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;  suzanne@lagoarthurstudio.com. 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.

Art Video Review: Donato Giancola’s “Joan of Arc”

Donato Giancola. “Joan of Arc”. Oil on panel.

This post is the first in a series of reviews of art videos I have in my personal collection.

Several months ago we made the decision to lose the extra cable box we had in our bedroom and use the bedroom TV to watch videos exclusively. Little did I know that this decision would lead to me being more productive & organized as I have taken to folding laundry while watching my many art DVDs. Before now, I never seemed to find the time to do either. Now it is something I dare say, I almost look forward to.

What sets Donato’s video apart from other art videos I have seen is that he shares his entire process from conceptualization (which includes thumbnail sketching), compositional design, historical research, photography of models and source materials to preparing a surface, underdrawing, underpainting and through all the stages of painting his large multi-figurative narrative piece, “Joan of Arc”. Joan of Arc by the way is one of my favorite saints because she is the patron saint of female bad assery. Donato is a much revered artist in the illustration and imaginative realism fields and has studied with some big names in the fine art world including Vincent Desiderio and Jerome Witkin. I think it is his unique perspective as an artist in these particularly deadline driven fields that has allowed him to create and hone such a strong working process which for me tends to be a bit of a moving target.

My favorite take aways are these:

-Use chroma shifts to help turn a form, not just value shifts. This was a timely nugget to absorb as I was able to use this technique a lot on my current portrait commission.
-Donato refers to his paint palette as his “mud pile” and will pre-mix all his colors along with all the chroma shifts possible prior to painting his subject.
-Keep a good book on anatomy handy as you model the form and constantly refer back to it for greater definition of the figure.
-Donato is constantly referencing a lot of Master painters and their paintings to help inform his painting such as Rubens, Van Dyck and Bouguereau which I found really inspiring.

To purchase Donato Giancola’s “Joan of Arc” click here. I highly recommend it.

Mastering Work Flow: Black Boards


Here’s a little peak inside my studio.  I am currently working hard at getting a body of work together for the Western Loudoun Artists Studio Tour (WLAST) which is scheduled for June 21 & 22. At the same time I have a double portrait commission half way done. I need to work on all my projects at the same time and I need an easy, daily reminder of where I am in each of those projects. I grabbed this low tech Mastering Work Flow technique from my bestie, Dana Aldis a couple of years ago and I find it really helpful to keep one on task while avoiding pulling out all of your hair.

At a glance I can see what the project is and whether or not it is complete (check mark = done, “o”= open). I could take this one step further and diagram out how long I think I have left on each project and then schedule my day accordingly. And I might just do that as I get closer to my deadlines.

Or I could just simply ignore the white elephant in the room…

Mastering Work Flow: Manage Your Day to Day

ImageDear Readers-

I have been selfishly keeping something from you. For a little while now I have been reading books and following blogs that are dedicated to improving schedules and harnessing creativity on demand: that is mastering the perfect daily work flow.

It began when I cam across Cal Newport’s awesome Study Hacks Blog. Then one day I stumbled upon the Accidental Creative podcasts. From there I discovered 99U and their book Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series) which I would like to share with you today. What blew my mind about all the above is that there is a whole industry of academics and professionals whose sole focus in life is how to improve your creativity. This is clearly untapped material for all of us working in the creative on demand industries. Whether you are a fine artist, graphic designer or writer, the techniques are universal.

I highlighted almost every page from Manage Your Day to Day but here are some of my favorite quotes and suggestions:

  • “Specifically, it’s our routine (or lack thereof), our capacity to work proactively rather than re-actively, and our ability to systematically optimize our work habits over time that determine our ability to make ideas happen.”
  • “Creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and email off”.
  • “Certain times of the day are especially conducive to focused creativity, thanks to circadian rhythms of arousal and mental alertness. Notice when you seem to have the most energy during the day, and dedicate those valuable periods to your most creative work.”
  • “Frequency makes starting easier: Getting started is always a challenge. It’s hard to start a project after a break. By working everyday, you keep your momentum going. You never have time to feel detached from the process.”

By utilizing the suggestions in this book I have improved my daily work flow and it has made all the difference. I now rise everyday at 6 AM, even on weekends when I get some valuable hours in the studio before my family is really up and moving. I have returned to painting every day, and I mean every single day and it has made things run more smoothly by allowing me to keep my head focused on my projects. And lastly one of the biggest take aways I took from this book was to leave my reactive tasks (those demands made on me by others such as text messages, emails and phone calls) to the afternoon after I had gotten my studio time–the most important proactive time–out of the way for the day.

So if you don’t hear from me immediately, you now know why. 😉