Here at Painter’s Lodge on Vancouver Island, Stephen Quiller and I are conducting a two-week workshop. He’s working with fifteen artists for one week while I work with another fifteen. After one week we’ll switch. As well as younger artists there’s a retired architect, a retired medical doctor, a retired airline pilot. In my group there’s retired brain-surgeon Ted Berkeley and his wife Ann from Oregon. Ted jokes he could teach me brain-surgery in six weeks — but it would take me six years to teach him to paint.
There’s no question that developing the facility to paint well is a difficult order. For many folks there’s something so illusive about it that it’s pretty well impossible. I think it’s safe to say that many dedicated souls will never get it. The wonderful thing is that every day we have breakthroughs. For some mysterious reason people just stop being laborious and stiff. The penny drops, they dig out their big brushes and paint freshly and with a purpose and a quality that boggles the mind. Stephen and I have two completely different styles of instruction. He lays out the basics in exercises — color theory, brush technique, that sort of thing. I get them to jump right in and pick up the pieces afterward. We’re both pretty good at helping people at all levels. Some few in both camps are stepping forward to be “born again” and are giving every indication of being no longer “lousy.” Why?
It’s a mystery, but as usual I’ve got a few ideas: Everyone comes to these workshops for different reasons, but for everyone the muscles of self-esteem and confidence have to be aroused. Many seem to be damaged and need some small encouragement. Demonstrating technique and attitude are useful even if the student looks the other way. Students must be dead sure that works in progress need not look any good. Words, degrees, and book-learning don’t count for much. Everyone minds their own business but is praiseful of others. Hanging out is in itself part of the osmosis. “We are all friends here,” Stephen says, and we are. In this encounter we all struggle with a great goddess. Some are taken by her power. Some, after this pleasant lodge is fast asleep, cannot be pried from her seductive arms.
PS: “Art! Who comprehends her? With whom can one consult concerning this great goddess?” (Ludwig van Beethoven)
Esoterica: I’ve hit gold: I brought many panels and canvasses and gave them away. We found a nearby woman with an art materials store that was going out of business. We got her to bring over all her stock of canvasses and paper. Another store is delivering tomorrow. There’s so much stuff around to paint on that people are going nuts.
The following are selected responses to the above letter. Thanks you for writing.
Wish I was there
by Billy Gilhooly, New Zealand
I love the class learning environment because I love being in the company of other artists. I seem to flow better, maybe because I can look around and see others scrunching up their eyes and others with looks of dismay on their faces. I like the comment about big brushes. I give people a 2″ brush and a big piece of paper when they come to my place to paint.
Great fun. Wish I was there.
Voyage of discovery
by George Balcan, Montreal, Canada
On the day when the easel-devil jumps up and strangles my inspiration, when some government individual wants another tax payment and then wants an explanation of “whatchadoo?” When it seems as if every pastel pencil I ever bought was dropped while being delivered, when I run out of coffee, your most recent message, “Here at Painter’s Lodge” struck home, first because I wanted to join you, however I had already committed to teaching a pastel course in Montreal, second because I have taken a few workshops (Daniel Green, Wolf Kahn, Burton Silverman, Harvey Dinnerstein) and every one of them was a voyage of discovery. Each in its own way has given me something new and exciting. There are only “great” workshops. There is a special feeling when you get up on another workshop morning — mostly anticipation—even when you end the day with less than you hoped for and there’s always the possibility of a great day tomorrow.
by Pamela Simpson
My husband David Lussier and I team teach. David gives the 1 hour demo where he completes a 12″ x 16″ painting on site, while I point out the principles and methods he is using. Our workshops are either 2 days or 5 days long so we have to work as one to get our point across. We go over the principles of painting we are stressing ahead of time and try to use the same key words so that we don’t confuse people with conflicting information. I think having two teachers who agree on certain points and present the information in different ways is very beneficial to any student. Art lessons are much like music lessons. There are principles that can be taught to anyone that wants to learn them. Natural ability comes into play of course. For some the lessons are easily learned and retained, for others the lessons are slow and painful and when not practiced are quickly forgotten. A few make no effort at all and learn nothing. Workshops generally motivate students of all levels and abilities — there is such a positive energy when you are together with a group all wanting to learn. Also we, as teachers, learn from our students.
by Sven Olaf Olafsen, Sweden
Is Painter’s Lodge a real place or is it merely an imaginary or metaphorical destination that you have cooked up?
(RG note) Painter’s Lodge is located at Campbell River on the east side of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It’s a luxury country hotel that has traditionally catered to celebrities for the excellent fishing nearby. A painting workshop is currently taking place here. It’s sponsored by International Artist Magazine and Travelrite International Pty Ltd of Australia. firstname.lastname@example.org toll free 1 800 527 8868. A family by the name of Painter owned and managed the place for many years. The main building has burned down twice and has always been built in a more spectacular fashion than before. The setting is magnificent.
Don’t know why
by Moncy Barbour
At this time I feel the need of comfort & love from all whom I can, you know, the new war in America. But I still need to paint, now for the survival of myself. What is good art? This thought still brings me back to Van Gogh, I paint because I have to and I don’t even know why.
Please keep my letter anonymous
I have recently discovered that my mentor, a man whom I have highly idolized in the past and have looked up to him (as a learning student for advice both in art and life) turned out to be someone both very corrupted and selfish. He’s a renowned sculptor who has received numerous awards, thus including full financial backing from a non profit organization. This organization was set up to sponsor many fellow artists in a sculpture garden project which I was involved in producing a beautiful bronze. The younger artists did not get paid a dime for this project, however I have recently discovered he has received millions of dollars for producing similar works. This has created a serious doubt in my mind, the corruption and deceit I have experienced has discouraged me to continue onward with my artistic career. I am at a lower end than he is, being both Asian and female in a world which is primarily dominated by men with power. I am at a branching point of this path I have chosen to walk… don’t know if it is time to move on or to stick around to learn more from his teachings. I started to study as a young apprentice at the age of 15. Now I’m 22 and am publishing my first public piece of art. What would you suggest I do now? Please keep my letter anonymous if you decide to include this in a newsletter.
(RG note) You have not given me the details of his corruption or selfishness. Mentoring for free, apprenticing for nothing, and the giving of “life lessons” by charismatic individuals has been with us for eons. It includes all sexes, races and age groups, and in the art business it’s part of the territory. Use your judgement when getting into potentially exploitative relationships and try to anticipate the end-play. You may be ready to paddle your own canoe.
Your letter said, “There’s no question that developing the facility to paint well is a difficult order. For many folks there’s something so elusive about it that it’s pretty well impossible. I think it’s safe to say that many dedicated souls will never get it. The wonderful thing is that every day we have breakthroughs.” Had I had that encouragement, I would have spent my life as an artist. I didn’t. Short story: In high school, I painted and drew a lot. After I brought in one particularly tough assignment (completed), my teacher said to me in front of the entire class “You didn’t paint that. Shame on you. That’s cheating to have someone else do the work for you.” That evening spent painting that assignment was a negative breakthrough for me but it was only recently that I picked up a brush again.
PS: “If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.” (Will Rogers)
I am facing a situation which sadly many artists have experienced before me: The gallery where I show my work is “delaying” payment. This is the second time in the last seven months that this has occurred. The first time, the amount owing was paid up within a couple of weeks. Now I am concerned that due to the 9-11 disaster and the fact that since then nobody has bought a single painting from the gallery the delay may be a longer or worse. This also concerns a larger sum of money. I am well aware that galleries have large overheads etc. but we all have bills to pay. Foolishly, I did not at the start present the gallery with a contract for them to sign nor did I sign theirs as I was not happy with the conditions set in it. Time just went by and we went on dealing with each other on a mutual trust basis. On the whole I have been very happy with this gallery in that my work has sold well there, it is in a prime location and I would prefer to stay with them for a while longer. Is it common practice to ask a gallery to pay interest on the amount owing and if so what is the standard amount of interest? I imagine you would advise me at this time to write up a contract? Please advise.
(RG note) I’ve never asked a delinquent gallery to pay interest. I’ve always thought that we were in it together and it would be penny-ante to even ask. Tell them you understand their situation and want to help them and will keep the work coming if they will give you post dated checks of a smaller size until the account is repaid. This is a time for kindness and understanding. There is also a time to pull the plug on chronically defaulting galleries. Get to know and understand the gallery people better and depend on your intuition to tell you if and when they are getting so far into the glue that they will never be able to pay. Share your concerns with other artists who exhibit at the gallery in question and get an idea how they are being treated and if they also have any fears. Artists who threaten to exit in unison are a formidable union. In the meantime give the dealer the benefit of the doubt. With regard to contracts with stand-alone dealers — I don’t believe in them. Relationships either work or they don’t. In my experience contracts deter friendships and are a precursor to expensive litigation.
I’m the Goddess
by Elle Fagan, Connecticut, USA
My art to me is not a goddess… I’m the goddess… my art is a gift from my creator that enables me to express, communicate, and sometimes share with others. I’m working in my first studio/gallery for the first time this week, so if I get silly, I apologize… especially with the disaster fundraiser as a first project, feels a little schizoid… but the artwork itself keeps getting better, so onward and upward!
by Ron Stacy
I’ve often said, (facetiously of course) that I could learn to perform brain surgery quicker and with better success than a brain surgeon could do what I do. In fact, my wife once bought me a book entitled, “Do It Yourself Brain Surgery.” However, I never did perform any of these operations, partly because they wouldn’t let me in the operating arena, but mostly because I could also mess someone up with a scalpel a lot quicker and with better success than a brain surgeon could with a paint brush. But I would get paid more than if I painted a picture — successful or not. Go figure.
by Annette Waterbeek
While minding an art show today I talked to a fellow named Radall. He told me that he had just had his front teeth knocked out and he wasn’t able to talk very well today. (I didn’t have the courage to ask him how?) He was flipping a quarter up in the air waiting until the right time to make a phone-call. He was an artist and has been making a living at it for over 44 years, he said. He told me that when he was young, another artist sought him out and took him under his wing and taught (apprenticed) him about the world of art. As he taught Radall, Radall said, “I need to make an income so I can eat.” So the artist took the work Radall did and signed his name and sold it and gave the proceeds to Radall for one year… One day the Artist told Radall “I have taught you all I can and now it is time to go out on your own.” Radall said, “How can I ever repay you?” The artist said, “When the time is right and you find the right student that you can teach… the repayment will be made.” He was to watch his student when he set her free and she was to do the same or the chain will be broken. He says this has been going on since Michelangelo. He was a little uneasy and he indicated that the student that he taught has not settled down to pass on the teachings and that if she was to fail he had to find another or the chain will be broken. Up in the air the quarter went and he was off.