Dear Artist,

A player breaks away, speeds down the ice, then, in a confused dust-up, loses control of the puck. Somehow, miraculously, he manages to get it again — and goes on to score. It’s called “recovery.”

Think of it this way: There are artists whose planning and executing are steady and predictable progressions toward their ideas of perfection. This is okay. But it’s sort of like playing hockey with no one else on the ice.

The more I’m in this game the more I realize that it’s a matter of knowing what you’re doing — being able to do it — and being able to recover when you don’t. Accepting that the latter condition is commonplace is part of the game. Furthermore, just knowing that you can get into recovery mode frees you to take chances — particularly at the early stages. As a matter of fact, it’s in the recovery mode that the most inventive and creative moves are discovered and made. A lot of it is instinctive. A player needs to act instinctively to bring his will back into play.

So here’s a thought: Calculate ways to push yourself so you have to be in recovery mode. Introduce other players — adversarial ones — like the “wrong” colours, “bad” brushes, “outrageous” ideas, “horrible” mistakes. When you bring in those and other mean customers, real action begins. Apart from the game heating up and getting more interesting, you get a chance to test and build your powers of recovery.

In our business, not every hotdog has to have the same amount of mustard. Not every hotel room need be the same as the last. Paintings are best when they are not done by the numbers. Art is the ability to make changes on the fly. Brilliant art is often done with clever stick-handling, rapid reversals of direction, and slap-shots faster than a speeding puck.

Best regards,


PS: “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” (C.G. Jung)

Esoterica: Training tips for better recovery shots: “Blind start” — paint the first fifteen strokes with your eyes closed. “Grab your partner” — try fixing the mess that your friend is making. “Transformer” — make something into something else. “I think I’m painting a picture of two women but it may turn out to be a landscape.” (Willem de Kooning)


Willingness to fail
by Nina Meledandri, NY, USA


painting by Nina Meledandri

So important! If you have a desire to create something that is truly transcendent you must be willing to risk making something that is absolutely awful. It’s the old yin/yang balance: you can only achieve success to the extent that you’re willing to fail. Or the old love/hate thing: where they are so close in their intensity that it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart. Really believing that these things are true is the only way I’ve been able to risk “ruining” something I think I love; it’s the only way I’ve ever made anything that has deep meaning to me, it’s the only way I’ve really grown. Thanks for giving me another metaphor to hold on to.


Being there to catch ourselves
by Jerry Waese, Toronto, Canada


painting by Jerry Waese

This time you are touching on the most important aspect of art — the experimental challenge to error recovery. These forays ‘beyond good sense’ are what make for the most dynamic tensions and poetic reconnections on the 2-d surface of a painting. Invite chaos, recover, have fun and go mental. I call it the fundamental technique (after Sam Feinstein) fun-da-mental. It’s all about recovery. Even while walking we are always falling, it’s just a matter of letting go and being there to catch ourselves.


Grabbed the puck
by Vickie Turner

I put your “hockey game” analogy to use last night. For the first time I have put paintings in a gallery. Four of the six sold within a week. However, for me it is a problem. I found myself feeling pressured to paint more of the same (one purchaser requested that anything new I bring in be sent to her so she can take a look at it! Unbelievable!) I’m having an anxiety attack! I almost wish I had never brought anything to that gallery! To make a long story short, I’ve been avoiding my studio. I’ve ripped out shrubs, pruned the daylights out of my trees — anything to avoid the studio. Last night I went in, picked up a different painting that I had been struggling with — and had decided to burn — and started to physically rub paint into it, put a huge dollop of Kroma gold on it (I rarely use metallics – they can so easily dominate), watered it down until it became a lake, shook the painting vigorously and left it to dry. It felt so good to just play “what if?” It broke the anxiety barrier, and it happened because of the hockey analogy.


Always in recovery mode
by Violette Clark

Your letter is another way of saying “flying by the seat of one’s pants.” This is pretty much what I have been up to my entire art career! I too have found that the most innovative pieces of art are created when I don’t know what I’m doing. The paints pretty much tell me what to do… I have a nonverbal communication with them… sort of. I ask “okay… now which colour should I use?” then I feel an inner prompting to use magenta or cerelean blue. Sometimes when I’m lost I actually ask out loud. Thankfully I’m the only one in the studio or in the yard at the time with the exception of the Peeping Tom who lives next door. He has already formulated an opinion of me so asking a question out loud when there is no one there will only add to the mystique of who he thinks I am…he crazy woman artist who lives next door dancing wildly to the Gypsy Kings in between bursts of creativity. The thought amuses me and fuels my own way of creating.


Painting small with big brushes
by Russell McCrackin, OR, USA

When I paint small with big brushes, the world sings. When I paint large with those same brushes I get into trouble before you can blink. Right now I am struggling here and there on an 18 x 24. I’m glad I’m using Alkyds so I can get in and “recover” quickly. Maybe if I scale up the size of my brush as I scale up the size of the support, I would have less trouble. Anybody have a source of good, affordable 4 inch Artist Brushes?


No failures in painting
byJohn Ford

The “Recovery” process is probably the number one major key to personal success in painting. Sometimes even when recovery is not possible a lesson is learned in that process. After all, who in the art field has learned anything from their successes? It’s the failures we learn from. If we didn’t try to surpass these expectations we have placed on ourselves, we would not have failed to begin with. Ultimately those failures are overcome through trial and error or the recovery process which in turn will open other opportunities with the next painting. In short, recovery or not, there are no failures in painting.


Might lose the plot
by Dave Louis, Coventry, UK

It’s a real triumph taking a painting out from a pit-hole with a loose and open approach. But it’s not all roses. Some aspects in its favour are those strange accidents that can produce amazing results — but you can get a bit sucked in by them at times and loose the plot with effects. There’s a depth to multi-layering whilst you’re recovering. But sometimes it’s not the appropriate layering and will have to be re multi-layered with some freshness and cohesion lost. An open agenda with good recovery can glean great results but can also short change. At times a depiction of a silent stillness, an empty gaze, an eerie haunting, a loneliness or reflectivity is required and that’s when arrow painting can come in. But there is no all seasons’ painting approach. That’s what I love about it.


Game with few rules

Art is a game with very few rules. I think that is why some of us become overwhelmed. There are a hundred plus different directions one can go. The more one researches, views shows, galleries, goes to events — the mind becomes a whirling dervish of confusion and this can lead to a lack of confidence. How can one be better? How can one do something that has not already been done? It is very defeatist to copy or do similar work to those of others. I do know that it’s a very good thing to come up with a style or process that works. You can then have the confidence to go back to it. To know that the galleries that love your style will take it. Bottom line is that very few of us get to that stage in the game. Most of us never win the face-off. Believe me, I love art but I’m swimming in the ocean. The only thing that’s saving me at the moment is my PFD!

(RG note) A PFD is a personal floatation device.


In the penalty box?
by Jim Pescott


painting by Jim Pescott

The suggestion that we calculate ways to push ourselves so we “have to be in recovery mode” implies we work perfectly almost all the time: so we need to step out of this box and recover. Even the masters changed things they started. Did they calculate ways to push themselves so they could recover? I’ve tended to think of them as exploring things rather than sitting in the penalty box for two minutes for using a wrong colour.


Puts “wrong” colour down
by Pamela Simpson


painting by Pamela Simpson

I love to watch my husband paint. He always starts with a quick dark and light pattern. Then he puts in some simple colors, around the right values but just big loose approximates. Then he starts to play the game. He will purposely put the wrong color down to have to add something else so the two together will vibrate something much more interesting than one color could ever be. He then starts working with puddles of swirling colors that he brushes together thickly to create trees, houses, water, whatever. His strokes are a kind of shorthand, always inventive, they stand on their own in an abstract manner. In the end he does not clean it all up neatly but leaves us some of the raw fight to enjoy. He leaves some of it unresolved so that the viewer has something to do, but the important parts are there — simply and strongly stated.


Grand slam home run
by Jamie Lavin


painting by Jamie Lavin

Growing up in Kansas City, baseball and football were our sports, although we were curious about hockey — where else could we watch guys whacking away at each other AFTER the play was over! We never got that “icing” penalty though… I’m certain that when I pick up the brush and go after it, I feel like Nolan Ryan might have, that sort of “Express” attitude that he displayed while he quietly amazed each batter. Not every pitch was perfect (although a lot of them were), each one added up to a game, and not every game was perfect, but he won many of them. I equate each painting I do to a “game”; after all, I’m exhausted after completing one — just like Ryan, I’ve given it all I had, worked super hard at getting better with every stroke (pitch) just like Ryan, and I’m judged by an audience; maybe not as big as “the bigs” but every bit as tough. Most likely, if it sells, I really won the game. The greatest moment in the tent show circuit is the customer who, for whatever reason, reaches into his or her disposable income wallet and juries your piece to the best; so much better than he or she has the willpower to fend off. The choice is made, the exchange happens, a small part of the artist goes home with the “juror” and the artist has hit, the equivalent of a base hit that eventually scored. Selling out your entire show is the “big dinger” equated to the grand slam home run and a commission is like the trade that sends out “the player to be named later…” Oh man! I’ve gotta get back to the easel, I’m up to bat!


Lapis lazuli from South America
by Mary Hackney

The new Lapis blue that Daniel Smith (art materials) has is actually mined in South America according to the blurb in their catalog. I think it said the mine was fairly recently discovered and it was of a much higher quality than the previous Lapis which did come from Afghanistan and yielded a grayer blue color.

(RG note) The lapis lazuli deposit is near Ovalle, Chile, some 350 km north of Santiago and 30 km east of the historic Inca trail. The deposit has a 3 km strike with a width of 2-10 m at outcrop, extending to an unknown, but substantial, depth. Initial drilling was limited to 20-30 m depths where widths of up to 15 m were found. Lapis lazuli consists of lazurite, pyrite, and calcite. For over 60 years, and until recently, the LapisChile operation was scratching out and transporting mineral with manual and burro methods similar to those used in present-day Afghanistan, i.e., 20-30 lb pieces maximum. The deposit’s locale, at an elevation of 4,000 m is inhospitable, currently allowing only summer exploitation of the deposit. To modernize it, the operators employed Canadian hardrock as well as Spanish and Italian processing technologies.


Not lost for inspiration
by Tricia Migdoll, Byron Bay, Australia

I am now ten months new to painting, and wouldn’t dare yet call myself an artist. I am certainly not lost for inspiration though at this stage. There are so many ideas in my head and I am totally in love with oil painting. So far, I have not a clue where I am heading, as far as style or genre goes. I go to the occasional workshop, search the net for tips etc. Do you remember back when you first started? — Do you still feel the same — like I do now? — loving every moment — thinking of nothing else even though other duties distract?

(RG note) It never ceases to amaze me how I’m still amazed by it all. “There is no greater joy than that of feeling oneself a creator. The triumph of life is expressed by creation.” (Henri Bergson) “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” (Zig Ziglar) It has become so commonplace around here that our community often finds solutions to questions and concerns in the huge “Resource of Art Quotations.” We also find reasons for our very being. The Resource is the most visited part of the Painter’s Keys site and it’s at


Get out of your studio
by Betsy Janeway

For God’s sake get out of your studio and paint outdoors before your muscles shrivel up and vanish! I went alone, 2 hours north, to northern New Hampshire this week to paint by a large pond with a knock-out view of Mt. Washington. Being alone is a necessity. Things perk up, become more vivid and exciting, especially a strange crackling sound in the woods at dusk. I bring my bicycle and cycle in along an old railroad bed to reach the pond with view, carrying on my back my big packbasket full of paint supplies. Hard to paint with black flies bombing you. Had a marvelous time, but must return next week to try again as the painting is not so hot. This is a Commission! I am going to charge heaps for time, distance traveled, and sheer physical effort.







Alex Buryak, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine


“Young Orthodox”
by Alex Buryak








oil on board painting
by Andrew Potter, London, England


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, 2003.

That includes Bill Kerr, who writes, “Strange, but my more advanced students seem to get more and more conservative all the time.”

And Annette Waterbeek, who writes, “There is something to be said for teammates, their energy their ability to revitalize.”

And Moncy Barbour of Lynchburg VA. USA who wrote, “We had to draw with our eyes shut once in college. My doctor tells me I am going deaf in one to four years. I love music, the sound of my wife’s voice, my daughter’s voice, my grand child’s voice and the sounds of terns at the ocean. I will truly miss those sounds and listen to all now so that I can remember.”

And Heather Brown, who writes, “Recovery has been such a big part of my life for the past twenty years — recovery from alcoholism — which carries over to my art.”

And Sintha Anderson of Columbus, Ohio, who says “Recover and push to new horizons!


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