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To See Takes Time

Georgia O’Keeffe watercolor

One of my big inspirations in New York City was the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at MoMA, titled “To See Takes Time.”

O’Keeffe is best known for her gorgeous flower paintings, but the focus of this exhibit was her watercolors and drawings in pencil, charcoal, and pastel. These are mostly works on paper and it was clear from the exhibit notes and quotes that she was having just so much fun with each medium she used. I found the joy she expressed about using all of these different media contagious. I couldn’t wait to start playing around with all of these things that I already had at home but rarely used.


Here’s what she wrote (in a letter, I believe) about that particular time in her artist’s journey: “I decided to start anew–to strip away what I had been taught, to accept as true my own thinking. This was one of the best times of my life. There was no one around to look at what I was doing, no one interested, no one to say anything about it one way or another. I was alone and singularly free . . . no one to satisfy but myself. I began with charcoal and paper and decided not to use any color until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white. I believe it was June before I needed blue.”

My biggest inspirations in art seem to come from artists whose work expresses joy in some way. Joy in the doing, as she expressed, joy in the beauty of the work, joy in the colors and shapes. This work of hers and what she wrote about it touched my spirit in all of these ways.


I have come home and played with charcoal, crayons, and pastels more than I had done for a long time. I’ve played around in my sketchbooks, which I often neglect. I’ve had fun and discovered a few things, but I’m itching to do more. I want to carry her spirit of joyful experimentation into all of what I do.

And isn’t that just life? There’s always something new to learn and someone new to take inspiration from, even if that person is teaching you to “accept as true” your own ideas about your art, your own way of thinking, your own creativity.

So this is my imperative. Play, create, follow my own threads, find my joy (not unlike the name and focus of the Louise Fletcher course that got me painting in the first place) and accept as true my own ideas for my own art.

“I long ago came to the conclusion that even if I could put down accurately the thing I saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at–not copy it.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

“Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous. – Georgia O’Keeffe

“Imagination makes you see all sorts of things.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. If you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. And if someone forwarded this one to you, you can sign up here to receive the letters right in your Inbox. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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