We’ve let loose the bowline and we’re drifting. There’s a skin of ice here and there on this tame little river near where we live. I’m wearing gloves. I’m using the paints we left in the box after last summer on the Mackenzie. Some of the colors are squeezing a bit granular from the cold. The boat turns slowly in the gentle current. Emily’s perked up with high expectations. For a while we’re hung up on a bar. Even the sandpipers look cold. I’m painting a bit of this and a bit of that. This is not speedboat mode, or water-ski mode, or even fishing mode — although in some ways it’s similar. For lack of a better word, it’s creative mode — stirring up the familiar with the new. The way the trees feel the sky. The way the water is gradated. The way reflections tend to be darker than that which they reflect. I guess I’m trying to reinvent a place I know well. We float by a ramp where, last spring, they released a couple of thousand baby salmon. Julia Cameron: “As artists we must learn to be self nourishing. We must become alert enough to constantly replenish our creative resources as we draw on them. To restock the trout pond, so to speak.”
Restocking often means the act of seeing again those forms that have become familiar. It also means finding new motifs and claiming them properly. For me, going out always refreshes. To be fair the action can take place in a book, an art gallery, or even someone else’s studio. Our greater worlds are our ultimate studios. Our job as artist is to drift in the stream of our choice and trust our instincts. Falling in love again. Not just with the stock, but with the process.
I’m remembering that sunlit day last spring and the fingerlings in the fresh current — schooling, flashing, disappearing in their new freedom somewhere down into the great ocean — and the possibility of return, whole, full, completing the cycle.
PS: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Explore. Dream.” (Mark Twain)
Esoterica: It’s a deep breathing, Yogic kind of communion, all wrapped up with an intellectual exercise. In that golden space, often in silence, your artistic soul opens, something precious flows, something unfolds, and you know once again who you are.
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
Awakening the dormant cells
by Gary Myers
I have not painted seriously for many years but have recently gathered a few panels and some oils…taken my big easel out of storage and begun to awaken those dormant cells. I’m thinking ‘Restocking’ has taken place in my absence!
Restocking through reflection and books
by Joyce Madden
Painter’s block is probably the same as writer’s block. I’m going through that right now, the thoughts and desires are there but the actual ‘doing’ is not. Time to reflect and thumb through art books to get the ‘juices’ to start running again.
Cataracts and painting
by Grace Cowling, Grimsby, Ont. Canada
No doubt there are many in our virtual art community who have cataracts in various stages of development. As one who now has replacement lenses in both eyes, I can relate to the idea of restocking — “seeing again those forms that have become familiar.” For those who are stunned by that first diagnosis and are on the ever-growing list awaiting surgery, take heart. This artist never stopped painting; rather, moved from a detailed mode to a looser more painterly work. And now, the joy of seeing sharply again inspires the juxtaposition of loose and detailed techniques. “Falling in love again.”
by Annette Waterbeek, Maple Ridge, BC Canada
I did the exercise in your last letter “On your knees.” Tuesday morning I was going to buy a frame so I did that and carried on to the art store with $50 and bought two brushes, a canvas and some paints… went over budget by $4 but got a coffee anyway. Went to Pitt Lake and did the exercise. Had problems with the medium. I don’t have the mileage behind the brush working with acrylics. Got lots of learning from it though. So I decided to do it again today… pretended to go to art store (my studio… illustration board, 3 brushes, a little portable watercolor set by Lukas paint which was a gift. Some water and paper towels.) Away I went with my faithful old companion our pet Labrador. Had some success today… not a masterpiece but progress. The lesson learned is large. With your letters I’ve learned that to be a artist, you not only have to learn the process of technique and design, you also have to learn to create exercises to keep yourself excited about the process. Keep things happening, again it is all about the power of the mind… with a twist.
More knee work
by Jocelyn Goodman
Thanks for the idea about working on your knees. I have worked in pastels all my art life and have just enrolled in a beginner’s class and had a little trepidation that I would look like an idiot because I know even at beginner’s classes there are experienced artists looking to brush up. Here the instructor teaches me how to use the paints and mix them etc. I am going to do exactly what you suggested. I have never gone painting outside because I only do portraits in pastel, and look at all the fun and social interaction I’ve been missing. Oh well, it’s never too late and lastly I like your motto, and will remember to kiss.
by Jo Kull, California, USA
When I made the commitment to take my work seriously, I not only didn’t have a studio, I didn’t even own an easel, canvas, paints, or brushes… but that didn’t stop me. I used a sketch tablet as my canvas, colored pencils as paints, eye-shadow, applied with my finger-tips, as pastels, and the park across the street as my studio. The first day I walked out there with my strange box of tools, and my three year old daughter in tow, I had no idea what to expect. Passers-by looked at us quizzically, but my daughter ignored them as she took out her tablet & a box of crayons, set them on her lap, & got down to work. I looked at her, & followed suit. That was more than twenty years ago, and I am still awed by the magic which occurred on that day. Although I had studied art during my college days, and had produced a few pieces that were charitably referred to as “interesting,” or (worse) “pretty” they were, to say the least, uninspiring. Now, for the first time, as I sat in that park, something happened which seemed to bring to me the precious element which gives “life” to a painting, and that made all the difference.
by Palmer Dixon, UK
Where do you constantly find the appropriate quotations that you use in your letters? They practically always are just what is needed — even if they are off the subject — they complement your letter and practically always give me something to think about during the day.
(RG note) I used to have a bunch of my favorite quotes that I inflicted on people whenever I had the opportunity. In an effort to avoid repeating myself I started collecting more. About a year ago I invited artist-subscribers to send me theirs. Some responded with only one quote — sometimes their own! Then I found that there are folks out there who are compulsive art quoters. We call them “CAQ’s.” Some CAQ’s sent in thousands. That’s when we started building the “Resource of Art Quotations.” Volunteers put it together for our website. This is the largest collection of art quotes anywhere. It’s where I get my stuff. It’s endless. More coming in all the time. Really good stuff. You can’t print it all out. You don’t have enough ink. Artists get inspired all over the place with it. Professors, art teachers and workshoppers write and tell us their students love it.
Last Friday we added a couple of thousand more quotations. We also changed the resource to six volumes so the subjects you want will load faster. You will find it at http://www.art-quotes.com
Captains of our own vacillating ships
by Willem Zoon, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
In the life and daily workings of an artist there’s a marvelous implied freedom. Because we are captains of our own ships we essentially do what we wish in the pursuit of our creative goals. In some of your letters there seems to me a lack of concentration and a shortage of steadiness. You might say a vacillation between periods of flat boredom and new excitement — the looking into of this and that. I’m beginning to think that this condition might be a prerequisite for the production of art. Any thoughts?
(RG note) I think you may be on to something here. Artists, however, can be counted on for a wide range of methods to dig at the muse. Some are rock steady and finish one job at a time. Your observation comes close to the Attention Deficit Disorder we discussed recently. Information and opinion on this and how ADD affects artists can be found at http://painterskeys.com/aadd/ and at http://painterskeys.com/add/
“Bonnard at times seems styleless. Someone said of him that he had the rare ability to forget from one day to another what he had done. He added the next day’s experience to it, like a child following a balloon.” (Franz Kline)
Painter’s Keys Gallery II
(RG note) Thanks so much for all the wonderful images. My assistant Therese Lewis, my daughter Sara Genn and I chose these ones as “exemplary.” They are in no particular order. Thank you for the variety, the quality and the sharing. Please feel free to send more at any time. I’m looking at every single one.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 95 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2000.
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