Sitting on a pile

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Coco Treppendahl of St. Francisville, Louisiana wrote, “I have lots of unfinished paintings in my studio. I kind of know what needs to be done but I much prefer to start anew. Is this typical? Do you have any advice on how to inspire completion? Or is this some sort of psychological issue?” Thanks, Coco. If it’s a psychological issue, then it’s an epidemic. Some artists complete one at a time and then get on with the next, but they’re the exception. Being forever dissatisfied and unsure is more commonplace and probably better for the art. Before we get you on the couch, here are a few thoughts: There’s wisdom in abandonment. Very often a painting is telling you it has “permanent fatal errors.” Ill-conceived to start with, these unrealized works are part of the process — mere sorties on the way to better ones. In abandonment there is knowledge. On the other hand, if you accept that desire is the greatest thing in the world, there is always a possibility you can turn lead into gold. To do this you need to try to figure out what’s important and what’s not. Casting your eyes around at your orphans, the workable ones rise in your vision and become more desirable to your hands. As Steven Pressfield says in his excellent book, The War of Art, “You must do what’s important first.” At any time, beginning or finishing, you also need to know your span of concentration. We’re all different. As a poor-finisher myself, I’ve found that before starting out on projects, I need to think ahead to my chances for completion. I try to get a rough idea of the approximate work periods, problematical passages and potential joy zones ahead. My forecasting doesn’t always work, but it’s generally worth doing. Coco, if you’re like me doing the heel-and-toe polka to get through your studio, you need to have a day of sorting. Divide unfinished work into three categories — possible, borderline and impossible. Relegate the latter to somewhere off the premises, to be revisited much later as reusable canvases or as re-primed gifts to the needy. If you don’t, those really poor starts will drag you down and jinx you. On the other hand, brilliant finishes can often be had among the possible and the borderline. Best regards, Robert PS: “The triumph of anything is a matter of organization.” (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.) Esoterica: There are many reasons why we don’t finish our work. Fear of failure and fear of success are two of them. A friend I’ve known since university is still in university. At 68 years of age he has several degrees, a Wiki mind, and the concentration span of a gnat. He’s disorganized and unemployable. I’m okay saying this because he loves to talk about it. Fact is, he’s comfortable on the yellow brick road and seldom feels the need to get to Oz. Some people are like that. Question is, do you need to be another one of them?   A Conversation with Robert Genn Robert speaks! Today, Leslie Saeta and Dreama Tolle Perry had a one hour conversation with Robert Genn on Blogtalk radio. Take a listen at Artists Helping Artists     Accident opened opportunities by Bill Stephenson, Santa Rosa Beach, FL, USA   Recently, I had an accident injuring my left shoulder such that during recouping I was not able to do a big part of my usual creative process — I embellish wood-turned objects. Fortunately I had accumulated a couple of boxes of unfinished works. While the creative mind continues to run, especially when the mind is otherwise idle, the unfinished works became my canvases to continue and even perfect some rusty skill sets. I have thusly concluded “Sitting on a pile” can be a godsend.   Techniques for tackling the pile by Rosalyn Cherry-Soleil, Toronto, Ontario, Canada  

“Drama Masks”
12″ x 34″ needlepoint
by Rosalyn Cherry-Soleil

How about rearranging the categories of the unfinished pile: I would prefer to think of sorting the pile in order of which one is ‘speaking to me.’ Let the most intriguing one come to the top. My enthusiasm for the piece will carry me through all sorts of creative problems. Time will become irrelevant when I don’t want to stop working on the piece. I’ve even made lists, putting my preferences into sequential order. Another technique is to take my three preferences, then work each in a 10-hour rotation. When one is complete, add the next one on the list. I work in needlepoint art and that’s a very slow process. However, I’m now completing a 10-year project, have just completed a 3-year project and another 3-year one is almost done. I just have to get a handle on what fascinates me at the moment of choosing — where can I expand and express myself most.   There are 4 comments for Techniques for tackling the pile by Rosalyn Cherry-Soleil
From: Sharon Knettell — Dec 06, 2011

Elegant and surprising.

From: Bev Bunker — Dec 06, 2011

Sharon, stunning work…absolutely gorgeous.

From: Bev Bunker — Dec 06, 2011

Rosalyn, this is for you! And Sharon, yes, your work is stunning too!

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Dec 06, 2011

The art of making circles in needlepoint is an art in itself. These are masterful works of that art. From the V.O.E.(the voice of experience).

  A gem out of the closet by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA  

oil painting, 9 x 12 inches
by Warren Criswell

I usually finish one painting at a time, but the other day, when attempting to clean up my studio, I discovered in the closet a little painting I had started back in 2001 from a sketch I had done during a concert of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. A visiting piano soloist was playing a concerto, but I’ve forgotten who he was, what concerto they played, or why I abandoned the painting. It was just a sketchy 9 by 12-inch underpainting on linen. Maybe I thought it wasn’t working, or got on to something else and forgot about it, I don’t know, but now it looked good to me, so I put it on an easel and finished it — actually just reworked and overpainted the center part of it because I wanted to preserve some of the sketchy underpainting. So there’s an example of a painting that took ten years to paint. Still an orphan, but now that it’s out of the closet maybe somebody will adopt it. There are 6 comments for A gem out of the closet by Warren Criswell
From: Angela Treat Lyon — Dec 05, 2011

I wish there was a ‘like’ button on each image so we could make quick likes — this is a beautiful image?

From: Pranay — Dec 05, 2011

What a painting! It would have killed it had you painted it completely, I really loved it this way.

From: Vernita Hoyt — Dec 05, 2011

I like that you left some of the sketchy underpainting showing through. The painting is so much more interesting than had you brought it all to the same level. Your center of attention really stands out now. Very nice!

From: Louise Francke — Dec 06, 2011

A treasure lost and found again with just enough touch up preserving the original fervor. Very nice!

From: lat8blumr — Dec 06, 2011

When I look back at my unfinished pile, I am looking with my older eyes and hopefully increased knowledge gained from daily painting. Often only a small change here and there will make it work. And for the ones who won’t surrender — there’s always ‘Crop Day.” I can usually find 2 or more smaller successful areas by moving a small mat around.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Dec 06, 2011

It was worth the wait! Seeing this, I also thought it would be nice to have a “like” option…but, maybe the fact that there isn’t encourages the dialogue!

  Questions raised by BlogRadio interview by Claire Remsberg, McCall, ID, USA  

“Summer Morning in Green & Gold”
oil painting, 12 x 24 inches
by Claire Remsberg

In your BlogRadio interview, I’m curious where you saw the trivia tidbit that 80% of active artists in North America are women. This is fascinating. What implications do you think this has on the art world, present & future? Another question — How do you recommend an artist charge for commission projects? Is it reasonable to charge more than a similar piece heading to a gallery? If so, why and can you give a guide as to how much? I feel like commissions pose extra challenge and risk, but I’m not clear how I can clearly justify this to a client. (RG note) Thanks, Claire. One need only look at the current sex ratios at art schools, workshops, seminars, art clubs and guilds. Our subscription list is a good guide too. It’s currently 78% women. The BlogRadio interview was conducted by two bright women and all of the 20-odd topics covered were presented by women. Women may be individualists, but they network. Implications? — the great artists of the 21st Century are going to be women. Regarding commissions: In my case I charge the same as the gallery price for the same size. Many artists ask a premium — generally 10 to 25% more. I agree, commissions can be disorienting and interfere with the natural flow of your work, but they can also be useful in taking you to places you might not otherwise go.   Height/width convention by John Gardner, London, ON, Canada  

“Early Morning Smoke Lake”
oil painting, 12 x 16 inches
by John Gardner

Very early in my career a dealer educated me on how to describe the dimensions of a piece of art work. This was a valuable part of my education. Height by width was the established way to describe the dimensions of a painting. This allowed for a quick mental adjustment to either landscape or portrait format in one’s mind, especially if you weren’t looking at the work. Recently, the square format seems to becoming more common. I use the square quite a bit — everything from 12×12 to 48×48. Obviously this format doesn’t require a strict rule for description. What drives me nuts is a portfolio of work described mostly by width x height descriptors mixed in with height x width in a random sort of fashion. I seem to be seeing this far too often in the art world. Have the rules changed or is it now accepted as normal to describe the dimensions of a painting in a random mix of height by width measurements? (RG note) Thanks, John. No, the rules haven’t changed. People are just getting sloppier. There are 2 comments for Height/width convention by John Gardner
From: Pamela Simpson Lussier — Dec 06, 2011

A gallerina from our Williamstown Ma gallery who was trained in England explained to us that in England or at least at the auction house she trained at ,Christie’s, paintings were listed width first height second. In the US we list height first width second. I don’t know if this is true or if it is her misconception showing up everywhere.

From: Peter Brown — Dec 06, 2011

H x W is USA standard, but then we in the USA are still using inches and feet and fractions, and ounces, and we call freezing 32 degrees unlike the rest of the world. We are special.

  Satisfaction in art by Sheila Norgate, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada  

“Man flying”
mixed media, 24 x 24 inches
by Sheila Norgate

Your comment, “Being forever dissatisfied and unsure is more commonplace and probably better for the art,” got a rise out of me. Why is it that we still seem to be hooked on the pseudo romantic myth of the artist as tortured (by insecurity and dissatisfaction) soul? I, for one, am blessed with a sense that my best work is always what I am doing right now. I don’t need the ‘carrot’ dangling out in front of me, that my best work is yet to come. I am certain that it is… but it doesn’t help me get to it any faster if I am awash in uncertainty and dissatisfaction. (RG note) Thanks, Sheila. This has nothing to do with being tortured or pseudo-romantic. It has to do with the difficult task of always trying to advance your quality. Being easily satisfied and accepting lower standards is one of the scourges of our times.   One-at-a-time thinking by John F. Burk, Timonium, MD, USA  

“Outermost House”
acrylic painting, 27 x 18 inches
by John F. Burk

I am one of those who work on one painting at a time. I feel each painting to be much a matter of doing what I think it needs to have done, and looking under rocks to see if there’s anything else it has to tell me. I am happy with most finishes, and deliriously so with some. (My wife will confirm this with a smile.) I confess I worry about discussions such as this that make me wonder if my methodology doesn’t depend on me being too easily pleased. I don’t think so. Over the course of a half dozen or so completions, I can see where I could do better or, as I prefer to see it, can now do better. Each painting is potential money in the bank, or an addition to a body of work, but is more importantly a stepping stone to where I’ll be two dozen paintings from now. Or a hundred and twenty. My style, always realism, is migrating to stylization, towards abstract interpretation where I see the opportunity. I like that direction, and wonder how far I can go. This is an adventure. I love what we do. The day before I die, I want a painting half finished on the easel. The day I die, I want to yearn to finish it. There is 1 comment for One-at-a-time thinking by John F. Burk
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Dec 06, 2011

Though I have several paintings going at a time, I love your thoughts. This is exactly how I feel about painting … striving to do the best I can on that given day. Each day they should evolve. An artist thinking this way does not retire, but does as you said, ends life with a half-finished painting on the easel.

  Discouragement sets in by Freda Alschuler, Martigny, Switzerland  

acrylic painting
by Freda Alschuler

I just loved to hear you this morning after so many years of just reading your letters. Not sure, though, whether this has broken the spell! Just joking. You have given me so much inspiration and motivation from your letters. Thank you so much. Over the years I have had lots of ups and downs with sales and trying to get into galleries and snobby artist associations, so I just plucked up some courage to trying to sell and it has worked, which also was very hard. I live in Switzerland where, believe me, it is very difficult to not only be an artist but to get into galleries. I have gone on my own way, and right now am fed up with trying, so I approached a restaurant with the same wallpaper as in my latest works of art, and am now exhibiting there, and in their Bistro in London. Great, but no reaction as for sales or in fact anything but very few ‘very nice’ comments. I once won a Saatchi Online competition 2008 and now have my painting in London in the Cafe Mess Saatchi Gallery. It is all on my website. No reactions to this. I have been teaching watercolour for 20 years at art schools and have taken people on workshops to lovely spots in Europe and even through teaching, there have been no sales. The workshops by the way are very reasonable so I am not overcharging anyone and giving so much. At 64 I was told by the school where I was working as a watercolour instructor that it was their policy and time to retire. This was quite a blow to my morale and I find it difficult now to even teach again. I don’t know why, though. Please tell me why, since I’ve have a great website for many years, it has produced nothing but nice comments. But I am sure that it is good to have a website as a ‘serious artist statement.’ If you have some time please go and look and tell me what I should do. I feel like just giving up everything, but as you know this is impossible. It is in my blood. (RG note) Thanks, Freda. And thanks to everyone who wrote in after that BlogRadio interview. A few people thought I was out to lunch. I guess I’m just so interested in exploring ways that might actually help people realize their dreams. At times I’ve wondered if any sort of chit chat is any good. Some evolved artists do completely without it. There are 6 comments for Discouragement sets in by Freda Alschuler
From: Angela Treat Lyon — Dec 05, 2011

You do beautiful work. If you stop the rest of us lose out. You’re just getting over rejection blues. Find the energy of it in your body, and flip it over into creative juice. Thank those silly people for not seeing your value beyond their restrictive policies, because they set you free — now you have time to paint, paint paint! As someone famous we all know once said, “never, never, never give up!”

From: Janet Summers Greece — Dec 06, 2011

Freda, the time has come to paint for the pure joy of painting! Explore your own creativity, PLAY for once in your life! Put the entire selling/gallery thing in a dark closet, go out and paint in the sunshine, try a new subject, a new medium, a different approach, you just might surprize yourself! Happy painting!

From: Louise Francke — Dec 06, 2011

I agree with Janet. After my gallery went under, I felt FREE to explore areas where I hadn’t dared to tread. Sometimes those broken bridges of security actually propel one into the future tense. Have fun on your new life’s journey. Artists never stop working.

From: David — Dec 06, 2011

I looked at your website, and think much of your work is ‘too nice’, too similar to a million other ‘nice’ artists. The pieces with the most life are the nude figures, the wallpaper dresses, and the gouaches, all of which have a bit of sexiness to them. My advice is to take some time and push that sexiness as far as you dare! Put away ‘Nice’. What have you got to lose?

From: Sharon Cory — Dec 06, 2011

I agree with David, except I would characterize your work as too beautiful, kind of like what a perfect make-up job does to a model with good bones. I feel like there’s got to be some grit underneath, some energy force that you need to tap into. Let the picture take over for a change and quit trying to paint to a market that’s steadily ignoring you. You should move to North America…your work would be a welcome change from endless landscapes.

From: Shari L erickson — Dec 06, 2011

Your work is wonderful! Don’t change who you are or how you see the world. I looked at your web site and noticed that perhaps you need an easy, spontaneous way for people to buy your art, such as Paypal. Have you tried galleries in the US? Your wallpaper series in particular is quite appealing and may sell well here.

  Art pile used in collage by JoRene Newton, Georgetown, TX, USA  

“Spring’s Compassion”
mixed media, 16 x 16 inches
by JoRene Newton

I am a retired art teacher who worked in all media with children of all ages in public and private schools. When I retired I had to make a decision of “what to do next!” I began to explore the field of mixed water media. Teaching others what I knew about the creative process was what I loved best so I have continued to share my knowledge with adults and children in private classes. Like you, I had a large collection of paintings and drawings that I felt “needed something else” so I began introducing collage into my work. I had introduced my earlier students to the works of Picasso and Braque in the ways they used collage in their work, so I thought that using collage would be a good way to transform those “unfinished” works. I began to explore different ways to use collage in those paintings. Since they were works on paper, it was not difficult for me to cut, or tear them apart and reassemble them in new ways. Through the years I have developed different ways of painting using collage. In the past few years I have begun to use wrapped canvases on which I paint with acrylic and add collage. There are 2 comments for Art pile used in collage by JoRene Newton
From: Ronald Ruble — Dec 06, 2011

I have been doing the same thing for a few years. I never get rid of any of my efforts, but pile them up for future use. Working on paper enables me to cut, tear, assemble and paste, giving these old efforts a new life through collage. It is also great fun to arrange and rearrange until the image says “enough!” Some of my best works have been done in this manner. Collage is a wonderful but somewhat neglected medium. Give it a try, you’ll like the playfulness and the freedom and your discards will live again.

From: Sharon Knettell — Dec 06, 2011

Beautiful painting- especially the color.

  Studio pile management by Jeanean Martin, Boyds, MD, USA  

“Autumn Leaves Black Hill Park”
oil painting, 24 x 36 inches
by Jeanean Martin

I go through my work periodically mainly when my studio space gets into such a state of disarray that it is impossible to work in. When this happens, I take everything out and start sorting. I place paintings into categories like good, bad, maybe, save, terrible, wonderful (yes, you can call your own work wonderful) etc. The good paintings I put aside and place on shelves with cardboard protecting the front and back of each. The bad paintings I either strip from the stretchers or in some cases paint over. I rarely do paint over old paintings, though, as I do not like the feel of something underneath and I am afraid of pentimenti (underpainting showing through). Paintings that I like but have not sold or I chose not to sell I pack up and place in my son’s house. He has kindly offered storage space in a spare bedroom. This is the best solution. Do not store finished paintings in your studio. I do keep a few on the wall that I feel are successful as they give me “hope” that I might be able to pull it off again. In fact, some paintings that I really like I hold off from selling because they give me such confidence that I really can do this and am not a complete failure. The “maybe” paintings I sit down and evaluate. I get out my journal and write down the problems or strengths that I see. If the strengths outweigh the problems then I will spend the time to “save” the painting and rework. Titian would turn his unfinished paintings to the wall and then re-evaluate with a fresh eye at a later date. This is a good practice to do with a painting that is problematic. Sometimes you need a little time away from the painting to truly understand what it needs. If it simply isn’t working in any way, shape or form, I get rid of the painting. It is simple as that. Oh, one distinction that I do have is the time element. If I find a painting from twenty years ago, for instance, I will never rework it. Paintings have a life of their own and belong to certain “time frames” of your developing work. They reflect stages or periods that have brought you to where your work is now and it is important to appreciate them for what they are and what they were to you then. Honest evaluations of your work are very beneficial and essential for progress. There is 1 comment for Studio pile management by Jeanean Martin
From: Karen Baker Thumm — Dec 06, 2011

Jeanean, I totally agree with your last comments about very old works. I think it’s valuable to keep a few older pieces that haven’t sold from different times as a reminder of how much progress we’ve made. Obviously, we don’t want to put them up for sale because they aren’t up to current standards, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have worth. In my bedroom is a painting I did over 40 years ago when I was just learning to paint in oils. It’s a bit crude, but shows some passages of brilliance, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for it. This year I found another painting in my attic that is 28 years old. Most of it is crude and awful, but I hung it up anyway as a reminder of how far I’ve come since then. Eventually, I’ll take it down and then decide what to do with it. And, I have a box of drawings from my childhood that go back to when I was around five and up into my early adulthood. Every now and then I get them out and look at them. They are wonderfully expressive which reminds me to get more of that into my current work.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Sitting on a pile

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Dec 01, 2011

1.Possible, 2.Borderline, 3.Impossible. Thanks, Robert. Consolidating my slough of unfinished works into these 3 categories will improve matters greatly.

From: L. Anne McClelland — Dec 01, 2011

Once something has been in the stalled pile for a year I just overpaint it and, more often than not, the new piece is a quick seller. It seems that when I overpaint I am able to be more carefree about the canvas (it can only be improved) and the new image is fresh and lively. The bits of peeking colour from the previous image add interest.

From: daniela — Dec 01, 2011

I found one solution to being a “gunna” (gunna do it) — I found that I knew other gunnas who positively love and adore to be talking about their complex selves and why they are like that (you would think all that self analysis would be harder work than actually doing something), and, then I found out I am much much more positive and productive if I see less/none of them. Well, it works for me.

From: Colin Bell — Dec 02, 2011

I paint in watercolours, oils and now also acrylics, usually producing some 50-60 paintings a year, of which 25-35 sell. To limit inventory creep I revisit older work and decide (1) rework it, if possible, (2) donate it to charity or as presents, or (3) destroy it. The process requires honest self-appraisal and decision-making as to the possibilities of correction, but is very beneficial in clearing out cobwebs and old lemons. Cheers!

From: kathy Hankel — Dec 02, 2011

This is of great help to me robert. I now give myself permission to get rid of those projects that are not going anywhere.they have dragged my self confidence down for too long.when i get this accomplished i envision a friendlier atmosphere. Looking forward rather than back is going to feel good. It amazes me how many topics you bbring to your readers. Thank you.

From: Steve Ferris — Dec 02, 2011

My problem seems to be a loss of the challenge presented by the initial concept. Each painting presents its own unique problems and challenges. It’s fun engaging these problems and overcoming them. Then, scratch my head, I lose interest and start looking around for another project. These unfinished ones stand in the corner casting a beadie eye at me and call, “Finish me, finish me.” And I with guilty heart say my favourite prayer, “Tomorrow.”

From: Claire — Dec 02, 2011

Oh my gosh, this post was reading my mind! I too enjoy the early stages of a painting and then often feel stifled before I finish. I am either at a loss to know how to correct a “dud”, or intimidated by the strength of a project which is going well, with a fear of ruining it. It is some comfort to learn that I am not alone. I recently painted over the top of a dud with a new solid ground and it felt very good.

From: Keena — Dec 02, 2011

Apparently I am in a minority. I have only not finished exactly two paintings. I think I didn’t finish those two because they were both quite complex and felt overwhelming at the time. One I am bored with and will re-prime. The other… hmmm… I think it might have potential! :) Thanks, Robert, for giving me the inspiration to reconsider that old unfinished painting and give it another look!

From: John Ferrie — Dec 02, 2011

Dear Robert, I am always excited about starting a new painting. Well, excited and there is the usual anxiety about it as well. As I stare across a blank canvas, knowing the monumental task at hand, I wonder if I have one more painting in me. As I near completion, another feeling takes over. While there is sheer exhilaration, there is an impatient part of me that just wants the piece done. Done so I can hang it on the wall, done so that it will be part of a new collection I am showing, done so that people can come see it and there can be some exchange and finally, done so that it can potentially sell. Artists need to hone their craft for knowing when a piece is finished. Having a studio full of unfinished canvases and an artist running around like a weather vane starting yet another piece is really unsettling. There is fear in an artist who’s behaviour patterns like this. We are all trying to communicate something in our art. But when everything is unfinished it strikes me the artist doesn’t really want anyone to know what they are thinking. I would say to this artist, before you put a dab of paint on yet another canvas, go back and finish five older pieces. Then, at least, they will know what it is to finish something.

John Ferrie
From: Marjolein Witteman Thompson — Dec 02, 2011

I can relate to Coco’s comments — I also have at least eight unfinished (but as having some potential!) paintings hanging on my studio walls. My hangup with finishing them is the feeling of wading through piles of chores that take priority in my ‘free time’ as a working mother as well as stuff piled up in my studio and around the house that keeps me from reaching the painting on my easel. Mostly figuratively speaking though. As cluttered as my studio can be, it is still a conscious choice for me to do chores before painting. A solution? To keep my studio ready and inviting so that the urge to paint doesn’t pass as I enter the studio and see what weed whacking I must do to pick up my brush… Then I feel my paintings will stand a much better chance to be finished.

From: Roderik Mayne — Dec 02, 2011

Recently went to a talk by Robert Bateman in which he talked about his own process and made the following points. His best painting is always the one he hasn’t painted yet. He is always excited to start a painting and then gets bogged down and discouraged so he starts another one and is excited again until the same thing happens, so the process continues until he has about five going and then the first one doesn’t look so bad and he goes back and finishes it. He does admit that he does have some that have been sitting unfinished for a few years.

From: Dwight — Dec 02, 2011

Life IS the yellow brick road. It beats OZ (the alternative). If canvas or watercolor paper is a mess, gesso over it and do another. Maybe painting faster will help getting things done.

From: Joan Boswell-Gauthier — Dec 02, 2011

I also have many unfinished paintings and don’t even know where to begin. I’m sole caretaker to my husband and since I’m at home most of the time, one would think that I could become more inspired to paint, but I’m at a standstill not ever knowing what will happen to my husband. Any suggestions.

From: Diane Overmyer — Dec 02, 2011

I think the idea of sorting unfinished or old abandoned works is very wise. I did that last winter and have just began painting over works that I no longer want the world to see. One of the things that I do is to photograph the paintings prior to repainting over them. I haven’t been asked yet, but I figure that later I can show the photo of the covered painting to whomever purchases the new painting. One of my artist friends recently sold a painting that she had removed from the stretchers and flipped so that it became the back of a new painting. She told the woman who purchased the painting, that she was actually getting two paintings in one. I don’t know if that helped her to sell the piece, but I thought it was a pretty good idea, at least for those works that an artist doesn’t mind having someone see.

From: Julie Greig — Dec 02, 2011

What about people like me who are often a poor starter but strong finisher! I often procrastinate and fluff around so much, wasting valuable time, then finish a painting really strongly, and recently outdid myself with a tight deadline finishing two paintings in a 23 hour day, which just about killed me! Both sold immediately — but the paintings I labour/persevere with, can take years to sell — or they get taken out of their frame, covered (the pastels) and put in a drawer. Or even put under the garden hose and scrubbed off — just one or two…. Thanks for all the great info and dialogue, it’s much appreciated and very much food for thought. I should just get on with it and stop pussy-footing what I know needs to be done, you have reminded me to re-read my Stephen Pressfield book.

From: Chrissy Harfleet — Dec 02, 2011

I couldn’t have put it better myself. It sounded like it came right out of my head and I’m not so articulate.

From: Lynn Murray — Dec 02, 2011

I am an avid recycler and try to find a new use for everything. I struggle with the number of old canvases in my basement that will never make it to the finished state (nor should they). Many of my artist friends would love to find out what to do with them. If they were sanded and re-primed (with what?), where would they potentially go? Senior Centers, Boys and Girls Club, schools?

From: Mary Pyche — Dec 02, 2011

Today’s letter was right on the mark! Just what I needed. Thank you so much. I did clean and organize last week and made one pile, I was thinking I would break that down into two, but your idea of three piles sounds exciting and then the first pile would be an achievable goal, perhaps. Now what can be said for those big projects that are also sitting there staring me in the face–my method and style have changed so much since they were originally theorized, that alone should shake me up enough to get me started.

From: Janice Ykema — Dec 02, 2011

Sometimes you aren’t ready as an artist to solve the problems a particular painting presents. I’ve had a couple that two years later I could look at and say aha!, having learned from other paintings. As well as distancing myself emotional from areas I needed to keep!”

From: Brenda Butka — Dec 02, 2011

Sometimes I have a lot of fun doing a warm-up painting over a discarded picture, WITHOUT re-priming. Interesting brain exercise, focusing on what I want and ignoring the under-painting noise… and sometimes get something REALLY interesting!

From: Doug Greetham — Dec 02, 2011

As someone once observed; the single most important piece of equipment in a darkroom is a waste paper basket!

From: Emily Shipe — Dec 02, 2011

When I am not sure if a painting is done or not and don’t know what to do I take it is the living room and place it on the mantle (size depending) then I live with it. After about 4 days it is obvious what needs to be done and I’m motivated to finish it. What is also lovely out of my studio sometimes the painting will just say its finished!

From: Jane Brenner — Dec 02, 2011

Think of Bonnard who was famous (infamous?) for going into galleries where his paintings were exhibited and dabbing at them with a brush and a bit of pigment. When I was in art school, we called this “Bonnarding around”.

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 02, 2011

If artists look into their souls and are honest with themselves they will notice a pattern which crosses over into daily life. If we have trouble with finishing our artwork, it’s a sure bet we do the same in life. Art cannot be separated from who we are. Who we are in inherent in what we do. Many of my works are finished in one sitting. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are great works or even works that will see the light of day but they are finished. Finishing one work allows me to move forward. Art is more about feeling and the moment. Art is emotion. We feel and express today what is happening. Putting things off in your life only means these things will have to be revisited and finished some time in the future. Doing this leaves holes in your development. Tomorrow is for procrastinators. Look to see if this is a pattern in your daily life first before you can think of finish in your artwork. Fix the one and the other will follow.

From: Herb Kelly — Dec 02, 2011

Someone once said about writing that one doesn’t finish, one abandons it. Also, I suspect, true of much art. I have a Lazarus Drawer where I keep pieces that I know will one day be good but need a deep sleep for awhile. If I am stuck for a new piece I sometimes open the Lazarus Drawer and resurrect a good piece that had just been waiting patiently for me to get my act together.

From: Elizabeth Ranck — Dec 02, 2011

I try not to look at the stacks of unresolved paintings around my studio. It’s a corner I clean around — no telling what’s hidden back there. When the stack gets overwhelming or I have someone coming to see work, I get them out, one by one and take my electric finishing sander out and give them a thorough going-over. Often times, surprises emerge and as soon as the imagination is allowed to take charge, they are dusted-off, the paints come out and a new piece emerges. It’s always worth a try. If they are stretched, I remove the canvas to sand. If nothing emerges worth saving, the stretcher is ready for new canvas.

From: Ralph Milton — Dec 02, 2011

The prescription you offer around unfinished art is just fine, but few artists have that kind of luxury. We have certain addictive habits like eating. And we are sufficiently modest to want to wear clothing. As acquisitions editor of a publishing company for many years, I was often asked by aspiring writers, “How do you get over writer’s block?” My prescription is simple. Sit down and write. And write. Even if what you write is utter drivel, keep writing. Eventually the muse will kick in. Great art seldom springs full-blown from the artists creativity. Most great art is the result of plain, old-fashioned, odorous sweat. I know that doesn’t apply to all artists. Each of us is an individual. But the malaise affecting many (perhaps most) aspiring artists of every genre, is procrastination and sloth.

From: Alex Nodopaka — Dec 02, 2011

You received some excellent advice from Robert. May I suggest a final method of disposal. Have an incineration party. Give your friends the opportunity to exercise their critical eye about what is to be thrown away and what they’d like to keep. As for you, I suggest you keep on painting. The world needs a lot of firewood.

From: Michael Ives — Dec 02, 2011

I listened this morning to the interview between you and Leslie Saeta and Dreama Tolle Perry’s art program. It was great to put a voice and personality to all the years of your letters. How you keep up with the writing, responding to the public and handling your own career is beyond me and I love multi-tasking. I enjoyed listening to your thoughts and insights about what it takes to be an honest and working artist during the recent radio interview. I always learn something by your words, I always am reassured by your words.

From: Gavin Logan — Dec 02, 2011
From: Gins V. O. Doolittle — Dec 02, 2011

I am listening to your Link. I will listen many times to this one Still listening & excellent — rich juicy motivating content

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Dec 03, 2011

To Joan Boswell-Gauthier: Although your question was directed to Mr. Genn, I hope it will be alright to offer you a couple of suggestions without knowing the exact situation. Here are my thoughts. The first suggestion is not to paint…that is too complex for now. Here are two ideas involving a drawing book. Taking the drawing book into the presence of your husband and, if possible, draw him. It may help what ever communication is possible. The slow looking required for drawing and the actual drawing may allow you to find some peace. The second is to do a scribble drawing while you are with him. This often leads to an idea worth developing that will inspire you to carve out some time for yourself. I truly wish you well.

From: J E Pepper — Dec 03, 2011

“Many poems are never finished, but rather, abandoned.” Many of us do this — visual artists, writers, others. We must follow through with our individual intentions.. Many times abandonment comes about, sometimes it is easier in these busy times, yes? Ideas are lost. Too bad. New revolutions shift. We should consider all works as works in progress. NY

From: Brigitte Nowak — Dec 03, 2011

I suspect that most painters approach a canvas with a ‘great idea”, which only rarely achieves its potential. Sometimes the work’s deficiencies only become clear when the work is finished, sometimes they are glaringly obvious early on. Sometimes a painting is rescueable; sometimes not. I approach each new canvas with both trepidation and excitement, but I’ve learned that given my temperament, the painting has a better chance of being completed if I paint the “boring bits” first: sky, background, whatever. This keeps me interested in the subject and excited to be working on it.

From: Betty (Elizabeth Jean) Billups — Dec 03, 2011

Like Robert, I have basically three “sections” or groups of where the art I have worked on, end up. The best, most successful, if not framed right away, when dry, go into a stack of over 200 gallery quality paintings. The next “stack” are those that have not been solved, and are still lacking some major element, be it shapes, texture, value pattern or whatever. And the third grouping are those that just never got close to any goal…almost a waste of time! The best, get signed, and respectfully either framed or put in the “saved gallery paintings”…because they have a quality that I hope to obtain. The next batch, are almost finished…but seem to be lacking major elements, and at the time, perhaps I was too close or maybe not close enough, to what was going on, in my head, and my heart, and out my hands. Like this fall, went out to a side road in North Idaho, with some gals from Spokane, and another friend who lives north of the fields on Boyer. The piece came together almost like magic!! When I got home, found 4 or 5 other paintings, that were “almost” good ones….and so, being autumn, decided to pull them out, and work on them…pulling autumn colors into them, more than they had, and applying what I had felt and learned on the plein air piece I had just done…tickling them into finish!!! And when dry, they all will find a nice frame to set them off. Then, there are those little guys, who just never seemed to click! And at some point, these get sanded down, giving me a new surface, with the old paint…and to which I usually stain the sanded areas, for the foundation of a possible future success. BUT, I never make major decisions of DESTRUCTION, for any work, until I can be removed long enough, to give it a chance…because in the past, after tossing or burning a “failure”… finding some photo of it, saw it for the first time, and realized I had lost a little jewel! Sometimes we can get in the way of our successes…one way or the other…the wisdom, is “KNOWING when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em, and when to walk away”!!!!

From: Liz Reday — Dec 03, 2011

“The birds they sing at break of day, ‘Start again’ I hear them say.” Leonard Cohen

From: Taylor Ikin — Dec 03, 2011

My greatest comfort level is walking into my studio and seeing a stash of paintings waiting to be finished. I think of them as my warm-up pals, friends who need help… reasons to experiment and get the kinks out before starting a new work. Shoving a wet brush full of juicy watercolor paints into a yet to be completed nearly done painting can bring life to a static subject and sunshine to a dull day. Some of my best work has evolved from this process!

Tampa, FL
From: LR — Dec 03, 2011

Sounds like your 68 yr old college friend is having a wonderful time. I’m envious! I bet he’s truly interesting, and still brimming with wonder.

From: Tom Foster — Dec 04, 2011

In my early years of learning how to paint watercolors I created a host of works that were not very good. Rather than than throw them out, I saved them as means of watching myself improve and this was in itself inspiring. Additionally I would go back to some of these saved not so good pieces, study what was wrong and then experiment knowing that the only thing that could happen would most likely be an improvement. Watching the change occur before my eyes was wonderful. Fooling around with this kind of an open mind can find you much needed new ground.

From: Clive Manson — Dec 04, 2011

Your audio interview was one of the most valuable, down to earth, common sense things I have ever heard. Rather good to hear Robert’s actual voice after reading his excellent English over and over.

From: Elmer Glue — Dec 04, 2011

I am a student starting out and I like everything I do. Does this mean as I get more paintings done I’m going to get disappointed?

From: Karen R. Phinney — Dec 04, 2011

I enjoyed listening to the show in the US called, “Artists Helping Artists”. It was absolutely in character with what you’ve said in your Twice Weekly Letters…. and very helpful. I am still a weekly letters fan, and often discuss the letters with my cronies at the “artspa” group I paint with!

From: Judy Mudd — Dec 04, 2011

As a watercolor artist, I have a day when I pull everything out and take a second look. The result is either alter, crop or tear up. Sometimes I’ll keep one and paint on the back, but only if I’m not totally dissatisfied with what is on the front side. I don’t want any painting out there that I would be ashamed of down the road.

From: Jackie Knott — Dec 05, 2011

My “unfinished” stage is mental. Sure, I have a half dozen stashed canvases (over thirty years) that never made it past the conceptual/preliminary planning stages … but I either finish them or the rest never get that far. If I can lay it out on canvas the painting usually follows quickly. It is those compositions that go up against the wall of problem solving that stalemate me. I am more likely to finish a painting and go back weeks or months after completion to correct issues I didn’t see until much later. It’s not a problem of abandonment, it is one of procrastination. I guess ….

From: Pat in New Mexico — Dec 06, 2011

For Joan Boswell-Gauthier… I have been where you are now. My precious husband had cancer. I knew well ahead of time what the outcome would be. I made as many bridges as I could when I could. I became a ‘pink lady’ and joined the local art league, took art classes at our community college. What a difference it made. I had something to fall back on when the inevitable happened. I also had the joy of caring for my father after his stroke. I also was blessed with a grandchild during this period. I took care of the child and my dad. Bye and bye he passed away and the grandchild started kindergarten. I was lost… I went from a frantic pace to nothing. That was awful. I was depressed for several months and finally came out of it. When my husband became ill 10 years later I was determined not to let that happen again. My art, the auxiliary and my church duties saved me. Make your bridges now as soon as possible so you won’t have to go through what I did. May God bless you… I’ve walked where you walk. pat

From: Ellie — Dec 07, 2011

What if? What if there were a page where artists sitting on piles could submit a painting, and the rest of us could download, make some suggested changes in Photoshop, then reupload? Is that a crazy idea? So much easier to look at someone else’s work. Would we gain something in the process to help whittle down our own piles?

From: tom werdin — Dec 07, 2011

Regarding Claire Remsberg’s question, “Where you (Robert,) got the trivia: ‘80% of the active artists are women’ “…and, “What are the present and future implications?” I have a premise: Women are standing in the way of their own greatness. What percentage of the 80% female activist number are Berthe-Morisot-great? 80% of the Berthe Morisots of the present still get little greatness attached to their work because 80% of the peers are women. Women languish in attaching more significance to acceptance by their peers than a penchant for great art. Berthe Morisot by-passed the dam and went full speed ahead, a female counterpart of, Picasso, perhaps? My wife of fifty years, also an artist-with-sales and I have fun with this, probably because we agree on the premise, and agree upon what we consider great art…well, most of the time. :>)

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The Wine Drinkard

oil painting, 40 x 50 inches by Dan Auerbach, New York, NY, 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 Karen F Rose of Facebook who wrote, “I so enjoyed hearing your interview on Artists Helping Artists. For many years I have subscribed to your letter. You provide a wealth of information and inspiration to artists all over the world. Thank you.”

a bonfire of Julian’s burning canvases

And also Ruth Phillips of Quartier du Ravon, Bedoin, France, who wrote, “We thought our readers might like to see this picture. Julian Merrow-Smith burned 200 or so unfinished canvases that have been cluttering his studio for the last ten years. Unfortunately we had to have a house fire that destroyed almost everything (ironically except for these and luckily my two eighteenth century cellos) for him to get to this point. A fresh canvas never had such meaning!”        

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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