Personal coach


Dear Artist,

My friend Ralph, who doesn’t mind my talking about this, is way out of shape. His personal coach, Alberto, is a ladder-chested ex-lightweight boxer with blinding white teeth and lots of hair. Alberto comes over to Ralph’s twice a week. Sometimes they work out on Ralph’s expensive equipment. At other times Alberto drives him in his Beemer to an upscale gym. Personally, I’d say Ralph’s still the same. Maybe not. Maybe he’s bigger.


Henry David Thoreau

“Tennis players got ’em, why not you?” Ralph says. He’d like me to book Alberto, but Alberto’s booked solid, just one of many solidly-booked Albertos around here.

It’s no surprise when people ask me to be their personal coach. It happened again only yesterday. The lady was talking art, not abs. Come to think of it, a lot of us buffs are in demand. So I was thinking of all the inefficiency and disappointment that must ride on Ralph and Alberto’s contract. And while I like the idea of tailored guidance, I rather wanted to offer a more general workout. A sort of “Jenny Craig Success Course of the Arts.” Mine’s free. Here it is:

Find a sanctuary where you can comfortably work.

Dedicate at least two hours a day to your art.
Have more than enough equipment and supplies.
Set short- and long-term goals and keep track of progress.
Think of your work as exercise, not championship play.
Explore series development and exhaust personal themes.
Work alone with the benefit of books and perhaps tapes.
Replace passive consumption with creative production.
Use your own intuition and master your technology.
Feel the joy of personal, self-generated sweat.
Fall in love with your own working processes.
Be forever on the lookout for the advent of style.
Try to be your own person and claim your rights.
Don’t bother setting yourself up for rejection.
Don’t swing too wildly and damage the well-being of others.
Don’t jump into the ring until you’re feeling fit.

If you can stick with this regimen for a couple of months, I can pretty well guarantee your progress. If not, then at least the exercise will let you know the job’s not for you. We all have the potential to be slim, barrel-chested, rich, satisfied or evolved.

Best regards,


PS: “The man who goes alone can start today.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Esoterica: “I decided to learn everything I could about beans,” said Thoreau when he moved to Walden Pond. Artists looking for inspiration can’t go far wrong with Thoreau. Self-reliance, there’s your personal coach. I’ve noticed most of the real success stories happen without benefit of Albertos. We all need to find the character within ourselves to overcome our weaknesses and build our muscles.


Personal transformation
by Apryl Anderson, Aix-en-Provence, France

I am in the business of personal transformation, and must be prepared with a ready answer when asked. I find that my answers change somewhat, the more I exercise what I’m learning. We also call it ‘discipleship,’ but that applies specifically to the head coach. The rest of us are followers of the Way.

It’s so easy to let ourselves be distracted from the ultimate goal! Your ‘success course’ offers a straight shot on the road.


Refresh, charge up and work
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic


cherry, birch and plum sculpture
by Norman Ridenour

One thing I would add to your list. Look, look at what is around you. Fill your image bank: shapes and their combinations, colors and their juxtapositions, movements, gestures. Keep a pocket sketch book with you at all times and use it when you see something. Often a few words or a simple sketch will jog the memory later. My drawing teacher beat into us the need to exaggerate. Be aware of nature’s exaggerations: the tree just before the storm, the man talking wildly on his cell phone, the shape & wiggle of a nice female bottom, the rocking body of a sax player in full roar.

Picasso as a young man was a DANDY. There is a wonderful portrait in blue in the Los Angeles County Museum of his tailor whom he paid with the painting. He and his buddy, also a painter, would do the paseo through Barcelona every afternoon, dressed to the hilt, flirting, listening to music, betting on the dog or cock fights, gossiping, for three to four hours. They would have already had five good hours of work and would go back for five more. Go back refreshed, charged up and WORK. To the street world he was a late-sleeping fop, but he was Picasso.


Unfair comparison
by Mark Jackson, New York, NY, USA


Mark Jackson, personal trainer

Alright, as a personal trainer in Manhattan, I resent this one. Consider the following: The reason people don’t exercise is because they don’t like exercise. They don’t understand how, but they need to do it. You’re equating artists who like doing art with people who hate doing exercise. Artists have talent for art. Not very many people have any interest or ability to lift weights.

In ancient China, people paid doctors on a regular basis during the time they were healthy. When they got sick, the doctor was assumed not to be doing his job properly and was no longer paid. Society is returning to this model. In-home personal trainers are replacing house-call doctors in the role of maintaining people’s health. Having a personal trainer is a form of health insurance; it’s preemptive health-care. Left to their own devices, a lot of people will continue with their bad habits and have heart attacks. I’ve completely changed people’s lives physically. Not to mention the psychological aspects.


Bravo to Ralph
by Carolyn Newberger, MA, USA


“Wild turkey Manhattan”
oil painting
by Carolyn Newberger

I appreciate your personal coaching advice for the arts, but I don’t think you should put down Ralph’s work with Alberto. As you rightly emphasize, practice and process is the key, not championship play. The same is true for Ralph. Bravo to him for working out. He’s moving his difficult body, feeling better, developing new strength and flexibility, and sticking to a course of exercise that can’t help but benefit him, even if to your eye he doesn’t look different. He deserves your admiration and support, and, yes, it would be good for you, too.


Enthusiastic retirement
by Joan Stotler, Winchester, VI, USA

I always appreciate your sage advice. I’m due to retire soon and I’m counting the months. My mental schedule is an ambitious one and I truly hope that I’ll stick with it, having been used to an 8-5 work schedule, but I realize the temptations that will surely arise, since my guy is at home, too. I want to continue the nurturing of our blessed relationship.

Having said that, I am SO fired up and have been making lists of projects and studies that can be done and ways to add to the learning that seems, in the last year, to have grown to an excited sizzling.


Flying beyond Alberto
by Peter Trent, Hawkesbury, ON, Canada

I have, for several years, had an Alberto — her name is Lisa — and I am finding that the need for her services is becoming less, by far, as I progress. Good for me, tough for her!

And I observe a similar situation in my pursuit of the artistic ‘muse.’ I am becoming less reliant in my instructor as I begin to explore on my own — kind of like flying in a glider beyond airfield range for the first time — scary, as you know that you need to find the thermals to get you home, or you land out somewhere!

Both situations raise the pulse level but both can be a positive learning experience, and it sure beats hanging around the airfield! So, too, it is necessary to launch oneself into the unknown, metaphorically, embarking on a journey which has goals but no guarantee of them being accomplished.


Constructive criticism from a master
by Alpheus Jones, Pickering, ON, Canada


“The Wood Carver”
oil painting, 20 x 24 inches
by Alpheus Jones

In the old days before the proliferation of art schools, it was not uncommon for an aspiring artist to attach himself to an established master from whom he expected to learn the finer points of the craft. To me, that is a form of personal coaching. Of course the format is different from that of physical coaching but the goals are very similar.

Today there are art workshops on any subject imaginable and the attendee expects to learn all the finer points of art. I do agree that art-making is a solitary business and is best done during those solitary moments when we are able to look deep within ourselves. As a self-taught painter who works alone, I have wished I had an experienced and established artist to provide constructive criticism of my work.


Welcome break from isolation
by Gail Beutel

I think I do my best work all alone, where I can listen to soft classical music in the background and pray while I’m painting. I am painting currently with some friends who love your letters, and who are encouraging to one another with a comment here and there, saying, “Why don’t you try this or that?” but never wanting to tread on their own individuality. Usually that comment is preceded by, “I don’t know why this isn’t working out the way I want it to?” Or “Can you look at this and tell me what’s wrong?” We meet just once a week, and it’s a wonderful break from being so isolated.


Creativity Coach
by Jill Jones, Corona, CA, USA

I’ve enjoyed receiving your letters for a long time. I gain a lot of great information for my own work as an artist and also in my work as a creativity coach helping clients across all the arts. Your advice is wonderfully sound. The tough part for most people is following it and doing the work.

A creativity coach helps creative people shape their goals, develop and implement an action plan and move forward with their creative pursuits. Most of us recognize straightforward, sound advice but it isn’t always easy to clearly identify goals, or develop and implement plans that are followed. I would say that you have provided an excellent outline for motivated individuals to follow. And for anyone that wants additional support, encouragement, ideas and help with implementation they may very seriously want to seek the assistance of a good creativity coach. I’ll be happy to provide information to anyone interested in learning more about the creativity coaching process.


Management coach
by Edie Maney, Smithville, TN, USA


“Figure II”
acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches
by Edie Maney

Three weeks ago I decided I needed a coach to help me “organize.” I am just too right- brained with what appears ADD. I had rather paint than do the busy work… so I procrastinate and then get frustrated and accomplish less. She helped me to make a list in order of importance, set goals, talk about what I would do the next week… I had all this in my mind but by putting it on paper and talking to her weekly, I have been focusing and completing tasks in a more timely manner. Your Jenny Craig course is great but, to be successful, artists HAVE to be able to manage, like a business.

I think I will be a better person in general after both your letters and my art coaching… somehow I feel more accountable and that someone cares and I know she will let go in a few more weeks.


Add observation to the list
by Tiit Raid, Fall Creek, Wisconsin, USA


“Railroad Bridge Reflection”
acrylic on panel
by Tiit Raid

I would respectfully add one additional item to your list: The daily practice of developing your observational skills. Good observational skills, the ability to ‘read’ the visual world, is as vital to the art-making process as any of the other skills associated with image-making. All great artists are great because they are great observers. A strong concept or composition, a sound technique or knowledge of color alone cannot be relied upon to create a strong work of art.

Besides adding to the list, ‘developing observational skills,’ may I suggest three sub-topics: observing great works of art in books and museums (you suggested the latter), observing the relationship of parts in your own work, and observing the visual relationship in the appearance of your immediate surroundings.

The appearance of the visual world is the world of the artist. And the only way to observe it is through the eyes. Knowing what you are looking at through words, labels, or factual knowledge is hardly enough. The name is not the thing observed. As Joseph Campbell said, “Look, look long, and the world will come in.”


Revisiting assumed knowledge
by Cindy Frostad, West Vancouver, BC, Canada


“Inside Wavelengths”
acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches
by Cindy Frostad

Motivation via a motivator? I don’t need a coach to figure out how to do my art — I need to give myself a brain break, organize my personal space and time, and give myself permission to DO the art that is busting to get out of me.

Robert, you have provided a tantalizing list, chock full of wisdoms, many of which we have learned already – however – I would suggest that surprises lie in wait for fellow artists when revisiting items of assumed knowledge. In an effort to encourage the use of variety in our special needs daughter’s involvement in art class, I picked up two reference books on basic art to give to my daughter’s teaching assistant: Paint, Illustrated Techniques For Every Medium, edited by Amy Jeynes, North Light Books 2007 and The New Acrylics, Complete Guide To The New Generation of Acrylic Paints by Rheni Tauchid, Watson-Guptill Publications/New York 2005. When I looked inside, I was filled to the brim with ‘aha’ moments.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Personal coach



From: Steve Koch — Oct 01, 2007

For those who might be interested……a film has been produced by Julie and George Gallo….about a young man with aspirations to be a painter….desiring to study with a Russian master….there is a trailer on YouTube….name of the film…”Local Color”…there will be free screenings in Scottsdale, AZ the week of Oct. 8,..visit “Local Color” or www.the for more info…

From: Ed Pointer — Oct 02, 2007

I’m not sure the “global village” is all that great, more a cliche than anything–words without meaning. What is it? Does it break down barriers? Or is it a global control mechanism? Is it “all for one and one for all?” Not in the world of producing art where the playing field is already so level and crowded it is difficult to move…As an artist my desire to remain an individual with an individual and unique take on life is the very foundation of my art and painting. I’m not sure I want to be “one of the crowd.”

From: Carol Lyons — Oct 02, 2007

Your list is terrific! What speaks to me most at my own level of development is: Replace passive consumption with creative production. Time on the computer has cut into studio time and therefore what I can accomplish. Since being on the computer browsing art, etc., I create less art and experiment less. I will have to remedy that!!!

From: Dave Wilson — Oct 02, 2007

Thanks to Steve Koch for the trailer!

From: Dave Wilson — Oct 02, 2007

Re: Ed Pointer: Being part of the Global Village is just the acknowledgement that the world is round and accessable. Being a part of it, by birth, does not mean an oppressive ‘socialism’. You cannot stand out in a crowd if there is no crowd to stand out in. If one troubles, happily, to remain ‘who they really are’ they will ‘stand out’ enough, to those who have eyes and hearts!

From: Suzette Fram — Oct 02, 2007

Thank you, Steve Koch. The movie seems to be very inspirational and I will be looking for it when it comes out. I found the trailer on YouTube by searching for Local Color. The link you provided didn’t seem to work. Thanks again.

From: Scharolette Chappell — Oct 02, 2007

It’s late in the evening or early evening, one or the other. I just caught a film on interviewing 19 people with questions about how our universe was started, called “The Big Bang”. One of the persons is a violinist, he says, he plays the violin because it is the truest form of expression for what his spirit is. So, as a painter I’d have to say the same, try it, saying it out loud has some sort of giving power to the spirit within.

From: Doane — Oct 10, 2007

Your comments and recommendations couldn’t have come at a better time. I slept fitfully with the horrible feelings of not being able to succeed; then I came in this morning to read this and it bolstered my spirits. Thanks so much… another small miracle, they never cease to amaze me.






2 Herons in a pond

acrylic on canvas
by Judy Bagshaw, Vancouver, BC, Canada


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Alan Soffer of Philadelphia, PA, USA who wrote, “That is a good plan for those who are really bitten and passionate. But for most people, the self-starter is just not there. So, while what you are saying is excellent, the addition of a class or group painting workshop is a necessity. This is why not everyone can be a business owner or manager. Many are called to follow the leader.”

And also Karen Lorena Parker of Richmond, BC, Canada who wrote, “One more thing. Believe in yourself. Get in the habit, every day, at least a few hours a day. For those who can’t believe, fake it for those dedicated hours. The good habits will come. Excellent habits bring excellent work.

And also Vernita Bridges-Hoyt of Spring, TX, USA who wrote, “Just yesterday afternoon I signed a lease on a space that will become my art studio sanctuary. My muse is ecstatic. She is itching to get started. To think that I will have a dedicated studio where I can paint what I will, paint wildly, get close, back off, and contemplate without interruption!”

And also Linda Saccoccio of Santa Barbara who wrote, “It seems what people are missing is a good, strong relationship with themselves, self-knowledge, self-love, as well as sincere visions. No one knows more about you and what is best for you than you do. We all need some support sometimes and a good mirroring person, but it is not to become an addiction.”

And also Toni Ciserella of Richfield, UT, USA who wrote, “I have taken this letter, printed 5 copies of it and hung it on each of the walls of my studio room. The fifth one I placed on the ceiling. That’s for when I throw my head back to scream out in frustration. Thank you. You’re a great coach!”

And also Robert Bissett of Naples, ID, USA who wrote, “All artists are self-taught, even those with MFAs. We learn from trying new things. We learn from other artists as well. In workshops I like to start by saying that I plan to learn from the students while they learn from me. To become a good artist you must first be a good learner, a good teacher, a good appropriator and a good personal coach.”

And also B.J. Adams of Washington, DC, USA who wrote, “What an energetic personal coach you are and I will copy these exercises to look at each morning as I head in to the studio. Actually, your letters have been coaching or training many of us for the last few years with even more than exercise.”




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