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Stylistic economies

January 10, 2014

Dear Artist,

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.

Here are a few of my favourite techniques. I'm also going to disclose a few personal stylistic prejudices. The idea for all of us is to develop our own stylistic prejudices that lead to our own personal styles.

The most obvious, and most often overlooked, is the proper priming of the entire surface with a "mother colour" that anticipates the upcoming needs of the painting. In my camp, sophisticated grays are most valuable, but at times loud grounds are handy too. In any case, a full-opacity toned ground can always add to the effect, here, there, and everywhere. Saves a lot of time and labour later.

Yin and yang negative and positive: It's a bit intuitive, but when you have a chance to describe a shape by either the object itself or by its surround, opt for both. This often makes it possible to paint an area with the paint you have on the brush rather than remixing. It's a simple ploy, but once the habit is formed, it comes sort of automatically. The result can be fresher passages that hold both design strength and abstract interest.

Big brush it: Put stylistic economy to work by forcing yourself to take a bigger brush than you thought you needed. In my unmentionable hobby of snooping on thousands of painters, I've often witnessed an inexorable progress from big brush to small. For more freshness and economy, take the advice of John Singer Sargent: "Start with a whisk and end with a broom!"

Scumble it: Scumbling, the art of dry brushing a generally lighter colour on the slubs and bumps of dry under-painting can give a rich patina and an effortless razzle-dazzle that looks like it was more work than it was.

Glaze it: Glazing, particularly expedient in acrylic, is a useful way to tone down hasty garishness, pull your painting together, make your colours more tasteful and sophisticated than they originally were, and set yourself up for coming-to-light. In a world of altogether too much tediosity, let your work quietly evolve and flourish with more attention to stylistic economies.

Best regards,


PS: "Art begins when an observer's sensibilities engage with the understatements of a calculating craftsman." (Sara Genn)

Esoterica: At the same time as aiming for stylistic economies, a good idea is to avoid the "cheap shots." This is where my prejudices come in: Overuse of palette knife, fan blenders, cliched motifs, or any number of space-filling mannerisms (happy little seagulls come to mind) should be avoided. Overused, these ploys are like hanging a card over the work that says "Amateur." And while there are many, many collectors who simply love amateur work, you don't want to know any of them.

An example of a Robert Genn painting using all five of these stylistic economies are in this video below.

Robertís health update:

Robert has just finished seven weeks of chemotherapy and is taking a 1 week break before returning to a 3 week cycle. Robertís Tuesday CT scan showed a reduction in tumour markers from 38000 to 18000. While this is good news, some actual tumours appear to have grown slightly. His oncologist is optimistic that this growth may have been from the period between his last scan and the beginning of his chemo. The next CT scan will be in about two months. In the meantime Robert is cheerfully painting and writing, avoiding the social life, resting with his family, and feeling very tired before the end of every day. Each and every one of your warm and caring messages has been received and read. Your wishes and encouragement mean the world to Robert, his family, and the Painterís Keys team. Thank-you so very, very much from all of us.

Sara Genn

Frank Eber Workshops The next workshop is held in Mexico.  <a href=''>The Workshop Calendar</a> provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. Please take a look <a href=''>here</a>.
Frank Eber Workshops
The next workshop is held in Mexico.

The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. Please take a look here.

World of Art Featured artist Heather Rous, Lexington, Kentucky, USA

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

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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.

Robert's worldwide gift that artists love to get.

Absolutely free, no strings. You'll get the valuable twice-weekly letter and be joining the world's most active art community.


Last modified: Feb 21, 2017