I give thanks for those who mentored me, to those who had faith. My parents and a few good teachers are at the very top. A long time ago I had a mentor by the name of Lawren Harris. Apart from the tips that this well-known painter freely gave me, he had the ability to talk elegantly about art as if it were bread. He believed that art was life-sustaining stuff, and worth the effort. He had a wise sense of humour and a diplomatic delivery. One time he looked at my work and said that I had “a somewhat endearing tendency to show vestigial signs of mental laziness.” Harris was a Theosophist, and while I didn’t buy the seances, I did buy his sense of spirituality. I seldom pick up my brush without being thankful for his spirit. While he is long gone, in a wonderful way we laugh together now.
Two thousand years ago Cicero noted that gratitude is the parent of all other virtues. At this time of Thanksgiving we might take the opportunity to return our blessings. This may mean picking up the phone and calling a young person — friend or relative — or perhaps the child of a friend, and just touching bases. I find it best to make a call that has something to do with an observation of talent or effort. Surprisingly, the most in need or the most deserving may be the most reluctant to call on you. Keep it light. “Just wondering if you’re in the Guggenheim yet,” or, “I’ve a few spare canvases right now — any chance you could use them?” Sometimes they come right over.
It’s not only about being thankful for the artist’s life. Passing the torch is just as important. In 1883 Vincent van Gogh wrote, “I have walked this earth for 30 years, and, out of gratitude, want to leave some souvenir.” While we may love and relish our work, and leave it lying around everywhere, it may turn out that our best souvenir was the empowerment of another. The love that we convey may be our greatest gift.
We may not be the solitudes we seem. The wall of ego that separates artists can be dismantled. Precious boundaries can be broached and still maintained. It’s an art that requires tenderness and diplomacy. When it happens, real growth follows. It’s true, great people tend to know great people. That’s why you’re needed. That’s why the brotherhood and sisterhood needs you.
PS: “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” (Big Brothers motto) “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.” (Maya Angelou)
Esoterica: If you do see fit to reach out to someone — I’ll do my part to help you. We’ll mail a totally free copy of The Painter’s Keys to your protege. This modest little book has been a remarkable help to artists of all stripes — young and old — who are trying to figure things out. Just send along their regular mailing address and we’ll do the rest. If you wish I’ll write in it to say it’s from you and me. We’ll put a two-week time limit on this offer in case I start to go broke. There are many out there who can use us.
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Will just listen
by Juliette Coates, Grimsby, Lincolnshire, UK
I would so love my young friend to receive a copy of your book if at all possible. She has just started a degree in art and design and is finding it very hard work, and sometimes loses her way and needs encouragement. She has no personal family except friends, and myself, as I am much older she knows she can come around and I will just listen, etc.
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by Margaret Norwood, New Zealand
I am prompted by your generous offer to suggest my protégé deserves a copy of your book. This year for free, I have taught her, Karen, and another couple (Sadly, the wife is dying of cancer and they’ve not been able to attend now for 2 weeks). Karen has soaked up my lessons and rewarded my teaching efforts immensely with her lovely watercolours. She is a young mum and I’ve hoped for years to trigger her creativity. This year has afforded us both this opportunity and I have so enjoyed her, and my first efforts at tutoring. Though on limited income, today, our last lesson for the year, she presented me with Floranova by Warwick Orme, a magnificent book, in loving thanks.
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Learning thanksgiving the hard way
by Linda Nash
I have been recovering from cancer and realized that before I can heal, I had to stop the madness that was in my everyday life — i.e., the stress of work, traffic, the pursuit of material things. So, I took up painting, something I’d never done before. Lo and behold, out came this hidden talent and I’m happy, much healthier, and thank God for giving me this wonderful gift in order to help me through this trying time. Saying “thank-you” for even the slightest thing, is something I’ve learned the hard way. Thank you for your wonderful letters, for the special one you sent this Thanksgiving weekend, and for the wonderful lady that recommended it. Hopefully, anyone else reading this won’t have to learn the hard way.
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Was feeling like a loser
by Lisa Keen, Berkshire, UK
I have finally overcome the ‘illness’ given to me at university. I studied at a highly pro-conceptual art university where shock-value was prized far more highly than anything. It robbed me of all my joy and I became depressed and unproductive (and that’s no exaggeration). I was awarded various prestigious scholarships and after my degree, asked to continue and do my Masters in Fine Art. I was so physically ill and mentally broken by anxiety that I could not even pick up a pencil to doodle. I ended up, a few months into my degree, quitting. And feeling like a loser.
After two years, my husband and I emigrated to the UK and within a few months I started to do all sorts of forbidden things, like embroider and bead (which I considered far ‘below’ me before) and realized a sudden joy and release from this academic/conceptual threat in my mind and heart. But it has taken another two years in the UK (I believe being away from the previous art world I was involved with and their expectations of me was a tremendous help) for me to finally be the joyous, playful, true and productive artist I was always meant to be.
I have only been subscribed to your twice weekly letters in the last month or two — but I adore them! I love the personal note of ‘Dear Lisa’… Your letters have really pushed me right through the last bit of the ‘healing.’ You should be called Dr. Genn! I have also gotten your book to which I have taken my colourful felt tips — it is full of notes in the margin and large chunks of highlighted areas. I just want to say thank you for your generosity and love for art and artists.
I have a friend who is a magnificent photographer, but she struggles with herself because she feels she is unqualified because she hasn’t studied as I have. I have tried to explain that studying can sometimes be more damaging than helpful. (She is coming to photograph my exhibition tomorrow — it is the first show I’ve had which I am ecstatic about). Please could you send her a copy of your book? I think it will help her so, so much…
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by Bob Ault, Topeka, Kansas, USA
I was very especially touched by your thanksgiving letter. I’ve been even more touched by your generous letters each week and the sharing of everything from daily problems of the studio to issues of the artist’s being. These are always read to my students and discussed, so you are touching not only my life and career but about 50 others here in Topeka. I run a small art school and work as an art therapist and paint, so I have the best of all worlds. I love to teach art, work with the wonders of illness, and to create my own art, but the very best is in knowing you can be a positive influence on someone else. A while back I ordered one of your books and you sent me three copies. One I gave to a veteran that was suffering from PTSD and wanting to learn to paint. He had been a tunnel rat in Viet Nam and now just wants to live away from everyone. Anyway, he was most grateful. The other I gave to a young ex student who is going into a career in music as a composer. We paint together and I have learned a great deal from him. He is applying for a PhD in composing this year and has found painting to be very helpful to get through some musical blocks.
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Finally just did it
by Edna J. Patterson-Petty, East Saint Louis, IL, USA
I decided to help mentor a couple of women my age. They are both creative but only created for themselves, plus they are both very insecure. I call the group Gathering of the Goddesses. When I first invited these women over (I initially invited 7) two showed up. We vowed to meet once a month regardless of how many showed up (as long as it was more than myself of course). The second month 4 women showed up. We share in our bounty and spirituality. I have them bring something that they are working on. I share in helping them to develop an art resume and portfolio, etc. I was instrumental in setting up an art show for two of the women for the month of October. I have wanted to do this for a long time and finally just did it.
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I don’t know when I began receiving your letters, or even how I came to be receiving them, and it seems that I have for quite a long time. Occasionally, early on I would read them, mostly I would delete them without a reading, but for the last several months now I read them. Your writing is elegant and touches my soul. I do not consider myself an artist, though I dabble occasionally in a canvas painting and do wood pieces with my husband who cuts out various shapes we make into a kind of sculpture. These get painted, which is my part, and I use Golden paints almost exclusively so your letter on Golden girl was most informative. In any case I have noticed a transformative quality to your messages which, though directed to artists, really are meant for the human spirit, trash collector, and secretary alike. There is a quality to your messages that spills over into all areas of life and work which I am finding endearing and very useful.
In my work I help others to hear “the voice of their soul” vis-a-vis a kind of kinesiology and muscle response feedback. It is a powerful process that gets right to the core of an issue and underlying cause of stress. I love my work and love learning from others how we may all find joy and connection in our lives.
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Sharing our strengths
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
It is true we artists are individuals. It takes the qualities of strength, vision and tenacity to walk this path. It also requires compassion and gentleness rather than an arrogant ego. An individual will usually meet confrontation on the journey and needs to learn to be a patient teacher for the innocence and ignorance that will challenge unknowingly. The artist carrying the torch of inspiration and originality can be the truth that when held humbly yet firmly can also liberate those who are unsure about listening to their own bold voices. Learning to lead your own way is a precarious road, but with some support of others on the path a powerful shift occurs. As we honor our own supports, may we know the value of sharing our strength, talents and stamina with those who look to us.
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Feeling the joy
by Laury Ravenstein
I recently ordered your book and I am enjoying now. I am only on the second chapter because I wish to read and then contemplate. I have been getting your letter for about 6 months and my life has changed for the better. I wanted to be more professional and with your guidance and insight I am getting there rather smoothly. I have read all the back issues I could and will continue to be thankful for your humour and truthfulness.
Is it not funny that one person could help another with out ever meeting them? I have lived a life where I have passed on my insights and ideas and shared as much as one could ask of me. The joy in living this life is marvelous. I hope you feel this joy as well.
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by Nancy Bell Scott, Old Orchard Beach, ME, USA
Having signed up for your letter just 3 weeks ago, I expected by now to find that I either couldn’t relate at all to them or that each one would speak to me in a large way. But, as in all of life, they are a mixed bag, and I either respond internally and am inspired strongly or feel neutral or somewhat put off. I’m a real newcomer to your site and letters, so a few weeks wouldn’t exactly constitute anything to base a final opinion/belief/feeling on. But I thought your letter, Extreme painting, was wonderful and would do a world of good for many people. It has done me good, and I’m not exactly a tight, straight-line sort of person — quite the opposite. Yet I do get caught up in “how would so-and-so do this,” and I do get stuck in methods that at first felt truly spontaneous for me and then left me inside the borders of a certain way of thinking or feeling. Very frustrating! Because in most ways, in life and art, I am always seeking the way(s) to burst free.
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Just being thankful
by Mickie Acierno
I knew that the time would come that I would have to write this letter. Today seems to be the day. I am so filled with gratitude for the ability to finally live the artist’s life. For being alive. For family and friends. For a partner that believes. For children that validate why I am here. For the internet and the ability it brings me to receive and share what has become my everyday life. In my studio. Being an artist. Everyday.
One of my mentors, my greatest mentor, is someone that I am most grateful for. This person shares of themselves in a way that is not often experienced. This person takes the time to make sure that I am going in the right direction. Often this person will call upon me with a message that was exactly what I needed that day. It happens far too often to count. This mentor has shared with me many valuable insights about what it is to be and do as an artist. That mentor is you, and I am grateful.
Long ago, before I experienced the ability to paint full time I started reading your letters. I don’t even remember how I found The Painter’s Keys. I’m just entirely grateful that I did. I took heed to the words that you write, and have appreciated your knowledge and the willingness to share it on a daily basis. Your humor abounds. Your passion shines through. One of the highlights of my year? Being accepted into a gallery and having my art hung on the wall beside your art. I am truly blessed and grateful for all that has come my way.
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Prompted a phone call
by Linda Hobley, Dunham, QC, Canada
Your thanksgiving letter touched me. My protégé is my daughter Jennifer, who is in her third year of Graphic Design at Dawson College in Montreal. She is an amazingly talented young lady but often needs encouragement and confirmation that she is on the right path. I have often sent on your letter to her because it has reached out to me in some way, and after reading today’s letter I realize that she needs a phone call!
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Art is a living river
by Stewart Turcotte
I agree, it’s all about the souvenirs we leave behind. Whether we take the time and energy to actively support and nurture a younger person or leave it up to them to decipher what we have spent time doing is an option left up to each individual. Each of us has an understanding of where our strengths lie and some are not teachers. I believe in the souvenirs we leave behind. The Venus of Willendorf was a souvenir left by some unknown artist but now we know some more of the story so it is starting to make sense. Art is a living river that runs through our time and will run on as long as art is created and appreciated. To purchase a painting is to take a dipper full of the river home to constantly be refreshed with the energy of life. I feel absolutely blessed to work in this field because art is the soul and spirit of each generation to be passed along to the next and beyond. Sometimes people have to be told what it is worth being thankful for.
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Knows she would blossom
by Penny Lamnek, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Audrey Boje is a very giving and lovely lady who currently works as a Teacher’s Aid at Boyle School grades K-12. The school would fall apart without her! She had a very difficult life, an abusive husband she was finally able to leave a number of years ago. That is very difficult in a small town local. She is so hard working and allows herself one night a week for art lessons, something she wanted all her life. I have had the advantage of art lessons and can pass information and encouragement on to her. Of course, as you know, a teacher receives as much or more than they give and I treasure the friendship that has grown between us. I know if Audrey had a “better” teacher and more opportunities, she would blossom as an artist.
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Surface mail okay
by Mina Singh, UK
My protege is my daughter-in-law Nina. She left England to marry my son and live in India and it is hard on her though she never complains or criticises. I agree with her father that she should return to painting to find comfort in difficult circumstances and I hope your book will inspire her (I have personally not been able to afford your book). I have been inspired by your email letter to return to painting after 35 years. I also hope you will not go broke mailing your book to India. You could send it via surface mail. You’re a Gemm.
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oil painting on canvas
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, 2004.
That includes Bruce Graham who wrote, “Your letter at times brought tears to my eyes for reminding me how grateful I am for my everyday blessings. Please sign a copy of The Painter’s Keys to my friend James from yourself and Bruce.”
Also Karyl Howard who wrote, “I do a lot of teaching, but one person stands out who has made the most progress and feels as though finding art has saved her life.”
And Donna Coleman, Clearwater BC, Canada who wrote, “My son David is very gifted and expressed the need for painting bigger. Could you send him a copy of The Painter’s Keys and I would like to buy one for myself.”
And Beth Heesacker, Forest Grove, OR, USA who wrote, “If you can see your way to sending a copy to someone who does not have a mentor (me) I would love to receive a copy.”
And also Ladihelen, Scotland who wrote, “If Scotland isn’t out of the way I know two fostered boys, story harrowing, but they are very pleasant and polite to older folks. They have an interest in art and history. I would love them to get an extra boost.”
And Kristin Osgood, Blackwood, NJ, USA who wrote, “I’m sure you are being bombarded with requests for your book, but if you send one I promise to share it with all of my thirsty for more and more knowledge young artists.”
And also Fay Bohlayer who wrote, “The greatest asset one can have is the Grateful Heart — one looks at life as a gift, a painting of lights and darks, each defining the other, not a series of Good and Bad things. Giving thanks, and often, frees the spirit and makes the heart secure.”