Colour, commitment and creativity

Dear Artist, It was the mission statement that got our attention: “Hollyhock exists to inspire, nourish and support people who are making the world better.” Art as a civilizing force has always interested us, so when the folks who run this internationally-known retreat invited my daughter, Sara, and me to give a course together this summer, we refreshed our yogurt, poured a second bowl of granola, and signed up. On Cortes Island on Canada’s west coast, Hollyhock is one of those special places where people go to share magic. Gourmet vegetarian cuisine vies with more than 100 top facilitators who give exceptional learning opportunities on pretty well everything our world needs right now. Yoga, wildcrafting, writing, breathing, songwriting, dancing, Buddhism, body work, meditation, nonviolence, healing, social consciousness, strategizing, loving, shamanism, the purposeful life, contemplation, mysticism, leadership, photography, focus, immersion, enchantment, authenticity, creativity, painting, cognitive therapy, tai chi, leadership, and many more. Did I mention sea kayaking? You have to check out the Hollyhock online catalogue to get the whole ball of wax. You’ll find Sara and me on page 13. So what are Sara and I up to? We’ve painted together among the Rocky Mountaintop gods, down in the fiery Grand Canyon and on the moldering walls of Tuscany. We’ve privately talked marathons and shared our winnings and losings by campfires that have never burned down. But we’ve never before given a workshop together. My part will be a practical painting course with demos, info, techniques, acrylic processes and individual mentoring when required. I can be of help in most media. As well as painting and demoing, Sara will give PowerPoints, interactive presentations and one-on-one counsel. She’s a New York painter and music composer with an international reputation and a fresh contemporary perspective. Both of us are out to bend minds. In the lap of unspoiled beauty and New Age luxury, we will try our best to stimulate, challenge, and expose your inner power. Unlike some of our other occasional workshops, this one is relatively inexpensive. Limited to 30 participants, we’ve called it “Colour, Commitment and Creativity.” We intend to make it a bit of a holistic shapeshifter. Our page on the Hollyhock website is here. If, in addition, you feel you might like to discuss your possible joining with us at Hollyhock, please feel free to write me at or Sara at Best regards, Robert PS: “Discover the heavenly air, sweet water, deep sleep, singing breezes, floral aromas, garden flavours, friends for life, rekindled purpose, orchard sanctuary, silky ocean, crackling fire, curious deer, laughing moon, blackberry lips, precious tears, and sheer joy.” (Joel Solomon, Hollyhock Board Chair and CEO) Esoterica: I believe in workshops. There may be no better path to success than to work for a few days with seasoned pros. That’s the reason we started our Workshop Calendar on the Painter’s Keys site. Professional artist-instructors are now advertising their upcoming workshops for 2011. You’ll find many; some in foreign lands, others perhaps near where you live.   Glazing techniques by Eileen McErlain, Winston Salem, NC, USA   I’ve just been watching your videos and am wondering what that is you do over the painting when you pass the cloth over — is it a blue glaze? I’ve done a few pastels and some acrylic and am just starting with oils. I love Matisse’s work and as I am also interested in textiles as I’m a weaver and spinner and I am looking for ideas and techniques for painting them. Thanks for your marvelous letters. (RG note) Thanks, Eileen. That’s often a phthalo blue glaze wiped on with a rag. It tones down and gives a mother colour to the whole. The system works best in Acrylic, at about the half way stage, but variations of it (spraying, etc) can work in other media.   Painting with fabric by Delores Hamilton, Cary, NC, USA  

“The lion remembers”
mixed media painting
by Delores Hamilton

Would you consider having a student in your class who paints with fabrics instead of oils, acrylics, or watercolor? I would bring a variety of hand-dyed fabrics (cottons, silks, rayons and sheers) with fusible on the back so I could cut and apply them quickly with a tiny iron. In a subset of the quilting world, I make what we call art quilts. I profit from your letters by applying painting lessons to my work, but I would love to work in a class with a painting instructor. It might be as much of a challenge to the instructor as it would be to me, but well worth my time and money. What are your thoughts? (RG note) Thanks, Delores. I have no problem with students who are used to working in vastly different media than my own. We’re talking creativity here, and a bunch of techniques do not an artist make. At the same time, by cruising our Art Workshop Calendar, you’ll find learning opportunities offered by a wide range of instructors who may just be what the doctor ordered. You’re the doctor.   Am I a fraud? by Annie Taylor, France  

“Morning on Breeze Hill”
oil painting
by Annie Taylor

I have just looked at your daughter Sara Genn’s website and I was struck by the variety in her work. I learned to paint in the States but had to put the brushes away for over twenty years while I earned enough to support myself and my daughter. Consequently I am only just now an emerging artist at the tender age of 61! I have been painting and exhibiting now for the best part of 5 years and managing to sell my work and I am constantly looking at how to reinvent myself and find new ways of expressing myself. There is one thing that bothers me and that is this nagging notion at the back of my mind that until I can paint ‘looser’ I will not really be a proper artist! It is ridiculous, I know, particularly in these days of ‘anything goes’ art to feel that way, but actually, is there a grain of truth in there or do I just keep soldiering on in my own way? Is this just another case of the artist thinking “I am a fraud, I can’t really paint, when are people going to find me out?”! (RG note) Thanks, Annie. You might read I’m a fraud from June 8, 2004, which exposes “The Imposter syndrome” on our site. A more common syndrome than you might think. It attempts to cover the widespread belief among many artists that they’re frauds. Variety doesn’t make you a fraud. It shows the breadth and depth of your creativity. There are 2 comments for Am I a fraud? by Annie Taylor
From: Brenda W. — Feb 11, 2011

Thanks Annie for aking; it has helped answer a similar question I had re being ‘all over the map’ … thinking I need to focus on a particular syle, media etc. Thanks also ‘R.G.’ for the referral to the June 8th article. I will be checking that out. I appreciate your vast, and varied letters and look forward to each one!

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin TX — Feb 11, 2011

I want to say that I think your painting is terrific…I saw the abstract in the upper left corner become the real in the foreground. It is a form of “Action” painting in a new sense of the word. All sorts of things going on. Keep on doing what you are doing…I think this painting is the type of puzzle described in the latest letter, “The Peekaboo Principal.”

  Changing locations by Edward Abela, Markham, ON, Canada  

“Four peaks”
original painting
by Edward Abela

When you paint in a different country or area which presents dramatically different scenery than that of the Canadian landscape, do you change your style? Or do you manage to paint the landscape the same way as you would approach a Canadian one. I have been visiting Arizona for the last several winters and have been regularly plein air painting here. The desert landscape here is of course vastly different to that of any part of Canada. I find that my Arizona paintings take on a somewhat different style to those I do in Canada. I think there are two reasons for this. First is the very dry climate makes it difficult to paint in my regular acrylics so I have resorted to the slower drying Golden Open series. Secondly, I find I am somewhat influenced by the South Western Artists’ work when I am here. I would be interested to hear your opinion on this. (RG note) Thanks, Edward. I like to paint in unfamiliar places because I want my style and way of doing things to be challenged and upset. Inexorably, though, especially as you get older, your style prevails and the old habits, good and bad, creep back. Annoying. I once painted a waterfall in France, gave it a generic title, but the guy who bought it always thought it was done somewhere in northern Ontario. There are 2 comments for Changing locations by Edward Abela
From: Jan Ross — Feb 11, 2011

I love your painting, Edward! The scene is intriguing, colors appealing and overall image just lovely. Thanks for sharing it!

From: Tatjana — Feb 11, 2011

Lovely painting!

  Fear of the creative power by Vanessa Jane Smith, Spain  

“Frozen stones”
original photograph
by Vanessa Smith

As a mentor, coach and artist, committed to a world where business is fully connected and aligned with service, I find best results by helping others unlock, access and open to their creative mind in order to accomplish their finest results in discovering their Life Purpose and Creating Soul Centred Businesses. For me all of this is connected to healing on a greater scale and it is through service that that healing is witnessed, and as artists, we form part of that whole. As my business takes off, I am lifted to realms I had not needed to consider as my clients were breaking through barriers by untapping their creative mind. Now I find other issues coming to light with themes such as how to manage high creative energy. What has been coming up is fear of the creative power because it is perceived as threatening to dismantle family life and jobs. It is seen almost like a love affair with “another,” a “betrayal,” an either/or kind of dynamic, where clients react to it by repressing or gagging that inner intuitive voice, instead of expressing it. Aligning that sort of energy seems to be the key. What key do you have at Painter’s Keys? (RG note) Thanks, Vanessa. One has to be careful of one-sided answers to many-sided questions. While there are certain similarities among creative people, my approach has been to treat everyone as unique individuals. In my various books and letters, for better or for worse, I’ve moved from practical techniques, processes and methods to attitudinal, motivational and common sense factors. Perhaps the best understanding is in my first book on the subject The Painter’s Keys. The book could be a lot better than it is, but it has certainly been a factor in the success and happiness of a lot of artists. It’s now in its third printing. There are 4 comments for Fear of the creative power by Vanessa Jane Smith
From: Lanie Frick — Feb 11, 2011

Vanessa, your take on “fear of the creative power” is very interesting. Do you have a blog or website with more information?

From: Michael Jorden — Feb 11, 2011
From: Vanessa Jane Smith — Dec 08, 2012

Better late than never as they say. Thanks so much for that richness of support. I love Robert’s angle of approaching each as an individual. The motivational approach seems wholesome, unique and inspiring. Processes and methods however can’t take the individual into account. As artists I think we so deeply value uniqueness. I will read with interest. thanks again.

From: Vanessa Jane Smith — Dec 08, 2012
  Teaching how to see by Nancy Newcomb, Lake Geneva, WI, USA   Perhaps all teachers have had that experience of having students “paint just like them.” As a workshop teacher with Elderhostel for ten years and a watercolor teacher at a small art school I founded, I see the “copyist” hard at work in the studio but most pick and choose techniques and ideas and amalgamate them into their own style. I have seen my workshop projects done under my tutelage hung in galleries with the student’s name on them. At the time they are shown, I think the student really thinks that it is “their” work but without much comment from me the work seems to mature and becomes more of their own. In teaching, I am always amazed how often the student knows the answer but just needs a good teacher to bring it out of them. After being in this business for over 25 years, I realize that what I am really teaching is a little bit about techniques but a whole lot about learning how to “really see.” I use a lot of philosophy, personal experiences and art history plus many visuals of other artists’ work to demonstrate a point. I am constantly amazed when I go to a juried show and see that even some of the award winners can be termed as “______________Lookalikes.” The quest for making art is not to be able to paint just like your favorite workshop leader but to find one’s own message. This to me has not been emphasized enough because of the needy egos of most workshop instructors. The greatest compliment to a new workshopper is “Oh, you paint just like _____________! The greatest compliment to really hear is, “Oh, you paint so originally and what you have done just stirs my soul.” There is 1 comment for Teaching how to see by Nancy Newcomb
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Feb 12, 2011

Thank you for commenting about this. I find it very true in many workshops. I always tell me students to give me an idea of the type of paintings they are drawn to. We then proceed to help them paint and hope they understand that I am not trying to make them paint just like me or anyone else. They are learning to apply the medium, but put their own spin on it.

  What’s the fuzz? by Paulino Oyos, Philippines   On your letter of Jan. 28, 2011, you wrote that women need: — The capability and the desire to work alone. — A degree of independence from outside opinion. — Steady, well-regulated, workmanlike habits. — The understanding that passion comes from process. — The curiosity to explore sets and series. — An intuitive sense of quality and reasonable taste. — A philosophical but nevertheless combative attitude to the miserably dying vestiges of the boy’s club. I am only curious about what you have mentioned above. It seems to me that these are also the same characteristics of all men — long, long time ago! So what’s the FUZZ? (RG note) Thanks, Paulino. No FUZZ. Men might certainly work toward those ideals as well, including the demise of the boy’s club. Incidentally, when I wrote that, dozens of women wrote to suggest I change “workmanlike” to “workwomanlike.” Great fun. There is 1 comment for What’s the fuzz? by Paulino Oyos
From: Nicolle — Feb 12, 2011

Robert in your letter you wrote “here, what the women bring to their easel” an not “what the women need”. So there is really no FUZZ!!!

  Creativity and the inner critic by Em Poole, Victoria, BC, Canada   I am a student in landscape architecture and one of the biggest discussions we have within our group is the ability to be creative souls. I think all of us find it to be an engaging, fun activity but there are also some that are truly frustrated with the process. Lucky for us, this profession we are embarking on has many areas to explore, but I keep coming back to the idea that creativity isn’t only a predetermined “gift.” I’m certain that we are all creative people, or else how would you get a finicky toddler to eat her peas? Or figure out how to keep your pup from chewing your shoes and focus their attention on more appropriate chew-things. Anyway, I’ve subscribed to your twice-weekly letters for a few years now, and I remember you talking about the use of music to turn your brain off and get down to the business of painting. I also recently read an article about creativity, that it has less to do with “right brain/ left brain” and more to do with silencing the inner critic. I was wondering if you might talk a little more about this and what your own experiences have been, as well as those of your peers. (RG note) Thanks, Em. I’m a believer in the “split personality” system of controlling the potentially evil inner critic. Fact is, you need the critic and much as you need the egotistical guy who keeps telling you that you can do it. Two different locations is one handy ploy. A primary easel and a secondary easel — crit at the secondary. There are days I think it’s all a delusion. As we are in the “illusion” business, a little bit of self-delusion can’t be all that bad.   Expectations for Hollyhock by Sara Genn, Santorini, Greece  

oil painting, 36 x 36 inches
by Sara Genn

Last summer, while hanging out with my Dad in the Rocky Mountains on our annual painting expedition, we received a message from a special place called the Hollyhock Retreat. They invited us to come for a few days this summer to paint and share ideas with other artists. If you don’t know about Hollyhock, it’s a world-renowned but unspoiled place devoted to kindling passion. It’s on Cortes Island, off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia, and they feed you natural food, clean water and fresh air while providing you with everything you need to reboot and expand. I’ve often sniffled up with the gratitude I feel to be the #1 mentee of my father. I mean, the guy shares so wholeheartedly what matters most to me, and it’s one of the great miracles of my life. But I have to say, I think I’ve taught him a few things, too, even if it’s just to know an artist and a woman and a dreamer and fellow traveler who also happens to be his child. My Dad and I have been traveling together since I was small, just the two of us (me taking turns with my brothers on material gathering trips and walkabouts). When it’s me and Dad, we can fill up a week with words on four subjects, while filling up canvases unpreciously, staging crits in turn-of-the-century cabins, and shedding tears over what matters, and what is the most sublimely ridiculous. Since I was small, I’ve also been tagging along, willingly or not, to workshops, residencies and other community activities my Dad has participated in. He’s a natural born sharer, and I’ve admired his gift from the standing room only area. Somehow, this year, after a couple of decades of paddling my own canoe, I’ve been invited to bring a compliment to my father’s offerings. I’m honoured to have this invitation from Hollyhock. It’s the first time, maybe even the only time, we might do something like this together. So. After much arty discussion about our differing approaches, lives, career stages, hopes and dreams, unique challenges and techniques, my Dad and I are going to give a 5-day seminar for artists at the Hollyhock Retreat on Cortes Island from August 3 – 7, 2011. It will be a special group of artists doing a lot of plein-air work in a spectacular natural setting and a lot of conversation about the stuff that never gets old for any of us: that our creative journey is both the most individual adventure and the most connecting pursuit. It should be an interesting challenge. My ideas orbit around some themes that are constants for me, my peers and so many mid-career artists; sustaining a career, an individual voice, growth and creative evolution, the intrusion of business, modern sacrifices. What an incredible experience it will be to gather my peers together for a focused period, for ideas and dialogue about these things, right now, as we are in the middle of them. (Dad’s note) Sara’s remarkable blog can be found here. There are 2 comments for Expectations for Hollyhock by Sara Genn
From: Darrell Baschak — Feb 11, 2011

Sara, your note really resonates with me. Just recently I have been able to spend some quality time with my daughter Sacha, a remarkably talented teacher, painter and poet. The feeling I get when working beside her is quite complex and wondrous. The parent/child relationship is reversed and she teaches me! I look forward to more of these experiences. Love your work by the way.

From: Tatjana — Feb 11, 2011

Leve the warm and cool white in the painting and a hint of texture! So, much to say with subtle mastery.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Colour, commitment and creativity

From: Natalie Gordon — Feb 07, 2011
From: Anonymous — Feb 08, 2011

A bit self-serving? As tempting as it may be to sell your own books, workshops, etc. with this forum, I prefer your letters to talk art, not your own accomplishment.

From: Sarah — Feb 08, 2011

to anonymous- you may see this as self serving, others will find value and benefit from the information. As always, we have choice, whether to see the positive or the negative.

From: Thierry — Feb 08, 2011

Self-serving? Not at all, I think. It must cost Robert $ 40 000 – $ 70 000 to keep this site going. He is entitled to his benefits. I find Robert remarkably restrained in that regard. And he can probably make more income painting than teaching.

From: Anonymous II — Feb 08, 2011

Inspiring others towards happiness and success brings you happiness, plain and simple ~ ….this letter is about Hollyhock — an opportunity for some to stretch themselves up down and sideways. These invites at times may feel a bit like a tantalism but we understand it is simply an invitation that otherwise may be left by the wayside. ~ I for one can not afford the excursion and yet for those who do… I imagine will certainly enjoy. It’s business with a bust; getting ahead of the game while taking some time just for you.

From: V Kalman — Feb 08, 2011

Something not mentioned in Robert’s or Sara’s letter is that Hollyhock offers subsidies and scholarships in particular situations.

From: oreo — Feb 09, 2011

I knew it was you all along.

From: Edna V.Hildebrandt — Feb 09, 2011

It sounds very exciting and Hollyhock offers all aspects of living well. Cortes Island appears idyllic for such a course in art. It would be exciting to be a participant as I believe that you will give your best to inspire the artists who will join you in the course and bring a burst of color in the art world. The catalogue covers almost everything you could think off under the sun.

From: E L Chen — Feb 09, 2011

Hollyhock sponsors well known experts and authors who have taught at the Esalen Institute, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies as well as coaches for staff in Fortune 500 companies, governments, religious organizations, and non-profits. Hollyhock is at the very top of the enabling movement. Robert and Sara are taking their rightful position among the elite.

From: Terrie Christian — Feb 10, 2011

Your list of things to believe in is wonderful. I especially like mysticism and shamanism being in the mix. So often, even if people do believe in these things they are afraid to admit it. Sharing ourselves with others in an honest way is very important and I see you as a leader in art and life. Your daughter is very lucky to have a father with your values. One of the things that has been important to me in my art life is to be creative and allow my own visions to come out on my paper. Plymouth, MN

From: Jan Ross — Feb 11, 2011

Robert, If you’re ever seeking another artist daughter, I’m available for adoption. Sara is blessed to have such a talented, generous and thoughtful father!

From: Linda — Feb 11, 2011

I jua=st added a comment on the “I’m a fraud” topic.

From: Nathan Kline — Feb 11, 2011

What a lucky father!

     Featured Workshop: Stephen Quiller
020811_robert-genn Stephen Quiller Workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Flowers in a Bowl

acrylic painting by Nora Camps, Toronto, ON, Canada

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