Good question


Dear Artist,

Returning to the studio inbox after a weekend away, I found this machine jammed with questions regarding my last letter and video,” Forest spirit.” While I had in mind writing a letter on another subject, I thought I’d better answer a few of the questions.


This adapted box is quite stable and works anywhere — here on a picnic table with lots of folks around. On uneven ground I put in some rocks for more weight.

There was a pile of curiosity about the blue rubbing. While the painting took almost an hour, the video cut the action down to six minutes. Every fade indicated the passage of time. What we didn’t show was the painting sitting in a shaft of sunlight until it was dry enough to take the Phthalo blue glaze. Applied with a rag, this glaze is made up of a small amount of pigment, acrylic medium, and water. Other colours can be used. It serves to pull the somewhat arbitrary tones together and gives the work a “mother colour.” In my case, this toning down sets up the painting for punching in negative areas, coming to light, and colour surprises.


Winston Churchill (1946)

Something else we didn’t show or explain was the scumbling with Cadmium red. Taking place shortly after the glazing, this dry-brushing gives general warming and electrifies the slubs and bumps of the impasto. To my eye it adds surface interest.

My outdoor paintbox is an adaptation of a common one you can find in most art stores for about $30. I added braces to the lid so it’s absolutely steady and doesn’t wiggle when I push against it. The standard 11″ x 14″ canvases are locked at an angle for more direct viewing.

Regarding the palette shown, I’m more often than not using arbitrary colours these days. Two yellows, two reds, two blues, plus black, white, and a gob of molding paste. I’m trying to live and learn with less. In the questions asked of my efforts, I detected some wonderful curiosity–the sort that comes from people who want to know but don’t necessarily want to go in the same direction. Just pure curiosity. In the words of Winston Churchill, “I have always had a curious nature; I enjoy learning, but I dislike being taught.” Unimpeded private curiosity is the key to personal growth. In our game, there are no bad questions. “How do you keep your curiosity fresh?” Good question.


Best regards,


PS: “Keep your curiosity fresh.” (John Singer Sargent)

Esoterica: The car is a ’38 Bentley. I’ve owned it for almost forty years. I paid for it with my art. The steering wheel is on the “wrong” side because it’s British. We don’t know why the dog is interested in art. The birds in the video are Pileated Woodpeckers and White-crowned Sparrows. There were squirrels in there too. The thing I lean my hand on is called a mahlstick.


Michelle is 18. She is going into second-year University in September. The software suite she used to edit the video is called Adobe Premiere Elements. The video camera is a Canon GL1. Michelle is assembling the clickbacks and posting your free links these days. We are going to make more videos when we have time.


Discovery through the arts
by Terry McEntee

“Forest Spirit” was quickly emailed to my art team in the school district where I am just now retiring. This film was just what I needed after the end of the school year. My team members wrote me back thanking me for forwarding the letter and I wanted to thank you for starting this contemplative “chain letter.” Listening to the birds and watching as you painted was something I could never have imagined. It touched my soul and my spirit and from this point I am pulling out the watercolors and starting to do my own art “spirit.” Fourteen other curious minds are doing likewise. Our team consists of 15 women who are the most dedicated and most talented anyone can imagine. I have been very torn about the end of my 33 years of teaching young children, as we all know that we learn more from those young minds than we teach them. The constant challenge of seeing these creative minds grow and develop their own curiosities as to the wonders of discovery through the arts is something I will sorely miss.


All rules can be broken successfully
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA


“Garden at the John C Campbell Folk School”
oil painting, 12 x 16 inches
by Linda Blondheim

I had an interesting discussion with my recent workshop students about the “Dreaded Black.” They had been told by other teachers to never use black. After I showed them the superb and yummy colors they could mix with black, they changed their tune. I find with dismay that many workshop teachers hand down rules and regulations as if they have come down from the mount by Moses. We as teachers should be careful about how we influence our students. All rules can be broken successfully and teachers should be more flexible in their approach.


Use of arbitrary colours
by Terri Steiner, Princeton, MA, USA


original painting
by Terri Steiner

You mentioned “I’m more often than not using arbitrary colours these days. Two yellows, two reds, two blues, plus black, white, and a gob of molding paste.” What are those colours? I want to review and work with the basics again.

(RG note) Thanks, Terry. And thanks to everyone else who asked this question. The colours are arbitrary — that is they vary from painting to painting. But generally speaking these days I’m using a Cadmium and an earth colour for each of the primaries, except for blue where I use both Ultra and Phthalo. Part of this ploy is what I call “handicapping.” Colours are chosen at random and squeezed with abandon. The painter then works with what’s on the palette and only adds specific other colours if and when needed.

‘Classic’ gallery frames
by Lisa Klaunig, IN, USA


Three-piece ‘Classic’ frame with canvas popped in. The clip on the left holds the picture temporarily. Dealers have different methods of holding work in place.

In your video, Forest Spirit, I noticed that the framed painting is matted as one would a work on paper. It looks stunning and it is obviously more protected this way, but I’m curious about your methods. How and why have you have arrived at this method of presentation for an acrylic painting? I am guessing that you had to unstretch the painted canvas for this purpose.

(RG note) Thanks, Lisa. The painting as shown is simply framed in a standard — what we call ‘Classic” gallery frame. It has a one-piece linen liner. The painting goes into the frame in the regular way. When the painting goes to the dealer, which it has, it will be framed by them as they see fit — or as the buyer requests.

There is 1 comment for ‘Classic’ gallery frames by Lisa Klaunig

From: Dave Fidler — Feb 05, 2009


Anatomy of a frame
by Tom Charvat, Westmont, IL, USA

I want to use some frames with very wide off-white mat… the kind that you used for the forest painting. It does not appear to be a linen insert. How did you frame this stretched canvas using that wide of a mat? Or better yet, how did you do it or what frame/company did you find this product at?

(RG note) Thanks, Tom. Frame tastes and manufacturing methods vary from region to region. Artists who move around the world often think other people’s frames are clunky. Having said that, we think our locally-made frames are understated and tasteful. This type of frame is ‘three piece’ — that is they are made up of inners, liners, and outers (moldings). If you show your local frame shop a picture, they will be able to put something together for you. There is no point in giving you the name of my guy because he doesn’t ship.


Graham paints
by Diana M Graham, West Linn, OR, USA


M Graham & Co.
acrylic paints

Thanks so much for the mention of M Graham & Co acrylics. We are going to test the strength of our white per your comment. I am totally amazed at the number of serious artists who have sent us a copy of your letter. I mean from every corner of the USA and Canada!

(RG note) Thanks, Diane. I used your acrylics again this last weekend in both cool and hot outdoor conditions. I’m using them in the studio right now. Smooth as a baby’s bottom. Fun to mix. I’m sure many of our subscribers will be interested in the results of your opacity tests.


Gussying up the edges
by Jace Mattson, Denver, CO, USA


“Where is Waldo?”
oil painting
by Jace Mattson

I am an inveterate oil painter but I use acrylic paint to finish the edges of my gallery wrap canvases. My initial thought was to use the cheapest paint out there to “paint the edges..” I found that by doing that I was having to go over the edges several times before I got good coverage. It seems like a colossal waste of time but white edges are not allowed at my gallery. I was wondering if you could recommend a tube acrylic paint that would give me good coverage the first time around. Painting edges is not art. It’s gussying up the painting so it looks nice on the wall and I don’t want to use up good composition/painting time to do it more than once per painting. I use black almost exclusively for this purpose and have found that 2 or 3 coats are necessary with Liquitex and VanGogh. Any ideas?

(RG note) Thanks, Jace. I sometimes black up the edges for use in the popular “floater frames” that some galleries are using these days. I use Golden Acrylic’s Carbon black with a little bit of medium and water. Speedy roll-on is done with one of those small foam rollers that house painters use for going around doorframes, etc. Two passes are still necessary to get down and around the staples or tacks.


‘It is beautiful’
by Bev Rodin, Willowdale, ON, Canada


“Mist Rising Ahmic Lake”
acrylic painting, 40 x 60 inches
by Bev Rodin

I just came back from our waterfront lot up on Ahmic Lake on the Magnetewan River system. I paint a lot of forests at different times of day in different seasons but I am especially drawn to backlighting. Magnetewan is a very historic area with a set of ancient working locks.





“Anglican Church Magnetewan”
watercolour painting
by A. J. Casson

A. J. Casson has a famous painting of the little white church in the town and J. E. H. MacDonald did a painting of the sawmill on Lake Cecebe. The Magnetewan is a magnificent river with a canoe route stretching 40 miles from Algonquin Park to Georgian Bay. It also connects several large lakes. My husband Jim and I have done parts of it by canoe. In one spot there is a campground that overlooks three waterfalls. We have named our property Minwashin, which means “It is Beautiful” in Ojibway.


The rebirth of curiosity
by Rene Seigh, Huntsville, AL, USA

From your own Resource of Art Quotations, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” (Ellen Parr) I’ve always been curious and it doesn’t seem to dry up except in the presence of an overload of stress or sheer exhaustion. Most children I know are curious. Maybe, like creativity, curiosity is squashed through rigid structure, expectations, and criticism. If we sit quietly and really observe the nature around us (including humans), maybe curiosity can be reborn?


Perpetual curiosity
by Annette Waterbeek, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada


watercolour painting
by Annette Waterbeek

The question how to keep your curiosity fresh is to keep looking for something more. In my constant state of curiosity I have sought out and found answers to a ton of questions without asking (although I’ve never been afraid to ask a question). This has been mostly done by simply observing. My greatest curiosity is still the mentality of the art collector. What catches their eyes. The collector is really at the very base of what makes an artist’s life livable. Understanding the art buyer is the basis of it all.





Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Good question



From: Virginia Wieringa — Jun 01, 2007

How wonderful again this morning to enter into a lively discussion with other artists and see their work. The sharing of ideas in this format is priceless!

From: Mary Kilbreath — Jun 01, 2007

I agree with A.Waterbeek. How does one anticipate the collector’s whims and not fall into the endless pit of doing what the public wants for their sake? How do we stay true to our muse, stay popular with collectors, and make a living?

From: Jane Champagne — Jun 01, 2007

Annette: By “understanding the art buyer is the basis of it all,” do you mean that you paint to please the collector?

From: Delmar — Jun 01, 2007

great job Michelle!

From: Helen Zapata — Jun 01, 2007

In response to Jace Mattson’s “Gussying up the Edges” comment… I have found the best black acrylic for painting the edges of my gallery wrapped canvases. For that I use Winsor & Newton Galeria acrylic paint. It’s inexpensive and the opacity is terrific! It takes only one pass with their black to completely cover the edges of my paintings. I tried other blacks, more expensive ones, and immediately went back to the W&N Galeria for painting edges. Try it! I’m also now using the Galeria Titanium White for cleaning up the edges on my unstretched pieces. Just super coverage!

From: Anonymous — Jun 01, 2007

It is surely quite a balancing act to try and please both ourselves and our buyers. For me, I fear it would be a mistake to paint for the buyers, rather than for myself. Besides, my experience tells me that you can never anticipate which pieces are going to be most popular; it never seems to be the ones I thought it would be.

From: Julie Miller — Jun 01, 2007

I feel that the edge of a gallery wrap painting IS an important element in the final image…finishing a figure by wrapping it around that edge or continuing a color found in a landscape includes the viewer as you turn the corner and end the piece. It is the abstract side of things that adds incredible interest to every part of said work.

From: Susan Jenkins — Jun 01, 2007

Many of my students read your letter. I have to take issue with Linda Blondheim about black. I teach oil still life in a loose colorfilled technique. Using pure pigment in many cases. Black is a carbon. It will muddy up colorful pigments. Instead I make a black from pthalo green and alizarin crimson. When it gets into pure color as a dark value in shadows it mixes beautifully because it is green and red. I use black in low key still life but never in high key. Just had to add my comment, Thankyou I love your letters. Susan Jenkins

From: Joan Nied — Jun 01, 2007

I couldn’t view your video but now I hope to access it with the help of a computer expert (my dear husband). Where may I find it on the net?

From: Jean Crow — Jun 01, 2007

Why couldn’t one use an oil or water-based satin finish wall paint for the canvas edges?

From: Jane Morgan — Jun 01, 2007

I, too, would like to view your video. How do I go about getting it? I’m sure it was in one of your newsletters and I have the ones I haven’t been able to read in a file, as I never like to miss reading them. Please let me know where or how to view your video. Thanks,

From: Annette — Jun 01, 2007

Hi Jane No I don’t paint to please a collector. I paint towards a self set of standards and goals.

From: Comments moderator — Jun 01, 2007
From: Peter — Jun 01, 2007

Try black gesso on your edges if you want to use a brush or black spray paint if you’re in a hurry.

From: Liz Zimbelman — Jun 01, 2007

I scanned through some 1983 American Artist magazines the other day. It is amazing how passe many of them seemed. Perhaps you remember the look; dull browns, spatter marks, rustic subjects? It causes me to ponder what the current “look” is. I think part of it is led by the current home decor fads. But, I’m reminded that serious collectors decorate to show off their collection.

From: Ute Rieder — Jun 03, 2007

I have given quite a few paintings as gifts. Portraits in particular. People don’t always respond positively, or complain about the cost of framing. It makes me lose my confidence, since I haven’t been in the business for long. I am learning, though, unless someone repeatedly comments or admires a picture, or my work, I don’t make anymore gifts. The work must be enjoyed, otherwise it is a useless gift.

From: Mary Lou Moad, MHR, ATR, Art Therapist — Jun 04, 2007

I loved the discussion on curiosity, because, working with children in foster care, their creativity has gotten squashed during the years of being in “survival mode.” BUT, if I can tap into their curiosity, we can almost always, eventually, find a source of creativity. I actually prefer to call it “wonder” myself, as a well-cared-for, loved child, is filled with it! And every child deserves to find it again, once it is lost… even me… Thanks, Mary Lou

From: Catherine McLay Cochrane AB — Jun 04, 2007

I really enjoy the featured painting by Marlen Bulas with its vivid complementaries and fun rhythms. But I am always puzzled as to why artists choose the name “Untitled.” It seems rather like not giving a name to one of your children!







acrylic painting
by Marlene Bulas, Orillia, ON, 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 John Larner of Lake City, FL, USA who wrote, “When I started viewing your film, I felt the same elation I get when setting up to paint outside in plein-air. And to Sue Smith, the perfect place is inside you. I used to drive around for hours looking for that “perfect place” until I understood just that.”

And also Emily Lelandof Fredericksburg, TX, USA who wrote, “I have a little painting routine with an open box M and tripod, off the back of my Ford Explorer. Only yours looked easier than it is for me.”

And also Lynda Kelly of Toronto, ON, Canada who wrote, “Just watching your video was the most fun thing I could do inside with my clothes on! You Tube should have Awards, ‘Tubeys,’ just like the Oscars. I would vote for you!”

And also Diane Middleton of Calgary, AB, Canada who wrote, “My paintings have improved largely because of actively reviewing your emails & responses.”

And also David Kesslerof Berkeley, CA, USA who wrote, “Emily Carr‘s ability to communicate her love of trees is extraordinary.”




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