I’m watching my friend Don Getz standing at his French easel producing a half-sheet watercolor on Yupo. Leaning forward, his spare hand tucked behind his back, he’s a maestro conducting a small orchestra — his brush flicking like a baton above dangling water-cans and spritzered cakes under a cocked parasol. The work speedily materializes in front of him, as if by some sort of magic it focuses into a state of being to the wonder of observers. Why is it, I’ve often asked, that guys like Don seem to “have it” while others stiffly struggle to fill their spaces?
This confidence, this panache, is often the result of a private learning process tempered with trial and error. There is an industriousness in the background that is not always evident in the here and now. Here are a few observations:
The artist has his own ideas of comfort, the rightness of his particular equipment and it’s suitability to bring out his personal best.
The artist prepares himself to be casual and at ease. He does little drawing; rather he lets the whole thing evolve and flow. He can do this because he has many others — successes and failures — under his belt.
The artist, consciously or not, is in a Zen-like trance where obligation and expectation take second place to a three-way intercourse with subject matter, art-mind, and the work itself.
At the same time the artist is able to intellectually juggle a hard-earned history of technique and methodology and introduce tested solutions when the need arises.
As the curious eye cruises the Getz surfaces, one sees a field of happy accidents, freshness and soft-focus at all costs, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny but significant changes of mind.
PS: “Industry in art is a necessity — not a virtue — and any evidence of the same, in the production, is a blemish, not a quality; a proof, not of achievement, but of absolutely insufficient work, for work alone will efface the footsteps of work.” (James Abbot McNeill Whistler)
Esoterica: “He makes it look so easy,” is a statement often heard. It’s his job, yes, but unless I’m very much mistaken, the job didn’t always come so easily. “Mine is the horny hand of toil.” (J. S. Sargent) Don Getz’s work can be seen at http://watercolor-online.com/DonGetz/
The following are selected responses to the above letter. Thank you for writing.
by Sandy Sandy, Tabernacle, New Jersey, USA
I love that word — “Panache” — ~ a dash of flamboyance in style or action. To paint with it enables the right side of the brain to take over, allowing the individual artist to merely become the vehicle through which the creative energy flows. I believe anyone can achieve it with the right frame of mind. If one is diligent and more emphasis is placed on the act rather than the results, one can allow it to happen. I believe it is part of the evolution of being an artist. For me, it is a wonderful out-of-body experience!
“The right time is now”
by Theresa Lee, Sechelt, B.C. Canada
When I was watching a Don Getz’s painting demonstration it looked very easy to me. I thought I could do it like him. But I found it was not easy. I realized that the easiness in his skill came from his confidence after a lifetime of trial and error. At this workshop I also realized my problem. I have always blamed it on my situation that I couldn’t concentrate on painting. I have always been waiting for some day, some time, for the right time. I have now decided this is the time. I am now going to go to my room.
by Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
I’ve been painting en plein air for the past couple of weeks with the artist group I belong to. Aside from the passers by who marvel at what one takes for granted, one really is in a time warp. Two hours go by in what seems like 5 minutes. At my advanced age of 54, the most remarkable symptom of the passage of time are my stiff legs. I’ve been known to ask someone to help me rise from my very comfortable seated position. There are no model breaks, no coffee breaks. The only break is you when you can’t go on any longer. I’m sometimes disappointed that I couldn’t do more, get more in. Even after all that time, I feel I haven’t accomplished enough.
Unlocking the flow
by Lynda Sappington, West Alexandria, Ohio, USA
I’m a sculptor and have been stuck on a sculpture that just won’t behave itself, so I took the advice I’d just given someone else and changed mediums — broke out the watercolors, which I’ve never been comfortable with, and decided to just play. Painted a flower (I sculpt horses). It was amazingly good (I was truly shocked — I’m not a 2-D person!!) and really helped release that locked up feeling I had. Hopefully, it will transfer to the sculpture and get it completed quickly. But my response to your letter was caused by the fact that I’ve been working on my art for several years now (started it just a few years ago) and have never had any feeling of success with 2-D work. Suddenly, it’s just “there” — all the other artwork I’ve done has helped the 2-D without my realizing it.
by Joseph P. Blodgett
For me it’s been a matter of survival. Outliving the stultifying lessons of childhood, the agendas of education and the University of Hard Knocks. Poverty set in and I had no choice but to earn some sort of proficiency in art. A family to feed. What I found surprised us all and gave us a life we could only wish for in our fondest dreams.
Assertiveness not easy for everyone
by Win Thrasher, nr. Leek, Staffs., UK
I think some artists have more trouble putting obligation and expectation in second place, even after years of experience. The struggle for confidence in painting is much like fighting to speak your own mind. Being assertive is not easy for everyone and getting up on the stage like Don Getz might be impossible. However, the experienced artist should still be able to produce work that will ‘efface the footsteps’ of the struggle. The final product is the desired statement.
by Duane Brightfield, New York, USA
Those who recently attended the William Blake retrospective at the MOMA in New York will see a paradigm shift in the type of art that is being done today and encouraged by the likes of Don Getz. His is a thoughtless “leisure art” which is a suitable pastime for people with time on their hands and money (for workshops) in their pockets. What is now produced has little to do with an intensely felt and visualized personal pantheon of mystical concepts that previously raised art to such high levels.
(RG note) Yupo is a smooth synthetic paper (plastic) which is gaining popularity among artists (particularly in watercolor) as well as designers and illustrators. It offers the ability to “take out” almost 100%. You can learn about it at http://www.yupo.com
In Erik Weihenmayer (the blind man who recently climbed Everest) there is a case to be made for his friends who came along and mentioned the crevasses he was approaching. Don Getz is one of those friends who have been responsible for many of us to do our personal best. While we may not paint like him, to hear his wisdom for only a few minutes makes us surer of our footsteps on our personal assault of the great mountain.
by Skip Van Lenten, Rochelle Park, New Jersey, USA
I wonder if Don Getz is any relation to Arthur Getz? Arthur lived in Cornwall, CT, a few miles from us at one time, and was well known as a cover artist for New Yorker magazine — some 250 covers, in fact. We got to know each other pretty well, since he used my wife and son as models for some of his work. He passed away in 1996. One of the things I’ll never forget about him was his insistence that he became an artist because he worked so hard at it and not because he had some hidden talent that suddenly emerged. I believe that’s been the gist of some of your letters, as well, and good advice for the dreamer in us who wants to be able to sit back and wait for inspiration.
You may be interested to know that artists from 85 countries, as well as every state in the USA and all provinces in Canada have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.
That includes Rosemary Dodd of Gainesville, Georgia, who went painting in the San Diego Zoo. And Vartini, Armenian from Istanbul, now in Boston, who says “Thanks for the dose of elevation.”
And Lynne Grillmair who says, “the Ireland painting trip was funny.”
And K K Kim of Taipei, Taiwan, who quotes a Chinese saying: “Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.”
And Annette Waterbeek who says, “The warmth of the sun comes just as you need it.”