The magic of ‘hook hours’

Dear Artist, It turned out our fishing guide, Steve Woodley, was a veteran of the animation industry. These days, he helps folks catch salmon. Steve was there when cell animation was breathing its last, when 12 to 24 separate drawings had to be made for every second of screen time. In the long periods between fishing action we talked about the dying arts, the loss of skill-sets and the current prevalence of computers. We talked about getting ideas for cartoons and the fine art of drawing, frame by frame, jumping mice, hopping rabbits, and complicated maneuvers like three-fingered hands tying shoelaces. “How did those animation guys get so good?” I asked. “By putting in the hours,” Steve said. “Some were natural geniuses, but they, too, had to keep doing the drawings and perfecting their art.” We were fishing two lines. Things were slow. “Fishing is a lot like painting,” I put in. “Yep,” he said, “The more you stay at it the more likely you’ll drag something up.” We’d been on the water for four hours without a strike. I pointed out that in painting you always get something, good or bad, and you’re never completely skunked. I was thinking I should be outta this dumb boat. I remembered the times I’d abandoned fishing and crawled out onto the rocks and tried to make something of my life. I remembered how I had some hard-earned techniques that were sort of like baiting and setting a hook or testing a line. Holding a fishing rod to advantage is like holding a brush. Choosing from a range of coloured lures from a fishing box is like choosing a palette. I remembered the early thrills of seeing shiny fresh paintings come up from some mysterious deep. The July sun was hot, the inlet languid, the tide ebbed and flowed. Other boats drifted by, their occupants laid back, silent, their eyes focused on the tips of their rods. We could have gone to sleep. Then the reel went off with a whirr. It was a well-hooked sulker. She took a lot of line and went down deep. It was half an hour before we saw her. She was a masterpiece. Best regards, Robert PS: “Time, time — that is our greatest master! Alas, like Ugolino, time devours its own children.” (Hector Berlioz) Esoterica: To get real results you need to put in the hook hours. In his recent book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell gives what he calls the 10,000 hour rule. It seems it takes that many hours to get good at anything — doctor, lawyer, animator, musical composer. “Success has to do with deliberate practice,” says Gladwell, “Practice must be focused, determined, and in an environment where there’s feedback.” Steve and I agreed that we should never stop honouring those who take the time and trouble to get good at what they do.   071211_robert-genn   Reward of the painting process by Rebecca Stebbins, Santa Barbara, CA, USA  

original painting
by Rebecca Stebbins

I am holed up in a remote valley in southern France to paint — no shortage of inspiration here in the Cevennes and plenty of ‘hook hours.’ And yet, yesterday I struggled for hours with a small oil of the shady creek here, with decidedly mixed results. In the end, though, the results were only positive, as whether the painting is a success or not, I had the pleasure and challenges of the process and the education of the experience. The act of painting is a master in itself. Thanks as always for sharing and articulating these experiences.   Miles on the brushes by Jim Oberst, Hot Springs Village, AR, USA  

watercolour painting
15 x 9 inches
by Jim Oberst

I started painting relatively late in life, about 7 years ago, after I retired from a technical career. I’m now 68. Awhile ago I became convinced that I needed to do a lot more painting to speed my improvement — I needed more “miles on the brushes.” I considered the daily painting routine, but it seemed a bit too aggressive for me. So about a year and a half ago I committed to painting an extra, small watercolor every week. It has really helped. I still paint my larger paintings, but these small ones keep me going all the time. I post them on a special website and have sold quite a few to folks all over the world. We artists can do a lot of things to improve our art, and one of them is surely putting more “miles on the brushes.”   There are 2 comments for Miles on the brushes by Jim Oberst
From: Janice Vogel — Jul 14, 2011

Dear Jim, I really enjoyed perusing through your weekly watercolours. They are absolutely lovely and due to the diverse locations and motifs you feature, strolling through the gallery is like going on a mini vacation. The comments under the pictures are definitely worthwhile and add to the experience.

From: Jim Oberst — Jul 15, 2011
  This one hurt by Mary Diman, Madison, WI, USA   You will no doubt be surprised at the number of negative responses you get to this post. Many people do not respect those who brag about killing for fun. I am one. Since I have been married, first to a fisher (trout), and then to a hunter (deer, turkey, ducks), I am familiar with the challenge, the thrill, and the well-marketed camaraderie that they relished. Both saw the quiet stalking of their prey in a sort of spiritual light. Neither needed the meat. But the anger that will be apparent in your incoming messages really reflects a sadness and a higher respect for your catch, than for its killers, under the circumstances. Think of the odds that your elegant salmon beat every day of its life: predators, starvation, and injury. Then it met you. Your photo shows two spoiled and bored guys who really should know better, given their proclaimed sensibilities, and a beautiful dead creature, that apparently fought hard to save herself. It is arrogant of you to call her a masterpiece. I don’t see the connection between fishing and painting no matter how tedious they may sometimes be, nor how pretty the end result. One celebrates communication, the other is cruel. I usually enjoy your posts, but this one hurt. There are 7 comments for This one hurt by Mary Diman
From: Mike Barr — Jul 14, 2011

Mary, the fact of the matter is, is that generally speaking fisherman and hunters are more in tune with nature than the rest of us who unquestioningly eat fish and meat from the supermarket. They revere nature in a way us city-folk don’t and are often at the forefront in conservation. The emotive words you have used ‘killing for fun’ does not equate with catching fish! Fish are there to be caught and eaten. The fishing/painting connection is a wonderful little analogy and rings true for many things in life.

From: Anonymous — Jul 15, 2011

Well, my sensibilities are with Mary. There’s plenty to eat without killing these sentient critters. In order to partake in that you have to suppress your awareness of the pain you are causing. You will be emotionally & physically healthier as a vegetarian.

From: Kristine Fretheim — Jul 15, 2011

Not all artists are particularly sensitive and aware. That truly “awake” sensibility shows clearly in the nuances of a painting. A muddled mind produces a muddled painting.

From: Jackie Knott — Jul 15, 2011

I could bet this comment was coming. First, I don’t know of one family who doesn’t hunt or fish for food alone. Those who trophy hunt belong to “Hunters for the Hungry,” and donate the meat so it is never wasted, which is against the law, I might add. Eating venison and freshly caught fish is necessary to manage my health and if vegetarians take umbrage, I’m sorry, but I won’t apologize for that. Crowded fish farms aren’t an aquatic paradise and feed lots are close to animal abuse and I refuse to buy the products of either … yeah, a meat eater with a conscience. The deer I dropped last hunting season with one perfectly aimed shot endured a far easier demise than the many undernourished ones we see dead on our rural roads in Texas right now. We are suffering the worst drought in a century and among the dying trees and sparce vegetation the only thing thriving these days is the vulture population. Wildlife management by hunting is a kindness.

From: Anonymous — Jul 15, 2011

To Mike,I’ve heard that boloney,everytime you say anything about killing things..

From: Tetley — Jul 15, 2011

If humans would stop eating meat, there would be very, very few humans left, period. There is no way to produce enough protein on earth to sustain its population, not even a small fraction. Vegetarianism on a large scale is unsustainable. There are laws that regulate killing of animals, and Bob isn’t breaking any of those laws. Let’s think facts, not emotions affected by personal lives. I hate all things my ex did, but don’t expect other people to behave based on my emotions. BTW, many, many ellegant animals have been killed for you to live where you live, you just choose to close your eyes to what’s inconvenient for you.

From: Faye Dietrich — Jul 18, 2011

I’m with you Mary.

  Wise idleness by Janice Vogel, Senden-Bösensell, Germany   I enjoyed your letter about fishing and seeing the photo of you with your catch. My Dad was an avid fisherman whose favourite line was, “I hope God isn’t a salmon.” Despite his efforts, he couldn’t get me out on the boat very often for fishing because I always felt I couldn’t “waste” a whole day just sitting around, trolling. I simply had too many other “important” things to do. How mistaken I was. While sitting at my father’s bedside during the final days of his bout with cancer, I was reading the book Defiant Spirits about the Canadian Group of Seven by Ross King. On page 55, King describes the Canadian painter and folk hero Tom Thompson out on a two month painting excursion into the remote Canadian hinterlands north of Lake Huron in 1911. King writes, “Thompson clearly fished for reasons beyond putting something on his dinner plate. Fishing was part of his communion with nature, an escape from civilization into …a more salubrious and elemental world. Fishing seems to have exemplified for Thomson what the novelist J. Macdonald Oxley had called “wise idleness,” which he defined as “quietly absorbing something through the eye or ear that for the time at least drowns the petty business and worries of life.” It is probably revealing that Thomson took with him on fishing expeditions a copy of Isaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler, first published in 1653. Presumably he read the book not for Walton’s advice on how to keep live bait or catch trout at night, but rather for the work’s poetic celebrations of the contemplative life. The book is subtitled The Contemplative Man’s Recreation, and for Walton the “art of angling” was a “pleasant labour which you enjoy when you give rest to your mind and divest yourself of your more serious business.” For the careworn scholar of the seventeenth century, angling was “a cheerer of his spirits, a diversion of sadness, a calmer of unquiet thoughts, a moderator of passions, a procurer of contentedness.” After reading that passage, I finally “got it”; understanding my dad’s passion for his beloved past-time. I read the passage aloud to him, although he wasn’t really conscious at the time. How I wish that book had been published a few years earlier. For the non-Canadian readers, ironically and tragically, a capable canoeist and renowned painter, Thomson died under suspicious circumstances while out in his canoe in his beloved Algonquin Park in 1917. He had just turned 40.   Browsing and taking time by Laureen McLoughlin  

mixed media
by Laureen McLoughlin

I do not write to you like all the artists do as my art is just a loved hobby. I appreciate the letters you send to me. I put them in a special envelope and go back in the evening and browse through one and take my time. I watch the videos too; they are wonderful and I want to thank you. I especially love the video where you go out into the country with your dog and sit down and paint. I enjoy you very much in my quiet moments.           Pay to play with galleries by Patricia Getha, Delaware, OH, USA  

“Two in the Bush”
oil painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Patricia Getha

I recently received an email from a New York gallery seeking to represent me for a modest (expensive)fee. Do you think this a trend that we can expect from more galleries who struggle in this economy? — galleries who already take between 30 to 50% of our sales?? If so I think we are in for a difficult time trying to reach our collector base (which I don’t have). I can’t help but feel that they certainly didn’t spend much time on my site or they would have seen that I paint primarily miniatures and all are wild or domestic animals, not exactly what you expect to find in a New York gallery. How on earth is a miniaturist supposed to recoup the cost if galleries start charging a $2000 + annual fee for “representation” and then take a 30% commission on top of that? Do artists really buy into this?? I refuse to give my art away. I would have to price my work right out of the market to recover this high cost of doing business I have numerous charities who constantly ask for donations of original art as well with the promise of “promoting” me. While I am all for supporting certain causes, I find it distressing that more and more people want me to give my work to them to support some obscure cause that has nothing to do with me or my family. I just don’t get it! I wonder if they would walk into the doctor’s office and ask them to give their services away? I would love to hear your opinion on this. I have a friend who was actually considering an offer like this. I told her to think of all the things she could buy with that $1900 (like a new zoom lens for her camera) and then I got a similar offer the next day from a legitimate gallery. I called a photographer friend who knew of the gallery and she told me they have so much work in there that it is like shopping at the local emporium. I hit the “delete” button. (RG note) Thanks, Patricia. While an occasional sale from these sorts of galleries sometimes does occur, they are not real art dealers, and most serious collectors and casual art buyers know it. Often called “vanity dealers” they are not so much interested in the quality of your art but in the quality of your dough. Their modus operandi is to do regular and efficient blanket emailings to artists they feel are still breathing. These galleries are for “Artists with $1900.00 who need to tell people they are represented in New York.” There are 3 comments for Pay to play with galleries by Patricia Getha
From: Nina Allen Freeman — Jul 15, 2011

Thanks, I have been wondering about those emails too, they seemed fishy to me.

From: Susie Cipolla — Jul 15, 2011

I got one of those emails the other day. They said that they had seen my work on Bob’s Premium Listing!

From: B. J. Adams — Jul 16, 2011

I recived that same e-mail and thought they did well naming the Painter’s Keys Premium site…….however, that was my vanity.

  Speedy action by Doug Swinton, Calgary, AB, Canada  

oil painting
by Doug Swinton

I just read your latest letter “Hook hours” and noted the Malcolm Gladwell book Outliers near the end. Clicked on it and within 2 minutes I had ordered it and had it sent to me. Do you think that in this world of instant soup, things are getting too instant? Are we losing our appreciation for things that take time? Happy my book is on its way. (RG note) Thanks, Doug. You can look at it as a new manifestation of the “instant gratification” generation or, as I try to do, see a new opportunity to have your curiosity satisfied and your learning capabilities enhanced faster than our ancestors could ever dream possible. That should make us better, smarter people, right? Not sure. There is 1 comment for Speedy action by Doug Swinton
From: Ginny from Wisconsin — Jul 15, 2011

Another instant gratification of the “new age” is that when reading a book on my iPad (Kindle app) I can gently tap any word and get an instant dictionary meaning for that word. This is fantastic! Now when reading hard copies I find myself tapping unknown words on the page and wishing that I had bought the ibook version! Boy are we spoiled now!

  Passing the hook hours around by Sharon Ely Forsmo, Phoenix, AZ, USA  

“Colour Cups”
mixed media
by Sharon Ely Forsmo

I wanted to ask permission to post this letter (The Magic of Hook Hours) on my Facebook page. I teach art at a community college and a lot of my students read my posts. (RG note) Thanks, Sharon. In almost all case we give permission for further use of the material, and Sharon’s request was no exception. We appreciate you’re asking us, as we frequently go on and look at the blogs of our colleagues. In Sharon’s case we added the suggestion to change “I” to “me” in the last paragraph in the main body. I made an egregious grammatical error and several hundred readers caught it. My deepest apologies to all who were offended.     There are 3 comments for Passing the hook hours around by Sharon Ely Forsmo
From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jul 15, 2011

My goodness, Robert – “several hundred” readers took it upon themselves to correct your minor grammatical error? It’s an easy mistake to overlook, that one.

Considering the time, effort and love you put into these letters, I would let it pass! I seem to remember commenting on here once (maybe I came to my senses and deleted it before posting!) on the modern habit of using nouns when a perfectly good verb exists. But then I thought, twice a week I receive a wonderful gift; why complain about a skew fold in the wrapping paper? ;-) If you’d been British, you would probably have used “myself” instead of “I” or “me”! Drives me nuts, so it does!
From: Janet Badger — Jul 15, 2011

If we don’t hold the line against this particularly egregious grammatical error, it will continue to integrate itself into our language. Those of us who know the difference must continue to fight on!

From: List — Jul 15, 2011

Actually, our language isn’t “our language” at all. It evolves as new generations use it. Just compare today’s English from the English of just couple centuries ago. I find those comments about incorrect use utterly boring, futile and self-important.

  Apprenticeship with time by Mike Barr, Adelaide, South Australia  

“Goolwa cloud walkers”
acrylic painting
by Mike Barr

The hook-hours analogy was a lovely read, and so true.  The proliferation of workshops and instructional DVDs can almost give the impression that these are the tools for becoming better artists. The answer of course is much simpler than that. Productive hours with the brush in which we learn about painting in an apprenticeship with time. The workshops, etc., will help us on the way for sure, but hours with a brush is the key. I have always said that if those running workshops, making DVDs or writing books on art thought for one minute that they would produce thousands of artists that paint just like them, then the supply of such things would have dried up long ago! You can’t catch fish by watching other people catch ’em!    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The magic of ‘hook hours’

From: daniela – australia — Jul 12, 2011

Loved this…all the talk, the cerebral exercises as to what makes good art, what makes an artist better…on and on and on…and I so agree with you – it is the hours, the tenacity, the work, the hanging in and doing again and again just to understand some technique. In the days when illustrators went to night school after the day of work (very early 1900’s), to improve their craft in order to be in demand at all, they were consummate artists, the comic cartoonists, the corset illustrators for newspapers, they were all amazing – they were not lucky, they worked and worked and worked at it. Thank you Robert. The best teacher I ever had said to students, “Don’t do it if you don’t love it.”

From: Darla — Jul 12, 2011

Don’t think that “hook hours” are not needed for computer art! It takes hours of practice to even learn to use Painter or Photoshop well, though most people can learn to tweak a photo in a few minutes. Many pieces of computer-created art take more time to do than would a comparable piece done with paint and a brush. The sad part is when computer artists don’t bother to learn how to draw and compose well before they go to the computer programs. Those skills are essential for any kind of visual art.

From: Eric A. — Jul 12, 2011
From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Jul 12, 2011

“How can I get to Carnegie Hall?” I like the 10,000 hour figure. And now, out to the studio to design some more lures.

From: Ellen McCord — Jul 12, 2011
From: Ulrike Chamberlain — Jul 12, 2011

I feel very strong as an art therapist of the importance for our children to create from within instead of using all the “coloring books” or ditto pages they are bombarded with any place they go because of our own conditioning as parents, adults and non art teachers. To created their own original art will help them in so many ways.

Spontaneous art is very important for the well being of all our children that helps them to go through their developmental stages. So important! We don’t tie their legs together when they are in their learning process of walking…
From: Denise Bezanson — Jul 12, 2011

Your email brought back many fond memories of fishing at Stuart Island, it was one of my Dad’s favourite places to fish in the summer, we’d take our sailboat up there for a month and fish when the tides turned, as you know it can be rip roaring through there. I never caught a fish as large as yours, it’s a doozy! But we used to spend many pleasant hours out in the tender with our hooks over the side, just being there was fun enough for me.

Thanks for bringing back the pleasant summer memories,
From: Joseph Jahn — Jul 12, 2011

Seems like all old artists, including myself have beards :-)

Analyze that ? :-)
From: Virginia Wieringa — Jul 12, 2011

I seem to remember you once referred to the time art spends on the walls in various venues as “hook hours”. You never know when one is going to get snagged off the wall. You have to have the hooks in the water! People can’t buy what they can’t see! It’s just as random as catching that gorgeous fish!

From: Jan Ross — Jul 12, 2011

This morning’s letter about your fishing adventure, and that’s SOME fish you caught, reminded me of a painting I did awhile ago. Thought you’d enjoy this painting I did of some colorful lures.. while I never caught a fish with them, I did have the painting accepted in some national exhibitions.

Congratulations on your catch and as a watercolor artist who started out in the field of cartooning, it was fun to learn about your animator companion. Maybe he’d be willing to share some of his drawings with your readers as the ‘line’ work he used to do isn’t seen much these days.
From: Sharon Knettell — Jul 12, 2011

Ah yes fishing- my uncle taught me to make my own fishing rod and put a worm on it as a wee one. Those halcyon sweet days days of my youth.

But then I grew up and realized that what was fun for me was torture for the fish. Imagine yourself being dunked over and over again into a pool of water until you drowned and someone delighted at your plight laughing on the other end. Just enjoy the landscape peacefully without causing harm.
From: Rebecca Gottesman — Jul 12, 2011

Thank you for printing my letter.

Sincerely, Rebecca P.S. I love your writings, they are always so right on!
From: Sue Ennis — Jul 12, 2011

I think it is the routine practice of making art that moves us forward as artists. One of the things that is important, as Gladwell notes, is that we have “an environment where there’s feedback”. Sometimes, we are so close to our work,both emotionally and physically, that another set of eyes can give us some helpful insights into it.

From: Rosemary Claus-Gray — Jul 12, 2011

This newsletter I’m forwarding (I hope Yahoo will accept it) talks about the very concepts we are discussing. I love this twice weekly letter from Robert Genn. Often, he is writing about the very things on my mind, in a supportive and encouraging way. You did it again, Bob! Thanks.

From: Marilyn Simpson — Jul 12, 2011

Congratulations! That fish is gorgeous. I just want to suggest that the picture is of “Steve and me,” rather than “Steve and I.”

I really enjoy all your columns. Thanks for your faithful writing.
From: Reggie Sabiston — Jul 12, 2011

Nice catch Robert! I bet your were thrilled. I would be.

From: Teresa Hitch — Jul 12, 2011

Eat local. Locavore is in. Incidentally, fishing your way is more efficient (if all is eaten!) than net fishing, and most other kinds of commercial fishing, where there is significant waste.

From: Audrey Morgan — Jul 12, 2011

I always seem to come across something to read that sheds light on a current problem. I find my time is slipping away towards committees and side projects. I feel frustrated, anxious and upset. Where do I find the time to do my ‘craft’? Your letter helped to make clearer what I already know…….”simplify. simplify. simplify.” THEN I’ll have more time to do my ‘craft’ and put in the ‘hook hours’.

From: Rihan S. Gill — Jul 14, 2011

Two lines is better than one line. You can be a little deeper on one line and shallower in the other, thus covering more area and opening your chances of hooking up. Same goes for painting.

From: Adam Diego Simmons Sonore — Jul 14, 2011

The computer may be making things easier, but at what price? We no longer have many people who can draw properly, and formerly great arts like sign writing and hand lettering are suddenly dead. This appears to be a good year for the return of salmon to the west coast of Canada and Alaska. It is the traditional human skills that are endangered.

From: Jaxine M. Cummins — Jul 14, 2011

Thank you for picking my paintings and bio for the Painter’s Keys.

You wonderful people are a class act. I’m proud to be a member.
From: Stacy Caldwell — Jul 14, 2011
From: Montgomery Bentley — Jul 14, 2011

The animation industry was born in a garage in 1930 and had its golden period for only about 25 years. You might say it was a truly unique art of the last century. Maybe that’s why so many people collect the last of the original cells–though there must be thousands of them left.

From: Jeremy Shouldice — Jul 16, 2011

Robert, you may be a naughty fisherman, but you are the most inspiring art-writer.

From: Andy Thyme — Jul 16, 2011

A few years ago Robert reported he took his first ride on an ATV way out back in Northern Ontario. Readers then dumped on him for making a noise in the woods and disturbing the moose. Then, as now, some readers need to get a life.

From: Sandi Fein — Jul 20, 2011

I have been going to my studio less this summer because of the heat but I do other things a little more crafty in place of painting. Created a sculpture painting six months ago and could not figure out how to mount it properly. Well….today I go into my studio and as I am working on my craft project….Bingo…. I figured it out the crafting actually gave me the idea! So no matter what you are doing whether it be fishing for the ultimate size fish or just fishing it helps to keep busy with something. CONGRATULATION ON THAT CATCH!!!!

     Featured Workshop: Jerry Markham
071511_robert-genn Jerry Markham Workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.

Lenticular Moment

acrylic painting, 30 x 30 inches Marjorie Moeser, NM, USA

  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 Roger Simpson who wrote, “Another thing — paintings are a darned sight cheaper to drag up than fish.” And also Marvin Humphrey of Napa Valley, California, who wrote, “I like the 10,000 hour figure. And now, out to the studio to design some more lures.”    

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