Reclaim the management


Dear Artist,

On Wednesday this week — it may have been the phase of the moon — there were so many questions in the inbox that I buckled under and lost it. Don’t get me wrong — I love being of service to others, and there was great stuff to talk about, like how to dispose of toxic thinners while painting on a boat, or how to get perspective into curved things. Some of this stuff I can answer. What I need around here is a Michelangelo who is willing to sit at a computer 24/7.


“Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants” 1511
fresco of the Sistine Chapel
by Michelangelo (1475-1564)

Funny though, when painters ask how often one should change their brushes, I’m sometimes thinking they really ought to be asking other questions. Like how the management team can be revitalized. That’s one of the big questions. How can I get better quality stuff coming out of this studio? How can I get my little solar system to be even more highly evolved? How can I prevent the blockage of my creative sun? Sure, brush-changing is part of the process, but I’m also conscious that when the planets are all lined up you can get good work out of a blunt stick.


“The Creation of Adam” 1512
ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Then suddenly there were three emails that asked how I do it — paint, write, etc. “Do you sleep?” they asked. This I could handle. “Reclaim the management,” I said. Look around the workplace and fire all the bums, sloths, doubters, and other negative seat-warmers. If there’s anyone left, pay attention to the creative, persistent and enthusiastic of the team. Start managing. Starship Enterprise may be moving along in the universe, but somebody has to take charge and drive it. The daily life of an artist is chockablock with a million minor issues. A lesson for me has been not to micro-manage, but to watch out for the big picture — both in the art and the art career.

Then another funny thing happened. An email popped up that asked, “What do you do when so many trifles make you crazy?” They’re not trifles, I thought, but it made me warm all over to know that someone else was feeling the heat. “Try our Resource of Art Quotations,” I suggested. Try Michelangelo: “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”


“The Creation of Eve”

Best regards,


PS: “Blocks are part of an artist’s natural cycle, and mine come whenever I reach a plateau. I’ll feel bottled up with negativism, but when I blast through the garbage, I find I’ve emerged as a better artist.” (Nick Payne)

Esoterica: A manager is not always the best worker. But he or she may have the talent to direct. They say that managers succeed when they are lazy. Managers get others to clean up, do the changing, the work and the renewal. In artists these opposing qualities need to be combined in one tiny imperfect soul. It’s tough and it’s lonely. “Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that’s where I renew my springs that never dry up.” (Pearl S. Buck)

This letter was originally published as “Reclaim the mangagement” on April 30, 2004.


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“Let whoever may have attained to so much as to have the power of drawing know that he holds a great treasure.” (Michelangelo)



  1. Thankyou for this, Painters Keys. Painting saved my life when I lost my hearing 21 years ago. I don’t do much painting at home but I am considering not joining a class for the first time. Tho I do now hear with a cochlear implant, I am so afraid I will lose this great gift i.e. the desire to paint. Your letter brings me hope that I won’t.

  2. The Nick Payne quote is perfect. I don’t know how many students I have told to back up a bit when they hit a flat spot and when they move on they will move up and be better. I may have answered this way in 2004 when Robert first wrote it. Well, Robert was correct then, and Robert being correct lives on. Many thanks to Sara and, of course, Robert!

  3. Probably not intended originally by Robert, however, this letter had me in stitches when I enlarged the detail from Michelangelo’s fresco…”Creation of the sun, moon and planets.” The pink bottom on the left is about as fine a rendering of a moon as I have seen. Could that have been an original pun by the artist? I would love to think so. Thanks Sarah. Much of what has gone on since the election has been depressing. I needed the lift.

  4. Thank you so much for keeping the emphasis where it needs to be! I would say that, in keeping with the principles you have expressed here, the time to change the tool (whatever it may be) is when you can no longer achieve the artistic effect you want with that tool. The brush might be worn out, or it might be brand new, but if you can’t do what you want to do with it, then you need to find a new tool.

  5. Awakening from deep slumber, as the grey winter sky obscures uplifting messages from beyond this world, I remind myself to pay close attention. Try not to allow weakening thoughts of doubt, regret, fear and disappointment that are looming in the recesses of mind this time of year to enter and take me downward. Using my imagination, I try to see myself walking confidently as an inner guide points the way.

    In a light filled moment the circumstances that brought the wavering can be lost, and the journey made quite clear again. As I listen carefully to the leading’s, they become more distinct.

    “Nurture the positive energy guiding you.

    Shine the light of thankfulness, caring, and creativity outward, as it fills the shadows of your mind.

    Plan for life. Write down your wildest dreams, and picture them as clearly as you can.

    Sort through memories of past inspiration. Give them a chance at another life.

    If those first awakening thoughts enter your mind, the ones that made you look downward, stop for a moment and look up with thanksgiving, beyond the confines of this space and time to give you the wings to lift you up again to a world of infinite possibilities.

    Let go of hurt. Let go of anger. Joy is here, waiting to be expressed as you. This day, and evermore.” Cheers! Lets paint in Italy 2017!

  6. Sara, good day … you knew your father well, listened and learned much from him, and yet it strikes me now as I read today’s letter, that while you enjoy writing your own insights, you must find it refreshing and deeply satisfying to read again the wisdom in your father’s welcome pieces. Thank you for what you have carried on and for the initiatives from your own creative spirit.

    • Thank-you, Ron and to all of you who read, write and share your valuable insights here. Happy New Year and thanks for your continued friendship…
      Sara and The Painter’s Keys Team

  7. After six art shows in three months, and an upcoming seventh in this one, I feel burned out, lifeless, bereft of ideas. This advice is just what a master painter gives to those of us emerging in tough economic times, and individual darkness. Food and sleep, then renew work tomorrow, I am certain.

  8. Over the years I have really enjoyed the contents of this news letter. I don’t always read it first up …but… I always find time to get back to it when the time is right. Thank you.

  9. Great questions to regain focus on what really matters. “How can I get better quality stuff coming out of this studio? How can I get my little solar system to be even more highly evolved? How can I prevent the blockage of my creative sun? ” Thank you Robert and Sara!

  10. Happy New Year!

    aughghghghggh you got me again! I think it is Sarah making a request or comment and it is a wonderful republishing of one of her late Father’s wonderful “Painters’ Keys” things…….

    But are you at that place, too? “What I need around here is a Michelangelo who is willing to sit at a computer 24/7.” ????

    You have a bank of volunteers who would probably be thrilled to take a few hours a week on it….research the answers and then all you need to do is review and approve……your readers. It is fairly easy to set up SECURE remote for it, and no cost to speak of.

    Your fan,


    • Thanks Elle! As well as emailing directly with questions (which we enjoy very much) — Painter’s Keysers are always invited to add input and discuss items big and small, right here in our comment forum. So many great nuggets of hard-won wisdom are mentioned on these threads. Thank you all for your continued insights and experience. SG

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