Second studio


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, my twin James arrived in the evening with an early birthday present. I could hardly believe it when he wheeled it across in front of the window under the eave lights, where he knew I would see it from the kitchen. Sky blue, with 3 speeds and a basket, James might as well have given me a second studio. After I hugged and thanked him, we reminisced about every other bicycle we had ever known, and all the pleasure and inspiration that can be drawn from such a timeless creativity machine.

Drift, 2010 oil on canvas 36 x 36 inches by Sara Genn

Sixty Days of Light (Magic), 2010
oil on canvas
36 x 36 inches
by Sara Genn

Our dad, a lover of all modes of transportation and a chronic inventor of portable easels, once built a painting apparatus out of plywood he called, “Art Dog.” Art Dog (patent pending,) varnished like a vintage Rum-runner and perched on a pair of small wheels, was hooked up behind his bicycle and towed to the forest, where it could be unfolded into a donkey-style art bench. Under the padded seat was a cubby for paints and palette.

in 2008, Dad visited me while I was swapping studios with a writer living in Lucca, Italy. There, without Art Dog, he packed supplies into the basket of the bicycle I’d borrowed for him from my impossibly generous neighbours — they also loaned him a workshop under the stairs of their 13th Century home. Tuscany’s blazing summer meant that I’d been planning plein-air moments around the shadows of the late afternoon. My bicycle, “Rilke,” included in my swap, had been providing all the needed breezes. I dragged Dad around the top of Lucca’s surrounding Renaissance walls until the sun sank, pointing urgently to crumbling architectural treasures and the patterns thrown by an ellipse of Plane trees at the Magic Hour. I’d found an art supply with some linen boards in European sizes, glowing French grey under clear gesso, and bought every last one, which was 14. At the end of our adventures, 14 location sketches came home to New York and Canada in our carry-ons.

Sixty Days of Light, (Shadows, Darling), 2011 oil on canvas 36 x 36 inches by Sara Genn

Sixty Days of Light, (Shadows, Darling), 2011
oil on canvas
36 x 36 inches
by Sara Genn



PS: “Oh mysterious world of all light, thou hast made a light shine within me, and I have grown in admiration of thy antique beauty, which is the immemorial youth of nature.” (Paul Gauguin)

Esoterica: Eleven years have passed since my dad and I rode around the walls of Lucca, stopping here and there to paint and try to capture the freedom and timelessness of our bicycle rides. This morning, James and I zig-zagged with similar, silent wonder through the verdant, blooming back roads of Palm Springs, the San Jacinto mountains draped like a purple curtain over our shoulders. My imagination took a deep breath as I re-examined the lips and edges of the wilderness from my new, 3-speed perch. “I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people,” wrote Rainer Marie Rilke, “that each protects the solitude of the other.”

Dad, James and SaraThe Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“How does the Meadow flower, its bloom unfold? Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and in that freedom, bold.” (William Wordsworth)



  1. Maritza Ruth Burgos on

    Happy birthday Sarah!
    I have been enjoying your Dad’s letters for a few years and now yours as well.
    Hope the new bike takes you on many more painterly adventures.
    Cheers from Melbourne, Australia

  2. My first sight of Mt. San Jacinto many years ago, brought tears to my eyes. It was so magnificent and the image of it seemed to have been residing in my soul forever. I have painted it a couple of times since and each subsequent visit to Palm Springs reassures me that the mountain is enduring and looks much as it did when Paul Grimm painted it so beautifully nearly a hundred years ago.

  3. Happy happy birthday birthday, Sara. You are in good company with the same birth date as Queen Victoria, whose birthday allows Canadians a long weekend holiday each year.

    After reading today’s letter, I went back to the 2008 letter written by your Dad, entitled Workshop. That was before my time with these letters and I was spellbound with the format as well as the contents. I wonder how much extra time and/or effort it would take at your end to return to a similar format whereby we readers can see and appreciate some of the artwork of our peers. That would be very very nice.



  4. What a fabulous connection with your Dad, biking and painting adventures.
    Truly an inspiration both in written and artistic expressions. Love your paintings,
    Sara! These are so simplistic yet they have depth in texture coupled with a loose painterly
    approach. Thank you, for sharing these special moments. May the sun shine brightly
    on you today and your year ahead, Sara! Happy birthday !

  5. Loved your stories Sara, thank you for keeping painterskeys going and making such wooderful contributions to it yourself. Happy birthday to you and James.

  6. Lisa Bancroft on

    Each year I now think of you, your brother and your father on the 27th and what we all felt that day five years ago when my father-in-law also passed away on what is my birthday as well … and only 12 days after my mother died. There wasn’t much celebrating that day.

    However, time is a wonderful healer. Enjoy your celebration of this special day you and your brother share with your father who’d be so proud to know how you continue to share his letters with us. They are a beautiful gift for which I am very grateful. Thank-you!

  7. Raffaele Ciccaleni on

    Lovely story! Can you please share a pic (or drawing) showing the Art Dog?
    My best wishes! Thanks!

  8. what a wonderful free and exciting existance you have. You seem to be travelling all the time and still creating all the time. I wish I had that many buyers that I could live like that. On second thought I do live somewhat like that but without thew

  9. Marion Oates on

    How lucky you have been to have had in your life a great relationship with your dad and brother. Thank you so much for your continued posts, both yours and your dad’s, I look forward to reading them each week. Love from Australia

  10. The photo of you and your brother as little babies with your dad is beautiful. Yes, you have been so very fortunate to have shared so many, many wonderful experiences with your dad and brother, traveling, painting, writing, bicycling. It’s an amazing story and so heart-warming. Best wishes.

  11. Barbara B Loyd on

    Such a lovely post. Lucca is a special city. If I go back to Lucca the wall ride will be on my list. Your dad looks delighted with you twins in the photo. Happy birthday to you and your brother.

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Featured Workshop

“THE MAGIC OF PAINTING FROM LIFE” with Sheree Jones at Casa Buena Art Retreat, Mexico
November 20, 2019 to November 27, 2019

Spanish Casita

Join Canadian artist Sheree Jones as she shares her passion for painting “from life” at this idyllic coastal retreat.

This workshop is designed for experienced beginner & intermediate oil (and acrylic) painters.
The small group size guarantees plenty of one on one instruction.
While you’re busy creating art, your friendly hosts at Casa Buena will be working hard, ensuring that your stay is a memorable one.
Outstanding food, accommodations, and field trips will satisfy your desire for both comfort and adventure. Non painting partners welcome.

For more information visit:
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oil on canvas
54 x 40 cm

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I am a painter. I am delighted to be a painter.


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