On Sleepy Lagoon


Dear Artist,

On the sleepy lagoon there’s a kind of languid flow. It’s a sort of “doesn’t matter” feeling that permeates everything from when you get up to how you mix your colors. This casualness is in contrast to the home studio where busyness and frequent constipation are the rule. I’ve noticed this laying back on the oars to a smaller degree when I’ve taken the motorhome down to the spit a half mile from the home studio.

In the old days when the British went out into their tropical Empire they called it “going onions.” Many a formerly energetic northerner ended up on the patio, under the turning fan, drinking gin. I’m interested in what the condition does for the muse.

Deadlines disappear: Through some curious lapse or blockage I’m sorry to say I can’t even remember when my shows are this year.

Colors brighten: There’s an unexpected gorgeousness and goofiness here — as if the creator has gone wild with the designing and brushwork. Your brush has permission to play.

Detail’s less important: I feel the general motif is enough and to do too much more would be wrong. It’s just a painting. Why compete?

Unfinished is okay: Yep, it’s an act in progress. Unfinished work shows the process and the joy of the early stroke. Besides, isn’t it a good idea to leave something for the other person’s imagination?

Simultaneity: Nature’s so prolific here. So many species:
A dozen hummingbirds, five grackles, countless new fishes on every reef. Makes an artist think he ought to be bashing his stuff out, seeing what they look like, leaving them around.

May I have my gin now?


Nocturne in Blue and Silver”
by James Abbot McNeill Whistler

Best regards,


PS: “For art and joy go together, with bold openness, and high head, and ready hand — fearing nought and dreading no exposure.” (James Abbot McNeill Whistler)

Esoterica: A small amount of gin may actually be part of the equation. It induces a beneficial sense of wellbeing and relaxation. It brings order and ritual to the days and through its lens your stuff looks temporarily okay. “One should not drink much, but often.” (Toulouse-Lautrec)

The following are selected responses to the above letter. Thank you for writing.


Bad booze
by J M P, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

I’m surprised that you would seem to advocate the use of alcohol, and by implication other mind-altering drugs. Alcohol has been one of the greatest scourges of mankind. It is anti-culture and anti-social. It kills people on our highways every minute. Its self-delusional effects have led to all kinds of debasements, including the debasement of Western Art. Throughout history, and particularly in the present, artists without ability seek its comfort in order to convince themselves of spurious values, and others so impaired, believe them.


Good booze
by Jennifer Rose, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

I often drink a small amount while at work. This slightly altered state does indeed do something for the creative mind. It certainly gives energy and confidence to the brushwork. I remember in one of your seminars you said, “Never underestimate the value of alcohol,” and everybody just about fell off their chairs. It’s true it’s a “lens,” and nothing we do as artists should be outside our curiosity to explore. I always step into my studio after a party, too, just to get a different view of things.


Creation therapy
by Brooke, New Jersey, USA

The idea of “Imitation of the Creator” interests me. It’s along the lines of the ideas of “Creation Therapy” where one is more highly realized as a person and as an artist if he or she allows himself to get caught up in the universal creative flow. The evidence is all around us. Everything is in a state of creation and of re-creating itself. We merely need to pick up on it in order to be better fulfilled as human beings during our short stay on this marvelous planet.


Viva Mexico
by Marilyn Wells

Something that I pick up on when traveling in Mexico is a general happiness. Everyone, from the waiters who serve in the restaurants to the maids who clean your rooms, are pleasant and agreeable. Local artists and artisans celebrate food, music, companionship, family values, goodwill, the sea, children and other positive elements of their lives, often in a childlike way. “Attitudes” are few and far between. Art becomes more closely aligned with decoration and hardly ever shows the dark side of poverty, misery and injustice, which is also prevalent in that country.


“Manana” a valuable resource
by Will “Pokey” Willis

Because a lot of what we do is not related to deadlines — and deadlines can generally be shifted for the benefit of quality, the idea of “manana” is a valuable one. Often it takes time — more time than originally envisioned  — to do what we have to do to get it right. Thus a relaxed attitude toward completion may be vital to the pursuit of at least some kinds of art.


The part of joy
by Monika Elseroui, Graz, Austria

You are just describing what from time to time can happen — a state of mind where nothing is really important and where someone can write wonderful poems or compose music or just paint within their own space. The future viewer may wonder what on earth does that picture mean or what was behind it? Any creative work has to have the part of joy in it even when dealing with an outside world which is awful and destroying.


Where does it go?
by Ginny Brink, Cardiff, Wales

Oh yes! I’ve just experienced exactly what you write about! I spent 3 weeks in Africa over Xmas. My parents live in a beautiful, peaceful village set in between 2 mountain ranges. On the one side — wide, flat rolling wheatfields, on the other side — semi-desert. The village itself includes fruit and grape farms. The colours of the differing terrain are astonishing and I became addicted — couldn’t stop painting. The work just poured out. No boundaries, brilliant colours, detailed, minimal, no  ‘what-sort- of-artist-am-I?’ doubts. Who cares! Just get it down! Good or bad? Doesn’t matter! Just play and enjoy, drink in the space and lushiousness — commentary and criticism can wait! I did 102 sketches — which in fact are almost complete paintings in 2 weeks. And good ones too. My language has moved on. I am amazed.

And yet back in my studio in the UK the energy seems to have gone. I keep wondering whether I’m schizophrenic! What was it? Where has it gone! How can it disappear! In order to recapture it so that I can work I have pasted the walls with photographs of the places. This works to a certain extent. Amazing though how the fear of not being able to capture that place, of failure, and criticism comes back. Annoying! Challenging! Perhaps working like this will produce interesting things.


Just painting
by Nancy, Minnesota, USA

I am an artist and a co-owner of a small manufacturing company. My time for painting is greatly diminished by the energy I commit to this company and the love I have for our product, though I still manage to paint and make a constant effort to sketch. My dedication to art remains forever strong though my work with our company demands a lot from me. I paint much more aggressively now, and with greater intensity than in the slower, more methodical days of my life as a “full-time painter.” Ideas race through my mind and work is executed more forcefully in the environment in which I now paint. I am currently more productive in that I am much more satisfied with my painting, not discarding any as they are all done with such fervor and from a posture of great devotion to finishing my work. My paintings almost become mini-vacations, each one being a postcard from the artist within. They are little rewards of my commitment to stay true to my art, little thank-you’s for pressing myself to paint. I love what I am producing, and am amazed at the reaction of those around me as to the diversity of this production. My paintings are very psychological, not just pretty pictures. They come from a place of me demanding more of myself than I thought possible, almost like an athlete pushing himself to perform at a level he hadn’t before. I am used to this feeling, it is what art has always been for me, it is what makes me an artist, it is what makes me love art. However, the intensity has changed, that volume is turned up, the execution is harder, faster, more driven due to time constraints, and I am producing better work because of it.

My point is, I find this all so curious. As I read your letters, I am so glad for the artists that wake up and paint. I am so happy for my fellow-artists who are living and being and practicing art. I am so glad for my friends and fellow-painters and sculptors who live and breathe the execution of their work. I am so glad for them all. For their passion, their excellence, their commitment to art. And yet, I am perfectly happy, working and dedicating myself to an outside interest from art (our company) and scheduling my painting as time permits, not able to just “wake up and paint.” I think my painting is better because of it. It’s harder, more focused, not so prescribed. It has an edginess to it, almost an ugliness, that I find beautiful, like the question mark that asks us to look deeper or the dim light of night that forces us to stare into the darkness to see. And as a side note, as a collector of art on a small scale, I have noticed my enthusiasm for collecting increase, and I am wondering much more now than ever before what drove an artist to produce a work, what did they see, what did they know, what are they telling me, or is it just a joke? Was it from their heart, their passion, their love that they produced or did they just have some time on their hands and wanted to create. You see, I am not “creating” work anymore, I am painting. Seems there is a difference. Perhaps it comes from a hunger to paint vs. being well-satisfied with the daily activity of it.


Artnet activity
by Joanna Ballard

I am interested in the results about the “effectiveness of selling art on the web.” I have been on Artnet for a year. I have felt that it was primarily a “show and tell” art registry. Not long after I was on Artnet, the Houston ADA top galleries started to get on Artnet (not by my influence). Recently comments from Houston and New York consultants said that art under 2,000 US dollars was selling, but not over that. That suggests the kind of market viewing the art sites. Although I received many hits, and some mail direct to my home, none were buyers. I have since had a show in Ireland, and am currently represented by Art Addiction, Sweden. Why are all the top people on Artnet, but few sales? Artist Nancy Hoffman said it was good on sales for them in the beginning, but tapered off. Most sales happen by direct contact with the gallery via showings. And then, there is the built in problems of selling via the site. Website dealers have the money for a purchase sent to them, but the artist is left to handle all the charges; in other words they do not operate like “real” galleries or dealers.


You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.

That includes Rick of Hotmailand who can’t work when he travels (‘too much stuff’) and Sylvia of Tennessee who needs to go away, especially to workshops, to do any painting.

And also Anders Zoon of Antwerp, Belgium, who wants to know which brand of gin is found to be the best by North American artists.

And Josanne van Hees of Vancouver, BC, who advises having only one gin at a time and contributes a quote from Jack Kornfield: “It’s a very short dance. We’re here only for a little while. Honour it. Live each moment as if it was your last.”



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