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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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2007 Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

  • Creative agnosia
      December 28th, 2007
  • Agnosia is a clinical condition involving the loss of ability to recognize objects, persons, sounds, shapes, or smells. It's usually associated with brain injury or neurological illness. It seems that a degree of agnosia exists in all of us. Mere knowledge of habitual and repetitious agnosiac conditions can help repair defective neural routes. Read On

  • Marvelous Confabulation
      December 25th, 2007
  • Confabulation is the confusion of imagination with memory, and/or the confusion of true memories with false memories. There's a sack full of it in the world of art. Confabulatory enhancement can come from an idiosyncratic style or stroke, or from some happenstance slice from an individualist's hand. Read On

  • Offshore art
      December 21st, 2007
  • Several artists have written to complain that offshore painters, mainly Chinese, are doing excellent knock-offs. While cheap art in parking lots has always been with us, the Western artist who wants to stay the course has to realize that a name is also an asset. Pofessional artists who put their DNA into their work need not fear the offshore cloners. Read On

  • Give in to the wind?
      December 18th, 2007
  • This morning Ray Johnson wrote: "My first job was doing charcoal portraits on the Atlantic City boardwalk, The mood of the buying public shifts like the wind. The artist is sometimes forced to give in to the wind. Is that true art?" Some street artists dazzle you with their facility--particularly with deadly likenesses in short order. But there's something else--a subtle transition needs to take place. The artist needs to see that there's also wisdom in catering to the self. Read On

  • The Long Tail
      December 14th, 2007
  • Karl Marx wrote that, under the Communist system, working for wages would be superseded by what he called 'self-activity.' With the economy humming along, surplus time would free people to study, privately create and generally improve themselves. Chris Anderson's 'The Long Tail,' talks about these sorts of esoteric pursuits and issues that will affect the lives and livelihoods of artists. Read On

  • Declining sight
      December 11th, 2007
  • Degas first noticed his eye problems when he was a national guardsman in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71. With a blind spot in the center of his right eye, he was a poor shot. By 1890, his left eye also began to deteriorate. Looking sideways at his work, he used peripheral vision to compensate. Much has been written and speculated about Degas' eyes. Read On

  • Book launch
      December 7th, 2007
  • For months we've been anxiously preparing, editing and proofing. Then suddenly, 'beep, beep, beep,' a truck is backing up--and there we are, cases and cases of 'Love Letters to Art.' On Sunday at my solo show I signed dozens of them. In all deference to the Internet, there's always going to be a need for a handsome thing you hold in your hands. Read On

  • Delicate mentoring
      December 4th, 2007
  • Several recent emails have talked about mentoring. A wise mentor can simply opt to share technical knowledge. A mentor needs to figure out how to stimulate creative curiosity. Perhaps most important is to imply love. Read On

  • Operant conditioning
      November 30th, 2007
  • Operant conditioning is the use of consequences to modify the occurrence and form of otherwise voluntary behavior. Activities of the easel variety have built-in consequences, some are negative as well as positive. In the research of psychologist E.L. Thorndike, positive consequences given for every performance were not as effective a motivator as intermittent or infrequent rewards. Read On

  • Nom de brush
      November 26th, 2007
  • I have to admit I once considered having several names myself. Actually, many creators want to hide behind a pseudonym--even a variety of them to match their various styles. By diluting your name, you also dilute your ego. Settle on a single label, your personal brand. For Internet purposes you might make it a bit unique. Read On

  • Getting to 'must'
      November 23rd, 2007
  • Psychologist Abraham Maslow spent a lifetime researching mental health and human potential. Maslow saw human beings' needs arranged like a ladder. The most basic needs, at the bottom. People who managed the higher needs are what he called self-actualizing people. These folks, he found, are able to focus on problems outside themselves. Read On

  • Ambiguity
      November 20th, 2007
  • Think about ambiguity in your art. People are drawn to mystery. Antony Gormley is a British artist who deals in ambiguity. "Angel of the North," is a massive winged figure that overlooks the A1 motorway near Gateshead in the UK. Gormley raises the stakes on rural and urban installations by embracing enigma and looking for the potential of ambiguity. Read On

  • Covering up your sins
      November 16th, 2007
  • Under-images (sometimes called "palimpsest") jinx the paintings that go on top of them. It's opaque under normal light. However, if the canvas is against a window previous efforts can be seen. Linen is the most naturally opaque and generally obviates the problem. Read On

  • Authenticity
      November 13th, 2007
  • Think of what authenticity isn't: Poor conception, faulty rendition, bluff technique, crudity, lack of feeling, failure of understanding, overworking, grandiosity. Yep, one small passage may have more authenticity than one great thundering opus. Furthermore, what about the joy of just doing it? Read On

  • The flying artist
      November 9th, 2007
  • Dianna Burns of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan asked about taking oil painting equipment and canvas overseas for an extensive trip. You don't really have to take a lot of stuff. Art materials are excellent on both sides of the puddle. There's actually a benefit of buying there: While you may miss your comfort zone. A total of eight stretcher bars of four lengths bundle up nicely and can be used to make six different sizes of canvas. In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, "Not all who wander are lost." Read On

  • Why do they buy?
      November 6th, 2007
  • Edward Abela was wondering how many artists are interested in why people buy their art. itís often personal experience that connects them with the work. A significant number of buyers are influenced by the herd instinct. Andy Warhol noted, "Success is what sells art." Read On

  • Signing your life away
      November 2nd, 2007
  • Chris Bingle of Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK asked about signing paintings. Think of the range of signatures you know. They may give impressions of strength, weakness, haste, ignorance, naivety, stiffness, contrivance, carelessness, obscurity, egocentricity, humility, commercialism, etc. you are you, and your signature is part of your entity. It's your life. Sign your life as you would live it. Read On

  • You are the music
      October 30th, 2007
  • Many of us thrive on combinations of strong desire and relentless application. While relatively slow-going, this has been the traditional and sensible route toward creative evolution. Read On

  • Price floors and ceilings
      October 26th, 2007
  • From an artist's point of view, it's probably best when an artist's work is in the middle range of a gallery's prices--neither falling through the floor nor pushing at the ceiling. Beginning artists are better off at the lower end, while mature ones can be nearer the top. Without a significant cash flow, an artist simply cannot travel, grow, learn and have the day-to-day peace of mind to continue. Read On

  • Innovation
      October 23rd, 2007
  • Innovation is a branch of invention that makes changes in existing systems. While I was looking into the innards of a public gallery, the work of Charles John Collings (1848-1931) caught my attention. With the use of spatulas and burnishing tools, some passages had colour intermittently obliterated, textured, or entirely removed. Read On

  • Creative Intelligence
      October 19th, 2007
  • While I'm a first-line advocate for intuition, just to make things difficult I have to tell you there's something else we need to think about. It's called "Creative Intelligence." Creative intelligence also involves the simultaneous use of mind and spirit. Perhaps the evolved CI guy is best at thinking it out first, then making the leap of faith, then covering tracks. Read On

  • Seven Valuable Ploys
      October 16th, 2007
  • Cezanne gives us the idea that it's a conscious function of an applied mind. While any number of ploys may not be fully understood or may indeed be a perverse diversion to avoid painterly boredom, they arise from the simple and honourable desire to give something more. Many writers were suspect of the whole idea of overlaying paintings with any form of geometry or diagrammatical devices. Read On

  • Cezanne's ghosts
      October 12th, 2007
  • As in the work of Cezanne, many an unresolved or wispy painting can be saved and made compelling by hidden scaffolding. Dewain is making a case that Cezanne imbedded cones, ovals and other geometric motifs in his work. Itís just possible that Cezanne shows us a way to give weight, mass, volume, compositional integrity and harmony to our paintings. Read On

  • Street art
      October 9th, 2007
  • 'For the things we have to learn before we can do them,' said Aristotle, 'we learn by doing them.' What about preciousness and advanced creative thinking? The local public gallery, the 'Centre de Exposition' is virtually and seriously vacant. All the joy is being had over here on Rue St. Jean Baptiste. Maybe the elderly knife-painter has the right idea. Art is a doing thing and it doesn't matter what it looks like. People will take it home anyway. And that's a start.... Read On

  • Enthusiasm makes the difference
      October 5th, 2007
  • In the middle of the easel and rising up behind it is a brightly painted board with the cryptic letters EMTD at the top. It stands for 'Enthusiasm Makes the Difference,' the title of a book by Norman Vincent Peale that Bruno Cote read when he was young. 'It changed my life,' says Bruno. EMTD is more than Bruno's motto, it's his primal force and method of living... Read On

  • Conservative tendencies
      October 2nd, 2007
  • While often stimulating and rewarding, this environment nevertheless leads to conservative tendencies and inward-looking creativity. Brave is the dealer who brings in outsiders, but it's happening in Charlevoix County. As people begin to travel farther and into unfamiliar realms, we get a glimpse into the future of our global village... Read On

  • Personal coach
      September 28th, 2007
  • It's no surprise when people ask me to be their personal coach. It happened again only yesterday. The lady was talking art, not abs. Come to think of it, a lot of us buffs are in demand. So I was thinking of all the inefficiency and disappointment that must ride on Ralph and Alberto's contract. And while I sort of like the idea of tailored guidance, I rather wanted to offer a more general workout... Read On

  • Mental Projection
      September 25th, 2007
  • While mechanical projection more or less limits you to 'what is,' mental projection permits wider improvisation. An acquired skill, the mental rendering finds shapes and essences, permits flourishes of design and elegance, and gives general rather than specific guidance... Read On

  • Yin and Yang
      September 21st, 2007
  • The well-known Yin and Yang graphic symbol represents the interaction of the two. Each half contains the seed of the other, and they cannot exist without each other. Living within a circle, they exact a basic life principle. Yin and Yang is a cornerstone of Eastern philosophy, medicine and art... Read On

  • Deadline day
      September 18th, 2007
  • On top of that, hitting deadlines is contrary to human nature... Awakening at four during the past while, my scattered mind was spinning with corrections and adjustments yet to be made. Difficult to get a holistic idea in a linear medium, there's also the fear of repetition and my weakness for hortatory pontification. Thank goodness for editors. It will be excellent to get back to the relaxed progression of self-directed painting. I'm not to be hanged after all. There's been a reprieve. As soon as I finish writing this Esoterica I'm going to squeeze out and paint. Funny thing though, I'll probably do it again... Read On

  • Tough stuff first
      September 14th, 2007
  • The decision to do the tough stuff first makes it easier to complete a work with confidence and elan... From then on the painting became easier and more fun. The easel, the messy work table and the bookshelves behind literally fell off the brush... Read On

  • How to spot a phony
      September 11th, 2007
  • The downside of all this integrity and value is that scam artists and dishonest folks can try to take advantage of our good name. While there are many different ploys out there, a typical one these days is a personal letter requesting to buy a specific painting on your site... Read On

  • Rarity
      September 7th, 2007
  • From a marketing point of view, not only the work of one artist but also genres of art need thoughtful control. The world is awash with florals. Landscapes are thick on the ground as well. They have to be darned well done or different from the crowd to get noticed. Figurative works are less common, mainly because not many painters do them well. Some might say they are less popular anyway, but I don't think so. Quality in figurative work is elusive... Read On

  • Dhyana
      September 4th, 2007
  • In the individual practice of what I call 'Natural Dhyana' we see variations of creative intelligence. Think of the relative abilities of different folks to simply absorb the knowledge of others. More importantly, think of our varying abilities to follow the advice of our inner gurus. Yep, all those nasty hindrances tend to get in the way. Without resorting to levitation around the studio, here are a few practical ideas... Read On

  • Workaholics Anonymous
      August 31st, 2007
  • I have to report that most of the creative workaholics I know are not miserable at all, and part of their ongoing happiness lies in a healthy commitment to their work. A few are so positively delirious they have to be pinched regularly... Read On

  • Evaluating art
      August 28th, 2007
  • As all evaluation systems are suspect, there's another way for creative people to approach the game. Pay no attention to what anybody thinks. Set your own standards. Paddle your own canoe. This includes not putting yourself at the mercy of kangaroo courts. Simply become your own jury and prize-giver. The real prize comes to the artist when the work is made, and if it's truly worthy and anyone wants to vote for it down the line, maybe they'll track you down... Read On

  • Painter's remorse
      August 24th, 2007
  • This brings us to the flip side of painter's remorse--painter's delusion. Just as the Volvo buyer, to justify his recent action, will reread advertisements, positive reviews and road tests, as well as solicit the approval of others, the delusional painter goes to work to magnify the work to a higher status than it may deserve... Read On

  • Focus
      August 21st, 2007
  • Creatively successful people tend to have a well-developed ability to focus... The ability to focus is an acquired habit that can be massaged to take over other habits. Skilled practitioners know that the other stuff only takes over if you let it. Further, successful focusers often have the quick ability to develop work plans and plans of attack--visually or committed to paper. Read On

  • Bonus creativity
      August 17th, 2007
  • Here's a simple system that builds creativity immediately...The idea is to perform one more creative act before turning out the lights...The afterthought bonus slyly adds further variety and range to your body of work. The human psyche is a deep well of untapped resources... Read On

  • Silence is golden
      August 14th, 2007
  • The art of remaining mute is one of the keys to personal creative evolution. By speaking out and expressing our plans we often diffuse our need to do. It's as if some of the energy required to produce the creative product is already used up by the words themselves. Read On

  • Difficult passages
      August 10th, 2007
  • Degree of difficulty may just be an artist's best friend. It may be the degree of difficulty that holds the interest of many realistic and figurative painters. Imagine developing skills so profound and distinct that no one else comes near. It may be difficult, but it just might be worth it. Read On

  • Ultimate creativity
      August 7th, 2007
  • Perhaps not often enough have I mentioned the ultimate and rather excellent form of creativity that's open to most of us. I'm talking about children. Art is life and life is art. Offspring may be the greatest art, but they are also like art. They eventually go into the world and make their own way. They flow from some source that we cannot fully know. Like art they require love and work. Read On

  • I'm not going anywhere
      August 3rd, 2007
  • In my spare time I've been building simple workstations based on an inexpensive and easily available folding chair. A feeling of smug independence overcomes everyone who tries one out. Getting into my current model, the 'Mark 8,' is like getting into a very small sports car, but once in you're snug as a bug in a rug. Compared to Rocky Mountain ledges, they're really comfortable. They're difficult to get out of as well--which might be a virtue... Read On

  • Lively greys
      July 31st, 2007
  • Grey is not only the key to classy work, it's the key to understanding relative values. Advanced artists think in terms of the 'grey scale'--a useful photographer's device that determines relative tone values from white to black. Painters do well to develop a 'grey-scale in the head' and an interminable willingness to make adjustments. Thus significant mid-range tones are born, laying the groundwork for lively greys... Read On

  • Murals to go
      July 27th, 2007
  • These days, the mural has gone secular. Canadian painters Mike Svob and Alan Wylie have come up with a unique mural-making system. They produced their most recent one in a smaller but still monumental scale, with the final installation--a chain of casinos--being giclees of truly massive (8' x 256') proportions. Producing the work in easel-handy dimensions was a big plus for painterly quality... Read On

  • Artist for life
      July 23rd, 2007
  • 'Starving artist' is one of our popular myths. Dentists would starve too if they didn't know a molar from a bicuspid. Getting into the mode of perpetual self-generated studenthood may not immediately make all of us thrive. The human psyche has too many other frailties for that. But it's a direction that gives maximum satisfaction--a feeling of personal accomplishment and the possibility of worthwhile public enthusiasm... Read On

  • Changing the light
      July 20th, 2007
  • Light takes top billing as a principle actor. Apart from adding drama, mood and condition, it's the main tool for describing form and volume. In the great outdoors, light takes its cues from the sky. At the same time, light is often the key to colour and gradation... Read On

  • The big three
      July 17th, 2007
  • An excellent Quebec painter, Lorne Bouchard, once gave me some advice. He told me that a painter needs to work from three sources--from self-generated photo reference, from work done from life, and from the imagination. 'All painters,' he said, 'favour one or the other, but all three are needed to gain maximum feeling... Read On

  • Creative archaeology
      July 13th, 2007
  • Like many excellent painters, MacDonald came from a background of graphic design and commercial art. His lesson is to move a tree here, redesign a rock there, have the sky echo the foreground. The elements are everywhere, but the artist needs to focus... Read On

  • The buddy system
      July 10th, 2007
  • As well as being its own reward, father-daughter and father-son relationships are particularly challenging. The younger need neither the shadow nor the glow of the elder. Both need to be left to their own devices--a tricky business when the inevitable crit comes up... Read On

  • Throw it in water?
      July 6th, 2007
  • The Agora people are actively canvassing artists to send money. Many artists report no sales with them, although it's always possible. I doubt their figures are that hot. Their system is to charge artists as well as buyers. They rent their walls... Read On

  • Context
      July 3rd, 2007
  • Did you ever wonder about the difference between a piece of art in someone's basement and a piece of art in the National Gallery? Did you ever wonder just exactly what constitutes "good" art? Read On

  • Pulling out all the stops
      June 29th, 2007
  • Acrylic facilitates experimentation and gives new ability to process ideas. Faster and fresher, the journey becomes less arduous--and in many ways, more fun. At the same time it's important to be aware of the facile effects that can be handily achieved. As ever, taste, choice and suitability need to be weighed... Read On

  • A crazy woman
      June 26th, 2007
  • Within a few years of that encounter the crazy woman had passed away and there were only her paintings and writings. Widely recognized toward the end of her life, Emily was a unique product of a Victorian upbringing, a West Coast vision and the influence of modern mentors. Emily is one of my favorites--if not always for her paintings, but for her words and her spirit... Read On

  • Breaking the curse
      June 22nd, 2007
  • Cultures that limit free learning or are unable to provide higher education tend to foster and imbed chauvinism and gender prejudice. Some of these tendencies lie deep in tribal roots and traditional practices and cannot be extirpated in one or two generations. In our culture and yours, the only thing we really have to work with is ourselves... Read On

  • The fine art of pushing yourself
      June 19th, 2007
  • There's no better cure for mediocrity than a dose of truth. And there's no better reason for taking the cure than the challenge. Fall in love with potential accomplishment. Central to this process is the realization that it's a personal quest. It's not a mentor or instructor, but the trees themselves that give the demos and crits... Read On

  • Appropriation
      June 15th, 2007
  • Appropriation is the legal word for using someone else's art as part of your own. The American Copyright Act uses the term 'fair dealing' for purposes of criticism, review or parody--and claims this does not infringe copyright. The word 'parody' is valuable here. Parody means to ridicule by imitation. While some of us have the instinct to ridicule that which we depict, most of us simply comment... Read On

  • Working with miksang
      June 12th, 2007
  • What value does Miksang have for creative folks? Obviously, Miksang makes for pause, reflection and quiet centering. By increasing awareness one builds a feeling of wonder and kinship with the overlooked. But its real value is in seeing design and the subtlety of colour. To the discriminating eye the macro world is a minor symphony. Looking through a viewfinder and making decisions hones the ability to find the larger compositions. It's all about the acquired skills of looking and seeing. Buddhist or not, this art can be performed at any time and any place... Read On

  • Checklist
      June 8th, 2007
  • Here's a word for your own checklist--and how to make one. Checklists are not recipes. They're self-generated lists of thoughts and ideas that just might add strength, value and importance to the work. Based on what one knows about the better works of others, the vastness of human potential, and one's own personal ideals, it's an elevated to-do list. .. Read On

  • Friction-free selling?
      June 5th, 2007
  • Most sales are made by direct connection between an eager dealer and a willing customer. The Internet has turned out to be a godsend for dealers, if not for artists. Some of my dealers find 40 percent of their business is Internet related. The current buzzword is 'clicks and mortar.' Savvy... Read On

  • Half price sale
      June 1st, 2007
  • Another route is to assemble a retrospective of top quality pieces, perhaps thematic, and offer them to public galleries. This manoeuvre opens new friendships and adds legitimacy. If that fails, offering them on permanent or semi-permanent loan to any number of worthy institutions is also good business. Hospitals, clinics, tax offices, as well as the foyers of public buildings often have a need for art. While it can be expensive to frame and display such a project, the exercise can be worthwhile... Read On

  • Good question
      May 29th, 2007
  • Returning to the studio inbox after a weekend away, I found this machine jammed with questions regarding my last letter and video 'Forest spirit.' While I had in mind writing a letter on another subject, I thought I'd better answer a few of the questions... Read On

  • Forest spirit
      May 25th, 2007
  • I'm not pretentious or even that proud of the stuff I do in the bush. But there's something mind-bending about the outdoor act of art. I recommend it to anyone on any day, birth or otherwise. First, there's the grace that overtakes you when you leave your other world and get onto the bosom of nature. I often think it's more a matter of inhaling than rendering. When you find the spirit of a place, you need to honour it--and you bend your mind to do so. The brush slows but the heart quickens... Read On

  • The persistence of creativity
      May 22nd, 2007
  • Fact is, at one time or another in an artist's productive life, the brain-easel axis can actually take over and become the main event. Depending on your point of view, this is either unfortunate or fortunate. Our anecdotal correspondence seems to confirm that persistence of creativity may be simply the result of prior focus... Read On

  • Paint your way out
      May 18th, 2007
  • Creativity and the onset of dementia have recently prompted a great deal of study and speculation. Dr. Luis Fornazzari of the University of Toronto, in a paper published on Tuesday, stated, 'Art should be understood as a cognitive function with its own neural networks.' Read On

  • The straight eye
      May 15th, 2007
  • There are a few artists who are able to look at the world and see an uncommon degree of reality. The cold truth may not achieve decorator popularity, but serving it up is one of the exalted ways. Add fantasy and mystery and you have high art. Two of these sorts are Robert Lenkiewicz and Lucian Freud. Read On

  • The real secret
      May 11th, 2007
  • If there is a secret for the long term, it's to become a student of the art of your choice. Curiosity is the key. Thus your days become gifts, and every day is another step on an amazing, never-ending road. This road is chock-a-block with pitfalls of frustration that bless a serious pilgrim with the pleasures of analysis, understanding, and mastery... Read On

  • Raise the roof!
      May 8th, 2007
  • These researchers feel people under high ceilings are 'primed' to think broadly because of the sense of freedom associated with the space, while the containment of a lower ceiling encourages people to think small and focused. Read On

  • A rugged individualist
      May 4th, 2007
  • While Leighton's rigidity brought expectations of himself that could never be attained, it also empowered his vision. A.C. was never contented. It's rumoured that shortly before he died, he buried hundreds of his works somewhere on his 80 acres. While I continue to hold onto many of my dogs, I often think of his recorded remarks and the A.C. wisdom that Barbara generously threw at me... Read On

  • The mating game
      May 1st, 2007
  • If one accepts our kinship with the animal kingdom--the artistic displays of bower birds, peacocks, and others--all this seems quite plausible. Showing off may be the beginning inspiration, but when someone gets satisfaction from the activity itself--art for art's sake--art is then taken to another level. Thus, human art may be sublimated mating. The artistically-active get attracted and caught on art and redirect their procreative energy. They may even neglect to physically breed. 'Creative' and 'procreative' are similar actions. Read On

  • In praise of the squint
      April 27th, 2007
  • ...Looking at work with half-closed eyes has several benefits--and there are several ways to do it. We have to agree that establishing an effective pattern--the overall compositional integrity of a design--is valuable. Simply put, squinting makes notes of weak areas. Squinting tells you what's wrong and what's bad. Squinting lets you know where darkness or lightness might be added. Even high-key equal-intensity work can be improved by squinting... Read On

  • Imitation learning
      April 24th, 2007
  • We are trying to determine what strategies will optimize imitation learning...Ideally, individualists need to sidestep imitation learning and instead rely on direct observation of either the physical world or the universe of the human mind. Read On

  • A sacred event
      April 20th, 2007
  • Our keynote speaker was environmentalist and author Stephanie Mills. She talked of our connection to the land and how we lose the connection at our peril. She told of the role of visualizers and the simple technology needed for preservation in a frantic time. If you want a good read, you might lay your hands on her book Epicurean Simplicity... Read On

  • 'Miss Potter'
      April 17th, 2007
  • Beatrix Potter (1866-1945) was intelligent, headstrong and uncompromising...One can learn from Beatrix Potter. Through our imaginations we are able to make ourselves and others happy. Through our imaginations we are able to escape our repressions and misfortunes...Beatrix takes her everyday knowledge of hedgerow animals and household pets and turns it into fantasy... Read On

  • Drawing skills
      April 13th, 2007
  • As we come to know more about our world, and develop terms to describe the objects and experiences therein, we begin, in our drawing, to draw our ideas of things rather than the physical nature of things themselves. In other words, our ability to see becomes clouded by what we know...As an exercise, try drawing a subject that is unfamiliar to you...In exploring unnamed lines, art is produced. Read On

  • Creative insomnia
      April 10th, 2007
  • Conventional wisdom says you must get your sleep: next day's creativity demands it. Repeated tests show that creativity is one of the first faculties to suffer from sleep disorders and deprivation. Twenty percent of the population has trouble with sleep... Read On

  • A box of paint
      April 6th, 2007
  • There are sources of artistic passion. One is love and another is anger. Both work well. To some degree we all lose the box of opportunity we were given in our youth. Through ignorance, foolishness, obligation, or miscalculation, we veer away and lose our direction. Sometimes a shock is required to bring us back to our path. Even when the path disappoints or peters out, it is the path. Sometimes I think those who get the shocks are the most blessed... Read On

  • Firing pots
      April 3rd, 2007
  • The principle of chaos can be built into all of the arts. With chaos comes value-added joy for everyone concerned. Paintings, for example, can be made to leap hurdles of happenstance. Watercolourists encourage happy events when colours bleed one into the other, when staining and graining pigments interplay on the paper... Read On

  • Wild child
      March 30th, 2007
  • Children born into a world of speech and art adopt the skills of their elders. Most cultures encourage children to make images as soon as they can hold a tool. Remarkably, at about four years of age, all children produce similar imagery. In a now-famous research project, Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) found that toddlers from all cultures, when encouraged, do the following... Read On

  • Notes from a cave
      March 27th, 2007
  • I'm laptopping you from a cave on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. By flashlight I'm scanning drawings done up to several hundred years ago by the Taino Indians. Shredded-end sticks dipped into powdered charcoal mixed with animal fat or bat droppings were the preferred media. Other drawings are done with white chalk or red clay... Read On

  • Peak shift
      March 23rd, 2007
  • Nigel Spivey, in his insightful book How Art Made the World, speculates on "peak shift." It's a concept that comes from research into both human and animal behaviour. A neurological principle, peak shift says we need exaggeration to make our lives interesting. Spivey asks, "Is it possible that a primeval instinct explains why humans like to create unrealistic images?" ... Read On

  • Creative memes
      March 20th, 2007
  • Just as with religious people, we artists are inclined to measure our preferences against what we habitually know. Unless one is very broad-minded indeed, the schools we choose will often be in line with our memetic beliefs... Read On

  • Nothing much here right now
      March 16th, 2007
  • I always thought it was just my problem. Every time anyone--friend, art dealer or family member--wanted to take a look around my studio, I felt I needed to apologize and tell them, "Nothing much here right now. Come back later." ... Read On

  • Neutral subject matter
      March 13th, 2007
  • There are three main types of subject matter--positive, negative, and neutral. While there are loads of hybrid possibilities, I'll describe three extreme works so you get my drift... Read On

  • The child within us
      March 9th, 2007
  • The child within us may be the key to all invention and creativity. A schoolyard bully may have done the favor. Or the seed may forever remain a mystery. But recognizing we have the tools to create is the greatest gift and offers the potential for the highest manifestation of humanity... Read On

  • Boat stories
      March 6th, 2007
  • Boats represent a cosmic drift on the sea of life. Regarding femininity, apart from the number of Queens and Princesses that ply the sea... Read On

  • Artistic licenses
      March 2nd, 2007
  • If you want to be an artist--try being artistic. This deceptively minor slip of info was given to me by a fellow painter, Maurice Golleau, somewhere in Provence many years ago... Read On

  • Art and order
      February 27th, 2007
  • Creative order takes place in the art process, but it also includes the timely development of ideas and motifs from one work to the next. This ordered assimilation and production is vital to an artist's progress. Through ebb and flow, ups and downs, and reaching to do better, it's... Read On

  • Art and aging
      February 23rd, 2007
  • ...While beginning artists may do poor work because of undeveloped skills, mature artists may do poor work because they are losing facilities. Somewhere in between there's a period of proficiency and relative fulfillment. Most artists agree that this middle period should be dragged... Read On

  • On climaxing
      February 20th, 2007
  • ...Then again, maybe a work with no climax is its own climax. Such work, by its uniformity and flatness, may suggest it doesn't need a climax because the work of art itself--the place or thought it depicts--is the climax. After all, it's the climax of somebody's wall. Dull though... Read On

  • Cheap advice
      February 16th, 2007
  • ...The convention of the artist talk employs two-directional curiosity. In this age of individual empowerment, the art-talker looks out at a sea of fellow sailors. The interaction business is a ship unto itself. We trade each other's moxie and lean on the supposed wisdom of perceived... Read On

  • Staying true
      February 13th, 2007
  • In relatively normal and un-hyped situations, it's been my observation that dedication to workmanlike habits need not mean the selling out of the creative spirit. Persistently reinforced and steady habits may actually be an instrument for quality and imaginative solutions. Habits... Read On

  • On big and small
      February 6th, 2007
  • Just as the digital revolution has sped the learning of photography, painting 'smalls' in series speeds creative progress. Because digital imagery need not be sent out for developing, the travelling photographer can test settings and see results on the spot. In the same way, learning... Read On

  • Field notes on play
      February 2nd, 2007
  • ...I told her that my dad used to say, 'If you can dream it, you can do it.' This advice was given in my early teens, and it sent me off into some extreme fantasies. Like painting a mural on the Grand Canyon. I recruited helpers, but it was the park rangers who were unable to see my... Read On

  • A paintings progress
      January 30th, 2007
  • The repair required a patch glued to the back, some filler and a wee struggle to match the colours. I threw in cleaning, varnishing and tightening...Even though it is an oil painting, the repairs are made in acrylic. First, the painting is washed with water and a small amount of mild... Read On

  • The Flynn effect in art
      January 26th, 2007
  • The Flynn effect is the year-on-year rise of IQ test scores. It was named after the New Zealand political scientist James R. Flynn. The average rate of rise is around three IQ points per decade, although it varies greatly in many parts of the world... Read On

  • Gallery flow
      January 23rd, 2007
  • ...in commercial galleries, it's been my observation that the larger open spaces facilitate valuable cross-room movement, distant viewing and shared energy. 'Feng shui' suggests these sorts of spaces should have the feeling that something is happening. Compared to small rooms and... Read On

  • The knowledge
      January 19th, 2007
  • ...we artists, because of the relatively static nature of our technology and the eternal need for spirit, can, if we wish, be blessed with 'the knowledge.' No matter where we are in our art, we can pretty well be sure that someone has been on that spot before... Read On

  • Small stuff
      January 16th, 2007
  • ...A modest little show in a modest room, of no consistent theme, it nevertheless has a few twists. The paintings are all framed identically--an austere and simple pewter-finished wood... The 36 paintings are hung in a perfect row, not too tight, but not sparsely either. Each... Read On

  • Letters to an artist
      January 12th, 2007
  • ...In 1903, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke responded by letter to a young man seeking his advice. Rilke eventually wrote ten letters now collectively known and much published as Read On

  • Cleaning paint brushes
      January 9th, 2007
  • ...I'm no poster boy for brush health. I go through a lot of them and like them best of all when they're crisp and new. I work in acrylics and I never really clean my hog-hairs or synthetics. I keep them in water--generally a large, frequently replenished bucket that sits by my right... Read On

  • Palette pointers
      January 5th, 2007
  • ...there were times when palettes were rigidly set and students had to mix in a certain way. Carolus-Duran (1837-1917), a name that may not be familiar, was a significant Parisian portraitist who also ran an art school. An admirer of Velasquez, he spawned John Singer Sargent and... Read On

  • Off your game?
      January 2nd, 2007
  • ...Just as the professional golfer can lose concentration over a remark or even a cough from the peanut gallery, artists can be put off by the mere presence of others in a position to pass judgment. However, it's good to realize that artists are always being put off by one thing or... 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