Working out


Dear Artist,

Most of us haven’t had the conditions that Tiger Woods grew up with. Our parents may have encouraged us from time to time, even helped with lessons or coaches, but it’s rare to find the twenty-four hours of hands-on grooming that Tiger seems to have gone through. If we are to demand excellence, we have to plan and do the work-outs for ourselves.

Apart from all the reading that seems to be going on lately, I’m one for putting in time at the work station. This is the main theatre where ideas are generated, skills honed, methodology found, joy discovered, and acceptable product is eventually produced.

I know it may sound a little childish, but there’s a game I’ve played with myself for some time. I wouldn’t have mentioned it but an artist friend wrote (in the not for publication mode) and told me he did it too. It made me feel better about what I’m doing. Here it is:

I tell myself: “If I do this exercise here, I’ll let you work on that one, and when you’ve worked on that one for a while, I’ll let you finish that one over there.” I know it’s silly but I’m glad I told you.

Best regards,


PS: “Dad said if I hit a thousand balls with the 9 iron, he’d let me go around once.” (Tiger Woods)

Esoterica: “The great thing and the hard thing is to stick to things when you have outlived the first interest, and not as yet got the second which comes with a sort of mastery.” (Janet Erskine Stuart)

The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.


I’ve seen the enemy and he is us
by Michael Swanson


“Times Square”
by Michael Swanson

What is it about our western society that elevates golf and hockey players etc. to such lofty heights as superstars while real people such as doctors and good politicians go unheard of? It is sad to see you use Tiger Woods as a symbol to emulate. Many sports, in particular golf is a sanctuary of mostly untalented people, people who by and large are used as fodder to stock the often obscene money bins of media tycoons. Commercial television, disguised as entertainment, essentially is there to supply (at as little cost as possible) a captive audience to advertisers. Witness Jerry Springer, the endless Hitler documentaries, and yes golf, hockey etc.

I have personally watched Wayne Gretzky grow from childhood into what I often have noticed a person who has very little real social skills. His constant childhood hockey practice left little room for any thing else and sadly now I see that his existence is largely predicated on his addiction to fame.

The real travesty is that people like these are looked upon as the gurus of our cultural existence and landscape, while others, many with real talent are seen as mere curiosities at best.

Please don’t mistake this note as sour grapes on my behalf, as I truly feel that I have been blessed with enough talent to have a fulfilling and successful life. The human condition is always “A work in progress,” never a fixed point, but nevertheless one who he has seen that the enemies of culture and the crusaders of ambition are basically us, many in a vain attempt to give our children a so called better life.


Free stuff
by Dianne Middleton, Calgary

It seems that no matter what duties or business ventures I’ve undertaken in the past — even numerous passions I’ve pursued throughout my life — I’ve found that there’s a close relationship between imposing self-discipline upon oneself and being successful in achieving your goals. Hard work pays off in perfecting your talents and skills but above all your heart has to be into it as well to really ‘make it happen.’ Most of my rewards/successes have been non-monetary in nature — opening doors to other opportunities to name one. ALL THE BEST IN LIFE IS FREE!

P.S. Had he lived in our time, wouldn’t Leonardo have been fascinated by the computer and microwave-oven! Probably he would have invented them. Life was slower paced, yet lived simpler in his day. This fact enabled him to observe, study and invent all that he could. It does make you wonder what he would do with himself, or where he would take us, had he lived in our time.


Joi de vivre
by Diana King, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

It seems to me that if there is nagging pressure in one’s life, the source of that pressure should not come from being an artist. Could it be said that a true artist’s soul experiences pressure of different kinds that is motivating in nature and serves as artistic expression? Pressure while painting is not something that I can imagine, simply because I paint for pleasure. I understand the concept of having a tortured soul and expressing it through painting. Beleive me I do. I cannot understand becoming a tortured soul because I paint. Of course there is good and bad pressure, and I do not make my living painting. I have had to deal with the consequences of my choice to paint however. I have been considered by some misunderstanding souls to be everything from the bottom of the proverbial food chain, lazy, old fashioned etc. etc. because I not only enjoy painting but I am a homemaker by choice! Talk about double whammy! ;-) I don’t just enjoy painting and being a homemaker I embrace every moment. I consider myself blessed to have discovered a love for folk art and/ or tole painting. I am a passionate beginner that is enjoying every step I take in improving what I love to do or simply just doing it. I see it as such a shame that anyone should lose the joi de vivre while painting; as for me it is the whole point.


Not silly
by Shirley Erskine, Oregon, USA

Your exercise is not silly. If it is, then I am a silly person too. That is the way that I get the mundane work done — like stretching canvases, washing brushes and cleaning work surfaces, tidying the studio, doing housework, etc., etc. It is also the same exercise that I used to quit smoking about 25 years ago. Nothing is silly if it works!


Orbiting through projects
by Lena Leszczynski

Your mention of your “childish game” caught my attention, because I do something very similar. I’ll have several projects on the go, so that when I poop out on one, I can “avoid” it for awhile by focusing on another project, and when I lose interest in that (or reach the limits of frustration) I can escape from it by moving on to a third. Eventually I come full circle and am back at the first project, having had a refreshing but productive break from it. This system allows me to orbit through projects and remain productive without trying to do the impossible (i.e.change the tendency towards avoidance/ resistance/ escapism which is so deeply rooted a part of my “creative temperament”). This way, I get to work with it rather than against it. It sometimes causes chaos around my home studio, with several projects on the go, but that’s a small price to pay. And, hey, that’s what studios are FOR. And of course, this system has to be adapted for deadlines set in the ‘real’ (outside) world.


Goofers and duffers
by Henry Siddall, Yorkshire, UK

So much of what we do in our professional lives, whether we be painters or podiatrists, is based on training. I’m thankful that I was trained well in a photography school and then in an academic art school. There seems to be an unfortunate trend these days that an artist may simply emerge, full bloom, from some mysterious miasma of talent, a gift to all. Time will tell whether these unskilled and untrained goofers will have contributed much of lasting value. The nice thing and the satisfying thing about sports is that there is a way to immediately determine value.


To be a dentist
by R Prowse, London, UK

As a professional art teacher at the seminar and workshop level I have to say that if beginners would just do a few basic exercises over a few times they would train themselves from making the same damn mistakes over and over later on. In group after group I see people making the same errors year by year. Will there be no end to this folly? No school of dentistry would permit this sort of shoddyness. I always have my people try to master the fundamentals of drawing, perspective, of color mixing and color theory, composition, etc. If they can’t do it I recommend they try some other vocation.


You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.

That includes some of the wonderful people we are meeting along the great river.



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