Tool kit


Dear Artist,

Jim the plumber — a man with a high profession by any standards — travels with a complex kit. He drives a full van. Pipes, pumps, ball-cocks, flapper-valves, and roto-rooters fill out a palette for his subterranean artistry. By contrast, a scene-painter’s box can be pretty simple. I was stuffing my basic travel-easel when a new friend phoned: “I want to be a successful artist,” he said, “What do I need in my kit?” That made me think that a kit might not have much to do with tubes and brushes. I asked him how many paintings he had made so far toward his planned vocation. “About a dozen,” he said, “I’ve filled up my studio under the basement stairs.”

I told him he needed six items in his kit: time, space, series, media, books and desire. This is how I laid it out for him:

Time: Set aside a time every day. It should be at least an hour, preferably a lot more. Include weekends and statutory holidays.

Space: Find a space that is always yours — where you can set up and work in continuity. It need not be large, but it ought to be yours.

Series: Do a series of explorations toward tangible goals — say 100 pieces of work in one direction or another. Then start another series.

Media: Choose a medium that intrigues you. Realize that the potential of all media are going to be greater than at first realized. Be prepared for frustration.

Books: “How-to” and art-history books are better than ever. They are your best teachers and friends. With books you can grow at your own speed and in your own direction.

Desire: Know that desire is more important than any other factor. Desire comes from process. Process reinforces desire and desire becomes love. You need love in your kit.

Getting back to Jim the plumber — there’s no question that he’s an artist in his own right. But he mostly just wants his job to be done and then he wants to get paid. What he really wants is to go to the cabaret. With life-minded artists — time, space, series, media, books and desire — that’s the main kit, and in the case of my new friend, that space under the basement stairs can be its own cabaret.

Best regards,


PS: “Painting is a self-disciplined activity that you have to learn by yourself.” (Romare Beardon)

Esoterica: No matter what a budding artist’s background, education, or point of view, he or she must ultimately go to a room and become an inventor. It is in quiet moments of struggle that both success and joy manifest themselves.


Artists’ paradox
by Cecilia Echeverría, Buenos Aires, Argentina

If we go further, you are talking about a very deep issue for artists: what are we doing, and why are we doing it? For some reason, we really want, we need to be called “artist.” Based on our talents we choose the medium, painting, writing (me!), music, whatever. But everything takes a dose of effort. Loneliness is not a good engine. Anguish does not last to take you to the top of your skill.

There’s a moment in life we understand that there is no point to keep waiting for recognition, appraisals or admiration from others. All you need is within you. This is what you are and what you can offer. The paradox is that you recognize more than ever the importance of stimulus and interaction with other persons.


Friendship in the kit
by Cathy Fink, Victoria, BC, Canada

I would add one more thing to my kit — good friendships with fellow artists who are as full of desire/passion/obsession as I am. And I am using “artist” in the broadest sense. One of my friends is a poet. Many times we have inspired each other with our images in word and paint.


Producing a series
by Phyllis McDonough

I would love it if you would describe more fully the thought and action needed to begin a series. You said do a hundred toward one goal then start another. I would like to think along these lines and get started but I am not sure what you mean.

(RG note) The idea behind “series” is to explore the potential of a given microcosm. Whether an artist is just starting out or in the stage of mature continuation-“series” can be a route to creative happiness and further success. The idea is to focus on a goal. Let’s say “daffodils.” I’m saying daffodils because they happen to catch my eye out the window right now. One might take “daffodil” and examine, explore, rotate, light, analyze, enlarge, diminish, fuse, invert and reinvent. One might choose pastel, for example, as a way to learn their subtle differences and potentials. One might choose Canson paper, for example, choosing neutral grays and/or opposites on the color wheel. The limitations you choose for yourself are as important as the variables. One might do any of a number of things with “daffodils.”


Surrender to the process
by Angelika Ouellette, Calgary, AB, Canada


Painting by Angelika Ouellette

“Desire comes from process. Process reinforces desire and desire becomes love. You need love in your kit.” Thank you for that insight and reminder. So often I am too lazy to deal with the process. My mind conjures all manner of obstacles to overcome before I can even get to a canvas so that it appears easier to leave it all for another day when things are more ‘aligned’ with the stars. Meanwhile the sands of time pour from my life and precious moments are lost from my present conscious awareness to worry, fret, and insecurity. These do not generate feelings of love. Surrendering to the process does.


“Artist” most rewarding
by Janet Badger


painting by Janet Badger

Moving often, setting up work here in a back bedroom, there in a separate little house, and again in the back of a long narrow kitchen, I have learned to make my art somewhere, somehow no matter what. And though I’ve chafed at the small size of my current reclaimed one-car garage space, I’ve done some of my best work here. I realize that though I didn’t really consciously plan it, I’ve been working on a series! And of course, my medium (I’m a printmaker) has been so infinitely challenging. I like to say that after 20 years I’ve only barely scratched the surface of Etching! My first etching class “told” me I was a printmaker, and though there were times when my results were so terrible my friends would say, Why do you struggle with that? I kept trying, and now feel I am beginning to master this craft. I can’t take credit for the talent I was born with, but I can for the craft I worked hard for, will always have to work hard for. I’ve had time, and no time…so often it’s been hard to focus on art with all the other calls on my time. Now I am feeling a sense of time running out and my priorities are subtly shifting, with Art ranking First at long last. I can look back at 20 years of artwork and see the progress, and the accomplishment; yet the blank area on the page of this year’s project list sparkles with promise; I can’t wait to see what will be listed there. Every other identity I may have is in relation to someone else…someone’s daughter, sister, wife, mother. “Artist” is mine alone. More than just a room of one’s own, everyone needs an identity of their own. “Artist” is one of the most rewarding.


Further tools for the kit
by Martha Ulakovits, Florida, USA

I would add a couple of tools to the ones just mentioned. Add “the need to create” — this goes beyond desire to create. Or, maybe there is a better word for it. I create because I have to. When I am not creating, I feel like I am in a movie. That is, I see what is going on and react to things, but I don’t feel like the real me (going through the motions of living).

And add “chutzpah.” An artist has to have what it takes to look within himself/herself as well as without and explore/experience the meanings/the processes of occurrences translating this into a form whether concrete (paint, paper, wood, video, audio, water, light, etc.), or transitory (performance, interactive, smoke, deconstruction of materials, etc.) This is the heart and soul of the creative process. It is also the most exhilarating, depressing, confusing, fun, cruel, exhausting, intense, mysterious, unsure, loving, profound, definite-living, evaluating all of your life (and others) in one moment of time! Without this in your artist’s toolkit, you are just a technician or assistant — one who looks at the product(s) of this process and seeks to copy or morph the product of creative peoples. Nothing for nothing.

Maybe one more thing, a history of being alive, not to be mistaken with being born at some point. Some people live and some are really alive!


Please lick
by Jan Zawadzki

Aw jeewhizgollygee … McLuhan again… the veritable quest of organic quipitudes to define moments of no weather. If McLuhan was so smart he would’ve deferred to Wittgenstein. Trouble there is that ain’t neither o’ the either o’ those guys gonna put perspective where it’s comin’ from anyway. It’s beyond massage mediums, y’know. Advertizing has gone to the n’th element. It’s fun stuff now. Get it? So, how do you like your coffee…crisp? I don’t think so. The evolution of words is now beyond the quippant. It is now the honest approach of definition. Trust me, McLuhan would agree but he still needs a job. Philosophy has made us again to be students of words. Poetry allows us to become students of philosophy. Philosophy makes us poets…which is what we’ve always been…painters created by zookeepers. Huh, who? me? I dunno, they made me do it. It’s their fault. I’m innocent. I only paint. Real nice stuff you can hang on yer wall. Over the couch even. Please lick. The cadmium is organic.


Art for rent
by Lila Rohacek

I met a lady from Denmark who would like to represent my art on her business site. She said what’s special is in Europe for years, people and corporations have rented artwork with an option to buy. Rental payments go towards purchase if desired. The piece is matted and framed by her company, insured, and delivered and picked up by them. I read the agreement, and the artist seems well protected. What are the possible pros and cons?

(RG note) It’s not only popular in Europe, it works just about everywhere. The great advantage in most jurisdictions is the tax situation. Art is essentially deductible as office furnishing. A typical lease-to-own agreement runs for three to five years, and carries up to 16 percent interest as well. At the end of the lease the company can buy out the lease-generally for 10% of the whole deal. This is when artworks get taken out of offices and spirited into peoples’ homes. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc., love it. It’s money they would be paying to the revenuers anyway. It’s good for artists too because it evens out cash flow and gets the works into high-traffic situations. Dealers can instigate the process, but artists can do it themselves — I know several artists who have hundreds of thousands of dollars in lease paintings out there on corporate walls.


Feeling connected
by Jacinta Madsen, Denmark


painting by Jacinta Madsen

I’m a Danish student in Philosophy. I paint in oils in my spare time. I have created a website, where I display my art. It does not contain prices — I don’t like to put prices on my work, but instead it has brief descriptions of the background history of every painting. I don’t know how this will work out, but now that I have you reading, I’ll take the chance to thank you for your letters to me. It is a great service. I can sit in my part of the world with my art and paint and feel connected to all these other artists all over the world.

(RG note) The websites of a world of artists, including Jacinta’s, can be found by going to our Premium Artists Listings. Because of the vast amount of information on the Painter’s Keys website, our links page is proving to be highly effective in bringing new visitors to an artist’s site. If you’re looking for traffic, please consider linking with us.


Books at openings
by John Ferrie


painting by John Ferrie

I’m currently painting a new collection called AQUA. The show opens on May 27th and I am very excited about exhibiting this new collection. I will be doing a limited edition print of the invitation painting. As well, I am making a book/catalog of this collection. The book measures 9″ x 7″ and is 16 pages on 100 pound quality shiny card stock, with a two page sheet of velum. I have worked very hard on this book and the results are stunning. It not only shows the series AQUA, but there is a retrospective of some of my select collections and inspirations that have brought me to this point of my career. There is a condensed CV, several Artist Statements and a terrific critique from a newspaper columnist.

My dilemma is this. Should I charge for the book? I was thinking $10.00. This way, I not only recover some of my cost, the book is costing a fortune, but it makes people want the book. I thought $15.00 was an odd amount and $20.00 is too much. My biggest fear is that if I give the book away, people will just toss them in the back seat of their car or just throw it out later. If they pay for it, this way they will want to keep it. If they buy a print for $100.00, they will get a signed copy of the book for free.

(RG note) I think you should give your book away. Here’s why. Having someone collect ten or twenty bucks is demeaning and a waste of time when you want people to focus on your originals and your prints. If the prices for your works are getting up there it’s a pain making small change, etc. Have your books handy at the opening and get someone, (even yourself) to hand them out to people and to those who ask. This makes for good will, honors certain people, and puts some of them slightly into obligation. Besides, it makes you look like a nice, generous guy, not a penny ante one. But I’ll give you another reason for giving them away. At shows and openings it’s important that customers express themselves with their wallets. Ten bucks will actually satisfy a lot of people. “There, dear, we bought something from the guy, didn’t we?” Don’t give them the chance to say this. Don’t make a fuss over the book-think of it as an ongoing connection for your art and a table top memory of the opportunity you provided. Sign the book for anybody who asks.


Am I crazy?
by Bev

I am an ex art teacher, ex artist, coming fresh again due to a trip to the Keys, fishing etc. I came back in to the white of Michigan winter with the desire to recreate the colors and the feel of the calm serenity. I have so far done about 12 paintings all similar — yet different. They are just sky and water. One has fish around the edge. I plan on making a CD to send to a few art galleries in the Keys to find an outlet. I just have to burn the CD. Am I crazy painting the same thing over and over? It’s so fun playing with the sky and water and I am thinking I want to go back again and perhaps use these as background and put in a foreground — a person, a beach, a close-up building or boat. Whatever. I don’t know whether to research flea markets if I don’t find any galleries in need of art.

(RG note) You are not crazy. Continue playing. Burn, baby, burn. Flea markets are for fleas. And inspiration.







Du Xinjian, Beijing, China


by Du Xinjian







Windy Day

oil painting on canvas
by Sergei Aparin, Belgrade


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