Visual triggers


Dear Artist,

After my last letter, “Grabbing the heart,” about people making their minds up in the blink of an eye, artists wrote to add their own take on “unusually satisfying pattern.” Many also wanted to know some of the other visual triggers on my list. Here are four:

Precious colour
Gradations big and small
Something personal
Something mysterious

Precious colour is only precious when it’s set off by neutral tones, mainly greys. Straight-from-the-tube garish colour doesn’t always cut it — colour needs absence of colour nearby to be truly delicious.

Gradations provide an interactive dimensional flip that teases the brain. Blends play with the sensibility of ordinary things and twist the mind to see art rather than either reality or artless play.

Something personal has to do with an artist’s unique style — the mannerist touch an artist gives his work. This trigger works for those who have prior knowledge of an artist’s style. Naming and labelling is basic to human nature — instant labelling is highly satisfying.

Something mysterious activates our sense of illusion and magic. To tell all is the key to yawns. Illusory art excites. To enable this trigger, an artist needs to stifle the natural tendency to fully disclose and describe. People suspend judgment in the presence of mystery.

The emotional brain readily and positively reads these and other indicators as they briefly but tenderly touch neural pleasure-points. There are other stimuli that quickly ring the neural bells. For example, some folks need to see detail, drama, romance or sentimentality. At the same time, others close their minds to bravura, style, non-objectivity or even certain subject matter. In the arts, as in commodity selection, decision making is a perverse combination of clear emotion and intellectual filtration. Accessing the mind at an emotional level happens in a blink of an eye and is a key to a warm glow that motivates.

Best regards,


PS: “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” (Buffalo Springfield)

Esoterica: Regarding “Unusually satisfying pattern,” this important trigger involves building a structure on which more mundane visual motifs play. No matter what the subject matter or lack thereof, curves, lost-and-found lines, checkerboards, lineups, offsets, counterpoints, gestalt-bleeds, spotisms, patches and activation make surfaces interesting to the emotional mind. Artists who understand this are better able to encourage viewers to linger. For some among us it’s automatic and intuitive, for others it’s something to learn.


‘So what’ paintings
by Catherine Stock, France


watercolour painting
by Catherine Stock

Your articulations about what makes a picture work are very helpful. I have worked as an illustrator and book designer all my life, but am now trying to concentrate on my own work. At the moment, I produce mostly what I refer to as “so what” paintings. They are reasonably skillfully executed, but do not always succeed in maintaining interest. I rely on the presence of an ephemeral muse who sometimes graces me with her presence.




Importance of tone values
by David R Thompson, Cambridge, UK


“Starry Hillside”
original painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Dar Hosta

I have spent a lot of time trying to analyze why some paintings appeal more than others and my conclusion is that the single biggest factor is a strong and pleasing tonal pattern. Of course there are lots of other reasons, and some may be more important when it comes to influencing what people actually buy, but as for grabbing our attention when we enter a gallery and see paintings 30 yards away on the far wall, I’m sure tone is the biggest factor. I’ve found it very interesting to look at black and white reproductions of pictures and predict which ones I’ll prefer when seen in full colour — this works for even a sensitive and delicate colourist such as Whistler. When the layman says that he or she “loves the colour” they often mean without realizing it that they love the tone. The artist of course has to separate the three qualities of colour — hue, tone and chroma, whereas the spectator just sees colour. A good colourist is invariably an artist who knows how to compose in tones. I might, slightly cheekily, also suggest that’s the reason why Dar Hosta’s moons work so well, nothing mystical — just tonal contrast!


Limited palette for precious colour
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA


“Path at Lake Prevatt”
oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches
by Linda Blondheim

I have learned to use a limited palette to get “Precious Color.” Harmony wins in my book. I spend a lot of time experimenting with various limited palettes, never with more than 5 or 6 colors. It’s amazing what a range you can get with such a small number. In the old days I spent a lot of time throwing a lot of color on my canvas and when I look at the old paintings I realize they had no harmony at all. Surprisingly, studying the art of NOTAN and values over the last year has taught me a lot about “Precious Color.”




Humble materials produce triggers
by B.J. Adams, Washington, DC, USA


“Marinara Still Life”
embroidery and painted canvas artwork
by B.J. Adams

Yesterday I visited El Anatsui’s Gawu Exhibit at the African Museum (Smithsonian in Washington, DC) and his work resonated with so many of the qualities you described in today’s letter. These huge elaborate art works and sculptures were mysterious and from a distance glowed as covered with gold or other precious metals. Unusual patterns, color, and texture drew me closer to discover what I knew was there. I had read about his tapestry-like art and was looking forward to seeing the work in the flesh. He has transformed discarded materials into objects of striking beauty and originality with a result that encompasses all the visual triggers described today. We should all, in some way, make use of our humble discarded material. In the brochure about his work, El Anatsui said, “Art grows out of each particular situation, and I believe that artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up.”


Allowing people to watch
by Wes Giesbrecht, Mission, BC, Canada


original painting
by Wes Giesbrecht

Just moments before reading “Visual triggers,” I had a message from a new friend asking if she might witness the process whereby I create my paintings. So far no one has seen me paint and I haven’t fully divulged my methods to anyone. Those who have done a little experimenting and are well aquatinted with how acrylic behaves may look at my paintings and see quite clearly what I’ve done… and that’s fine. But do I want to divulge all the intimate details of how I create with paint to everyone who asks? When people look at my work, one of the most common responses is: “How do you do that?” I tell them a little; I try to be to be polite; but the truth is, for now anyway, I prefer that it remain a bit of a mystery. The techniques I use aren’t difficult, but they’re mine. I’ve figured them out from scratch, on my own. Intuitively, I’ve felt that I need to keep the details of my process to myself. I’m an extremely candid person by nature. I’ve never been one to keep secrets, so I find this situation very awkward. I’ve been wrestling with a way to avoid answering the question without seeming rude. Any advice would be welcome.

(RG note) Thanks, Wes. Other painters may have a different opinion, but I believe in show and tell. Somehow in sharing I learn and grow myself, and with my constantly changing methodology, I have enough confidence that I’ll keep coming up with new angles that will keep me interested and the copycats foiled. The downside to this is that a few folks have seen fit to clone my style. One time a nice guy asked if he could watch me in the studio for a day, and within a week “my work” was appearing in a nearby gallery with his name on it. Aggravating at the time, he turned out to be a one trick pony and is not around any more that I know of.


Even ‘duds’ speak to people
by Brian Simons, Victoria, BC, Canada


original painting
by Brian Simons

I’ve enjoyed the last two letters a great deal. In my own experience I have found paintings ‘speak’ to people! It may have something to do with where they are in their life, I’m not sure, but I’ve had people come to the studio to buy a painting and they walk by all the ones I consider pretty good paintings, and they fall in love with something from the ‘dud pile’ in the corner of the studio, something I was going to destroy. This happens often. I’ve tried for years to understand what motivates people to buy and with little success. I believe, though, that if the artist paints from his heart without the intention of selling, he speaks to the heart of all people and there will be someone that listens. Paintings done from the heart and with love already exist in a sense before the artist manifests them.


Importance of subject matter
by Ann Leonard, Reserve, NM, USA

I judged an art show in Lamar, Colorado. Before the judging I informed the artists who showed there that my main preferences involved subject matter. To me the subject of a painting is all important, regardless of the style, medium, colors, lines, framing, or otherwise. I think that most of us wish to purchase paintings that represent a subject we are familiar with (unless a person wants a strictly abstract painting). A case in point: A New Mexico rancher generally wants horses, cattle, cowboys, Indians, mountains, and ranch country in a painting, and will overlook such subjects as cityscapes and building interiors when perusing an art show or gallery. Subject matter is as important to many art buyers as other factors, and to me is a primary visual trigger.


Shocking words
by Barbara Edwards, Weaverville, CA, USA

Speaking of triggers… I had a most shocking experience over a painting I had in our local art gallery. I am the assistant to the director and I was on duty when another local artist came in to view the exhibit of this juried art show. This woman probably does not know my work so she would most likely not have made this comment as we were passing by my painting of Mount Shasta which I had received numerous compliments from many viewers. “That is absolutely hideous and I just want to slash and burn it” she blurted out. I was so stunned that I was speechless and felt like I had been hit with a truck. Later when I retold the story to various friends, they were also dumbfounded by this woman’s reaction. Something in that painting triggered a negative emotional response. Maybe it was the colors or a subconscious memory which she associated with it. The lesson that I learned from this experience was that I too must be careful of how I publicly criticize other art work. We all bring a piece of ourselves to our art and it takes courage to put it out there for all to see. Our art is our heart!


Use of complimentary colours
by Helena Tiainen, Berkeley, CA, USA


“Cosmic Fruit”
acrylic on canvas
by Helena Tiainen

I happen to think that a better and more exciting choice than grays is a complimentary color. Not necessarily an opposite color but something that compliments and draws the best out of the next. This is what to me makes color precious. Sometimes a shade of gray may do this but many times there are richer and better choices available. When you add color to gray it is no longer called a gray but in this world of billions of shades and hues it will carry another name. Like music, color is also a universal language and triggers emotions all by itself. Coupled with appropriate form it becomes even more powerful. A true visual artist is conscious of the intention that their final color and form choices carry.


Plans for Successful Paintings
by Diane Morgan, Indian Wells, CA, USA


“Madam X”
oil painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Diane Morgan

While taking a workshop with Elin Pendleton a few weeks ago I learned that Edgar Whitney had studied paintings that were selling. He discovered 6 value patterns that were popular for selling.

1) Small light, large dark in mid-tones.
2) A light shape against mid-tones — no darks
3) Small dark, large light in mid-tones.
4) Gradation within large shapes.
5) Large dark against mid-tones and
6) Checkerboard/chaos.

Apparently, certain ratios of light-to-dark sell better than others. This shows how important it is to work carefully on your composition and do a value study before starting a painting.


Unusually satisfying patterns?
by Nancy Bea Miller, Philadelphia, PA, USA


“After the meal”
oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches
by Nancy Bea Miller

Despite today’s further explication, I am still not clear as to what you mean by “unusually satisfying patterns.” Perhaps it is something best explained visually. Is it possible for you to post a bunch of your pieces that you feel exhibit these unusually satisfying patterns? Maybe you have already done this and I just missed the link.

(RG note) Thanks, Nancy. When you look around at subject matter, and indeed at paintings themselves, you’ll notice some with more intriguing patterns than others. It’s not that compositions necessarily have to be complex, but they need to be at least interesting. Artists need to realize that we are not just depicting things as they are, or showing the basic machinations of our brains, but we are actually playing with the visual sensibilities of our viewers. Pattern is one of the ways we begin to hold their interest. Please take a look at the following notes.


Arcane terms defined
by Jamie Erfurdt, San Francisco, CA, USA

Would you define what you mean by some of the terms in the following paragraph, especially offsets, spotisms, gestalt-bleeds, patches and activation?

(RG note) Thanks, Jamie. And thanks to everyone else who asked this.

Offsets are where patches of colour or tone lie near one another in syncopation or form into an offbeat rhythm as opposed to the regularity and predictability of something like a checkerboard.

Spotisms are small dots or spots of colour, like the pimento in an olive, that draw contrast, vibration and interest to otherwise dull areas.

Gestalt-bleeds are where one pattern bleeds into another pattern — for example, the hem of a girl’s striped dress as she stands among reeds or grasses.

Painting in patches or swatches is a way to break the rigidity of linear thinking. Subjects can be held together by patches of tone or colour as opposed to using drawing or outline for a similar purpose.

Activation refers to a string of spots or strokes, often in the form of a curve, that serve to move the eye around a work in a purposeful manner. Activation facilitates eye-control. Lines of activation often lead to the intended center of interest.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Visual triggers



From: Richard C Smith — Mar 24, 2008

In my experience color and color gradation from warm to cool has a kind of magic “pull in” factor that people can’t figure out but that appeals to them on some unconscious level. Warm colors that fade or blend to grays or complimentaries are the best for this purpose.

From: Caroline Simmill — Mar 25, 2008

For many years cooks have been allowed the privilege of keeping their recipes a secret so why not our painting techniques. Wes’s comments and Robert’s response has certainly made me think about this matter. In one of our local galleries there was an artist who painted in a most unusual style everyone was speaking about his methods and were trying to work out how he created his paintings. It wasn’t until he was very elderly and in poor health did he decide to take a student under his wing and teach him his secret method. We now see the same paintings in the gallery but apparently it is the work of his student, how amazing!

From: Faith Puleston — Mar 25, 2008

Wes! If someone asks me how I do something I tend to give a truthful answer. You can be sure that someone else out there is doing exactly what you do (e.g. use liquid paint), but it is your individuality that makes all the difference! I can give you an example. Someone at the extremely populated artwanteddotcom site wrote asking me for information about a method and I wrote back explaining how I had used liquid acrylics to start my painting. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this lady proceeded to publish a whole series of simply awful abstracts based on the technique I had described to her. It just wasn’t her thing, and finally she must have realized it, because she stopped making them. I think we should be happy to share what we do, whatever it is. The fear that someone else might do it better should not make you secretive. You might be helping someone to release hidden genius and that is also an achievement! In the past, artists learnt by copying and today it’s still customary. An example: Painters of would-be artists go to workshops. They choose the teacher whose work they admire or who can teach them certain tricks of the trade they perceive to be an integral part of that teacher-artist’s work. If I want to paint Cézanne look-alikes there’s no point in my going to a workshop concentrating on Bob Ross Landscapes. Just tell the person asking briefly how you do it! Leave the rest to that person who is interested enough and admires your work enough to ask. Whether she/he will be able to take what you say on board is quite a different matter. Now a joke: I come from the opera theater and there are always auditions (castings) for roles. One day a tenor arrived for his audition and was going to sing a big aria. He started, but had his hand in front of his mouth. The committee taking the audition stopped him and asked him to take his hand away. He replied:” I can’t do that. I don’t want you to see my vocal technique unless you give me the part.” End of joke. End of comment.

From: Susan, New Mexico — Mar 25, 2008

Just something about “RED”. A light cadium red…warm and luscious. I have seen it happen over and over again. Buyers are attracted to warm colors. I have a red couch and have painted my livingroom several times and they all sell. Now I wish I had kept one! Also, had a really nice painting of a Santa Fe alley with an adobe at the end of this alley/lane. The door was a Santa Fe blue. It had been shown a few times and hadn’t sold so I took it to class to get a critique. One of my painter friends suggested I paint the door red. walla! It sold a week later. Perhaps it is just my lucky color as far as sales go as the work itself was no better than others I was showing. I just think that RED clicks with buyers. It grabs their attention. Try it!

From: Karen R. Phinney — Mar 25, 2008

Susan, I think you are right about red……….it is what a friend of mine called, “poison”, a touch of it will draw the eye and attract the attention. I bought a painting a few years’ back, by a fellow artist. She had done a series of small abstracts, in mostly duller colours, and this one attracted me… had a little dab of this bright red. It was marked sold and then several other people came along and wanted THAT one despite the fact there were several others from the series available, but none of them had that red in there! That experience stuck with me, and your comment reminded me of it………….

From: Frank Armistead — Mar 25, 2008

In cooking there is a rule of the thumb that to set out an attractive plate There needs to be both red and green on it. The green can be any green, but the brighter the red the better. Maybe our colors need to be appetizing.

From: Melissa E. Keyes — Mar 25, 2008

The bit of red near the center of a painting was pointed out to my class in college long ago. Looking through a coffee table book of Winslow Homer’s watercolors, you’ll see that nearly every one has a red, or a very warm brown close to the center.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Mar 25, 2008

Well- Wes- this time I’m going to agree with you and totally disagree with Faith Puleston- and even Robert. I no longer believe in show and tell. Keep your way of doing things mostly private. I think we should be happy to know we are having original thoughts and creating original work- and sharing what you do with everyone only dilutes and diffuses that. But sharing is the name of the female/teacher game. I’m a fiber artist- what has commonly been referred to as an art quilter- and I’ve learned to hate the word quilt- as a quilter I am not. People working in this medium are about 95% female- maybe 98%. The artists in the group comprise about 5% of the total and the men in that group- well the numbers are very small- yet we men bring a credibility to the group the women don’t get without us. The Land of Quilt got on CBS Sunday Morning a week ago and funnily- the person they singled out to seriously look at was male. And why him? Because he’s got a gimmick. And because he decided that the thing that would bring him the attention he’s getting- having been working in the field for less than 10 years- where so many of us have been working in it for over 30- would be teaching little old ladies really basic almost stupid stuff. And then virtually claiming it as his own- according to this program. Oh well. It got him on TV! Anyway- in 1998 I spent some time back east and as soon as I got there I went to a large show of some of the artists in the group. And when I walked in and looked around- I said to myself that the show I was looking at was virtually identical to shows I’d hung in out here in Colorado. And for a minute that perplexed me- until it all sunk in. It’s a small group. An even smaller group have spent their time- hoping to make a living- traveling around the country teaching seminars. In the Land of Quilt- quilters think nothing of using someone else’s pattern- selecting a pretty palette- and making something that is about as original as dirt. So when a small group of self-appointed mostly female teachers travel around the country teaching there own sort of but not really individual shtick- oh my god- all the work starts to look the same. And they do it because they just love to share! And because they think that that’s ok. But it is NOT OK for the truly individual artist. I’ve already received relatively significant recognition for my work in this lifetime- though I may be dead before I finally succeed at it financially. And the reason I’ve received this recognition is because my work just plain and simply doesn’t look like anybody else’s. So Wes- by all means keep some of your individually learned and created methods to yourself. You’ll be happier- and fewer people’s work will look like yours. People need to think for themselves- and after whatever period of materials based training they go through- need to learn to create original work- not follow every teacher- and copy them.

From: CM Cernetisch — Mar 25, 2008

I agree to disagree…I do not have ppl in my studio, nor spend time teaching them. Nothing personal, I simply say appt. only, or ‘nothing personal, but that’s my private space.’ I’ve had a gal once who wouldn’t leave my studio no matter how many times I yawned, time checked etc., and I learned! I had to pay for workshops, learn from books, study on the internet. I am not magical or even special in that manner, so if I can do that, so can they. And if they still ask you for it, have them pay for a class! I am no longer open for walk in entertainment, and do not feel any artist should feel they need to be. nothing personal!

From: Tina Steele Lindsey — Mar 25, 2008

A spot of red goes a long way. That is all I have to say about that.

From: Sarah Joan — Mar 26, 2008

Chefs are taught that 70% of pleasing the palate is achieved visually through presentation with the use of colour, shapes, form and textures. Maybe the colour doesn’t have to be red, just interesting, as Robert says “colour surprise”.

From: Kiki — Mar 26, 2008

I am a new artist and brought some of my paintings I was going to put in an upcoming show to work. My Boss is an art collector with several original Group of Seven pieces. He walked by my painting, came to my office and bought one of the paintings. Go figure, it was mostly red. I have to run back since new ideas are dancing in my head.

From: Signatures Gallery — Mar 26, 2008

You wrote: “To tell all is the key to yawns.” As an occasional portrait artist I have always had to fight the tendency to include everything and then some! Being able to live with the works of Drew Struzan and Royal Canadian Artist Duncan Regehr in our gallery has gradually changed the way I perceive things. Finally (I’m old, it takes time!) I have been able to let go of some detail and have started to paint with a new outlook.

From: Faith Puleston — Mar 28, 2008

To J. Bruce Wilcox: I would have written you a mail, but your postcard site did not seem to make personal communication possible. Quite apart from your general opinions, I wish you to know that I did not say that every artist should reveal his or her “secrets”. What I did say was that if someone asked me how I did something, I tended to tell the truth. I realize that some (great?) artists have such tremendous secrets to keep that it would be churlish of me to expect them to say what they do – I wouldn’t even ask – but sharing is not losing, it is no skin off one’s nose to tell a granny how to hold a paintbrush or paint a shadow or do any one of the million things that go to make up a work of art. Of course, individuality is the secret. Of course, originality is going to prevail – or is it? I don’t agree with the idea that the “madding crowd” is not entitled to have a qualified go! And the educators need to make a living. If a whole group of grannies chooses to paint a strawberry in the style of x, y, or z, what is the problem? The teacher gets a fee and the grannies get something to hang on the wall. Once they leave the classroom, the group feeling just melts away. The strawberry becomes an original and is probably treasured just as much as any Picasso. Incidentally, Stradivari kept his varnish recipe to himself. You ask a violinist if that was good for the craft of violin making!

From: Mary K. — Mar 28, 2008

Is it any surprise that the way we tell of a sale is with “the little red dot.” Ever notice how many times one little red dot breeds another?

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Mar 28, 2008

To Faith Puleston: First of all Faith- in case you missed it- Wes isn’t claiming to be a teacher. What Wes is claiming is that he figured his process out from scratch- on his own- all by himself- and that he likes it to be a bit of a mystery to onlookers- some who may also be artists. So he’s met a new friend- and SHE wants to witness his process. SHE wants him to just show her how he does what he does- which he was mentally competent enough to figure out all by himself. He literally took the time to experiment with his materials for a long enough period to develop a process ALL BY HIMSELF. Yet this new female friend- well- SHE just wants to be shown. SHE doesn’t want to do the research and development on her own- SHE just wants Wes to tell her how to do it- so SHE doesn’t have to bother trying to have an original thought all by herself and actually spend some time figuring it out ON HER OWN. The problem here is that if Wes shows her- he may as well go figure out something totally new and different to do because SHE will immediately go show HER new technique to all of her female friends. And Wes’s hard earned specialty will instantly be diluted by a whole bunch of copycat women- who in my experience just love to take workshops with the current teacher to learn the latest techniques so that their work will immediately start looking just like the current fad. This is the bottom of the creative barrel- the lowest common denominator in a group that numbers-wise- from a gender perspective- seems predominately the reality of women. Men learn at a very early age to individually think- act and create for themselves- while women seem to just want to take the easy way out- and have someone show them how to do it. If you want to be a competent artist- you will have to master your materials. But if you want to be a great artist- you will have to learn to think for yourself- even to the point of inventing processes that work for you. And not necessarily sharing them with everyone. Those grannies- working in a medium similar to mine- and poorly I might add- get in the way of this culture recognizing my individual genius- and paying me accordingly. They diffuse the value of my work by making sure buyers still see the medium as tacky craft (used in its most negative sense). Are they going to stop? Nope. But they are going to die off.

From: Dar Hosta — Apr 01, 2008

Whoa! I came hunting around back here to get a link for another artist who emailed me this morning for advice on being a teaching artist, which I am. Wow! What a heated exchange I found about whether to teach or not to teach, whether to tell or not to tell. J. Bruce, you sound very angry and discouraged to me, both here and in your artist’s statement on your web site, something I actually found kind of surprising given your self-proclaimed career choices of artist, poet and shaman. It’s ironic, to me, how much you do tell and what you do say. An…interesting…energy coming from you…

I’m with Robert and Faith on sharing and teaching. I find it immensely rewarding, inspiring and enjoyable. In the years I have been showing and telling, I have also contracted more commissions and sold more art, made more professional connections in my field, collected wonderful ideas from others, and spread my personal vision of “creativity for everyone” out to thousands of kids and grown ups. I say that if you want to be me, you better hurry up and start now because it took me 40 years to get here. Let the “madding crowd” have their go! I have plenty to get from them while they do.

Some people are teachers and some are not. Heaven knows that, unfortunately, the schools are full of people who hate to teach. Some people share, some people don’t. I, for one, am thankful that Robert is the abundantly sharing individual he is! I’d imagine he’d admit that he’s gotten his share from it, too. And none of this has nothing to do with whether you are male or female, gay or straight. Your generalizations about what you think women are like, J. Bruce, are the biggest secrets you should keep to yourself.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Apr 01, 2008

To Dar Hosta: I’m 54 and I have been sewing since the age of 8 and creating art embroidery since the age of 11 and I got into the art quilt arena in 1977 when I was 24 after doing several embroidery pieces that were small and took too much time. Oh- and sorry- but my childhood actually wasn’t very pleasant because I was crossing all acceptable gender boundaries.

My current work allows for larger pieces that take less time. Still- I’ve only been able to finish a small number each year- and this time consuming issue has made regular financial success difficult to come by. On the one hand I’m finishing more work- but on the other hand- I simply do not have the freedom to spend an entire year working on one piece as some female fiber artists seem to.

And I’ve read it on Robert’s site. So I haven’t gotten into some of the larger shows- because they often go for the really complex work. But I have been- for over 30 years- involved in the group of mostly females. And I am an observer of behavior patterns- because my work is all about patterns. This format doesn’t allow for anything but generalizations.

So- sorry that you can’t see the patterns being presented by middle-aged women with grown children being mainly supported by their husbands- who’ve decided it’s time to reconnect with their creativity. My question would be- why’d they ever leave it behind? Oh that’s right- they made other choices and got bogged down in familial responsibilities! I made the only choice possible at a very young age to be the artist that I am and I blew off fathering any children because I knew it would destroy any chance I had at actually succeeding financially as an artist- BEFORE I’M DEAD.

Along the way- I discovered that the women around me- who don’t have to succeed financially- are holding a completely different belief structure about success and personal responsibility in the most general sense. And their held beliefs- combined with the reality that fiber is still predominately a female medium- combined with the fact that even the folks who come to view fiber exhibits are mainly female- and mainly NOT BUYERS- has made financial success even more difficult for me- since my work doesn’t look female- while contributing to my far more than general understanding of the differences in patterning between males and females. We males are simply culturally expected to succeed at our chosen profession. Period.

I’ve found- after many years of observation- that completely different expectations exist for women. I wish they didn’t- but they do. Gee- I’m sorry I got angry after all those years of supporting women I thought were actually trying to become individual human beings. Seems I was wrong- somehow. I receive/create/invent complex offset interlocking patterns. I then merge those patterns with a random surface of potentially hundreds of varying textiles. My hand stitching uses huge craft needles and a huge cord- and I am presently embellishing with leather and metal washers- or hardware. Anyone could see what I’m doing in my work and copy it if they saw fit to- without me teaching them anything- but they don’t- because they don’t think/create that way I do and my tools and materials are simply scaled differently/larger.

I do occasionally help a single individual who’s shown up in my reality- but I don’t teach anything to anybody group-wise- because the thing I would be teaching is how to fully and consciously make the connection to your very own inner god/creativity- and how to bring that through your art. I’ve found most folks don’t want to carry that much personal responsibility- so they remain mostly unconscious to the possibilities. So- do me a favor! I re-read your boys and girls like different colors! I- of course- as a masculine/feminine balanced not/heterosexual male am right in the middle. Let me know when gender becomes irrelevant. Until then…

From: Faith Puleston — Apr 01, 2008

Oh dear, Bruce, Dar hit the nail on the head. You have serious complexes which you should attend to. Gender problems are usually self-imposed. I come from the theatre, where every gender, colour, race and belief has its place, where people tolerate each other, work together, trust one another, without necessarily loving each other. I think the word I’m looking for is respect, but that only comes from self-respect and you presumably have less than your share of that. I personally do not care who you share your bed with, any more than I care who anyone writing here shacks up with. Your preoccupation with gender is obviously your affair, but don’t assume that everyone thinks like you do and stop resenting people who aren’t and yet manage to get their act together. Children are a great joy and a source of endless inspiration and creativity. So you chose not to have any – or rather, beget any – and your career is brilliant as a result? I know winners and losers with and without children. I know men who knit (men were the first knitters) and women who mend cars. What’s the big deal? I suppose you are using this page to let off steam. Did it ever occur to you that the women you chose were just as disappointed in you? Maybe you were a big flop. Maybe you expected too much or the wrong things or wanted more than you were prepared to give. I’m glad your understanding of patterning is so far ahead (of what – gender, human understanding?). Maybe you should now concentrate on understanding yourself, your motivation, your drawbacks, anything that gets you off the track you are now following……






acrylic painting
by Janis Zroback, Toronto, ON, Canada


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Norman Ridenour of Prague, Czechoslovakia who wrote, “Gertrude Stein when asked how she knew a piece of art was good replied, ‘It makes me itch.’ As artists we never know where a viewer’s itchy spot is but we need to hit it. Making wood sculpture it is very often pure sensuality — believe me that scares many people.”

And also Robert Appleman of Kamuela, HI, USA who wrote, “The joy we can bring to our patrons is very nourishing.”

And also Michelle Madalena who wrote, “Thank you for sending me this letter exactly when I needed the most. Today I am going to paint and I am not going to stop painting until Tuesday. It is Friday. I appreciate your wisdom. Please continue to send me your letters as I learn so much from reading them. I have yet to try reading other people’s thoughts. I feel it is too soon. One person at a time in any of my communication is much more my speed although I do read my horoscopes and tarot readings most days which I have a weakness for.”




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