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!