Remote thinking


Dear Artist,

Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood has invented the LongPen. With custom software and high-speed broadband, her device permits people like herself to do book signings without having to be there. At 66 she’s getting tired of travelling. I have no problem with this. But apparently the book buyers do. They would rather look her in the eye, see her sly smile and hear her chuckle. In this day of marvelous machines, it’s hardly worthwhile lining up to get to a marvelous machine.

Installation view of Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands, 2016–17, at The Bass, Miami Beach, 2019 by Sheila Hicks (b. 1934) Zachary Balber photo.

Installation view of
Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands, 2016–17, at The Bass, Miami Beach, 2019
by Sheila Hicks (b. 1934)
Zachary Balber photo.

Which brings me to the LongBrush. Invented by me, it permits a painter to hang out in Yellowknife and paint in Paris. Using some of Margaret’s technology, stuff can be painted virtually anywhere without the hassle of shipping. Not only that, the customer gets the thrill of watching it happen. Last week I had my imperfect but workable machine installed at my Paris gallery. Today — a transatlantic first — I “remoted” a fairly reasonable abstract. Confined to a single brush and currently able to access only eight colours, the work I produced, with interruptions, took three hours. I charged my regular fee (by PayPal) for a 24″ x 30″, which made it a fairly lucrative day — considering there was no airfare involved.

Sculpture Bas Relief, 2016 Linen 59 1/10 × 39 2/5 × 4 7/10 inches by Sheila Hicks (b. 1934)

Sculpture Bas Relief, 2016
59 1/10 × 39 2/5 × 4 7/10 inches
by Sheila Hicks

As I sat in the warm and smoky comfort of my remote log cabin, happily working my remote brush, the idea of franchising crossed my mind. Terminals in significant galleries from Rio to Rome. Simultaneous generation. Limited editions in, say, a hundred galleries. (I don’t do large editions.) International connoisseurs gathered ’round the terminals, drinking a select Burgundy, celebrating the shy Canadian recluse who hasn’t spoken to anyone since 1998. “A one-way trip to the bank,” I thought to myself as I took a few minutes to replace some of the mouse-eaten caulking that hangs from the walls of my cabin. Over there in Paris, at the receiving end of creativity, the collector must have been wondering what ‘The Great One’ was doing. Then, typically inconsiderate, I took a few more minutes to get started on this twice-weekly letter. And yes, a letter like this one — or even a novel — might be conceived in one place and written in another. As a matter of fact, this letter just got written onto your screen the moment you opened it up. You’re over there and I’m over here. What’s the world coming to? Happy April 1st!

Cord Structure, 1976 Cotton and muslin 31 1/2 × 39 1/2 inches by Sheila Hicks

Cord Structure, 1976
Cotton and muslin
31 1/2 × 39 1/2 inches
by Sheila Hicks

Best regards,


PS: “‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice. ‘Now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!’” (Lewis Carroll, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

Esoterica: Margaret Atwood’s for-real company is called Unotchit. Apparently, some tired writers are beating a path to her factory door. Funnily, some of my more respectable galleries have turned my LongBrush down. “We want you and your stuff here,” said the Regina one. But that’s Regina. I’m going to have to see if some of the folks who run the public galleries will take it. I bet they will.

This letter was originally published as “Remote thinking” on March 31, 2006.

Palghat Tapestry, 1966 Cotton 68.5 H x 36 inches by Sheila Hicks

Palghat Tapestry, 1966
68.5 H x 36 inches
by Sheila Hicks

Wishing a very happy birthday to Sara’s Mum, Carol Genn, today — March 30. Happy Birthday, Carol!  

“There’s a difference between describing and evoking something. You can describe something and be quite clinical about it. To evoke it, you call it up in the reader. That’s what writers do when they’re good.” (Margaret Atwood)

“I’m working very hard to make things that are dignified but joyful.” (Sheila Hicks) 





  1. joey scarfone on

    enormous digital changes everywhere these days. I personally am a dinosaur with technology so I will stumble along with what I do.

    • Merle Harrison on

      Ditto. Whether it be art or books or other passionate interests, my preference will always be in favour of the “real” to look at, to learn from and to appreciate the “realness” of that person.

  2. The intrinsic value for me in a painting or sculpture is in its material presence as an object in my space that I interact with directly up close and standing back
    So I’m not interested in sending a digital file into the ether for it to pop out into someone’s laptop

    Make mine a tangible work of art

  3. This letter was first posted in 2006, 15 years ago. I bought a computer for the first time in 2005. I suspect when I read this letter one year after getting a computer, it made no sense to me at all. I hope it gave me a good chuckle like it did today, tho, so funny.

  4. John Francis on

    Meanwhile, the whole point of having your copy of a book actually signed by the author is that their signature on your copy of the book is actually the genuine article. Not a copy. This all reminds me of a particular episode of The Goon Show (BBC) in which one of the Goons is kidnapped and the ransom demand note is accompanied by a photo of the victim. In typical Goon Show fashion, the response to the kidnappers is to simply send them a photo of the ransom money.

  5. Considering that this was first published by Robert in 2006…he (and Margaret Atwood) were pretty forward thinking! Considering the weird things going on in the art world recently, their thoughts were, unfortunately, headed down the true path. In my humble opinion, the actual, material properties of physical art will be more attractive than anything digital.

  6. Noreen Musclow on

    Did everyone miss the last sentence…. “Happy April 1st!”. Robert was having fun with all of us.

  7. And yet. David Hockneys IPad paintings are his best work yet. To see them in person in a museum blown up on 36” x 24” screens defies expectations. I just had a peek of some of his water paintings and his ability to render rain hitting a still pond using the IPad technology is masterful.
    I’ve always loved Hockney’s work and was lucky enough to be in several of his classes at UC Irvine in 1969, and have been going to his shows and exhibitions ever since. The man is a total inspiration, both as an artist and as a teacher.

Reply To Merle Harrison Cancel Reply

No Featured Workshop Over the Farm #2
original pastel 15 x 15 inches

Featured Artist

Mary’s interest in pastel painting began during her years at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA where she majored in art and elementary education. Though she has worked in watercolor and oil as well as calligraphy, her interest has consistently turned primarily to pastel because of the medium’s potential for glowing, vibrant color and the harmony achieved in bringing together lights and shadows.


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