Looking inward


Dear Artist,

Today I crawled back into my space. After the hyper energy of the outer world, the East, pushing and shoving, sights seen, gifts collected, philosophies touched. This room, this untidy room, now tidy from my absence, the home of my work, this studio.

There’s the old clock humming. The same paint-rags. The forgotten aroma of art. The brush dips into the modeling paste, the titanium white, the burnt umber. The “acrylic medium gloss” feels good. After the overcrowded world, the shaking aircraft, I’ve come to the conclusion that if there’s any place I can make it, it will be here. All that reference will have to wait. Do you ever have the feeling that you just want to do it?

To the side of my palette I’m making a little list: The sheer sensuousness of the color sitting up and laying down. The privilege of knowing more or less how to draw. The thrill of grabbing the right complement. The realization that most things are a puzzle anyway. The luxury of gradation. The satisfaction of figuring out and enacting the best glaze. The joy of busy areas. The fun of toning down. The trick of finding out what it is that you’re doing. The love of calm. The developed skill of seeing. The determining of what’s wrong and then fixing it. The excitement of color surprise. The Zen of watching paint dry. Getting the lick of your dog. The satisfaction of letting the answering machine pick up. The prickly happiness that breaks out when you have the delusion or the fantasy that what you have just done is a piece of quality. The anticipation and possibility that the next one might be better.

Best regards,


PS: “Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Esoterica: It may not be easily earned. But when you know in your heart that a cycle can be repeated — not identically, or even nearly in the same way as before — but through a similar process, you own something. What you own is: “I can do this.”

The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.


Modeling paste
by Sandy Triolo

What are you using the modeling paste for and can I do it with oils?

(RG Note) Modeling paste (in many different varieties) is added to acrylic to make it more like oils, achieve thick passages, give specific surfaces, (gritty, fibrous, plippy) or build up for other techniques. In oil you basically don’t need it — although there are some thick oil mediums available that give more juice to your strokes. Flemish medium or Megilp is linseed oil and mastic resin combined with zinc oxide and turpentine to form a jelly-like base that gives a buttery texture. Other oil products go under the name of Impasto medium, Rembrandt painting paste, etc.


Complementary color

You mention choosing the right complement. How important is that? (several writers)


“January, Rio Grande River Basin”
acrylic on Crescent watercolor board
by Stephen Quiller

(RG note) A matter of personal taste and what you’re aiming to have happen. I’ve been paying more attention to opposites on the color wheel lately — particularly since working out with Stephen Quiller. Among other things I’ve been interested in analogous or limited color schemes with a single color surprise. Recently I’ve been playing with full blown, high key, equal intensity complements — if only to see how they work. You can get some information on this by going back to the October 2, 2001 letter on the Quiller Wheel and following the links to other information. http://painterskeys.com/the-quiller-wheel/


Homesickness a state of mind?
by Faith Puelston, Germany

Thirty-five years ago I left my country (UK) and came to live and work in Germany. It was a great adventure. During the next 30 years as an opera singer I saw most of Western Europe (though often enough it was just the airports, train stations, hotels and opera houses). For many years I was desperately homesick. I went through marriage, raising children and finally divorce. Then in 1994 I actually returned “home”, thinking I would be joining up the missing link in my life. It took me less than 6 months to realize that the homesickness was really a figment of my imagination, for now the situation was reversed and I didn’t really want to be there either. So I came back here to a new home and started all over again at an age when most think they have everything settled and secure. Outside nothing much had changed. But inside I was different. I had no delusions left about the grass being greener somewhere else. This time round I have found some peace of mind. Then I think about all the millions of people displaced through no fault of their own, I think I am lucky to have familiar things around me (wherever I am), my children nearby (but fiercely independent), my little cats, my piano, my paints, and some good friends (the order is not hierarchical). I believe we leave part of our identity everywhere. But we also take something away, and “home” is the compendium of everything and everybody we have ever experienced in one way or another, and that includes the conflicts as well as the contentment. How wonderful, then, to be able to share a “home” through the medium of art, music or perhaps literature


Vanity press
by Joanna R Ballard

Recently, I engineered a national call for artists through the Women’s Caucus for the Arts, to respond to the theme “women of the veil” and in collaboration with World of Art magazine. World of Art magazine, is a new vehicle for artists to “advertise themselves globally.” It costs, but less than Artnews, etc. The women officers decide they didn’t want to do it, calling the magazine a vanity magazine. I am aware that a vanity magazine is one where the artist pays, but I also know that Artnews, American Artist and Art in America are not going to walk up and ask one to put their wares in their magazine on a daily basis. Being that this issue would have had international exposure, both in Kuwait and Iran, I felt solid about it.

Would you do a newsletter on the pros and cons and definitions of a “vanity press”?

(RG note) Thanks, Joanna. Good idea. I’d like to look into this. I’d also like input from artists with experience with these publications. You can of course send this information in confidence if you wish.


Cat stuff
by Wayne Norgaard

That’s some serious cat stuff in the last clickbacks. Your readers are a very narrow bunch if they let a letter about another culture offend them so much… and how hypocritical if they then sit down to their tables and eat a pork chop. Pigs are smarter than dogs, and I LIVE for my dog. Your selectively naive and complaining readers should take a trip to their local slaughterhouse if they want to get offended with the unpleasantries of their role at the top of the food chain. By the way, who decided that it was your job to lift everybody up from their depression and stick to fluffy stuff all the time… art mirrors life, and life is gritty and sad and beautiful and cruel and heartbreaking and ugly and fantastic. Shame not on you but on the Pollyannas who cannot recognize this and acknowledge it.


by Sherry Purvis, Georgia, USA

I do not read your letters with the hopes that you will be able to make or break my moods. Yes, there is plenty of bad out there, but you are not responsible for how mankind does what is right or not. We are responsible for our own actions and hopefully through those actions we can help mankind as opposed to hurt. Those individuals who think that all you have to give is the positive side of creativity just don’t understand reality.


by Kathleen Putnam, Chicago

I just finished reading some of the responses to your letter on the cats in the Chinese restaurant. I understand that some people are cat lovers, but these are facts about other cultures. I did not think that you presented it in a disturbing way. I think that it correctly represented your response to the situation that you were observing. I sensed your shock at the normalcy of it in that culture. I do not sense a downward spiral in your letters recently. I have, quite to the contrary, found them a sharing of the spiritual things that you were feeling, a reverence. I have personally found that email allows people a freedom with words that they would not normally take in person, because of the anonymous nature of it. I appreciate you taking the time to write the letters and have found them personally uplifting and informative.


No simple answers
by Judy Aldridge, Victoria, BC, Canada

I consider myself an animal advocate artist. I will be graduating from The Victoria College of Art in April 2002 with my Diploma in Fine Art. In your “cat letter” I really felt your need to let that little cat know that you cared about its life though you were unable to do anything about its fate. So thanks for making the “X.” In a way you’ve marked that little cat in your heart and in my heart, the hearts of others and those who know there are no simple or easy answers to animal welfare and rights. As an artist I explore this subject over and over. I don’t understand cruelty to animals or anyone. I am vegetarian and I often ask people, “Why eat one animal and pet another?”


by Margot Hattingh, Cape Town, South Africa

You really are nasty — you confront me with my own self-deception and comfortable lies. I felt nauseated by the graphic description and my own overly developed imagination — so much so that I didn’t want to read any more letters from you and viewed the computer with deep suspicion and mistrust. After a couple of days to recover from the shock I started thinking more deeply about the principles involved. In actual fact what makes eating cats any worse than cows, sheep or chickens? How nauseated would I feel if it were rats/lobster being chosen? Or, in fact, is eating any or all of these creatures nauseating and unprincipled? Imagine how those who see cows as being profoundly sacred feel when they see McDonalds’ golden arches? How do I reconcile seeing cute cartoons of happy chickens while simultaneously ordering chicken livers, peri peri from a local take-out? I love the taste of lamb chops, medium-rare sirloin steak, pork roast (crackling!) — all these deeeeelicious foods. I suppose I’m going to have to give them up now. I’m never going to forgive you for bringing this once more to my attention, though I’m probably going to have to keep on reading your letters.



You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 95 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2001, including Kristin Dorfhuber, of Sweden who says, “I can only tell you, my studio is my castle and the most time I find the peace in my soul there or in the nature.” And Barbara Mason of Portland, Oregon who says, “There’s no place like home.”

The Studio — Eleanor Blair, Gainesville FL, USA

my heart
my simple life
my empty room
my home

where I am myself

where the edges are clear
where the light is constant

where I live.

Full Circle — T.S. Eliot

‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

……A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)……..’

(from the final passage of Little Gidding, Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot)

This came to mind immediately when reading “Looking Inward.” The contrast between your return to the studio after the Mackenzie Delta trip and your return from the Far East is apparent. (Beryl Bainbridge)


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