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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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2013 Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

  • On a rocky outstation
      December 31st, 2013
  • Dad squeezed my shoulder. "Look at it, look at it," he said. "I mean the material." He had tears in his eyes. Without room or brawn for paint boxes on our seven-day trek, we made peace with our seven-pound camera lenses and blossomed into a shooting party. I thought about my own moments of recognition, from a life list of great paintables, and the epic journeys... Read On

  • Crashed and slashed
      December 27th, 2013
  • 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. Two small slices in the canvas near the bottom. Could you recommend where we could take it?... Read On

  • The twenty percent
      December 24th, 2013
  • A few years ago, Adam Leipzig attended his 25th reunion at Yale University. At Yale, he had been a theatre geek and literature major. Mingling in the party tent that summer evening, Adam listened to complaints about emptiness, wasted years, and general confusion about life's purpose. He concluded that eighty percent of his former classmates were unhappy... Read On

  • On being here now
      December 20th, 2013
  • On January 23, 2001, I wrote you a twice-weekly letter from a hammock beside a sleepy lagoon in a tropical clime. Heliconius butterflies skipped over the calm surface where unseen tilapia and bobo mullet roiled below. The daily passage from sunrise to sunset was a metronome for easy-going productivity. Here's more or less what I wrote on my laptop... Read On

  • A child's play
      December 17th, 2013
  • "The creative adult is the child who has survived." Wise artists practice daily with their inner youngster, and the task doesn't lighten with success... Read On

  • A memory of Thailand
      December 13th, 2013
  • "What are you doing?" a voice asks from behind me in clear, almost musical English. Turning around I find a saffron-robed monk. He is a round little man with a round, shaven head, flatter than it is deep--a face like a bas-relief. He is smiling, friendly. "I'm trying to paint an elephant," I say. He moves closer. "But are you painting..." Read On

  • A return to awareness
      December 10th, 2013
  • Perhaps being sick is another way of travelling. Old tasks bring new tasks with new styling. This week Dad started painting from a lying-down position. He settled on the studio sofa, nestled among his papers, books and Dorothy. He tilted the canvas on his knee Read On

  • On where to start
      December 6th, 2013
  • Michelangelo started his "Last Judgment" in the upper left hand corner and, over a period of four years, worked his way down through about 250 nudes. Every figure was started with a "comp"--a paper drawing pounced (with a pounce wheel) and redrawn into place. In many cases the faces were painted first and lesser elements were passed on to assistants... Read On

  • Claim your rival
      December 3rd, 2013
  • Ferrari driver Niki Lauda was Formula 1's World Champion in 1975, 1977 and 1984. Ron Howard's 2013 feature film "Rush" explores the relationship between Niki and his rival, English driver James Hunt. "A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool from his friends”, says Niki in the film. He reminds us that rivalry can be a powerful source of... Read On

  • Discover your archetype
      November 29th, 2013
  • 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... Read On

  • A country bonfire
      November 26th, 2013
  • Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury wrote, "Write a thousand words a day and in three years you'll be a writer." Social scientist Malcolm Gladwell calls it "The 10,000 hours rule." American radio host and producer Ira Glass reminds us that it's grit that bridges the gap between ambition and greatness. In the studio, Dad taught me to keep... Read On

  • About the law of recent memory
      November 22nd, 2013
  • We have a patio built out above our overgrown ravine. If I stand on the edge I can drop a ball down into the jungle. Though she can't see where the ball goes, Dorothy will enthusiastically tear around, find her way down below and generally bring back the ball. Sometimes she can't find it. If I drop a stick down near the ball... Read On

  • The deeper 'Why?'
      November 19th, 2013
  • Last Tuesday, I took my Mom for "An Evening with David Sedaris." It was Dad's idea – from the foot of my bed. I awake these mornings with him standing there, coffee in hand, and a more-urgent-than-usual creative scheme... Read On

  • About true colours
      November 15th, 2013
  • There are colourists and there are colourists. There are those among us whose colours are clunky and crude--and there are those whose colours are deadly, tasty, and "right on." There are even some, like Paul Gauguin, who believe colour ought to be arbitrary--that is, it's a good idea if the sky is green and the grass is red... Read On

  • Laurie and Lou
      November 12th, 2013
  • When Laurie Anderson was 19, she moved from Glen Ellyn, Illinois to New York City to study art history and sculpture. Early on, she made a thing called "Automotive" - it was a symphony played on car horns. She was hooked. Laurie went on to pioneer electronic music, inventing a 6-foot-long wireless MIDI controller synthesizer called a "talking stick" that could replicate any sound... Read On

  • About getting to 'must'
      November 8th, 2013
  • Psychologist Abraham Maslow has written, "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write--if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be." The question for many would-be creators is simply how to get to "must." Maslow spent a lifetime researching mental health and human potential. He emphasized the study of healthy minds and successful systems rather than the abnormal and the ill... Read On

  • The Magic Hour
      November 5th, 2013
  • Sara writes: I have a memory from my childhood of walking alone with my Dad, somewhere in Brittany. I was about eleven. We were talking about the Post-Impressionists and about waiting for the day's end, the best painting light - the "magic hour." It was one of my "firsts": my first recollection of our first conversation on a subject my Dad and I are still getting to the bottom of... Read On

  • Thanks
      November 1st, 2013
  • Randy Pausch, a young professor at Carnegie Mellon University, had the same cancer as I do. He wrote a book about his adventure--"The Last Lecture." It was on the New York Times Best seller list for months. The book was all about thankfulness and how to cope. He noted that the actual transition was a joyful thing designed to build bridges to the next generation. "I'm having fun," he said, "and I'm dying"... Read On

  • A place and a time
      October 29th, 2013
  • Among the phone calls that came in over the weekend was one from Peter Gough of Glen Haven, Nova Scotia. Peter is a realist painter with an evolved, spiritual outlook. While painting with Peter a few years ago, I watched his almost religious zeal for light, atmosphere and luminosity. We've included some of his work at the top of the current... Read On

  • The bomb
      October 25th, 2013
  • On Saturday morning, 10:30 to be exact, I was painting at my easel when a quiet knock came to my upper studio door. It was my friend and neighbor, Dr. Bob Cheyne, who also happens to be our family doctor. As soon as I saw his face I knew something was up. "We got the results of your CAT scan," he said... Read On

  • Effective artists' websites
      October 22nd, 2013
  • Recently Tish Lowe of Columbia, SC, asked, "Can you give an example of "a stand-alone artist's site that is rockin'?" Thanks, Tish. Truly excellent work is the best thing for your website. If you have that, a lot of other things take care of themselves. Question is whether Richard Schmid's site, for example, is rockin' because his work is excellent or because... Read On

  • Art distribution
      October 18th, 2013
  • Apparently, in art, you can sell just about anything. If you had a roundish brown pad of a thing, you could sell it. It would be best to charge a lot for it. Who would pay only $1.79 for a roundish brown pad? People would know what it was. This thought, triggered by some of the remarkable live comments that followed after my last letter, reminded... Read On

  • Changing times?
      October 15th, 2013
  • A few days ago the owner of one of my less productive galleries told me she was hooking up with major art websites. She's a lovely person whom I've known for years. She also told me she was considering reducing the size and perhaps location of her gallery, or continuing her business online from home. The reasons, I'm guessing... Read On

  • 365 words and phrases
      October 11th, 2013
  • Over the past twenty years or so, I've built up a word list that has been gradually added to and subtracted from. At one point the words actually added up to 365. I called them "Keys." They could be both negative and positive. They might be everyday common sense and they might be personal preferences. They pop up mainly while painting... Read On

  • The artist's ego
      October 8th, 2013
  • Recently, Alan Soffer of Wallingford, PA, wrote, "I'm currently reading Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth." He speaks of understanding and observing the ego as a way of finding truth in one's life. As an artist who seems to be able to step back and observe, what's your take on ego?"... Read On

  • Awe
      October 4th, 2013
  • This morning, Evelyn Dunphy of West Bath, ME, USA wrote, "Some time ago you wrote about the experience of feeling an overwhelming emotion in the presence of beauty. There was a principle named after the man who identified this feeling of awe. Who was it and what was the name of the principle?"... Read On

  • Figure drawing
      October 1st, 2013
  • At one point in his career (1620), Antwerp's Peter Paul Rubens had 80 apprentices sketching figures in charcoal and making pounce patterns. In the 1920s every American art school held figure drawing classes. The Roaring '20s may have been roaring but, apart from the African issues of National Geographic, the figure... Read On

  • The Dunning-Kruger Effect
      September 27th, 2013
  • Experiments published in 1999 by Cornell University researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger showed that unskilled individuals tended to rate their competence higher than average. The researchers figured the ignorance of standards of performance was behind a great deal of... Read On

  • Take a nap
      September 24th, 2013
  • I've always been keen on "don't rest--run." Often a quick jog after lunch seemed to perk me up and send me back to the studio with a new sense of adventure. Now I'm not so sure. Strictly between you and me, I'm now taking naps. This follows recent research into the value of sleep... Read On

  • A safe place
      September 20th, 2013
  • Yesterday I was reading "Solemate" by Lauren Mackler. It's about being alone and what to do about it. In the U.S. there are currently 95.7 million singles, some by choice, others by default. The main reason is a missing husband. Lauren's book offers some... Read On

  • Habitual tendencies
      September 17th, 2013
  • I'm talking about those automatic mannerisms that interfere with our creativity while at the same time contributing to our uniqueness and style. Either way, they're worth knowing about. With a bit of scraping around in your history, you can often trace an habitual tendency back to a very early time. In my case, drawing an edge... Read On

  • A new angle
      September 13th, 2013
  • Workshoppers seem to want critiques, and some instructors insist on them. I've always wondered about the value of crits. There are several kinds. One is where the instructor crits every work one at a time, either one-on-one or with the group. Another is where... Read On

  • Think and do
      September 10th, 2013
  • After making my way through the "Dick and Jane" readers ("See Spot run!") in Grade One, I moved, in Grade Two, to the subtle advance of "Think and Do." These new books introduced the concepts of free will and self-control. I soon became aware that I could think of things to do, but could not always bring myself to do them... Read On

  • Nobody knows what's under there
      September 6th, 2013
  • The other day I was talking to my friend Jack Monk. Jack's an irascible guy who is always devising new and creative ways to hold himself up. His latest is doing Mylar overlays on the problematic parts of his paintings. One acrylic landscape he brought with him had a pathway starting in the foreground and zipping off the edge... Read On

  • Rare and fair
      September 3rd, 2013
  • After my recent letter about the art market returning to happy times, I received a lot of personal emails. Some were from folks who said I was a spoiled brat and out of touch with the misery of today's painters. Others told me I had a better grasp of economics than... Read On

  • Mountain rules
      August 30th, 2013
  • Trudging around in the Bugaboos, I'm thinking how rules are meant to be broken. Having said that, there are a few rules for acrylic and oil painters that are well worth following. My only reason for backing up my helicopter and dumping them off on you is that these rules... Read On

  • Decisions, decisions
      August 27th, 2013
  • Choreographer Twyla Tharp's "The Creative Habit," describes her morning routine of rising early and going through the same morning rituals; same coffee, same bun. She puts on the same leotards, goes down the same elevator to the same street corner, puts her... Read On

  • Happy times here again?
      August 23rd, 2013
  • On questions of economics, painters are seldom consulted. I'm an exception. Of late, my inbox has been bleeding queries like, "Why am I so poor?" "Do I need to worry about my galleries going broke? And, "Are happy times here again?"... Read On

  • The "37 Club"
      August 20th, 2013
  • As occasional workshop givers, my daughter Sara and I find there are a few artists we can't help. Some of these folks may be accomplished professionals with developed careers, but most are in some way simply "blocked"... Trying to work around these blockages is difficult. If you praise the work of someone with... Read On

  • The two-easel convention
      August 16th, 2013
  • Every day we look at jpegs of some readers' paintings and know that they might do better if they were not so stubborn. In some cases it seems the art and the ego have gone into lockstep. If not rectified, work like this can remain amateurish for life. I've always been on the lookout for methods that might help... Read On

  • Is silence golden?
      August 13th, 2013
  • After my recent letter about talking on the phone while painting, several emails came in from folks mentioning possible pathological conditions. Anonymous wrote, "When I've been painting for long periods in the studio, especially when I'm really concentrating on a project, I find that I have trouble speaking at the end of the day... Read On

  • Photographic perfection
      August 9th, 2013
  • Recently, Ben Novak of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada wrote: "Are traced or projected photos an acceptable way to draw? When proportions and perspectives are too perfect, when shadows are perfect and contrasting as in bright sunlight, when stop motion is involved, where is the artist's personal feeling? Does not the best art arise from... Read On

  • Telephonitis
      August 6th, 2013
  • Among the responses to my recent "Distractions" letter, more than 150 artists named the telephone as a major excuse for not working. Marcie Maynard of South Acworth, New Hampshire wrote, "The phone is my biggest distraction. Intending to go to the studio or outdoors to paint, the phone rings and, like Pavlov's dog... Read On

  • The smell of art
      August 2nd, 2013
  • Lori Deal of San Jose, California wrote: "I bought an acrylic painting on Craigslist. It's a jazz musician playing a saxophone but it smells badly of cigarette smoke. You can smell it when sitting a few feet away. I wonder if I can place it in an enclosed bag with some sort of deodorizer to neutralize the odor? Otherwise, I will probably... Read On

  • The cold-easel syndrome
      July 30th, 2013
  • The complaints are so widespread as to suggest there may be an epidemic. While many mention the word "obsession," the malaise takes many different forms. Here's one from yesterday's email... Read On

  • Mailing-list etiquette
      July 26th, 2013
  • Last week Shirley Peters of Putney, NSW, Australia wrote, "My show is happening at the moment. My dilemma is that the gallery owner is using the email addresses I gave him to send invites for his next show. He is spamming my friends. I like the guy, and I don't want to cause any ill feelings, but is this a fair thing to do? Should I... Read On

  • Green therapy
      July 23rd, 2013
  • In 1984, Edward O. Wilson introduced the "Biophilia hypothesis." His idea was that there's an instinctive bond between humans and other living systems--animals, plants, etc. Leaning on the earlier work of Erich Fromm, Wilson defined Biophilia as "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life"... Read On

  • 'The puzzle system'
      July 19th, 2013
  • A fellow painter told me her whole approach was intuitive. "Bob, it's not that your ideas aren't intelligent," she told me, "but I just don't need to know all that stuff." After telling me once again she paints how she feels, she went on to say that she wasn't feeling all that motivated. Later, I was wondering if it might be me un-motivating her... Read On

  • The points of crits
      July 16th, 2013
  • From time to time many of us are called on to critique the work of others. In the classic formula, the "critter" stands beside a well-lit easel as the paintings of a roomful of "crittees" are brought forward one at a time. With each presentation the critter may remark on a virtue or two, pick out a fault or two, and hopefully point out a fix or two... Read On

  • Our blessed life
      July 12th, 2013
  • I was at my easel in a secluded corner of a quiet garden. Near sunset a thrush serenaded from a nearby thicket and a rhododendron dropped petals at my feet. These days I get emails on my phone--sometimes several dozen an hour. I know it's considered a bad habit, but I have this compulsive desire to... Read On

  • Spotting a fake
      July 9th, 2013
  • Recently, Doug Payne of Waddington's Art Auctioneers in Toronto, Ontario wrote, "A painting came into our auction house and I'm not sure if this was an early work (dated '62) or it's not a painting by you. I've sold a few of your paintings over the years, but I'm not sure about this one. I'd hate to offer this in an auction and find out... Read On

  • Framing and matting
      July 5th, 2013
  • Recently Michele Sinkez of Hebron, Connecticut wrote, "I overheard a collector say that white mats are a poor choice because they distract from the art. He said that deep-toned or neutral mats are best. Are colored and oversized mats the current trend? Is there a universal or professional standard when it comes to framing and matting?"... Read On

  • The trouble with green
      July 2nd, 2013
  • Yesterday, Gale Courtney of Manson, WA, USA wrote, "I am not happy trying to mix greens and want to know the secret! Your twice-weekly letters make me scurry out to my studio and begin to paint--except for trees, grasses and leprechauns. Thanks, Gale. "Green" is a wide range of hues common in nature that have been predestined to... Read On

  • Painting in public
      June 28th, 2013
  • Yesterday, Susan Winslow of Dana Point, California wrote, "Last weekend I took a two-day workshop from the excellent plein air painter Frank Eber. Now a few of us are going to meet tomorrow to paint. We have the equipment, but are intimidated at painting in public. Any suggestions?"... Read On

  • Stuck!
      June 25th, 2013
  • This time of year I get a truck-load of letters from artists who tell me they’re "stuck." I used to wonder if it had something to do with the summer solstice--too much light around outside the studio. Letters include--"My painting has been on my easel for a month," "I can’t finish what I... Read On

  • What happens at Magic Hour?
      June 21st, 2013
  • Recently, Donna Lafferty of Austen, Texas wrote, "Could you talk some more about the use of Magic Hour light? What happens to the spectrum at this time?" Thanks, Donna. We can learn a lot about the hour before sunset by looking at the work of the Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla... Read On

  • Summer joy
      June 18th, 2013
  • Readers might recall that my daughter Sara and I conduct a couple of painting workshops each summer--one at the Cortes Island retreat called Hollyhock, the other heli-painting in the Bugaboo mountains. Last summer at Hollyhock we were accompanied by Dennie and Peter Segnitz, owners of the White Rock Gallery where... Read On

  • How to paint intuitively
      June 14th, 2013
  • Intuition is generally defined as the ability to acquire knowledge or perform tasks without the benefit of reason. On the other hand, bright minds have had a hard time putting a finger on just what intuition is. The Swiss psychotherapist and founder of analytical psychology Carl Jung considered intuition an "irrational function"... Read On

  • The winner effect
      June 11th, 2013
  • In good times and bad it looks like 10% of the galleries do 90% of the business. Similarly, 10% of the artists sell 90% of the art. With the number of folks taking up painting these days and the volume of artists graduating from art schools, this figure may be closer to 1%. In comparison to some other professions, it's pretty depressing. Mind you... Read On

  • Miles of smiles
      June 7th, 2013
  • In the National Art Museum in Beijing, the walls are loaded with smiles. Mao is smiling. The threadbare peasants are smiling. The farm-girls are smiling. The new president Xi Jinping, just chosen on March 14, 2013, is smiling. A guy who's out cold and has a bunch of doctors operating on his tummy is smiling. Country folks standing in... Read On

  • Thinking in context
      June 4th, 2013
  • A few years ago, our city fathers decided to use a simplified reproduction of one of my paintings as a decorative banner to hang from high lampposts around the city. Someone thought it might be an idea to get a newspaper shot of me actually hanging one of the banners. I was supplied with one of those... Read On

  • Immortal art
      May 31st, 2013
  • I'm laptopping you from a persimmon grove in a corner of an extensive archaeological site known as "The Terracotta Warriors." Thousands of (mostly Chinese) tourists are grabbing souvenirs and thronging into an arena–sized building known as Pit No. 1. Over 6,000 life-sized figures are in there--only a third excavated so far... Read On

  • Cropping and not cropping
      May 28th, 2013
  • When a painter paints a rugged stone with its edges not touching the frame, the stone is saying, "I am stone--a monument--see me and ponder my presence." When a painter paints a sprig of bamboo with its leaves and stalk cropped by the edges with the implication that the subject is continuing on outside the frame... Read On

  • Identical twins
      May 24th, 2013
  • Recently, Steve Koch of Gresham, Oregon wrote, "A friend experienced a situation where a painting of his was sold and then another client came forward and asked to have an identical one. I'm concerned about the artist's reputation and any problems the first client might have with the deal. What's your take on this?" Read On

  • Too much stuff!
      May 21st, 2013
  • Recently, Ed Kissane of Wantagh, NY, USA wrote, "I'm constantly fighting a flood of paper that comes into my life. I have a bedroom and a studio and I try to keep the areas clear but it grows every day like a giant amoeba. I try to downsize but I'm losing. The piles of paper diminish my time at the easel... Read On

  • The art of negative thinking
      May 17th, 2013
  • Recently, I had the opportunity to look over the shoulders of two painters who were giving demonstrations on the same day. The first was almost deliriously positive and bubbly about his work, his wonderful life as an artist and his prior successes... The second demonstrator spoke less and, when he did, it was... Read On

  • Patience
      May 14th, 2013
  • Recently, Jil Ashton-Leigh of Steveston, B. C., Canada told me about a wise Chinese art instructor who looked at her painting of the Fraser River and said, "Your mind--it is too fast." He told her to sit by the river for 30 minutes each day--no camera, no cellphone. "When you observe the river then you will come to... Read On

  • The disappearing blue
      May 10th, 2013
  • Recently, Barbara Hawley of Madison, Virginia wrote, "The blue colour in an acrylic painting I did in 2009 has disappeared! As I have several brands of acrylics in my paint box, I don't know which one is the problem paint. Living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it's important that... Read On

  • Daily studio rituals
      May 7th, 2013
  • Much has been written about the creativity-stimulating rituals of writers because, well, they wrote about it. Balzac drank 50 cups of coffee a day, Hemingway drank to write, prolific novelist George Simenon (400 books) made love to over 10,000 women (to be fair, his second wife said it was closer to... Read On

  • About space
      May 3rd, 2013
  • Back around the turn of the 20th century, household gadgets, from sewing machines to new fangled vacuum cleaners, were decorated with floral or other motifs. In those days, people thought things looked better when they were covered with busyness. Sewing machines themselves were sometimes made in the form of... Read On

  • The Holmesian artist
      April 30th, 2013
  • Deducing info from minor nuances, in the manner of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's perceptive Sherlock Holmes, is a prime skill for artists. "You see, but you do not observe," says Holmes to his sidekick Dr. Watson. Looking at the work of many artists, I'm convinced that not a few are on Dr. Watson's side of the office... Read On

  • What brainwave are you on?
      April 26th, 2013
  • It's all about how fast your neurons are firing. In Theta, it seems the neurons fire less often but more effectively, perhaps reaching out to more distant or irregular synapses. This quality firing, in theory, unlocks metaphors and unlikely combinations that are the basis of creativity and invention... Read On

  • First prize
      April 23rd, 2013
  • The other day I was rummaging through some old schooldays papers--report cards, notes from girls, etc, and I came across a blue card for First Prize in Junior Watercolour. Scratching my brain and reading the material on the card, I realized this was my first recognition beyond my family and school that I was an artist... Read On

  • Straightforward advice
      April 19th, 2013
  • Yesterday, Carolyn H. WarmSun of Montclair, California asked, "Do you ever do telephone consultations with artists? If so, at what price and how are they arranged? I am imagining us both on the phone in front of computers where you can see my website as we talk. I'm looking for straightforward advice... Read On

  • The decline of 'flow'
      April 16th, 2013
  • Yesterday, Katarina Vlasic dropped by to show me a carload of 12" x 24" paintings by her 7- and 8-year-old second grade students. Katarina is a popular art teacher who divides her time between two schools... Read On

  • A fireball artist
      April 12th, 2013
  • Cory Trepanier of Caledon, Ontario, Canada is an example of an artist who goes it alone. Cory has achieved remarkable success and popularity without benefit of dealers or galleries. He's what we like to call a rugged individualist. Like most self-made folks, he has some ideas on how to make it. In his own words, here are a few... Read On

  • When do ideas happen?
      April 9th, 2013
  • Recent research, aimed at finding specific triggers that result in good ideas, better solutions and bouts of creativity, has confirmed my own favourite times when stuff happens... Read On

  • The alchemy of art
      April 5th, 2013
  • Painting is not a witch's brew. With applied curiosity and reason, a dedicated student can grasp the processes. Often straightforward and practical, the best processes are the ones you figure out for yourself... Read On

  • Pied beauty
      April 2nd, 2013
  • After my Spinoza letter last week, a number of readers wrote directly--most of them "got it" and a few didn't. Thanks so much for extending this friendship. I'm deeply honoured. One of Spinoza's noted ideas is... Read On

  • Spinoza and me
      March 29th, 2013
  • You might wonder what a 17th century Dutch-Jewish philosopher has to do with art. For me it all started in Philosophy 101 at Victoria College. Roger Bishop, our prof, had brilliantly taken us through Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Rene Descartes, but when Baruch Spinoza came up I found my kind of guy... Read On

  • The downside of isolation
      March 26th, 2013
  • A fellow I know, whose name will go unmentioned here because he doesn't want to be seen hanging out in lousy company, lives alone in a sunless forest. He's a regular latter-day Thoreau, and he's been at it for twenty years--never been to McDonald's, doesn't have TV, and boils his own socks. You may know the type... Read On

  • The root of passion
      March 22nd, 2013
  • "What is passion?" If all the creativity coaches put their heads together to try to figure out the main question they get asked, that would be it. If there was an easy answer they'd all be millionaires, and so would their clients... Read On

  • The arrival of the MOOCs
      March 19th, 2013
  • MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses. Respectable institutions like Harvard, Stanford and MIT have signed on. The benefits of traditional classrooms are being sacrificed, say some educators, and many in academia don't like the MOOC's profit motives. This argument sounds funny coming from tenured professors... Read On

  • The story in art
      March 15th, 2013
  • At the end of the remarkable film, "Life of Pi," we are given the choice of two stories. One story is believable and quite predictable, the other implausible and wonderful. It's easy to choose the wonderful, implausible version. We need good stories. "And so it is with God," says Pi... Read On

  • Current art-pricing trends
      March 12th, 2013
  • Over the last while, another raft of emails has come in from artists wondering about pricing. Some new trends in pricing also require that I update. I'm dividing my comments between artists who sell through galleries and the ever-increasing Internet-empowered artists known as "self-sellers." Two different price lists are required... Read On

  • The art of demo-doing
      March 8th, 2013
  • You need to have your stuff ready and squeezed out. Quickly tell everyone what you intend to do and how long it might take. Brief demos are best. Tell people to feel free to blurt out questions as you go along. Make it clear that a question asked by one person is often the same question on the minds of others. Keep preliminary... Read On

  • What's up in the mountains?
      March 5th, 2013
  • At a show last fall, "The Bugaboos and Other High Places," a collector briefly stood in front of me and asked, "What is it about the mystique of mountains, and why are mountains such a perennial subject for painters?"... Read On

  • The IKEA effect
      March 1st, 2013
  • The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias where time and effort enhance affection for the work. It's named after the Swedish manufacturer whose products come in boxes with "some assembly required"... Read On

  • The tribe
      February 26th, 2013
  • In "The Wandering Who?" Gilad Atzmon tells of the day in his youth when he first heard the saxophone of Charlie (Bird) Parker. It was on vinyl and from the only record store in Jerusalem. Young Gilad studied that disc night and day and then purchased his very own sax. The "miracle of music" was to take him to an International career... Read On

  • The personal touch
      February 22nd, 2013
  • I know this may sound perverse, but I think artists should consider giving their work such a personal touch that future fakers will really have to scratch their heads before they might knock one off. As I mentioned, order is valuable--primer, underpainting, glazing, scumbling, re-glazing, final impasto... Read On

  • The new switcheroo
      February 19th, 2013
  • Many collectors have favourite galleries where they tend to buy their art. Other collectors grow to dislike a dealer and prefer to buy somewhere else, even though the art they fancy is right under their noses. It works both ways--many dealers now ship stuff to other galleries and split the commission... Read On

  • Theft
      February 15th, 2013
  • My first theft happened when I was in my twenties. A thief distracted a gallery owner, grabbed my little painting from the gallery window, and fled down an alley. Close to mine in the window had been a valuable painting by one of Canada's celebrated dead artists. Mine looked similar... Read On

  • Beyond judgment
      February 12th, 2013
  • In 1975, Tom Wolfe wrote a perceptive little book called, "The Painted Word." He was trying to understand for himself what made the New York art scene so difficult to understand, and how, in his opinion, bad work could so often be touted as good... Read On

  • Generic versus specific
      February 8th, 2013
  • Exiting from the films at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, we hand in our ballots. Each attendee is asked to rate each movie between one and five--five being excellent and one being poor. I couldn't help but think of a similar system for paintings in art museums... Read On

  • Creative Darwinism
      February 5th, 2013
  • Collective crits usually don't work very well. There's a tendency to be kind, supportive, gracious, inclusive and pleasant. To grow in art you need to be a rugged individualist who pilots your own spaceship... Read On

  • Your art in the movies
      February 1st, 2013
  • Recently, a fellow painter phoned to tell me that one of his galleries had asked him to sign a "Motion Picture Exposure Agreement." From time to time the dealer might rent his work to motion picture productions, take a small fee and give little... Read On

  • The Matthew Effect
      January 29th, 2013
  • The Matthew Effect can be applied to art. Historically, would-be artists who didn't learn the basics of drawing, composition, colour and form, put themselves at a disadvantage. But with the widespread democratization of art... Read On

  • The weak link in the virtuous circle
      January 25th, 2013
  • Widely available programs offer systems and information to build artistic success. Well-meaning non-artist counsellors can omit or gloss over the part of the virtuous circle that deals with product quality... Read On

  • Grand Ceremonial Bonfire?
      January 22nd, 2013
  • Your key manager, working with your executor, should have the power to release work in a timely manner--over a period of years, if necessary. Your elected dealers, to be effective, need to be given a certain amount of control, long-term security and monetary benefit. Appointing several dealers is preferable to just one. Your will should also stipulate... Read On

  • The Stendhal Syndrome
      January 18th, 2013
  • The condition was first described in 1979 by the Italian psychiatrist, Gaziella Magherini, after studying more than 100 cases among visitors to the Uffizi in Florence. A concentration of particularly beautiful art can cause rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations... Read On

  • Anatomy of a curve
      January 15th, 2013
  • In visual art, the curve helps manage the movements of viewers' eyes by keeping them within the picture. As well as making a work of art more voluptuous and appealing, the curve is the most effective device for leading the eye to centres of interest... Read On

  • A new vocabulary
      January 11th, 2013
  • English is lacking when it comes to expressions of specific situations. In the particularly rich language of Japan, for example, "tatemae" means what you pretend to believe, and "honne" means what you actually believe... Read On

  • Catatonia
      January 8th, 2013
  • Catatonia isn't the name of a Cunard liner or a Welsh rock band. Catatonia is a kind of lethargic stupor and a sense of "why bother?" In extreme cases a patient may sit or stand for hours in the same position. Even when physically moved or adjusted by someone else, these folks... Read On

  • Consecutive numbering
      January 4th, 2013
  • Around the turn of the year several artists wrote asking about the numbering of works. While you can start doing it any day you choose, January the first seems to be the day of choice. Questions arise... Read On

  • Over the risky cliff
      January 1st, 2013
  • Being largely self-employed, we artists don't have the problems of group stubbornness or committee incompetence. In gratitude and joy we make our private mistakes in an atmosphere of personal reflection, even in the face of self-doubt... 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