Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big MagicSo I have a confession to make. I didn’t want to like this book. Why you might ask? Because I associate author Elizabeth Gilbert with the Oprah empire and despite how much I respect Oprah as an individual, I generally rebel against being spoon fed book recommendations to the masses. There is just something about it that I find so plebeian and patronizing at the same time… and so typically when Oprah recommends a book I run the other way. Of course everybody by now is familiar with Gilbert’s literary success EAT PRAY LOVE. Did I read it? No. But I saw the movie. Does that count?

I am however really, really into podcasts when I paint in my studio, particularly those dealing with painting or creativity. I stumbled upon Gilbert’s Magic Lessons Podcast (which I think was meant to be an appetizer for the release of Big Magic) and was kinda intrigued. In one of the first podcasts I listened to, Gilbert advises listeners to create a contract with Creativity. To agree to show up everyday to work but to not agree to take all the responsibility for whether or not your work will turn into anything masterful. Because Creativity doesn’t care if you win some big award with your work, it just wants to EXIST in some particular form. It wants to come into being through you the Creator. “It just wants to play” as Gilbert says. My ears perked up at this unusual advice despite its Age of Aquarius vibe. Now that is one unique thought I had never entertained before so I ordered her book and found myself taking lots of notes on other things she recommended.

On Creativity

Gilbert believes that the Universe buries creative treasure deep within all of us and then stands back to see if we can find them. She calls the hunt for these creative gems, Big Magic. She advises keeping yourself open to inspiration. That often one thought or clue will lead to another and so on and so forth. That is when Big Magic happens.

On Getting Your Work Out There

Gilbert recommends that you consider rejections as part of a great big cosmic Ping Pong game. The universe lobs a rejection your way be it from a competition, a gallery, a publisher -whatever and it just means it is your turn to lob something back over the Ping Pong net. Send out another application immediately to a different competition, gallery, publisher etc. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally. I was happy to discover on another podcast I listened to, that this is exactly the same strategy Game of Thrones Author, George R R Martin used to build up his career. Cool huh? I will definitely be adding this strategy to my arsenal going forward.

Stuck In A Rut?

Get dressed to go to work. Like really dressed up as if you have an important meeting to attend because you do, you have a serious daily appointment with your work. I’ve heard similar things before like “dressing for the job you want, not the job you have” and it made perfect sense in an office environment but here in my home studio it seemed less appealing because I can wear pajamas to work if I wanted to. Hey- that is just one of the benefits of the job! However, Gilbert has something here. One particular day in the studio I was having difficulty focusing so I took her advice, took a shower put on my dressy jeans and a nice shirt. Even topped it off with a pair of earrings and perfume and magically I was transformed into a new person who gave a $&*! about my work and I got back to it and had no problem sustaining my interest for the rest of the day.

So despite my previous hesitations towards Gilbert, I am going to rate Big Magic a strong B + on my book recommendation list. And maybe now that she has melted my icy heart a little, I may even go pick up a copy of EAT PRAY LOVE.


Big Magic can be purchased from Amazon and qualifies for free Prime  2 day shipping.

Who Makes Up Your Brain Trust?


One of the biggest secrets to success must definitely be to surround yourself with people who support your ambitions and who also push you to evolve into your greatest potential. Obviously your greatest supporter should be your partner in life but it is also equally important to establish a strong support system among like minded colleagues. I am blessed to have many artist friends who are my advisors and who continually inspire me. However there are two in particular that I turn to most often for advice, Elizabeth Floyd and Jonathan Linton.

So how does this brain trust work? Well it all begins by being in frequent contact with one another in support of each other’s work. I text or call Elizabeth and Jonathan regularly with my thoughts, questions or WIPs (work in progress photos). Elizabeth and I text daily and have regular FaceTime chats to go over our goals and projects. We plot the course of our individual careers by making suggestions to each other in the areas of commissions, competitions, technique and thematic ideas. Liz and I read ALOT and we are constantly referring books to each other to help us grow. Many of the books I am currently reading are those that Liz has given me including this Hammershoi book she sent me for my birthday to help inspire a series of paintings I am currently working on (thanks again Liz 🙂 ).



Jonathan is a hugely successful portrait artist with many years of experience and a former instructor of mine. You may remember Jonathan from this post. He is the guy I turn to with my nuts and bolts questions on anything having to do with the field of portraiture. And he fortunately lives nearby (or unfortunately for him?) and has yet to lock the door on me when I come by his studio practically unannounced. Jonathan will give me honest feedback on my work and has a keen eye for anatomy and painting/drawing technique. He can always diagnosis what is “wrong” with a painting and if I get his seal of approval on something I know the client will love it.



So who makes up your Brain Trust?  If you don’t have one in place now I would seriously suggest you think about putting one together because positive relationships like these can add a whole other dimension to your artmaking. But think carefully about who you will let into your circle of trust. You should feel safe and respected with the personalities you surround yourself with so that you can freely share your innermost creative thoughts to them–and likewise, they to you. The right partnership will be obvious and will leave you feeling inspired every time you connect with them.

I plan on interviewing other artists and creatives for future blog posts on this subject. Do you have a remarkable brain trust? If so please drop me a line and tell me about them and how you work together; Thanks!





Mastering Work Flow: Jiro Dreams Of Sushi

A while back I came across this amazing documentary of Master Sushi Chef Jiro Ono, owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Michelin three-star restaurant. I told anyone who would listen, especially artists, that they HAD to see this mind blowing film. You may be asking yourself now “what does a sushi master and an artist (or any other profession for that matter) have in common?” The answer is deceptively simple, mastery of one’s craft through a conscious and disciplined daily practice.

Right from start of the film, Jiro issues this edict: “Once you decide upon an occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Jiro approaches his craft in the way of “Shokunin” (meaning artisan), the Shinto belief in executing everything perfectly, every single day, over an entire lifetime. Anything can be approached in the Shokunin way, no job is considered inferior or beneath oneself. The wisdom here is obvious and applicable to anyone’s life.

I kept having to stop the movie to take notes. Here is some more advice worth remembering:

“It really comes down to making an effort & repeating everyday”

“It has to be better than the last time. That is why I am always tasting during preparation”

“Each of our vendors are specialists in their field (i.e. surround yourself with excellence and use only the best materials)”

“All I want to do is make better sushi. I improve bit by bit, day after day and progress forward. But no one knows where the top is”

“In order to make delicious food you must eat delicious food (in other words, in order to make great paintings you must see great paintings)”

“Without good taste, you cannot make good food (educate your tastes)”

“If your taste is not better than your customers how will you impress them?”


Jiro Dreams of Sushi is available on DVD through Amazon and streaming via Netflix and ITunes.

Good Artists Evolve into GREAT Artists {If they work hard enough for it}

I have been doing this whole art career thing for a little while now, albeit it a little off and on due to the joys of parenthood. And I have learned a couple of things over that time and here is one of them: Greatness does not instantly manifest itself in an artist–an artist has to WORK AT IT. Now this is not something that the top dogs in the art world might admit to. I would imagine that they would prefer that we all see them as some kind of Greek god who sprung perfectly formed out of the elbow of their mothers. But I have proof that what I say is in fact true! Allow me to present to you 3 artists of immense fame & talent who once, not too long ago, were making not as great art.

Exhibit A: Daniel Sprick { b. 1953 }

Sprick has to be one of my most favorite living artists. His oil paintings exude a sense of place, time & mood unlike anyone else except for perhaps Claudio Bravo (who sometime Sprick’s work reminds me of). Below is an example of the work we have come to love and recognize him by.

Daniel Sprick. “Landscape & Pansies”. Oil & Board. 24″ x 30″. 2003.

And here is an older painting of his recently sold on Ebay for $2,995.00.

Daniel Sprick. “Gladioli”. Oil on Canvas. 24 x 20 inches. ca. 1987.

There are 16 years that separate the creation of these two paintings. Although the older work is relatively “good” in execution and has some nice variety in its brush strokes and edges, it is a rather ordinary painting and certainly not at all in the same league as its modern day counterpart. I would not have linked these two paintings as having been created by the same great artist. Do you see what I am getting at here? Gives the rest of us hope, doesn’t it?

Exhibit B: Lucien Freud {1922 – 2011}

Lucien Freud is an artist who comes to mind immediately when I think of the evolution of a great artist. His work was always very psychologically charged (the apple here did not fall far from his Grandfather’s tree, Sigmund Freud) but there is most definitely a crudeness to his earlier work which was very much nurtured by what was happening back then in modern painting. However, he did eventually evolve into a highly realistic artist with great technical ability who worked until the very day he died at 88 years of age. Below is a typical example of the work he became known for.

Lucien Freud. “Reflection (self portrait)”. Oil on canvas. 56.2 x 51.2 cm. 1985.

And here is a painting from early on in his career.

Lucien Freud. “Girl in a Dark Jacket”. Portrait of his first wife, Kitty. 1947.

Again, there is a 38 year difference between these two paintings and just look at how different they are from each other. One is extremely flat and the other extremely convincing in its realistic rendering. Now I think that Freud could have been satisfied with with his early style as it is most definitely engaging (looks a lot like an Alex Katz here to me), however he chose to evolve in his artwork and what he evolved into is something truly remarkable with highly realized skills in painting a subject from life. Not an easy thing to do, believe me!

Exhibit C: Salvador Dali {1904 – 1989}

This summer I went to visit the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg FL and I was floored when I noticed the technical gap between Dali’s earliest work and the work in the prime of his career. The tour guide made sure to point out to us that day how exceptional his work was back then and how within it you could see the “seeds of his greatness”. I could not have disagreed with her more! I found his early work to be very average in both the traditional techniques in which he studied and his experimentation with modern styles. And it was this enlightening discovery which gave me the idea for this post and has encouraged me along the way. Below is a painting that I saw in person at the museum which was created when he was already well established. It blew my socks in wonder over its highly technical rendering.

Salvador Dali. “Living still life”. Oil on canvas. 1956.

And here is one of his early works when he was still trying to figure out his style & direction. I think I could find something similar in a local yard sale.

Salvador Dali. Self portrait. 1919.

My take away message from this post is this: Do not allow yourself to be discouraged from achieving great things in both your work and your career. You only have to put in the hard work and persevere over time to achieve it. Now that doesn’t sound so unattainable, does it?  So what are you waiting for? Go get your buns back in the studio!

Neal, Whyte & Lindstrom: “The Various Paths to Success”

My tricked out DeLorean time machine.

Step into my time machine back to the date May 27th, 2012 when I attended a panel discussion by artistic luminaries, Michael Shane Neal, Mary Whyte and Bart Lindstrom at the 2012 Art of the Portrait Conference in Philly. I take a lot of notes during classes, workshops and conferences. Some of them never surface again, and some like these lucky notes born under the right astrological sign, actually make it into a blog post. You might not always get the latest breaking news here (try CNN for that) but if  you are seeking a blog about painting & technique served with a little witty banter on the side–then you have come to the right place! Now please sit still while I adjust the flux capacitor on this thing. This is what makes time travel possible: the flux capacitor! First, you turn the time circuits on. This one tells you where you’re going. This one tells you where you are. This one tells you where you were. You input your destination time on this keypad. Say you want to see the signing of the Declaration of Independence [Jul. 4, 1776] or witness the birth of Christ [Dec. 25, 0000]. For this trip we’ll be traveling way back in time, er 3 months back to May 27th, 2012 so you can experience this panel discussion in person. Hold on!

Mary Whyte. “Graffiti”. Watercolor. 39 1/2″ x 48″. 2008. Gallery representation,

Mary Whyte: On Promoting Work & Income

  • You must have a web site, an on-line presence.
  • Put up only your best work.
  • Make sure to have contact info up front; phone, email etc.
  • Make a “take away” brochure that holds dates, relevant publications featuring your work.
  • Press-how can you get more of it? Donate a portrait of a community person.
  • Make a contact everyday–reconnect with old contacts. Contact your “wish list” of people you want to buy your work.
Bart Lindstrom. “Kim and Kimberly”. Oil, 36″ x 30″.

Bart Lindstrom:

  • Keep a log of who are your collectors.
  • Create relationships with these people. Remember them, remember details about them. You become “their” artist!
  • Courtship, friendship–it is the same idea with your collectors.
  • Donate portraits to private schools. Entry level products that they can upgrade to something else you offer.  Why private schools? Because these parents have the resources.
  • Keep your work current on your website. Always be culling (removing). Better to show a consistent painting style & have less.
  • Make it easy for people to find you.
Michael Shane Neal. “Rachel”. Oil.

Michael Shane Neal:

  • Attend high-end private school football games and throw up  your cards during touchdowns!
  • Get out of your studio. Get people to know you & understand your work. Make sure what you write about your work is concise & frequent.
  • Diversity is important. Paint everything, every subject. It opens up your clientele!
  • Stay positive! Develop a support structure.
  • Don’t undervalue good old-fashioned hard work. It will make up for a lot of shortfalls.
  • When you get in the studio strive to improve as an artist every single day.
  • The business side is important but more important is becoming a better artist. You must do both.
  • Google people out there who are retiring and introduce your work to them.
  • You can even set a “Google alert” for people retiring from specific fields i.e. Universities.

Bart Lindstrom:

  • Make yourself enjoyable to be with. 1). Learn how to make an exquisite product. 2). Show it to as many people as possible.
  • Agencies need an amazing example of your work & then photographs of consistent work. They are looking for someone who is easy to work with.
  • Take the initiative (with agencies), get their email & send them your best images. You have to make these relationships.
  • Learn how to do demos and do them often.

Michael Shane Neal:

  • Get a list of everybody that is there at your art events & contact them personally.
  • Consider speaking–create a 20 min power point presentation showing your images & studio shots. Talk to your audience about your work and your images.

Mary Whyte

  • Will host small dinner parties in galleries & then give a small tour of her work.

Michael Shane Neal:

  • Spend some time teaching. You will always find people who know less than you do. It helps to build name recognition.

Mary Whyte

  • Has a manager and an assistant. Her husband makes her frames & he has his own frame making assistant.

Michael Shane Neal:

  • Began by doing everything himself. After 10 or 12 years he paid an intern to work for him.

Bart Lindstrom:

  • Trade your art for services. Stop excessive spending so you have more time in the studio (less bills to pay)
  • When you talk about your work to someone else allow for a “moment of reflection” ( to bloom). Allow your message to sink in as they are viewing it.

Michael Shane Neal:

  • Be quiet when people are looking at your work. Let them absorb it. Kinstler calls it the “deafening silence”. Get comfortable with it.

And one last thing Marty, I’m sure that in 2020, plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 2012, it’s a little hard to come by so I am afraid you are stuck in Philly. Sorry. But look on the bright side-at least you will have time to really see the relocated Barnes collection!