Talking about it

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Jeanette Obbink of Burlington, Ontario wrote, “Is it helpful to talk through a problem in a painting — as in out loud, with or without suggestions from others — fellow artists or not? I like to ramble. I’ve found it helps me to verbalize problems, halfway-dilemmas and stuckness. It gives me keys to the next steps. Feels odd, but it seems to work. Am I alone in this?”

“Pink Skies”
oil painting, 48 x 48 inches
by Jeanette Obbink

Thanks, Jeanette. You’re definitely not alone. Talking things out is certainly a ploy, and a popular one, but it has problems that visual artists need to be aware of. Words — spoken or written — have a way of making rigid that which needs to be exploratory and free. Words are small straitjackets when put around creative flourishes and maneuverings. As every demo-doer knows, verbalizing aloud can be difficult, even though we all know it’s a most valuable educational tool. Many demonstrators also find that “talking demos” produce what they consider substandard work. Attempting to verbalize often mysterious brain routings is the cause. In the real world of creative artists, care needs to be taken. Out loud, blow by blow mind-change explanations should be left to the politicians. When artists need to ask the “What could be?” question, or about colour or composition, it’s not necessary to ask out loud. Because of our internal sense of morality, we tend to want to honour our “word.” I noticed this problem years ago and devised a system to overcome it. I’ve passed it on to other painters who swear by it. Instead of talking about what might be wrong with something, you need to sit back from the work and silently make a series of mental notes to do this and that, to get rid of this and that. When the artist moves back to the easel, some of the mental notes get executed, and those that do not are handily filtered and defeated without a word being uttered. The creative brain needs to be above the verbal one. The artist’s brain needs to work like that of a centipede. As it turns out, a centipede has a complex nervous system and practically no brain at all. And yet it moves its hundred legs in flow and harmony. Watching a centipede walk around is delightful. If a centipede stopped to talk about which leg to move next, it would certainly stumble. Best regards, Robert PS: “There is no evidence that the tongue is connected to the brain.” (Frank Tyger) Esoterica: An interesting variation is to talk about anything but your work in progress. You can do this in person, by phone or on Skype. The idea is to allow your unconscious mind to do the progressive critiquing and decision making. Your work takes on an intuitive, automatic quality that can be fresher and more relaxed. In my experience, the brush slows down, becomes more deliberate, less fidgety and, surprisingly, more thoughtful. I recently had a far-ranging telephone discussion on most everything that happened at a classic car rally. My fairly reasonable painting almost completed itself.   Jeanette Obbink

“Winter Marsh”
oil painting
36 x 36 inches


“A Cold Autumn Day”
oil painting
24 x 36 inches


“A Sunny Morning”
oil painting
24 x 24 inches


“Simple Sundance”
oil painting
48 x 48 inches

            The mouth or the mind? by Sharon Knettell, Woonsocket, RI, USA  

pastel painting
by Sharon Knettell

In my life as an artist I have done what are called ‘demos.’ I consider them the nadir of my career. I have felt the obvious negativity in the room when my ‘demos’ do not match my painting. I end up feeling like a fraud. I cannot coordinate the speech with the brush. Complex color and drawing compete with speaking and, for me, neither wins. I have seen artists do marvelous demos. They look like miracle workers to me. I cannot. I am a slow painter who works from life and likes to talk only to make sure the model is still alive. There are other things that put a painting together for me — a cracked mirror in a movie rewind; a good night sleep, a bit of meditation, or being startled into the present by something beautiful like the majestic descent of a great blue heron on this morning’s walk. There are 3 comments for The mouth or the mind? by Sharon Knettell
From: Rosie Jones — Oct 23, 2012

It’s a very beautiful painting thanks Sharon.

From: Jackie Knott — Oct 23, 2012

The few demos I’ve done were terribly stressful. I could paint, stop, talk, paint, stop, explain, but not talk AND paint. I felt like a jogger tripping over a bump in the pavement. I needed my own silence to keep a rhythm. In watching other demos I’ve noted the better artists give little commentary. Their Q & A normally came afterward. Lovely, lovely painting ….

From: Anonymous — Oct 23, 2012

People already like your work or they wouldn’t be there, so I doubt that they feel let down if the demo piece doesn’t turn out magical. Your audience wants to understand your process, so if you paint slow and can’t talk at the same time, breaks with verbal explanations are valuable, and some props could also be helpful (slide show, exaples of work in various stages etc.)

  The magic of art by John DeCuir, La Crescenta, CA, USA   I know the old right brain left brain theory is being neurologically challenged, but its simplicity still appeals to me. As you so aptly implied, talking is such a left brain commodity that I can’t help but believe it shuts down right brain creativity. Simply put, make a left brain list of the challenges you face in your work and then go pull weeds. When you get back to work many of the answers you were looking for will resolve themselves as if by magic. After all what is art if not magic? There are 2 comments for The magic of art by John DeCuir
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Oct 23, 2012

I’ll bet that the right brain left brain theory would make more sense if a neurologist were to paint! Your work is in a whole nother world!

From: Tatjana — Oct 23, 2012

I agree with Susan, I strongly suspect that I have the entire brain plugged in all the time. The more attention I give to painting, less there is for talking or doing anything else. People who can paint and talk well at the same time are probably just very experienced in both so they don’t need to give each much brain power. Like driving – I used to do it with focus and sweaty hands in the beginning. Now, after many years behind the wheel, it doesn’t require any thinking at all, even though I constantly need to react to the traffic. When I am engaged in any activity that doesn’t require much brain power, the queued problems get processed and sometimes solved. It does feel like magic.

  After a traumatic experience by Laurel A. Hansen, WA, USA  

fiber cement, pique assiette, 15 inches
by Laurel A. Hansen

In February I was hit with a catastrophic perfect storm of emergency tryin’-to-kill-me illnesses. One of the aftermaths was minimum brain trauma, which I was too foggy to know about because of the, well, brain trauma. Affected were my speech, writing, and thinking and walking. As I emerged from the fog a couple of months ago (6 months post-illness), I became aware that my creativity had been flattened. When I was physically able to return to the studio, I returned to the mosaics, but not in my formerly creative way. I have been copying ancient Roman mosaics… thank goodness that copying is a time-honored teaching technique! I have seen the verbal and creative abilities completely severed from one another. I have felt the chasm that exists between the brain’s amorphous cloud of fantastic creativity and the ability to speak coherently or string together written thoughts. I have been my own (horrified) witness to the loss of sense memory. I have seen my inability to learn. But I have been able to work with my hands. I have begun collecting photos of artwork that takes my fancy. I have organized the studio. So, I must agree with you. Go to the nonverbal part of you. Quiet the voices. Distract yourself. Bake a cake. Eat it. The answers are there. There are 8 comments for After a traumatic experience by Laurel A. Hansen
From: suzanne jensen — Oct 23, 2012

Thank you for that Laurel… the process of doing is very divorced from the talking process. One finds peace in the process of doing

From: Laurel — Oct 23, 2012

Yes, I usually do find peace in the doing. Interestingly, I must still sometimes talk in order to know what to do next in the studio. Big blanks left in my brain….

From: Susan Kellogg — Oct 23, 2012

I am glad you are in your studio. Art heals as it works its magic. New and wonderful things will emerge. I have a process I call psycollage…I take abstract and architectural elements from real photographs, not focusing on what the objects are. (They have to be on good stock (like National Geographic or fashion magazine pictures) and let them suggest how to organize themselves on masonite. It can go deep and is magical at times.

From: Laurel — Oct 23, 2012

Hi Susan, I sure hope for healing. I still struggle with the brain-changes. A watercolorist friend last night emailed to me to stop what I’m doing since I’m bored and try something I’ve wanted to do. I need to come at my work sideways, like your psycollage and then see what emerges. Thanks for replying. This time is also incredibly isolating and scary, so now I’m happy I was compelled to write that first comment!

From: Sharon Knettell — Oct 23, 2012

What a moving piece. The ‘working with the hands’ is what hit home- even though I rather pride myself on having mastered some skills- It is the peasant in me that relishes working with my hands. That is where the work flows from.

From: Laurel — Oct 23, 2012

Hi Sharon–working with the hands is a fascinating human concept. I also garden quite extensively and lose track of time. Watching the disconnect between my brain and my hands causes distress, I’m sure you can imagine. Thanks for chiming in to my odd little story.

From: Jace Mattson — Oct 25, 2012

I had brain surgery for a large menengioma last Christmas. I was terrified to return to the studio for obvious reasons. I was pleased to note that although slower and a little clumsier, I had retained my ability to paint. Scary times. I have found, however, that my paintings are more thoughtful than before the surgery. Before the surgery the menengioma manifested in seizures which allowed me to “talk” with Picasso, Kandinsky and Georgia O’Keeffe. Of all the things I’m now required to do, i.e., lots and and lots of pain meds, I miss those conversations the most. I’m almost sorry I let them “mess around” in my head. You can check out the before and after at my website

From: Laurel — Oct 27, 2012

Oh, you talked with some brilliant artists! I can only begin to imagine the disappointment of their absences now. Can you re-create any of the conversations? I’m feeling a book arise! Fascinating stuff, the brain. I only had one moment where I met with Death and had to tell him I wasn’t ready yet, but thanks for asking. Thanks for including your website. Your Egyptian Cartouche grabbed me! Evocative! Please give more direction about your before and after moments on your site. I am definitely curious! You have given me hope — and good company. Thank you for your candor. I wish you healing and artistic satisfaction!

  Letting the subconscious do its work by Mary Erickson, Marshville, NC, USA  

“Ocean Wave”
oil painting
by Mary Erickson

Talking while working through a painting problem does help. A friend and I often talk on the phone when behind the easel. Many times a painting that has hit a stalled spot can be revived through the subconscious, while talking not about the painting, but some unrelated issue. As our conversation flows, so does the paint. Letting the subconscious do its work can be helpful. We are both representational painters, but there are times when inner forces are best left to take the wheel. A combination of this process and a more mindful one can bring satisfying results in the studio. There is 1 comment for Letting the subconscious do its work by Mary Erickson
From: Iola Benton — Oct 24, 2012

Ocean Wave is a wonderful, natural painting. Congratulations. About you comment, I also paint while enjoying a conversation and find that it liberates the subconscious.

  The cardboard programmer by James Kissel, Canton MI, USA   Many, many years ago, while I was working in software development for ICL, and an English computer company, we had the concept of a ‘cardboard programmer.’ The name was inspired by a near life-size display advertisement in cardboard of Colonel Saunders, of fried chicken fame, we kept around the office. When we had a tough programming problem or were trying to debug a section of code, we used to consult the cardboard programmer. It usually worked something like this. 1) find a colleague to talk to 2) drag your paper list over this his/her desk 3) talking out loud, begin to explain the problem 4) Eureka! You saw the problem-solution before your colleague even spoke. You excused yourself. Returned to your desk and fixed the problem. The problem could have been solved by consulting the cardboard programmer, for all the input you received from your colleague. It probably wouldn’t have worked, but just talking out loud to a peer you respected enough to consult, usually allowed you to solve the problem quickly. There are 3 comments for The cardboard programmer by James Kissel
From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Oct 23, 2012

If I’m wrong, will all those programmers out there please forgive me? ;-) Surely programming is a left-brain activity and therefore your problem-solving technique would not apply to art? Being what my ace software developer son calls a computer rabbit, I am more than willing to be corrected! Maybe I should forward this to him for comment.

From: BBC — Oct 23, 2012

We think in words. We read books with words. Often talking about a problem links our words to the solutions we have read or heard spoken. It’s almost magical how well this works and not for programming or art but for any problem. Call it art therapy if you wish.

From: Tatjana — Oct 23, 2012

I have done programming and I have done art. To me, a problem is a problem and it feels good to solve it, whatever it may be. Some of us are just suckers for problems. I guess, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. In any case, verbalizing does give the thing a different spin and that can be helpful, but can also become a crutch.

  Words and the art of writing by Nancy Schempp, Bristol, RI, USA   Your passage, “Words — spoken or written — have a way of making rigid that which needs to be exploratory and free,” encapsulates the very challenge of writing, as in painting. I find the effort to make the word servant to the idea is the whole of successful writing. I also very much appreciate the thought that the creative brain must hold sway… My teacher used to say, “If you want to know how loose your thinking is, sit down and write something.” While we need to keep our thought always going deeper, we also need to develop those skills to keep focused. I also think one of the greatest temptations for an artist is to let any “given standard” have influence over the product. I believe that it is, after all, an exercise in pure uniqueness that is the valuable contribution to the whole, i.e. courageously being oneself in expression, don’t you think? This certainly supports your theme of protecting the idea from others’ thoughts while it develops and comes forth.   The art of ‘Think Aloud’ >by Deborah Elmquist, Port Orange, FL, USA  

“Creamer with Grapes”
oil painting
by Deborah Elmquist

I am in total agreement about talking out loud demos and how they too often produce substandard work. Having said that, I caution your readers who teach and give demos to keep talking. Even though you may produce a painting that is not up to your normal standards, talking is invaluable for your students. I teach and talk while doing demos. It is called a Think Aloud in the writing/teaching world. As a former teacher of young students who had to learn to write to pass state exams, I had to demonstrate an “in the head” activity by talking about what I was thinking. Just writing would have not have been much help. I took this practice to the easel when demonstrating my thought process and my adult students have been ever so grateful. My goal was not to produce a masterpiece, it was to teach. Substandard is okay if it helps someone learn. There is 1 comment for The art of ‘Think Aloud’ by Deborah Elmquist
From: Jeanette R. — Oct 23, 2012

This painting is beautiful. The light is exquisite.

  Verbiage only dangerous if not producing by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Spring cows”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

As a workshop instructor I am doing a lot of talking about painting ideas. I do a great number of talking demos and don’t worry about producing masterpieces. I feel these ideas need to be in the ‘database’ of these beginning and intermediate painters. They can choose to use or discard them later on. I don’t worry about the ‘word problem’ you mention. Painting itself quiets all the words in my head. Improvising has to have some basis in theory. Jazz players have a staple of signature ‘riffs’ that fill the space and provide comfortable jumping off points for new exploration. Verbalizing and analyzing comes afterwards for me, not during. I have learned to trust my painting ‘intuition’ that is fueled by the many painting ideas I have encountered and by the stacks of paintings I have produced over the years. Verbiage is only dangerous if you aren’t producing! There are 2 comments for Verbiage only dangerous if not producing by Paul deMarrais
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Oct 23, 2012

Hi Paul, I agree with you. I also do many demonstrations and talk non-stop or answer questions while painting. Sometimes these paintings are my best because I have stopped the analytical part of my brain by discussing something else… such as marketing. Sometimes those demos are not good, which allows students to see me struggle with making changes or deciding what it needs: wiping off portion, or brushing off pastel portions. They also get to hear my thoughts… to me nothing is worse than sitting with an instructor that says, “Don’t ask questions or talk to me while I work.” I want to know what they are thinking!

From: Deborah Elmquist — Oct 23, 2012

Paul and Marsha are right on. Demonstrating is a visual AND a verbal activity. Remember the purpose is to teach, not to create a masterpiece. It’s always about intention.

  Read aloud to me while I paint by Susanne Kelley Clark, Dallas, TX, USA  

“Pond Early Spring”
oil on panel
by Susanne Kelley Clark

Your letter made me think of years ago when at SVA, I used to paint at home on Sundays. I shared a tiny apartment with a roommate I knew from my hometown. She was a theatre and British Literature major in college. When I painted on Sundays, first I had to clean my work area, then set up the subject… back then a still life and then nervously went to work. I have to say that I was able to paint with greater ease when my roommate read, which she loved to do. She would sit in the room, book in lap and read aloud. I have no idea now, many years later what she was reading, but the fact that there was another story aside from the intense focus of my still life, enabled me to be more direct and even in the way I handled my painting, which at the time, was very beneficial. There is 1 comment for Read aloud to me while I paint by Susanne Kelley Clark
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Oct 23, 2012

Wow, beautiful painting! And I loved your story about someone reading and you had not idea what it was about!

  Throw the work out? No way! by Aurora Oberloh, Phoenix, AZ, USA  

“The King Cobra”
original drawing
by Aurora Oberloh

Sometimes pleasure is the best thing we can ask for as we create our artwork. It matters not what “the critics” whoever they are have to say. I’ve taken quite a number of art classes both college level and private and have seen so many interpretations of “art” and found many quite fascinating regardless of their “correctness.” Not everyone is neurotic about their involvement with art. They just want to enjoy the act of doing it. If no one else likes it, so what? A lot of us aren’t attempting to glut the market with our work. I think many of us find the process of self-expression through our artwork to be spiritually healing. That’s a healthy thing and there is nothing wrong with art playing that role. Do I get neurotic about my work at times? Yes, unfortunately, too many times. I am always pushing myself to become better because my mental eye always sees beyond the actual outcome. Throw the work out? No way!!! I learn from each attempt and use each piece as a learning tool toward the next “improved” attempt.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Talking about it

From: John Ferrie — Oct 18, 2012

Dear Robert, It is amazing how often your letters coincide with exactly what is happening with my works. Years ago, I was told by someone much wiser than me, that I should cry my tears in my work. I was also told that my career would be beyond my wildest dreams. Both seem to have come true. Recently, a dear old friend of mine became a new client and commissioned a painting of her city. This “city” I happen to have spent my formative teenage years in…Calgary. It was a difficult time, I was gay, had the last name Ferrie, it was 1980 in a city where riding bulls and steers was a recreation. I was bullied and teased and it was some of the most horrid years of my life. I like that now there is this whole campaign “It Gets Better”. But all I recall back then was wondering “What about Monday”. One a good day, I would only be called “HOMO” or tripped in the hallway twice a day. On a bad day, they would spray paint “FAGGOT” on my locker (that stayed there for three months) and I was pelted with rocks on my way home. Since I have gained some notoriety, I occasionally get a call from someone who lived along side me in that battlefield. One girl asked me once if I “saw any of the old gang?” I was like “what one gang? I was swigging kahlua out of a thermos with the janitor after school till the crowd dispersed”. So, I agreed to paint a painting of the city I once loathed. It is 32 years later and I could not get over how sophisticated Calgary had become. As I sketched out what I wanted to communicate, I realized what I had become and I was no longer that pimply faced awkward young boy. I had now travelled the world and not only developed a new self esteem, but a whole new armour. I began to recall several friendships I had with people who are still my friends today. There were many warm wonderful nights and when Calgary had a snow storm, it became a winter wonderland. I wanted this painting to be beautiful and as I knew it would be viewed by Calgarians, the most loyal and loving citizens, this painting was born. The best thing I did was forgive the past and let go of any demands. It is said that when you hate, you are the only person involved. I began a new found love affair with Calgary and realized as I had a roll to play back then, that everyone was probably just as scared and insecure as I was. For the first time in my life I painted something new…forgiveness. John Ferrie

From: ReneW — Oct 19, 2012

Throughout my life I have been a visual type person. Whether I participated in various sports like baseball, basketball, or golf I had to be shown, visually, how to play the game. The same is true in the arts. I fail to learn much about painting by reading about it or discussing it. I have to be shown or perform the act of painting myself. Trial and error is the norm for me. Self-talk or thinking about what I am doing will result in disaster. Any talking or verbalizing should be done while making a thumbnail sketch or plan prior to starting a work. I’ve gone to a number of workshops or demos where the instructor discusses what they are doing during pauses. I seldom see them paint and talk at the same time.

From: Julianne Biehl — Oct 19, 2012
From: Kath Schifano — Oct 19, 2012

Purposely engaging both sides of my brain allows my studio time to continue uninterrupted. After preparing my paints and after preliminary sketching-both of which require concentration-I can paint with books on tape (cd’s and downloads preferred) while I use my brushes, my right brain paints and left brain is transported to the book’s locale and characters. I can ignore phone and food and complete large blocks of time in the studio. Funny part is, I have to stop one activity at a time, turning off the literature and art at the same time puts my head in a quandary, I need to ease out of the zone! Often part of the book enters the painting, even if it is just a phrase or the title “borrowed” for my title.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Oct 19, 2012

Talk it out, Jeanette. For some of us the talking- getting it out of our brains and into the room where we can hear it ourselves- is EXACTLY how our brains work. So don’t listen to anybody tell you otherwise.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Oct 19, 2012

Congrats John, on your growth experience.

From: Sue Hoppe — Oct 19, 2012

I agree that verbalizing out loud is less helpful than making quiet mental notes… I have two walls in our living room covered with nails, where I hang work in progress. It is an ever changing parade of eclectic works that I can look up and see from time to time, whilst reading, watching TV or chatting to my husband, and almost as a subconscious process, immediately spot the flaws and solutions. As I understand it, this has to do with left brain/ right brain function. Thinking analytically in order to verbalize solutions is a left brain function, but our best art comes when we are using our intuitive creative right brain function.

From: Dora Gourley — Oct 19, 2012

I’ve been to critique sessions and I find that the ‘know it all’s’ who love the sound of their own voices will cruelly critique and that turns artists off. I like to hear from the quiet ones who start off their ‘suggestions’ by stating, “in my opinion, or I might try……etc.” Lots more helpful!

From: Mary Merz — Oct 19, 2012

How do I know what I think until I hear what I say?

From: David Martin — Oct 19, 2012

As a young painting student at the San Francisco Art Institute in the early 1970’s, I was once told by a dearly loved instructor [Hassle Smith] to “…just shut the hell up and paint!” . The exclamation point was Hassle’s, as always. I have tried to live by that advice ever since.

From: Karen McGady — Oct 19, 2012

For me, painting and sculpture are meditative activities so the best thing I can do is get away from verbal thought and let my mind free to take in and create images from my own subconscious mind. As I quiet my transient thoughts and get into a meditative state, I sometimes find I am in flow, and time disappears. When that happens, I almost feel like I channel the universe. That’s when I receive my best ideas and when I create my best concepts and images. Does this happen for you? Is this a common experience?

From: Stewart Turcotte — Oct 19, 2012

When an artist paints something, he is painting an experience or a feeling, something akin to the ineffable. If you try to discuss it, it changes lobes in the brain. I’m sure you have said many times, when discussing the ineffable, silence is an option. If you want to go academic, go ahead and discuss, but only after completing the painting.

From: Russ Hogger — Oct 19, 2012

Apart from the odd explitetive when I come up with a feeble splidge instead of a nice rounded splodge, that’s about it for me.

From: Jane See — Oct 20, 2012

I am totally agreed with you on this one; working silently and making a series of mental notes works for me. And thank you for all the insightful letters.

From: Katharina Keoughan — Oct 20, 2012

Usually I think your essays are right on. In this case, I disagree. An artist is in constant dialogue with a painting. If this dialogue becomes verbal, it can only make an artist’s commitment to the process that much stronger. When I am painting this conversation usually takes place in my head, but not always. Sometimes I resort to a little dance move. As a teacher it is essential that I tell my students the thought process I am going through when doing a demonstration. I don’t want them to see it as magic. It is 90% work and experience. Students benefit from knowing “Why”: Why did you set up the still life in that manner?; Why did you decide to darken an area?; Why did you add a green/gray shadow? The demonstration is not only in the painting but also in the dialogue I am having with the demo painting. If each student can learn to be immersed in his own dialogue with his own painting then he is focused, which leads to better paintings.

From: Rick Rotante — Oct 20, 2012

I am not a big fan of talking either to the painting in my studio while working or to an onlooker artist who may be painting along side in a workshop situation. On the other hand I have a constant dialog with my process while painting. I try and never be specific with this dialog. For instance when I think about color, I never name a color except in general terms or if a space is too much or too little. I also use distance to help me “see” better. What I mean is I walk away and get a cup of java or play with my dogs or anything to get me away from the problem. Many years ago when I came upon a seamingly insurmountable problem; the kind that lead to a massive headache, I would find a place to lay down and take a quick nap. Generally this would be for five to ten mintes. When I awoke, nine time out of ten; or more time than not, I had a solution. The idea is to let it go completely. When you return you will see what needs to be done. Talking about it gets in the way of the flow of instinct.

From: Sherrie Miranda — Oct 20, 2012

This is not just true for the visual artist. There is a woman in my writer’s group that has more than 20 versions of each of her pieces. Every time she gets feedback, she re-writes the piece according to the most recent person’s critique and even a reader who doesn’t write will get her back to revising. She can’t even decide which is the best version when she tries to submit it. I have tried to convince her that she needs to trust herself more. She needs to decide herself what her writing needs to be better. Otherwise she may be editing her own voice right out of the piece. I, myself, am quite the opposite of this woman. I have gotten pages and pages of information on how I can make my novel better, but I can only change what I eventually internalize as the best way FOR ME to tell this story. I just can’t bring myself to accept someone else’s advice no matter how much better a storyteller they are. I don’t know if you have heard of visual artists doing something like this. I would be curious to learn more about your take on this subject. There are not too many successful works of art out there that have been done by committee. Even murals have to have ONE artist who is in charge and tells the others what to do. Even Patterson has the last word on his novels despite paying others to write them.

From: Bill Burrell — Oct 20, 2012

Strangely enough I have experienced the same thing and never realized it. While working on a watercolor at home I had a former student call me on the phone to complain about what they felt was the lack of preparation that our college provided them for their chosen profession. (Graphic Design) As the student carried on, I had to continue painting since I hate stopping in the middle of a watercolor painting, especially when working in a spontaneous manner. After I completed the phone call, and the panting, I realized the the results of the painting experience were better than I had expected. Unfortunately the phone call did not produce good results, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. I will have to try using the principle of using such distractions as a way of keeping the painting spontaneous and less mechanical or contrived.

From: Nikki Coulombe — Oct 20, 2012

I disagree, but not completely. With regard to intuition and creativity, I was a purist once, but now admit that structure is the other half of the process, and process is as valuable as the product; sometimes more. Since only one out of many attempts may be successful, reflecting on and translating each experience into words helps us to become more aware, learn and grow. Talking and writing are entirely different than producing it, and although challenging, anything at all that helps us see our work in a different light is beneficial. Most importantly, if we intend to go public as professionals, we need to be confident, clear about ourselves as artists; what we’re doing, why and how we do it. Galleries and potential clients expect us to know what we’re talking about. Even though our first language is visual, others may look to us for a more logical explanation of what they are seeing and feeling. Knowing a few technical terms to describe our work is essential. Our ability to put words to something so subjective may even help to sell it. I never want to get cat caught again stuttering and sputtering at gallery openings, where most critics may not be practicing artists. Those who would buy expect us to know what we’re doing, and superficial as it may seem to us, that may require us to dissect and describe. Over-thinking – or worse, trying to please others – can be a distraction, but in order to learn and improve, honesty and criticism are necessary, whether from self or others. Others’ opinions are extremely valuable, even if they seem to disagree with everything we think we’re about. Inevitably, confidence comes from questioning, reevealuation and revision, which includes not only practice of our craft, but talking about it and writing about it. I’ve learned so much by having a blog; more like a journal now, and even though it can take days or weeks to articulate a concept, the challenge and experience guides me forward more quickly than if I had not ventured there.

From: Susan Brown — Oct 20, 2012

I really responded to your comments about the tongue and the brain. I agree, it is hard to verbalize while painting, and words can stifle, a little. I find that listening to audio books or podcasts works for me. Seattle

From: Marvin Humphrey — Oct 22, 2012

The acts of painting and sculpting are a little mysterious…semi-automatic, and intuitive. Words get in the way; they confuse and obfuscate the creative process.

From: Norman Ridenour — Oct 22, 2012

I talk to myself, I always have and they have not locked me up yet. I carry on 2-3 voices conversations. But when I am working on a problem I usually keep my talking to questions, “What if…., How about….? Can I try this….?” It beats down the pat answers. When I walk I keep a pocket notebook and scribble notes. I used to run, I would talk, even scream at myself and hope that the surf downed me out. El Loco, Prague

From: Corrine Hull — Oct 22, 2012

One of my mentors, Robert Hoffman, taught me to make a “punch list” as I’m finishing a painting. He makes a rough sketch of his painting and then makes notes about what he needs to do. He works around the painting in a sort of clockwise fashion and makes notes on his sketch as he goes. I’ve found that since I’m a visual vs a verbal person, this can help me work out problems.

From: Peter Pitseolak — Oct 22, 2012

Just because large amounts of people use a certain method, like talking with their friends about what to do next, doesn’t mean its a good practice. Many folks think they need cigarettes to think with, for example. The great painters learn to be loners, and while they may talk to themselves, like Sargent, they do it privately and discretely.

From: Lynn Carlson — Oct 24, 2012

In your recent letter about purging I would like to disagree. A famous artist told me long ago that every piece of art that you do should never be thrown out. It is special, even if it is not “professional”. It is part of you, regardless of its technical skill. I still believe this and feel it is another way of learning and seeing progression. A Student Forever, LC

From: Cheryl Lavoie — Oct 31, 2012

On purging, I would agree somewhat with Lynn. I have thrown away a lot of my art when I was younger that I wish I had to show my grandkids. My advice is to find something you like about a piece and perhaps tear it up and use it for collage, background for new artwork, or put it in a blender and use the pulp for something else!

From: George Stewart-Hunter — Jan 17, 2013

Ms. Oblink is not alone. More important, she is not wrong, although your reply suggested that. Many people find talking aloud (T.A.) puts things in better perspective. T.A .may also increase short-term memory. Look at a 10 figure number, walk out the front door and back in. Can you remember the number? Say the number aloud twice. Go to door… etc. Many remember the number! But like all else T.A. must be used sensibly, Maybe jot down ideas, conclusions, then revise. As to Frank Tyger:- “There is no evidence that the tongue is connected to the brain”, this very funny but trite, and TOTALLY INCORRECT. There is a lot of evidence, with the exception of politics. Lastly, I really enjoy your letters, please do not stop sending them as a punishment (!) for disagreeing with you. I know you would not, because if you did I would call and seriously TALK ABOUT IT ! ! ! Vermilion, Alberta.

     Featured Workshop: Donna and Tom Dickson
102312_robert-genn Donna and Tom Dickson workshops Held in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

High Desert Spring

acrylic painting by Beverly Theriault, TX, USA

  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, 2013. That includes Edward Berkeley of Portland, OR, USA who wrote, “Here’s a cameo from Richard Feynman apropos of your article: ‘A centipede was happy quite, until a toad in fun Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?” This raised his doubts to such a pitch He fell distracted in the ditch Not knowing how to run.’ ” And also Hans Schmidke who wrote, “Talking about it while doing it is like talking about making love while you’re making it. Kinky and fun for a while, but in the long run, counterproductive.”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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