Life-changing workshops

Dear Artist, As a young artist just starting out, I took a few workshops — some of which I actually paid for. I just happened to be in Southern Spain and had the opportunity to hang out with a remarkable French painter by the name of Maurice Golleau. Limited in my understanding of French, I had to pay close attention to what the guy actually did. Limited palette, grey scale, grisaille, soft and hard edges, lost and found lines, interlocking gradations, the principles of paucity and adding mystère to dull works were all new to me. Golleau added to my impoverished bag of tricks and helped me to look realistically at the path that lay ahead. The best workshops are conducted by practicing pros who feel the need to share. Often humbled by the demands and foibles of creativity themselves, these pros can offer sincere studenthood and practical, insider understanding. Scientist and visionary Rupert Sheldrake notes, “Unfortunately, at present, practically no one under thirty goes to workshops. It’s a system of education entirely for the middle aged.” Sheldrake is mostly right about this — in a recent workshop given by my daughter, Sara, and me, the average age was about 50. Economics has a lot to do with this perplexing situation. Young people can’t always afford the travel and the high-priced help. Fact is, the workshop concept is an offshoot of the old apprenticeship system where a chosen few were mentored and encouraged. Workshops are apprenticeship-lite, and while they offer less commitment than the four years it takes to get a BFA, they can be a shortcut to professionalism. One stunning, long-shadowed evening on an Andalucían beach, wired with the spirit of Joaquim Sorolla, I watched Golleau trying to make right the light and shade of a brightly coloured fishboat hauled onto the sand. It struck me that all of us who work in refined art, no matter how talented we may be, are regularly and persistently challenged. It was one of my best life lessons. Golleau and I corresponded off and on before his death in 2001. While sometimes outspoken and frank, he treated me like a confederate. I had his letters translated. He once told me: “Vous seriez tout à fait un bon peintre, si vous avez inclus dans votre mystère peintures.” — “You would be quite a good painter if you only included mystery in your paintings.” Best regards, Robert PS: “When you approach each new work with humility, and try to foresee its unique problems, it will win your love; it will give you joy.” (Maurice Golleau, 1922-2001) Esoterica: Looking over the Painter’s Keys Workshop Calendar, I see some valuable workshops coming up. One that stands out for next spring is being given by two top-notch pros: Nancy O’Toole and Gaye Adams. It’s taking place in and around the country cortijo El Molino del Conde, near Malaga in Southern Spain. Hosts Mike and Hilary Powell are aficionados of all things Spanish and run a widely celebrated kitchen. Having spent a year in nearby Fuengirola and Mihas, I can attest to the charm, colour and white-painted dazzle of Andalucía. This, and other workshops like it, could be a life changer.   Workshops came late by Libby Shipman, San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco, Mexico  

“Beach Town Texture”
mixed media
by Libby Shipman

When I was young I was too busy trying to make a living and supporting my family to take workshops. In fact, even if I’d had the money to do so I would not have had the ability to take the time off work, etc. Even though I knew I was an artist ever since I was a little child and received positive feedback from art teachers in public schools, I never got the mentorship or support from my family. I was basically forced to become a secretary with no hope of college. So, throughout my life I took art classes at night at the community college. It wasn’t until I retired — and I had to leave the USA to do so — that I could take workshops and devote myself full time to painting. That was in 2004. I just had my first one-person show. There are 5 comments for Workshops came late by Libby Shipman
From: Karen R. Phinney — Sep 02, 2011

Good for you, Libby! I had a similar childhood. Was always praised for my artistic abilities since I was very young, but dissuaded from pursuing art as a livelihood, as it was “impractical”. But eventually I did pursue it and am very glad I did so. Congrat’s on the show…….Love the abstract! Cheers, Karen

From: Georgia — Sep 02, 2011

I like your Beach Town Texture painting. I have done the secretary jobs too but kept painting. Keep up the beautiful work.

From: Loretta West — Sep 02, 2011

Yes, I too was disuaded from persuing art as a career, told I needed to get “job skills”. I had a rewarding non-art career but something was always missing. Later in life in between jobs my parents sat me down and suggested I become a librarian?!? I pursued art and so very glad I did and I have way more “job skills” as an artist and teacher than I ever had before. Excellent painting, Libby!

From: Patsy, Antrim, Northern Ireland — Sep 02, 2011

Yup, me too. How many of us could say that despite our talent we were told we couldn’t make a living in art – “not even graphic art?” I begged to no avail. So it was drawing offices in land survey, road building, even electrical engineering that benefited from my vast talent. ;-) Plus a host of totally unrelated jobs over the years. Woohoo! I’m very excited – in two hours we set off on the first leg of our journey to Ontario, via Dublin. We will spend over a month (our third visit) in your lovely country, visiting our son and an old friend from way back. Although we’re also going to Alberta, with a side trip into the Rockies, we’ll not make it as far as BC, unfortunately – maybe next time.

From: Anonymous — Sep 02, 2011

My dad forbid me to go to art school. Now, after a career in another profession, I am developing my art career, and am quite successful. My dad still asks how much I sold, and comments on feasibility of my endeavor, feeling that he ought to grant an approval but isn’t convinced that he should. At this point, it’s starting to be funny.

  Natural or cooked up? by Ken Paul, Eugene, OR, USA  

“Sunlit tree”
giclee print
by Ken Paul

It’s hard to disagree with Golleau about mystery in a work of art. But there’s a nagging question for me around that point — where does this mystery come from? Is it mostly a matter of the painter intentionally putting it in there (with guile and forethought), or does s/he simply allow it to emerge in the process and remain there as an insoluble puzzle? Or is the mystery just an artifact of the observer’s psyche, including that of the artist him/herself? In my own practice, inscrutable factors come up in working all the time and I’ve learned to cultivate them rather than do battle with them. I’m mostly a printmaker, and I see that the inherent indirectness of most print media tends to invite features that are hard to figure out. Hemingway was quoted as saying that it’s OK to leave things out that you know, but leaving things out that you don’t know is cheating. That is where I part company with Hemingway. Perhaps he was just deeply conflicted about the writer’s ultimate inability to control every aspect of the product. There’s always an element of mystery in ANY creative opus when you look closely enough into it. There are 2 comments for Natural or cooked up? by Ken Paul
From: Coleen Franks — Sep 02, 2011

Certainly a sense of mystery here. I love it.

From: Anonymous — Sep 02, 2011

I think that mystery in art is the feeling that an artist didn’t show us everything he knows in one painting, but there is more we can expect to see from him. Anticipation of something even more interesting to come. How to put it into work? Good question – I suppose it’s inherent if the artists is swarming with ideas that his works will communicate that there is more to come. If one has many ideas, every painting is an exercise of an idea and a mindful viewer will get that.

  Touching the mysteries by Neeman Callender, Safed, Israel  

“Safed to Sea of Galilee”
watercolour painting
by Neeman Callender

I live in Safed, a thousand year old city perched atop a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee in Israel. In the 16th Century, Safed was the center of Kabbalah Jewish Mysticism, as it is still learned. As you walk through the old stone alleyways, the echoes of the hidden resonates in silence. Only if you are brave enough to stand on the edge of this veil, and let the wind blow you in and out, will you be able to touch the mysteries.   There are 2 comments for Touching the mysteries by Neeman Callender
From: Tikiwheats — Sep 01, 2011

Georgeous thoughts, georgeous painting…

From: Lana Hart — Sep 02, 2011

I felt that same echoing mysticism when travelling in Ireland gathering material for my ‘Irish’ show. I have a need to go back there and sit amidst those veils.

  Advice to workshop instructors by Catherine Constable, NS, Canada   Interesting that you extol workshops, as they are exactly what led me to the decision to attend Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University at age 61. (I start there next week.) My experience with workshops, albeit maybe this speaks more to the quality of the instructors than to the medium of workshops itself, was that the instructors taught from 30,000 feet… by which I mean that they had forgotten how much they actually knew and presumed that we students knew all the basics and were merely working on refinements. “Here, just do it like this,” spoken while having taken over the brush. A quick flourish, faster than my older brain could register, then my 30 seconds of personal instructions would be over. I concluded that the only way I could learn the basics thoroughly, deeply, was to go to art school. The proof will be in the pudding as to whether I made the right choice… but I intend to be the student-from-hell, determined to come out of the experience with the basic skills of painting. Afterward I can work on adding mystère to my paintings. I guess workshops have a place, but my caution to workshop instructors is to be cognizant of the depth of your experience and to recognize that if your students had the same, they’d be instructing workshops too. Slow down, fly closer to the earth; look into your students’ eyes and teach to each of them personally. Not every student will be ready to work on mystère There are 2 comments for Advice to workshop instructors by Catherine Constable
From: Jackie Knott — Sep 02, 2011

Bravo! I predict you will gain more knowledge from your art school experience than any student there.

From: lori boast — Sep 08, 2011

I very much hope your school experience is good. Some are, some are not. However, there are so many great books and dvds and on-line instruction available, that you can self-direct your studies as well if school doesn’t measure up. I won’t consider a workshop until I learn enough myself that my take-away is far above the basics. I consider a workshop to be a reward for goals hit through self-study and work. Have fun and learn lots, and try not to only have one method of instruction.

  Proper schools not needed by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“The Allure”
oil painting
by Rick Rotante

As for the young, the concept of going to a “proper school” today is a misnomer. Art need not be learned under a restricted and antiquated system; which turns most young people off to painting. When you reach fifty you see the value of smaller class workshops as very beneficial without need of a four year degree of rigorous traditional training. Many people paint today for the joy it brings, not for fame and fortune. They only want to get an award and be recognized in their community. These people need guidance and a way to make it all work without years of study. Someone who wishes to make art a career will need to go further. Workshops are a wonderful and useful tool to help get knowledge without having to put in those years of agony. Painting is one of those endeavors where the more you put into it the more you get out of it. Only when you are older do you realize the time and effort it really takes to succeed at it.   Being exposed to masters by Bryan Dunleavy, Titchfield, Hampshire, Southampton, UK  

original painting
by Bryan Dunleavy

About 40 years ago when I was young and clueless, I was lucky enough to spend two summers at the Emma Lake Workshops in Saskatchewan. They’ve changed the format a lot over the years, but back then the University ran credit courses as well as shorter workshops. I did the former and was there for 6 weeks. During that period a galactic collection of Eastern and Western seaboard artists came, dispensed their wisdom, and went. I don’t think I can fully convey the excitement of meeting and talking with so many experienced and practicing artists but perhaps I can sum up the value of these workshops with one anecdote. While I was busy laying daubs of paint on a Masonite panel, the late, great Toni Onley stood behind me and watched for a few minutes, and then spoke: “You’re trying to make it too complicated,” he said. “Paintings get complicated all by themselves; they don’t need your help.” I have never forgotten this, although I haven’t always been able to live up to it, but to me it encapsulates what we poor mortals can learn when exposed to masters. Long live workshops! There is 1 comment for Being exposed to masters by Bryan Dunleavy
From: Lorraine Khachatourians — Sep 02, 2011

Bryan, I live in Saskatchewan, and I went to my first workshop at Emma Lake 10 years ago. That is what got me started. Lucky for you that you went so many years ago. I am a late comer, but that workshop set me up for a continued love affair with painting since. One of these days I hope to go back for one of their residencies to just enjoy and paint there again.

  Painting in the Park by Guru Kaur, London, England   Ten years ago I retrained as a clothing designer by attending week-long summer course intensives at the London School of Fashion. In my late thirties, I was often the oldest in the course and many students were from foreign countries. When quizzed why they were attending these courses many students told me it was to learn the essential skills they knew were needed but weren’t properly taught in the degree courses they were paying large amounts for. Here in London we have a free event coming up called Painting in the Park. It is all part of encouraging people to come and use Russia Dock Woodland, set in zone 2 of London, in a good way. It feels like a droplet of the countryside which local residents want to keep that way. One thing I got out of that course was the power of artists to change the environment they paint — for the better. So far we already have 130 people signed up! There are 2 comments for Painting in the Park by Guru Kaur
From: wendy head — Sep 02, 2011
From: Guru Kaur — Sep 02, 2011

Looking forward to meeting you, Wendy, and everyone else at Painting in the Park. Have a wonderful open studio week – I’ll tell my parents-in-law about it who live in your neck of the woods.

  The awakening by Connie Cuthbertson, Fort Frances, ON, Canada  

“Wash day”
original painting
by Connie Cuthbertson

The year was 2008 and I just signed up for my first painting trip abroad. I was to meet a group of artists in Athens then head over to Crete for 2 glorious weeks of painting and exploring. I called the instructor and told her how excited I was to see the white buildings with the blue church domes perched high along the cliffs. It was then I learned I wouldn’t be seeing this area of Greece. I re-booked my flight to travel 3 days ahead of the group and went to Santorini on my own. This was the biggest adventure I’d ever been on and I was determined to see as much of Greece as I could. My first day on Santorini included a hike up the mountaintop to Ancient Thira. The next morning I was on my little terrace eating an apple and sketching the mountain I had conquered the day before. When I looked down I saw that I was actually writing, not sketching! Having never kept a journal before, I found this to be quite a surprise. So I flipped the page and began again. I never thought much of it until the last day of our workshop when the instructor asked us if we had a story to share about our experience. When I finished reading “The Awakening” I knew I was on a new journey with my art.  
“The Awakening” I have come to this place across the sea. I have been transformed – as if to another world, another life. I feel as though I have been here before. How is this possible? Have I dreamed so big that I have actually lived a previous life? The light is so pure, soft, calm and exciting all at the same time. Have I lived all of my life to finally make my way here? Is it simpler than that? Perhaps we but have to accept the doors we must cross through in life to be able to accept and experience what it is we have for today. For if I was to come here as a child, without all of my life’s “goods and bads” and see Greece for the first time, I would not be able to breathe the light, the air, and taste life again in a new way. A way that is, I am sure, intended for us each day. Today I will live in the stigmi (moment).
This was my 25th year since I began painting and had booked space at the local museum knowing I would have a great supply of sketches to work from for the exhibit later that year. I also wrote about each painting and was pleasantly surprised to see what it was I had to say. Working alongside other like-minded people in a new place, sharing ideas and opening the mind to new possibilities really has catapulted my work to a whole new level. It has changed my life.   The joy of doing it yourself by Liz Reday, South Pasadena, CA, USA  

“Chicago River at Night”
acrylic painting, 29 x 38 inches
by Liz Reday

I don’t doubt that the workshop you mentioned would be a life-changing artistic experience. However, if you have that kind of money, what is stopping folks from loading up their painting gear, going online and researching cool places to stay, booking a flight and just going? I understand that single women over the age of fifty might want the companionship and relative safety in going with a group, but as a single woman I have travelled all over the world with paintbox and sketchbook and it continues to expand my life and open my mind. I’m lucky in that I was born on the road and my parents dragged our family all over the planet. When I was old enough to leave home I took off for Italy and England and never looked back. One of the advantages of art school in another country is that it connects you with artists all over the world. An old art school buddy just e-mailed me saying that he had the use of a wonderful cottage in France for 6 months a year. When he comes to L.A., he stays with me. Another advantage in going abroad solo is that you make friends much faster, and with friends in that country, you get much more than the standard tourist experience. The usually stuffy Parisians are all welcoming smiles the minute you pull out your easel and begin to paint their lovely city. Now that I’m married and have a family, I drag them all over the planet with me. Although a teenager can get bored easily in museums, they are quite handy to have when it comes to carrying suitcases and easels now that I’m a mature traveller. Make sure the person you marry likes to travel! For those artists who have a non-travelling spouse or multiple small children, I’m sure a workshop like the one described would be a welcome change if they can afford it. Otherwise, check out your old friends, artist acquaintances, or summer art schools already set up in some picturesque town. The Internet has made us all our own travel agents, and the libraries are full of books describing how to explore every country in the world. For a completely mind-bending life-changing experience, try being a solo traveller on a budget. It’s scary and it can be lonely, but the payoff is incredible. If you have never travelled before, a group experience can be a way to dip your foot in the water. But don’t let the fact that you are a female over the age of fifty stop you from venturing forth. Think of it as a sort of “Outward Bound” for the creative set. Personally, I detest the group experience and wild horses couldn’t drag me onto a cruise ship, (unless I had a personal invitation from David Hockney & friends). I can’t handle group tours, tourist excursions lasting more than an hour, or being herded about like a gaggle of sheep by a man carrying an umbrella pontificating endlessly on obscure architectural doo-dads. With an i-Pad and a chip for each country, you can pull up a city map from anywhere in the world and read about the history, art, food and people while tracking exactly where you are and how to get to anywhere else. You can carry the equivalent of a library of travel books on a Kindle, take public transport like a local, stay in a small cozy pension and eat in out-of-the-way restaurants, well away from expensive tourist traps and their exorbitant bills. We just spent six days in Budapest and only had to take a taxi once! Also, there’s so much fun in planning, researching and saving money by constructing one’s own personal itinerary. You may start out alone, but before long it’s easy to hook up with other ex-pat travellers, making new friends as you go. Women over the age of fifty may not have the physical stamina that they had in their twenties, but they have the wisdom of experience and are better able to blend in with other groups of local women and their children, where sign language and body language make for the best communication of all. There is 1 comment for The joy of doing it yourself by Liz Reday
From: Lorraine Khachatourians — Sep 02, 2011


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Life-changing workshops

From: Daniela — Aug 29, 2011

This was very interesting but, I could not find any image of Maurice Golleau’s art online.

From: Louwtjie Kotze — Aug 30, 2011

Workshops are some of the best ways to learn new techniques, etc. I love watching another artist at work and learn much in that way. I am also a teacher and love to share what I know. An artist friend of mine and I, are organizing an Art Retreat in Clarens, South Africa, where we are going to have daily workshops re colour, pricing your art, marketing and selling your art, painting tips and much more and our retreat is almost fully booked.

From: Darla — Aug 30, 2011

Workshops are wonderful ways to expand your art. Sometimes it takes me years to incorporate the techniques, but it’s great to have them when they are called for. I agree completely with your mentor — mystery is the difference between a good painting and an irresistible one. If the painting is technically good, mystery will sell it or at least make it memorable.

From: Roderik Mayne — Aug 30, 2011

Another great article. Perhaps the subject of anpther one could be “adding the mystery;” what is is and how to do it. Thanks agtain.

From: Nicki Hileson — August 30, 2011 — Aug 30, 2011

About 40 years ago I took an oil painting class from Sergei Bongart in South Eastern Idaho. I knew nothing about him or his style of painting at the time but I thought he would teach me how to paint in a photo realism style. How wrong I was. I was very young and inexperienced at the time and I really had no idea what I was in for. He influenced my taste in painting tremendously. It was facinating to watch his demonstrations. I would describe him as very confident, self-assured and flamboyant. He was a proponent of a “WHITE” pallette so you could really see your colors and he had no patience for squeezing out little dabs of paint — he would squeeze out 1/4 of a tube — no problem. I was actually afraid of him probably because of my inexperience and lack of confidence. Our personalities were opposite. He insisted that his students paint loosely and I saw him get so frustrated with students who appeared to not follow his instructions. He could be rather abrasive — I saw him wipe the paint off a student’s canvas and tell her to do it over. I don’t know how I dared, but I stuck it out. He told me I had a good color sense but that my drawing could use help, but not to worry because drawing can be learned. He said you were born with/without a color sense. I will be forever grateful for the experience. I’m sorry I didn’t realize at the time what a master he was. I would love to take another class from him at this stage in my life. My perspectives have changed a lot and I’ve had a lot more successful experiences painting. I’m sure I would gain so much more from it now than I did then but I will forever look back on it as a highlight and a life-changing experience.

From: Linda Cardella — Aug 30, 2011

“Vous seriez tout à fait un bon peintre, si vous avez inclus dans votre mystère peintures.” Perhaps he had a special way of writing but my translation of this oddly spelled and phrased sentence, if these were indeed his exact words, would be: “You would be quite a good artist, if you have included paints in your mystery.”

From: Fredericks — Aug 30, 2011

I recently had the joy of attending a workshop led by Edward Abella and hosted by the Ontario Plein Air Society. It was a joy to study under such a kind and instructive artist. The value of workshops is that they give you an opportunity to break through your artistic insularity and challenge you to see things from a different perspective. Edward taught me to see a picture wholistically and I took a big step forward in my growth.

From: Ben Novak — Aug 30, 2011

Robert, the quote from Golleau does not read correctly in French. Did he really put it that way? “, si vous avez inclus dans votre mystère peintures.” Would it not be : “si vous aviez inclus de la mystère dans votre peinture”.

From: Mary Ann Pals — Aug 30, 2011

I’m really really liking your words in your most recent letter, “Workshops are apprenticeship-lite.” Have to remember that one. One thing I’ve noticed in giving art lessons and workshops, the key to getting the younger folks to sign up is to have one very brave, outspoken teenage student sing your praises to their art minded friends. Suddenly they come running like bees to honey.

From: Paul V. Azzopardi — Aug 30, 2011

I know this one is difficult but here goes… does one achieve mystery in painting?

From: Ortrud K. Tyler — Aug 30, 2011

Ah Robert, the mysteries of life. Relationships are mysterious, painting has mysteries, happenings in general are mysterious, it is a miracle ( also mysterious) that we muddle through. But we do and if you mysteriously can command a sense of humor and don’t take yourself and things too seriously, that works too. Mysteriously, I am drawn back to my easel and will try to get the famous mystery into the d…. painting. Paint, happily paint – advice given to me years ago by a pretty good workshop instructor.

From: Virginia Wieringa — Aug 30, 2011

I think young people are hesitant to take workshops because of the cost involved but also because you don’t get the all important college credit. If you could apply a workshops toward a degree there might be more interest from that demographic. Perhaps colleges should offer a semester full of workshops by different professionals. They’d get participants from the whole population, though one of the best things about a workshop is its compactness and intensity in time. I suppose that wouldn’t lend itself well to the semester system. I’ve taken workshops with two masters of the genre: Kathleen Conover and Linda Baker, both of whom taught me more than I learned in any college art class.

From: Linda Blondheim — Aug 30, 2011

Regarding age, I have noticed that there are few young painters coming up in the Florida landscape-plein air genre. The paint outs are full of 40+ year old painters and most of the really good painters are 50+ I sometimes wonder if landscape painting is a dying art? Where are the young guns?

From: Denise Schlawin — Aug 30, 2011

I wholeheartedly agree with the statement “no one under thirty goes to workshops.” I can understand why. When you are in your thirties, you have a family and a job and cannot afford to attend–especially if this involves taking time off work to attend a workshop. What I have found, at least where I live, is that most workshops are run during the day. This prevents the artist who works, from attending. I attend as many workshops as I can BUT I work and can only attend the ones run on weekends or in the evening.

From: Bruce Meyer — Aug 30, 2011

This was the first time I’ve heard the term “refined arts,” which is obviously what we ought to mean by “fine arts.” I’ve often been confused by the term ‘fine arts’ and now it feels like I’ve known it all along, which is a sign of genuine insight. This letter is so good that I forwarded it to a small circle of my friends.

From: Barbara Moseley — Aug 30, 2011

I have a great-nephew, 18, who is just beginning his freshman year in college. He is quite accomplished with colored pencils, and has won several local contests and had his work exhibited at the Arts Council gallery in our suburb of Charlotte, NC. He is now interested in oils, but is not experienced in this media. I would like to give him an experience that he will not get in the classroom, such as a workshop. I have looked at your workshop calendar but am at a loss as to which workshop would be of most benefit to him. Do you have any suggestions? His parents will not let him leave the country alone just yet, so something domestic would be best.

From: Louise Francke — Aug 30, 2011

Never could afford the money or the time to take a workshop! Did take some local university courses with some visiting notable maverick painters & printmakers. Most of all I learned from trying to copy the masters and put my own twist on their works. These are the very works I’m so reluctant to sell. They are my morale boosters and ad a touch of humor to my life!

From: Paula Timpson — Aug 30, 2011

the workshop within~ this is the greatest of these~ freedom in simply creating with Spirit as guide, Forever, blessed~!!!!!

From: Joyce Wycoff — Aug 30, 2011

I hope you will show us some examples of “mystery.” I love the idea and would aspire to it if I only had a clue of what it meant. Thanks for all you do … you are a constant inspiration.

From: Sari Grove — Aug 30, 2011

If your French transcribes what your mentor said then in fact what he said was this: “You would be quite a good painter, if you included in your mystery paintings.” Which is far more philosophical & French… *perhaps you skewed the words… * or perhaps he was implying that you have mystery, but need to add paintings to that mask… *or perhaps he was saying that he liked your “mystery paintings”, but you didn’t & kept discarding them… At any rate, the skew makes whatever he said mysterious… * Maybe he is teaching you into the future to be more dyslexic on purpose…More abstract & less realistic?

From: Doris Olsen — Aug 30, 2011

In trying to give back to my community with workshops on light & color, I find the response to be very slow in this economy and wish I could light a fire under our “would-be intermediate artists.”

From: Kim Knoll — Aug 30, 2011

I just returned to Halifax from my travels out west and I wanted to send a note to thank you and Sara for sharing your wonderful gifts with us at Hollyhock. I feel so grateful for the opportunity and for the steep learning curve. I will admit to feeling stinging inadequacies at times, and fumbling about with all things new and different, but it was a growing experience. I am a devout loner when it comes to painting, unable to focus if any trace of a voice is near, but after a time I felt an ease set in. I live next door to, and walk daily, Point Pleasant Park that hugs the seawall, I now see it with new eyes and with new opportunities. I thank you for gifting me that “art of possibility”. It was also a gift, simply to observe the two of you, you offer a unique combination of complimenting passions and talents to your onlookers. What I valued most was the absence of ego, your openness to share yourselves and the honesty of your journeys, and Sara’s beautiful open and compelling heart. You both make it look like playing in the schoolyard, I thank you for all of that.

From: violetta — Aug 31, 2011

Simply put, the man said: Your art requires mystique. I hope, Robert, that now you will elaborate on mystique – of technique? of content? of ? Thank you, I think we would all love to hear about it.

From: Darla — Aug 31, 2011

About adding mystery: One way is to think like an illustrator. The illustrator’s job is to get the reader to buy the book, period. So you paint an interesting scene from the book, so that the reader wants to find out what is happening in the story. An artist can add mystery by sort of illustrating a story that hasn’t been written yet. You can add visual mystery by putting in partly concealed items, hints of things, lost edges, incongruous items and things that lead into other things. You can put things together that are visually similar but otherwise have nothing to do with each other. In a landscape, you might make the viewer wonder just what is around the bend of the river or road, or behind that tree. You could put in an animal or person who is on their way to do something else. One abandoned shoe by the road is a rather unsubtle mystery. A still life can have any number of mysterious items: a watch, a metronome, old books or letters or tools, spilled flowers, old toys, partly eaten food. The main thing is to leave enough space for your viewer’s imagination to work, and a few tantalizing hints for him to build on. Don’t spell everything out for him by painting every last detail. I love to hear the stories that people come up with when they see my paintings — sometimes they’re quite surprising.

From: Robin d’Arcy Shillcock — Sep 01, 2011

Workshops are a joy to do, especially when it means painting in the field all day long for a week! I’ve been teaching plein air painting in France for 17 years, workshops that cater to a French public, besides the odd workshop in Netherlands and Sweden and an occasional “quick-firer”, a day of sketching at the local zoo with individual students. My students come from all walks of life, their skill levels vary greatly and the majority are over 40 while a fair proportion are retirees. Many have cherished life-long aspirations in painting landscapes, and I’m there to cajole and tickle them along. It’s a wonderful feeling to see a person advance in his or her endeavours and I’m just there to help them along. But I get repaid in various ways, like getting to perfect my French and learning about France from the inside out. Having acquired a teacher’s degree in the arts helps, but of major importance is my own experience in painting en plein air. Having vivid recollections of my own great failures when a budding artist helps to keep me sensitive towards students. I now know that in butting my head against what seemed like a solid wall was in fact me learning, for there is no easy way to learn to paint — notwithstanding the worldwide success of Bob Ross’ How To dvd’s. Every student has to go through an often painful process of falling down again and again & pulling himself up each time. Why? Because every new painting is a bit of a struggle and you need to have learned how to get through the sorry moments with “failure” stamped on them. In France watercolour is big. I call it the art of making stains, and the art of letting water do the job. Making a watercolour in the field is very much like life itself: you stumble from catastrophe to catastrophe, trying to make the best of things in between. Could it be that this is difficult for younger people to accept? Could it be that the almost instantaneous, high perfection of digital imagery is creating a rift between the modern way of procuring images and the traditional way? Sure, young people might not be able to afford the cost of travel and tuition, but maybe they simply make different choices, preferring to catch up on new electronic gadgets and spending holidays all over the globe. I hope I’m wrong. A friend who has been teaching youngsters the technique of cutting pieces from stone for over forty years told me that way back the kids would start rolling up their sleeves and jostle each other to be the first to begin, while nowadays the kids stand back because they don’t want to get their clothes dirty and always ask the same questions: How long does it take? How much will I make? Groningen, Netherlands

From: Elly Hobgood — Sep 01, 2011

While days may get busy – and some downright frantic – I always look forward to your thoughts that travel to me by e-mail. Thank you so much! You do make a difference!

From: Raymond Chan — Sep 01, 2011

In today’s world the apprenticeship system is unnessessary. It was started before the popularity of books, when most learning took place on a one on one basis. Nowadays a self motivated person can get good on his own.

From: Violetta — Sep 01, 2011

Thank you, Darla, well put.

From: Jewel Reavis — Sep 01, 2011

To Barbara Moseley, there are many local teachers in and around Charlotte. Andy Braitman, Holt McLean, Tina Steele Penn, Curt Butler. Many local art groups have classes or teachers available. Charlotte Art League, Guild of Charlotte Artists, Charlotte Artists Society. Cheap Joes and Binders art stores both have classes. Hope your nephew finds something that fits him.

From: Sandy Donn — Sep 02, 2011

To Barbara Moseley: why don’t you let your nephew pick his workshop. . .he will know which artist appeals to his particular needs. Then fund it for him! You could share that process together. He’s lucky to have you. . .

From: Eve Bennett — Sep 02, 2011

I had a much loved instructor who, before a critique, would stop me in my tracks with,”Duct tape ,Eve, duct tape.”. For I had a habit in a minutiae of detail what I was trying to say with my work. I have since learned that once my work is on the canvas, so to speak, it belongs to the viewer. Thank you for your insightful writings.

From: Sally Jackson — Sep 02, 2011

Thank you Robert for…well, where to begin! But recently for the Anthony Jenkins cartoons–his recent Globe and Mail front page of Jack Layton was brilliant; understated (albeit with both eyes), warm and unmistakeable. A stunning lesson in paucity.

From: mars — Sep 02, 2011

Like ur comments in this segment —  mystery — is the magic word — how do we know when we have it? to some it may seem like something — is —  to others — not!!! Hope ur next article will enlighten us on all this!!! Yes- workshops are too hectic — not enough time 2 think —  things out —  before beginning — I’d say. Often look at just a water painting —

    Featured Workshop: Nancy O’Toole and Gaye Adams
090211_robert-genn7Nancy O’Toole and Gaye Adams Workshop, El Molino, Spain   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Heading Home, Spirit of Bermuda

oil painting, 24 x 36 inches by Bernard Poulin, Ottawa, 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 Raynald Murphy of Montreal, QC, Canada, who wrote, “The French quote should have read: ‘Vous seriez tout à fait un bon peintre, si vous avez inclus du mystère dans vos peintures.’ ” (RG note) Thanks, Raynald, and everyone else who helped me with my French. I actually reverse engineered that quote — that is, I remembered the translation but took it to Google Translate which gave it a bit of a bad curve. I’ll do better next time and yes, Raynald, I’ll ask you next time.    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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