Last Saturday – July 14 – I finally had my One Woman Show at the Addison Art Gallery. Four of my 15 new works had sold before the show. But at the reception itself, though there was a lot of interest and adulation, nothing moved off the walls. That’s how it goes! You can never predict art sales.
Several other things happened around the show. I gave a 1 hour demo of my painting techniques in the afternoon on the lawn in front of the gallery. It was a lovely day, a huge maple provided shade, and about 20 people watched me paint. The day before, a videographer came to interview me among my paintings on the walls in the gallery and he returned the next day to video the demo as well. He has been making videos of local artists for Lower Cape TV and to put on Vimeo. So instead of typing a lot of stuff here, I decided you could just watch the video. I think it turned out really well. It’s a very packed 4 1/2 minute piece. I hope you enjoy it.
Since I began this crazy way of painting, I developed a habit of taking photos of my paintings every-so-often as the painting develops. This habit has gotten more ingrained and I do it more regularly and frequently than I did at first. When I take a photo of a painting in progress, I immediately go to my computer and look at it on the screen. This gives me a fresh look and I can step through all the stages in previous photos to review the journey the painting has taken up to that point. This often affects what I do next. I might see some original ideas, marks, colors, shapes etc. that have gotten lost that I would like to get back and I can scrape down and find remnants of them, or recap an idea from an earlier stage.
In the end, I have a pretty nice record of my work’s development that I can share with others to help explain my process. Other artists are often interested in the process behind the finished paintings, but I sometimes wonder if it’s a good idea to show the videos to collectors. Maybe the creative process should remain a bit of a mystery. Should I let prospective collectors see my work’s “underwear”?
I’m not so sure about that, but I will happily show all to you, dear readers! Four paintings and their movies are included here for your amusement. The paintings are shown below and below that are the movies, one at a time.
Recently a friend posted some photos of exotic birds on Facebook. I was struck by the wonderful color palettes on those birds, so I created several under-paintings using the colors from each bird. I don’t remember now which was what bird and in any case some of the bird photos had been heavily photoshop enhanced, but it didn’t matter to me. The color combinations were wonderful. The three resulting panels are just below.
What exactly to paint into these colorful backgrounds can be a daunting question. I found a figure that interested me … a woman I had taken a snap shot of years ago, sitting and turning to look back at someone else. I put her into the lower left corner of the blue/orange panel.
The hard part was trying to decide what she is looking at! I made about a dozen sketches of different human figures and found none of them satisfying. They just didn’t make
sense to me. Eventually I thought of other things … a fire hydrant, hippopotamus, freight train … you can just imagine the smoke pouring out of my ears. Then I remembered a blue heron I had once painted into the background of a rather unbalanced still life. That little painting was in my closet so I took it out and here it is.
I looked for images of great blue herons and found quite a lot – these days it’s very easy. You just google “great blue heron” and click on “images”. So I painted one in …
Several things were immediately obvious: 1) the bird was not where the figure was looking, 2) the bird image was too specific … not very active or related to the background colors, and 3) the figure needed to be lower and further toward the left edge of the painting. All this means that nothing I had painted to this point was any good! But what was hopeful was that I had some kind of idea about what to do. I wiped out the bird and threw a bit more color over the figure to begin to obscure it. Then I repainted the bird image in a much looser style, focussing more on color and movement than accuracy (left image below) and then repainted the woman (right image below). I’m still debating whether that woman should not be a bit bigger again. But relatives are here this weekend and I’ll deal with that on Monday. How to get the rest of the background and figures to make sense together will be a project for next week.
I was recently asked why I bother to enter my work in art shows at different venues around the region since sales at those exhibitions are rare and I am currently represented by a very good art gallery with a good sales record.
It was an interesting question. The easy answer was just that I wanted people to know who I am and what I do, so it’s advertising. But that answer just scratches the surface. Many of the venues I submit work to are institutions dedicated to education and promotion of art. The people who see my work there are more often other artists or students of art than potential buyers. I have both taken and taught workshops and classes at some of these institutions. Participation on all these levels is part of the life of an active artist.
Do you really know where you are going?
It’s rarely possible to draw a straight line between many of the elements of an artist’s life and art sales. But I would argue that drawing a straight line between making art and making money is rarely possible and probably should not be. Even commissions – the most direct connection between art and money – only come to accomplished artists and you can bet that those artists have always done and will always do a lot of non-commissioned art work.
Many people, especially non-painters, have little idea what goes on before a finished piece is produced. I think every artist has been asked from time to time how long it takes to make a painting. The question is not answerable. We are always collecting material, we are always making sketches – many of which never amount to anything – and we start and stop working on a particular piece many times, sometimes over months or years. We make paintings that just aren’t that good and we end up destroying them. And there are the years we’ve spent developing skills in order to do the work at all. For these reasons I have decided to let people in on the behind the scenes activity in my studio by talking about work that I’m in the middle of – two unfinished paintings that I think have a good chance of ultimately hanging on a gallery wall, or someone’s wall. I could be wrong, of course.
The working titles for these are “Shoes” and “Selfie” respectively.
I try not to think about what will sell; that kind of thinking is deadly for creativity. When I walk into my studio every day and look at my unfinished work the only thing I worry about is how to develop it into finished paintings that are emotionally evocative and – my mantra – “a feast for the eyes”. I usually attend one or two three-hour life painting sessions every week. Some of the paintings and drawings I make in those sessions become the basis for more developed works. “Shoes” is one such painting, but “Selfie” is from a photograph of a friend that I used with her permission.
If you have read my earlier posts you know that I usually begin a painting over an already painted canvas. This could be an old painting that I no longer want or it could be a new canvas that I intentionally paint with a variety of interesting strokes, shapes and colors. Creating a new underpainting lets me use canvases of whatever size and shape I like. This is important because I find I’m making larger painting of this type than the ones I used to make. I don’t want to be confined to smaller canvases!
For an underpainting to work effectively, I need it to have a good palette, some bold shapes and strokes, and enough texture so that when I paint over it I can scratch down again and reveal the original colors in unexpected ways.
At first, I tried making an underpainting the same way I usually paint, using oils and a gel medium. But this takes a long time to dry which is pretty frustrating when you really want get started. So I got some Gamblin Galkid Lite to mix with the paint. It’s supposed to dry quickly but hold the texture of the brush/knife strokes. I managed to make one underpainting with this medium (which ended up as “Organized Life” seen in an earlier post) but found that mixing it straight with paint makes a very thick glop that is hard to manage. Then I discovered that Galkid Lite is intended to be thinned with a solvent. I never use solvents (I’m very sensitive to them all), so this turned out not to be a good solution for me.
So far I have posted works done using an older painting as an underpainting. Of course that could be pretty limiting. Both the colors and the textures in the underpainting are important to me but I didn’t always have an old painting of the size and shape I wanted, so I had to make some intentionally. I used one of those underpaintings for a piece that I titled “Organized Life”.
This is an interior painting of the “organizer” and its environs in my studio. The underpainting was done in a lot of purples and blues plus a few greenish yellows. It turned out to be a great color for the shadow areas and most of the shadow areas in the finished work are the untouched underpainting. I also let that same color appear as the two bottle shapes and surface of the table on which the organizer and fax machine rest. Continue reading “The Fragility of an Organized Life”