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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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2015 Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

  • Travel tips
      June 9th, 2015
  • I've been asked about getting gear to workshops overseas, since not everyone can afford to re-equip themselves on these occasions. Read On

  • White lie
      June 5th, 2015
  • John Singer Sargent painted Two Girls in White Dresses between 1909 and 1911 while on a trip in the Italian Alps. The painting shows the same model twice, fresh and study-like, foreshortened and sprawled in a zigzagging swoosh across a patch of alpine meadow. Along with electrifying brush-flashes and satiny dress-folds, it embodies Sargent's late-life retirement from formal portraiture in favour of outdoor work. I call this the wild and rhythmic culmination of the Golden Age of White... Read On

  • The problem of order
      June 2nd, 2015
  • Walking on a pathway in a wood in the late afternoon, an orange sun is flirting with the latticework, like a bus gambolling on the horizon. The trees are mysterious, clinging, cobwebby -- in silhouette like actors moving. Fog fills the spaces. The words of Emily Carr when she was looking at a forest: "Perfectly ordered disorder designed with a helter-skelter magnificence."... Read On

  • Assistance
      May 29th, 2015
  • A design school graduate who recently visited asked, "Would you like an assistant? I want to get back to painting after working in product design during the week. Can I come over Saturdays?"... Read On

  • The Empire of Art
      May 26th, 2015
  • Unlike the Roman, the British, or any other Empires under the sun, the Empire of Art rises from grass roots just about everywhere. While its citizens speak a variety of tongues, they are understood pretty well universally. If you include the larger sphere of the written arts, photography, film, video and the spoken word, it's one of the greatest communities in the history of mankind... Read On

  • On painting well
      May 22nd, 2015
  • If a painter were to tap the principles in William Zinsser's book, On Writing Well, she would follow the rules of clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity. Zinsser, a feature writer, author, blogger, editor and professor at Yale and the New School was a stickler for a clean message and for sharing himself with his audience. "Whatever I write about, I make myself available," he wrote. "No hiding." In painting, the rules apply... Read On

  • Titles of paintings
      May 19th, 2015
  • Most of us paint first and title last. Sometimes, about the middle, a title just pops out of the ether. And a few of us get a title in our heads and figure out the work to go with it. Particularly with whimsical and didactic art, this last system is worth considering. The right title makes a difference as to how a work is seen and understood. Not only are titles a bridge to the viewer, they are also part of the art. I'm a believer in giving your titles some careful thought... Read On

  • The art of giving
      May 15th, 2015
  • We recently lost our friend Yulanda. She was 77. Smart, funny and glamorously beautiful, Yulanda's essence was her enthusiasm. She made meals of books and read the newspaper daily from cover to cover. Most of all, Yulanda loved art -- especially music and dance -- and brought others along in her passion. She would perch at the edge of her chesterfield, her eyes wet, unfurling an ardent description of a previous evening's concert, with a smile open like a sun-soaked harbour... Read On

  • Make a Home
      May 12th, 2015
  • Here's a creative method surprisingly and often overlooked as we go about and busy ourselves in art-making. Take a look around your own home and family and see what might be needed. Find a wall or a space that can be filled with something you, yourself, would rather like to see. Take a look around your home and family and find something that is worthy of another look and perhaps a rendering for your own joy... Read On

  • The artist's lens
      May 8th, 2015
  • Synesthesia, meaning "joined sensation," is a neurological phenomenon that combines two or more of the senses, producing cross-modal perception in the brain. While it occurs in about 4% of the population, it's 7 times more common in artists. You could call it "the artist's lens," even if you're not, at this moment, puckered up from the taste of a laughing alphabet or hearing the sunset... Read On

  • The Big Picture
      May 5th, 2015
  • In life, in art, a major problem is failing to see the big picture. Individual parts may be just fine but the overall doesn't get off the ground. Together with your individual sensitivity and your own vision, what you're looking for is strength, pattern and character. We're talking art here... Read On

  • To task or to multi-task
      May 1st, 2015
  • I once visited the studio of an artist living on the Eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. His windblown farm swelled with inspiration and distraction -- cormorants were nesting on the channel markers, a farmer kicked tractor dust in a field of soybeans, and a pair of shiny sculls were slung at the ready, their oars curling with invitation. We slurped at a bucket of blue crabs and hosed off the paving stones before stepping into the aerie of his studio. Inside, a dozen canvases waited in mid-stream... Read On

  • Contradiction
      April 28th, 2015
  • At my easel this morning I realized that the way I'm working right now contradicts the way I was doing it a couple of weeks ago. Even in the literature it seems that eminent instructors and much-published writers have widely ranging opinions and methodology when it comes to the making of art. There seems to be more than one way to Rome. There's no universal way to prime a canvas, lay down a wash, frame a painting, or get inspired... Read On

  • Funding art
      April 24th, 2015
  • I'm laptopping you from the second row of a downtown movie theatre, where the Tribeca Film Festival is premiering one of its 100 feature selections. To my right slumps a solo, bespectacled cinephile, fine legs crossed in corduroy. To my left, a millennial can't resist fondling her phone. Near hysteria, and in jangly bangles and bronchitis, she beeps with her seatmate while opening and closing her purse. Afterward, the cast and crew stand under a yellow spotlight to answer questions. Even with a few heavy-hitters under his belt, the writer/director smiles with the first blush of love as he talks about how the film got made... Read On

  • Quotations
      April 21st, 2015
  • Stephen Vizinczey's seventh commandment is, "Thou shalt not let a day pass without rereading something great." I'm kind of converted. For a while I kept Bartlett's at my elbow as I painted, flipping randomly while paint was drying, letting my finger do the walking for a quick fix between strokes. Some time back I tried reading the Britannica, all of it, mostly in bed. Of late I've been digging anywhere at all among the words of artists... Read On

  • Cloud story
      April 17th, 2015
  • A few days ago, I painted a particularly sweet painting that was immediately 'picked up' once I posted it online. Instead of putting my usual Sargent Art Acrylic Gloss to cover it, at the art shop I decided to use its counterpart Acrylic Matte Medium. The label states clearly that it can be used as a varnish coat. I followed instructions and foolishly did not test, just painted the whole 28" x 28" painting with this 'varnish'. This morning I was horrified to find it left a ghost white coating (brush strokes very evident) all over the painting... Read On

  • The power of three
      April 14th, 2015
  • Today, in this studio, I'm reminding myself of the power of three. Apart from foreground, middle-ground and background, there are three trees, three color-grounds, three motifs. Four has a tendency to be static, two suggests coupling or perhaps confrontation, while one represents loneliness and is not generally enough. Three carries with it the possibility of psychological rightness... Read On

  • What makes good design?
      April 10th, 2015
  • I'm laptopping you from the Museum of the City of New York, where on view are 150 examples of the work of '50s ad man Paul Rand. Rand was already a Madison Avenue superstar in 1941 when at the age 27 he was appointed Chief Art Director of William H. Weintraub & Co. From there he drove what became known as the "Creative Revolution" -- replacing dense, explanatory text and the dominion of copywriting with a new, art-driven approach to form and visual communication in advertising Read On

  • Artists' names
      April 7th, 2015
  • Rothko had nowhere to go. If he had been able to complicate his image rather than simplify it to the extreme, his art could have soared in new directions, but the image which had become his trademark was inescapable. As Sally Avery speculated, what if it had been possible for him to start again under an assumed name, as Japanese artists do when they have reached a plateau in their careers... Read On

  • Big Eyes
      April 3rd, 2015
  • In Tim Burton's 2014 film, Big Eyes, artist Margaret Keane stands with her paintings while a customer asks, "Are you the artist?" She pauses as if she may be reviewing her own existence. Her husband, Walter, a realtor, has been passing off her work as his own... Read On

  • Freedom
      March 31st, 2015
  • Fred phoned from the art school. "I graduated," he said, "I want to get an idea where you think I might be going." Then last night he brought some of his paintings to my studio. He gave me an enthusiastic preamble about his growth in the last four years. Then he pulled his works from their wrappings... Read On

  • What's under there?
      March 27th, 2015
  • Children's novelist Katherine Paterson wrote, "I love revision. Where else can spilled milk be turned into ice cream?" In painting, our magic strokes are made to look as though they were always there, the torture of revision but a private memory for the creator. A pro makes her effort look effortless, with nothing but a black-light between her and the truth... Read On

  • Relaxed pressure scheduling
      March 24th, 2015
  • After a recent letter, several artists asked what I meant by "relaxed pressure scheduling." When I'm wandering around in my studio, bumping into things, talking to myself, I call it "RPS."... Read On

  • My bad boyfriend
      March 20th, 2015
  • On last night's flight from New York, I read Amy Poehler's memoir, Yes Please. An actress, writer, director and producer, Amy describes the distinction between that thing you do as an artist and your career as one. "Creativity is connected to passion -- that light inside that drives you." On the other hand... Read On

  • Pressures
      March 17th, 2015
  • My dad, 91 and still painting, used to be in the investment business. He gave me some good advice: "Pay yourself first." What he meant was to set aside the first part of your income to some sort of savings plan. After a while this habit led to the pleasantness of watching investments compound and grow. Having this backup results in a reduction of pressure. Similarly, in the painting business... Read On

  • The organism
      March 13th, 2015
  • A new organism is created when artists get together with people who want to be around art. This can happen anywhere, on any scale, but certain urban places feed the give-and-take with a special kind of magic. Population, amenities, collective energy and cash flow balance the living organism and support its survival. The relationship is delicate and timeless... Read On

  • Artists and poverty
      March 10th, 2015
  • "A true artist must expect to be out of step with his times and live a life of public disdain and poverty." A commendable thought, I suppose, and almost a usable quotation, written by a respected name in the arts. It has, however, a flaw. It's wrong. Read On

  • Family values
      March 6th, 2015
  • Gail Pateman of Squamish, B.C. wrote, "My daughter Mieko drew this azalea and wanted to share it with a real artist. She wrote a poem -- inspired by the spring sunshine. It was just so cool and spontaneous -- she sat on a rock for 30 minutes working (long for a kid's attention span) -- I think why I'm so taken by it is because I would never dream of doing that. There was this spark that lit up in her that was so magical. As a sports and science person whose artistic skills are limited to stick people, it's way out of my league to know what is appropriate for her age. Any suggestions for tools for a budding artist?" Read On

  • Pricing for joy
      March 3rd, 2015
  • I've often been asked how to determine a starting selling price for art -- especially for a younger artist with no reputation. My advice to young artists of all ages is to start off cheap. My rationale is that your prices can always go up but should not come down... Read On

  • Studio hack
      February 27th, 2015
  • Subscriber Lynda Pogue wrote, "Can you advise me please? I'm mad about Gerhard Richter. How does he mount the canvas to the wall so it doesn't move when he paints?" She includes a video of Richter dragging a homemade squeegee over a large wall-mounted painting. The act requires a bit of force, but his pressure is methodical and even... Read On

  • Creative invention
      February 24th, 2015
  • Spaniards are particularly hostile to photography in Public Art Galleries. This is unfortunate because some of the more interesting Murillos aren't in the books. I love details of the paintings I love. That's how I came to invent the abdomen-camera... Read On

  • Who are you listening to?
      February 20th, 2015
  • When it's time to open his work to criticism, Glynn is careful who he turns to. "A lot of times, a writer looking for feedback will pass something around to friends, but they don't really understand what the person is trying to do..." Read On

  • Land of Heart's Desire
      February 17th, 2015
  • I'm looking toward Omey -- a small island viewed from an unimportant place called Claddagduff on the Connemara shore. In the foreground, designer rocks step down toward the weedy tide. Beyond, in patchwork fields, whitewashed houses huddle against the weather. Donkeys stand like grey statues in the fields and blue peat-smoke furls from chimneys. I'm trying to get my brush around a 16 x 20. I'm trying to make a "landscape" of the landscape... Read On

  • Copy rites
      February 13th, 2015
  • Yesterday, friend and fellow painter Melissa Jean wrote to tell me that Chinese websites and are offering to hand-produce forgeries of our paintings -- along with the works of thousands of other artists, alive and dead. If your work is online, there's a chance you're listed there... Read On

  • Foreground dyslexia
      February 10th, 2015
  • A Florida subscriber wrote about a problem common to landscape painters: "I paint in the impressionist style and the painting is breathtaking (my ego talking) -- then I work on the foreground. If I give it too much detail it takes away from the focal point. If I don't paint it in the style of the rest of the painting it looks like it doesn't belong. If I tighten up on the overall details, all of a sudden the foreground is not detailed enough to match. And when I detail it more, it becomes obtrusive. I call the problem Foreground Dyslexia." Read On

  • Love and money
      February 6th, 2015
  • A subscriber who wishes to remain anonymous wrote, "Making art is something I do for me -- I can't see my creations being very interesting to anyone else -- nevertheless people tell me I should make a book or try to sell my work. It seems that the world has forgotten about the pleasure of hobby. Am I lazy for not going pro?" Read On

  • Morphic fields
      February 3rd, 2015
  • Morphic fields, a little understood phenomenon, suggests a Jungian collective consciousness. I have often wondered about the presence of this condition in artists... Read On

  • The kitchen sink collector
      January 30th, 2015
  • It's a minimalist work of delicate, saturated dabs in golden ochre and grey -- a designy, wood block-inspired meditation reminiscent of a seascape. The painting holds its own in an eclectic room of thoughtfully gathered objects and art. "I have always loved this painting," Rob says... Read On

  • Marvellous Confabulation
      January 27th, 2015
  • Art is a confabulation. Perhaps only with the addition of confabulation can art deliver its wizardry and magic. Scientifically defined, confabulation is the confusion of imagination with memory, and/or the confusion of true memories with false memories. In the art of art, falsehood gets to a deeper truth... Read On

  • The limitations game
      January 23rd, 2015
  • "I am good at only two things," said Claude Monet, "and those are gardening and painting." The son of a grocer, Monet knew he wanted to be an artist at age five. At forty-three he relocated to Giverny to build his garden. The cataracts Monet developed as he aged limited his colour vision at the warm end of the spectrum. In 1923 he underwent surgery... Read On

  • Blue Moose
      January 20th, 2015
  • Ted Harrison is well known for his colourful and childlike paintings of the Yukon. Coming from a background in teaching and academic painting, he started painting afresh in mid life. Purple skies, red dogs, yellow snow and blue moose inhabit his unique world. Ted likes to tell the story of a customer who complained that... Read On

  • Room with a view
      January 16th, 2015
  • Iím laptopping you from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, at the top of a snowy track descending 4,380 feet to the Colorado River. Papery flakes float down from an infinite, domed sky into a bottomless pink bowl -- all visible through the picture window of a small wood-framed studio jutting out from the rock-edge... Read On

  • Holiday
      January 13th, 2015
  • Did you ever have a feeling that today was an "extra day," one that you could pretty well lay back in and do what you felt like? Today's one of those. We're hanging at anchor in a sunny cove in one of the Mackenzie tributaries. I'm in the forward painting station while Sara sits in the stern passing her sketches from knee to knee, putting her brush here and there... Read On

  • Seven ways to start
      January 9th, 2015
  • American abstractionist Richard Diebenkorn said, "I don't go into the studio with the idea of 'saying' something. What I do is face the blank canvas and put a few arbitrary marks on it that start me on some sort of dialogue." He's talking about the give and take between you and the thing you're creating... Read On

  • Character formation
      January 6th, 2015
  • I'm writing this letter from the location of the old railway station at Lake O'Hara in Canada's Rocky Mountains. This is where John Singer Sargent got off the train in 1916. There is a lot of curiosity about this artist. Sara and I are looking around to find a couple of the locations he painted. We've been talking about Sargent all weekend. Here are a few of Sargent's early influences... Read On

  • Getting it out there
      January 2nd, 2015
  • With each painting I remembered why I'd fallen in love -- each work an amorous dream in colour, each stroke laying bare the grit required to communicate the contents of a human heart. When shared with the world, these paintings find life nudging others in the direction of their own insides. That's what art does... 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