Dear Sade,

Here are a couple of things I heard as a young boy that gave me The Jitters: "Wait... I think there's something under the bed...." "Class, don't take out your books... today we're doing a 2-hour algebra test." Be prepared for another Big-Jitter-Causer in your life. It will happen when you decide to paint for the first time and you face the loneliest place in the world: a piece of blank white space. There is an old Tuscan adage that says: 'Art has an enemy called ignorance.' Likewise, the budding artist has an enemy, it is called Tentativeness. My Book of Synonyms lists tentative as: hesitant, faltering, timid, unsure, undecided. If you want to paint well eliminate these words from your vocabulary and give yourself permission to put on your painting shoes and dance.It will help you to remember two things: No one paints well from the start. Even seasoned artists feel apprehensive when starting a new painting. Start by doing loose drawings - go into the garden, select one or two subjects that you like eg. flowers. Hold your pad on one arm and draw your flower without looking at the pad. Do as many drawings as you like in this way. You are now ready to apply colour in the same loose way as you did your drawings - but this time you can actually look at what you are doing. If you paint inside do it in an artist-friendly environment i.e. where you can feel free to mess! Have your favourite pictures, photo's or prints on the walls around you. Paint to music that gives you a lift - if Vivaldi's 'Le Quattro Stagioni' does it for you put him on. When you feel that the ice has broken continue to work, work, work. When you find that things are starting to go wrong continue to work, work work. There are no shortcuts to success - you do not learn to paint by watching or looking or reading or dreaming or talking or wishing - you learn to paint by doing. When aspiring artists knocked on her door Georgia O'Keeffe would say to them: "Go home and work." Think as you work not of Time-Past or Time-To-Come but of Time-Present. O.K., so you're into working and working and yet the 'Tentativeness Trap' will not release you. Your first pictures look like blocked sewers and a neon light flashes on the wall of your mind: 'Notalent... Notalent... Notalent... Notalent.' Sade, I have walked this Mad Max desert road, and so must you. At this stage my advice to you is: Stop trying so hard and allow yourself to get lost, yes get lost. Sometimes the best way to find out where you are is to throw away your bearings. In order to get to know a new place, town or city you must purposefully get lost in it. In finding your way back to base your senses are somehow heightened, you think lucidly and you become inventive and goal-oriented.You have to, because there is no other choice. Similarly when you paint you must allow yourself to follow unfamiliar routes, make mistakes (in fact, be thankful for them) explore dark caves and jog along paths that frighten you. The tortoise only makes progress when it sticks out it's neck, so paint like you're the boss, with confidence and flair and follow your inner voice. I have been told that the following view is somewhat harsh but nevertheless it's true: There are three types of people in life - those who make things happen; those who watch things happen and those who do not know that anything is happening.So draw on your inner resources, hone your skills and I say it again: work, work, work. If painting was easy there would be no challenge, no rainbow to ride, no sense of achievement. Sade, do not be afraid of the caves, they will lead you to the clifftops.

Love Gramps
December 1998