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.


Margaret Atwood unveils the LongPen

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.

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!

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.


Hurray for technology!
by Cathie Harrison, Atlanta, GA, USA

You got me! Just as my purist sensibilities were being offended concerning change, technology, separation from the source, etc., I caught myself and realized that this process of talking with someone about art at 4:00 a.m. who is thousands of miles away, is pretty wonderful. Hurray for change and hurray for technology! It seems that ultimately people are pretty smart about things and many of the dreaded consequences to new things don’t happen. Some do, but that’s life. Whatever bad things people can do with technology, they will find a way to do anyway through persistence.


Celebration of nutty ideas
by Derek Andrews, River John, NS, Canada


“Triplets I”
black cherry wood pots
by Derek Andrews

I really think you should get out of your log cabin and increase your contact with the rest of the world. Maybe this is just the start of the slippery slope to the commercialization of April Fool’s Day. Just like Christmas now seems to begin in October, maybe April Fool’s will turn into a multi-month celebration of nutty ideas. As a point of interest, the first craft show of the fall that I attend is in October and is called Hogmanay. But then the nearby village of Tatamgouche holds an annual Oktoberfest in September, so who am I to argue?




We owe galleries an appearance
by Hope Barton, St. Augustine, FL, USA

I congratulate your galleries who will not accept your LongBrush approach. We do owe them an appearance at their openings for all the money they put out to promote the events (spoken as a former gallery owner). Sorry if I offend you but I am so frustrated with the current state of many galleries and their reproductions. There are still a lot of very good artists with original art who need places to show.


Our art is about us
by Tony Reynolds, Prescott, AZ, USA

Gertrude Stein, on returning to her childhood home of Oakland after a long period in Europe, was dismayed and disappointed in finding no connections to her past life. No childhood home, no familiar restaurants, only bland redevelopment. “There is no there, there,” she lamented. At a Council meeting here in Prescott, AZ, hot with debate over uncontrolled development, a resident stood and declared, “People come here for the trees and mountains, the history and our heritage. They don’t come here to see Wal-Mart.” Remote book signing and painting strike me as “no there, there.” Our art is as much about us and the act of creating as the product and when we let that disappear… what’s the saying? “A thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters will eventually write… ”


Machines work at home while artist travels
by BJ Adams, Washington, DC, USA

I want the LongBrush or LongPen in reverse. That way it can stay in the studio and do my work and I can be in Paris or Rome or my favorite city, Venice — sending back wonderful images that my LongBrush would be interpreting. Or, I would be viewing great art in museums while my pen is making notes in a journal at home. It would be filled with ideas and my brain would be spending all the time observing and absorbing. The computer is magical in itself and does much, but not everything, even at great distances.


Does your hat still fit your head?
by Skye MacLeod, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

As for computer generated LongPen or LongBrushes, the world of technology has gone too far. People have gone too far, believing in their own importance a tad too fervently. Being a fan of Margaret Atwood and a good many other writers I daresay I would hesitate to queue up to a software program for an autograph. Needless to say, writing is more favourable to an autograph. As for a remote piece of art work — unless it’s extraordinary — never. Have I missed something here? Does your hat still fit your head? I must say you’ve “lucked-out” with self-promotion. You do have the gift of the gab.


Best on canvas
by Virginia Hemingson, Banff, AB, Canada

Remember those Etch-A-Sketch drawing pads we had as kids? I’d like to do text handwriting back and forth on the computer screen instead of typing. Yes, the future has more possibilities for us artistic souls. Here again, it is the desire and the talented hand that wants control on whatever surface it is. I like it best on canvas.


Excellent for re-runs too
by Jack VanNess, Tigard, OR, USA

You could improve the experience by having a “live” TV avatar — think “Max Headroom” yakking away while the art is being produced. Think how wowed your collectors will be! And the whole pee-yew-formance could be re-run at a later time for those who missed it!


Let’s discuss immediate LongBrush distribution
by Karen Merritt Randall, Glendale, CA, USA


Harold Cohen in Studio, 1995

Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Karen Merritt Randall. I live in Los Angeles and have been working at a corporate level for a number of years on projects involving the arts and entertainment industries. I happen to be working with a man who is the largest distributor of American television programming. He’s been in this business for 35 years. He and a friend of mine just started an international business of direct marketers to sell fine art reproductions. This product of yours would fit in nicely with what they are doing. I would like to know if we could speak live to discuss immediate distribution of your machine. My associate also has access to investment money and technical people if those were needed to make this machine commercially viable. Please give me a call.It’s so interesting that you have come up with this. I’ve kept my eye on this sort of thing my entire career. My first painting instructor, Harold Cohen, an abstract artist who worked the early part of his career at the national restoration center in London, has spent the last 25 years working on artificial intelligence projects at Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory to make machines to create like a human — i.e. paint. His machines do some nice abstracts, but for me it’s the human touch that makes the difference.


Corel Painter system very cool
by Linda Levy, Santa Cruz, CA, USA


“Lady Luck”
digital painting
by Linda Levy

It’s already here, and has been for the last 10 years. A digital painting program, called Painter, originally developed and designed by a company in Aptos, California, and now owned by Corel, older versions of the program have a utility within the program called “Net Painter” which uses a “central” computer, and you hook up (from anywhere in the world) and take turns working on a collaborative painting. This provided sessions between a number of schools, one in the U.S., another in Japan, for instance. Produced some very nice work. Each student was given 5 minutes to work on the piece, and you could “see” what was happening to the “original” piece. Very cool!




Excited to mix art and technology
by Minaz Jantz, Vancouver, BC, Canada


Minaz Jantz

Today’s letter was totally awesome… and so totally cool! You brought the artist, entrepreneur, visionary, techy, and all round cool dude together to share with us the potential for all things to be possible! Mixing art and technology has been an incredible artistic entrepreneurial journey to success for me too. I can truly call myself a multi-media artist mixing old and new technologies to an adventure into the uncharted. I published Spinderella Soap last year because I could do it ‘hands on’ with the affordable and accessible technology today. Next month my book will also be presented as an e-Book for computers. I have a website that links me to a world of admirers, buyers, and other like-minded people who I would never have the possibility to connect with a few years past.


LongBrush Invention permits privacy
by Corrie Scott, Hastings, Christ Church, Barbados

I just love the concept of painting or drawing and having others watch it happen thousands of miles away — as it is being created. It is also a way for collectors to be privy to the way some of us work. I for one hate someone in my studio when I am painting. I want a solitary calm with no one else’s mind or body clutter disturbing me while I allow my mind to wander and wonder. I think this idea is quirky fun and very modern. Please advise as to how we can purchase your invention.


Giving long distance workshops with LongBrush
by Kate Jackson, Merced, CA, USA


“Old Macaw”
poured watercolor with collage
by Kate Jackson

Your LongBrush idea is fascinating! I don’t quite get it yet, but am sure it is remarkable. I’ve been wondering how to give workshops or at least demonstrations in another part of the world. We have thought of DVDs, streaming video, webcams… but by LongBrush? (I have friends who live on long boats.) Would that be an option? Not sure I could get all the other materials into a piece (collage and mixed media) but wow, what a mind-blowing idea! I’d sure love to see it done! Thanks for the mind expansion!


LongBrush creepy
by Janet Lee Sellers, Monument, CO, USA


watercolor painting
by Janet Lee Sellers

The idea of the LongBrush just creeps me out. I understand that you are using the tool and the art is coming from yourself. But, there is something to be said for being there with the paper or canvas, and the human touch, and the human spirit touching the original work. I read and look at books, I see photographs and, while they represent a hint of the idea, I get a hit off the real, hand-touched art of masterworks — of, say, Monet, the real Hokusai (I lived in Japan for a couple of years at a museum campus) the real Van Gogh, etc. — even when the actual painting is placed elsewhere from the place painted. Not that convenience is creepy. I am as laid back as possible over conveniences — I own a coffeepot, a vacuum, a car, etc. And I have no problem with servants doing work for me (not that I have any except our mail/slippers/leash carrying dog). Somehow, I just can’t wrap my head around this one — and I usually like your new-fangled ideas.


‘Art machine’ images
by Maureen Toles, Toronto, ON, Canada


original painting
by Jose Volcovich

As I read your letter, I laughed the second time today at the image of an “art machine. “Yours may be figurative, but the first was literally an image of a painting by Jose Volcovich. I am using his image to build his website.





Inform yourself of the new mass market
by Ed Pointer, Lindsborg, KS, USA


“Las Trampas – New Mexico”
watercolor painting, 22 x 32 inches
by Ed Pointer

I can see the time when artists will produce small works and digitally enlarge them to 5 feet by 6 feet with little effort, printing them on canvas and charging half the price of an original of the same size. Indeed that time is already here so this is not a difficult prediction to make. Considering the lack of artistic knowledge typical of many in our society today, knowing the difference between original and reproduced art/painting is no longer a qualification (if it ever was) for buying good art.Technology, in my opinion, is the biggest competitor the artist has today. It dances, it moves, it lights up, it makes sounds, it talks back. I fear the buying public (I exclude genuine collectors of art) might find a painting rather boring if it just hangs on the wall and doesn’t do anything and costs three times what that new computer, X-Box, or TV costs. We haven’t quite reached that point but it can’t be far off. On a positive note: we should now be aware that a mass market for art exists; artists — inform yourselves and plan to take advantage of it!


Shifting to the right brain
by Marsha Stopa, Ferndale, MI, USA


“Eye of the storm”
oil painting, 24 x 24 inches
by Marsha Stopa

Artists may want to pick up the book, The Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. The basis for Pink’s book is that Western society — and Western economies — are shifting from valuing left-brain dominated professions to learning to value right-brain dominated qualities and work. Pink says that the left-brainers have been so successful in creating a lifestyle and economy of abundance at low prices that finding something as good or better at a cheaper price is no longer enough — it has to have good design. And left-brainers don’t do good design — right-brainers do. Pink claims that the MFA is becoming more valuable in the work world than the MBA because artists are “whole mind” thinkers. He also sees other right-brain “senses” returning as our age of relative ease and abundance allows us more time to search for purpose in our lives — senses like story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning.


Happy artists
by Anthony D. Lee, Memphis, TN, USA


Anthony D. Lee

When I was young, the television painter Bob Ross said something that I have always hung onto: “We artists are a different breed of people. We’re a happy bunch.” When I used to work in the robot realm, this simple phrasing was all I had to give me understanding of my difference in world perspectives. Now, your letters continue to reiterate that very notion, even more in depth. I appreciate that.








Monstreusien – Cold Meat

digital painting (3ds max, photoshop, zbrush)
by Fred Bastide, Switzerland


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2006.

That includes David Sharpe, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada who wrote, “Okay, okay, you fooled me… at least for a minute. May it never come to this!”

And also Steve Hovland of California, USA who wrote, “Painting by hand is a wonderful antidote to computer work. I have Photoshop CS for my photography, and have done composites, but paintings have a high quantum energy level due to the energy we put into them. There will be no substitute.”

And also Caren Goodrich who wrote, “Robert, this sounds awful. One of your worst ideas yet. Who would pay money for something like that? Sorry to be negative. I usually like what you present.”

And also Lorraine Murphy of Vancouver, BC, Canada who wrote, “The LongPen, besides being a stupid idea, doesn’t actually work. Forty people showing up for a historically-significant Atwood signing is pretty pitiful, and indicative of the lack of demand for this product; See short-selling Atwood

And also Monique J. Isham of WI, USA who wrote, “Your ‘LongBrush’ may have already been invented. Members of the community may want to check out the ArtPad presented by”

And also M Hunter Hoffman of Toronto, ON, Canada who wrote, “Boy! You had me going! I was going through the difficulties of working while being watched, etc. — April Fool’s to you too.”

And also Dawn Smith of Scottsdale, AZ, USA who wrote, “Great idea Robert! And instead of wasting the gas to be on the receiving end of the LongBrush chic gallery openings (and avoid the whole designated driver thing after too much imbibing) we could just send our webcams to see and be seen!”

And also Deanne DeForest of Lakeland, FL, USA who wrote, “I embrace new technology as a tool for artists and also as an art form in itself. It’s way too much fun to have technology tools to play with.”

And also Richard Woods of Sparks, NV, USA who wrote, “The thought occurs that the Guinness Book of World Records might be open to a ‘Longest Long Distance Art’ project entry. Every year about this time we come out of the walls, especially where your caulkin’ is missin’!”

And also Lesly Finn of New Zealand who wrote, “That was a good one! Had me wondering for a moment, although I soon guessed it was some sort of gag — but completely forgot that it was April 1st. Happy April Fool’s Day to you too.”




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