In their skill, quality of work, marketing and ability to maintain focus. ‘Sigh’… So, my question to you is, how does one foster a feeling of confidence? Fear of negative comments, fear of just getting out there, fear of “just doing it”… Any tips? (RG note) Thanks, Sherri. Confidence can be tricky, especially in workshops where people are all mixed in like beans in a pot. I try to determine what special qualities each participant may have, and try to focus on and magnify those qualities. I notice with this approach, together with gently rocking their boats, they rise up and shine within themselves and become even more special than they are. Artists can do this themselves, too, by working alone and noticing their own small gains. Nothing, simply nothing, beats a feeling of personal progress, and our job as instructors and mentors is to try to help make this dream come true. There are 2 comments for A crisis of confidence by Sherri Donlon
From: Betty Newcomer — Mar 02, 2012

Sherri, you should not lack confidence in you or your work, because it is so beautiful! Best I have seen in a long time. Makes me feel as though I am there!

From: Sarah — Mar 02, 2012

Such a beautiful paint–so fresh and immediate

  Colour dissonance by Nader Khaghani, Gilroy, CA, USA  

“Pienza Duomo”
acrylic painting
by Nader Khaghani

I am, as always, dreaming of color. Talking about color, can you kindly inform me what is your understanding of this word “dissonance” in color. I must warn you, I need more than violet is complementary to yellow, hence in dissonance to blue. What yellow (cool warm) which violet so fourth and so on. Let’s get some impressive color theory going in here. Maybe the blue is not a good choice. Goethe considers yellow and blue complementary. I am open to further discussion. (RG note) Thanks, Nader. Workshop-givers in particular have to be careful what words they throw around, and they need to know what they mean by them. “Dissonance,” in my books, is a colour choice that is not quite right. In other words, it may not be true to life or correct in relation to the sun/shade aspect, but is used in any case because it adds an element of surprise, mystery, enigma, conflict or incongruity. Think of poetry: Dissonance in poetry is the deliberate avoidance of assonance — that is, patterns of repeated and appealing vowel sounds. Dissonance in poetry is similar to cacophony and the opposite of euphony. “Cognitive dissonance,” which I have also mentioned, is a state of mental conflict. This conversation will be continued. Nader is one of the painters who has signed up for the Plein Air to Abstraction workshop at Hollyhock on Cortes Island this summer.   Last chance cat ranch by Elizabeth Ginn, Lethbridge, AB, Canada   I am writing you with a request. We are holding a fundraiser for animal rescue groups called ‘Artists for Animals.’ We are a volunteer operated “No Kill Cat Rescue” that works with Pound Rescue from Calgary and NOKA, the No Kill Alliance here in Lethbridge, Alberta. I am hoping that we will have 50 original works of art for auction on May 12th. Would you consider perhaps donating a small piece? I am a former Arts Administrator/Curator and was with several galleries in Alberta in the past, always organizing art auctions for the arts. Now my efforts are to animal rescue. You can read about the “Last Chance Cat Ranch” on Facebook and Petfinder. (RG note) Thanks, Elizabeth. Yes, I will. Just send me the address and we’ll mail you something for your fundraiser. I hope other artists may want to support the cats, too. Another good resource is Pet Answers. Elizabeth Ginn is no relation to Robert Genn.   From the Hollyhock garden by Starr Kolb  

original painting
by Starr Kolb

I thought I would let you see what one of your students can do from the information learned at your Hollyhock workshop, not to mention appreciate your genuine honesty. I remember the question, “Now Starr, exactly how many paintings have you painted?” Since the workshop I have put my stained glass to rest in order to study and practice painting. I have great trying power! This is from the Hollyhock garden. Your genuine feedback is always welcome. I have many more hours ahead. Is the painting too tight? Kind of feel this way about it. (RG note) Thanks, Starr. I think it’s fresh and well designed — a good example of an unravelling in that tangled garden. It has a flat quality that is of a style, and rather appealing as is. Just my opinion without seeing it in the flesh, but I’d say keep going in that direction.      

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The Genn Method

From: Marcie Maynard — Feb 28, 2012

Does anyone in this group have a favorite book(s) that specifically addresses each of the “Five Skills worth Learning” that Mr. Genn mentioned in a recent letter? Perhaps there’s one that addresses color and another that addresses composition, or one that addresses several of the skills in a focused and succinct way. It would be a great support. Just wondering.

From: Evelyn Dunphy — Feb 28, 2012

I loved this last letter about your teaching style! And don’t we always love it when we find that we are “on the same page” as you, a world-famous Canadian painter! I decided a couple of years ago to stop the “first thing in the morning demonstration” painting that happened in every workshop that I had taken, and that I thought I needed to do, too. Instead, now I do a lot of little demos during the day of things that people need help with – and if someone wants the “full monty” then I do that, too. I believe the important thing is to give people what they need, and sometimes that’s the space to think things through on their own, do the work with the knowledge that there is someone on hand to offer suggestions and even some brushwork if that is what would be most helpful.

From: Brenda Behr — Feb 28, 2012

By “basics in their pockets” I first thought you meant abilities. That too! When I saw Angelina Jolie ruin a perfectly elegant gown by reminding us that she has legs, I can honestly say, I wasn’t envious of the gown, the legs, maybe the face a little, but when I read about workshops such as yours, I turn thirty shades of viridian. I find some compensation in knowing it’s not what or where we paint, but how we paint that matters. I’m delighted when I can find subject matter in rural North Carolina, a short distance from my home, that is not only worth painting, it’s worth recording. The humble little shack I’m sharing here was once occupied by the “yard Negro” of some farmers who happened to have some acreage. I am so glad the South isn’t what it used to be. When I decided this was paint-worthy, I thought it was on over-sized old outhouse. It has a door, but no windows.

From: Jim Lorriman — Feb 28, 2012

You are a very fortunate to be a painter and to be able to hold these workshops. As a wood turner I can no longer afford to teach directly as the insurance costs are extremely high. Most companies won’t even give me a quote for instructing teenagers! I now do my teaching by video and email. Not as good as one-on-one but better than not at all.

From: Marygrace Bianco — Feb 28, 2012

Your workshops sound so wonderful, they make me want to be a painter! Thanks for all your letters. They help me tremendously with my work.

From: Paula Timpson — Feb 28, 2012

Naturally, artists emerge as butterflies out of cocoons free to fly in carefree timelessness~…

From: Lenny Doak — Feb 28, 2012

I think the workshop taken from a successful painter is probably the best way to learn the basic ideas fast.

From: LD — Feb 29, 2012

Ahhh, just what I needed this morning…an infomercial…lol

From: Annette Waterbeek — Feb 29, 2012

The Genn Method for workshops sounds fantastic. It guides the artist to expand their individual creative path.It would be interesting to see WHY artists do workshops…and why with who. Some already have all the skill set…(and more) just need mileage behind the work so why? To see what makes the Artist (instructor tick)? To expand the skill set they already have? To hear another view on the same tick….to make it click…or? To occupy their time? To see how another group teaches the same set of elements? To network? On the other end of the Stick Why do Artist teach workshops. To give back? To share? To learn? To travel? To network? To sell? The Artist mind set is a never ending interest. : )

From: Betsy — Feb 29, 2012

Annette, great question! I take workshops to experience unusual environments and unusual people that interest me (if I can afford the experience).

From: Annette — Feb 29, 2012

Yes…Betsy A cool bunch of interesting people from all kinds of places and experiences

From: ann — Mar 01, 2012

How lovely ~ too bad these workshops have to be charged — but if you’ve never been then just go — its your money good or not, they are a wonderful adventure into self and soul, money well spent of course. Myself — I wonder about mountain peeks? Are they friendly, do they smile?? To sit face to face would be my choice of venue.

From: Karen Martin Sampson — Mar 01, 2012

I have been to Hollyhock for lunch and found it to be a lovely, invigorating and yet peaceful environment. One of these days I will see about taking your course. I mostly paint in studio and only occasionally work outdoors. I always enjoy it but usually feel a bit lost since I can’t use my normal method of working. I’m planning to be part, though, of the upcoming Cortes Forest Trust paint days that is being planned as a fund raiser to save the Cortes Forest from being logged. It is due to happen in late spring, early summer. All work will be auctioned off for the cause. Time for me to get outdoors soon and practice plein air! Maybe if I think of it in terms of painting a portrait from life it would help:-)

From: Sheila Kernan — Mar 01, 2012

I just wanted to take the time to personally thank you for organizing such a wonderful inspiring trip to Hollyhock last year. I especially enjoyed getting to know you and Sara and loved all your stories woo woo and all. You both have an amazing ability to energize others and bring so much joy that it’s impossible to not feel absolutely inspired. I came back Sunday so relaxed and eager to create knowing that I learned so much valuable tools and especially encouraged to know that I love my vision and feel even more confident I am on the right path for now! Looking forward to hearing about more trips and would love to paint with you again.

From: Raynald Murphy — Mar 02, 2012

As a plein air workshop leader (mostly) I opt to demo late in the day or at lunch time rather than when students are fresh and eager in the morning light which is at its best. After a few guidlines and orienting them to a task at the day’s start I prefer a one on one coaching much like Robert since we all learn at different rates and one’s needs are most often different than our neighbour’s.

From: Pauline Hughes — Mar 03, 2012

Hello, can you tell me if Robert would give me a personal online crit on some pieces of work I am putting into an exhibition please and cost of this thanks

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Mar 03, 2012

Thank you Robert for this about your workshops. I agree about how effort should be made to have the students paint as much as possible and not just watch the teacher … and take the best light in the morning. I have been teaching for many years and have gradually evolved to the “mentoring” approach most of the time. One-on-one at each artist’s easel as they work and you can then see what it is they are struggling with. The occasional “short” demo that is not really geared to a “perfect” painting, but instead deals with the issues you have seen the students have. I tell them many times my demos are not going to naturally be the best of my paintings. This would be because I am putting stuff in, taking stuff out, and discussing and showing different things about composition, color, temperature, etc. But, I will say sometimes they do end up a finished painting and frameable … that is just icing on the cake. If they ask a question, then I will demonstrate it in the “demo”. I will brush it out, wipe it out, get rid of it and continue if possible. But I do not want to take more than one hour of their workshop time. Thanks Robert, you have inspired me to more of the mentoring and less of the “teaching” attitude.

From: Frances — Mar 03, 2012

Hello Robert: Some time ago you mentioned the type of projector you recommend, I don’t think it was an opaque projector though. Ideally it would be one that can reduce/enlgarge a still image from a digital camera or laptop computer, images from say 4″X6″ up to something much larger, say 4’X4′ and wouldn’t need a dark room. Your advice would be appreciated.

     Featured Workshop: David and Pam Lussier
030212_robert-genn David and Pam Lussier workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Downtown From Fort Amherst

oil painting, 36 x 40 inches by Michael Fantuz, Newfoundland, Canada

  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 Mary E Martin of Facebook who wrote, “Thank you, Robert. I’m always interested in conversations with artists as I like to write about artists in my novels.”    

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