Dear Artist,

Recently, Jil Ashton-Leigh of Steveston, BC, Canada told me about a wise Chinese art instructor who looked at her painting of the Fraser River and said, “Your mind — it is too fast.” He told her to sit by the river for 30 minutes each day — no camera, no cellphone. “When you ‘observe’ the river then you will come to ‘know’ it,” he said. If you’re interested, you can read Jil’s full letter The Art of Patience at the bottom of this letter. Thanks, Jil.

Berkshire Forest (date unkown) Oil on linen 15.5 x 19.5 inches by Richard Alana Schimd (b.1934)

Berkshire Forest
Oil on linen
15.5 x 19.5 inches
by Richard Alan Schmid (b.1934)

I first noticed my own problem about 20 years ago. I was losing patience with any outdoor painting I started. I was jumping up and running around with my camera looking like an advanced case of St. Vitus’ dance. It wasn’t the coffee. It was something more serious. In my love affair with technology, I had mistaken my camera for a life. In my compulsion to grab every image, I lost sight of places I could pleasantly inhabit. I had become a mere collector without actually observing the things I was collecting, and I was feeling bad about myself. Further, I realized I was living in a world that was “putting in a nickel and trying to get a dollar tune.” I took the advice of the great American art educator and author of The Art Spirit, Robert Henri. He warned of the potential problems of too much camera, too little time. To build observational skills when painting from a live model, he frequently placed his students and their easels in one room and the model in another. “There is no art without contemplation,” he told his students as they trudged back and forth.

Reclining Nude (Jamie), 1978 oil wash 5 x 8 inches by Richard Alan Schmid

Reclining Nude (Jamie), 1978
Oil wash
5 x 8 inches
by Richard Alan Schmid

One fine day I had my “hour of decision.” Just as a child eventually deserts its soother, I suddenly didn’t need my camera any more. Brothers and sisters, if you’ve been troubled, or if you’ve been teetering on the edge, both Jil and I need you to convert. Glad tidings are in the grace of patience. “All things come to he who waits,” wrote the poet Violet Fane in 1890. Sit still. Look around. Be one with nature. Inhale life. Observe the nuances. Come sit by the river.

Best regards,


PS: “Patience has to be cultivated. Perhaps the entire creative process can be viewed as a patience builder.” (Jil Ashton-Leigh)

 Mule Deer, 1987 Oil on canvas 20 x 16 inches by Richard Alan Schmid

Mule Deer, 1987
Oil on canvas
20 x 16 inches
by Richard Alan Schmid

Esoterica: Several years ago I was visiting William Wordsworth’s cottage near Grasmere in the English Lake District. Alone, I followed his trails out behind and above his property and into the shining dales. Passing slowly by nodding daffodils and under scudding clouds, I suddenly got it. No wonder Wordsworth was such a great poet! He took the time to think, to wonder, to contemplate. While predating the phone and the instant camera, he nevertheless had a warning: “The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!” (William Wordsworth, 1770-1850)

This letter was originally published as “Patience” on May 14, 2013.

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 Summer Squash, Tomatoes, Beet Greens and Onions from Mrs. Carlson's Garden Oil on canvas 18 x 24 inches by Richard Alan Schmid

Summer Squash, Tomatoes, Beet Greens and Onions from Mrs. Carlson’s Garden
Oil on canvas
18 x 24 inches
by Richard Alan Schmid

“In our fast paced society, where instant gratification is the norm, have we become too impatient? How can we be more mindful? How do we cultivate patience? One of the first artists I studied with was a wise man, who had spent a lifetime learning his craft in China. He took one look at my fledgling attempt to hurriedly paint the Fraser River and said, “Your mind …it is too fast. Slow your thinking. You believe you know this river? You do not know. Your homework is to go to the river and observe. You must watch the river each day for 30 minutes. No photos, no cell phones. When you observe the river then you will come to know it.” On the first day, I quickly headed down to the river to watch. Before I knew it, my mind started to wander and I reached for my cell phone. Perhaps I should take a few photos, to help me remember the river, I thought to myself. My total observation time had lasted 5 minutes. The next day, it was raining and I stood on the dock as the muddy river swirled past me. Surely, he wasn’t expecting me to stand here and get wet I thought to myself. This time, I had made it 7 minutes. By the end of the week, I worked my way up to a grand total of 15 minutes. While this was an improvement, it still fell short of the required time. The following Saturday, I unpacked my art gear, and quickly started on my painting of the Fraser River. The instructor watched me then quietly asked, “You completed the homework assignment?” “Of course,” I replied confidently as I continued to paint. He looked at me then asked, “Thirty minutes each day?” I nodded and continued to paint but the look on his face told me he knew I hadn’t the patience to complete his homework. “If you want to be a good artist, first you must have patience,” he said. Three years later, I am beginning to understand that patience has to be cultivated. Perhaps, the entire creative process can be viewed as a patience builder. My current instructor routinely tells me, “Art cannot exist without patience. Less painting. More thinking.” In other words, slow down and live in the moment, take the time to reflect on what you have done and where you are headed. St. Augustine once wrote, “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” I am just now realizing that these are words of wisdom for artists as well.”   (Jil Ashton-Leigh, The Art of Patience)



  1. Cindy McComas on

    How timely is this as I set about revising a painting, and “just want to get it done”. It reminds me to take some time to study and observe. Thank you!

  2. A skilled quilter once said to me, “You don’t need patience if you love what you are doing.”

    I had been admiring her beautiful handiwork on a vast, queen-sized quilt. I had said it must have taken a lot of patience to complete the complex, curving, hand-appliquéd decorations.

    I try to remember her reply whenever I find myself impatient and rushing to make a painting.

  3. My third attempt at capturing the tranquility of Monet’s pond and garden, from a couple of photos. I wish I could have sat quietly for hours but alas. I do have to think what I want to convey. Patience was never a great virtue of mine. I’m getting there.

  4. A valuable lesson! It is not really about not taking photographs but more about learning how to get to know your subject by being with it, observing, taking the time to notice the small and large changes and the in-between spaces. There is someone who taught photography using the same approach. It is John Daido Lori in The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life. I love the exercise of Robert Henri with the students in one room and the model in the other. I can imagine how difficult this would be and the amount of contemplation it would take looking at the model before going back to the canvas. All the best of today everyone!

  5. Wise advice indeed for anyone endeavoring to paint outside. I try not to set up easel until I have a clear idea why I stopped at the location in the first place. And how I would like to proceed to express my thoughts with a brush. Any short cut leads to dissatisfaction, I find. Enthusiasm by itself is not enough.

  6. Thanks for this Sara, sound advice, perhaps by slowing dowm a passion develops for the subject matter too. I completed a piece a few months ago and when I was done I felt the experience was like reading a good book which you didn’t want to end. That doesn’t happen often but when it does I will try to learn from it, enjoy the process. The piece sold almost right away. Guess my sticking to ‘paint whaf you love and it shines through’ works.

  7. Many thanks for letting us see some of Richard Schmid’s work once more because I find his painting strokes inspiring for me. And the invitation to enjoy the benefits of patience is insightful in a fast-paced world, although Covid-19 has imposed upon us a reminder that deceleration can bring healthy outcomes.

  8. Dave Finberg on

    I like to capture details with my camera, so I don’t feel the need to, with my painting.
    I use the camera to help me see different views of a subject, and frame them in a two dimensional space.
    To flatten the background , and eliminate the surrounding elements, to focus on the subject, and it’s essential elements.
    I use the act of taking pictures to focus my minds eye, and rarely refer to them later, except to remind me of the beauty all around us.
    After the picture taking, I sit and soak in the feeling of the place, often playing a flute, before painting a picture.

    To hurry is to worry
    And worry I will not
    With to fast you get little
    With patience get a lot

  9. Nancy Butler on

    thanks for sharing Sara.

    Patience has not been my forte. Slowly am working toward it. These letters
    are very inspiring

  10. Jennifer Taylor on

    Thanks for that interesting article, it reminded me of a trip to Egypt, we were halfway through our trip in Aswan when my camera conked out. I was devastated and rushed to the first camera store I could find. Apparently the fine sand got into the lens and jammed the camera. This changed my entire perspective, I had to adapt to seeing and absorbing everything myself with no camera to record everything. It was quite an experience as I was addicted to photographing everything. It taught me to just enjoy looking and remembering. Of course someone on our tour Kindly sent me duplicates of all their photos.

  11. This article offers SO MUCH WISDOM about observation and taking time to do just that….sit by the river and watch, get to know it. Patience is vital to creating; a painting done hastily can be detected at once, while one that has taken time, patience and contemplation has, to me, a greater value overall. Thank you for reposting Robert’s valuable words and his wisdom.

    • I can relate so well to this wonderful article on patience . A few years ago I made a memorable visit to Europe , The trip included Rome ,Florence Venice and then a cruise to Greece taking in the most amazing historical sites …accentuated by museum visits and exploration at Naples ,Olympia . I took so many pictures I could have illustrated a book Instead I stored them away and decided to allow myself the freedom of recording my impressions in a different way, namely without references from my camera.I worked for three months painting my favorite subject and allowing my observations to patiently guide me through. It eventually emerged all the time and patience I had felt while being overwhelmed by the work of the creation in the Sistine Chapel, the iconic columns of the Acropolis , the amazing figures found at Olympia on the frescoes , My imagination needed no camera as it been taken care of by patience of observing and needed no reinforcement .Twenty years later, I still enjoy my record of an amazing cultural visit and my room divider is here to remind me .

  12. Patience without observation is a waste of time. Learning to see the beauty at a glance, To see the fleeting beauty in its full glory as it disappears as quickly as it appeared. Learning to see the softly spoken words of God apparent in the beauty of the common things around us. Patience? Yes but Observation breeds patience and both allow us to see better than either alone.

  13. Karen Blanchet on

    Patience catches me by surprise sometimes. I am working on a series of abstracts taken from another series done in 6x6in format. The paper is no longer square and I find myself unable to proceed. Occasionally I stand quietly and listen. It is a new song with a new ending. So much fun.

  14. Jan Christie on

    Years ago I worked with a wise First Nation elder who lovingly told me to “Hurry up and slow down!!” I often hear her remind me.

  15. Barb Newton on

    I am always amazed when I stop and notice the beauty around me?! Yes, it takes patience to stop moving so fast and to stop missing all the special flowers, blossoms and smiles along the way! The value of patience can be brought into every moment and I thank you for that perspective!
    I would love to connect and visit and see some of your art work! Please send me a message because I don’t have your recent email! I hope you are managing through these trying times!!
    All the best!

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