Have Courage !

To a young artist today I wrote, "You have been drawing and painting your stories, your ideas and your friends.

They must think it is truly wonderful and revealing of your natural talent and your desire to make art.

I see you struggle with some of the great problems of representational painting.

How to incorporate a figure into an environment, for example . . . or how to balance the elements of form: 
Figure/Ground, Line/Mass, Perspective/Pattern, Hue/Value/Chroma, Image/Symbol, 
Meaning/Feeling, Imagination/Vision, Harmony/Discord, Transparent/Opaque.

These are the qualities that will carry your story in pictures however you choose to tell it. 

They combine to make a kind of visual poetry that will express Life itself when used effectively.

And it takes a lifetime of learning to master the Art of Painting.

You’ll find it is solitary work before a broad audience and you'll find a classroom everywhere.

There is much that can be described. Much to be taught. Everything to be observed and contemplated.

There are many teachers to point you in the right direction but only you are left to learn each lesson.

The steps along the way may seem heavy and hopeless or light and effortless.

Progress will trip over its own feet. Failure will reveal a delightful miracle!

The question “Why?” is asked and not answered so frequently it leaves a scar deep in your heart.

Distractions are so seductive; Disappointments are crushing; Money will shine like a trophy on the easier path.

Fun will flirt with your friends. Success will dance with your competition.

You may receive awards and sales and words of congratulation .

The thing you care about most may seem beyond reach.

Like light itself, it illuminates all you value but cannot touch. 

It is a lifetime of learning and hard won skills.

And the only possible response is to continue if you can. 

The reward you hunger for becomes simply to be able to continue the work, your exploration, your adventure, your mark.

There are some who say,

'If you can be discouraged from continuing in the pursuit of Art then you should be.'

The great challenge!"

Have courage!

On Leary and Deeds

Thank you for sharing this, John! There’s a lot that works for this image, especially in that it’s highly legible without relying on explicit detail: there's some beautiful planes at work in the faces of your subjects that are defined almost purely in color, and some very rhythmic, if not outright cinematic, diagonals at work (see attached) that frame the essentials. Your choice of complements not only suggest a convincing time of day, but are also mechanically dramatic. 

Someone asked me:
If it’s okay to ask a few questions to better inform any further comment, technical and otherwise, what’s your intent with an image like this? Do you believe that intent has been achieved, or is there a next step?

And my response:
Thank you for your comments, Jean.  I worked from a photograph for that painting.  A photograph taken by CWO-2 Michael D. Fay USMC (retired).  If there are structural dynamics that appeal in this painting it will be largely because they exist in the photograph; the color, the diagonals, the cinematic close up.  It may sound like I'm being evasive but it is simply the case that something in the photograph resonated with me.  I saw it and responded immediately.  Here is a note I wrote to the mother of one of the Marines in the painting, Mrs. Deeds, whose son died not long after the photo was taken. " I'm new to the Combat Art Group. When I saw the photograph Michael took of Leary and your son it struck me as an extraordinary portrait of these young men standing guard like combat angels over the very foundations of civilization. The brilliant morning sun and chill in the air only heightened the effect. I want you to see the painting I made in tribute to this. I send you my deep condolences and profound gratitude for the sacrifice your beautiful family has made."  

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that my input had something to do with my skills as a painter but more importantly it has to do with the certain emotional pitch inherent to this intimate scene. It was captured first by Mr. Fay. and I used the vocabulary of paint to add another layer of humanity to the image.  A painting is not a mechanical reproduction. That very conversion from photograph to paint is a statement in itself. You see the animated dance of light in textures and shaped surfaces. You see the abrasions of life itself registered in flesh tones from the wobble in my hand for example.  The uneven brushwork echoes the vulnerability of even the fiercest warrior. And these two Marines were not that. Strong they may have been, determined and vigilant yes, but they are young.  They’re colored by exposure to desert sun and darkened by the mood of a backlit sun.  Their faces cupped in helmets and balaclava. They are tired.  They are wary.  They have a job to protect the innocents living scattered lives in a war zone.  These Marines have unrealized dreams packed away in the tight script of letters back home written in pencil so neither tears nor rain can bleed their impact.  

I am surrounded daily by artists whose work captures the mundane aspects of life in the civilian world and I, myself, make similar contributions. We’re all trying to flex our muscles, show off our skills.  Show what there is of our lives that has aesthetic merit.  Some are amazing in their ability to render human form, or the petals of flowers, the light raking a landscape. However in this painting of Leary and Deeds I was able to cry humanity . . . humanity with a finger on the trigger of a deadly weapon.  The confidence of superior firepower tempered by a deep concern for parents and children, brothers and sisters, strangers.  I saw in this image the warmth of a gloved hand and the sun blinding a distant mosque tower. 

How long does it take?

Someone wants to ask, "How long does it take to do that?"

You tell them you were very direct about it and proceeded from beginning to end with deliberation.

That the painting was done in the amount of time it takes to do that much brushwork on that much canvas with a bit extra thrown in for corrections.

They will be amazed to hear it and back away blinking and thinking you're some wonderfully talented painter.

On Victor's drawings

Thinking of Victor Juhasz drawings

The common man with honest eyes sees extraordinary things in the fleeting moment and responds with the rush of a pen and a whispering line to bear up startling figures and action brought abruptly into eager focus. "I can see it!", I think. And for a moment it feels like I was there with you, with your open book story and life tossed and turning on the page.

All it takes is one beer and I start writing like that. LOL

Presentation to the Chiefs

I was a volunteer fireman on Long Island for some years. 

So I have some idea what the local uniformed services had to deal with during the wildfires of last year.  

All the heroic labels and stars on the uniforms aside, I know it’s a dangerous and unpredictable business.


Now I live here in Santa Rosa and I like it very much.  

I am an artist.  A painter.  I do portraits in Oil.  


I wanted to say thank you to some of the main people who participated in the fire event of last October.

This is how I can do that. With paintings.


So, I met with Mayor Mr Coursey and the Santa Rosa City Council to acknowledge the uniformed community leaders who were on duty in October of 2017 

You were not able to be at the presentation of portrait paintings I made to Santa Rosa Fire Chief Anthony Goessner.  Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder. And Director of CalFire Ken Pimlott.  


I am happy to be here today to present this painting to you, Sherriff Giordano

The inscription on the frame of each of the paintings reads “In recognition of those on duty who rose to that daunting task October 8, 2017.”


I can say to you without reservation, Thank you for your service.

WW 1 Memorial Relief Sculpture

Project: Pershing Park WW 1 Memorial Relief Sculpture
Date: 2018-07-19

Ladies and Gentlemen -- The Fine Arts Community of the United States is sorely in need of some recognition in the FIGURATIVE TRADITION.  We have a proposal before us by the exceptionally skilled Sabin Howard for a World War 1 Memorial Wall relief depicting the depths of experience in narrative format of a soldier during WW1.  It is a very personal statement of military combat experience as well as a very public statement relating to the humanity of our fighting forces.  Please, show your support for the arts and for our country and for the military men and women who give so much of themselves for the promise of peace and security for all.

Ha, Ha !  You caught me being generous to a guy I admire for his painting skills.


Let me preface this comment by saying that I don’t want to get into some tit-for-tat argument by graduate school drop-outs on the necessity for art to be either THIS WAY or THAT.  I’m just going to put this thought out there.


I’m gonna guess that this first photo is a poor reproduction of the “four white dots” in the painting.  The painting shows up better in the photo on the jssgallery.org website.

An attempt to make the “portrait a picture” by the addition of the globe behind and the Saint Martin and the Beggar above in the composition is evidence of his willingness to move objects and people around for the sake of a better arrangement.

Since the black robes were a necessary inclusion and as the figures are likely to approach life size there is the requirement of integrating large dark areas.  


These men are teaching doctors whose careers made significant advances to the concept of modern medical practice.  How better to portray this advance than to describe upright figures robed in black that find themselves anchored to the dark yet projected forward of it —the figures thus emerging from this dense atmosphere into light.  Their occupations moved by warm currents stirred in the parquet floor, the forward projection of a desk, the draped code of academic regalia and the rising flow of that engulfing background.  An enormous globe . . . humanity, if you will . . . pressing outward from the central figures rounding to them and forming a bridge to connect the one with the other, their arabesque of hands claiming shared knowledge in the texts laid about on the table.

Quotes from contemporaries who actually saw the painting:

"A marvellously fine composition... The dextrous way in which the artist has used the hoods, the books, and the globe to relieve the gloom of gowns and backgrounds is beyond praise."   

-London Times   

"Touches on absolute mastery within the limits of its aims. ...The masses of black are strong and elastic in structure, and each brush stroke is directly descriptive of surface character. The background is nobly handled, and the execution throughout of a power and insight that belie the rather photographic arrangement of the subject."   

-The Athenaeum 

Problems solved

It's a sad comment on the culture but we all spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out the solution to painter's problems that had been solved 150 years ago.  Then comes a couple generations of "We don't need no steenkin badges" artists and it's almost all lost.  The last 20-30 years have made some progress.

The whole pearl

Why I never finished a Masters Degree  6/10/2018 8:02:38 PM

What follows comes on the heels of a discussion on painting with an art teacher. Sir !  

If you describe Henry Moore, Giocometti and Calder as "Sight Size" sculptors then we do not refer to the same thing.  

What I speak of is the work of sight-size observation and fine art painting as taught by the gentlemen you so uncharacteristically disparaged in your previous comments.

I have had the privilege of working on two life sized figure pieces in this method at my own expense. Your argument that this is a shape isolating method of painting neglects the essential search for observation of ALL formal aspects of the subject. Your argument hints that you have not worked extensively at this task and that you have come up short in your understanding of it's premise and benefits.
Once again, I say . . . popular though you may be . . . that you are mistaken in your short change comments about a method of working which some fine art painters have found to be exhilarating in it's promise to reveal something true, honest and dignified about our physical presence on this earth.
Do not believe that the students trained by another master will come to you carrying the whole pearl. They come to you perhaps having tried to pry open the jaws of this difficult problem but having failed. In short, you base your argument against the A+ student by referring to the evidence brought forth by D- students.
Modern life surges with a tide of image makers of every sort and at every turn. So few practice the art of fine painting and not so many more than that are interested in investing in the practice. We should not be reduced to a battle cry at every meeting with someone in this small community by the thought that they may increase their audience only by reducing ours. 
You are a wonderful artist and an excellent teacher but you diminish your effectiveness by these thrusts.  
By the way, I have a wonderful photograph of you with your little dog. It is one of my fondest memories from the Portrait Society Conference.

Room enough

The visual experience of a painting happens between an audience and the canvas. Those few square feet of air are room enough for the imagination of mind to explore countless and subtle emotions, time and space. The photographic image is ubiquitous and the population believes them to be authentic. Even despite the advantages and disadvantages how can photography not be a valid reference for painters ?  

The human touch

I think people have now and will continue to have a hunger for things made by hand. Things that have been warmed in their creation by a human touch.

The real trophy

 My response to a painter who wished to have her friends success:

"I think maybe better to simply admire the skill of our friends. Painting skills in the studio are hard won from long hours of work and deserve appreciation.  'Success' is a lucky stroke given haphazardly to one of any number of similarly talented painters. You can't wish for success. If you were lucky to be recognized for your work, the real trophy is the time you have been given to continue."

Sketchbook Memory

A podcast called "You Are Not So Smart" recently had some comments about this. In an experiment, two groups were tested on their memory of a trip through a museum. One group had cameras. The other group did not. On tests of their memory after the museum visit, the group that did NOT have cameras had more accurate memory of the experience. HOWEVER, the group WITH cameras did much better as days passed . . . as long as they had access to the photos afterward so they could revisit the images. That being said, it is my experience that if I have a camera, there is a strong pull to take photos. If I do not have a camera, I do drawings and sketches. If I do drawings, I remember everything better than just from simple observation or from revisiting photos taken at the time.

A few Thoughts from the Studio.

A few Thoughts from the Studio. 2/21/2018 3:50:38 PM

1.) Paint because you love to paint . . . because that is the instrument best suited to your hand. That's reason enough to continue. Sometimes a swimmer will find the current goes against his direction, and sometimes it goes with. The swimmer continues because the current is part of swimming. A climber will encounter loose gravel; a hiker will be out in the rain. geology and weather are part of the game. If you've found the instrument best suited to your hand --keep using it.

The Precarious Balance between Joy and Self Criticism.

The Precarious Balance between Joy and Self Criticism. 11/18/2017 9:02:51 AM

We spend so much time with our work being self critical. This must be darker; that should be a little longer; the little shape goes off at the wrong angle; the whole thing needs more contrast . . . etc. It's how we make a painting better. 

One of the best lessons I took from Hilary Holmes and Curt Hanson is to try to get back to that thing you loved so much about this scene that you wanted to paint it.

It's hard to do . . . You start with such hope and such delight at the possibilities . . . and then you want to like something that you've spent so many hours making and then to discover all its shortcomings. But it is important work never the less.

You have to learn to love your own efforts or you bear the weight of a double burden that will sink your fondest aspirations as a painter.

It's also why I think one of the most important characteristics of any young artist-painter is that they must love doing the work; just the physical activity of it. That will see you through until you find the joy of surprise at your own growth and efforts.

“Take care of your babies and your babies will take care of you”

Wildfires in the neighborhood

October 8th 2017 began a series of wildfires surrounding our community.  They turned out to be some of the most devastating fires in California history.  We were awakened at 3 in the morning October 9th to discover that an Advisory Evacuation Order had been issued for our community.  The following Thursday a Mandatory Evacuation Order was issued.  We worried about our house and my studio from afar for nine days and then were allowed to return.  Our home is safe to great relief all around.  I made contact with and paintings for some of the people who were a great help during this time.  The four pictured here are

The Police Chief of Santa Rosa

The Fire Chief of Santa Rosa

The Sherriff of Sonoma County and 

The Chief Engineer of Cal Fire

-- Thanks for keeping us safe. 

Marinscapes 2017

I’ll be participating in the upcoming MarinScapes Art Show and Sale.  MarinScapes benefits Buckelew Programs, including the Family Service Agency of Marin and the Helen Vine Recovery Center.  

This event takes place from Thursday of this week to Sunday.  You can see the entire schedule below on an attached TWO for ONE Admission Card.  This event is at the historic Escalle Winery at 771 Magnolia Avenue in Larkspur.  You can get full details at buckelew.org.  


If you don’t recognize my name, you might remember me as the guy who spent Board meetings sketching the other Board Members, or as the photographer of the famous Mountain Play Costume Contest or as Assistant to the Master of the Stadium Seat Booth.  I very proudly take credit for coming up with the slogan, “Theater with Altitude!”   My wife, Anne, and I moved to Santa Rosa almost four years ago, but we still have deep roots in Marin County.  My painting of the Point Bonita Lighthouse was on the cover of the May issue of Marin Magazine and of course we went to see Beauty and the Beast on the Mountain.  It was absolutely wonderful and it was great to see how the tradition has continued to grow and evolve.


If you have time, I’d love to see you at MarinScapes.  I plan to be there throughout the show.  You’ll probably find me sketching.


Best always,


John Deckert


I like to draw with a large sketchbook. Wears out that hand, it does. So here is what I devised to help an old man's wrist.

Marin Magazine

Daniel Jewett, Editor of Marin Magazine

I am quite honored that my painting of the Point Bonita Lighthouse was selected for the cover of the May issue of Marin Magazine. They included a very nice article and photo and even an image of a recent self-portrait. It's a beautiful magazine that celebrates a beautiful place and I'm thrilled to be a part of it.


A one way conversation


John Deckert OK, So you want a life-sized portrait of four men in black robes . . . 

and yet here it is, a brilliant composition


Rob Howard Point out the brilliant compositional points and also, what the purpose of this composition was to convey.


John Deckert These men are teaching doctors whose careers made significant advances to modern medical practice. How better to portray this advance than to describe upright figures robed in black that find themselves anchored to the dark yet projected forward of it —the figures thus emerging from this dense atmosphere into light. Their occupations moved by warm currents stirred in the parquet floor, the forward projection of a desk, the draped code of academic regalia and the rising flow of that engulfing background. An enormous globe . . . humanity, if you will . . . pressing outward from the central figures rounding to them and forming a bridge to connect the one with the other, their arabesque of hands claiming shared knowledge in the texts laid about on the table. And that polite reminder to keep the personal touch in your business with the image of St. Martin and the Beggar.

You might say "They are IN that Darkness, but they are not OF that darkness." (You can give us the Latin for that.)

You know . . . that kind of stuff . . .



Rob Howard What you describe is a written history. Do you understand what pictorial composition is, and it's purposes and uses in making pictures? Do you think of painting as a form of communication or merely a demonstration of techniques and skills learned in school and repeated endlessly?


If you are confused about the difference between technique and content (and intent), I call your attention to an interview given to Truman Capote (a man of considerable literary worth) when asked to comment on the writing style of Jaquelin Sussan, the author of 'Valley Of The Dolls'..."That's not writing,' quipped Capote, "that's typing."


In the case of most people looking at art, they don't know the difference between true greatness and most of it which is just typing," demonstrations of hand skills.


Sargent was outstanding until his mid-30's. At 25, he was the enfant terrible of the day...at least in France. He had astonishing skills at observing the variation in Values and translating them into paint. He came along during an era of great bravura painters like Stevens and Boldini, and his bravura style was part of that trend. Durand-Ruel was a fortunate choice of teacher and he lived during an era of elevated skills.


He was not the most creative guy in the world although, when he was in his twenties, he show a strong compositional ability and, as always, complete control over his Values. Fortunately for me, being schooled at the old Boston Museum School, when it was inextricably connected with the museum, we were granted space and access to copy anything in the museum (that would interfere with today's suburban cultures on their way to the restaurant and gift shop. This was the old Boston and there was an active art community.


I copied lots of Velasquez and Rembrandt paintings and found I had a real knack for it. For me, it was like channeling those masters. Among the artists from who I learned was the young John Sargent (as he was known during his lifetime and before being gussied up with a middle name and the fiction of being an American artist...he was born in Italy and schooled there and in France...initially the Brits thought he was much too French).


For me, those years of copying did a great deal of freeing up and answering questions.


And here's my interpretation of that conversation:

John Deckert 

a life-sized portrait of men in black robes

a brilliant composition


Rob Howard
show purpose of this composition


John Deckert 

Point of PURPOSE:

  1. Commemorate doctors contributions to medical practice
  2. globe = humanity pressing outward 
  3. shared knowledge in the texts 
  4. personal touch kept in your business
  5. Doctors IN that Darkness not OF darkness


Rob Howard 

Point out compositional points


John Deckert 


  1. upright figures robed in black

a. anchored to the dark yet projected forward of it 

b. figures emerging from this dense atmosphere into light. 

  1. occupations moved by warm currents

a. stirred in the parquet floor, 

b. forward projection of a desk, 

c. draped code of academic regalia

d. rising flow of that engulfing background. 

  1. globe presses outward from figures 

a. rounding to them 

b.  forms a bridge 

c. connects the one with the other

  1. arabesque of hands - the texts laid about on the table. 
  2. polite reminder of St. Martin and the Beggar.
  3. IN that Darkness, not OF that darkness



Rob Howard 


I quote Truman Capote

schooled at the old Boston Museum School

connected with the museum

granted access to copy

an active art community.

knack for copies of Velasquez and Rembrandt

channeling those masters

I learned from the young John Sargent

years of copying = freeing up and answering questions.



Is painting a form of communication ?

a demonstration of techniques and skills?

Do you learn in school and repeat endlessly?


EVERY ONE ELSE is ill informed:

you didn’t answer my question, you describe a written history

Do you understand pictorial composition?

Do you understand it's purposes and uses?

Schools teach techniques and skills that repeat endlessly

confused about technique and content (and intent), 

people don't know difference between greatness and skills.

suburbanites just interested in the restaurant and gift shop

Popular culture gussied up Sargent with a middle name 

Desperate Americans created a fiction of Sargent as an American artist

the Brits thought he was too French




Sargent outstanding until his mid-30's. 

enfant terrible in France.

skilled at translating into paint. 

style part of era of great bravura painters

Durand-Ruel = fortunate choice in era of elevated skills.

Sargent was not creative guy

had compositional ability and control over his Values

he was born in Italy and schooled there and in France