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The Painter’s Keys Clickbacks Archive


Our archive is a rich art resource of creative content and art advice. The archive contains every one of the Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters and Clickbacks since the year 2000. Our system is to carefully edit a large daily volume of incoming feedback from the letters--and to reduce it to a terse and economical amount of reading. Duplication only occurs by nuance, veracity is checked, point of view is encouraged, and a balanced, timeless collection is the result. By so doing we have formed a worldwide creative art community--a brotherhood and sisterhood where all flags fly.

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2014 Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

  • Conundrum
      April 22nd, 2014
  • On Sunday afternoon Sam Bray and his family visited from Perth, Australia. Sam's a tall, bright-eyed young man, about 16 years old, who studies fine art, computer science, drama, literature and physics, speaks Japanese, and plays bass saxophone in his school band. Among other things, Sam showed me a recent digital video which he had produced, written, scored and animated... Read On

  • Cropping and relining
      April 18th, 2014
  • Relining a larger work onto a smaller, rigid support can be a re-imagination of possibilities. For canvases below 16 x 20 inches I choose from a selection of quarter-inch mahogany panels pre-cut to standard sizes... Read On

  • The Value of Silhouette
      April 15th, 2014
  • Have you ever noticed how a silhouette can tell you such a lot by saying less? That's because the human mind is capable of filling in needed information to complete a picture or to recognize a familiar image. Silhouettes were originally profile portraits, generally in black. In the early days they were often taken from a shadow cast by a candle onto a... Read On

  • Bush leagues
      April 11th, 2014
  • Not being in the habit of making comments on international affairs, I asked my American friend Elmer Waite what he thought of former U.S. President George W. Bush's portrait paintings of world leaders. "Everyone," said Elmer, "no matter how exalted or humble, has a right to the humility that comes with trying to paint portraits..." Read On

  • Eight Rules of Painting
      April 8th, 2014
  • In the corner of Mrs. Haddleton's seventh-grade art class stood a potter's wheel and a kiln. I straddled the little stool and threw down a grapefruit-sized ball of clay--my first pot. Gently kicking the wheel's power over to me, she cautioned, "You're standing at the top of a ski hill with your skis on, and you don't yet know how to ski." Read On

  • An eggstraordinary project
      April 4th, 2014
  • Last month my daughter, Sara, was invited to take part in "The Big Egg Hunt." Two hundred and eighty-seven plain white fiberglass eggs, about two and a half feet high, were to be re-imagined as individual artists saw fit. When offered projects like this, among other questions, Sara and I like to ask, "Can I learn anything?" and "Who are the beneficiaries?" This project was to end in a... Read On

  • How to sell art
      April 1st, 2014
  • The New York Hip Hop collective Wu-Tang Clan has recently announced they'll be selling just one single copy of their forthcoming album, "Once Upon A Time In Shaolin." Visual artists are familiar with the single-copy concept. The economics of the art world are based on the marketing and collecting of one-of-a-kind originals that carry an intrinsic value because of their rarity... Read On

  • Night magic
      March 28th, 2014
  • This morning, while I was slurping a cup of joe at the kitchen window, a childhood friend appeared at the top of the driveway. Jane in black leggings and I in bedhead, we caught eyes. She began to run in place and then surged in my direction like a spring bunny. Her cheeks were roses. She wrapped me in a vein-popping squeeze, gleaming with her runner's high. She wore... Read On

  • Blessed are the curious
      March 25th, 2014
  • At the risk of once more dividing the world into two main kinds of people, there are two main kinds of people: those who amuse themselves, and those who require amusement from others. Artists seem to be pretty much of the former kind. Self-amusement prompts creativity.... Read On

  • Where does it come from?
      March 21st, 2014
  • The id is defined as "inherited instinctive impulses of the individual as part of the unconscious." It's also generally associated with sex drive. What got me going on this was the observation by friends that I had what they thought was an "instinct for art." Following the ideas of Sigmund Freud, friends wondered if I had some "inherited instinctive impulse" similar to... Read On

  • Before I fell in love
      March 18th, 2014
  • While cleaning out one of our storage areas yesterday, we found a really old paintbox. It turned out to be one of my first: gray-painted, heavy and substantial, built for the road by my dad. Opening it up for the first time in many years, it brought back memories of some of those first hateful paintings I did on it. You see, I had already been painting before... Read On

  • Bonding and sealing
      March 14th, 2014
  • Catherine Campbell writes, "I have a varnish dilemma. I'm almost finished a commissioned acrylic painting that I will be bringing back from Mexico to Canada in a few weeks. I wanted to put a coat of gloss medium over that work before we leave, to seal and protect my work of 2 months from airport inspectors' hands. I asked an artist friend travelling through the USA to pick up some... Read On

  • Good times
      March 11th, 2014
  • A few days ago Pomegranate Publishers of Portland, Oregon put out their long awaited "J. Fenwick Lansdowne," a lush coffee-table book illustrating the bird art of my friend Fen. I had the privilege of writing the section on our early life together. From age 14 to our 20's, Fen and I had a unique bond that had nothing to do with anything else in our lives. It was a passion for... Read On

  • Doomspiration
      March 7th, 2014
  • At the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia a room is hung salon-style with 19th Century British and European paintings. The display is immense, covering two facing walls hung floor-to-ceiling with the works of Delacroix, Ingres, Daumier, Henner, Meissonier, Millet and their contemporaries. The paintings are depictions of bucolic charm... Read On

  • How to save a life
      March 4th, 2014
  • A dreamer's in my closet - he can be heard in the middle of the night making delicate tears in the 140lb Arches Cold Press watercolour block and moving jellybeans out of my tote bag. That little mouse lives here, too, says Peter. Rather than set a trap, I'd really rather just ask him to leave the beans... Read On

  • Your social influence
      February 28th, 2014
  • Recent studies of young people in the act of choosing music have shed some light on how the art game works. Teenagers in an online study were asked to rate a wide choice of unknown bands and new songs. One test group listened in isolation while other groups (known as "social influence groups") were allowed to share their opinions and interests as they listened... Read On

  • Getting your mojo back
      February 25th, 2014
  • Yesterday, Doug Swinton wrote: "It seems lately I have lost my will to paint--or, as they say, I have lost my Mojo. Where does one go or what does one do to find one's Mojo? I'm hoping for some Mojo wisdom from you." Mojo is one of those words that popped into the language about 1926 and nobody seems to know where it came from. Merriam-Webster says it's "a magic spell, hex, or charm... Read On

  • Creative kids
      February 21st, 2014
  • In the art of parenting we all begin as amateurs. By the time we turn pro, it's generally too late. Carol and I managed three out of the box: a filmmaker, a musician, and a painter. All are apparently flourishing. Here are some ideas we bumped into while getting lucky with creative kids... Read On

  • A parent's voice
      February 18th, 2014
  • At the risk of being one of those who divide the world into two main kinds of people, there are two main types of artists: those who have a need to listen to the opinions of others, and those who do not. That being said, this habit can come and go--leopards can change their spots. Both types of artists can have problems. The first may have their vision so diluted by others' input that little is left of originality. The second may be imprisoned by what they already know... Read On

  • What's in your tool kit?
      February 14th, 2014
  • Jim the plumber--a man with a high profession by any standards--travels with a complex kit. He drives a full van. Pipes, pumps, ball-cocks, flapper-valves and roto-rooters fill out a palette for his subterranean artistry. By contrast, a scene-painter's box can be pretty simple. I was unstuffing my basic travel-easel when a new friend phoned... Read On

  • Notes from the horizontal position
      February 11th, 2014
  • After several weeks working at the Badg-easel I feel I'm a bit of an expert at horizontal painting, and I'd like to tell you about it. First, to clarify, I'm working with no reference, from the memories of places I've painted en plein air. While not totally accurate as to geology, it's been a surprise how the feelings of places are... Read On

  • "The queen of colours"
      February 7th, 2014
  • Renoir declared, "I've been forty years discovering that the queen of all colours is black!" What he meant was that black works as a darkener because its near chromal neutrality does not sully the colour it grays. While scorned on a few snooty palettes, black is the loyal friend that helps make other colours look more... Read On

  • The power of red
      February 4th, 2014
  • Cochineal is a red dyestuff extracted from the blood of a beetle parasite on Prickly Pear Cacti. Formerly used to make carmine and scarlet lakes, it was first imported from Mexico into Europe in 1560. British army uniforms were dyed with it. Permanence aside, it's still in use today. As a colourant for Cherry Coke, beetle blood is known as... Read On

  • The story of yellow
      January 31st, 2014
  • Traditionally, yellow has come from five main sources--mango, gamboge, orpiment, ochre and saffron. In the case of the Indian mango bush, the leaves were force-fed to a certain type of cow. At this point the cow's bladder would produce a urine-dyestuff which could be harvested and exported in the name of Indian Yellow... Read On

  • Am I blue?
      January 28th, 2014
  • Ultramarine blue seems to breathe. It represents the air between the viewer and the viewed. Aerial perspective can't live without it. More than any other colour, Ultra blue holds sky-magic, the zenith, the spiritual--closest thing to heaven--and the most profound of the colour mysteries... Read On

  • What are you leaving out?
      January 24th, 2014
  • "The secret to being a bore," said Voltaire, "is to tell everything." In painting, it's what you don't describe that makes what is described so poignant. In human biology, the Reticular Activating System is the part of the brain that helps us become awake and to filter sources of arousal. In other words, we can only be alert to a certain amount of... Read On

  • Horizontal painting
      January 21st, 2014
  • After several tries at various "chaise-longues" we've settled on a state-of-the-art American-made "Serta" power-operated recliner that not only lays you out in a variety of positions in memory foam but, when you're finished, ejects you to an almost standing position. We've put a photo of the Badg-easel in action here, and also included a close-up shot of how my palette has evolved to fit the system... Read On

  • The wisdom of no escape
      January 17th, 2014
  • During a bumpy period a few years ago in New York, I had a small revelation about how to thrive when things aren't going as expected. It occurred to me that when we're in school we seldom question the curriculum but instead merely show up for class. After all, semesters end, allowing us to move on and refine our area of study. In the meantime, we might pick up... Read On

  • Eleven steps to your world
      January 14th, 2014
  • Tonight, as happens often these days, it's me who closes up the studio. It gets dark early at this time of year. Dorothy and I turn down the heat, close the computers, wet down the palettes, put the phone back in its cradle, shut the lights and lock the door. Walking from the studio toward the house, somewhere above in the tall cedars, the Barred Owl wakes... Read On

  • Stylistic economies
      January 10th, 2014
  • Small economies of style are regularly used by evolved painters as a way to speed up the operation and to give freshness and life. This often means looking ahead to potential problematic areas and avoiding those laborious passages that tend to get things overworked... I'm also going to disclose a few personal stylistic prejudices... Read On

  • Faith-based art-making
      January 7th, 2014
  • "I don't actually know what I'm doing," he admitted, "but I have faith I can do it and faith will be enough." The painting, long since lost to posterity, was pretty bad on most levels. It was done after Botticelli's Venus except there were many more Venuses... Read On

  • From my window
      January 3rd, 2014
  • From my bedroom window a vast tidal estuary spreads in three directions. In wintertime, when tides cooperate, these flats are a festival of seabirds. A dozen species of ducks overwinter here, as do Western sandpipers, Ruddy turnstones and many others. Hundreds of Dunlins fly together in one-minded units, moving like undulating amoebas, flashing white... Read On



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Last modified: Apr 23, 2014