Trust your steps

Dear Artist, Walking briskly, pushing the blood to your extremities, alone and with minimal distraction along the path, concentrating the mind on the thighs’ movements, you trigger imagination and focus. In other words, brisk walking is a form of creative meditation. You need a notebook to scrawl the thoughts as they come. After the walk, you need to reassess your scrawls. I like to clarify them in my laptop. I put my really stupid thoughts into trash, but I don’t delete them. The ability to focus is challenged in our society — not just with the nerve-jangled adults but also with the new batch of kids. Richard Davidson, a psychologist known for his behavioral research with Rhesus monkeys and studies in meditation with the Dali Lama, has made some interesting discoveries. Children (some of them with learning disorders) were invited to lie on their backs with a pebble placed on their tummies. While deep breathing, they were to focus on the pebble going up and down. After this exercise and for a period of time, they enthusiastically concentrated on schoolwork and other tasks. I haven’t tried watching pebbles going up and down on my tummy, but I sometimes look down at the movement of my feet while walking. It induces a lovely trance. I don’t recommend doing it in traffic. Brisk walking removes dark clouds, refreshes the artistic mind, encourages the interbreeding of thoughts, and plucks new ideas out of the blue. Walking itself is a time-honoured path to spirituality (think Camino de Santiago across northern Spain). There can be no doubt walking stimulates the imagination. Walking is a readily available antidote to a sedentary life. Different artists get different results. Mine are all over the place. Here are a few purged from my laptop: “The same object seen from two sides.” “A work of art dependent on gradation alone.” “Teaching art by not talking, just showing.” “A way of temporarily gassing fanatics so they just lay down their arms and become nice.” “Encouraging autonomy in others by being autonomous yourself.” “A better way to fix that sky.” With the brisk walk, you make up your mind. It’s as if someone is walking along with you, helping you with your thinking. No matter how long the walk, the best stuff comes during the second half. You may find the last minute is spent running to the studio. Best regards, Robert PS: “She was wrapped up and sold, coming home from an old fashioned walk.” (Irving Berlin) Esoterica: Dr. Davidson thinks happiness, compassion and a sense of well-being are simply skills learned in the same way a person might learn the violin, tennis or painting. Time and practice are necessary. Apparently, the brain is built to change in response to training and the use of ploys. Whether you are a Rhesus monkey or a student in third year industrial design, focus is key. There are many ways to improve focus. Trusting your steps is just one of them. The system is just outside your door, and it’s free.   Confessions of a long distance walker by Win Dinn, Creston, BC, Canada  

“Flying the Flag”
mixed media painting
by Win Dinn

Your advice to walk is so ‘in step’! I’ve spent the last six months walking an average of 160 km per month and can attest that it feeds the soul, trims the body, and boosts creativity in amazing ways. The most appealing aspect is the undistracted time walking gives me to think about the what, how, and why of my creative ideas.       Walking the talk by Edward Vincent, Sydney, Australia  

St Martins in the Field
original painting
by Edward Vincent

You’ve probably noticed how, when someone answers a cell phone, if they can they’ll stand up and walk — or pace up and down at least. I believe there’s a direct connection between the act of walking and the brain… it enhances the thinking and (probably) the creative process. And watching your feet whilst walking? A very hypnotic act — trance-like and intense.       There is 1 comment for Walking the talk by Edward Vincent
From: Nancy — Feb 25, 2012

If walking makes you create those beautiful paintings then – walk on!

  Smart walker’s smart phone by Mary Ann Archibald, Halifax, NS, Canada  

“Wading in the deep”
oil painting, 12 x 12 inches
by Mary Ann Archibald

If you have a smart phone with a recording feature (think iPhone) then it is possible to record your thoughts as you walk down the street. In an urban environment, you will just look like you are talking on your phone. In the wilderness, people may wonder how you have reception.       There are 2 comments for Smart walker’s smart phone by Mary Ann Archibald
From: Ingrid Christensen — Feb 24, 2012

Your wading lady made me smile. This is a lovely little painting.

From: Anonymous — Feb 24, 2012

love this painting!

  Solvitur ambulando by Tri-Unity   The title means “It is solved by walking” (St. Augustine) I am founder of a labyrinth ministry and could not agree with you more. Since labyrinths are worldwide and available globally, you might want to check one out on your journeys at the Labyrinth Locator. World Wide Labyrinth Day is May 5, 2012. The globe walks together at 1pm. (RG note) Thanks, Tri-Unity. Last year at this time I walked a labyrinth in Sedona, Arizona and wrote a letter about my experience.   Early morning walker finds joy by Barrett Edwards, Naples, FL, USA  

“Red doodle”
oil painting
by Barrett Edwards

I heartily agree that brisk walking often triggers the creative muse. I would like to add that, at least for me, it brings an awareness of joy, which I need to paint well. Joy in the little things: a cardinal’s song, the overhead winging of a flock of Ibis lit by the rosy dawn. I find that the older I get (especially during an election year!) the more I need to remain conscious of the beauty, luck and joy that permeates my life. Walking early in the morning does this for me. I walk until I am given at least one “gift” — an especially stunning cloud formation or a rabbit startled by my tread. And then I head for my studio, calmed and more eager than ever to paint. And if I can’t walk… I can always re-read one of your letters, and find my joy there. There is 1 comment for Early morning walker finds joy by Barrett Edwards
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Feb 24, 2012

Great painting, great doggie! Is its name Ginger?

  Walking raised to a higher level by Maryna den Braanker, Pretoria, South Africa   I also found that walking is the best medication for body and mind! I don’t know much about meditation; I always think of it as people standing/hanging upside down or sitting like a ‘masterpiece,’ waiting to be moved to a permanent place for decoration. Now that you call walking as a form of meditation, it has taken my walking to a higher level! I am a believer in nature and always find all my daily food for thoughts in walking. For living in South Africa and trapped in a dangerous city life, living in security areas during the five-day work week, I walk the same route about every day since 2001, without a single boring moment. The ‘up and down pebble-effect’ must be a good comparison to ‘the same trees and fences flying by’ as I walk.   Guidance from a ghostly other by Joan Brancale, MA, USA  

“Westport wharf”
original painting
by Joan Brancale

“It’s as if someone is walking along with you, helping you with your thinking.” Robert’s thoughts resonated with my response to a theatre production I saw recently, “The Shackleton Project at Arts Emerson, Boston. The performance was a visual spectacle creating the Antarctic environment during which stranded men confronted the elements and their plight, and somehow stayed alive to be rescued. I was struck by the imagery of tall spectral puppeteers on stilts, draped and hooded in glacial white robes, gently assisting the stricken 4′ high marionette explorers as they moved slowly and stoically across the isolated wilderness of frozen land. At the time I felt grateful for their benign enabling presence, as I am for those thoughts and ideas that come to assist me in my art when I take long walks in nature. There is 1 comment for Guidance from a ghostly other by Joan Brancale
From: suzannne jensen — Feb 24, 2012


  How an idea comes to light by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA  

“Wisdom’s Journey “
oil painting
by Diane Overmyer

I am learning the importance of following my muse, and lately it has been with still life paintings using objects as metaphorical supports to an idea. I try to keep a notebook handy as much as possible to jot down ideas such as you wrote about. I also have realized that if I am thinking about a concept, if I set visual reminders in my home or studio, it helps my thoughts to gravitate back to the idea for the painting. Sometimes those come to fruition and other times the objects are shelved for another day. I have learned to be patient. Sometimes I toy with an idea for months or years. I recently completed a painting in which final thought for all of the elements came together very suddenly at 3:00 a.m. That was preceded, however, by months of casual thinking and toying with objects with no predetermined method. The painting I am referring to is the image that I am including. It is called Wisdom’s Journey and the cell phone was the missing piece to the puzzle. Once I thought of the cell phone, which of course is often referred to as a ‘smart phone,’ I literally jumped out of bed and ran down to my studio so I could put together the set-up for the painting at that very moment! There is 1 comment for How an idea comes to light by Diane Overmyer
From: Sarah — Feb 24, 2012

Really cool painting. The narrative is engaging and thought provoking.

  The problems with kids by Marian Kemp, Powell River, BC, Canada   It has long been my theory that so many kids are hyperactive and have ADD and ADHD because they are grossly over-stimulated. They constantly interact with videos games using their reflexes, they are bombarded with wild colours instead of drab and/or soothing ones, they are never told to be quiet (children should be seen and not heard does have its uses, sometimes!). Television is flash-and-dazzle and constant motion, mostly over-stimulating them with nasty themes, and bad examples. They don’t do nearly enough quiet stuff, like even climbing trees or burying themselves in a book, knitting, woodcarving, household chores or the like. Parents and other adults ought to make a concerted effort to bring in those elements of a normal, sound upbringing. Helping improve their concentration with the pebble on the stomach is an excellent idea. They should also have quiet/read times where no debate/bouncing around/argument/questioning is allowed, until the quiet time is over, at which time questioning and debate would be useful. I’m trying to get going on a manual on how to be a good parent, because I had excellent parents who descended from a long line of other excellent parents. I am simply horrified by how many young parents have no parenting skills. I have to do something about it! Trouble is, I battle and grapple with major writer’s block and hope to work my way through it. Any tips for so doing? I really do have something worthwhile to say, but I have no idea how to start or organize something as big as a book. And I am baffled and intimidated at the thought of tackling such a huge effort. (RG note) Thanks, Marian. As a parent and keen observer of other parents you are in the best position to write this book. I like to say we are all amateurs while we are raising our kids, and by the time we become pros the little darlings check out. Start your book anywhere. Make yourself do it anywhere, every day. Use ideas that you get from memories of your parents, grandparents, and your own experience. Get these ideas when you are observing the foibles of other parents in child-raising. Get your ideas and solutions in the bathtub, in the garden swing, in bed at night, and while walking. There are 9 comments for The problems with kids by Marian Kemp
From: JR — Feb 23, 2012

You’ve already started your book by writing this letter! The first paragraph or two would be a great introduction.

From: Grace Cowling — Feb 24, 2012

I’ve written a couple of books( with familial twists) without calling myself a real author. Consider it painting with words. Keep a “sketchbook/notebook” at the ready and jot every fleeting thought that may come by even when ironing or whatever.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Feb 24, 2012

You are right on with your ideas…Maybe they could be tempered with helping people find time to make things. (No)Thanks to TV and video games, the whole world is at sea in their right brains. People are fed images of violent collisions (see the Super Bowl ads) to sell whatever. Impulsivity, fear and confusion result, “Look now or it will be gone!” We are now such an actively visual culture with little continuity or reason. Maybe your block lies in wondering if a book is the wrong vehicle for people who no longer read (even though reading is a visual activity!). Please press on with your book while there are still books! Putting art back in the schools might give children some mastery over their electronic environment. Maybe the slow food movement should join forces with the slow looking movement. Let people know that is OK and rewarding to take time to see and draw.

From: Suzanne — Feb 24, 2012

Start a blog. Really. Young people are most in tune with technology and that is the population to address. Also, it becomes easier to write one little snippet at a time with stories than writing an entire book. Surf some already exisiting blogs about parenting and see what you think. Best wishes.

From: Sarah — Feb 24, 2012

You are right on with your observations about why children are hyper-stimulated today. The four responses are also thoughtful, and the first comment is right on with suggesting that this letter is the first page of your book.

From: valerie vanorden — Feb 24, 2012
From: Peter — Feb 24, 2012

How about writing your ideas on notes to put on the refrigerator? Maybe, after a while, you will have many notes for a book.

From: Kay Christopher — Feb 25, 2012
From: Marian Kemp — Jul 05, 2012

Re: replies to “The Problem With Kids” Thank you, thank you, thank you — to all eight (8) of you. Thoughtful, to-the-point, and “right on”. Great comments all, and very helpful. Still, my fears are great and they must be confronted — every day. Think I’ll print this out. Wish me luck. (If you’re a believer, please pray.) Thanks again, – Marian

  Walking away from a gallery by Joe Hutchinson, Santa Fe, NM, USA  

“Cafe Interior with Glasses”
oil painting
by Joe Hutchinson

How does one leave one’s gallery and move to another? My gallery informed me that I would not be given a solo exhibit this summer. I was told that the market has slumped and the space, money and time has been given to the gallery’s best sellers, although three of my oils sold in the past two months and one has been juried into a state-wide competitive exhibition. It is true that I have not been a star performer in the eyes of the gallery owner and my work has been delegated to the back room and the storage racks. I understand the rule of supply and demand, the gallery’s need to “sell and survive” and I sense that I am toast. Do I wait it out, continue to do my best, or do I approach a new gallery? In the city where I show, the gallery owners have an unwritten agreement to not contract an artist from another gallery’s stable. (RG note) Thanks, Joe. Since I’ve been at it, ten percent of the galleries do 90% of the business. This is true even in times of recession. The fact is that this dynamic is always in flux. You need to look out for subtle changes in gallery attitudes and directions. These attitudes and directions may be related to changes in customer preferences. I would look around at other galleries who may be on the rise and more anxious to handle your current art. In the meantime, quietly observe (and get the scuttlebutt from other gallery artists) what is going on in your gallery. It may be that your work is doing as well as it can under the circumstances. Further, I’ve never been one to discourage my work from being in the back room. In my experience, some of the most effective dealers use their back rooms to advantage. There are green shoots in the economy. It looks to me like America may be returning to “business as usual.” I’d give your loyal gallery a bit more time. There are 2 comments for Walking away from a gallery by Joe Hutchinson
From: Brenda Behr — Feb 23, 2012

Wonderful painting. Full of mystery and suggestion. Powerful composition.

From: Diane Overmyer — Feb 24, 2012

I’ve been there, done that. My advice is to keep your work in the current gallery and ask the owner if they have any suggestions for you to help increase sales, but to have your nose to the ground for a new gallery that is excited about your work. The staff’s opinion of your work makes all of the difference! If they are truly excited about your work, that will help to sell your work. If they are more excited about other artist’s work, then you are sometimes fighting an uphill battle. But one thing is true in my mind at least, the backroom of a gallery is better than the storage room in your house, unless of course you are doing sales out of your studio…in which case your storage room might be a better option. If you do break off from your current gallery, really sit down and work things out with the owner, in other words don’t burn your bridges if possible. As things change, you might find yourself partnering again with that same gallery at some point down the road.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Trust your steps

From: marj vetter — Feb 20, 2012

“love the temporarly gasing fanatics”, can I add, gas the people who come up to you while you are painting, and inform you their 11 year old niece is such a good artist she should be in a gallery, then start telling you whats wrong with your effort!!!

From: Sari Grove — Feb 20, 2012

I have a lie down…If I need to figure something out, I lay down on my bed for a little while…That is where I can do a really creative think…

From: marlien van heerden — Feb 21, 2012

this morning I went for my ‘irregular’ jogging. how great! inspiration on every corner. i had to stop under a tree to look up into the branches, as I’m busy with a painting of trees vanishing in thin air. how great to sea light, playing on people, trees, walls… what a privilege to be able to go outside and run at full speed, to clear your head and be filled with the fresh and new! what a frustration not to be able to express all these!

From: B Lancton — Feb 21, 2012

For over a decade I had been bemoaning my increasing inability to concentrate or just plain think, whether it be to read a book, stay on task, or come up with ideas for a painting. One day I changed my habit of walking the dogs a quickly around the neighborhood; instead, I began taking them to the park for long walks each morning where there is no traffic, no barking dogs protecting their yards, no nagging inner voice telling me to hurry up and get back home. I made the change because I needed to get back into the habit of sketching and doing thumbnails daily. It was the best thing that ever happened to my art, to my mental health, and to the general health and happiness of my dogs. That inner voice nagging away at me to hurry, hurry, hurry? Silenced.

From: Mary Wood — Feb 21, 2012

Best letter in a long time.

From: Peter Kiidumae — Feb 21, 2012

I recently moved to a new apartment in the city that is 2.7 kms from my day job office (I used to be about 0.2 km away). Despite being “downtown”, my walk to the office is virtually entirely along the beach, well removed from traffic, combined with a short ferry ride across False Creek, and I find I feel so exhilarated and inspired after my morning walk that I can hardly wait for the next day’s walk. Regrettably, the stimulation of my grey cells is not nearly the same when the walk is in pissing rain in the dark. I’m hoping the return trip will provide double the pleasure once our days lengthen and the clouds part.

From: Alison Nicholls Wildlife Art — Feb 21, 2012

Spot on! Walking is how I initially compose my new paintings – I’m picturing elephants in Africa while walking the streets of Port Chester, NY. Taking on my new dog, a 1 yr old German Shepherd rescue, resulted in faster and longer walks but effectively halted my thought processes for a while, as every walk was focused on his necessary training instead of my art. Only then did I realize how important walking was to my painting progress. I’m glad to say that Chase is better trained these days and I’m back to envisioning elephants in Botswana – except when he snaps me out of it by spotting his own favorite wildlife species – squirrels!

From: Rebecca Stauffer — Feb 21, 2012

I love this post. As an intrepid walker for decades I have the sense that walking is a metaphor for “getting someplace” and it translates to the psychological, inner realm as well. I often don’t even think or contemplate that which might be astir within yet there is a sense that something has moved, shifted, a new place arrived at.

From: Cyndie Katz — Feb 21, 2012

I agree completely about walking. And here is the awareness exercise I use while I walk: Every day I choose one color. I start with blue on Monday and proceed around the color wheel (green Tuesday, yellow Wed, etc.) I try to notice everything that is that color as I walk. It’s very entertaining as it makes me notice things I surely would miss otherwise. On Sundays, having finished the basic color wheel, I choose a random color — pink, chartreuse, ochre. Try it! You’ll love it!

From: Annette Waterbeek — Feb 21, 2012

I agree convince the mind to trust your individual steps…helps focus… also popping out now and again helps reinforce this idea. Although the BEST SKILL BUILDING…is individual miles behind the work….

From: B.J. Adams — Feb 21, 2012

You are so right about walking, sometimes not brisk going up steep hills, but I find the same kind of thinking comes from taking a slow shower. The water falling, sliding, warming or cooling (depending on the season) seems to put my mind into all sorts of meditative rethinking of works I may be having problems overcoming and at the same time gives me ideas of other ways to go.. It may be that being alone with little sound turns on a different part of the brain. It is comforting, enlightening time to take advantage of each day. My notes get wet in the shower, though.

From: Georgiana Carfano — Feb 21, 2012

I wish I could take even a slow walk. A knee needs to be replaced and I am just too old to do it. We do not miss the ordinary everyday physical activities, so appreciate all we capable of.

From: Claude Kavanagh — Feb 21, 2012

Thank you for your words today. I am not a painter but a textile artist. A year ago I suffered a stroke and I find that I must make an effort to go walking, so your words will be another incentive.

From: Jo-Ann Golenia — Feb 21, 2012

I know that you are an excellent artist, but sometimes I have to wonder which you are better at, painting or touching peoples souls.

From: Leslie McGuffin — Feb 21, 2012

Thank you for this letter. Wise and thoughtful. Gentle. I often find a good walk the best tonic, the best ‘upper’, the best problem solving aid.

From: Sherrie Miranda — Feb 21, 2012

“Walk Briskly And Carry A Big Pen”.

From: Brigitte Nowak — Feb 22, 2012

My daily routine includes a brisk morning walk with my dogs before heading to the studio. It is a great opportunity to focus on the works in progress, to think about the stumbling blocks, to plan colours and composition, to weigh the next steps, to let my mind go blank in order to open itself to new projects. It is also, of course, good exercise. Thanks for validating.

From: Ion vincent Danu — Feb 22, 2012

That you are right about the creative, intellectual productivity of walking is, in fact, a very very old trick, Robert. Just pointing out, as an old History teacher who became and artist, the Epicur and his followers (following and followers existed long before Facebook and Twitter and such…) used the method systematically, walking about and discussing philosophy. Wikipedia speaks of Aristotle as the founder of Peripatic School but Epicur was the first. Peripatetikos is the greek work for the walking about to stimulate intellectual discussions… On the different note, I remember Paul Hogan and his walkabout in Crocodile Dundee…

From: Brenda Behr — Feb 22, 2012
From: Dana Barbieri — Feb 22, 2012

I really enjoyed this letter and just last week while walking I decided I better bring a notepad and paper to capture those thoughts. thank you

From: James Washington — Feb 22, 2012

Richard Davidson is himself a meditator and is in regular contact with the Dalai Lama. Some other scientists criticize Davidson for being too close to someone “with an interest in the outcome of his research and others claiming that it represents an inappropriate mix of faith and science.” More than 500 researchers protested when he linked up with the Dali Lama for research in 2005. Most who attended ended up feeling the research was valid and worthwhile.

From: Pia De Girolamo — Feb 23, 2012
From: Enda Bardell — Feb 23, 2012

The rhythm of swimming the breast stroke weightless in the water helps me sort out my “stuff” too.

From: Mary McShane — Feb 24, 2012

This is for the article on reworking older paintings. What you are discussing, reworking older paintings, is right on! I have been doing this for some time, actually since sales are about zero due to the Gulf Oil Spill (I live in NW Florida). I have reworked paintings by simply applying some spice and color to old ones. Also, I have totally covered old paintings by using new colors and media. My medium for many years has been watercolor, but now I use acrylic and collage to cover some of them. It has been liberating for me, as I am not afraid to change something that I once regarded as “too beautiful to touch”.

From: Joanna — Feb 24, 2012

Ah, good old exercise. Whenever I feel listless or can’t be bothered to get myself into gear, I do some form of exercise. It’s surprising how much more energetic you feel. Studies show that exercise releases endorphins which can not only give you the ‘feel good factor’ but can also alleviate some types of depression. Often, when we feel physically well, we become inspired about all sorts of different things. A reader said above that due to a bad knee they were not able to walk but found similar inspiration when painting plein air. Possibly because both activities are outside. I think she is right for the simple reason that it’s much ‘quieter’ outside. Even if you are in town, the noise is around you, it’s dispersed. However at home, I find the shrill ringing of the phone and whir of the washing machine jars on the brain, and certainly halts any thoughts I may have. If I can’t get out, I make a steaming jug of coffee, switch everything off, and watch the birds in the garden. Before I know it, there are loads of thoughts invading the old grey cells. Silence really can be golden. We don’t have enough of it, and I call it my ‘mulling’ time. happy ‘mulling’ folks

From: Karen Mader — Feb 24, 2012

Thank you for the letter about walking. Walking used to help me solve problems. Have not been walking regularly for quite awhile but I will start again soon. Like all the ideas added: notebook with you, looking for a different colour each day, brisk walk etc. Years ago I took a course to do with teaching the public schools for my degree. The instructor suggested helping a child learn to read better by having him walk while reading out loud. I tried it with a student and of course walked with him. Another subject: I would like comments from people regarding what they think about someone who uses a projector to put a photo onto canvas and then trace it before painting. Thank you.

From: Marvin Humphrey — Feb 25, 2012
From: Karen Mader — Feb 26, 2012

Thank you, Marvin H., for commenting! I had read some of that info re the “Hockney-Falco” Thesis . I do not believe that Leonardo did that. Even when I read more info after your comment I still don’t know if I believe it. Obviously there is info on both sides. I am wondering if people now-a days would think the projector idea would be called a person’s original art which they would sell as their own. I don’t think that’s right but maybe I am wrong.

From: Sara Genn — Mar 07, 2012
     Featured Workshop: John Stuart Pryce
022412_robert-genn John Stuart Pryce workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.

Moon over Masada

acrylic painting, 24 x 24 inches by Rose-Marie Goodwin, Vancouver, BC, Canada

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