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The Painter’s Keys Letters Archive


The archive is a rich resource of art information and advice for artists and creative people looking for meaningful content. You can access every one of the Robert Genn Twice-Weekly letters since the year 2000 and Sara Genn letters since 2014, including shared responses from the worldwide creative art community. This is a timeless collection of material formed by the brotherhood and sisterhood of artists, where all flags fly.

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2001 Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

  • Repairing a damaged painting
      December 28th, 2001
  • For some reason, every Christmas someone's painting falls off the wall. It happened again this year--a small, plaintive voice at the end of the phone: "I'm sorry to bother you Mr. Genn, but our big one of yours fell down and hit the fire-tongs. Read On

  • The Night Before Christmas
      December 25th, 2001
  • On the distant highway I can hear the drone of last minute shoppers. It would not be a good idea to go out driving right now. I'm squeezing paint instead. Read On

  • The Call of the Wild
      December 21st, 2001
  • Jack London was a man of courage. He held that "it takes courage to go, and courage to stay." His wanderlust had him cram several lifetimes into his 40 years. Read On

  • Gallery blues
      December 18th, 2001
  • If you are serious about making a life in art--and your volume and quality are high enough--I recommend you make an effort to go the gallery route. Read On

  • Special people
      December 14th, 2001
  • It seems to me that our job is to figure out what we're good for, and then go for it. We're not chosen either. There are no chosen people. We choose to choose ourselves. Read On

  • Particularities
      December 11th, 2001
  • The unique blend of creativity and chemistry is what makes ours an interesting game. I've always noticed that when artists are fussy and particular they are generally onto something. Read On

  • Restocking
      December 7th, 2001
  • Restocking often means the act of seeing again those forms that have become familiar. It also means finding new motifs and claiming them properly. For me, going out always refreshes. Read On

  • On your knees
      December 4th, 2001
  • In this exercise there's a memorable and unique hour to be had, and you will know better than ever the value of your gift. Read On

  • Studio tips
      November 30th, 2001
  • I think it's a good idea to think of your new studio as a place where you are going to be a bit of a pope. Realize that this temple needs to be like no other. Indulge your fantasy. Read On

  • Looking inward
      November 27th, 2001
  • Today I crawled back into my space... the home of my work, this studio. To the side of my palette I'm making a little list: The sheer sensuousness of the color sitting up and laying down. The privilege of knowing more or less how to draw. The thrill of grabbing the right complement. The realization that most things are a puzzle anyway. Read On

  • Hong Kong
      November 23rd, 2001
  • Up here a woman sits at an easel and paints cats in oil. Her gilt-framed canvases are spread around, priced in pounds, dollars, and yen. They're realistic, often back-lit, fresh and sensitive, with a western touch." Read On

  • The Chao Phraya River
      November 20th, 2001
  • Getting material has to be one of the most pleasurable aspects of the creative act: Frame and compose. What's going on here? What's the action? What's the meaning? What's next? For most of us it's a matter of really seeing what we're seeing. Read On

  • Enlightenment
      November 16th, 2001
  • Buddha says we attempt to run our lives through a veil of frustration and anger. We are not pure. We are tempted by distractions. Concentration and a simple itinerary become impossible. Read On

  • My little spirit
      November 13th, 2001
  • Beautifully dressed children holding lotus blossoms are slowly circling the temple. In the late sunlight itís an opportunity for a Sorolla-like vignette. I try to grab the essentials of the procession: simplify shapes, one in focus, others less so. Read On

  • Learning curve
      November 9th, 2001
  • "I'm trying to paint an elephant," I say. He moves closer. "But are you doing the power of the elephant, or the patience of the elephant, or the spirit of the elephant?" he asks. At the point when the visitor appeared, I was thinking I was running low on Payneís gray, but now I realize I have a force to contend with. Read On

  • Some fruit
      November 6th, 2001
  • Earlier today I visited with 18 year old Phunnee Sulalongporn. Phunnee is from the north of Thailand. She has come here to be among the bright lights. She works in a room about the size of a closet. Read On

  • Lucky bunch
      November 2nd, 2001
  • On Monday, the auctioneer, a man who is also donating his time and talent, phoned to say, "Where's the painting?" Looking at a blank 24" x 30", I said, "Not quite finished yet." "Well at least give us the title so we can print it in the program," he said. I pulled a title out of the atmosphere: "Autumn Pattern." Read On

  • Artnet
      October 30th, 2001
  • Where it says: "For more info on this artist click here," you are whisked to: "There are no details for Robert Genn at this time." That's about the same as saying the artist has stopped painting, gone into the breeding of pit-bulls, or has perhaps evaporated to the big studio in the sky. Read On

  • Authenticity
      October 26th, 2001
  • It seems to me that the scientific investigation of works of art is going to continue in heightened capability into the future. It's bright indeed for the practitioners of forensic art investigation. It's also a heavy burden on the artist when he or she realizes that some future sleuth may be writing a report on what we were doing wrong. Read On

  • Professional jealousy
      October 23rd, 2001
  • I've noticed a few things about the condition: It's generally a same-sex activity. The envied person is often perceived as having an unfair advantage. If not checked, envy can last a lifetime. It can destroy. Some artists develop systems to avoid falling into it. Read On

  • Symbols
      October 19th, 2001
  • I guess there's about a billion paintings of sky, mountains, trees and water. Beneath these basic and universal elements lie symbols that may empower our work. Read On

  • Attention deficit disorder
      October 16th, 2001
  • My symptoms were chronic: Easily distracted. Daydreamer. Often tactless. Habitually late. Cluttered environment. Avoiding responsibility. Procrastinating. Good starter--poor finisher. Intolerant of boredom. Biting off more than I could chew. Here are a few of the structures which I use to fight my disorder... Read On

  • Goodbye
      October 12th, 2001
  • The idea of all this criticism is to help shift critical faculties to the artists themselves. Outside opinion denies the inherent right to be true to your own vision. If we succeed in giving students the capability to think on their feet--we will have succeeded. Read On

  • Strategy
      October 5th, 2001
  • Rather than just letting the painting evolve, they take charge and take control. Theyíre able to visualize the end-game. A good example is the one-two knockout method... Read On

  • The Quiller Wheel
      October 2nd, 2001
  • I'm seeing students understand how to limit color ranges by predetermining complementaries as well as by monochromatic, analogous and tertiary color systems. I see student paintings with moods from somber to razzle-dazzle because the artists now know what they're doing and are in control. Read On

  • Goddess
      September 28th, 2001
  • Everyone comes to these workshops for different reasons, but for everyone the muscles of self-esteem and confidence have to be aroused. Many seem to be damaged and need some small encouragement. Read On

  • Overpainting
      September 25th, 2001
  • At my place "painting over" is just fine provided it doesn't look like painting over. The problem you have of dragging things out is more serious however... Read On

  • The groove
      September 21st, 2001
  • Hey, it happens when you're relaxed. Quality flourishes in "extra time." Personal invention keeps an artist's personality in the exercise and makes the job more fun. Read On

  • Relationships
      September 18th, 2001
  • Next to the quality of our work it's our relationships that give us a purchase on the world. Safe confederates make projects doable. In order to grow and prosper we need folks around us we can work with and love. Read On

  • Freedom and Democracy
      September 14th, 2001
  • We awoke to the realization that the images we were seeing were not special effects, but the piercing of the very heart of freedom and democracy. Read On

  • Donated art
      September 11th, 2001
  • A work is given to a charitable organization--in perpetuity. It has a specific purpose and is the will of the artist. What if the organization ceases to be, or even just changes its mandate? Read On

  • Autodidact
      September 7th, 2001
  • While one might be taught that blue and yellow make green, the formula can also be discovered by a curious mind. It also takes a curious mind to devise the vast varieties and subtleties possible in green-making. Read On

  • The Joy Mode
      September 4th, 2001
  • Being happy with your life is one thing--being happy with your work is another... Some, it's said, have a simple instinct for getting into the joy mode. Read On

  • Happiness
      August 31st, 2001
  • My studio is now silent. Visitors have evaporated to their own spaces. It's late at night. The brush dashes here and there. Is it habit, addiction, pastime, a need to connect again? Why am I so absurdly happy? Read On

  • Incubator
      August 28th, 2001
  • Incubation is the business of anticipating surprise. Sure, there's calculation in trying this and that in the studio of the mind--better pattern, more light, tone down, subtraction, injection. But there's also the matter of letting the thing hatch naturally. Read On

  • Freedom
      August 24th, 2001
  • Apart from the basic question which all creative people must ask themselves--"What do I want to do with my art?"--thereís the need for limitation. Read On

  • Don't
      August 21st, 2001
  • Down deep I think there shouldn't be a "don't" left in the world. In some ways, in art, there isn't. So at the risk of sounding authoritative, I'll just whisper the word... Read On

  • Sensitivity zones
      August 17th, 2001
  • There are times in the days of artists when we rise to our easels or workstations with a sense of heightened sensitivity. Why?--It's a bit of a mystery. Read On

  • Island
      August 14th, 2001
  • Imagination rules this island. Painted roosters metamorphose into priests. A crocodile is fashioned from several iron saw-blades. Acrylics have so much sand in them they sparkle and glow. Read On

  • The artistic alternative
      August 10th, 2001
  • At no time in our progress do we stop wondering what the secret is. Sometimes I think just knowing that there's more than one way to paint a tree is the main part of it. It's the idea that every work of art has to be worked out in its own way. Read On

  • Good days
      August 7th, 2001
  • It often seems to me that the business of being an artist is simply having a steady procession of good days. That includes being able to do something about the bad days when they come along... Read On

  • River's end
      August 3rd, 2001
  • This river, in all its greatness, has been an opportunity to confront shortage with an attempt at personal abundance. There have been lots of places here to ransack the mindscape. Read On

  • Tuktoyaktuk
      July 31st, 2001
  • Here in the Mackenzie Delta the wildlife enriches--Arctic terns, Loons, Scoters, Trumpeter swans. The tree-line ends and the tundra begins. At a deserted place called Reindeer Station where the reindeer experiment flourished in the early part of last century, we remain only briefly--repelled by a thundering herd of mosquitoes. Read On

  • Something's happening here
      July 27th, 2001
  • Over a hundred artists are making watercolors, acrylics, beadwork, jewelry, gloves and moccasins of beaver-down and musk ox wool. Sculptors are set apart in tents which swirl with soapstone-dust and whine with the unfamiliar sound of power tools. Read On

  • Pilgrim's Progress II
      July 24th, 2001
  • Observation is an art that's easy to lose--but a painting is, after all, what is to be seen. Something is gained by having all the time in the world. Contemplation is golden. Composition is king. Read On

  • Pilgrim's Progress
      July 20th, 2001
  • It's something to do with the acceptability of change. In the floating easel, work can take place during purposeful movement. The landscape and its various motifs unfold so there is not the inclination for one particular view. Read On

  • Three Miracles
      July 17th, 2001
  • I keep asking myself how do I convey this northern wind--the same that early explorers felt? What is the brush you use for "storm?" In my heart I know that these experiences are transferable to others. It's called "art," it's difficult, and it's timeless. Read On

  • Anticipation
      July 13th, 2001
  • We all know the feeling when looking at a work-in-progress or even a blank canvas. You have an idea how the forms and spaces will evolve, how a look or a feel will be. There's a sense of exploration about to happen, yes, but there's also the "rightness" of your particular process. Read On

  • Balancing act
      July 10th, 2001
  • Realistically, itís a tough world out there, and there'll be disappointments. Competition is deadly, and getting worse. The pursuit of a balance ought not to degrade one's passion or interfere with the necessary quiet focus. Read On

  • Dry Periods
      July 6th, 2001
  • Hold onto your seat--it has to be one of the following: Lack of desire. Self sabotage. Stale inspiration. Misguided inspiration. Creative inadequacy. Technical incompetence. Outside interference. Poisonous relationship. Talking too much. Listening too much. Artistic bankruptcy... Read On

  • Part-time artist
      July 3rd, 2001
  • Some people have done it. Perhaps they were cut out for it. Iíd say that in most cases they taught themselves some tricks... Read On

  • Time travel
      June 29th, 2001
  • Think of your project as an internal adventure but make sure your library card is up to date. Get lots of art materials in advance, particularly supports. You may plan on a format or a set, but be prepared to change your mind... Read On

  • You're Special
      June 26th, 2001
  • One by one I see everyone at close range. One by one I'm even more convinced. Extraordinary. Everybody here is a specialist. Read On

  • Panache
      June 22nd, 2001
  • The work speedily materializes in front of him, as if by some sort of magic it focuses into a state of being to the wonder of observers. Why is it, I've often asked, that guys like Don seem to "have it" while others stiffly struggle to fill their spaces? Read On

  • Contrarian
      June 19th, 2001
  • A contrarian is a person who bets on the opposite of the conventional wisdom. We really ought to be doing one thing--but very often our intuition or our perverse inclination is to do another. The habit can get us into a lot of trouble, interfere with our progress, even keep us poor. Read On

  • Finding spirit
      June 15th, 2001
  • I'm thinking of concepts like "struggle," "rebirth," "monumentality," "humility." There are hundreds of these words, and, whether you recognize them or not, they can be found in the crevices of your individual personality. Read On

  • Secrets of Success
      June 12th, 2001
  • In "Fahy's Pub and Undertakers" in Dingle Town, with a background of smoke and mirrors and Bob Dylan recordings, I'm lifting a Guinness with Seamus O'Mahoney. He's a retired art teacher, now a "water-dabbler," who has bicycled out here from Dublin. For some reason I mention my letter-writing activities and he says, "So what's the secret of art success?" Read On

  • Simplicity
      June 8th, 2001
  • There's something to be said for the simple solution. On the road I was on a campaign to "look three times, think twice, paint once." Here in this simple cottage I'm trying to think a bit and paint simply. Specifics? Read On

  • Alpine Meadows
      June 5th, 2001
  • It's something to do with the perfection of the moment... We all have them... It's about the rightness, the sort of organization or design of it all. I often think if an artist has ten good ones in a lifetime--that might be enough. Read On

  • Houses
      June 1st, 2001
  • "Home" is one of the basic elements of sentimentality. You can have the light-in-the-window, cozy kitsch, or a more subtle suggestion of the idea. In realism or abstraction it's a matter of walls, roof, windows, doors, but it symbolizes one of the three basic human needs--shelter. Read On

  • Authority
      May 25th, 2001
  • This pub has private stalls that fill with smoke from smoldering peat. When my bounce flash goes off the atmosphere electrifies and patrons look around corners to see what's happening. "What type of art do you prefer?" I ask. Read On

  • Heather Island
      May 22nd, 2001
  • I'm dealing with the limits of an island, the appeal of a contained landscape, the value of microcosm... The 8x10 is a convention which lends itself to the island's artifacts. Minor size for minor subjects. Read On

  • On Coole Lake
      May 18th, 2001
  • In watercolor, what is, is. It's carefully chosen by looking for a while at the condition, then a commitment to a complexity of Winsor blue, gamboge, burnt sienna, alizarin. With acrylic I'm too used to guessing wrong and adjusting later. There's a discipline in watercolor. Read On

  • The stage
      May 15th, 2001
  • Ancient limestone walls follow rolling contours in all directions. The fast-moving clouds seem to be below the horizon and the air is full of linnet's wings. I'm hunched beside the car, under the wind. A red-haired colleen with an oversized Irish wolfhound drops by to say hello. Read On

  • Observation
      May 11th, 2001
  • Observation: It's not important to some of us, but it's very important to a lot of us. Take the human head for example... Read On

  • Under the cherry
      May 8th, 2001
  • I'm marveling at the current phenomenon of plein air painting--the togetherness and yet the apartness. I see how the dynamic of a group gives security and a reason to work and remain focussed. Read On

  • The Big Picture
      May 4th, 2001
  • In life, in art, a major problem is failing to see the big picture. Individual parts may be just fine but the overall doesn't get off the ground. Together with your individual sensitivity and your own vision, what you're looking for is strength, pattern and character. We're talking art here... Read On

  • Random Reference
      May 1st, 2001
  • When you raise your camera to your eye in order to photograph a picturesque scene--the composition is run through the sieve of everything you know. Nothing wrong with that--but it's an idea from time to time to avoid the predictability of the sieve. Otherwise we just see things we know we can do. Read On

  • Wandering around
      April 27th, 2001
  • In a self-employed private studio application the artist wanders around and allows himself to be drawn to this or that in progress--or to start new projects as he sees fit. The best way to describe what happens is that you simply notice something--and an improvement comes to mind. Read On

  • Golden Day
      April 24th, 2001
  • Creativity is an organ that improves with use and when fully engaged is difficult to wear out or to get stopped. You put your heart into the adventure and try to keep making new demands on yourself. Read On

  • Vulnerability
      April 20th, 2001
  • We dream, conceive, plan, assemble, execute, and often distribute--with little or no help from anyone. Two or three failures in a row, in lifemanship or in our art, can depress and cause a setback. It's always seemed to me that a main part of our job is maintaining some sort of self-delusory defense. Read On

  • An artist's statement
      April 17th, 2001
  • Beginning with early critics such as John Ruskin, ("Modern Painters," 1843) a new language was created that became impressed with its own importance and gravity. It soon infected academia. Today, some of the more spectacular examples are in artist's statements. Read On

  • Getting a Grant
      April 13th, 2001
  • Sure, there are many who get the cash and make a significant contribution. The grant may even help to open doors to opportunities such as teaching or curating. But the rule is that it seldom helps them to become artists. For many it's the kiss of death. Why? Read On

  • Insights
      April 10th, 2001
  • Those who have read my book "The Painter's Keys" know that we workshoppers wander over subject matter like a rudderless ship. There's so much to learn. Lofty subjects such as inspiration are transformers into the esoterica of how one actually holds onto a brush. Here are a few of the insights from these exercises... Read On

  • Priorities
      April 6th, 2001
  • Many artists, it seems, drift blithely along giving equal value to a butterfly on a flower--and the state of our bank-balance or other practical concerns. We tend to live our lives as a series of undifferentiated experiences and happenings. Read On

  • What's going on here
      April 3rd, 2001
  • While it's great to go at our projects in concentrated leaps of action, and stick to them until they're signed--there's yet another way. Studios can be filled with works in progress; inventions in a state of development. Read On

  • Dealing with dealers
      March 30th, 2001
  • My idea was to be free to travel, keep stimulated, change if I felt like it, paint madly, and not be too concerned with what was selling. I wanted to be an island of my own dignity. Read On

  • Encounter with artists
      March 27th, 2001
  • It always strikes me that many artists are largely unprepared and have a sketchy idea of the practical stuff that is required if one would make a career in art. I mentioned that I thought proper dealers were a necessity and that 10% of the dealers sell 90% of the art. Read On

  • Triple-think
      March 23rd, 2001
  • Sure, there's a place for intuition and just letting flow--but there's also a need to bring in all of the strategy we can muster. I call it triple-think. Here are some examples... Read On

  • Character formation
      March 20th, 2001
  • I'm writing this letter from the location of the old railway station at Lake O'Hara in Canada's Rocky Mountains. This is where John Singer Sargent, the subject of my last letter, got off the train in 1916. Read On

  • Fresh at all costs
      March 16th, 2001
  • Sargent's surfaces give evidence of a dynamic activity where decisions are made during the struggle, and where no struggle is allowed to appear. Fresh at all costs. Quality is alive and well and hanging on walls in Seattle. Read On

  • Right brain, Left brain
      March 13th, 2001
  • I used to think that anybody planning to go to art school or contemplating a creative life ought first to take a hemispheric test. Many, I thought, would save themselves a lot of trouble if they found they were drawing on the wrong side of the brain. Read On

  • Tool time
      March 9th, 2001
  • The brush is, after all, the point of connection. It's the end of "you-the-artist" and the beginning of "you-the-thing-you-make." You may be the guide of the connection, but it's the place where the wheels hit the ground; where the needle's on the record. Read On

  • Easel
      March 6th, 2001
  • Easels are our main tools and a source of personal pride. A requirement is a steady unit that you can push against. The capability to tilt and crank are also handy. Read On

  • A Wing and a Prayer
      March 2nd, 2001
  • As a product of an art school I have a pretty good idea what art students are facing. I've noticed they can be divided into two camps--those who would be artistically literate--and those who would be artists. Read On

  • Reworking
      February 27th, 2001
  • It's often been said that writing is re-writing. Why then cannot painting be repainting? Because, for some silly reason--like a concert pianist's reason, we have a need to get it right. Read On

  • Triumph of the Will
      February 23rd, 2001
  • From time to time I've noticed that it's possible to will a work to be better than average. While normally dependent on the serendipitous flow of the muse--there are occasions when intensity and direction are an asset. I've always said that an artist requires an iron will and a butterfly mind. Read On

  • Quality Gnomes
      February 20th, 2001
  • The name of Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) may not be familiar to all, but in the early part of the last century he was perhaps England's greatest children's book illustrator. He painted masterful fantasies of gnomes, goblins, fairies, weird creatures, innocent and beautiful children. Read On

  • The Empire of Art
      February 16th, 2001
  • Unlike the Roman, the British, or any other Empires under the sun, the Empire of Art rises from grass roots just about everywhere. While its citizens speak a variety of tongues, they are understood pretty well universally. Read On

  • The Price of Things
      February 13th, 2001
  • There's some odd dynamics in the pricing of created works. It's useful for an artist to understand some of what's going on. Art doesn't necessarily follow the standards of supply and demand. Read On

  • On the Money
      February 9th, 2001
  • Live in your paint, attend to quality, and work like it's your last day in the studio. You'll get more joy and satisfaction when you manage your muse. Read On

  • Women in Art
      February 6th, 2001
  • Women now get going at any age. They can and do open their own doors. The expression of creativity is not the rare commodity it once was, nor is it the sinecure of men. Read On

  • Flat spots
      February 2nd, 2001
  • If you have abundant ideas that stretch to the horizon and all the energy and enthusiasm in the world to keep going on them until you drop--I recommend you don't waste your time reading this particular letter. Read On

  • Your Vision
      January 30th, 2001
  • Do you ever wander back to that time when you first started thinking about making art? Do you ever think of the vision you first had--how your art would be made, its themes, its look? How simple it all was then. Read On

  • Be here now
      January 23rd, 2001
  • Limitations become advantages and new and unfamiliar phenomena become fresh challenges. I have only this--and this day to do it. Come to think of it--this goes for pretty well any space. Read On

  • On Sleepy Lagoon
      January 19th, 2001
  • On the sleepy lagoon there's a kind of languid flow. It's a sort of "doesn't matter" feeling that permeates everything from when you get up to how you mix your colors. This casualness is in contrast to the home studio where busyness and frequent constipation are the rule. Read On

  • Habits of Intuition
      January 16th, 2001
  • Many artists know all about Intuition and depend on her for long-term and minute-to-minute guidance. Self-employed persons may even take her for granted. She's a beautiful partner who goes anywhere with you. Read On

  • Sanctuaries of sensitivity
      January 12th, 2001
  • A flight of plover on yellow sand reminds us that some things are still natural. Life beneath the water goes on the same--opening a world of wonder and specificity. While artists can retreat into these sanctuaries there is still the dance of humanity... It seems more than can be easily handled or ingested. Read On

  • Brotherhood and Sisterhood
      January 9th, 2001
  • It's not only that there's a brotherhood and sisterhood out there, but the phenomenon is without the constraint of time. It's a plenum of inspiration and working-out from time immemorial... Read On

  • Bonfire of the Vanities
      January 5th, 2001
  • A man phoned while I was working in the studio the other day and announced that he had bought one of my paintings in a Salvation Army Thrift Store. To add insult to injury he told me he paid $7 for it. Read On

  • Mentoring
      January 2nd, 2001
  • Mentoring art is a delicate art. For me it has been a bit of a study. It's not like demonstrating a DVD or checking someone out at the controls of a 747. There's another ego in the way. Read On




TWL Letters

Be witness to Robert Genn's abiding faith in the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Artists and you will be informed, inspired, and motivated. On first publication of this book November 27, 2009, Robert wrote: "It's my sincere wish that you get real and lasting value from it. It's your book, really, and I'd like to thank everyone in our Painter's Keys Community for the inspiration that makes these Twice-Weekly Letters happen."

Temporarily out of stock

"Thank-you for your friendship." (Robert Genn)

The Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters, 960 pages--ten years of over a thousand unabridged letters including an 82 page index. Six by nine inches and more than two inches thick, this beautiful book is hardbound Red Cayenne with a separate dust-jacket, a red ribbon, and shipped in a custom protective book-box.

Last modified: Feb 26, 2017