Off season


Dear Artist,

On Roberts Bay on Lake Joseph in Ontario’s cottage country, there’s hardly a soul to be seen. The water-skis, the sea-doos and the ski-jumps have all been put away. Most people’s boats are now hauled for winter and the cabins hereabouts are in shut-down mode. Golden leaves now pass by on the rippling water. Except for the call of a solitary loon, the place is silent. There’s something about the off season.

I’m painting in a sewing-room attached to a boathouse. Thunder and lightning last night have now given way to a slow drizzle which seems to plump up and electrify the green moss outside the window. Today, everything out there looks more real than real. I’m thinking it’s an optical illusion — one that you tend to experience when all is quiet. My friend and fellow painter Peter Ewart used to advise me: “Be off.” It was his religion not to be there when everyone else was. “To be alone with nature is to be one with nature,” he used to say. Then there’s the business of time — I’ve noticed there’s always more time when you’re at some sort of cabin. Here, time unfurls her gifts. Peter said, “At magic hour the last place you want to be is in a restaurant.” He would have loved this place — Peter passed away last year.

Without the socializing that comes with the high season, there’s time to properly “burn in” an environment and to take a look into the crevasses of the imagination. Also, in the off season you can safely shelve what you know and get on with what you need to know. I’ve found it valuable not to go off half-cocked. Open the senses and let the stuff just creep in. What wonders are the eyes! Here’s the fun and challenge of being an artist — to look and see and make some artistic sense out of it all. This may take a bit of time.

I’m talking to myself: “Purge the unnecessary,” I say, “No TV, no newspaper, no radio, no weather report. By the by, lads, it’s stopped raining. I’m moving outside.”

Inhale the ozone. Open the paint-box slowly. Feel the privilege of a canvas in the off season. On the way — small compromises with technology — this miraculous laptop beside me here on the moss — just so we can stay in touch. And a digital camera — a photo for the current clickback (see below).

Best regards,


PS: “Adopt the pace of nature.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“Wait for that wisest of all counselors, Time.” (Pericles)

“To everything there is a season.” (Ecclesiastes)

Esoterica: Back home Pamela Masik is today entering an eight-by-eight-foot box. She’s going to be in there for a week — alone, naked, silent, performing an exercise in sensory deprivation. Every once in a while she’ll push a new painting out of a slot in the box.


Bob in the off season


At Roberts Bay, Lake Joseph, Ontario, Canada
October 23, 2003


Bob in the Donzi, Lake Joseph, Ontario, Canada
October 27, 2003








Kinship of spirit
by Lorna Dockstader, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


painting by Lorna Dockstader

There is a wonderful kinship of spirit amongst those who paint outdoors. While alone, a person can feel very insignificant or very important, but one thing I always feel is one with God and nature. It brings immense joy.





“Be Off!”
by Dora Gourley, Portland, OR, USA


painting by by Dora Gourley

I love the description “Be Off!” I used to paint the Columbia River Gorge. It was beautiful and so serene to drive the 60 miles or so, to be right in the midst of the gorge and all alone except for my springer spaniel. I’d let him out of the station wagon and he’d roam the hills while I sketched and painted. We’d spend hours up there, with just us, the sun and a little wind. When I had had enough, I’d whistle and he’d come running. Cockle burrs and dirt on his face and paws, but happy with his day too.


Early morning scents
by Jan Zawadzki, Ontario, Canada

Silence can be exquisite. I find it sharpens the senses and touches upon the perfect arrangement of that thing most ordinary. If you go outside in the still, early morning hours you’ll pick up the scent of the forest… an etherealization of wafting subtle essences still unfrozen.


Tourist-free experience
by Jane Champagne, Southampton, Ontario, Canada


painting by Jane Champagne

Killarney is more colourful than Lake Joseph: pink granite against white quartzite mountains; A.Y. Jackson Lake hidden high up, just inaccessible enough to attract only the bold; the shades of Carmichael and Casson with us all the way. A truly enlightening, tourist-free experience that produced some fine painting.





Cottage Country
by Edward G. Sauer

I’ve watched the lightning dance on those lakes searching for some hidden target. Perhaps a long lost steamer now resting on the bottom of the lake. I’ve raced the storms to get back to the island before the wind wipped up the waves and made docking in the boathouse a dicey task. And I’ve drunk too much of a 40 ouncer off of Blueberry Island with a now gone friend. The only contact with civilization being by design or need, do I really need to go to pick up my mail at Wilmot’s? Time does expand in Cottage Country and with it I found a quiet creative energy. A wellspring that only came forth after the pangs of loneliness turned to the comfort of solitude. The loons and herons, pileated woodpeckers and owls joined by the squirrels and chipmunks made finer companions than others of my kind and gave me the room to let go of the heavy coat donned by everyday life in our too busy world. It’s been much too long, so thank you for being there and sharing it with me.


Solitude and balance
by Cindy Frostad


painting by Cindy Frostad

The photograph of you sitting among trees and wet moss evoked a memory of pungent richness and the smell of the watery earthiness of Lake Joseph. It was where I learned to windsurf and found a joyful place of solitude. Windsurfing involves developing a close alignment with nature, working with the elements. The senses must be awake to the subtleties of changes in the wind, the intensity and texture of ripples on the water and shifts in lighting. In time, I became proficient enough to anticipate the changes by feeling the movements of the fine hairs on my arms.

Thirty years later I am discovering a painterly resonance compatible to my inner voice. I also realize that when I choose to make the effort to get to a place and time of solitude… I can paint with a personal power strong enough to raise the hairs on arms.


Sensory deprivation
by Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, Ontario, Canada

We have a cottage near Tobermory Ontario — never allowed a TV, rarely a radio, no newspapers (just for starting fires), only music. It’s amazing how news can add to stress. The absence of technical stimulus clears the vision and helps us see and absorb the more subtle things. I never tried anything as radical as enclosing myself in a box, but I did spend a week up north at the cottage by myself. It freaked me out. It’s dark up there. I also lived for a year in a small 8×10 studio in France, cut off from handy, telephone, TV and car. I realize I don’t create well under those circumstances. I like company.


Still life self-portrait
by Jan McCaffrey


painting by Jan McCaffrey

In response to writing/painting and the quote of van Gogh’s about trying to paint a self-portrait in writing… An unfortunately infrequent teacher (but fantastic painter in Vancouver, BC, Canada), Leslie Poole gave me the assignment to draw a “still life self-portrait.” This instruction was left to the interpretation of the individual… Talk about rich territory to explore and revisit!



The great gift of it all
by Janet M. Trahan


painting by Janet M. Trahan

Having been forced to take on a full-time job this last year is very difficult for the flow of creativity. Painting mostly at night with the proper lighting, but ah the freedom to get up in the morning light and think only about the work to go onto the canvas. In my studio today and yesterday I experienced that wonderful feeling of aloneness and quiet when the paint and vision and mind all flow well. Ah the great gift of it all. Those artists who are able to this every day are fortunate indeed.



Regaining the focus
by Linda Blondheim, FL, USA


painting by Linda Blondheim

I have found difficulty this month in concentrating due to so many painting trips, demos, teaching workshops and exhibitions. I find that slowing down is necessary in order to regain the balance and focus of painting. It is easy to let the business end of art overwhelm the process of painting. Your words of wisdom always come at the opportune time to shout at me!




Universe within
by Anne Copeland, California, USA


painting by Anne Copeland

A friend wrote me about having a love-hate relationship with his art, and somehow it relates to the off season you are talking about. What I told him was that every day of our lives we are different. When I start work on an art project, I take the time to put myself mentally into a sort of “off season.” I am grateful for the gift of creativity, for millions of people go through their whole lives without the light of creativity in their eyes or hearts ever. I am truly in my “off season” even if I am still inside my own little home. There is a whole universe within.




Samsara and nirvana
by Allan O’Marra, Ajax, Ontario, Canada


painting by Allan O’Marra

I can’t help but draw a comparison between your recognition of the endless cycle of distraction of living life that ends when you take yourself off to some quiet space in or near to nature, and the Buddhist concepts of samsara and nirvana. Samsara is seen as the endless cycle of suffering that ends upon the achievement of “cessation” or nirvana. (Contrary to popular understanding, nirvana isn’t the Buddhist equivalent of “heaven” in the western sense — a glorious reward of infinite luxuries till the end of time — but simply a state of absolute calm and peace.)

When I take my camera and my dog for a walk in the woods, or I take myself away to my family property in the magic Ontario hinterland, or I sit myself down in my studio to paint with classical music playing softly in the background, I enter nirvana — the state of calm and cessation that nurtures and sponsors the recognition of beauty and harmony and the space and state of mind to create reflections of it.


The “Bakker Saddle”
by J.Baldini, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

I teach photography workshops for Professional Photographers of America and we teach a theory called the “Bakker Saddle” named after Gerhard Bakker where there are 4 focus points in a photographic composition…

X (1) X (2) X (4) X(3)

with the subject being in the 3rd position, the strongest composition. This allows for an entrance into the composition from the left hand side and a way for your eye to travel through the photograph and back out again. In addition, the other positions have different meanings, such as ‘solitude’ for the second position. Generally the positions used most often are on the right and facing in to the left.







From the Roof of the World

oil painting by Hongnian Zhang, China


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, 2003.

That includes Heather Fiander who wrote, “I have just recently been thinking about getting out there in the colder and damper weather and painting, not shying away from it waiting for the summer days, like I have before. Your letter is inspiring.”

And also Nancy Falconer who wrote, “I understand how you can love the off-season in vacation land. There is something that seeps out from under the rocks once the people leave and the waters are left to their natural devices.”


Leave A Reply

No Featured Workshop
No Featured Workshop

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.