Word training


Dear Artist,

In a previous letter, I touched on the idea that your vocabulary might be responsible for personal happiness, effectiveness or creativity. Could it be possible that we are formed by the words we use? For example, might the elimination of the word “failure” promote “success?” Might the constant use of the word “happy,” make you so? You may see a few problems. We may know of folks who give lip service to “love,” while they practice “hate.” You might think that the program will not work if you think one thing and say another. But the idea behind the concept is that the words themselves are what you may become. Words maketh the man.


“Portraits of Two Children” 1895
oil on canvas, 65 x 82 cm
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)

There are two parts to the program. The first is a personal list of words you think have negative values and may wish to eliminate. This is the “undesirable” list. They can be discovered by replaying your normal conversation on a recording device. Also, a true friend and careful listener can give you an honest report. Listen to yourself in social situations or in the company of wine. Just as a search-engine scours the internet for keywords, you and your friends can build your negative list. It may take a while. Write them down. Print them out.


“Two Young Girls Reading” 1891
oil on canvas, 45 x 54.3 cm
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir


The second part is a list of words you think you need. This is the “desirable” list and it may take even longer. It may never be finished. You build your list in several ways: Look at your undesirable list and think of the opposite words and their synonyms. Add words or visualizations that you can only dream. Scratch around in the vocabularies of those you admire. When you feel a positive thought coming on, stop, look and listen. Read uplifting material. Focus on the stars.

Just know that you can train or retrain yourself to paint, write, speak, drive, ski, or become a prestidigitator. Word retraining may not be easy, but believe me, it’s been done.


“Conversation” 1879
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Best regards,


PS: “Words are a form of action, capable of influencing change.” (Ingrid Bengis) “Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.” (Rudyard Kipling) “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” (William Wordsworth)

Esoterica: A friend’s tape-recorded voice was laced with words like doubt, hopeless, poverty and resist. She was well-spoken. She chose her words carefully. I always thought she was intelligent, discriminating and thoughtful. I was wrong. She was, and still is, clever, talented and witty, but she is in a state of defeat.

This letter was originally published as “Word training” on January 28, 2003.

ABSTRACT: DESIGN SHOWCASE at Kimoto Gallery continues to Nov. 25th. 


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“I have a predilection for painting that lends joyousness to a wall.” (Pierre-Auguste Renoir)



  1. I could not seem to break the negative past, worry future, thought habit. Words made up those thoughts, but the feelings are what got to me. My thinking was hurting me, and taking away my time.. Rubber-bands. I don’t know why but I can not throw one away. I put one on my wrist one day and whala, I had a way to stop those thoughts. I would snap that purple rubber band against the inside of my wrist hard every time I was wallowing in thoughts. It hurt a little, but it worked. Soon I was snapping less and less until I did not need it anymore. I still keep that rubber-band, just in case. :)

    • Sharon Rusch Shaver – I have read your comments before and thoroughly enjoy them.

      I consider the rubber band technique a positive and effective solution. Thank you.

  2. I have reached the age of 80 and feel like I am a walking, talking, time bomb. I could go anytime. Fortunately I don’t need to feel pain to make myself realize how fortunate I am to have lived my whole life with music, art and a wonderful family. Negative thoughts can make you old.

    • Carolyn Fourie on

      Marie, your comments are So very true. Thank you for them, and once again, a s always,a big thanks to the Painter,s Keys team

    • Ditto! I also on the edge of my 80th birthday…..comparing myself to my mother….have 6 more years to paint…play the piano, and enjoy a houseful of Grand children. Thankful for a full life with family, travels, and a multitude of friends all connected together by a mutual respect for Our loving Father God. Or…could compare myself to my Daddy…who gardened until he was 93…or his Grandfather who lived until more than 100+….now that would be a goal….painting until I was 100…its possible. I was born on Georgia O’Keef’s birthday and she lived nearly to 100…didn’t she?
      Faith in God, Loving family, combined with Music, painting and taking lots of photographs….how happy am I!

  3. Stop using the word “Should” in your inner conversations. Change it to, “It would be good,” or “It would be nice.” Makes all the difference in the world. It is what you really mean, anyway. You still don’t have to do it, but it is more like a friend talking to you, instead of a parent or a boss. We all rebel from being told what to do, or what we should be doing or what we should have done. No need to rebel from a friend’s suggestion, though.

  4. Excellent ideas. The problem is when one loses the ability to counter the negative inner (& external) dialogue with positives, because you’ve totally lost the ability to have “happy” thoughts. It’s depression related, I know. Very hard to change when positive words /memories have “left the building” when it comes to self image & positivity.

  5. I was telling some friends on the weekend that several years ago I consciously – and successfully –
    eliminated the word ‘failure’ from my vocabulary as it pertains to me and my thoughts and actions. I truly notice it now when I hear that ‘f’ word coming from the lips of others or in the written narrative. Another word I have eliminated is ‘anxious’, when describing how I feel about something. Instead of saying, “I am anxious to hear news of ……..”, I say “I am EAGER or KEEN to hear news of……” Quite a difference in tone and expectation, eh??

    I loved Sharon’s solution to stopping less than desirable thoughts by snapping a purple rubber band against her wrist. You rock, girlfriend!! I have a hard time throwing out rubber bands, too! I wonder what a psychoanalyst would have to say about that – lol.

    May you be filled with loving kindness,
    May you be well.
    May you be peaceful & at ease.
    May you be happy.


    • Joy is something else. Expressing THAT, sometimes does not work. Exuberant, joy-filled bliss, pisses people off if they are not on that same page with you. They look at you like, what is wrong with you?
      (Need to work on that one…)
      I think it is because you need nothing to feel joy. It is a state of being.
      I remember that old song, “I have a joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart…”, Sing that one to yourself and try to think about anything not real. It’s fun. :)

  6. Thank you to all!

    Perfect ideas with perfect timing.
    What a bright spot these letters and discussions are.

    With great appreciation and good thoughts to you all,

  7. We use words a lot to categorize things – good and bad, in our control and out of it, important and not important, etc. If we are in the habit of only thinking “materialistically” in terms of objects and substances, for example, we are going to miss the joy of a lot of artworks that are better described and executed in more dynamic terms.

  8. Using harsh angry words [see the original post] is such a sad waste of our brain space – of the sensations and thoughts.

    We are not our actions – we are our thoughts about our actions. I am not a walk through the forest but i am all the sensations that arise on that walk. i am not the person sitting at my easel, i am the brain space where those thoughts happen. To be in the moment has been difficult for me to learn and yet, when i am – it becomes my best work, my best choices, my happiest state. Recently my 85 year old mother came to visit me, for the second time since my father passed away six short months ago. We had scattered his ashes in the meadow by the house and mom sketched the spot. Mom and I talked about how present dad was as we walked down the path, how present he was in our thoughts, memories, dreams… how thinking about him brought him to us.

  9. I went through a period of “persistent negative thoughts” after the deaths of two close relatives. i just couldn’t get the sentences out of my head and fell into a depression. Luckily I recalled a book I had read years ago that suggested upping Vit B complex. I did just that and in 4 days the negative thoughts disappeared. I made sure that I self-censored my media selections and avoided anything that triggered sad thoughts…so no murder mysteries, bad news events, sad stories about old people or children etc. It took a while but I grew stronger every day and eventually I could handle bad news and even watch mysteries again! Choosing positive words was a big part of my recovery. Instead of “I forgot”, I’d say “I remember”. Words are so powerful! (as was art, I’d lose myself in drawing.)

  10. 2018 I will write down my negative words and try to change them to my positive words. Never thought to tape what I say and change how I talk. I have changed thoughts and actions but now I question have I really because my speech patterns are probably the same. Duh?

  11. Have you all noticed? All women responded but for two, I think. Not sure of one. What do the fellows think on this?

    I think that words, what we tell ourselves, are REALLY important. Have decided as of a few years ago that Have To is out. I try to do what I want and not fake it through the things I do not want to do. I try to meet obligations but try not to make those I just do not want to do. I am not lazy. I am choosy.

    I try and fend off the folks who have lots of negative thoughts and words, or re-rout what they have said into more up beat tones. Hanging a show recently with a person who saw everything as a sort of small disaster. I said, Oh, it only needs just this little tweak! Said in a light tone. See? Now it’s fine! Will she change? I do not know. Did she notice? Do not know. But I felt better about it all. I try to slide right by negative stuff. I find that watching music on the Classic Arts Showcase makes a wonderful end to my day. Age 84.


Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop

10-Day Watercolour Cruise — Pacific Coast
April 25, 2018 to May 5, 2018

richard-wong_workshopRelax, explore, paint and shop! Join Victoria wildlife artist, Richard Wong on a privately hosted Pacific Coastal Cruise from Vancouver, BC.  And experience the magic of watercolour on Japanese art paper.  Richard, a full-time professional painter, will guide you on a wildlife themed journey onboard the eloquent Star Princess.  You will learn how to create vibrant, attractive watercolour images from a unique blend of Asian and Western ways of making art.  Stops include Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Francisco.


Richard organized this west coast trip to include everyone:  friends and families, painters and non-painters; in partnership with Expedia CruiseShipCenters (Victoria, BC office only, Tracey Ball, (250) 381-7447/toll free 1-800-668-8122).  Choose from two options: “Paint & Cruise” (from $1,820 CAD/double occupancy/interior, includes all taxes, port fees, and 4 two hour classes with art supplies); OR “Cruise Only” (from $1,670 CAD/double occupancy/interior, includes all taxes, port fees).


You can learn more about Richard through his website:  http://richardwongwatercolors.ca
Contacts:  either Richard Wong or Tracey Ball per the above.

https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/mary-denning-art-sunrise2_big-wpcf_300x250.jpgSunrise Over the Farm #2
original pastel 15 x 15 inches

Featured Artist

Mary’s interest in pastel painting began during her years at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA where she majored in art and elementary education. Though she has worked in watercolor and oil as well as calligraphy, her interest has consistently turned primarily to pastel because of the medium’s potential for glowing, vibrant color and the harmony achieved in bringing together lights and shadows.


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.