Who’s Britain’s best amateur artist? Press Release from Flavours Holidays For New Competition

Information from the great team at Flavours Holidays in Scotland about Their upcoming Big Painting Competition


"While there are many painting competitions available for aspiring professional painters in the UK, it is very difficult for amateur artists to exhibit their work. That’s why we’re running our Big Painting Competition – we want to give a platform for these artists to show their artwork and want to find Britain’s best amateur artist!

The competition will open on the 28th September and close on the 31st October. 5 winners will be selected by our art tutors and selected participants will be invited to exhibit their work here in Edinburgh."

For more about the competition: 




Flavours Painting student in Tuscany

With a team of inspirational art teachers our Italian painting holidays are great for all levels.

Find out more about our painting holidays: https://www.flavoursholidays.co.uk/painting-holidays/

Read what Jenny Eclair wrote in the Daily Mail here

About Flavours

 Our painting holidays offer a unique blend of expert teaching and free time where you can be inspired by Italy’s dramatic colorful landscape. Flavours offers week-long stays in Tuscany, Venice and Sicily with our inspiring painting tutors.

Flavours Holidays - Authentic. Inspiring. Passionate.



Has Art Become a Spectator Sport?

If the past fifteen years have revealed anything, it is that I am “not in Kansas anymore.” Between the ageist view that art is the “deterrent to dementia,” and the proposal that legitimate art must be raised to a Ph.D. level, older artists are caught in the middle.  Suddenly upended with new expectations, we must evolve, while struggling with the fear of marginalization, lost potential and artistic irrelevance.

As an artist who did not begin the practice until the age of fifty, I find this idea challenging.  Some academics suggest that, with age, the artist becomes more contemplative and less competitive.  I have not found this to be true.  Perhaps I am not old enough.  Perhaps you are not old enough either, and that in itself is a good thing.  But it is also unsettling, the “not in Kansas” thing.  Traditional pathways for upward mobility have disappeared, replaced by something else entirely.  Where there used to be collaborative gate keepers, we are now considering the role of advertising and juried exhibitions in the struggle for visibility.  And the public perception - as Robert Storr says, colleges have for decades promoted the idea that art plays an “accessory role” to the “higher realms of mathematics and science.” Forget centuries of history, theory or abstract narratives.  Can you produce a video, or entertain the public?  One weekend, dozens of artists, all furiously turning out artwork – who couldn’t love that?  And this brings us back to the idea of Art as a Spectator Sport.

I have nothing against plein air events or videos of any kind. In fact the resurgence of Plein Air Painting as a legitimate genre has been a boon for some artists and the collector base supporting them.  I’m talking about those who paint part time because they have to work and worry about fading away on the fringes of the “relevant” art world.  But change, you will recall, is the only thing that stays the same.  The sudden abandonment of the French Academies following the immense popularity of Impressionism destroyed more than one artistic life.  Look at the millions of visual images with the capacity to catch and hold your attention.  Art still holds power, but that’s not the problem.  The problem is more akin to access.  Over the centuries, access was controlled, the way water is controlled through dams and culverts, pipes and faucets in kitchens.  There was always someone who regulated the flow, and those who received it valued the consistency and appreciated the benefits. No bad water in the glass.  When you wanted a drink you knew what to do: turn on the faucet, fill the glass.

Now take away the control.  Visual artifacts are like rain, falling everywhere, millions of drops that vary by size and velocity but, well, essentially are the same thing and free for the taking.  There is no way to describe the feeling of being invisible while compelled to be a visual communicator, which is exactly where the “Art as Spectator Sport” mindset puts you.  Are you falling for that?  Is it any different than the research that proves “doing art” puts off the onset of dementia for about ten years, essentially diminishing the work of thousands of artists over the age of sixty to the equivalent of doing cross word puzzles?  No, if you accepted the offer to become an artist then you accepted the rules.  You don’t do it for recognition.  You don’t do it for money.  Only you know what – or who – you do it for. 

Along with mindset, there are a few other things of importance.

Training can take years, but that is normal and in fact training never ends.

Teachers can’t often teach what you want to know, or even what you need to know, but that does not mean you don’t need a teacher now and then.

The act of creating is more than meditation, but only if you are also filled with awareness of the unpredictability of insight.  If it is only meditation, then it is self-occupation.

No matter how much practice, without knowledge of formal training and informed self-critique, then practice is just meditation, also known as self-occupation.

And this quote from Ann Lauterbach:

You cannot plan for the new, since by definition it arrives out of the conditions that give rise to it. Now, on the other hand, also arrives out of the conditions that give rise to it, but instead of these conditions being akin to the prow of a ship (the Great Ship New), they are more akin to the buoyant waters that hold the ship up, in which horizontal surface (space) and vertical depth (time) are in a mutable, ambient relation—the relation, we might say, of scale. Where your particular ship is on the waters of Now is what you need to discover when you are making a work of art.


Where the Lauterbach quote originated, and what I am reading:  Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century), edited and with an introduction by Steven Henry Madoff.  

There is no way to avoid controversy if seeking enlightenment. 



Three Sources of Inspiration

August is Artist Appreciation Month. 

Most of the artists I know list their inspiration sources as either subject matter or style.  We often don't consider the other influences available. There are artists who inspire us through their life experiences.  Others inspire through their innovation.  The primary inspiration for me, though,  comes from the originality and depth of artistic thinking. One significant influence in my present work is Hans Hofmann

Hofmann was a visionary artist and teacher, often described as the leader of the New York School of Abstract-Expressionist Painting: some of his most notable students were Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, and Louise Nevelson.  Those who know my work may be surprised by this.  But I see it as an example of how an artistic philosophy is not limited to a specific style of painting. 

On Movement, by Hofmann

Movement develops from depth sensation.  There are movements into space and movements forward, out of space, both in form and in color.  The product of movement and counter movement is tension.  When tension - working strength - is expressed, it endows the work of art with the living effect of coordinated, though opposing, forces.

~ excerpt from Search for the Real -Hans Hofmann, edited by Sara T. Weeks and Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr.  The M.I.T. Press

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Over There, 12 x 16, Sue Favinger Smith

The Power of Artistic Diversity

Here are some inspiring artists that have recently crossed my path.

Brandon Kidwell.  This Florida photographer describes himself simply as "a husband, father, son brother, friend, part time philosopher and freelance photographer," but his art reaches right to the heart of life. 

Jacob Collins: Seceding From The Photographic Sensibility. This  fascinating 9-part series from At the Confluence Where Painting & Photography Meet is one of the best discussions I've come across in years regarding the interplay between imagery, philosophy, and the intent of art.

Take Five - LINEA, Lessons from five paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, by

As well as these inspiring artists:

Ann Lofquist, with her evocative landscapes.

Pan Yu-laing,with a truly inspiring life story.

And  the artist Patience Brewer, who took her inspiration from a lifetime, followed her passion and developed a thriving business. 

So What About You?

So what about you?  Who inspired you in areas of philosophy, resilience, determination, courage, individuality or innovation?  Write a blog post about it.  Send your links to me and I will post them.  Lets get that conversation going!




The Other Side of Vulnerability

I’ve talked before about a workshop I attended, and how important it is for an artist to seek out new experiences to further their understanding.  Sometimes it feels as if doing such a thing is a great risk.  You know the sort of self-talk that goes on about fitting in or painting anything worthwhile or absolutely failing.  It requires opening that soft spot where you are truly vulnerable and human.

I recall attending the first evening event where students met up with old friends and new instructors.  I am awkward in such situations, but I had been contacted by a fellow blogger who was also attending, so I scanned the name tags until I had an opportunity to introduce myself to her.  Her look was blank.  I expanded beyond my name and mentioned the blog and her emails.  Still nothing.  As polite moments of conversation followed, I realized she had no idea who I was. 

Immediately following, one of the mentors passed by and asked if I had met any of the instructors yet.  Since I had not, she offered to introduce me to Rose Frantzen. 

Shaking hands, I mentioned that, yes, this was my first workshop, and I wasn’t sure what to do.  “Really?” she asked, and then announced that I should follow her back to the studio so she could show me “what it’s all about.” What followed was a ten minute one-on-one instruction period where I sat beside one of my major artistic influences and watched her paint.   

Awkwardness is part of our experience. Too often we use it to avoid risk. Life doesn't ask us to look inward, but outward toward all the possibilities that exist.  Vulnerability is born out of fear: the other side of vulnerability is generosity.

I was reminded of that experience when I recently came across this article by Jerry Fresia, titled 5 Ways to Develop as an Artist.  Here is an excerpt:

And it is when you cannot be bothered with product, you will look about the studio and find a few pieces that have a life. Your life. And so you gather them up and market them. And then after 30 years of painting, you will have had a career and the “later” you will have emerged. You will have grown. And you will have been an artist.

And it starts by taking the risk to be vulnerable. 

Creating a Nurturing Environment: Tips for the Self-Mentoring Artist

Years ago I went to the Impressionist Exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, where I discovered the artist Marie Bracquemond.  The reclusive Marie had great talent, but her career was brief.  She was married to the famous conservative engraver, Felix Bracquemond, who, according to historical records, was resentful of Marie's friendship with Impressionist greats such as Monet, Degas, and Gauguin. Over the years Marie endured intense artistic criticism from her husband, and became discouraged over the constant strife.  Her painting, Portrait (Lady in White),  was exhibited, along with On the Terrace at Sevres, in the fifth Impressionist exhibition in 1880, but she exhibited only one more time with the Impressionists, in 1886, before she ceased painting altogether in 1890.  According to the art critic Gustove Geffroy, Marie was "one of the three great ladies of Impressionism," but she eventually succumbed to her husband's disapproval.  Consequently, there are few Bracquemond paintings in public collections.

Life as an aspiring artist is complicated.  With all the misconceptions about an art career, or success, or authenticity, it's impossible to navigate the pitfalls without some kind of comfort and support. Partners can be our staunchest supporters, but they also present our biggest challenges.  Emotional conflict is uncomfortable, requiring us to be our own best mentors, navigating between a passion for art and a passion for family.

  • Painting is an extension of who you are.   While the drip drip drip of disapproval from others can be demoralizing, unless we acknowledge that art is not a priority for everyone, we will never be able to escape the need for approval.  The work you do in the studio isn't about impressing your partner.  It's about your humanity and your ability to express that in a visual form.  Focus on the value in what you do: prioritize it the same way others value traditional wage-paid work.
  • Honor your partner's needs, but ask for honor in return.  It's not easy for those who don't understand the intense drive that keeps the artist at the easel.  Art can be consuming.  But it's also beneficial to break from the work and enjoy the company of those around you.  Keeping your life in balance will help you keep your successes and failures in balance, and give you the resiliency to carry on. 
  • Work toward a simple form of financial security.  Take small steps to set aside the financial reserves you need to cover the cost of the materials that will allow you to create for a six month period.  If this means working and saving more, the pay-off is the lack of worry over money, as well as the independence of not needing permission to use joint resources if your partner is not supportive.
  • You define the value in your work.   By it's very definition, competition is a comparison of your work to that of others, and it can be exhausting.  Altering your mindset away from running after the successful artists and paying more attention to understanding your own intention will allow for greater growth.  Get feedback from those you admire, enter competitions, but for heaven's sake don't use it as a negative judgement of your own work.  Tell your insecurities to find someplace else to live, you have work to do. 

There is a seductive romance to the story of being an artist.  Life, though, is as real as it's going to get right now.  It is the daily effort, the small steps you take that matter, the personal relationships you honor and develop along the way.  Making art is part of what makes you human.  All the successes, support, discouragement and failures make up the steps in your journey from here to there.  It's at the heart of being an artist, the act of paying attention to what matters in the world, then showing it to others. There will always be mediocre work that gets attention, and great work that passes by unacknowledged.   But while it is about the work, it also isn't. It's about the purpose of life that isn't easily explained. 

Pretty Pictures or Something More?

I attended an event where one of the speakers remarked, “I live in a town of 4000, of which 8000 are artists.” The laughter soon faded as the meaning began to sink in: “There are too many who think they are artists.”  And here we were, aspiring artists, listening to that message from a Master.

Perhaps that’s not a bad idea to consider by those who venture on the artistic path.  By acknowledging that creativity abounds, that each of us brings desire to the table, there are important questions that begged to be asked. 

Does innate talent play a larger role in one's success as an artist than practice, passion, determination and resiliency? I have wondered about this question throughout the more than a decade and a half that I have been writing about art, and I haven’t yet come up with a solid answer.  But what I have done is look to those who have been recognized as “artists” to try to identify what might be unique about them.  And patterns begin to emerge.

They see clearly the end result they want to achieve, and they follow their own direction to get there.  Whether this relates to style, to starting or finishing, to subject matter, what they value most is clarifying their own vision of what it “will look like” when it is finished. 

They have a master's understanding of the tools they use, the historical foundations behind their approach, the mechanics in producing a finished appearance that is both uniquely theirs and uniquely beautiful.

They bring elements that are both personal and universal into the visual message. They know what they are in an intangible way, and it is the underlying support of their painting.

They approach the canvas, paper, clay with a confidence and ease that reveals the level of understanding they have achieved. 

Is this talent? Or a combination of various factors? I found this interview with Daniel Sprick extremely interesting: in it, he said, "One of the things I like to do as an artist is to challenge my own preconceptions."  Between believing in the 10,000 hours concept and grinding out a painting a day - both ideas which may or may not have merit - when do we ever talk about what constitutes substance, authenticity, poetic sensitivity or contemporary relevance except in the vaguest terms?  However you want to articulate it, there is something that some people do that the majority of us have not considered doing.  We can label it as talent, or knowledge and experience, but they are able to produce paintings year after year that impress us.  Call it gravitas, call it courage to produce work that speaks with your own voice, call it an ability to bring life into a flat surface and colored oil - these are conversations more artists should have, something we ought to start amongst ourselves as we search for our own answers. 

An artist needs the craft.  She needs an thorough awareness of art history to better understand the influences that appeal to her.  Seeking out and sharing the sources of information and inspiration, such as the "Liminal Spaces: A Conversation with Daniel Sprick" post by Elana Hagler, and posted on the Painting Perceptions: commentary on perceptual painting blog, can help contribute to the important connections we artists need to make to further our personal understanding of the work we have chosen to do. 

Please share your favorite resources in the comments section below. 

And Thank You for reading today.

"Fall, oil on canvas, SFSmith 2015  IMG_0874 sm copy


The Difference Technique Makes

George Inness, in the book Writings and Reflections on Art and Philosophy, is quoted as saying, “While looking at the Claude which hangs next to one of the Turners in the National Gallery – and which knocks the Turner all to pieces –I seemed to be in the presence of a great, earnest mind.” It was a quote that came to mind while I was sitting in the dentist chair, waiting to get numb.  There was a print hanging on the wall.  I stared at it, a group of five workmen, maybe miners given their lace-up work boots, or maybe farmers given their western style hats, sitting on a log and leaning against an adobe wall.  Maybe you’ve seen this particular print. But since I wasn’t “numbing” fast enough, I decided to study it some more.  Had I been a casual patient I might not have noticed some of the details.  That the men all had a similarity, not just in the facial features, but in the exact same tilt and shape and size of the head.  Or the shadows, connecting the forms, which did not read true.  Ahhh… I thought.  Had the artist used a photograph of one man, and projected it against his canvas five times?  A rendering by hand would have not produced such exact smiling replicas, lined up in a row. 

I overheard something similar in a gallery last year.  The gallery director had just opened the shipping box and set out the paintings from an artist.  As he examined them, he took out his phone.  “No,” he was saying, “I don’t care if it’s part of your process, I can see the black ink lines through the paint and my customers will not buy your paintings. I’m going to ship them back.” 

We can become slaves to technique.  It is the primary thing we think about.  We put a mark on canvas and fall prey to the obsession.  Over the centuries, when artists would grow too dissatisfied with their results, they would go to the museums and study the Old Masters.  How did they do that, they wonder?  What brush, what mixture of paint?  Is it any wonder the lure of short cuts becomes so strong?  David Hockney even wrote a book on the subject.  Called the Hockney-Falco thesis, Hockney argued that the accuracy of the work of the Old Masters was impossible to do by eye-balling it, so they must have used optical aids like the camera obscura.  Falco, a physicist, calculated the type of distortion such devices would create, and Hockney pointed out the “errors” in the work of Old Masters.  The book sparked intense debate: you can read about it here if you are interested, but it really boils down to a single argument -- is success based upon the artist’s unique, rare skill, or his ability to use technology?  Because if it ends up in the technology realm then anyone with a slide projector can create a passable image. 

It is a philosophical question best dissected at the end of a day.  I think about all the art I have viewed over the decades, the images, those few, that still haunt me: you are a child again, on your back in the summer grass, watching the stars spring to life in an ink black sky and it dawns on you with chills down your back that life, existence, the entire mystery is just about to reveal itself.  Just beyond those twinkling points of light, if only you could touch them.  The realization that there is something powerful and violent, awesome and beautiful all at the same time is mind boggling. Unimaginable, until you just imagined it.  That the artist, in one extravagant stroke of paint upon canvas can come close to recreating it.  Why would you ever want to fake that? 

Albert Einstein said, "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." It seems to me the whole idea behind being an artist is fairly straightforward.  But then this is a dialogue that has been going on for a long, long time. We see the paintings that gain the applause and everything looks the same.  Yet we are told the importance of finding our voice, what makes us different.  I don't suppose we will solve it anytime soon. 

Here is another quote from the Inness book:  "We cannot be impressed by that which does not  touch us."


George Inness: Writings and Reflections on Art and Philosophy, Edited by Adrienne Baxter Bell, published in 2006 by George Braziller, Inc., New York.

quoted passages:

1. pg 15

2. pg 173

Einstein quote from BrainyQuote

Keeping the Vision - Why Creativity and Artistic Ability are Not the Same Thing

One of the interesting things I have noticed is that people often lump creativity and artistic ability into the same subject.  They are definitely not the same thing.  Creativity is often measured by how many uses one can conjure within a limited time frame for a single object.  This is often referred to as keeping a child-like frame of mind, ruling nothing out.  How many uses for, say, a can with several holes punched in the bottom?  That creative child might come up with all kinds of answers: an apartment complex for spiders, a way to capture only the largest raindrops, as the smallest ones will fall right through.  Don’t get me wrong: creativity is a wonderful thing.  I do not discount this.  Creativity is not always wasted on youth, but the scientists can tell you that as people age their creativity, as measured by their answers, often declines.

I am not a researcher.  But I read the products of their research.  And I might as well warn you, I often don’t agree with their interpretations.  Oh, I don’t dispute the data or the results of numerous test subjects, but I think they often test for the wrong things.   Perhaps someone past age 60 can’t come up with 25 imaginative uses for a can with holes punched in the bottom, but perhaps, equally, it isn’t because he is losing his creativity but is evaluating the potential usefulness in each invention.  Age does bring with it some economy of effort, whether good or bad depends upon the age of the evaluator.  But this is why I often look at research about age and creativity with a jaded eye; it’s so easy to be clinical about the effects of age when you haven’t attained the honor of being old.

Artistic ability is much harder to define.  Why is this, you might ask?  We all understand when we see it, we know it.  The Mona Lisa.  John Singer Sargent.  Name one example of artistic ability that comes to mind, and as much as you might love them, the drawings that your children did in second grade are not likely to be on that list.  No, artistic ability relates to something much harder to measure or define than keeping a child-like attitude.  There used to be rules, then there were none, and now there are rules again, but no one really agrees on what they might be, which atelier you belong to, or groups you associate with, or magazine you examine cover to cover, or which gallery or corporate entity supports your work.   In this age of self-identified artists -  an outgrowth of Modernism in the legitimacy of the no rules self-expression approach -  everyone’s an artist.  We feel the intense desire, even if we don’t understand the why, or how.  

Something drives us.  I hear from so many artists who say they feel compelled to do this – but become frustrated when they can’t identify what that means.  What happens when we reach the age of 50? Certainly not the kind of identity crisis that used to be the red convertible and a comb-over hair style: no, this is something much deeper, and worthy of our introspection.  You paint.  You create music.  The time when you are immersed in your inner world stops as you seek what you can’t define.  Is it only art if it exists in the commercialized, corporate-controlled version that has established the careers of those who are granted entry?  Is it only art when there is economic benefit?  Does art require some societal value to exist, or has the function and social value of art taken on a new role? 

I am like you.  I am torn between these questions of where to place value and needing to do the work.  So I do the work.  Like the reed in the river, I bend to the need to put paint on canvas and try to find that expression of truth.   Perhaps that is why we feel compelled.  Not out of a desire for self-importance, but a need to identify some truth for ourselves…not narcissism, staring down at our own reflection in the pond, but a quest to capture a moment…to hold it...keep it for someone else. 

“The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.”  -- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

Color In Your Life Television Show Expanding to include US Artists


I don’t usually write posts that sound like a PR campaign, but one mission of this blog is to promote collaboration and artistic support, and occasionally I come across information that is worth sharing. 

In December, I received the following email: "Hi my name is Graeme Stevenson.  I am an Artist and the producer of the TV series: Put some Colour in your life… a series that showcases Artists in their studios…their abilities and also their art…and story as a creator."

I responded with, "Hi  Graeme, I just spent some enjoyable time clicking through your website and watching the videos…I am always interested in quality, and it was a joy to watch the Three Amigos Painting!"

Color In Your Life is a site that delivers, educating artists through instructional videos and promoting their work through a free account.The show is the brainchild of Master Artist Graeme Stevenson.  Originating in the small Australian  town of Murwillumbah, the show has expanded to America, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa. Recently, Stevenson  partnered with FW publications in Ohio to distribute shows through their global networks.  From the website and You Tube channels you can access free instructional videos, and there are 74 US television stations airing the series, including PBS.  Colour In Your Life was “designed to foster creativity and interest in art, and generally highlights one artist in each episode." The show was nominated for a LOGIE Award in 2012. 

According to this media announcement, Stevenson is coming to The United States and planning to "film as many American artists as possible for the series. We know there is a plethora of incredible talent across the pond, and as we go to new heights with the show, we want to go greater distances for artistic skills to share with the world."  Just one more example of artists supporting and promoting other artists.

From the main website , I decided to set up an account as a test, and found it easy to do.  CIYL offers something very much like Facebook dedicated to artists, where you can promote your upcoming workshops, post art images, get feedback, and connect to other artists. Artwork is easy to upload, and although I have not explored the section for artwork for sale, the site offers a nice presentation. 

If you are interested, check out the TV Episodes link.  At the bottom, there are instructions for “Be On The Show.”  No Guarantees, but worth investigation, since the show has plans to come to the States. 

Here are some useful links:

Graeme Stevenson - YouTube videos which include free watercolor painting lessons from Alvaro Castagnet, Plein Air from John Crump, Acrylic from Carole Foster, and many more.

Find out about Color In Your Life here.

Testimonials from artists who have been featured on the show.

Home Page for Color In Your Life, where you can set up a free account.



Just off the Easel

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Stormy Weather, 12 x 18, oil on mounted linen


Art should be viewed as a gift.  Knowledge was passed on to me, and I try to pass it on to others.

 To find out more about my book, Ancient Wisdom, Emerging Artist, please click here

And thank you for reading this blog!


Please contribute to this discussion by posting your comments. 

Four Realities for the 21st Century Artist

1. There will always be gatekeepers.   Some are obvious, some you might not expect.  The least expected gatekeeper is money, keeping artists away from their work, short on supplies, and limited in their ability to learn. 

2. Art is not a linear progression.  What art has always been is a partial reflection of the culture of the time. As an organizing concept in Art History, we like to connect one epoch to another in order to project into the future, but that is all it is – a way of organizing.  The same could be said for the 4 by 6 file cards used when researching a topic: the cards are not the finished writing.    

3. Technology provides convenience, but does not provide human emotional connection.  At the end of the day,  computer generated images do nothing to aid in our basic desire for self-realization.   As humans, we crave moments of spiritual beauty and calm, found through music, dance, writing, and visual art.  If this were not true, how would you explain the flash mobs  that suddenly evolve into a full symphonic orchestra, stopping busy commuters in their tracks?   

4. Knowing why you are an artist is far more important than convincing others to see you as an artist. 

So what realities would you list?


My deep thanks to Thad Allen of Beard's Framing.  Read the interview here.

Here is a teaser from their 4 Inspiring Quotes About Framing page:

"4. “An Ebony frame can enrich a poor canvas, and make it look or sell as well as a good one.”
- Constantin Huygens

Unless you’re a professional art historian, you can be forgiven for not knowing who Constantin Huygens is..."