Mountain retreat

Dear Artist, I’m laptopping you from an ancient log cabin on Edith Lake near Jasper, Alberta. The southern view across our mountain-shrouded lake is dominated by Mt. Edith Cavell, one of the highest in the Canadian Rockies. Deer, caribou and an occasional black bear forage in open spots in the pine and aspen forests. This time of year and this far north the days are long. For the past week my daughter, Sara, and I have been paying scant attention to the outside world. In this wilderness, we have been granted extra time, extra silence, extra peace.

Sara, Ed, and a couple of ‘dales

Paintings can happen at any time — before breakfast at the cabin door or in the evening a hundred yards along the lake’s edge. This place is positively contemplative — one works to a measured muse. A great deal of painting is noticing the occasional things that you do right. Time and contemplation allows this. Lucky happenstance can be expanded upon in the next painting or savoured in the present. In my case, early areas of casual impasto patiently await modification by glazing. “Take it easy,” and “take your time” hang easily in the alpenglow and the cool mountain air. It’s not so much that the great ideas and motifs are at hand, which they are, but that present feelings are also here when you need them. Whispering treetops, a flashing hummingbird, a loon-ripple on the lake confirms the findings of many outdoor painters — plein air is an event. With Zen-like indulgence, the practitioner calms out and lives within the easel. Strokes disclose themselves and give clues to the next disclosure. Self-study and self-evaluation contribute to the flow. Picking up and putting down aids in the process — recent, half-finished sketches dry by the fire or in the sunlight. I limit myself to several small sizes and pop them on and off. Stymied at times, it’s best to leave some of them alone to simply solve their own problems. It’s amazing what a little time can do. Then there’s crit time. In the evening we set our paintings by the fire. Hot chocolate aids in the assessment. Faults not seen on the easel are spotted now, and some items begin to look better than they did before. Always, always, there is sleep — as Shakespeare wrote, “Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care.” And always there is the knowledge we will begin again tomorrow. Perhaps tomorrow’s paintings will be better.

Medicine Lake in springtime

Best regards, Robert PS: “If you are looking down while you are walking, it is better to walk uphill because the ground is nearer.” (Gertrude Stein) Esoterica: In 1908, Agnes Laut, author of the wildly successful novel Lords of the North, conceived an artist/writer colony alongside Edith Lake. Parks Canada granted limited leases to Agnes and her friends, and by 1923, when this cabin was built, a half dozen well-spaced ones were along here. Volumes of creative folks never materialized, and Laut, who died in 1936, never saw her dream fulfilled. Today, third and fourth generation leaseholders inhale their privacy, walk their energetic hounds and discuss the whereabouts of the resident elk.   Mountain retreat near Jasper, Alberta

Resident elk nearby the cabin


Medicine Lake near Jasper


Mark 5 painting contraption in action


Patty Cucman painting Aquila Mountain


We are not alone in this wilderness


Alpenglow, Mt. Edith Cavell, Edith Lake


Multiple efforts in serendipitous order


Sara the intuitive spirit

            Painter’s Eden by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA  

“Fayes Bald Cypress”
acrylic painting, 18 x 24 inches
by Linda Blondheim

I believe that all landscape painters must have a special place, an Eden where they go to restore and refresh their muse. I have such a place near me, a farm that I go back to over and over again. I have done hundreds of paintings there and with good fortune, I will do hundreds more.       There are 4 comments for Painter’s Eden by Linda Blondheim
From: Mary Bullock — Jun 18, 2010

Beautiful painting!

From: Anonymous — Jun 18, 2010

Kind of you Mary.

From: Anonymous — Jun 18, 2010

I always love your paintings! I have a painting Eden just 2 miles from my home. It changes every day…

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Jun 20, 2010

Linda, what a beautiful painting! I think many of us have our own personal Eden — a place we return to time and time again is so special. Thanks for sharing your painting.

  Tuning in by Jeanette E. McClelland   Over some 40 years I too have painted Plein Air in many BC and Alberta Rocky Mountain locations. I usually go twice a year for a week. Jasper was one of my favorite places. This Friday my Spring Painting trip begins at the Stoney Nakoda Hotel and Casino, located at the Junction of Hwy 1 to Banff National Park and the Hwy 40 to the Kananaskis. Let’s hope the Weather clears for us. Painting outdoors has infinite benefits — it feeds the Soul, and puts us in tune with the Earth. There is 1 comment for Tuning in by Jeanette E. McClelland
From: Loretta West — Jun 18, 2010

Amen to that!

  Precious week of solitude by Cindy Michaud, FL, USA  

original painting
by Cindy Michaud

I am retreating to my own mountain spot and have a week before anybody else arrives. I dreamt of creating wonderful, magical stuff and find I need to remind myself to slow down, the pleasure should be in the working it out — the learning with no accountability. Though I get caught up in “how much do I have to show” for this precious week of solitude? So today I will literally hide those that do not meet my expectations and start afresh if I can make one rock jut into the shadow as the water rushes around it then I will claim the day a winner; never mind listening to the birds sans ipod and breathing fresh air!   There are 2 comments for Precious week of solitude by Cindy Michaud
From: CjMurphy — Jun 18, 2010

I enjoy looking through this little window in the green woods of opportunity. Surprise precious couple, I can see your secret world.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Jun 18, 2010

I like this painting very much. It is delightful, and makes me see something commonplace (where I live) with a sense of discovery. What size is it? I would like to learn about the approach you used to paint it.

  Casual impasto by Nicole Pletts, Durban, South Africa   Quote: “In my case, early areas of casual impasto patiently await modification by glazing.”

“Its personal”
oil painting
by Nicole Pletts

What happens if Robert’s areas of casual impasto are glazed over when touch dry by a mixture of paint and Liquin? What about the paint underneath drying properly? I have a similar problem as I work quite thick in areas 00 however the paint leaves the brush and looks good if left as is (almost like wet-on-wet watercolour) 00 then if I want to glaze thereafter? (RG note) Thanks, Nicole. I’m working in Acrylic so the underlying paint is soon dry — including impasto passages. Oil, of course, requires longer periods between glazes, if indeed you need to glaze. Glazing and scumbling over casual impasto adds mystery and sophistication to otherwise average work. I’ve been reading about the great wildlife painter Carl Rungius, who worked in oil. Limiting himself to six or so big works a year, he was able to modify and modify and yet keep his work fresh. It can be done.   Fishing Lake Edith by Hazel Hart, Hinton, AB, Canada   Legal fishing begins on June 15th at Lake Edith. For fifty-five years my husband and I went on opening day to fish Lake Edith. Often we were on the lake by 4:00 a.m. and had our limit by 8:00. We would fish-fry on the shore and then hurry off to Hinton, our home in order to be at work by 9:00. These were memorable days and frequently I, too, painted the scenery. Such was our life and now that I am retired (and my husband gone for two years) I often recall these wonderful days on the lake.   Boundaries by Teresa Maria Widawski, Longmont, CO, USA   All day the task-master in my head has been telling me that I should put down my brush and attend to those “more important matters.” The measly two hours I painted before phone and computer work engulfed me brought ridicule. Just think what could be accomplished if I would just give up the brush! Well, I won’t but it today, Robert’s letter made me realize how important boundaries are — in general and especially, for an artist. Assuming you’ve not broached this subject in a while, would you please expand on the subject? (RG note) Thanks, Teresa. I’m afraid you have to be selfish. The way to rationalize the situation is to give yourself “selfish zones.” After one of those you can be anything to anyone, and give yourself over to the regularities of life. Both situations are a privilege. There are 4 comments for Boundaries by Teresa Maria Widawski
From: Nina Allen Freeman — Jun 18, 2010

I love what Lana Grow, watercolorist says about this – If painting is important to you, give it your best time, not your left-overs. Do it first, when you are fresh, not after you have done all your chores.

From: Anonymous — Jun 18, 2010

Thanks for that, Nina. I never thought of it that way.

From: Donna Dickson — Jun 18, 2010

I agree painting can happen anytime. While living on Hornby Is. I would get up early, about 6ish, ride my bike to Helliwell Park. Hike off with my watercolours to the first inspired spot on the trail and come singing home with a painting before breakfast.What fun!

From: Anonymous — Jun 18, 2010

Robert is right. If I feel guilty about the selfishness I look for other ways to make up for it. And really, it’s like sitting down in a full church pew: once everyone scoots down a little and settles, no one seems to mind.

  Summers at Edith Lake by Shelagh Weatherill, Vancouver, BC, Canada   I spent every summer at Edith Lake while I was growing up. We stayed in the Walker cabin which looked directly across at Pyramid Mountain. I would love to be able to paint that beautiful mountain with the evening sun on it. I can still picture all the different rose colors glowing. At the same time, my cousins stayed in a cabin down the lake which looked out at Mount Edith Cavell; another majestic beauty. There are 2 comments for Summers at Edith Lake by Shelagh Weatherill
From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jun 20, 2010

I have always been intrigued by Americans (and Canadians) talking about “spending the summer” in some holiday place. Having been told their annual leave is typically 5 to 10 working days a year (if I was informed correctly), I wonder how this was accomplished. A summer, to me, is at least four months of the year – how can anyone take so long off work? Or did poor Dad stay home while Mom and the kids went off, and he joined them on weekends?

Can someone enlighten me? I grew up in South Africa, and the only people I ever knew who came close to doing this were the family of a school teacher, who of course was on holiday, like the school children, for six weeks every summer. They had a seaside cottage to which they went every year. It has been my dream for years to visit the stunningly beautiful lakes of the US and Canada. A very far-off dream, in the physical sense. But now I am 6,000 miles closer than I used to be, so am halfway there! Maybe one of these days …
From: Anon — Jun 21, 2010

Hi Patsy, yes you got it. Most dads here work while mothers stay home with children – they spend summers away and dads join in on weekends. That’s quite common over here. I am originally from Europe and I know this sounds odd to you. In most of the Europe women work same hours as men. But, things are changing here as well lately – younger generations can’t aford a family with one income only…North Americans are starting to face that reality and don’t seem happy about it.

  Cabin #49 by Paul Alex Bennett, Victoria, BC, Canada  

“Maligne Magic”
original painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Paul Alex Bennett

I spend summers on Lake Edith and find inspiration at every turn. In fact there is so much material to draw from that one finds making choices difficult. The cottage you’re at must be at the east end of the lake where the original log cabins have all been extended and added on to. Our place, #49, was built in 1925-27 and has been kept unmodified.     There is 1 comment for Cabin #49 by Paul Alex Bennett
From: Anonymous — Jun 18, 2010

Spectacular painting. The gold and pink add refreshing contrast to the liquid blue. Makes me want to jump in.

  Ain’t it the truth? by Joe Murray, Jefferson, IA, USA  

“The Texas Wild Bunch”
acrylic and watercolour painting
by Joe Murray

Few are the genuine Muses that artists can rely on for accurate information and great artistic conversations — you provide that regularly. I cling to your bi-weekly words of wisdom as well as the letters sent in by others! Your recent adventure sounds wonderful with Sara. Enjoy and savor the experiences as tomorrow might not show up! I am fortunate to live in a secluded valley covered with wooded hills and wildlife. So, I can relate to some of your statements like, “A great deal of painting is noticing the occasional things you do right.” I think that is very important. Most artists live in solitude to produce their magic — but yet we have to crawl out once in awhile and show our subconscious revelations to others. “Living with the easel” – Yes the easel is the station of truth or failure. But it is all relative to our mindset at the time of creation. Lastly, strokes disclose themselves and give clues to the next disclosure.” Ain’t it the truth? I cherish your wisdom — as you say it like it is — and it makes us feel mortal and “normal” when we are living in the artist’s skin and make mistakes etc. Keep on Keeping On Robert! There is 1 comment for Ain’t it the truth? by Joe Murray
From: Mary Wiley — Jun 18, 2010

I think this is one of the best inspirational letters I have read. Robert, it seems that your letters get better and better and that’s saying a lot as they are all full of wonderful advice. Have a HAPPY FATHER’S DAY with Sara.

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The way

watercolour painting by Ken Marsden, MI, USA

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Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Mountain retreat

From: Ron Unruh — Jun 14, 2010

How wonderful for you and Sara to enjoy one another’s company in this share pursuit of the soul. I am glad for your sakes. Father’s Day is approaching. What a great gift Sara and her love for art is to you.

From: Monica J Olsen — Jun 15, 2010

Well, lucky you. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us out of touch peeps.

From: Paula Timpson — Jun 15, 2010


seems within pure silence, dreams flower, free yet, deep inside our son’s eyes there remains a space of solitude, awakening art!
From: Lisa Schaus — Jun 15, 2010

Again, a pleasure to share the ethereal smiles that come from being right where you are. I know this feeling well.

From: Ilse Fourie — Jun 15, 2010

This is one of the most wonderful and best letters you have written! It was with a great deal of envy as well as appreciation to share this that I read your letter.

From: Cathy Harville — Jun 15, 2010

Wow, what a great life you have!

From: Debbie Anderson — Jun 15, 2010

Sounds like a wonderful place to be. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

From: Pog Summers — Jun 15, 2010

I look forward to your letters twice a week; they contains some terrific information and subtle insights.I always read them before i head into my studio. I constantly think i will sort through and get rid of some stuff…maybe someday that will happen! In a few weeks, I head to lake wahwashkesh in northern ontario where i paint for three months in a glorious cabin with big windows right on the lake, but up high.

From: John Burk — Jun 15, 2010

A nice portrait of a painter’s ‘time out’, made all the nicer by the company of a painter-daughter. You keep on enjoying life and productivity in one neat bundle. I admire that.

From: Teresa — Jun 15, 2010

Glad to hear that you have the time and money to do it.

From: Janice Robinson-Delaney — Jun 15, 2010

I get to see an occasional solo red bird, I’m not sure that the only red bird in this area is a cardinal or not (their tails seem shorter), and since I’m fairly new to this terrain I’m not really sure that the brown birds are wrens or not, but I do often hear the songs of birds, when I get outside, and they seem to herald their own presence. I would love to see the sight of the aspens!

From: Jane Hutton — Jun 16, 2010

I read your twice weekly and live vicariously. Our son Gordon Hutton lives in Jasper and is part of a crew that are putting up a monster multi-million $ “cottage” there on lake Edith. It is sad to see this, and it is happening in all the prime real estate all over North America and other places in the World. We are lucky to have experienced some of these places in their natural states, are we not.

From: Sharon Marie Rosati — Jun 16, 2010

I want to let you know how important your “Twice-Weekly Letter” has been and is to me. I’ve been an artist since I was 16 and am now 61! I love creating and feel extremely lucky to have teaching and creating art as a part of my life. I’m waiting for an organ transplant and as I contemplate this stage of life I see more and more clearly how important art has been in my life. I am unable to do much actual painting any longer but your letters are like a cord keeping me connected to this important part of my life. Thank you for the energy put into these letters and I hope you continue to do so for many years to come.

From: Bonnie Marklund — Jun 16, 2010

I have been reading your emails for quite sometime now. I too am in my mountain retreat, however I live here. It is Valemount B.C. where people stop for coffee and stay awhile. I would like to invite you to come by. You can see my website and accommodation at I am an aspiring artist only for the past few years, who had the gall to start a gallery and get very proactive in the arts community once I moved to the beautiful community in the mountains. You see my life consumed me as a working mom and businessperson on the other side of the mountains for the past 30 plus years. Now I, with white knuckles, kicking and dragging only leave town to see grand children and shop. The I need to come back to my little town in the mountains, that not many people have discovered and get the “Alberta” out of me. Stop by for a visit and a stay, you will be surprised.

From: Gavin Logan — Jun 16, 2010

I have never read a better explanation of the word “sanctuary” and what this kind of retreat does for creative people. Artists need to move mountains to give themselves permission to go to these sorts of places, either alone or with trusted friends or relatives, if only for the benefit of their creative souls.

From: Jane Goldsworthy — Jun 16, 2010
From: Andy Wells — Jun 16, 2010

There is no substitute for contemplation.

From: Christine Middleton — Jun 16, 2010

My retreat was renting a cabin on Shuswap Lake in B C for 6 months during the winter. As many weekends as I could I would drive 2 hours to the lake to be by myself and my puppy, the lake and my canvas. I never painted with such intensity as I did there. I realized for the first time that the longer I painted in one session, the better I got. I went into another dimension and although I could hear the ripple of the water, and the song of the birds, I was totally absorbed in the painting. There was hardly anyone around, I walked on the beach, sometimes in the fresh snow and got ideas. I could ill afford the cabin, but it was worth every penny.

From: Ole Petersen — Jun 16, 2010

While there are no Danish Alps to speak of I have found peace and silence near Gedsted on Lovns Bredning in Denmark. And not in the high season. In the fall and winter by the crackling stove or out by brisk walk among the dunes.

From: Brigitte Nowak — Jun 16, 2010

Thank you for sharing. The peace and quiet, the beauty and solitude, the long stretches of time spent observing, contemplating and creating, the precious time spent with your daughter, these all come through in your letter. Beautiful.

From: Theresa Le Blanc-Bridge — Jun 17, 2010
From: Norm Mitchell — Jun 17, 2010

Robert: What you do is empowerment. It is a life — let us not lead it without expanding ourselves. Thank you.

From: Gordon Macpherson — Jun 17, 2010

Hot chocolate? Wha hoppen to Scotch? Have you two become less civilized? What’s going on? You never answer these live comments.

From: Helmut Rinker — Jun 17, 2010

I painted the highest one in the Swiss Alps (the Dufourspitze) which sits upon the Swiss-Italian border. The alpenglow (Ger: Alpenglühen) is an optical “phenomenon” and not exactly as you portray it. When the sun is below the horizon, a horizontal red glowing band is seen on the opposite horizon and reflecting upon the mountain.

From: Jean Blatner — Jun 17, 2010

I love the photos you include of your trips and the fantastic scenery is mesmerizing.

From: Caroline Simmill — Jun 18, 2010

The photos are just wonderful, what an incredible place those mountains look awesome. I am interested in Mark’s contraption it beats standing to paint all day, I wonder if it was difficult to assemble.

From: Terry E. Powers — Jun 18, 2010

Since I am a artist and we love airedales; on our fourth and last one, after a long break from dogs. Loved the picture of the boat with the two airedales!


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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