On your knees


Dear Artist,

What surprised me after the last letter, as well as the valuable tips and systems sent in, were the number of artists who wrote to say that a studio was not all that important. It seems there’s a bit of a Spartan wave out there. Some pretty responsible artists are apparently working out of cigar boxes, on kitchen tables, or in old brown-paper bags.

“Once in a while
I don’t know why
the ‘ease’ in easel
seems a lie
for there are times
when I find more ease
holding the canvas
on my knees.” (John Engle)

It reminded me of an amazing little exercise that builds confidence and practically always surprises those who try it: Leave your home with nothing but the clothes on your back, two empty yogurt cups, and $50. Go to an art store and buy a stretched canvas, a small set of student quality acrylics, some medium and a couple of brushes — or other combination of your choosing. The idea is to have money left over for coffee. Paint anything — a scene, something from your imagination, the guy that sold you the stuff. Do it on a park bench, in your car, a coffee shop, anywhere. Try to feel like a Martian dropped for the first time on Planet Earth. You may look funny — who cares? Feel a sense of novelty and just let yourself go. You can finish on the spot or leave a bit for tomorrow. There’ll be stuff left over for your studio. Except the canvas. That shop canvas will have made the time-honored transformation into the magic of art — with a life and a journey of its own. In this exercise there’s a memorable and unique hour to be had, and you will know better than ever the value of your gift.

One other thing: While you’re pushing paint around and getting a bit of it on your knees, listen to yourself saying: “Damn, I’m good.”

Best regards,


PS: “My motto has always been to keep it simple: a few colors, a paintbrush, and a surface to work on.” (Candida Alvarez) “The great artist is the simplifier.” (Henri Amiel)

Esoterica: If you feel like it, send me a jpeg or a photo of your work. I want to buy one I like the best, at your price, for my own collection. With your permission we’ll publish some of the others in a future clickback.

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


by David Oleski, Mount Joy, Lancaster Co. PA, USA

Just the other day it occurred to me how much stuff I have. When I arrived in this town over 15 years ago, I had almost nothing. A bicycle, a sleeping bag and a toothbrush. Life was simple and efficient. Now, I look around my studio in the same building, and see an entire kitchen, overhead loft, two computers and a laptop networked together, three cats, an eight foot tall easel, stereo, TV, DVD, VCR, desks, workbenches, supplies stacked and piled in every corner, and only a few walkways between it all. When I wake up I have my high fibre non dairy soy milk with cereal and fruit and a cup of espresso. I read the news on the computer after feeding a singing chorus of cats. Email, chat, website and telephone all get my attention while my espresso cools. Like people addicted to solving crossword puzzles, I’m addicted to making these hundreds of components fit neatly together so my head is cleared for painting. In some ways, things are still fairly simple. Maybe there’s yet one more moving part I could add to this puzzle.


Creativist or artist
by Norma Torres, San Mateo, California, USA

I feel acknowledged as a “creativist” since I surrendered trying to become an “artist.” I love those little kits that are created for children, the ones with little pots and bits of things that you will need (instructions can be read or thrown away). It allows me to dabble and try, the expense is low and therefore the commitment and expectations can be low as well. If I don’t have a good experience I can always blame the poor quality materials and consider what I want to change or retain. And if I do have a good experience, well that’s all I was seeking!


Never a little cart again
by Kristine L. Amodeo, Senora, California, USA

I’ve just had the extreme fortune of having my husband remodel my art studio to include 24 ft. of new windows (northwest exposure under dozens of oak trees), and feel incredibly blessed to not have to work off of a rolling microwave cart in my kitchen any more. Having a studio has utterly opened up my ability to create more. It has allowed me to teach and teaching has in turn nurtured my own work. It has given me space to be super messy and play my favorite music really loud, and leave my paints out if I feel like it. I would never choose to go back to working off a cramped little cart again.


Studio is essential
by Ross Munro, Deep Cove, BC, Canada

Unlike those Spartan individuals, I feel a studio is essential to a natural flow of work. The idea of gathering materials before I paint and then packing them away afterwards is a potent disincentive to the creative process — and aren’t there enough distractions in life without that? On the other hand a studio doesn’t have to be a separate room — but it must be a dedicated space. It’s a place where you can spend the day or grab twenty minutes between necessary distractions, and make something from nothing. My studio is what used to be the family room of this house. I put a glass sliding door between the studio and the garage, which became my woodwork shop. I make my own frames and stretchers, and just about anything else I need that can be made of wood. My studio has a skylight, and is compact, about 15 x 12 feet. I paint in w/c and acrylics, cut my own mats, store a lot of work and assemble my frames here so it all needs to be organized. The cliche of a place for everything and everything in its place has grown to mean something to me — I dislike having to search for something I was only using an hour ago. I made a lot of peg racks and hang my tools in plain sight — this helps! On the Spartan side — in the spring and summer I travel in a Westfalia camper. I sketch in pencil in small notebooks on pages stiff enough to accept w/c washes. These sketches are the source material for paintings I do in the studio the rest of the year.


Like a pretzel
by Pamela M Simpson, Woodstock, Connecticut, USA

My artist husband and I recently made a room over into a new studio space where we can work together. He brought our big easels up and a work table, 2 chairs, a taboret. He came in later to find me working out of a pochade box on the floor, with my things all around me. “You aren’t going to work on the floor of our new studio everyday?” he asked me. I had to really think about that. Why do I sometimes work on the floor? I think it’s because in my 43 years of living and being an artist I have not always had as much as a chair to sit on and work — never mind a whole studio. I’ve learned to adapt my methods to fit any space. I like to do the finish work on small plein-air studies looking over them so I can see the texture of the paint. Since most of my paintings begin outside, sometimes I take my studio work outside to see it better. I’m glad I have a new studio, I’ve been a lot more productive with it. But I’m so used to adapting to whatever space I have, some of these methods actually work better for me than standing at an easel indoors using my taboret table. It is getting more difficult in my older age to sit on the floor Indian style for hours and then get up. Maybe I better consider listening to my husband who loves me and doesn’t want me to turn into a pretzel. Maybe I should try a chair.


A lot like sex
by Kelly Borsheim, Texas, USA

The creative effort is a lot like sex. It’s not so much the equipment you have as what is in your mind. The real excitement and beauty is in what we think and feel and what we do about it.


Into the woods
by Beverley Carlock, Medford, Oregon, USA

I tried it in the woods, on my knees. I got a kids watercolor paint set at Wal-Mart – the big size. I have a huge box of printer paper from the dot matrix days. A pair of pants that will NEVER EVER fit. I remade the pants into a carrier for the watercolors, brushes, pencils, clipboard of paper, paper towels, some wet-wipes in packets, and a plastic bag for garbage. I’ll eventually get a collapsible water bowl in the pet department, but the yogurt container works for now.


Tips needed
by dreamingoddess

I am looking for some tips and “how to” go about transferring any images from a magazine, photo, photocopy to a canvas. Can you offer any advice or, start a forum or, point me in the right direction.

(RG note) The most effective medium for attaching paper materials to canvas or other support is acrylic medium. It’s a clear emulsion which penetrates the paper and adheres it to the support. When using very thin paper or newsprint there’s a tendency for the material on the reverse to show through as well. I recommend using the medium like glue at almost full strength. A later coat put on top when dry will penetrate into the poorly adhered areas and improve the hold. The running of colors which comes with commercial inks can be lessened by fast drying small areas with the help of a hair dryer. Photocopy material works well and can be a highly creative collage medium as it gives the artist an opportunity to repeat, enlarge, diminish, and change the color of the motif. It also gives the option of using acid-free paper. As most commercial inks tend to be fugitive I recommend finishing off with at least one coat of Acrylic final varnish — particularly one with an Ultra Violet Light Stabilizer. (UVLS) This will not, however, guarantee light stability indefinitely. If you have a tough old photocopier you can put chunks of canvas through it. Sometimes, depending on the type of copier, it’s necessary to spray-fix these rather than painting on an acrylic emulsion or medium. I find second, third and fourth generation photocopies from actual photos or original artwork can be teased into interesting effects. I’m not familiar with the method of transferring ink directly from printed material to canvas. Perhaps some readers my help you with this.


Painter’s Keys Gallery

(RG note) So many works of art came in by way of jpeg that we felt we needed a committee to look them over. We have made the decision to include six or seven at a time for the next few clickbacks so the download time is not too long. I have asked my assistant Therese Lewis and my daughter Sara Genn to help out for the time being. The work of art I’m choosing to buy for myself will be my choice alone — and may not be one of the ones included here. I won’t make my final decision on this until later in December — but I intend to look at every single one of that comes in. The ones we’ve chosen here are some which our group of three felt to be exemplary. They are in no particular order. Thank you for the variety, the quality and the sharing. Please feel free to send more or direct us to a website at any time.


acrylic painting by
D Copithorne


“Nude with a rose”
photograph by
Rigoberto Rodríguez










by Kim Rody


“Three pears 7”
oil painting by
David Oleski










“My secret hideaway”
by Yvonne Morrish








You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 95 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2001.


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.