July 2014 Newsletter

I just watched a short video clip of part of the commencement address given by Jim Carrey at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield Iowa. He made some very insightful and meaningful points, among them:

  1. That we need to dedicate ourselves to a personal ministry – his was to free people from concern. What is ours?
  2. We can fail at something we don’t enjoy, so why not take a chance on what we love.
  3. (worth quoting) -“All there will ever be is what’s happening here. Decisions we make in this moment are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear, disguised as practicality.”
  4. (also worth quoting) “How will you serve the world? What do they need that you can provide? The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”

If I had had any sense when I was a student I would have chosen something other than art. I was in Graduate school. I was married with four children. I had only a vague sense of what was waiting for me after graduation. No prospects. No idea of how I was actually going to support my family after the Gi bill ran out and I was booted out of the university with my diploma. I should have been scared to death, but fortunately I didn’t have enough sense to be scared. I was only hopeful and filled with anticipation.

Doors opened up that led me into teaching at Snow College. That somehow led to teaching a Summer Snow art workshop that slowly took off and is still going strong. That workshop led to other workshop offers, which led to writing an article for a national magazine, which led to a book, and another…I could not have scripted that scenario and I don’t know where it will eventually lead. I don’t care. I just love doing what I am doing. I love painting and I love sharing what I learn as I go along – passing the torch. That in itself is good enough for me. I am grateful.

I recently received an e-mail from Mr. Steve Pill, editor of Artists and Illustrators magazine published in London. He asked me to write a couple of articles for the magazine. I just sent in the first and am looking forward to several more.

Jim Carrey is right. If I had made decisions out of fear…”How am I going to make a living?” “I had better get a second degree in something I can use a a back-up in case I can’t make it in art.” What if I can’t sell anything and can’t get a job in some related art industry?” ” I don’t have a safety net!” “Was everyone right? Is art impractical?” The world is going to eat me alive and I have a family depending on me!” “I am not as talented as all those making a living in art.”

If I had followed the litany of fear I would never have done the things I did. That thought scares me now in retrospect. I am glad I didn’t have enough sense to be scared

So we choose to do art. Now isn’t it strange that we look at a subject and fear to change it? We fear a departure from what is actually there in case the painting might fail. What will others think of the painting. Will they discover that I am not as good as they think? And so our fear pushes us into mediocrity. We fail to achieve the potential painting we feel existed in the subject, and produce instead a safe rendering. I challenge you to step out of that comfort zone and face the fear of…whatever.

Let me illustrate.
Nan and I were taking an evening stroll down the banks of the Dart river near Totnes, England with nan’s sister Pam he husband Billy. On the other side of the river I spotted this collection of yachts and boats on a pier. The evening light was scattering pieces of white across the hulls, and the pattern of shapes seemed to dance across the pier, while a chorus of lines sang the music for the dancers across the dark background. I photographed it with the idea of exploring it later.

totnes patterns

Much later in my studio I looked at the image and recalled what initially interested me in the subject; namely the repeat pattern of shapes, no two exactly the same. Drawing is the means for exploring a subject. So on a sheet of drawing paper I extracted the various shapes and motifs to see them out of context.


There were curves that repeated, rectangular shapes with letter forms inside, linear patterns in the rigging and railings, dark shapes under the boats, etc. This study acquainted me with the motifs and separated me from the act of copying. Now that I knew what I was dealing with, what building blocks I had, I could arrange these in whatever order I wanted. So my next step was to explore possible arrangements; juxtaposing, overlapping, increasing sizes, repeating without reason or logic. This is fun because it is so liberating. It frees one from the tyranny of the photo.


These drawings did not take long. This one was done as a demonstration of the search process during last year’s Summer Snow workshop. It has some very good possibilities. Then I did another one exploring a different pattern of values – the arrangement of the dark shapes weaving through the light shapes.



The other day I looked at this drawing anew. I had not taken it to the next step – a painting. So I studied it awhile, drew it out on a half sheet of watercolor paper and began. I had to approach the painting just as I had the drawing, with a willingness to follow wherever it would lead me. The drawing, like the original photo was only a guide. The final product is the painting below. Was it a little scary? YES! But the fear of the unknown, a willingness to go into uncharted territory is a part of the creative life. We just have to embrace the fear and plunge ahead. Which I did. Timidity only guarantees a mediocre failure.

The Yacht Sales

I was happily surprised with the outcome. And I hope that the rest of your Summer is full of wonderful surprises. Embrace the fear that precedes every good painting and every new venture.

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