Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Latest Painting And A Note About Artistic License

Here is my latest painting. It's a smallish, 16"x12" oil on linen. No title as of yet.

And, here is the reference photo I used for the bear.

The reason I'm posting these is because I'd like to point out the importance of taking artistic license when painting representational subjects...

I observed the bear in this painting for many hours over the course of a week in Jackson Hole, WY. He was a great example of a cinnamon-colored black bear. But, you may notice that in the reference photo I used for this painting, the bear's head appears extremely small — especially for his body. This wasn't due to photographic distortion, he just had a head that looked disproportionately small when compared with the rest of his body. So, I took artistic license and made his head much larger in the painting (among other things) because painting it as it actually was would have appeared strange, even distracting to me. Maybe it wouldn't have bothered anyone else, but it bugged me. So I changed it.

My point being, don't be afraid to alter reality if it means making a better painting. Because a good painting is always the top priority, and not necessarily anatomical accuracy (at least in this case).

Art Tip #5: Photographing Your Work

For my 5th art tip in the series, here's a link to Robert Hunt's web page on "Photographing Reflective Art". It's one of the best "How-To" on photographing one's artwork I've read.

Thanks to Robert for such an informative post!


Monday, September 27, 2010

The Subtle (But Most Important) Benefit Of Doing Shows

Shows can be tough. The difficulties of needing to generate revenue as an artist and balancing the sometimes huge costs associated with doing shows can wear down even the most enthusiastic of us artists. We need to make money when galleries are having trouble selling our work (or even when they aren’t), but there are no guarantees we'll sell at any particular show. The only real guarantee is that we'll spend money just attending them — and lots of it. When you calculate everything from show fees to travel expenses, lodging and food, shipping costs, really starts to add up.

This constant, nagging need to produce revenue just to cover expenses can overshadow some of the more subtle benefits of doing shows. Benefits that often times bear more fruit than just making a little money.

Understand that shows are the ultimate connection to an art-loving audience. Within that audience there are likely collectors, gallery curators, art publication editors, other show coordinators and people that may not as of yet be financially able to purchase your work, but may be able to in the future. This is the true benefit of doing art shows as an artist — making connections with folks that can help you in your journey as an artist. It supercedes the immediate possibility (and need) of generating revenue because it is an opportunity to put into place the elements that will help to build your career. The connections that can be made at shows are often the catalyst for an artist's success, and when nurtured over time, the relationships originated at shows build a firm foundation the artist can rely on for future revenue. Shows are exposure — exposure to a highly targeted audience. As an artist, this exposure is your greatest asset in building your career. Don’t underestimate it. And whatever you do, don’t let any lack of sales at any particular show dampen your outlook if you're able to make connections with people who love your work.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Art Tip #4: Drawing; Getting Your Proportions Right

This month's art tip is geared towards helping you focus on the fundamentals. In this case, drawing—and more specifically, proportions.

Many artists struggle with drawing and it can be difficult to find help in getting the tools they need to improve their drawing skills. I'm often blown away by the number of artists that are unaware of measuring. Measuring is part of learning to see as an artist. An artist must see in very literal terms and not let the brain’s learned biases get in the way. A great example is if you asked an adult how tall a man is that is standing off in the distance, they would most likely take a guess at his height; “Oh, he’s about 6’2” I would guess.” As an artist, you can’t think that way! Think like a very young child. If you ask a very young child how tall that same man is, they might give you his height by sticking out their hand and placing him between their first finger and thumb and exclaim; “He’s this tall!” That’s how an artist needs to think and see—as literal as one can, and measuring is an integral part of learning to see this way.

Measuring is a key component in getting proportions correct in your drawing. I'm sure you've seen the cliché of an artist holding their thumb, pencil, brush, or whatever, out in front of their subject. I can tell you they aren't checking wind direction — they're measuring. Measuring works like this (I'll use figure drawing as my example)... Let's say you're painting from a live model. On your substrate you first establish a baseline to work from. The head is the most common use of measurement in figure drawing and makes a good baseline to from which to work. I first draw a very loose shape on my substrate that represents the head of my model.

Then, using whatever tool I'm drawing with as a measuring stick, I close one eye, stick out my tool, and using my thumb to mark off a unit of measurement, I measure the height of my model's head. Then, I step off how many of my model's heads it takes to equal the height of his or her entire body. I count the number (let's say she or he was 7 heads tall) and then I measure the shape I drew for a head on my substrate and mark off 7 heads. I now have a fairly accurate estimate of the height of my model — and I've been able to get that same height/head ratio down on my substrate.

This process of measuring works for everything you draw. If I was doing a portrait, I could use the model's eye or nose as the standard of measurement. I.e., my model's head is 4 and a half noses in height and 3 wide.

Measuring is great for judging foreshortening. For example, if your model is sitting with his or her legs coming out towards you, using their head to measure how long their legs should appear works excellent — something you may misjudge without measuring. You'd be surprised just how many heads it may take to equal the length of a pair of legs coming out at you. That's a strange phrase, but you get the point.

When I'm painting in plein air, I often use a stone or tree or something else prominent in the image, as my unit of measurement. For example, I might be painting a scene where I want the mountain to be the dominate subject — towering over everything else. I can use a tree as my unit of measurement to see just how tall the mountain should be in relation to my trees. Is the mountain in my image 4 trees tall or is it 3? In landscape painting you can get away with less proportional accuracy because you may want to exaggerate certain elements in a scene and it will still look right. In drawing and painting living beings, people or animals, you don’t have as much room to play if you want them to remain believable. This is why measuring, and getting the proportions correct through measuring, is so important.

I hope you found this tip useful. And as always, have fun drawing and painting!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Paintings For The Benefit Show At The Moose Horn Gallery

As I posted previously, I'm participating in a benefit art show and sale at the Moose Horn Gallery, August 20th — 22nd. Here are some of the new works that will be for sale at the show. Hope to see you there!

"Desert Dwellers", 16" x 20" Oil on Linen

"The Rubberneckers", 11" x 14" Oil on Linen

"Manny", 8" x 6" Oil on Linen

"Moe", 8" x 6" Oil on Linen

"Jack", 8" x 6" Oil on Linen

Monday, August 2, 2010

Art Tip #3: Tips For Beginning Plein Air Painters From A Beginner

I'm a beginner when it comes to plein air painting. I've been doing it for about 6 years and have made it an important part of my artistic growth now for about the last 4 years — but I'm still very much a beginner.

With that in mind, I have picked up some very useful tips on making plein air painting easier. OK, maybe not easier, but certainly a tad less frustrating. Here are my top 10 tips...

1) If you're just starting out, start out small.
I dived in headfirst and initially tried painting on larger canvases — DON'T! You're just going to be spending time filling in space and not bettering your painting skills. Time is short in doing plein air work, so until you feel you can do it with authority, I'd recommend not going larger than 11x14 (that's inches not feet, and that's pushing it).

2) Time goes by fast so get the important stuff down.
And by that I mean the shadows. Shadows are the most dominate element in defining form and they change quickly. Record them on your canvas first and that way you won't end up chasing them later. Also, start with the darkest shadow or element in the scene. It will allow you to judge all of your values back from there.

3) Setup your colors on your pallet the same way every time you go out.
There's no time to lose, including hunting for your colors. If you lay them out the same each time you paint en plein air, eventually you'll barely have to look down to see where they are — saving you precious time.

4) Wipe that messy brush after every stroke.
It's very easy to get mud when painting en plein air because the urgency of it tends to override things you might normally do in the studio, like keeping your brush from contaminating colors. To avoid this, I've made it a habit to wipe my brush after every stroke.

5) Plein air painting is about an impression.
Hence the term impressionist. Don't waste your time with unnecessary details. Edit the scene down to its most important elements in value, color and shape and record it with your brush. Initially, think of plein air painting as sketching, except with a brush and color rather than a pencil. As you progress, you'll get better at telling the story with less detail and more economy of brushwork.

6) Stop looking for the perfect location and just paint.
I've wasted entire days trying to find a spot that "inspires" me. In the beginning, painting en plein air should be about learning, not about producing a masterwork. You can paint anything you see, so just stop stalling and pick something. If you have a difficult time separating out an area to paint from what you see in front of you, get a viewfinder. It'll help you frame-out an area to paint.

7) Try to not setup with direct sunlight on your pallet or canvas.
I realize this isn't always possible. Sometimes you can use an umbrella if shade is unavailable (though, I've found an umbrella can be difficult to work with if a stiff wind sends the umbrella and the easel it's attached to, flying). Harsh sunlight on your canvas and pallet will cause you to misjudge your values, so when you take your painting indoors, it can look much too dark. If you must paint in direct sunlight, mix your values lighter to compensate.

8) Morning and evening light moves fast. Want to add a bit more time?
Paint the scene backlit. Shadows won't appear to change as quickly when you're painting a scene that is backlit. You also won't have to worry as much about setting up in the shade because your canvas will shade itself and your pallet (at least in a typical plein air setup).

9) Don't forget the practical items.
It's easy to remember your easel, pallet, brushes and colors (well, for some anyway). But don't forget things like grocery bags, paper towels, a hat, bug spray, etc. Make a checklist before you go out and have it handy from then on to make sure you aren't missing anything. Or better yet, setup a backpack with everything all packed and ready to go on a moments notice.

10) Stop being afraid of doing it.
Yes, it's tough. Yes, you might be embarrassed if someone sees. Yes, you likely won't feel good about any of the paintings you produce for a long while. But please, take my word for it and understand that it can be fun, rewarding and relaxing — that's right, I said relaxing. Use it as an opportunity to not only better your skills as a painter, but to connect with nature and enjoy the sounds, the smells and the solitude (if that's what relaxes you) that can come with painting en plein air.

Happy painting!

Attending Workshops: What's Your Motivation?

Prompted by an email conversation I recently had with an artist friend of mine, I've decided to post some of my thoughts on the subject of workshops. What better time than now to do so given that I'll be conducting an oil painting workshop in October (yes, that was a not-so-subtle plug).

First, I'll start by making known my particular approach to workshops — both from an instructor's point-of-view, and as an attendee...

As an Instructor:
I believe painting is a skill, and in its most fundamental form, is NOT a talent. Painting, as I see it, is a complicated set of problems that can be articulated and then addressed through practice, technique, dedication and study. Certainly there are those that will excel in the endeavor of painting beyond what most of us would otherwise achieve through simple practice, technique, dedication and study. But the fundamentals of painting can be learned and one can have confidence that if they apply copious amounts of dedication, practice and study, they will eventually become a good painter — maybe not a great painter, but most assuredly a good one.

That being said, I believe it is my roll as an instructor to not attempt to teach style as it pertains to me personally, but rather teach what I know and understand about the process and fundamentals of painting. I believe teaching one's style will typically just produce artist clones rather than give attending artists a set of tools to develop their own personal style. And the more unique the instructor's own style, the more they should limit its involvement in their workshop curriculum, in my opinion.

Does this do a disservice to workshop attendees who want to learn to paint from an artist whose work they admire for its uniqueness? I believe not. Artists that attend workshops for the sole purpose of learning the style of another artist are the only ones doing themselves a disservice.

Which brings me to...

As An Attendee:
To be completely honest, I have never attended a workshop. There are several artists whose work I greatly admire and who I believe would have much to offer me as a student, but these artists are exceptionally unique in their personal styles and I'm afraid that too much of that style would find its way into their workshops. The result would be that rather than learning tools to become a better painter, I would pickup "tricks" to paint more like them. I didn't say this was a justified fear, rather just my fear as an artist.

If I were to attend a workshop, I would first consult artists who've previously been a student under a particular artist I'm interested in and find out the instructor's approach. Did the instructor communicate well or did they keep their mouth closed and spend most of the workshop wowing attendees by performing demos without much in the way of instruction? Did the attending artist feel the instructor was honest during critiques? Did they offer criticism from an emotional reaction or was their criticism more technical in nature? And simply, did the student feel their instructor was a good teacher?

My motivation for taking a workshop would be simple; To learn from an artist whose work I respect in order to improve my own work. My motivation would not be to learn how to paint like the instructor, or to have a forum from which to demonstrate my own skills as a painter to the other artists (this may sound strange, but as an instructor, I've seen it). My motivation would be to immerse myself in learning, plain and simple.

If you decide you are going to take a workshop, take a moment to reflect on your motivation for doing so. If you're going to be teaching a workshop, maybe think about what approach will best serve your attending artists. I know I definitely am (lots of pressure).

Happy painting!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Moose Horn Gallery Show

In just a little under a month, I'll be heading out to spend a week in the Yellowstone area painting and photographing, and just generally reveling in the splendor of one of my favorite locales. As an added point of celebration, my reason for going isn't just to exploit the outdoors for my own artistic gain, I'm also part of an upcoming show at the Moose Horn Gallery.

The Moose Horn Gallery (which has recently been representing my work), is holding a benefit show and sale for the Livingston Food Pantry’s Backpack Program. This program feeds 300 children every day during the school year. A percentage of the entire show sales, and proceeds from a silent auction, will be donated to The Livingston Food Pantry with matching funds donated by the Arthur Blank Foundation/Mountain Sky Guest Ranch Fund.

I will have six freshly completed paintings in the show. If you're in the area, please stop by and enjoy the great artwork and meet some of the gallery's artists — including myself.

The Benefit Show will be held on August, 20th through the 22nd. Moose Horn Gallery is located 18 miles south of Livingston, Montana off Hwy 89 South.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Oil Painting Workshop, October 2010

In conjunction with the Gilbert Visual Art League, I will be conducting a weekend oil painting workshop October 22nd — 24th, 2010 in Gilbert, Arizona. The workshop will cover techniques for improving your paintings such as brushwork, using the palette knife, edges, composition, color, value and much, much more. All levels of painters are welcome and each attendee will receive personal instruction tailored to their particular skill level. On the final day of the workshop, attendees will be painting en plein air in the Superstition Mountains!

Space is limited to 15 attendees with a minimum of 8. The workshop fee is $125.00 and does not include materials and supplies. Sign-up deadline is October 15th, 2010. You may contact me at with questions or for information to reserve your place!

Click here to download the workshop schedule and materials list.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Art Tip #2: Want to Loosen Up?

Do you often find yourself a slave to detail — filling in every tiny bit of information the image has to offer, leaving nothing for the viewer to interpret on their own? Do you often render yourself right out of your own work by creating great reproductions of photographs rather than your own artistic interpretation? Does this compulsion frustrate you? I used to have the same issue with my work and I found some fairly effective ways of helping me get past my compulsion to over-render.

Do At Least One Quick-Painting Exercise A Day
For example, take a small substrate, preferably no larger than 8"x10", and the largest brush you're comfortable with, and do a complete painting with no more than 25 strokes. Think carefully about each stroke before you apply it, making sure it will have the maximum effectiveness in communicating your subject.

Place A Table Between You And Your Easel
This will help keep you from getting too close to your painting and will also allow you to easily, and regularly, step back from your work and carefully consider the whole of the painting. Seeing the painting as a whole, rather than getting too focused on detailing a small area at a time, will help you to better judge what details are unnecessary and what information must be included. I use a 2'x4' table placed between me and my easel where my palette, painting supplies and materials are kept as I work.

Hold Your Brushes No Closer Than Halfway Down The Shaft
A brush should not be held like a pencil. Use the brush as an extension of your arm and flourish your wrist as you paint. Control may be difficult to obtain initially, but with practice, you'll likely find this manner of holding the brush provides just the right combination of control and freedom.

Squint To Soften Your Focus
Squinting while you observe your subject is an integral part of drawing and painting. It reduces the subject to its most basic forms of shape, value and color giving the artist a simpler basis from which to accurately depict his or her subject. But, squinting can also be used as a tool in limiting unnecessary details. So if you're prone to over-rendering, squint (or if you're practically blind like me, try painting without your glasses) and you'll be forced to only see the most dominate and pronounced details.

Paint From Life
Work from life as often as possible. Plein air painting, for example, is a great way to help you loosen up. It forces the artist to paint quickly and accurately, while also honing his or her ability to edit a scene and create dynamic compositions on the spot and under pressure.

About My Own Journey In ‘Loosening’ Up
When I first began trying to ‘loosen up’, and attempted these suggestions for myself, it was a tremendous blow to my fragile artist’s ego. These methods of painting were — and still are — the most difficult I’ve ever attempted as an artist. They made me realize how limited my skills as an artist were (especially the plein air painting). It was challenging (to say the least) to come to terms with my own shortcomings as an artist, when in the studio I felt as though I knew exactly what I was doing. The fact is, I didn’t. My understanding of painting was at best, narrow and I can’t stress enough to all of you reading this how liberating it eventually was to choose to confront my own ignorance and lack of skill and attempt to learn and grow as an artist. I hope those of you out there that would love to paint more loosely but feel it’s “just not the way you paint”, will give it a shot. Don't let the frustration that can come from attempting to better your work by utilizing methods you’re not comfortable with stop you from achieving what you want as an artist.

If anyone has any tricks they've used to help them loosen up, please post them! I’m always excited to try new methods in my journey to better my work.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Art Tip #1: Tips For Using Pre-Stretched Canvas

I've decided to begin posting tips related to art, once a month. If anyone has anything to add regarding each tip's particular subject, please post a comment.

Tips For Using Pre-stretched Canvas.
For those of you — like me — that prefer to purchase your canvas pre-stretched rather than stretching your own (and if you're like me, it's because you're lazy), here are a few tips for preparing a canvas for paint...

1) Fixing a loose or sagging canvas.
This is an issue I often run into purchasing pre-stretched canvas. The canvas isn't stretched as tight as I'd prefer, or it's downright loose and wavy. To correct this problem, there are a number of "tricks" from which I often achieve good results.

The simplest way to tighten a pre-stretched canvas is to shrink it. First I place the canvas on my easel with the back of the canvas facing me. I then use a spray bottle filled with warm water to evenly mist the back of the canvas. The key here is to only dampen the canvas, not soak it. Once I've finished misting, I immediately begin drying the canvas with a hair drier. When the canvas is dry, I check to see if it's as tight as I like and to make sure there are no longer any wrinkles or waves in the canvas. If there are, I repeat the process. You can also "spot-shrink" the canvas. If you find the canvas is overall as tight as you'd like, but there is a wave near a corner, you can mist only the wave or wrinkled area and dry with a hair drier.

The next solution for tightening a loose canvas is to use canvas keys (or tightening keys). Have you ever wondered what those little wedges of wood or plastic are that came with your pre-stretched canvas? Well, now you know. Most manufactures of pre-stretched canvas do include canvas keys (especially with larger canvas).

To tighten the canvas, you simply insert a key into each slot located in the corners of the stretcher bars then lightly tap them into place until the canvas is taught. It doesn't take too much force, and you'll want to be careful not to split the wood of the stretcher bars. I've found canvas keys
especially useful for larger paintings that have been hanging for several years and have relaxed over time.

2) Toning a pre-stretched canvas
Toning a canvas is most often an artistic choice for the artist. Its main purpose is to provide an underlying color that helps unify the completed painting. But here I suggest toning for its practical benefits.

I typically tone my canvas using either a neutral color (like gray), or as is most often the case, a sepia tone (mixed using burnt sienna and ultramarine). I thin the mixture to an ink-like consistency. Liquin is the medium I use to thin the paint — and this is the key. Using Liquin (which is an alkyd resin) serves two main purposes, first it creates an extremely durable ground on which to apply your paint. And second, its slightly slick finish increases paint adherence giving your paint better covering power.

Unlike thinning paint using a solvent such as mineral spirits or turpentine (or any painting medium that includes a solvent), which serve to breakdown the paint's ability to bind with the surface, Liquin dramatically increases the paint's binding power.

Note: Although Liquin is a great choice for thinning paint for toning a canvas, increasing drying time or increasing paint flow, absolutely do not use it to varnish a painting. Using Liquin as a varnish may look great, but the purpose of varnish is to place a protective, REMOVABLE layer over the paint. Liquin is not removable and it doesn’t allow the paint to breath. There currently are no known solvents that can safely remove Liquin from a painting’s surface.

I hope you found my first ‘Tips’ entry useful.

Happy painting!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Materials: Stop Being Cheap

I know where you're coming from, I've been there (still am, actually). I understand professional, quality materials can be expensive. I used to be cheap too, but I can assure you, if you're cheap with your materials, you will struggle with them. Guaranteed.

I've taught a number of oil painting workshops in my relatively short career and invariably there are always a few attendees who forego the materials list and bring their box of 30-year-old paints (of every imaginable obscure color and brand), worn-out brushes and less than adequate substrates. They then spend a good portion of the workshop frustrated and fighting with their supplies, constantly remarking on how they "just can't do it!". When I explain to them the importance of quality materials, they give me the usual, "they're too expensive" or "but I need to use up my old stuff first", etc., etc., etc. Blah, blah, blah.


This is a very simple piece of advice: If you wish to do professional-quality work, you MUST use professional-quality materials. Period.

So what is the starving artist, retired-hobbiest-on-a-fixed-income or frugal-extremist to do? Here are a couple of suggestions...

1st) Don't purchase your supplies from a physical store in your area. They are nearly always more expensive than their online counterparts, and additionally, you'll pay sales tax in most cases. Instead, purchase supplies online via a reputable retailer. For us oil painters, I've found that oil paints in particular are as much as 60 percent less through an online retailer versus the local art supply store near my home. For example, cadmium colors in professional-brand oil paints are expensive. My local art store charges about $35 for a 40ml tube of Holbein's cadmium yellow. Add in sales tax and I leave the store roughly $38 poorer (and a little bit angrier). This exact same tube of paint is around $19 through several online stores and I don't have to pay sales tax. Additionally, I often receive email coupons for more discounts and free shipping. Shop around online before heading to your local art materials supplier.

2nd) There are art supplies out there that are of professional quality, but have student-grade pricing. With oil paints, I can recommend Maimeri Classico Oils. They contain no fillers or waxes and have a high level of pigment. That's really the key when it comes to selecting professional-quality oil paints — no fillers and high quantities of pigment. The advice here is read the labels, do a little research and you'll likely find less expensive alternatives without sacrificing quality.

Note: Often specific colors are priced differently from brand to brand. A cobalt blue might be less expensive in one brand than another, but is of the same quality. So mix and match if you like. You might also find you prefer the performance of certain colors by certain brands over other brands — and save a few bucks as well.

Here are just some of the online retailers I purchase my materials through. If you know of others, please post them! We artists are always looking for better prices on our materials!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My National Museum of Wildlife Art's 'Western Visions' Entry

"Single Parent", Oil on Linen

I'm honored to be invited to participate in this year's Western Visions show (now my 5th year). The collection of top contemporary artists and their respective works included in this show are extraordinary. I recommend any art lover see this show if you happen to be in the Jackson Hole, Wyoming area in mid-September.

My painting for Western Visions is titled "Single Parent" and is a 9"x12" oil on linen. Hope you all enjoy it!

"Single Parent", Detail 1

"Single Parent", Detail 2

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone

At a show I recently participated in, an artist friend of mine discussed with me how she was venturing into uncharted waters and beginning to work with oils. The medium was a mystery to her as she'd spent the last couple of decades working with acrylics. In her case, her reasons for abandoning her comfort zone were very familiar to me; wanting to grow as an artist, needing to feel inspired by her medium...again, needing to be reinvigorated by the excitement that comes from the process of learning. I'm sure there were also other reasons, but we didn't get too much into those. She was passionate in the way she spoke about her new direction and her passion inspired me to think about what it means to muster the courage to try new things.

It's very easy to say (and somewhat of a cliché) that we as artists — well actually, we as human beings — should whenever possible, make an effort to leave our comfort zones. But the reality is that it can be very difficult, both emotionally and practically, to deviate from what we know and experience what we don't know. We often find excuses as to why we can't or shouldn't attempt to do, or experience, something new. These excuses are often nothing more than our fear talking. Fear of failure, fear of unintended consequences, fear of judgment — you name it and fear will make an excuse for it. But if we could step back and look at those who have overcome fear, we'd find how often success favors the bold.

Unfortunately, there are also other forces at work we artists must face that can hinder our desire to break new ground — namely art buyers. Just as we may be afraid of trying something new, so are art buyers. Those that are comfortable with you as an artist, may not be so if you decide to move in a different direction. They will only let you get away with so much "artistic exploration" before writing you off as an artist who hasn't yet decided who they are artistically. This financial pressure can be as debilitating as fear and it's understandable why there are many artists that seem to stagnate in their work.

But there really should be no excuse. Evolving as an artist (and a person) through new experiences is not about short-term rewards, but rather, long-term growth and betterment.

Looking at those that had the courage to accept financial risk and overcome a myriad of fears in their pursuit of artistic fulfillment, you will immediately discover a long list of artists that not only produced better work, but saw more financial success as well. A very long list.

If you feel bored with your medium, or if your work no longer excites you every time you start your day, then maybe it's time to delve into the unknown. Maybe it's time to try something new. No fear. No expectations other than to learn and grow. Remember, success favors the bold so stop making excuses and try something new...anything new.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dealing With "The Blahs"

“The Blahs" was a term I first read about in Edward Aldrich's book, Drawing and Painting Animals. In his book, he discusses an onset lack of motivation for completing a painting — caused by any number of factors — and terms this loss of enthusiasm, "The Blahs".

This generous confession regarding his difficulties as a painter really struck a cord with me because The Blahs is something I’ve experienced many, many times. In fact, I would say I get The Blahs with probably 80 percent of the paintings I complete.

This feeling seems to most often occur when I'm working on a painting and reach roughly the midway point where things are either moving very slowly and I'm struggling to maintain focus, or when the painting just doesn't seem to be going the way I intended. I then begin to feel like the painting is a loss — that it's just a steaming pile of art doodie. I feel like I'll never get it to come around and begin to consider scraping the painting and moving on to something new where my enthusiasm hasn't yet been tainted by being confronted with my limitations as a painter.

It can be difficult to push through The Blahs.

Far more often than not, The Blahs are just a cruel trick of my insecure artist mind and not a symptom of a poorly executed painting. It's easy to get bored with a painting. It's easy to loose focus when I am consumed by the sometimes tedious nature of developing a work. This boredom can lead to me being prematurely critical of my uncompleted painting. It can also be used as an excuse to start something new (so I can again feel the warm and fuzzy feelings that come with an idea and a blank canvas) and abandon the work before it’s truly realized.

As I’ve aged a bit, I’ve found there are ways to lessen the effects of The Blahs. First, I understand that when they occur, it's time for a break. I relax. Get out. Move around. I maybe have some lunch or walk Brutus (my Boston terrier and trusted studio companion). I can then come back to the painting refocused and with fresh eyes. Second, I sometimes work on more than one painting at a time. When I find myself becoming bored with a painting, I can switch to another. And finally, I know and acknowledge that I’ve felt like this before and have made it through — if sometimes just barely. This understanding is often just enough to help me refocus, take a breath, step back and figure out what needs to be done. It’s amazing how when I manage to not let The Blahs get the best of me, how quickly my excitement for the painting returns.

If you sometimes get a bad case of The Blahs, remember that you’re not alone. Just take a moment to refocus (however you do that is up to you) and return with a renewed sense of purpose — to make the painting work, to push through those parts you find boring, and to give the painting an opportunity to be great. In the end, I suspect you’ll find as I have, that sometimes the paintings that come hard are the ones that teach us the most and are often the most successful.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

We're Artists, Not Hermits


That's often the word that comes to mind when I think of my existence as an artist. My day typically consists of waking up, working out, eating breakfast, sending my wife off to work with a kiss and a goodbye, then either working on painting concepts or the paintings themselves until she returns in the evening. Day in and day out.

It was while staying with 5 other artists in Charleston, SC for the Southeastern Wildlife Expo that I was reminded of the importance of interacting with my peers. The shared camaraderie, the trading of ideas and experiences, the insights, critiques, and simply enjoying the friendships founded on our common interest in all things art. This was something I hadn't had the pleasure of truly experiencing since my time in the art department of the last advertising agency I worked for before I took the plunge and went full-time as a fine artist. And I found I miss it — tremendously.

This is why I've decided to no longer be a hermit. I will no longer be content to hide in the bubble of my studio. It's time to venture out. It's time to join a local artists' group, or attend open studio sessions for drawing or painting — anything really. It's time to make an effort to get out and get together with other artists. It's time to do what I can to connect with other artists and play a part in a group interested in bettering their work and growing as artists.

I encourage any of you artists out there who are "artist hermits" to do the same. Don't be content with isolation. Venture out and connect.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Getting Into Shows And Galleries

Artists attempting to make the leap from part-time artist to full-time artist often ask me how they should go about getting into good galleries and shows. I usually just look at them blankly and ask; "What are those?". Just kidding of course.

When it comes to getting into the shows and galleries you feel your work would be successful in, I suggest the following:

For Shows:
1) Do Your Research
Make sure your work is appropriate for the show of which you'd like to exhibit. Also, be certain the show you're applying to is practical for you to do. For example, if you can't afford the expense involved in traveling to a show across the country, begin by submitting to local or regional shows. And finally, make sure to try and attend the shows you're interested in participating. You may find that a show which looks good on paper might not be what you envisioned upon seeing it first-hand.

2) Follow The Submission Guidelines To The Letter
Nothing will get you rejected from a show faster than not following the rules for submission. For example, if they require your submission be digital and on CD, don't send slides or photographic prints of your work! Don't eliminate yourself from consideration before anyone sees your work simply because you fudged on the rules.

3) Make Sure Images Of Your Work Are Professional
Remember that the images you submit are meant to represent your work in the most accurate way possible. Poor quality images, or images that don't accurately represent your work, are sure to lead to you being eliminated from consideration.

4) Keep Applying
Just because you are rejected from a show one year does not mean you will be rejected the following year. Keep submitting — over and over. The more you continue to apply for a show, the more likely it is you'll eventually be invited to participate.

For Galleries:
1) Again, Do Your Research
Don't apply to a gallery just because you think they're a "nice gallery". First, visit the gallery you're interested in. Ask yourself a few questions; "Is the work here as good and/or better than mine?". The artwork (in your estimation) should be at least as good as yours, and hopefully, better than yours. Being in a gallery that carries work you consider as good as — or better than — your work will not only help motivate you to produce better work, but also lends credibility to your art through association. Collectors, art publication editors, show organizers and other gallery curators are more likely to hold your work in higher regard if your work is exhibited among other great work. Ask yourself; "Would my work fit in this gallery?" For example, one scenario is to find a respected gallery where your work is similar to the work they carry but fills a niche in the way of style that the gallery might be missing. And finally, ask yourself; "Is the work in this gallery being well cared for and displayed in a professional manner?". Try to notice if the gallery is overcrowding the walls with art. Are there too many paintings just leaning against walls? Are they hanging work in bathrooms? These can all be signs that the gallery doesn't value its artists the way you may believe they should. Finally, talk with artists that show or have shown with the gallery you're interested in. Ask them for their experiences in working with the gallery. For example, ask if the gallery pays in a timely, professional manner. Ask if the gallery treated the artist more like a colleague or were they treated more like a vendor? Was the gallery proactive in selling the artist's work?

2) Try To Not Send Slides
Most successful galleries receive numerous slide and digital image submissions. Your work is likely to get lost in the mountains of other artists submitting. My personal belief is that the best way to give yourself the greatest opportunity in starting a relationship with a gallery is to do the following:

A. Find out who is responsible for reviewing perspective artist's work — and that they have decision-making power — and contact them personally.

B. Call and make an appointment with this person to review at least 5 of your best original works (make sure they are framed and ready for hanging). The approach here is not to solicit the gallery to represent you, but rather, ask them to look at your work and give their professional opinion of it. If in this process the gallery likes your work and feels it would be a good fit, you won't have to ask them to represent you, they will ask you (and the paintings you've shown had better be available for them to hang!). Because many galleries have seasons, make sure to approach them for their opinion when they are most likely to have the time to give it. Trying to make appointments with a curator when he or she is in the middle of their busiest season will probably not be favorable for you.

C. Make sure to send them a formal thank you for seeing you and reviewing your work.

3) If You Must Send Slides...
Make sure they are getting to the individual most likely to have the time and the decision-making power to pick up new artists. Just sending your slides to the front desk attendant may not be the best way to have your work considered.

4) If A Gallery Is Interested In Representing You...
Make sure to carefully review all of their business practices (i.e.: consignment agreements, commission structure, payment terms, etc.) before signing anything. There are too many horror stories out there regarding shady business practices by galleries. And although most galleries are honorable and operate in a professional manner, it's very important you do what you can to protect you and your work.

I hope some of these suggestions help you to better navigate the process of being invited to participate in your favorite shows and be represented by reputable galleries. If anyone has anything to add, or additional thoughts on the matter, please post a comment.