Second breath

Dear Artist, A “second breath” is a restart of a work after getting a second opinion from yourself. I made up that line while I was walking this morning — so it’s my lead-in to an overdue letter on methods of reworking half-finished or unsatisfactory paintings — and what dangers may be lurking. Paintings that are not quite right or that are wrong to the point of abandonment sometimes deserve a second breath. It’s all about the deep-seated human desire to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Clean, clear thought is necessary. This is most often possible after a period of time where the painting has been turned against a wall. Clever artists teach themselves a kind of time travel so inadequate stuff can be spotted and fixed right away. Using and applying your critical brain requires detachment and honesty. “The hardest thing to see,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “is what is in front of our eyes.” You need not consider the time you’ve already wasted, the cloud of your ego, or the riveting need to keep some particular part. This is business and you need to make the business better. You need to ask yourself, “What could be?” Remember the part about not being hung up on keeping something? It’s when you remove that aircraft carrier from the foreground and replace it with an albatross that you start to get somewhere. “What could be?” might well be the artist’s credo, but a different type of thinking is required than when you are painting. It’s speculation mode, and you need to think outside the box — even if you don’t end up going there. The human imagination is far richer than we know. Understand this, and you will need fewer books and teachers. The answer is within you. Self-anointed genius awaits all canvasses. The main problems in second breath come in execution. It may be a fresh new idea you are introducing, but it must not appear as add-on or overworking. In short, you must toil to make your changes look like there was no toil. One stroke too many and you have let the weasel out of the sack. Try not to tighten up. Very often a work requires a few definitive strokes rather than a bunch of minor ones. “Finish,” said John Singer Sargent, “with a broom rather than a whisk.” Best regards, Robert PS: “I waited for the idea to consolidate, for the grouping and composition of themes to settle themselves in my brain. When I felt I had enough cards I determined to pass to action, and did so.” (Claude Monet) Esoterica: The second breath is a way of thinking that can be learned. In my observation, a main factor that separates amateurs from professionals is the trained clarity of the professionals’ sight. Occluded by inexperience and a host of other blockers, the amateur may make the fatal error of continuing with the work without a pause for breathing. “You need to get out of the way,” said John Marin, “to see how the new order will be revealed.”   From the ‘forever corner’ by Les Ducak, Burlington, ON, Canada  

“Rainy evening in Vancouver”
watercolour painting
by Les Ducak

Who among us don’t have those half-finished or poorly-finished paintings? I call them my dogs, no offence to dogs intended. Unfortunately, with watercolour medium there is not much flexibility when it comes to reworking and fixing. Having said that, I am one of those who will pick up an old work and give it a second look after a period of time. And just like you said, the problem will hit me right between the eyes. Sometimes it will require de-emphasizing some area and strengthening another. On another work a darker brushstroke may be the solution to a better painting. Of course, there are some without hope, and perhaps those will sit in the corner piled up forever.   There are 2 comments for From the ‘forever corner’ by Les Ducak
From: David — Feb 28, 2012

Have you ever tried this? Give your watercolor dog a bath … soak it in a tub, give a scrub here or there to parts that don’t work, and the result is a washed sketch with the bones of the original composition still there. Sometimes it’s very inspiring!

From: Norma — Feb 28, 2012

Beautiful painting Les. Wish I could claim it as my own. :-) Also appreciate David’s comment… terrific idea.

  Give it a rest by Taylor Ikin, Tampa Bay, FL, USA  

“Caribbean rocks”
watercolour painting
by Taylor Ikin

I have never completed a painting from start to finish without giving it a couple of days rest, usually just set aside more or less out of view. I then study the reflection in a mirror and give it my “What if?” Clearing the mental record of the image by studying the reverse reflection in the mirror, I have a new fresh eye. I get excited when I think I have an adjustment. Sometimes it has evolved into an entire overhaul for the piece, and sometimes it is a minor tweak. The “What if?” second look is most often a profitable experience. There are 3 comments for Give it a rest by Taylor Ikin
From: Anonymous — Feb 28, 2012

Your painting is stunning! How I wish I could paint ocean and waves the way you do. Thanks for sharing.

From: Linda Mallery — Feb 29, 2012

Stunning! So very beautiful.

From: Alana — Feb 29, 2012

Is that on YUPO paper? Looks great!

  A whiteout sale? by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA  

“Star fruit”
oil painting
by Angela Treat Lyon

Oh my, do I have a problem with holding on to work that isn’t quite right or what? Can you see my squirming under your questioning? It’s actually funny you should bring this up now, because I’ve been thinking of having a whiteout sale — offering all the paintings I consider okay but certainly not great for a mere fraction of their selling prices — and if they aren’t bought by the end of a week, they get gesso’d over and that’s just that — bye-bye — new life as interesting textured under-surface for new images. Second breath, indeed. Matter of fact, I think I’ll go write the copy right now. (RG note) Thanks, Angela. I recommend against having a whiteout sale. If you can’t fix ’em, don’t sell ’em. Offering half-baked stuff at half-baked prices does nothing for your reputation and sullies the world with more half-baked stuff. There’s enough around already. Go directly to the whiteout. There are 4 comments for A whiteout sale? by Angela Treat Lyon
From: Chris Cantu — Feb 27, 2012

I agree. More artists should be bold with the gesso – if you are not totally proud of a painting and feel it represents your best efforts, why would you want to put it out there? With your name on it.

From: Laurell Hamilton — Feb 28, 2012

Your painting is wonderful – the colors and composition are unusual and very appealing – there is a lot to look at in the best possible way. I would never get tired of this painting!

From: Anonymous — Feb 28, 2012

Thanks, Laurell – I’m glad you like this one – it’s actually one of my faves – it won’t get whited out! Robert, thanks, too – I hesitate to white some out bcz they have been verbally ‘liked’ – so I’m torn. But I’m really tired of the mess in my studio, which is really tiny, and I needs the room! So maybe I’ll get the courage together I’ll actually DO it!

From: Anon — Feb 29, 2012

I used to agree with Robert. But lately I have been ‘hit’ by a number of substandard materials and services for which I paid good money, and when I complain I am told that my standards are too high and what I got is good enough’. If that’s true, I am just denying myself income when I destroy my ‘substandard’ works. The world still gets flooded with crappy stuff and my money still has to be spent on it. It doesnt feel fair that people with the lowest average income in the nation (artists) absorb the cost of their good attitude.

  Second breath is really a ‘breath’
by Terry Mason, Sarasota, FL, USA

original painting
by Terry Mason

I have been doing this for years just under a different name. I like second breath better. I might start actually with a walk. Clears the head and lets the creative thoughts start poking in. Sometimes I dive right in to the second breath. Then I simply take some deep breaths concentrating on the breath. I had to learn to let the constant interrupting thoughts — “Did you take the pork out of the freezer?” “Did you call your mother?” etc. etc. — pass along like moving clouds. Once I could actually concentrate on just the breath for several breaths then I knew I was ready. I asked my question. This could be any question about anything at all. I listened. I had to learn that. Listening means that you stop directing. This took some practice. But finally I did get there and could ‘just be’ and just listen. Then, always, the perfect answer for me emerges. I have never, not once, gotten bad or ego-driven advice that way. It is, for me, that I have somehow linked with either the entire river of knowledge that I may know or the best parts of myself. I don’t know, and don’t much care. What I do know is that the advice I get is always correct for me. And that includes advice on what the heck should I do with this painting now? As a painter who loves plein air and who creates her studio paintings from her plein air work, sometimes this break in time from the plein air to the studio painting work is awhile. Then asking, and perhaps even remembering what it was that I loved so much to paint it, will emerge.   Cracking creativity by Bela Fidel, Scottsdale, AZ, USA   As somebody who normally takes a few months to complete a painting, I am aware of the tortuous path to creating work that I am proud of and pleased with. I often say that I do not paint in oils; I paint in gesso.

“Green eyes”
encaustic painting
by Bela Fidel

I am now reading deKooning: An American Master and feeling less lonely as he, too, would work on one single composition for the whole summer, for example. He would destroy paintings that had been highly praised by his peers until he was satisfied with the results. I have also read Cracking Creativity by Michael Michalko. While the book is a how-to for every creative field of endeavor, his SCAMPER technique can easily apply to the visual arts. SCAMPER are questions we ask ourselves when searching for the “second breath”: S=Substitute? C=Combine? A=Adapt? M=Magnify? Modify? P=put to other uses? (I’d say, cut it up and collage elsewhere…) E=Eliminate? R=Rearrange? Reverse?   Honest work destroyed by Anne Copeland, Calimesa, CA, USA  

“The Little Match Girl”
art quilt
by Anne Copeland

I made this art quilt about the character in a favorite fairy tale, The Little Match Girl in 2006. It was made for a challenge and, at the time, I was fairly new at making art quilts. When I finished the piece, I sent it off, but then I looked at my photo and realized that the piece was not straight, and I felt it had some other problems, so I wrote to the curator and asked to get it back. Once I had it again, I began to totally take it apart, feeling it was not good enough to enter in that exhibit. Today, I think back on that time and I think it was one of the truly worst things I ever did to myself and my own art. That art had a sort of honesty and spontaneity that I have seldom experienced since; I could have just cut it so that it would be straight and sent it back, but instead, I began to pick apart each thing I had done. Sometimes this judging of our own work, while it might be a good thing, can also be our ruin, in my mind. We need to learn to accept the work we do at any stage and to “leave it as it is” and go on and make the next piece. We can always look back on what wasn’t right, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to do anything to change it. Many of the early works of famous artists I have seen weren’t especially perfect, but perhaps that is the very thing that makes them collectible and desirable. We are who we are at any given point, and it is okay to be that person, for we will definitely change with time. There are 4 comments for Honest work destroyed by Anne Copeland
From: Jacqueline Satterlee — Feb 28, 2012

I agree with you Anne. Many times I look back at older paintings that I thought were “bad” and see some nice things in them, and you can measure your progress through them.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Feb 28, 2012

Very well said! I remember ruining a painting that was a stunner just because there was one tiny area that I thought could be made better. I actually cried when I made the change and it ruined the whole painting … even trying to get it back to that state of “before the correction.” It did not work. I agree, enjoy what you are doing, and then move on to the next piece. Most of us tend to overwork many of our pieces of art.

From: Dona — Feb 28, 2012

I am so impressed with the wisdom in your comment.

From: JudyP — Feb 29, 2012

Anne, you’ve made a good point, and so have the commenters above. There is a special, honest quality to first works, and they do show the initial skill sets each individual starts with. I have a first year painting, that won a local prize (first money!!); I look at that painting now, that has a loose, clean and active brushwork. I actually get sad, thinking ‘I don’t know how to do that anymore, can I do that someday again?’ I hope to overcome this subsequent over-training, and over-thinking.

  Problem with finishing by Janny Gudites  

watercolour painting
by Janny Gudites

Once I decide what I want to paint (watercolor), I jump in and tackle about half the picture.  This is normally the center of my attraction to the subject and I am usually very happy with the progress. Then I procrastinate and have to keep pushing myself to do more. It seems like I will do just about anything to avoid picking up the brush to finish it. Finally, all but 10% is complete and I’ll start something new with all good intentions of fitting in the last 10% alongside the new project. Surprise, surprise, that never seems to happen. I’ve tried starting with the uninteresting parts of the painting first, which isn’t exactly inspirational, so it’s very slow going. But soon enough I move the entree and the incomplete cycle repeats again and, while I occasionally finish it completely, more often than not they seem to remain 10% undone. I may be afraid of ruining a good painting by continuing (which I occasionally do because watercolor is so unforgiving). Do I have a confidence problem? I’m afraid if I force myself to paint everything but the center of interest, I will just not start anything beyond the drawing and a few brush strokes before the big stall. Am I broken? Do I need an art psychiatrist? (RG note) Thanks, Janny. You’re not broken and you don’t need Dr Freud, but get on the couch anyway. “The big stall” is quite common and there can be many reasons for it. Fear of failure (as you suggested) is one of them, as is fear of success. Avoidance and procrastination are often factors but there is generally something deeper. In many cases artists are subconsciously hearing a voice from the past — a mother, father, art teacher or other early influence who induces the “Imposter syndrome.” I’ve written about this and you can find it here. Avoiding areas of the work where you cannot be accused of being an imposter (leaving out the difficult parts as you also suggest) is the chicken way out. As the condition can be chronic and go on for years, I recommend some sort of shock. Make yourself do only the hard part. Make yourself do only the hard part over and over until you are genuinely impressed with yourself. Then, and only then, try throwing in the rest. Here’s the shock part: If you can identify your negative voice — mother, father, etc., write their name on a brown paper bag. Now blow up the bag and pop it between your hands with a loud bang. Do this several times over several days. You will find yourself finishing more work almost immediately. span class=”auth_comments_wrap” style=”text-align: left; display: block;”> There are 2 comments for Problem with finishing by Janny Gudites
From: Phil — Feb 29, 2012

I would agree with Robert. I would also say practice not making a painting sometimes. I do this in some of my art classes. I try out things just to try them out convincing myself that I am not trying to produce a masterpiece or even a good work. I learn a ton in the process and it allows me to paint with abandon fearing neither success nor failure.

From: Anonymous — Feb 29, 2012

It might also be that Janny is inspired by something else and not by putting together the whole puzzle. She might enjoy painting a certain pattern or achieving some effect ‘– like a portrait painter who enjoys painting faces and doesnt care about the rest. This may be her uniqueness and she just needs to harness that into some unique piece of art. Perhaps she just isn’t a painter of “scenes”?

  Keeping track of art by Chris Wachsmuth, San Francisco, CA, USA  

Alphabetically arranged ‘Sold’ file cards going back forty years

I’m not an artist. I’m helping a friend organizing the many aspects of her art business and the teaching she does. She is in need of a method to inventory or catalog her works. I’m thinking surely there must be software available to assist artists. (RG note) Thanks, Chris. There are several art management software systems — most of them aimed at art galleries — but sometimes used by artists. ArtWorks and Artlook are two of the best known. Perhaps our subscribers can point to others that I’m not aware of. In my case I’ve used an old fashioned file card system that predates computers, organized alphabetically by title, that traces when works were made, where they went, where they were sold, as well as size, medium, etc. There are two main banks-those paintings that are currently in galleries and those that have sold. The latter file is terribly useful when people are enquiring about older works. One benefit of computer systems, unlike mine, is that they can be archived for safety in more than one place. There are 2 comments for Keeping track of art by Chris Wachsmuth
From: Amanda Jones — Feb 27, 2012

You might be interested in Art Tracker (just google it) it is specifically designed to be used by the artist, and covers just about everything.

From: Marney Ward — Feb 28, 2012

I have a file card system like Genn’s, but I organize it chronologically by two-year groupings, and within each grouping, alphabetically by title. This way, if I can’t remember the title of the painting, I can usually remember within about 5 years, when I painted it, and only have to check through a couple of sections to find it. I keep track of when I painted it, what shows and awards it has been in, where it is now and who bought it (if I know) for what price. Also if its been featured in any books or magazines.

  The malady of “unknowing” by Betty Brooks   I want to thank you Dr Genn for your twice-weekly letters, full of insight to pass on to the new coming-of-age kids. There’s no escaping all the traps life has to offer. Happily there are ways to get out of them besides chewing off one’s leg. They usually come from the seasoned older and wiser generation who at the same time say grace over how we learn by our mistakes. I learn from your writings and I think they’re good fodder for a college kid like my nephew. You are the good doctor serving many a patient needing a new prescription for that ancient malady called unknowing. It’s comprised of such things as whether to trust in all you know or only part of it, to discern if you’re throwing the baby out with the bath water, and when to jump or stay put.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Second breath

From: Doug Hoppes — Feb 23, 2012

This actually came at a great time! I had just taken a re-work off of my easel. The painting was hanging in my studio for the last week and I kept looking at it and not liking it (Viewed it during different times of the day). The painting was weak. No strong contrasts, etc… So, took it off my wall, put it on the easel and strengthen the weak parts. Now, after reviewing it, it’s much closer to the piece that I envisioned. One of the things that I love most about oils is the ability to rework the painting… even after it’s been hanging for a while.

From: Dee — Feb 23, 2012

Gesso to a painting…Like snow on a dog run.

From: Anon — Feb 23, 2012

Painters don’t make mistakes. We do layers.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Feb 24, 2012

I always called them “old dogs” and I have stacks of them. Your letter is so positive, so full of good advice, I need to make a poster out of it and put it on my studio wall. Many times a painting will have a glaring error that I can’t take my eyes off of and instead of working through the problem, I discard the painting. I have worked with students many times, encouraging them to work through these situations and end up with a good painting. Sometimes that error can be the most interesting part of the painting. I need Robert Genn standing at my shoulder saying “push through it-you can make it work.”

From: Gary Bradley — Feb 24, 2012
From: Fredericks — Feb 24, 2012

I move back and forth between Ontario, BC and Barbados. As a result I am continuously looking at my works through fresh eyes. When I take out my brush to touch up my works mamma says I am repainting – I call it tweaking. In almost every case, my reworked paintings are brought to completion. What troubles me is the thought that I haven’t matured as an artist when I cannot discern how to put the icing on the cake.

From: Jeanean Songco Martin — Feb 24, 2012

Taking a “second breath” on paintings that haven’t quite made it to the “acceptable” stage by your own standards definitely deserve to be addressed again. It is important to know how to evaluate your work and to give yourself a “reality check”. It is important to recognize paintings that are just hibernating in that semi-dormant stage of unfinishedness. It is part of the process to know how to get back into the creative energy of that painting but with a different twist. Think of the large scale paintings of Rubens created by the master but often times worked on by a staff of painters in his studio. These paintings were not created in one shot. There is a real “process” going on. Sometimes the process is simply developing an area more fully or sometimes it is having the guts to take out uneeded information or at least subdue areas. I force myself to sit down and evaluate my work from time to time, whether it be for an upcoming show or just to clean out my studio from the clutter of work. When I come across paintings that are half finished I decide if there is something in this painting that needs to come forth. If I can see or feel even the slightest hope of promise I try to dive back into the well and revive the painting. It isn’t easy to go back to that place in the beginning of the painting, to remember what exactly it was about this painting that moved you to paint it in the first place. Knowing how to recognize problem areas, knowing what you want to say is as important as knowing what you don’t want to say. Oddly enough even if the painting doesn’t get saved it is worth the effort.

From: Betty J. Billups — Feb 24, 2012

“SECOND BREATH”: when attempting to find the solution to a painting that didn’t quite make it…either from just not “being in the moment”, or “out of touch with ourselves”, just not in the right space to pull off, what we were initially excited about! “Clean clear thought” may be necessary, in the decisions of what to do, with what went wrong…but deeper than that, is to “tweak” something deeper on an emotional level. That is often times as important, as what is “right” in the artistic sense of the “laws and rules”. Sometimes, in the process of creating a painting, the “dream” or vision, gets lost or misplaced, or as they say: we loose our train of thought…and thus the “end” can get all messed up. Until the artist can reconnect to their vision, or inner feeling…some paintings are best left alone, until they get “a second breath”. Personally, I do not think it is a thing of “business” … which implies rules, laws, etc…but more a sense of reconnecting to an inner vision, that of expressing something deep within one’s soul. “Rules and laws” do not always satisfy this inner connection…if you don’t believe that, then look at a lot of the impressionists, or expressionists of the past…some things they created were totally off the wall…(hum, wonder if that is where that expression came from: off the wall: perhaps not accepted by their galleries, thus “off the wall”!! ;+) As you mentioned: “The human imagination is far richer than we know”…that is because in its deepest activity, it is connected to the soul, the “why” and not always the “how” of what we paint! I believe the greatest “genius” is where knowledge and soul intertwine! BUT, of the two, the soul, the feeling can carry even when the knowledge portion is lacking. BUT, should the knowledge be handled without any inner touch, then the finish can be a hollow, non emotional statement.

From: — Feb 24, 2012

You second breath comments are so timely. Yesterday I was sorting inventory: a pile for ready to frame, a pile for needs work, a pile for paint over and a pile for destroy. One of the work overs was of autumn willows along the creek here. I loved the trees but the forground was lacking. I decided to put in a couple of indistinct figures on the way to the creek. I think it gave the painting a new life!

From: Patty Oates — Feb 24, 2012

Lately, I have often reworked a piece and put in a bird or cloud or sailboat, which brought the piece to life. Then they have sold. I feel it is a part of my learning and accumulated knowledge that I am able to do this now. The world likes to see a spark of something living in a painting, and I do too now. When I started painting, I only wanted the landscape with nothing man-made showing. I have now evolved to better loving my fellow beings here and I am a happier painter.

From: Janice Ykema — Feb 24, 2012

I had a picture that I liked but it missed the mark. I put it aside and then while in the midst of a big move ran across it and it was a situation of resolve it or move on! I didn’t have my resource material and you are right, my critical eye was alive. I wasn’t attached to resources or former thoughts and just went into the picture and did it! I made some aggressive choices, and they mattered. This poor picture once a cast off, almost a paint-over, went forward to win second place in The Colour and Form Show.

From: Meg Dillard — Feb 24, 2012

I love this! As I read it I thought about how this can be applied to the art of maintaining human relationships as well!

From: Kathy Kaser — Feb 24, 2012

I often had to do that when trying to find typing errors! A day later they jump out at you! For my art quilts, I look at them through a mirror — all kinds of things show up when reversed. Quilters often revisit UFO’s (unfinished objects) which other quilters call WIP’s (works in progress). Sometimes the original quilt is used for a background to a new design. It’s a fun, new challenge!

From: Helen Horn Musser — Feb 24, 2012

Never do you leave us wanting for more information; knowledge is power! Thank you for the clues and hints about refocusing on those important parts of a painting and fixing it. I’ve had many failures and needed help with them; you have given them today.

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 24, 2012

Reworking pieces that seemed to have missed the mark is a valuable tool for artists. It gives you the chance to do some thinking on why the work failed in the first place. It brings you back to look after some distance. Many times when doing this the solution presents itself and you can save the work. I find that many of my “failed works” aren’t failed at all, just incomplete — the idea wasn’t carried far enough or there is some area of neglect and the fix seems easier the second time around. There have been times the correction was not with the subject but in the background. Regardless of the reason, artists should always revisit work that did not hit the mark the first time around.

From: Denise Schlawin — Feb 24, 2012

Sometimes turning a painting upside down helps. The part(s) that seem wrong just jump out at you when the painting is turned!

From: Jennifer Depencier — Feb 24, 2012

Today’s newsletter on “Second Breath”, reworking old paintings is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I think I almost have the courage to breath new life into a old painting now.

From: Valerie Norberry VanOrden — Feb 24, 2012

I think we all need to give many things a second breath. Go for a walk. I have to put away a house portrait and then take it out again. I usually do the portraits in 3 stages, pencil, pen and ink, and then color. I departed from this formula briefly for this last house portrait. To me, it looks like Noah’s ark from a distance . The Bristol 3-ply board turned ashen when I did watercolor on it, also a departure from my usual formula of pen and ink and pastel or watercolor pencil. I also did the color BEFORE I tightened in the pen and ink. Used grey washes a lot. Been using grey washes a lot in my art lately, don’t know if influence from Sumi-e or from Penmanship (Spencerian). The client was thrilled. She loved it. I was relieved. When I put the little image on my latest business card with 2 other samples, it did look like Noahs ark to me. But I didn’t tell the customer that. Judge for yourself. And yes, it got a 2nd breath. Turn-around time was about 4 weeks total. Price was 50.00 and I threw in a photocopy and 2 frames. I keep my customers happy.

From: Paula Timpson — Feb 24, 2012

a 2nd breath comes upon awakening in the early morning~ awakened by Spirit, one truly sees anew~

From: Suzanne Northcott — Feb 24, 2012

Teaching at Naramata Centre last summer I met a remarkable trio of men, Hillel Goelman, Amir Hussain, and Tim Scorer, who meet each year as thought leaders from their faiths (Muslim, Jewish, Christian) to share ideas and see what is possible. Tim shared a phrase or question that arose from their discussions that really resonates for me. Co-incidentally, I am on my way to Naramata in the morning and I will be using that question in my teaching… “What wants to happen?”

From: g.a.gordon — Feb 24, 2012

i am a watercolor man – no overworking no mistake fixing – it’s good or it’s in the trash – no overthinking I simply respond to my subjects and let a greater power guide my mortal hand.

From: Karen Mader — Feb 24, 2012

I really enjoy all you letters, Robert. I am learning so much! I have to look up words sometimes. I am keeping a notebook of info from your letters and from comments others make. There are so many good ideas and interesting comments. I was happy and excited to read about the three men of different faiths who meet each year! These are the kinds of positive events that should be broadcast on T.V. instead of all the very negative news items that are mostly told about.

From: Carolyn Hancock — Feb 25, 2012
From: Jacqueline Kinsey — Feb 25, 2012

I learned to take a second, third and fourth breath early on in my career as an artist. I can put a painting away for months and move onto a completely different series or subject and even a different style and then come back and complete the waiting painting. I go by pure instinct and how I feel about a painting as it progresses. I continually stop and re assess what is happening. If I feel I have taken a wrong turn, I put the paintbrush down…I repeat…put the paintbrush down! You need to take a breath. Don’t smother your creation. The other habit I have developed is stopping and taking about 5 paces back and looking at the work…and from different angles. I want to look at the piece with fresh eyes…this is tricky. If I try this a few times, but still struggle, then I start thinking about just ‘putting the brush down’ and the painting gets put away. The one problem I have come across, but I am not sure that it is not just a problem with my confidence is that once I put a painting away, unfinished, I can start to stress about when I should try it again and fear starts to creep in. I start to doubt whether I can finish it or whether I will lose interest in it; kind of like losing momentum. Glad to hear this is a relatively normal process! : )

From: Marjorie Glick — Feb 25, 2012

As an artist who makes large scale elaborately detailed watercolors that each take around 6 months to make, the idea of re-working a painting or fixing something that isn’t quite right, requires a certain “throwing caution to the wind”. I always want each painting to be the best it can possibly be,so I am in the habit of re-working things, but find that I need to be in a certain headset to do it. I couldn’t agree with you more, it is esssential to put paintings aside for a few months and not look at them. When I do that, I see things with fresh eyes and the task seems less daunting. Usually after a few months of not looking at it, I know exactly what is wrong. Still it can be challenging to add changes in watercolor because it is so easy to loose the freshness. With that said, I’ve learned over the years to trust my intuitions and just do what needs doing. My favorite thing is to have a day in the studio of re working watercolors that weren’t quite right. Often its several quick adjustments: some subtle and some dramatic.The results are more often than not the difference between a painting that is just ok to one that is at least the best I can make it. Robert,thanks for all your great insights.

From: Marie Adam — Feb 25, 2012

Once the artist has decided that the item in question is unsatisfactory and just has to go, what then? What’s to be done? I offer these techniques: A. Take your widest flat brush, at least one inch and better if it were two, fill it with something bold and outrageous, pure orange or lime green, position the brush at the top edge of the offending canvas,about one quarter of the width in from the left side, take a deep steadying breath, and draw the brush straight down to create a perfect vertical. You will not believe how liberating is this single stroke. It will blow away the fog and link you directly to your creative centre. B. have ready several colors, say yellow, magenta, turquoise, purple, take your favorite Wide flat,fill it lightly with the first color, close your eyes and make an odd number of strokes in as random a way as you can. Repeat with the remaining colors. This is so satisfying you will soon forget about what was originally on the canvas! C. Turn your offending canvas up side down. Mentally divide the canvas into nine quadrants. Choose one, study it, and rework parts you don’t like. Do not turn the painting right side up until you have reworked at least three quads. It is surprising how focused will be your creative sense!

From: Sheila Parsons — Feb 25, 2012

I have recently been revisiting paintings in my vast collection of paintings by Sheila Parsons – that’s me. I have added a new feature on my website called “fine-tuning”. There I show the original painting and the work after I had fine-tuned it. Then in a paragraph of two I describe what I did and why. Feedback from students and others seems to indicate they are finding it useful and it saves paintings for me. I hope some of your readers will visit and will give me their feedback. I change the paintings every month in that feature.

From: Sari Grove — Feb 25, 2012

I have done this with a whole series of oils that I had mixed with cold wax…An experiment to see how cold wax altered the texture of the oils…But when I went over them, I did a preliminary wash of either white or a pale colour, first…Then I began again, but with an entirely new painting…The extra texture was amazing, & the new works were very successful…I don’t like reworking – but I do like starting again using older works…

From: Marvin Humphrey — Feb 25, 2012

Sometimes I’ll imagine an old unfinished, unsatisfactory painting as something I picked up at the thrift shop, and work to make it interesting.

From: Lynda Anderson — Feb 26, 2012

Our Agassiz Monday painters group had fun….we all brought in one day our paintings that we had given up on and threw them on a table.Traded up and finished off each others works. It was a good experience and lots of laughs…..never give up.”

From: Susan Grucci — Feb 26, 2012

I find your blog so interesting…I ask “Why is he experiencing the same exact situation at the very same time?” You validate my decisions! I have passed along your blog to at least 50 artists and they are enjoying it as well. I look forward to seeing it on my email. Thanks so very much Robert.

From: Faye Richland — Feb 26, 2012

About one hour ago I was looking again (about the 5th time) at a painting that is supposed to be the 3rd in a series of 4. It did not fit in with the first 2 (which i love), so I put it aside and pass it by most of the time rather than turn it to the wall. After reading “Second Breath”, I will go back to it tonight “with a broom and not with a whisk.” Thank you for this letter and every one of your letters. I have your book and will treasure it forever. Your thoughts restore my heart and soul.

From: John Ferrie — Feb 26, 2012

Dear Robert, While every artist is different and we work in our own unique way, stopping and then restarting a painting is nothing short of desperate. There is something about being an artist that makes us stop our works because it is just not the voice we wish to communicate. This is something artists really need to dial into and understand that what we are communicating in our art, cannot be done in any other way. But to stop working and then revisit it later is one thing. But to stop a piece because it is not working only to re-work it later is like trying to fuse two completely different thoughts together. Nobody is fooled here, especially the viewer. I have taken canvas off the frame and had it re-stretched for fear of trying to make a stinker into a rose. The artists I admire the most have a through-line in their collections and a voice that links one painting to the next. We all have a fluke where something new and unusual comes together. But making a silk purse out of a sows ear is something artists need to avoid. On the eve of opening a new collection of paintings titled “Physical Graffiti” I am confident that the work flowed through me. Only once did I remove a canvas for this collection and I have 30 paintings complete. John Ferrie

From: — Feb 27, 2012

Hi Robert, The past few weeks I have been learning new things about painting the red rocks of Sedona and Garden of the Gods. I like these paintings but being a wildlife painter, just a landscape and not other living being or animal sort of gives me pause and ideas on why these works are not complete, so back to the easel with all of them to now bring them to life. Have a good day. Jim Springett-wildlife painter

From: anon — Feb 28, 2012

Our art teacher once said the best friend of watercolors is scissors.. cropping one part can be a brand new masterpiece. He also said with watercolor you can always say that it ‘got away from me.’ With oils you have to take full responsibility…!!

From: Theo FB — Feb 29, 2012

One of my favorite things is to just start painting over another unsatisfactory piece. Sometimes I turn it upside down, or not. I never gesso, but sometimes paint out parts in white or color and just leave the rest, or let some of the old painting show through and become parts of the new one. This is almost more fun than starting a new painting!!!

From: Leah — Feb 29, 2012

Sari, I am afraid to say, but your paintings will crack. You can’t put anything on top of cold wax. Once it dries thoroughly it will creack – cold wax has too much fat in it. It’s meant to be used for the top layer glaze.

From: Adriana Rinaldi — Mar 02, 2012

I turned the original painting sideways, this is the reinvented painting. So much more life. I repainted it for me and not a commission. I am happier with the painting and it will go on the wall at my cottage. Thank you for your timely article.

From: Terry Mason — Mar 09, 2012

I have been doing this for years just under a different name. I like second breath better. I might start actually with a walk. Clears the head and lets the creative thoughts start poking in. Sometimes I dive right in to the second breath. Then I simply take some deep breaths concentrating on the breath. I had to learn to let the constant interrupting thoughts….”did you take the pork out of the freezer?” “did you call your mother?” etc. etc. ….pass along like moving clouds. Once I could actually concentrate on just the breath for several breaths then I knew I was ready. I asked my question. This could be any question about any thing at all. I listened. I had to learn that. Listening means that you stop directing. This took some practice. But finally I did get there and could JUST BE and just listen. Then, always, the perfect answer for me emerges. I have never, not once, gotten bad or ego driven advice that way. It is, for me, that I have somehow linked with either the entire river of knowledge that I may know or the best parts of my self. I don’t know, and don’t much care. What I do know is that the advice I get is always correct for me. And that includes advice on what the heck should I do with this painting NOW? As a painter who loves plein air and who creates her studio paintings from her plein air work, sometimes this break in time from the plein air to the studio painting work is awhile. Then asking, and perhaps even remembering what it was that I loved so much to paint it, will emerge. So yes, I am a believer of the “second breath” and I thank you Robert for your thoughts on it. I think they have added another facet to my own second breath practice.

From: AdellaFey — Nov 26, 2013

What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It positively helpful and it has helped me out loads. I hope to contribute

    Featured Workshop: Helipainting in the Bugaboos 091311_robert-genn2 Complex and difficult environment? Nathan Cao at Rockypoint Ridge
(Helipainting in the Bugaboos, B.C. Canada)   Great workshops and painting adventures can always be found by going to the Painter’s Keys Workshop Calendar.

Sturgeon Bay Tugboats

oil painting, 16 x 20 inches by John Stuart Pryce, Toronto, ON, Canada

  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, 2011. That includes Greg Freedman of Facebook who wrote, “Is the toilet paper included under the heading ‘art supplies’?”

Robert in Argentina

(RG note) Thanks, Greg. In Argentina I put together an acrylic painting outfit, including stretched canvases, for a little over $100. I forgot to get paint rags. The TP, when not used for creative purposes, helped shift the large, stubborn Patagonian bugs off the car windshield — an excellent, but inadvertent example of multiple-use engineering, don’t you think?    

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