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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.

Browse by year:

2014 Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

  • Tom Thomson
      December 30th, 2014
  • Here in Canada we a have national icon. His name is Tom Thomson. For a brief period of six years he painted brilliant paintings of Canada's north. His images are etched into the fabric of Canada's culture. Thousands of artists have been influenced by him... Read On

  • The magic of yearning
      December 26th, 2014
  • I read once that we all have a "happiness set-point," and that it usually returns about six months after a trauma or extreme life event. In other words, a miserable person who wins the lottery is soon a miserable millionaire. Likewise, joyful souls... Read On

  • Style in art
      December 23rd, 2014
  • From the cosmic consciousness of our artist-subscribers came three letters in the same day, all asking about style. How important is style? How do I find my style? How do I avoid getting locked into a style? This means something, I thought... Read On

  • Is landscape dead?
      December 19th, 2014
  • Subscriber Jack Monk writes, "Is visual art on its way out? Or is it just landscape painting that is the most dead of all art forms? Should it just be allowed to die or to reconstruct itself in some (as yet unimagined) new form?" Thanks, Jack. After googling, "Is painting dead?" and coming up with 104 million results, I can report that painting -- including landscape -- appears to be alive and well and living on... Read On

  • Looking inward
      December 16th, 2014
  • I crawled back into my space. After the hyper energy of the outer world, the East, pushing and shoving, sights seen, gifts collected, philosophies touched. This room, this untidy room, now tidy from my absence, the home of my work, this studio. The old clock's humming. The same paint-rags. The forgotten aroma of art. The brush dips into the modelling paste, the titanium white... Read On

  • The feedback loop
      December 12th, 2014
  • A subscriber who wishes to remain anonymous writes, "I have often been dissatisfied with the juror of shows. I am bringing the idea of doing one show a year that would be peer reviewed to my local artist’s association. My thought is that all will know that we value every member artist’s opinion and seek it from them. I think it could strengthen relationships among members. If you... Read On

  • The art shrine
      December 9th, 2014
  • An anonymous email came in from a subscriber: "The Painter's Keys is not a website -- it's a vision. It's a vision of a universal brotherhood and sisterhood, timeless and for all time. It's a vision of solitary strugglers who are united in the obligation for quality while serving their own individualist dreams. What we artists do is noble and life-enhancing for others. It requires... Read On

  • The wandering studio
      December 5th, 2014
  • Spiritual guru Yogi Bhajan taught his followers to "travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light." As artists, we either wait for perfect conditions and get nothing done, or we cultivate a serendipitous imagination tool-kit and carry it within, for ideas and productivity on-the-go. This "wandering studio" gathers and stores experiences, takes chances with the unfamiliar and requires... Read On

  • Why landscape?
      December 2nd, 2014
  • A question I've been asked often by students is, "Why do you paint mainly landscapes?" Some universities are still announcing that painting is dead, and that landscape painting is particularly dead. However, this is 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

  • Light switch
      November 28th, 2014
  • I'm standing in a white room with a digital projector that blasts a square of white light on a white wall. In the centre is a shaky drawing of a light switch. A cartoon finger comes up from the lower left hand corner and flips the switch. The projection goes black, then light, then black, then light, while an accompanying soundtrack reverberates off the walls... Read On

  • About fire
      November 25th, 2014
  • Several artists visited my studio to pick up their paintings that I've been using for a small research project. With each friend I came around to asking the same question: "What's firing you up these days?" The answers were as wide and varied as their artistic personalities -- from concerns of ecology, health, failed relationships, teachers, clubs... Read On

  • The prestige
      November 21st, 2014
  • I recently spent an evening at a comedy club in North Melbourne. Headlining was a grey-haired, plaid-shirted guy who told jokes about local conveniences, including the technological prompts that pepper modern life -- the talking grocery store bagging station, the talking crosswalk, the talking commuter-tram ticket box. It was regional stuff that resonated universally, and the audience howled with approval... Read On

  • Uniqueness
      November 18th, 2014
  • Something I've learned from the sending and receiving of letters is the defiant individuality and uniqueness of creative people. Beginners and seasoned professionals: each and every one of us is a sovereign unit. Intuitively, we tend to guard against unwanted influences, and yet we are curious about others in the sisterhood and brotherhood. I flatter myself to think this is why... Read On

  • What's in the Box?
      November 14th, 2014
  • A new friend recently invited me to her weekly Melbourne life-drawing group -- "Roar Draw" -- (antipodean-pronounced "raw draw.") "I'm so excited," she said. "One minute and two minute poses, and I love to use my left hand. I can literally feel the divide between my right and left hemispheres dissolving away." A previous incarnation as a bank executive is dissolving for her, too -- replaced by... Read On

  • The artistic alternative
      November 11th, 2014
  • At no time in our progress do we stop wondering what the secret is. Sometimes I think just knowing that there's more than one way to paint a tree is the main part of it. The idea is that every work of art has to be worked out in its own way. It's possible, of course, to keep doing anything in a tried and true manner. But we always have choices. With the artistic alternative, you stand a chance of surprising yourself... Read On

  • A cycle of wonder
      November 7th, 2014
  • At the St. Kilda pier in Melbourne, Australia, stands a marina, boardwalk, Edwardian-era kiosk and a rocky breakwater jutting out into the long tidal flat of Port Phillip Bay. Prevailing winds from the Tasman Sea sweep an outstretched beach of shimmering shell dust with clumps of dune grasses blown flat into wispy mounds. Silver gull, White-plumed honeyeater, Noisy miner, Silvereye, Willy wagtail, Laughing kookaburra... Read On

  • Tradition
      November 4th, 2014
  • South of Arles on a small canal is a famous bridge: Pont de Langlois remains almost as Vincent Van Gogh would have seen it in 1888. Moved from its former site, today it's off a secondary road and fairly difficult to find. The air is full of lavender and asparagus. Ripening sunflowers nod like happy-faces. Black cypresses -- those expressive exclamation points in the Provençal landscape -- bow to an unseasonable mistral... Read On

  • Design life
      October 31st, 2014
  • American sculptor Robin Antar says, "Life is an empty square unless one fills it up with matter." Life is also just waiting for our design. Last Saturday my family joined old and new friends, artists and collectors who had gathered to celebrate a personal connection with Dad's paintings. Wet eyes and tender smiles met in front of painterly mountain peaks rising behind dove-grey clag, scumbled islets and weathered... Read On

  • An artist's process
      October 28th, 2014
  • Imagine, if you will, an artist's encounter group. Imagine they are sharing, in one sentence each and with impunity, their current processes. It might sound like this: "I look in nature until I see something that appeals to me." "I look in my environment for elements that lend themselves to my style." "I look into my imagination for images which I can make real." "I wait for requests from dealers and patrons and give them what they want"... Read On

  • The unanswered question
      October 24th, 2014
  • In 1976 Leonard Bernstein lectured on art at Harvard University. "A work of art does not answer questions," he said, "it provokes them." He called his talk The Unanswered Question, borrowing his title from the 1908 symphony composed by American modernist Charles Ives. I recently listened to Ives' composition while driving Dad's car in an autumn mist. The music poses a question in the form of... Read On

  • Collectors of Art
      October 21st, 2014
  • For many of us, our solo shows are the nights when we get to meet the people who make it all possible -- our collectors and those angels who connect with them, our dealers. The doors open, wine is poured and everybody wanders around and looks at your stuff. While there can be a bit of tension and even anxiety, it generally turns out to be a fun evening. I've always been curious as to... Read On

  • Abstract principles
      October 17th, 2014
  • Not long ago a family friend sent me an old photograph of my 30-year-old father in paint splattered work pants standing at a limestone wall hung salon-style with paintings. My parents were honeymooning in Europe. They'd already spent a year in Southern Spain where Dad had begun a series of abstract paintings -- a capricious exercise intended to hone design instincts. He had set some parameters... Read On

  • Creative efficiency
      October 14th, 2014
  • Back in the dark ages I used to take whole days to stretch canvases or build shipping crates. I rationalized that I needed the exercise and the change of pace. One day I realized that all I was getting was substandard canvases, shaky crates, and blue fingers. It was really all about avoidance. I saw that I needed to spend more time working up my ideas and performing my art. And in my main focus -- those things that I figured I did best -- I had to be more efficient... Read On

  • The idea life cycle
      October 10th, 2014
  • Several years ago, a friend and I thought something might be learned by watching every Woody Allen movie in chronological order. Allen has made at least one film per year non-stop for the past 50 years, beginning with "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" in 1966. By the time he made "Annie Hall" in 1977, he'd made some iffy stuff, made almost the same movie several times, exaggerated his strengths and flaws, and entered into what many feel is the... Read On

  • Intuitive Flow
      October 7th, 2014
  • The Canadian painter Emily Carr (1871-1945) thought an artist's growth was beyond explanation. She thought it was best to be silent on the subject. "One does not keep digging up a plant to see how it grows," she said. This is a major puzzle we artists must deal with. To what degree do we pay attention to our progress and to what degree do we just let it flow?... Read On

  • Grey matters
      October 3rd, 2014
  • I recently met my downstairs neighbour -- a New York jazz-punk original, an arranger of avant-garde film scores, flamenco producer and composer of chamber music for the electric violin. He also conducts an orchestra of Thai elephants. By day, he's a neuroscientist at Columbia University's Laboratory of Dopamine Neurotransmission... Read On

  • Am I plagiarizing?
      September 30th, 2014
  • I've been asked whether making paintings that use the works of dead artists but do not look like the originals, e.g. the position of the person has been changed, dress has been altered, face changed, etc., would still be considered plagiarism. This practice is called appropriation, one of the least offensive of the copying arts. However, you might ask yourself... Read On

  • Gift horse
      September 26th, 2014
  • When Mark Landis was a boy, his well-to-do parents would take him travelling in Europe and leave him alone in their hotel room while dining out in the evenings. Young Mark passed the time by watching old movies and drawing. He would copy from art catalogues collected from museums visited during the day... Read On

  • Thoughts left visible
      September 23rd, 2014
  • The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has an unfinished work by Lawrence Alma-Tadema: "Three Sleeping Myenads after the dance," 1899. This one is particularly useful because it shows process. Three semi-draped nudes are in varying degrees of finish. The flesh and face of one are virtually complete, while parts of the others are only indicated... Read On

  • Your sacred hour
      September 19th, 2014
  • Mark Twain wrote, "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day." While likening studio time to frogocide could be considered extreme, fear of difficulty, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of pleasure (the fear of being selfish) and the resulting procrastination might be curbed by Twain's suggestion... Read On

  • Reality check
      September 16th, 2014
  • "The reality is that many creative people do not have the freedom to follow their nose. What's to be done where someone holds a nine-to-five job or even manages a home and family? Here are a couple of suggestions: The first is to engrave in stone an hour or two out of every day where your private work-space is sacrosanct. Before or after your main job... Read On

  • Game time
      September 12th, 2014
  • An emerging New York artist I know paints quality abstracts. Over the last few years, he's worked a day job in design and art direction, while exhibiting his paintings through an artist's agent. Recently, he wrote, "I really need to get a show -- any advice? I remain convinced that if I got a gallery show, my paintings would sell..." Longing to be helpful, I readied a simple answer... Read On

  • Painting a portrait
      September 9th, 2014
  • "Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend," said John Singer Sargent. He may have been joking--his portraits combined a reasonable likeness with an elegance which often made sitters more aristocratic looking than they may have deserved. As well as likeness, the desired psychological depth comes with an understanding of the subject. The tools of... Read On

  • The pro-creative ritual
      September 5th, 2014
  • "Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition," wrote Anglo-American poet W. H. Auden in 1958. Auden believed that a strict schedule was essential to creativity - a way of metering the muse into regular, controlled doses. "A modern stoic knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or or ought to do... Read On

  • An artist's mind
      September 2nd, 2014
  • My friend Joe Blodgett said, "There's two ways to walk this path--one for the path and one for the spirit." In a cathedral of Douglas fir and alder, blown twigs from the night's storm over a carpet of autumn, Joe crouches down and watches the steady miracle of a spotted woodland slug. Joe says he feels an artistic moment coming on... Read On

  • Art and marriage
      August 29th, 2014
  • I once listened to a singer/songwriter belt out a tune for his new girlfriend: he complained of being artistically washed up because he was so contented. Perhaps the heart's new responsibility endangers our languid days of cloud-gazing and productive days of workaholism. When observing my parents, though, I noticed how a partnership can... Read On

  • The canary in the mine
      August 26th, 2014
  • Artists of the past often suffered poor physical and mental health due to the materials they worked with: lead, powdered pigment, turpentine, carcinogens, etc. It's difficult to know if Vincent van Gogh put paint in his mouth, but someone, somewhere, may be trying to find out. Clinical pathologist Dr. Paul Wolf of the University of California cites... Read On

  • Letters to a young artist
      August 22nd, 2014
  • In "Letters to a Young Artist," Anna writes to a fictional young painter called BZ. "Art should take what is complex and render it simply," she advises. "It takes a lot of skill, human understanding, stamina, courage, energy, and heart to do that." Anna describes a desire for 'wide-awakeness.' "Do you want to be an artist so that... Read On

  • Your true muses
      August 19th, 2014
  • To work your muses, the first thing you have to do is separate your true muses from your false muses. Your true muses are those that turn you on, interest you, excite you and motivate you to explore further. Both true and false muses are generated in early childhood, and sorting them out can save a lot of trouble in later art and life. Fact is, we're often... Read On

  • Embracing the pivot
      August 15th, 2014
  • Micro-pivots and lifelong creative evolutions are the grist for our mill and become our own art history... When engrossed in an undertaking that's losing thrust or promise, we face the challenge of finding the courage to make adjustments. The difference between certain misery and fresh, springing hope is having the guts to leap into... Read On

  • The Post-Show Blues
      August 12th, 2014
  • Some artists have trouble getting back into their work after a solo show. The desire is there but they can't proceed. It's called PSB--Post-Show Blues. I've spent a lifetime trying to either eliminate or lessen the condition. A show's success or failure has little to do with the severity of the problem. While there are lots of causes, it's often... Read On

  • Building a show
      August 8th, 2014
  • Amidst the day-to-day supply and demand of painting and deliveries, solo shows are an opportunity to build something bigger. Think of it as your own personal advancing of the whole history of art -- a strengthening occurs, with multiple works holding together a larger, commemorative statement. This is a chance to be... Read On

  • The meaning of success
      August 5th, 2014
  • I've come to realize success 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 success is wrapped up in something like a Porsche 911 Turbo... it does have something to do with self-vindication and self-actualization... Read On

  • The smiling game
      August 1st, 2014
  • Recently, Tim began a project called "The Smiling Game." In it, he takes his camera into public spaces and asks two strangers to stand facing each other. Then, following a hunch, he asks one of them to smile. Tim has noticed that after awhile the person opposite is compelled to smile, too. In this way, he is able to observe and record an... Read On

  • Keys to motivation
      July 29th, 2014
  • Work is not work when work is loved. This thought is affirmed by legions of artists who have no trouble being motivated. Many get themselves started with the expectation of joy. But hardly one of us hasn't, at some time, lacked the desire to do so. In my studio, when there's no joy, there's no work. In studying motivation, I've found at least three... Read On

  • The one-millimetre rule
      July 25th, 2014
  • Often, artists entertain bold moves as a solution to floundering inspiration, disappointing work, or a lackluster bank balance."Insanity," said Albert Einstein, "is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Maybe a softer, gentler way can improve outcome. Before a drastic act, might we merely... Read On

  • Bern Will Brown
      July 22nd, 2014
  • My friend Bern Will Brown is 86 now, but he's still going strong. He's spent the last 44 years in Colville Lake (pop. 100), an isolated outpost way up in Canada's far north. Born in upstate New York, Bern spent his childhood looking across Lake Ontario and marvelling at the northern lights. "That's where I knew I had to... Read On

  • Tim's Vermeer
      July 18th, 2014
  • Tim Jenison is a lifelong inventor from San Antonio, Texas. These days he manages a company that makes live and post-production video imaging software for computers. Tim's a smart guy and ever curious -- busy building things when he's not running his organization. Until recently, Tim Jenison had never picked up a paintbrush. Witnessing Tim's new activity, his friends... Read On

  • Paint by seeing paint
      July 15th, 2014
  • I've always noticed that master creators have a seemingly easy ability to think on their feet. They look at their work in progress and amend it in what appears to be a natural and intuitive way. It's easy to get the idea that they are just talented and have always worked in this manner. I think it's an attitude, and it's learned. I've also noted that the process is... Read On

  • Ecstasy
      July 11th, 2014
  • I once saw Swan Lake at the American Ballet Theatre at Lincoln Centre in New York City. Settling in as the lights dimmed and the chandeliers ascended, organza tutus appeared on the stage like soft, floating objects of meditation... Read On

  • Spots of time
      July 8th, 2014
  • The English poet William Wordsworth had a concept that he called "Spots of Time." These are small, memorable events that occur mainly outdoors and in touch with nature. According to Wordsworth, these spots have lasting quality and are capable of "lifting us up when we are fallen." One way that Wordsworth marked this occurrence was in the titling of his work... Read On

  • A new tube
      July 4th, 2014
  • Due to a serendipitous detour en route to New York, I'm laptopping you from the Anaheim Convention Center in Southern California. Twenty thousand teenagers -- mostly girls clutching their pass and iphone -- congregate for a chance to meet, interact and take a selfie with their latest online video blogging hero. VidCon is the world's largest... Read On

  • Opportunities for design
      July 1st, 2014
  • Back in mediaeval times, I was conducting a workshop and pontificating about design. A man put his hand up and said, "When you use the word 'design,' I have no idea what you're talking about. What are you talking about?" I realized right then that, for many artists, the kind of design I was talking about wasn't covered in their bibles... Read On

  • Agent of change
      June 27th, 2014
  • I'm laptopping you from our family home in Crescent Beach, B.C. where we've spent a magic spring under the watchful eye of a resident crow. Dmitry caws in the branches of a nearby dogwood until a nugget of carrot cake is placed on the picnic table. In a flash, the cake is scooped up in one beak-full and carried away. When he reappears, his jet-black plumage seems to shine brighter... Read On

  • Vulnerability
      June 24th, 2014
  • Artists may be more vulnerable to the slings and arrows than most people. Even the egocentric and bubbly among us can be sensitive and touchy. Personal failings as well as monetary and relationship problems lie heavily on us, affecting our mood-swings and the quality and energy we put into our creative and other life. In some cases, including mine, the result is spots of anger, irrational exuberance, minor paranoia... Read On

  • What's your ministry?
      June 20th, 2014
  • In a recent commencement address at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield Iowa, comedian Jim Carrey describes the moment he gave a name to his life's calling. "The purpose of my life had always been to free people from concern," says Jim. "I dubbed it, 'The church of freedom from concern,' or 'FFC.' I dedicated myself to my ministry. What's yours?"... Read On

  • Recovery
      June 17th, 2014
  • A player breaks away, speeds down the ice, then, in a confused dust-up, loses control of the puck. Somehow, miraculously, he manages to get it again--and goes on to score. It's called "recovery." Think of it this way: Some artists, whose planning and executing are steady and predictable, progress toward their ideas of perfection. This is okay. But it's sort of like... Read On

  • A celebration of life
      June 13th, 2014
  • Dad's location could be narrowed down, for periods, to a four-by-four foot spot at our home on Beckett Road. Here, with his force of infinite dedication, he logged infinite moments of joy and toil, practice and patience, craft, love and boundless discovery: Dad's ardent becoming. His journey evolved by way of curiosity, through victory and dud, by way of experimentation, triumph and reflection, through impossible... Read On

  • Aerial perspective
      June 10th, 2014
  • One summer we rented a home in Pont-Aven. This Brittany village is where Gauguin painted off and on between 1886 and 1890. The pension in which he held forth with Emile Bernard and Paul Sérusier is now a news agency. The section of town where we stayed was called "quatre-vents"(four winds). Every day, water-laden clouds from the Atlantic blew across my canvasses... Read On

  • The perks of disorientation
      June 6th, 2014
  • Behavioural scientist Winifred Gallagher, in "Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life," suggests our lives are formed by the attention we give to something, rather than by fate, circumstance, fortune or even chaos. But what happens in those exceptional moments, when our bearings are lost and we enter a period of temporal, emotional or physical disorder? We may let our focus... read more... Read On

  • The age of sharing
      June 3rd, 2014
  • We are pioneers in one of history's great events. We now have the potential to connect our images, sounds and written words to every being on planet Earth. This democratization cuts across all traditional lines--of nation, religion, race, language and gender. Theoretically, the result is equal opportunity for all. Those with passion... Read On

  • Robert Genn (May 15, 1936 - May 27, 2014)
      May 30th, 2014
  • I tapped along on his laptop as he riffed a stream of consciousness, his sense of wonder twinkling, then sparkling, his voice growing ever softer, his hand squeezing mine when we paused. "The thing about art is that life is in no danger of being meaningless," he whispered... Read On

  • Figuring it out
      May 27th, 2014
  • Stephan's passion was poetry. He wrote in Icelandic: abrupt, visual, heartfelt. Six books were published during his lifetime with many translations to come. He died in 1927. He's known as "Iceland's poet of the Rocky Mountains." Stephansson House is now a Heritage Park, preserved close to 1920 standards. Young women in period dress show you around. You can get a pretty good idea of the... Read On

  • Finding passion
      May 23rd, 2014
  • Some artists who might read this, especially the more highly evolved ones, are going to say, "I don't need to find passion, I've already found it." Fair enough. Here are a few ideas for those who may have misplaced it. Dr. Susan Biali, 37, a medical doctor as encouraged by her parents, has written a book on passion and how she found her true calling. Right now she's negotiating a TV program about the process. Susan says... Read On

  • Opium dream
      May 20th, 2014
  • On recent afternoons, we can be found sitting beneath our red cedars, daydreaming under what Dad describes as "sharp, vibrant, individual foliage and light." He's observing what it's like to be under the influence of palliative morphine... While most of us are not in the habit of taking opium, there might be some ideas to glean from those who have... Read On

  • Our parade of wonders
      May 16th, 2014
  • Within easy walking distance of my studio is Crescent Park. When we're at home, Dorothy and I go there in every season, nearly every day. I'm guessing the park is about a hundred acres and includes playing fields, a small lake and, for us, a labyrinth of forest pathways. We have a route, and Dorothy can be counted on to become agitated in places of previous canine encounters, historic squirrels, and other reinventions of... Read On

  • "Too beautiful to pass up"
      May 13th, 2014
  • Early one morning long ago, I was at my studio easel when an acquaintance, a fellow boater, phoned to give me an unusual tip. "Did you know," he asked, "that a guy is living on a derelict fish boat at anchor in the Nicomekl River on the big bend, and he's got scads of your paintings stashed about on board?"... Read On

  • Are you a Lone Wolf or a Collaborator?
      May 9th, 2014
  • As artists, we all sit somewhere on the Lone wolf / Collaborator spectrum. Statistically, painters tend toward solitude if they can get away with it, thriving on the blessings of singular focus and private vision. Musicians and other performing artists share, interact and blend their talents, ideas and skills. They attest to the intoxicating magic that comes... Read On

  • Definition of a charmed life
      May 6th, 2014
  • My dad used to say that I led a charmed life. He'd say, "He's never had a job, he loves what he does, he's a happy guy and he always seems to have enough money to do what he wants. He even looks after everyone else." Recently, hearing this sort of thing once more has given me pause to consider just what a "charmed life" is... Read On

  • Love labour
      May 2nd, 2014
  • On recent afternoons, I've been preparing panels for Dad's archives. This involves a good cleaning, examining the varnish and, if necessary, re-coating. When done, I'll take a small selection up to the bedroom. In almost every case, he remembers the location and circumstances in which each was made. "Experiments with squeeze bottle... Read On

  • Made to last
      April 29th, 2014
  • I couldn't help but notice little traps placed inconspicuously at the bases of some of the totem poles in the Great Hall of the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia. The poles, some dating from 1880 and relocated from their original villages along British Columbia's coast, are weathered to a silver-grey. Sea lions, wolves, eagles and grizzlies eyeball... Read On

  • Something about Bill
      April 25th, 2014
  • I'm laptopping you from the rotunda at the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology. In the centre is Bill Reid's monumental cedar carving, "The Raven and The First Men." According to Haida legend, the Raven found himself alone on Rose Spit beach on Haida Gwaii in the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia. At his feet was a partly open... Read On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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