One to another


Dear Artist,

Like a lot of us I get quite a few calls from beginning artists in need of advice. Sometimes it starts off with a technical question that leads to larger, more motivational questions. Yesterday a neighbour lady, Carmen, phoned and wanted “general, overall mentoring” leading to “guidance on what she wanted to do.” She had painted part of a painting that very morning and wondered if she could bring it over. I gave my usual: “Paint a hundred more and then bring them over.”


“Monument to The Burghers of Calais”
plaster sculpture, 1889
by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

This letter is dedicated to the Carmens of this world. There’s a singular habit you need to develop. You need to build a regular productive rhythm that explores your own doing. It’s going to be a bit like chain-smoking — you use the last one to light up the next. But unlike a production line where all the products are the same, this conveyor belt will only exist in order to show development, variation, possibilities. Here are a few keys to a possible adventure in “one to another”:




“The Hand of God”
marble sculpture, ca.1896
by Auguste Rodin

Start up your line every day at the same hour.

Temporarily renounce other joys of your life.

Let no one and no thing interrupt your flow.

Supplement your imagination with books.

Let motifs and ideas grow out of themselves.

Keep asking yourself “what could be?”

Keep fresh — do not linger or anguish.

Be delusional — be full of “moxie” and “mojo.”

Let your processes become your governors.

Become particular about your tools and systems.

Take joy and optimism to your growing mastery.

Be always prepared to change your mind.

Fall in love with the actual doing.

Use your intuition to assess your progress.

Accumulate your winners and toss your losers.

If you do this every day, Carmen, you will find out whether you’re cut out for it or not. If you’re not, that’s fine too — you’ll be able to get on with another side of your life. Give it a try. It’s not like it’s a lifetime commitment. And if you do get to a hundred please give me a call and come on over.


“The Thinker”
bronze sculpture, 1903
by Auguste Rodin

Best regards,


PS: “He was a worker whose only desire was to penetrate with all his forces into the humble and difficult significance of his tools. Therein lay a certain renunciation of Life, but in just this renunciation lay his triumph, for Life entered into his work.” (Rainer Maria Rilke on Rodin)

Esoterica: Of all the motivational material that comes and goes for creators, a single insight is above diamonds — it is that our currency is what we are able to make. Ideas, words, knowledge and dreams are of course important, but more than anything we need to see ourselves as simple “thing-makers.”

This letter was originally published as “One to another” on September 17, 2004.

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“You must always work.” (Auguste Rodin)



    • I just got back from yet another attempt to paint en plain air. The result of my work tonight is simply awful. Reading this makes all the difference. I’ll go back out tomorrow. Sandra Zulawinski

      • Your plein-air style will diverge from your studio style, and emerge as something wonderful on its own. Don’t be surprised if your new plein-air style then has a a positive effect on your studio style.
        My first plein-air painting was so awful it found its way into the fire. Now I just can’t wait to get out there and DO it!

    • Barbara King on

      I know exactly what you mean Muriel…..I keep buying art books and think each one will improve my output however the best I create are when I’m loose, in the moment and not concerned about being perfect, just losing myself in the colours, the dash of the paint and being right there, at that moment.

  1. yes and yes….. Painting the 300 is salvation, in fact, when “something happens” to upset the life.

    Personal organization or recovery is supposed to be a natural process, but that is assuming you are doing your part to “get there” with it.

    A setback is a great excuse to upgrade things…your diet, exercise and rest qualities and of course – your art.

    Do it
    thanks Sara, as always.



    I like all your Dad’s keys in this article EXCEPT: “let no one and nothing interrupt your flow”…any junk artist can use his art to bounce people off. But it’s considered a wildman behavior. In your Dad’s case, I suspect, by the way he loved us all, he might need that one, to get things done at all, sometimes.

    However: A mature artist opens the doors wide to the full and balanced human experience and welcomes any VALID moment that happens to interrupt easel time WITH GRACE and love….never resentment. If we are creative, it’s about life and not just about us an the easel. e.

    • While you are working, do not let anyone or anything stop you or interrupt you. Of course, you must love and interact with the rest of the world – how else will you be able to communicate and share your work and life? But when my husband would get lonesome and come to my room to tell me that the cat was hungry, or did I want a cup of coffee, the right side of my brain would snap shut and the glow of creativity would be cut off. So, work without interruption and demand respect for your process, and then, when you are spent, let the rest of the world back in. Don’t let a phone call or the laundry keep you from your important work.

      • Yes indeed Ruth! Sometimes the computer can be one of those distractions, but used well it can come up with such wisdom as Robert can be depended upon to provide!

    • Barbara Belyea on

      I like Elle’s thoughtful reply about “flow.” She recognizes the difference between aimless effort and a mature artist’s practice. My view of flow is a bit different though I agree that there are various kinds and levels.
      I’m a writer and I’ve taught writing to students who face the blank page and don’t know where to begin. They may have an idea and above all they want to write. They want to be writers, and here they are, faced with dreaded writer’s block! Many instructors will encourage these people to scribble away, not lifting the pen from the page, putting down thoughts as they occur. The same students end up with “writing” that says nothing and can’t by any stretch be called art.
      There are at least two kinds of “flow” in writing and in painting.
      One kind is the assiduous practice that results in a hundred paintings or a hundred pages in a notebook — the regular exercise of the elements and techniques of one’s medium. The best exercise is systematic investigation of techniques and styles. No one is an artist by virtue of this kind of flow; instead it is the careful practice of a craft.
      The second kind of flow happens only if and when the craft is mastered. It comes of writing only when you have something to say, of painting only when your mental vision is clear, not just looking around. No writer’s block, no confusion, no hesitation. You know what you want to express and you have the tools to do so. This is the wonderful deliberate moment of creation, the blend of inspiration and control, the only moment that brings forth art.

  2. I love this letter. There’s no shortcuts in being an artist. My favorite book on the subject, The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield comes to mind.
    There’s a trend lately to “Paint Nites” where one attends an evening class where a teacher presumably walks you through how to paint a scene and wine liberates your creative juices. My social network feed is full of these renderings.
    I giggle to myself thinking about what Bob would say.
    I’m pleased to see so many interested in art and hope it manifests for some into a serious hobby. But I’m also a little fearful that these works will be seen in local cafes and restaurant walls, ruining my appetite and making me shudder for both serious artists and interior designers! :)
    A man once told me he was going to get in to selling his art because he’d painted a couple “good ones” on his security night shift. His parents were his best customers. He was admiring the price tag on one of my paintings at a friends art co-op and inquiring how long it had taken me to paint in comparison. At least a thousand hours I replied.

  3. Bridget Syms on

    It get serious when all that you have to live on is what you earn from what you have created. This list is a great guide, I would add another. A professional turns up every day.

    • Ah – mostly very wise as usual – but hey – I like to encourage beginners as I was encouraged early on . We can all find something positive to say about an artist’s new work – however experienced or not they are. It’s a mistake to be critical in any negative way as it’s so easy to crush someone’s spirit. Say something positive, even if the overall work isn’t up to scratch – and how can it be perfect when we’re all of us learning all the time. As we develop, we look back at the paintings we once thought were amazing and realise how much we’ve learned, how much we’ve come on. We grow all the time. But when our work is ‘watered’ by the warmth and light of someone’s interest and encouragement, we are inspired to keep going and to love our work with all our heart. So please take time to look at beginning paintings – it only takes a few moments. You will give the artist hope and joy. And isn’t that – hope and joy – what painting is all about? I’m a professional now after 25 years of painting and still hopeless sometimes and – sometimes – pretty good. My paintings give my customers pleasure at any rate. I’m well aware when a paintings not up to scratch and still love learning how to improve and develop – but I love it to bits. It’s so easy to be negative – let’s let positivity reign for ourselves – and all the beginning artists – who knows, a kind word may help them carry on .

      • Thanks for your insight. I couldn’t agree more! Sometimes the only difference between a “professional” and a “gifted amateur” is who has noticed their work and given them encouragement, hopefully in the form of justifiable compensation.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. It truly is a reconciliation between agony and ecstasy, if not a management issue.

  5. Pingback: One to Another | Whidbey Allied Artists

  6. Thanks !
    … 20 years ago I asked one italian artist: ” .. how you get inspiration..” and she answered:
    ” I dont wait for one to come , I just go to my essel every morning and work, and inspiration come ..”
    (I still dont do that.. sometimes it happens)

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