Witches’ brew


Dear Artist,

On Halloween, Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki wrote, “I always knew that my life was an escape from the tribe, but I’ve never figured out that it strongly relates to my life as an artist. Now I would like to know — why? One logical answer might be that individualists are trying to create their own tribes with their own standards and rules, but I am not so sure about that. What do you think?”


“Timeless Beauty”
watercolour painting
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

Thanks, Tatjana. Some of us think about the same things. Funny about easeling — you have a lot of time to try to figure out if you’re special — why you do things differently — and what made you that way. I got the wind up a few years ago when I was doing a workshop. Even though some of the participants were roaring beginners, I was not about to give them a beginners’ course. Books, toil and time do that. I figured the great standards and rules were picked up independently during an individual’s chosen program of growth. Artists, I decided, should stir their own pots and dance around each other’s differences. I encouraged my students to fly at will. I merely assisted them. Some of them took off.

I’ve also made a lifelong study of what we creators have in common — both within the artistic brotherhood and sisterhood, and within the greater tribe. Apart from the fire of desire, it came as a bit of a shock when I saw the value in “the feeling of inadequacy.” (I based my findings on first-hand experience) These feelings begin in childhood and often lead to the outsider personality. Outsiders get credit for a lot of the contributions to science, arts, etc. Properly channeled, common feelings of inadequacy lead to powers of accomplishment.

Another valuable characteristic is the blessing of vision. This comes with curiosity, training and habit. It’s also a right-brain function, mostly hereditary. The right-brain sees potential, opportunity and connection. Blessing of vision brings the need to create and re-create. With creative mastery comes joy. Joy arrives in spades when we find that we have real magic within. The world needs magical characters who stand apart from the tribe. Our world cannot get enough of witches and wizards. These folks are OK. You’re OK and I’m OK. And the tribe’s OK, too.

Best regards,


PS: “Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” (William Shakespeare, Macbeth)

Esoterica: Because of their unique and relatively rare vision, right-brainers can feel isolated. And while it’s not necessary for an artist to be right-brained, it helps. At one time I was running around suggesting that would-be artists ought to take a test to find out — and if they turned out to be lefties — they might give serious consideration to chartered accountancy. Right-brainers have a better place of escape. It’s called the world of imagination — it’s the big pumpkin — and it’s the greatest world of all.


Driven to the outside
by Ann Burgess

I agree that the feeling of inadequacy for some of us does drive us to the outside. The value there for those of us fortunate to realize it and accept it, is the peace we find, the escape from the must do and the noise. While some find it lonely, others use it to search and grow and overcome the challenges presented to us. Thomas Merton said it well: “Art enables us to lose ourselves and find ourselves at the same time.”


Paint what you see?
by Richard Tomkinson, La Conner, WA, USA


“Balinese Girl”
oil on canvas
by Nicolai Fechin

My painting group is ‘after Nicolai Fechin.’ We have heard the directive to ‘paint what you see’ and have applied it during our training. Some of us are beginning to reach the cusp between ‘unknown’ and ’emerging.’ At this point we are being more creative and taking liberties with what we see. This seems to lie in conflict with ‘what you see.’ As we now are able and try very hard to mentally see the end result of our effort before we start; and often what we see as the result is not as we physically see it, does the directive still apply?

(RG note) What you see is automatically modified by the filter of your creativity. This makes it art. I’ve always felt that paintings need not be “what is seen,” but what is “to be seen.”


Outsiders in the family
by Vicki Easingwood, Duncan, BC, Canada

My youngest daughter shares an outside status, similar to mine in that we are both outsiders, but her experience of it is totally different. As it usually is. She ‘paints’ on the computer at age 10, with all the happy abandon that I drew on paper at that age. Some people ‘play’ the piano, she ‘plays’ the computer with graphic art she ‘composes’ herself. She has often wondered why she is so different from her classmates. I keep telling her to be grateful for the distinction. Hers will be an often solitary walk through life, but hopefully, she will be able to look back on it from the half century mark as I do these days and say, yes, but what an abundantly rich, full, and fun ride it is.


Outsiders part of the system
by Mary Klotz, Woodsboro, MD, USA

The outsider has more freedom to think outside the box, less pressure to stay in it. If the morphic resonance and ancestral memory theorists are right, there is a mighty pull toward continuing and repeating behaviors that have been widespread. At the same time, there is the constant reshaping of the archetypal catalog, the collective unconscious upon which we all (theoretically) draw and upon which we all have impact. Perhaps the “individualist” is nothing more than the mathematics of randomness at work — it is part of the system to have variation, quirks, surprise and nonconformity.

About feelings of inadequacy: it has long seemed to me that people completely pleased with and confident in their artwork are not the people with whose art I am most impressed. That edge of striving and falling short seems to yield better work than contentment.


Powerful connection
by Susan Richardson, La Jolla, CA, USA


“We May Be Brothers”
watercolour painting
by Susan Richardson

I like to think we learn to pour ourselves onto our canvases from the lessons we learn in earth school. And not some rules spelled out by a teacher. Although perceptive teachers can be invaluable, I’ve always liked the ones who push you to solve your own creative problems while offering directions to different yellow brick roads you could take.




Fallow periods
by Maria W. Johnson

My creative directions seem to have a cycle — usually seven to ten years — after which there’s a fallow period. These fallow periods used to send me into despair, until I had lived long enough to realize the value of them. Now I embrace them, knowing another direction will emerge soon enough. I’m like a ship. I only change my direction by a few degrees — but I always arrive at a totally new and different shore.


Monumental design
by Janet Badger


“straw hat”
by Janet Badger

When I was an art student back in the ’70s, a mere slip of a girl hauling a huge canvas across campus, nearly taking off like Mary Poppins when the wind blew… I came up with a couple of aphorisms…”When in doubt, stretch it out” and “If it’s good small, it’ll be great, big!” It seemed then that to be taken seriously your work of art had to be of monumental proportions. Yet I ended up a printmaker, working on plates less than 9″ x 12″ for the most part. I believe that good design works no matter what the size.




Inadequacy or originality?
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

How interesting to come to such creative power as a leap from inadequacy. Where does this feeling of inadequacy come from? I see two possible sources. One is external coming from parents, and all others that may not understand the creative mind and are just trying to force it to fit in. Thus the creative person from the start feels the discomfort of being different and being expected to flow with the heartbeat of the masses. The other reason for a feeling of inadequacy is that the creative person does have a sense of rightness as inspired by her own vision and often the standards are both high and in contrast to the easy road of conforming. In this case the artist is her own worst enemy and best lover. She is the critic that expects more than the average person would even dream of. Holding a sense of depth in vision can cause satisfaction to be fleeting. The creation of a work of art that is inspirational allows the artist to soar and continue working to create that magic again and again. The satisfaction exists only if the artist is continuing to create. Otherwise the sense of inadequacy sneaks back in and reminds the artist of her responsibility to live on the edge of the unknown in all its discomfort and exhilaration. Once a person accepts her individuality she may realize that what she thought was inadequacy is actually originality. It takes great courage and strength to pave your own path, but at the same time it would be incredibly painful, even deadening to deny the fact that this is your true way.


All possess potential
by Deborah McLaren, Norwich, CT, USA


“McConnells Mill Stream”
oil on panel
by Deborah McLaren

The right brain can be developed, since we all have one, and we all possess the potential to be artists. I don’t buy the theory that artists are born and not made. Drawing and painting can be learned, however, like anything else, some individuals have a natural propensity toward art, just like some are mechanically inclined, etc., which makes it easier to learn the basics. But to imply that being an artist is something just for the chosen few is misleading the completely incorrect. I teach true beginning drawing students, and I see firsthand that with instruction, anyone with desire can do it.


Right-brain tests
by Nancy Davis

I’m interested in what test can be done to see if you’re right-brained. Did you have a specific test in mind or were you just “right-braining” it?

(RG note) Thanks to everyone who asked this question. There are a few indicators that are mentioned in my book The Painter’s Keys, as well as in previous letters and responses. The International PcE® Network website is one of the many that provide an online test to assess brain dominance. Another test, for children, comes from the About Children’s Health website. A more ‘artist’ oriented online test is offered by the About.com painting section. Other useful resources: Brain Gym, “expert” Lori Wall and others.


Source of creativity
by Jane Dunne-Brady, Silver City, NM, USA


“Queenly Woman”
by Jane Dunne-Brady

I feel that artistic creativity goes far beyond whether one is predominantly “left-brain” or “right brain.” It involves the ability to be able to access both hemispheres of the brain in a unified, cohesive way. Some research has shown that women are more able to do this, more able to make connections between the left and right brain hemispheres because for women the ‘corpus callosum,’ that which divides the two hemispheres, is not such a strong boundary and neurological connections between the two hemispheres can more easily develop. Also, you might want to explore the work of Neil Slade (who has a wonderful internet site). He has done a great deal of work exploring the frontal lobes of the brain and the amygdala, which is an almond-shaped area of the brain, on both sides, behind the frontal lobes. He says that the frontal lobes are the source of creativity, imagination, spontaneity, etc. — all those values which make life worth living — and that the ‘hind brain’, or reptilian brain, is the source of fear, worry, anger, stagnation, etc. — those things which keep us stuck. He teaches people to, as he says, ‘pop their frontal lobes’ — imagining their amygdalas moving forward, to the frontal lobes, which helps put you into that wonderful, marvelous creative state we artists are all looking to be in. People are reporting wonderful results from doing this and other techniques.


Right brain tranquility
by Nancy Christy-Moore, Peoria, AZ, USA


“Three Muses”
acrylic/mixed watermedia
by Nancy Christy-Moore

Getting out of reality by going into the right brain place of tranquility leads many of us into our daily creative journeys. Once I learned to let go of all the “rules” I was taught about art and managed to drift into the “black hole” without fear, my work began to take me to beautiful fulfillment. That’s when I started calling it “inner painting,” because it wasn’t occurring by design. I often wonder how “normal” (non-artist) people survive this reality we’re in, because if it weren’t for the escape and relief I feel while there, I couldn’t deal with this life. While I’m a social creature and very left-brained with normal tasks (I couldn’t teach and hold down clerical jobs if I weren’t this organized), I have to emphasize that my ability to turn that off by doing my art has literally kept my sanity. I wonder how many others have this blessing?


Out went the Goddess
by Mary Madsen, Henderson, NV, USA

A book you might enjoy is The Alphabet versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain. It goes into the differences between male and female brains, as well as biological differences, other than the obvious. The author’s contention is that the reason we shifted from a goddess-based people (we were, you know, once upon a time) was because of the biology of women, particularly their eyes. I can’t remember if we broads have more cones or rods, but whichever it is, it’s the one that takes in the big picture, rather than the details. From an evolutionary standpoint it’s been necessary for females to relate to those who can’t speak, i.e. screaming babies. It’s been necessary for males to pick up details so they would be the hunter rather than the hunted. Female biology is more geared toward the Image, and during the primitive day when Image ruled the world, so did the goddess. When the alphabet was invented, the world became more linear and logical, as the alphabet was, and — voila — out went the goddess as the object of divinity and it was time for the gods to move in.


Rembrandt had struggles too
by Bobbi Dunlop, Calgary, AB, Canada

I am presently reading the book Rembrandt’s Eyes by Simon Schama. Rembrandt is my favorite artist and this book is a very special gift from my daughter. What I find the most pleasurable in reading about Rembrandt’s life is that I actually relate to this great painter! It’s full of surprises also… Schama writes:

“Most of all though, and for an entire decade, Rembrandt measured himself compulsively against “the prince of painters and the painter of princes” Peter Paul Rubens. To become singular, Rembrandt had first to become someone’s double.”

“And certainly Rembrandt ended up being the kind of painter Rubens could not possibly have imagined, much less anticipated. But for the crucial decade of his formation, the years which saw him change from being a merely good to an indisputably great painter, Rembrandt was utterly in thrall to Rubens.”

In light of your recent letters about the nature of artists, I find this very enlightening. While we all strive to be individual, special, etc, it’s refreshing to know that even a great painter, such as Rembrandt, had his struggles and insecurities.


Painting to individuality
by Luc Poitras, Montreal, PQ, Canada

After years of feeling inadequate and wondering if I was a true individual, all this from serious bouts of depression, I finally realized that I was an individual — even if I didn’t want to be. There seems to be a serious concern by some that they may not be individualistic enough. But how enough? And who cares? If you get down to serious easeling, doing a lot of it, doing your research with the right brain, you’ll come up with your bounty of easel fruits that reflect your individuality more than you may realize, or even wish. In your book, In Praise of Painting, you relate to us the story about an older painter friend you visited one day and explained to him your tribulations and doubts and he replied: “Robert, don’t be stupid, just go and paint.” That’s what I’m doing, and yes, it’s paying off, and here’s how: With mistakes and accidents while painting, I put the doubts aside and just took the errors and accidents in the directions they suggested and I found an imagery that wonderfully surprised me. Hoorah! I’m an individual! As an artist, keep easeling passionately, obsessively, and in no time you’ll discover your individuality — it may surprise you. I was an accountant — I’m now glad I found out that I’m an artist.







oil painting
by Huihan Liu, San Francisco, CA, 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, 2004.

That includes Titus Hoskins who wrote, “It’s sort of comforting to know that 90 years from now, 1000 years from now, and on throughout the ages, art will still be art. In art there are no outsiders.”

And also Joan Bazzel who wrote, “Even the ‘outsiders’ pigeon hole themselves into an exclusive clique, and if you don’t fit the profile you’re not welcomed ‘outside.’ ”

And also Orythia who wrote, “Not all creative skills are right brain. The newest research on the brain has shown that creativity is related to both right and left brain functions. What is interesting is that if we continue to invest in creativity and ‘new’ approaches, it keeps us youthful, mentally.”

And also Andy who wrote, “I’ve been studying astrology for over 20 years and in many ways it is an Art in itself and takes a lifetime to master. I use it as a tool only to learn more about my clients who commission portraits. I am using an accurate up-to-date computer-generated astrology software that gives astonishing readings and results.”

And also Jaci Coningham who wrote, “Thank you for writing such a great letter, and for writing it in a way that even those that are not directly related to the subject can understand.”




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