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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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2004 Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

  • Susan Sontag
      December 31st, 2004
  • Susan Sontag was my heroine because she was passionate about life and art and spent a lifetime trying to figure them out. Susan Sontag was brilliant from the get go, often controversial and always uncompromising in her intent to understand. On Tuesday Susan died in New York from complications of acute myelogenous leukemia. She was 71... Read On

  • Making plans
      December 28th, 2004
  • You may not be the kind of artist who makes New Year's resolutions, but you may be the kind who makes plans. Last year at this time I invited artists to send us, in confidence, resolutions for 2004. Our agreement was that I'd file them and ask Andrew to return them to you on New Year's Eve. There are 611 ready to go out on Friday night. It's my sincere wish that you're not disappointed... Read On

  • Haddon Sundblom
      December 24th, 2004
  • Haddon Sundblom (1899-1976) was Coke's most prolific artist, painting subjects that ranged from bathing beauties to soda-fountain scenes. They are actively collected today. During his peak period in the 1940s, he produced half of all Coke's advertising art--billboards, point-of-sale, the back cover of every December issue of The National Geographic... Read On

  • Santa Claus
      December 21st, 2004
  • Because situations are generally in a state of change, long-term contracts can be troublesome. For artists and dealers an understanding is better than a rigid set of clauses. It's better to go for mutual caring and try to prove it up with regular deeds. Extreme generosity when written into a contract is called a Santa Clause... Read On

  • Let there be music
      December 17th, 2004
  • It could be any music. High brow, low brow. Music gives a key to what art is, to what art can do. For my desert island I'll include the Sibelius Violin Concerto (D major, Opus 64). I'll choose Pinchas Zukerman to play it. I'll have to say it's not the notes. It's the spirit of the thing. As Zukerman says... Read On

  • It's our behavior
      December 14th, 2004
  • A lot of this behavior has to do with what these artists have to say. I recognize that in certain environments it's difficult to keep optimistic, to keep a smiley face. That's one of the reasons why thriving artists tend to avoid certain environments. Because we're a most specialized type of creator-entrepreneur, we have to develop specialized techniques to maintain our rights-of-way... Read On

  • Art buyers
      December 10th, 2004
  • These days there are five main types of art buyer. Some are a combination of more than one type. While it's not something that you must make a study of, it's often useful to recognize these birds when you see them in the field. Also, it's good to know that they have habitats--some dealers attract or generate one type and not another. This can be a factor in a gallery's, and hence an artist's success. The main types are collector, investor, decorator, believer and moneyburner... Read On

  • A small spirit
      December 7th, 2004
  • ...an eight-year-old pointed out that I'd be better off if I cleaned up the place. Another from this group said that my habit of hanging on to old and useless brushes was "nice but dumb." Children give us pause to think, and as these ones were going out my door I was actually thinking about cleaning up my act. It's something about innocence and uncluttered honesty... Read On

  • Jean Jacques Rousseau
      December 3rd, 2004
  • It's because Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) (not Henri--Le Douanier--Rousseau, the primitive painter) was one of the most valuable creative thinkers of all time. This unsettled and often irrational writer had a direct effect on the sentiments that we express today--sentiments that many artists stated in those letters... Read On

  • Why landscape?
      November 30th, 2004
  • I've noticed that some universities these days are still announcing that painting is dead and that landscape painting is particularly dead. It is, however, not something that I've noticed. Here's my shot at why landscapes are likely to be with us for a while yet, and why I'll probably continue working with them: Read On

  • Thanksgiving
      November 26th, 2004
  • Two thousand years ago Cicero noted that gratitude is the parent of all other virtues. At this time of Thanksgiving we might take the opportunity to return our blessings. This may mean picking up the phone and calling a young person--friend or relative--or perhaps the child of a friend, and just touching bases... Read On

  • Extreme painting
      November 23rd, 2004
  • Try squeezing out four times your regular amount of colour. Dig out that giant brush you've never used. What's wrong with dribbling anyway? Who said you couldn't flick a ball of paint across the studio? What else is there around here? A good elbow, a whole sweater, the dog's tail? Read On

  • Times are bad
      November 19th, 2004
  • Maybe it's always bad times for artists. But why do some of us see a half-full glass--while others see a half-empty? Attitude. I'll swear on a stack of Lexus brochures that these times aren't bad. Yesterday, another artist wrote that her art group was about to discuss ‘overcoming the current bad times.' She wanted to know if I had any <em>guidelines</em>... Read On

  • Digital documentation
      November 16th, 2004
  • Like it or not, digital is here to stay. Only a few years ago publishers were telling us to send slides--now they are insisting on digital. It's become such a big part of the art game that it's difficult to see how we got along without it. Read On

  • Payday
      November 12th, 2004
  • You might get commission percentages and paydays in writing. That's about it. You only need a contract if the jungle telegraph tells you that there's been a problem in the past. If you do have to make a contract--give it a time frame. You can live with anything provided you know when you can get out. For the most part gallery owners are decent folks... Read On

  • Am I plagiarizing?
      November 9th, 2004
  • What you're doing is called "appropriation." It's one of the least offensive of the copying arts. Outright plagiarism and counterfeiting can get you into the slammer--but you should be free for a while yet--providing you don't wander into exactly copying some dude, dead or alive. Legally, your painting needs to be 10% different from that which you are imitating. That's hard to quantify but you should keep it in mind... Read On

  • Witches' brew
      November 5th, 2004
  • 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... Read On

  • Big problems
      November 2nd, 2004
  • Painters sometimes run into problems when they attempt larger works. This goes for artists who transpose smalls into bigs, as well as those who make bigs for their own sake. For many, bigs and smalls can appear to be the work of separate artists. Spontaneity and simplicity in the small gives way to complexity and labor in the large... Read On

  • Feelings of control
      October 29th, 2004
  • Studio happiness seems to have something to do with the levels of complexity that engage and challenge. This complexity in turn leads to a type of concentration that keeps you on form, inside your processes and on the cusp of "the joy mode." Read On

  • Levels of complexity
      October 26th, 2004
  • Studio happiness seems to have something to do with the levels of complexity that engage and challenge. This complexity in turn leads to a type of concentration that keeps you on form, inside your processes and on the cusp of "the joy mode." Read On

  • Golden Girl
      October 21st, 2004
  • On Wednesday a "Golden Girl" dropped by. Teyjah McAren is an acrylic specialist who lectures and does workshops. As her brand happens to be Golden Acrylics--the one I mostly use--I was interested. I've always had a lot of respect for their standards of quality and pioneering research. Read On

  • Bleep
      October 19th, 2004
  • On Friday we went to see What the Bleep Do We Know? It's part documentary, part entertainment, part lecture. After being recommended by so many fellow artists, I knew it would be like no other film. Read On

  • Howard Pyle
      October 15th, 2004
  • Howard Pyle (1853-1911) came to New York from Wilmington, Delaware, in 1873. Pyle arrived at the right time and instinctively recognized the power of pictures for everyone," says Pyle's biographer, Henry Pitz. Beyond his success in magazine and book illustration Pyle had a large influence on a generation of American artists. Read On

  • Imagine
      October 12th, 2004
  • Open, double-decker buses and tour-boats are filled with visitors who crane their necks and video the freshly polished skyscrapers. It's a big parade, a monument, a living circle. It's a simple memorial in Strawberry Fields that has only one word: "Imagine." Read On

  • Burton Silverman
      October 8th, 2004
  • Coming from a background of illustration, Silverman, an artist's artist, has found a unique place in the realist revival. To read his partly biographical <em>The Art of Burton Silverman</em> you might think he's still fighting the art-wars of the sixties. He rails against what he considers the lightweight nature of modernism and wonders where his own place might be in the final tally. Read On

  • New York bronze
      October 5th, 2004
  • Across from the Frick Collection on 5th Avenue on the edge of Central Park between 70th and 71st streets there's a small monument dedicated to Richard Morris Hunt, the one who designed the base for Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty. Read On

  • From the loft
      October 1st, 2004
  • It's an ancient four-story walk-up in lower Manhattan. It could have been Moe Levy's Underwear Manufactory where children worked pedal Singers and turned out thirty pieces an hour. Today it's a trendy loft, high-ceilinged--north and south light at either end, a huge golden space in the middle of the eye-festival--the greatest art-city in the world... Read On

  • Demo devils
      September 28th, 2004
  • I've been curious about demos too. My apparent relaxation is just a facade. But doing them gives a few clues to the nature of creativity. The elements you question--expectations, need for private pondering, time constraints, over the shoulder discomfort all add stress to the job. Furthermore, as every demo-doer knows, having to talk about what you are doing tends to derail the flow. Read On

  • Pattern language
      September 24th, 2004
  • Paintings, like buildings, are an environment. They are either successful or unsuccessful. Some of the elements of what he calls "pattern language" may be hard-wired into our brains. Like the middle C at the end of a symphony, we need them. Read On

  • Palette talk
      September 21st, 2004
  • These days there's an almost religious enthusiasm for gray palettes. Painters have rediscovered that a neutral gray mixing area helps in sorting tone values as well as determining hue and chroma. Gray palettes don't dazzle--they may even rest the eyes. Read On

  • One to another
      September 17th, 2004
  • Like a lot of us I get quite a few calls from beginning artists in need of advice. Sometimes it starts off with a technical question that leads to larger, more motivational questions. Yesterday a neighbor lady, Carmen, phoned and wanted "general, overall mentoring" leading to "guidance on what she wanted to do." Read On

  • Vagabond painter
      September 14th, 2004
  • On Sunday John Pryce dropped by. The itinerant Ontarian was a long way from home and wanted to know if there was anything to paint around here. He wasn't looking for food, a bath or anything. It didn't take us long to find something that was right for him. Read On

  • The power of one
      September 10th, 2004
  • A few minutes ago I was on the telephone with a kid who wanted to know if my daughter Sara and I painted the same things and in the same way. I set him straight. Apart from the golden rule of mutual support, we're independent. Read On

  • In the details
      September 7th, 2004
  • On Thursday night my buddy Don Getz dropped in. These days Don is hanging his hat in Louisville, Kentucky, but most of the time he seems to be wandering around doing his travel journals--Canada, Maine, Adirondacks, Blue Ridge Mountains, New Mexico, France... Read On

  • Ordering chaos
      September 3rd, 2004
  • Yesterday I was being curious again about one of my little habits--a habit that some artists might relate to. I like to start a painting off in a mess and then try to harness and control the thing. It's appealing to me to make something unruly into something ordered. Please don't mention this to anyone--right now I'm compulsive about it. Read On

  • Why people steal art
      August 31st, 2004
  • A few years ago a thief looked in a gallery window and saw what he thought was a painting by a relatively expensive, dead artist. Using an accomplice to distract the dealer, he grabbed it and fled. It turned out to be one of mine. I know the disappointment he must have felt because the painting soon appeared in a nearby dumpster. Read On

  • On being casual
      August 27th, 2004
  • On Monday I was a member of a jury. All of the entries, 777 of them, had been previously juried by slide by a single outsider juror. The selected show of 55 paintings was now hung and five of us had to decide which were to be in the money. Read On

  • Clouds
      August 24th, 2004
  • These days the wind blows on this island from the northwest, fluttering hard the worldwide flags of the beach-cottagers. Clouds form over the distant coastal ranges, building among the highest peaks. Then they move out into the great gulf and rise to pass overhead. Effortlessly they form and reform... Read On

  • Important stuff
      August 20th, 2004
  • It's early Tuesday morning and the studio computer is ringing like a Wal-Mart cash register. Artists are sending "Eyeku" to one another and copying to us. I'm thinking of young Basho, the first Haiku writer, cross-legged on his tatami. He was probably wondering who might ever see his latest effort... Read On

  • A last look
      August 17th, 2004
  • Today I'm reviewing a system for nailing down my seeing. I call it "Eyeku." Off and on I've filled a few trip-books and ring-binders with cryptic haiku-like items. Sometimes I've used a chiming watch to prompt the opportunity... Read On

  • Whistler's father
      August 13th, 2004
  • The psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow in his studies of "self-actualizing people" made some interesting discoveries about the fathers of eminent offspring, particularly sons. It seems that certain dads are perceived as "not successful." These dads are not necessarily losers, but rather men who risked much and fell short... Read On

  • The decisive moment
      August 10th, 2004
  • Last Tuesday, at home in the south of France, Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the world's best-known photographers, died. He was 95... Read On

  • Developing ideas
      August 6th, 2004
  • On Wednesday Norma Laming of London, UK, wrote: "I need help with 'developing ideas.' I have to show I can do this in my portfolio to apply for art school and although it is an admission of a lack of imagination to ask, I really need a structure to help me. I have to do more than supply completed works... Read On

  • Let's do it
      August 3rd, 2004
  • Then there were others who, often through trial and error, were in a position to provide some of those answers. In many there was the theme of "just do it." The truth, surprising to some, is that the business of doing it comes before the business of being any good at it... Read On

  • Self talk
      July 30th, 2004
  • On Tuesday, after our mojo session, Gail Henderson wrote: "I've been searching for information on the mind workings of artists and trying to determine the kinds of 'self talk' artists might use--consciously or subconsciously. It seems to me such thinking processes are significant in problem solving. ('Self talk' in thinking and practice is an important component in education where we guide students in how to think). Do you have suggestions on artist self talk? Read On

  • Get your Mojo
      July 27th, 2004
  • 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." Read On

  • Ladies' day
      July 23rd, 2004
  • Last night, while drifting off, I was thinking about a small notice in the December, 1922 "Studio" magazine I'd been reading: "The election of Mrs. Swynnerton marks a new and important departure from Royal Academy tradition. The candidature of women artists has been persistently discountenanced. In yielding to public opinion and falling into line with other leading art societies the Academy has, we think, acted wisely." Read On

  • Leaderlessness
      July 20th, 2004
  • While boating near our local tidal bars we watch flocks of sandpipers flying and moving together like giant amoebas. Changing, reforming, glittering as they make their turns--gray, flashing silver, then black against the blue as they shoot up to dodge the falcons--the bird-clouds themselves appearing as intelligent beings. Read On

  • Paint by seeing paint
      July 16th, 2004
  • ...If you're still with me, let's get specific: Say you were to put down a splodge of bright red in the middle of an appropriately primed canvas. For a moment, perhaps a nanosecond, you ask, "What's next?" You may, for example, be making your next colour choice. Let's choose gray... Read On

  • Flow blocker
      July 13th, 2004
  • ...These sorts of requests can be "flow blockers." Even in the thinking stage they can cause anxiety. Ideally, the painting process is like a train--one work leads to the next and the next--managed by you--the engineer. Now and then a good derailment shakes things up and can result in a pile of new insights--but you don't necessarily want that when you're already thundering down a clear track... Read On

  • The interrupted life
      July 9th, 2004
  • The idea of nice clear times of solitude when you can get deeply and privately into the joy of work for hours or days on end--maybe doesn't exist. Much of the time this studio is as busy as an advertising agency on deadline. Then I was realizing that many respectable artists run complex businesses, farms, even empires from their easels. Read On

  • A painting's progress
      July 6th, 2004
  • Chuck and Geraldine purchased a 24"x 30" painting of mine in 1973. Chuck, an artist in wood, made a beautiful mahogany box for it and shipped it by Greyhound to John and Annie, Geraldine's father and stepmother, as an anniversary gift. Read On

  • Finding yourself again
      July 2nd, 2004
  • Yesterday Ana Raquel wrote: "I grew up in an environment that did not stimulate creative development. Nevertheless, in adolescence I was a prolific writer. But suddenly I stopped. I remember thinking that what I wrote wasn't any good, and that I shouldn't write any more. I put everything I wrote into the garbage. I don't know why. Now ten years have passed and I haven't written anything... Read On

  • The greatest dilemma
      June 29th, 2004
  • Yesterday Carol Currie wrote: "My greatest dilemma is whether I should pursue studies at university. I am a self-taught artist and doing well on my own. My next step as an artist is to work on enough pieces to apply for galleries. Currently I'm 25% there. I guess the 'father' in me says I need to have a back-up plan, and for me that would be teaching art at college or university level... Read On

  • There is always now
      June 25th, 2004
  • Every time one of my letters disappears from this box, mail comes back with topic suggestions. I really appreciate these ideas. One of the most frequently requested is "procrastination"--a subject of which I'm proud to be an authority. Just as it takes a somewhat recovered alcoholic to stand up in an AA meeting, I'm your guy... Read On

  • The Travelkeeper
      June 22nd, 2004
  • A recent letter from Sandra Chantry explained: "My project is to paint my way around the world, thus combining my interests in observation, people watching, and travel. Perhaps I should add exploring! So far I've managed St Petersburg and part of the Baltic, Thailand, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and now Venice. My preference is really for sketching and drawing. I love to draw buildings, exploring the shapes and spaces the architect has managed to achieve... Read On

  • More Mastery
      June 18th, 2004
  • My last letter brought a volume of correspondence regarding George Leonard's book Mastery. Quite a few artists are apparently reading it right now. In it he gives five "master keys" to the achieving of mastery--Instruction, Practice, Surrender, Intentionality, and the Edge. The first three are what might be expected from a Zen master... Read On

  • Mastery
      June 15th, 2004
  • Why do some achieve mastery and others not? How is it that some "get good" and others never seem to? For many of us who teach or practice art--this is a question that we ask every day--about others and about ourselves. With all the interest in formal art education, workshops, self-promotion, sales, and other secondary art activities, there is after all, no greater value than simply becoming a "master." How does this happen? In my experience it largely occurs when the artist is alone. It's a function of individual character. Read On

  • Sticky
      June 11th, 2004
  • ...At the same time, some artists produce art that can also be said to be "sticky." A lot of the stickiness of art has to do with sentiment. However, in this area an artist has to be careful. A cheesy light in a cottage window, a cute dog or a sleek chick or other slick image may grab folks, but you also have to think about the staying power of such devices... Read On

  • I'm a fraud
      June 8th, 2004
  • It's called the "Imposter syndrome." Some psychologists at Georgia State University identified it about forty years ago. As many as thirty percent of the population have it—and even though they may be high achievers, recognized in their fields, even famous, they constantly live under the cloud that they are scamming others. They persist in feeling that they are generally getting away with something that they don't deserve. Apparently women get it worse than men, and it's darned hard to shake. Read On

  • Reverse mentoring
      June 4th, 2004
  • These days there's a new trend in some of the big corporations. It's called "reverse mentoring." The top brass and middle managers are being actively coached by employees half their ages. Companies have discovered that interaction with younger people gives older folks a wiser grounding in the real world. There's another pay-off as well--more cooperation between the generations. It's a two-way-street. Read On

  • Choose your archetype
      June 1st, 2004
  • As soon as you enter the world of fairy tales or myths, you become aware of recurring types of characters. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung called these characters "archetypes." He felt that the human race had a shared heritage and a collective unconsciousness of understood characters that acted in a certain way. Myths held important keys to the understanding of why we live and act the way we do. Read On

  • Going for the light
      May 28th, 2004
  • I used to know a photographer by the name of Roloff Beny. Roloff was responsible for a dozen big-format coffee-table books. "Persia, Bridge of Turquoise," was well known, as well as his famous, "To Every Thing There is a Season." Roloff picked an area and went through it thoroughly. A friend of the Shah of Iran, he once took a red-carpeted year to travel that country in his Land Rover. Read On

  • Finding Walter Phillips
      May 25th, 2004
  • ...In 1929 Walter Phillips sat where I am. At that time the place was a summer destination accessed by canoe and gas-boat. Here, Phillips painted a watercolour of a backlit pine clinging to rocks at the water's edge. Today the pine is gone--replaced by others just as picturesque, but the painting lives on... Read On

  • Understanding studio stress
      May 21st, 2004
  • ...Many artists find that confident attention to a doable process is in itself the therapy that reduces stress. While it's been my observation that beginning artists often have "art stress," this is another matter and comes with the territory. Art stress tends to dissipate as confidence grows--until that wonderful day when full competency appears and the artist works joyfully and stress free. Only one problem--that day never arrives... Read On

  • The sewing box
      May 18th, 2004
  • ...One of the findings that surprised me in our recent survey of "Nurture vs. Nature" was the input of grandparents. Time and again artists mentioned support and encouragement from folks beyond mom and dad... Read On

  • Mother's day
      May 14th, 2004
  • The day before yesterday my mother died. She was one month short of her 90th birthday. It had been expected--she went peacefully at home. My mom was born in Huddersfield, England. Her father was killed while trying to take a bridge in Nieuwpoort, Belgium in 1917. By 1920, Grandma and her four young children were on a boat heading for a new life in Canada. Read On

  • Your parents' dreams
      May 11th, 2004
  • Yesterday a friend phoned and brought my attention to a study done at the Harvard Medical Center. It seems that nurture, not nature, is the big factor in the making of creative genius. Talent and genius are not inherited. Read On

  • How art heals
      May 7th, 2004
  • Yesterday Diana Miller-Pierce of Fort Wayne, Indiana wrote: "As a professional artist and practicing psychotherapist I'm particularly interested in the healing aspects of art. I hear from my clients a yearning to create in some manner. I'm wondering if in creativity they might experience the healing they need. Art therapy seems to me to have the potential to be the most powerful and far-reaching work. Read On

  • Circadian rhythms in art
      May 4th, 2004
  • The activities of most plants and animals are timed to the cycle of day and night. These natural rhythms are called circadian rhythms. The most obvious example is the sleep cycle... Read On

  • Reclaim the management
      April 30th, 2004
  • Funny though, when painters ask how often one should change their brushes, I'm sometimes thinking they really ought to be asking other questions. Like how the management team can be revitalized. That's one of the big questions. How can I get better quality stuff coming out of this studio? How can I get my little solar system to be even more highly evolved? How can I prevent the blockage of my creative sun? Read On

  • Cottage industry
      April 27th, 2004
  • ...A lot of what we artists do is a flashback to the earlier cottage days. There are some advantages. Cottage work gets us off the streets and out of the towers and factories. We may choose to live a more rural and quiet life where work can be done at our own speed. We can build ourselves a sacrosanct space where there's freedom to grow... Read On

  • A visit with Turner
      April 23rd, 2004
  • Depending on your point of view, he was either one of the world's most important painters, or the original amateur. J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) influenced many artists, particularly the impressionists. (Monet and Pissarro were knocked over by his work) His paintings of luminous vapor have etched their way into the popular imagination. Read On

  • Veduta ideata
      April 20th, 2004
  • ...A veduta ideata is a realistically conceived scene that contains wholly imaginary elements. It's an Italian word that originally meant paintings of non-existent dungeons, or well-known buildings transferred from one city to another. Canaletto and Piranesi pioneered the form in the 16th Century. These days there's all manner of visual morphing--insect beings, Martians and transformers acting and reacting in artificial environments. Veduta ideata is alive and well and living in video... Read On

  • Preparing for solo shows
      April 16th, 2004
  • Yesterday Catherine Jo Morgan of Clarkesville, GA, wrote: "As soon as I finish a piece, it has a gallery eagerly waiting to receive it. Whoosh. I photograph and ship it. Big checks are coming in regularly from galleries selling my work to eager collectors. But every year or two, a gallery gives me a solo show. The show has a series of works--at least twenty. The works enhance each other's power by being together. A synergy is created. Read On

  • Attitude of the easel
      April 13th, 2004
  • Standing defiantly at the easel has not always been my bag. I'm generally a sitter. But last night, hand on hip, I was flashing my brush like a sword and got to thinking about my various easel attitudes. Aircraft, balloon, horseback, car-seat, car-roof, bicycle, motorcycle, art-dog, bed, as well as all kinds of boats and other floaters. All these contrivances and odd locations came with their own nuance of attitude. Read On

  • Some ways with gradations
      April 9th, 2004
  • Thanks for that Kelly. Whether you call them gradations, ramps, or blends, and whether they're big or small, they're one of the most valuable visual devices. The simplest system for large acrylic gradations is to pre-mix two colours representing the extremes of the desired gradation. Using yogurt cups, make them slightly more dilute than normal, or add retarder. Work fast. Establish both ends of the gradation with a big brush and then feather wet into wet in the middle. Read On

  • Re-priming used canvases
      April 6th, 2004
  • Early this morning Nancy Bradford of Scottsdale, Arizona wrote: "I have many old oils-on-canvas that I would like to paint over and use again. Can I use gesso to do this? If I plan to sell a painting painted over a painting, can I do that, or would it affect the quality of my piece? I want to proceed correctly." Read On

  • New studio tips
      April 2nd, 2004
  • Silversmith Bob Gould and painter Melanie Peter wrote yesterday: "We have the luxury of designing a shop-studio from scratch. The plan is for a two-story rectangle approximately 18' x 24.' The upstairs painting studio is for individual use and for teaching classes in portraiture and still life for up to four students. It would have a shed roof sloping up to the north to around 12 feet off the floor. Read On

  • Notan
      March 30th, 2004
  • Notan is a Japanese word that means "lightness-darkness." It represents one of the basic principles that help compositions stick to the wall. Notan has nothing to do with local or chosen colour. It's the ability to see things in terms of black and white, and to consequently build strength in imagery. When compositions work in black and white--they work. Read On

  • Extraordinary artist
      March 26th, 2004
  • Artists write to say that they can do it one day and not the next. Simple as the problem may sound, it has always been a great curiosity to me. Some time ago I invented a method called "IAEAS." It sounds Zeus-like, like a Greek god, and in a way it is. It stands for the "I'm An Extraordinary Artist System." Before you turn me in, let me explain: Read On

  • Elegance
      March 23rd, 2004
  • The idea of elegance is important to the work of many artists. I like my work to have what I call an "EE"--an Element of Elegance. I consciously look for opportunities for it and try to put it in. Very often it's simply an exaggeration or an extension of an existing part or parts of a composition. As well as giving a special attractiveness to a work, it's a useful tool for unification and design control. Read On

  • New York Art Fairs
      March 19th, 2004
  • It's the weekend of the Armory Show and Scope. "New York is home to more collectors, galleries, critics and artists than any other city in the world," says the bumf. There are 175 galleries represented at the Armory, the historic and famous "International Fair of New Art." What we see this year are lots of Cibachromes; porn stuff, heroine chic, computer art. Lots of neon, embroidered, painted, screened, printed text using the "f" word. Read On

  • Graduation
      March 16th, 2004
  • Yesterday Doug Gibson wrote: "I'm graduating shortly with a BFA--major in painting. The university is strong on conceptual and weak on technique. I got a lot of academics, students and profs mad at me because I reject obfuscation, i.e., artspeak. I came to realize the only art they taught was how to justify the objects they made. I'm not so sure they even understand the artspeak they use. I used the 'Emperor's New Clothes' in a painting to criticize art criticism. Read On

  • Caricature
      March 12th, 2004
  • In 1926 a young man by the name of Al Hirschfeld sketched a caricature of an actor on a theatre program while attending a New York performance. A friend convinced him to copy it onto a clean sheet of paper and submit it to a newspaper. Thus was born one of the great caricaturists--more than 7000 published drawings, and a career that lasted until his death at 99 in 2003. Hirschfeld, who studied art in Paris and New York, had noted how sunlight bleached out colour and turned people into what he called "walking line drawings." Read On

  • Fine arts school
      March 9th, 2004
  • Eight years ago a group of parents spearheaded a movement to add a fine arts curriculum to one of our schools. This was to include visual art, drama, dance and musical theatre--at the grade one to seven level. Eventually, the school board decided to let it happen. Parents slept in a lineup for six nights to get their kids registered. I knew it was going to be a good thing--I'd always noticed that there were special kids in the regular system that couldn't get enough arts guidance. Read On

  • Toni Onley (1928-2004)
      March 5th, 2004
  • Last Sunday afternoon at 1:34 my friend Toni Onley died. After a big bounce his 30-year-old Lake Buccaneer amphibian nosed into the river. He was alone. Maybe it was a heart attack. Maybe he hit a stick. There'll be an inquest. Read On

  • Art junkie
      March 2nd, 2004
  • ...They say that if you wake up in the morning looking for a cigarette, you're addicted. Quite a few creators--not all--fit the profile that Marilyn describes. Further, it seems there's often a relationship between our feelings of success and some sort of addictive behavior. But unlike other habits that may threaten health and happiness, this condition might just be good for you... Read On

  • Community
      February 27th, 2004
  • ...With the healthy and ongoing democratization of art, we can expect a continued harvest. In the century just past, we celebrated nonconformity. We also celebrated celebrity. Sometimes I think we are back again in a century of private art for joy--of "art for art's sake." Out here on the prairie the art spirit seems to be blowing on the wind. Read On

  • Workshop
      February 24th, 2004
  • On Saturday and Sunday I conducted an acrylic workshop. Seventeen painters in all stages--eager, shiny faces at 10 a.m.--folks who could easily be doing something else. Artists come to workshops with different expectations. Some are clean blackboards on which an instructor may choose to write. Others arrive with a complex of previously tested processes and systems--often bubbling with fine ideas and a unique style force. Read On

  • The mystery of motivation
      February 20th, 2004
  • Yesterday Ruth Merrow-Smith of Porte Gerin, France, wrote with the following puzzle: "We have been back from California, Venice and Cornwall for three weeks now. It was much deserved time off as my husband Julian had just finished a large commission for the Queen Mary 2. There was much excited talk about all the paintings he wanted to do as soon as he returned. Since we have been back, despite commissions needing to be finished and a gallery needing to be filled, Julian has still not picked up a paintbrush. Read On

  • Principles of Pricing Art
      February 17th, 2004
  • Like politics and religion, it's perhaps an indelicate subject, but somebody has to talk about it. How to price your work? How and when to raise your prices? What are the mysterious and peculiar principles behind the pricing of art? And how do you build a sensible pricing policy that you can live with--one that will serve you well in all of your seasons? Fact is that art, particularly rare and hand-made art, doesn't price out in the same way as donuts. It needs to be somewhat inflationary, have the slight patina of investment, and yet have perceived value for the type of art and the life-station of the artist. Read On

  • Something to get on with
      February 13th, 2004
  • When I was a boy my dad owned a sign shop. There were four employees: Nort, Mort, Phil and Bert. Each had their specialty--show cards, banners, silk screen, illustration. It seems my dad was always walking around and asking, "Do you have something to get on with?" Dad lived in fear that one or the other would run out of something to do. Read On

  • Success in art
      February 10th, 2004
  • Hardly an hour goes by without an email that uses the word "success." I've come to realize it means a lot of different things to different artists. Some consider simply feeling good about themselves to be the mark of success. Many get the good feeling just by producing a decent watercolour. Others think that success is wrapped up in something like a Porsche 911 Turbo. Read On

  • Die Happy
      February 6th, 2004
  • In 1960 Henry Miller wrote Paint as You Like and Die Happy. Noel Young, his publisher, gathered paintings from the far corners-- watercolours, gouache, sketches, drawings--most of them gifted or bartered to his many friends. The book has a bit of a cult following and has gone through several editions. Miller actually painted "on the side" for about fifty years. Read On

  • Optimize potential
      February 3rd, 2004
  • On the day of return from cruising in southern climes I turned to the challenges presented by previous trips. The reference and ideas from more recent travels will bubble away in the holding tank. So I was back up at Yoho Park and thinking about the Northern Rockies. Read On

  • Sham
      January 30th, 2004
  • When I was at the Los Angeles Art Center my friend Tom Bizzini used to say: "Fine art is a sham." It was a popular sentiment around that workmanlike, survival-of-the-fittest, quality-counts school. In those days it seemed that there were lots of artists who were "putting in a nickel and trying to get a dollar tune." Same as today. Read On

  • Of Audubon and birds
      January 27th, 2004
  • I'm laptopping you from a quiet nook in the garden of Audubon House, a small museum in Key West, Florida. In April of 1832 Audubon stayed in this house and counted nineteen species right here in this garden. He also painted some of the locals including the Roseate Spoonbill (I saw five of these overhead this morning), the Brown Pelican and the Great White Heron. Now the evening sky glows and beyond the quay pelicans are diving in the last light. Read On

  • Cruise ship art
      January 23rd, 2004
  • If you've ever taken a cruise you may be familiar with Park West. Compared to Sothebys and Christies, with about 50 auctions a year between them, Park West holds 300 a week. "We're the biggest art auctioneers in the world," says our host Tom. He's a good-looking guy--white shirt, tie... Read On

  • Digital art
      January 20th, 2004
  • ...As artists we soon find out that the business of creation is a bit of a mystery. How does the human brain cross this with that? And what miraculous digital code can make something into something else? And by the way, what can it do for me? If you're in the mood, I invite you to share your images with us and then we'll publish a selection. If possible, please include your notes on methodology. Read On

  • Canned virtuosity
      January 16th, 2004
  • ...Last night I was pushing some of my recent Morocco and Tunis photos through Photoshop. Smart blur, watercolour, movie grain and other choices produce remarkable images with the flick of a mouse. Sometimes less is more... Read On

  • Virtuosity
      January 13th, 2004
  • All through his demonstration Harry Heine keeps saying things like "This might not work out," and "I'm not sure about this." At the same time you have the idea that he knows exactly what he's doing. Harry's a watercolourist, famous for his marine subjects. His knowledge of boats is legendary. He's been at it all his life. He puddles it on with a great big brush. He slants his paper so gravity is his helper. He thinks ahead for the big picture. Read On

  • Vermeer's camera
      January 9th, 2004
  • If you ever feel guilty about using a projector, consider this--you're in great company. Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) was born and lived in Delft, Holland. A picture dealer, he was never able to support himself from his own art. Perhaps he had a patron at one time, but it's known that he lived in the home of his wife's mother and raised a house full of kids at a time of war, debt and not much interest in art... Read On

  • Easel living
      January 6th, 2004
  • "Easel living" is not necessarily easy living. It's a low-tech station where toil makes miracles happen. Like a lot of the important places, little things mean a lot. Light, music, handedness, ready ideas and subject matter all play a part. Whether your easel is in the bush or the basement--it holds a promise of well-being and self-sufficiency. With all of the frustrations to be had at an easel, there's also a cozy smugness. Your easel is the nuclear sun of an uncommon universe. Read On

  • The Curator
      January 2nd, 2004
  • "Curator," one of the commonest words in the art vocabulary is hardly mentioned in the art handbooks. According to the Oxford Dictionary it's derived from the noun 'curate'—officially "the assistant to a priest or a clergyman appointed to take charge of a parish during the incapacity or suspension of an incumbent." In historic law a curator was a guardian of "a minor or a lunatic." 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