Thursday, July 28, 2011

Is There A Cure?

A sad anniversary: today marks the second year of when I was diagnosed with the horrible disease of Hypochondria.  I didn't realize the symptoms at first, but as each day went by, I found myself getting worse and worse.  Apparently, it's a genetic disease that's the result of ignorance and an over-active imagination.  Who knew?  Right now, there's no cure, but I am in a support group of fellow sufferers.  They all say I have it bad, but that they have it worse.  So, I'm resigned to a fate of having every sniffle be the start of the Bubonic Plague, and every ache and pain be the onset of some bizarre disease that even T.V. doctors couldn't fathom.  I can deal with all that, though; my problem is when it affects my painting.

It's all well and good to view your work with a jaundiced eye (Jaundice? Jaundice?  Is that my problem?  I knew my colors were a little off lately...) but when all you see in your painting is the bad--then you might have a problem.  Painters Hypochondria can really be debilitating if it keeps you from putting your work out there.  If all you can see in your paintings are the weak spots, the wish it could be betters, the my gosh what was I thinking? - then you'll never have the confidence to promote your work.  By all means, if you see a flaw that you can fix, then fix it.  But after awhile, you just have to say, "this is the best I can do."  Just remember to do better with the next painting.

Oh, sure, we've all run into painters so self assured that they come off as Michelangelo, when in reality their work is closer to Mike Angelo-- the guy that works on my car.  But I'm betting more of us falls into the other camp.  The camp that says we are not worthy.  The camp that says we'll never be as good as we need to be.  The camp that says, "look at all the great artists out there!"  (Except my eyesight's been a little poor recently...)  But what yardstick are you using to judge your work?

Look, all things are relative, right?  I can finish a painting and be bummed that it doesn't have the sparkle and painterly skill of my hero, Norman Rockwell.  But hey, not a whole lot of artists can say they are as good as Norman, so I'm in company with the vast majority.  Does that mean I can't make a good painting?  No.  It means I'm no Norman Rockwell.  Maybe I'm being too hard on myself.  Maybe I shouldn't hamstring myself (and my hamstring has been sore lately, come to think of it) by comparing myself to the Masters.  Of course I'm going to pale in comparison!  I may be waiting for a very long time if I put off promoting my work until I'm that good.  And if I feel everything I do is flawed, I never will.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking, so if you don't hold your work against the high standards of the great painters, then you won't look so bad.  Come to think of it, compared to Ms Foontin's third grade art class, your work is awesome!  No, that's not what I'm saying; I may not think I'm at a Master level, but that doesn't keep me from entering juried shows, or submitting new work to my galleries or even Fine Art Views on line.  In other words, I judge my work against my peers, the mid-level guys like me.  Of course I still look at the truly great painters for inspiration.  And it also doesn't mean that I'm not trying to get better with every painting I make.  But if a contemporary blows me away, then I'm not their peer, am I?  No matter how bad I have it, my Painters Hypochondria hasn't got the best of me yet!  (Some other nasty disease probably will, though...)

I don't know about you, but all this talk of sickness has given me a nasty, inoperable brain tumor...


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Caution: Wet Paint!

For the past four years, I have participated in the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust Paint for Preservation Wet Paint Auction.  Long name, amazing results.  The concept behind this charity event is to help buy and therefore preserve, some of the lovely scenic farms, forests, fields and streams that make Cape Elizabeth a beautiful spot on the Maine coast.  As far as charities go, it may not be up there with feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless, but it's still a worthwhile one.

The concept is that thirty artists go out around the area and plein air a scene to be auctioned off later in the evening.  In the past I've painted the iconic rocky shore, the iconic lighthouses, and more iconic ocean front  (To Cape Elizabethians, every place is iconic...)  This year, I chose the the Spurwink Church.  It was built in the early 1800's, and since it's about four or five miles from Prout's Neck, I figured Winslow Homer himself would have often travelled by this iconic church.  The morning was hot, and the day was only going to get hotter as I set up to begin work.

Half of the problem in painting plein air, as any aficionado will tell you, is that the sun moves.  Well, not exactly; we move under the sun.  Either way, shadows race across the scene.  That's why I chose a view where the sun would rise in front of me, and go overhead to set behind me, instead of going left to right through the sky.  Areas will stay in sunlight and shadow longer that way.  The other obstacle to overcome is that we started after nine in the morning and had until three in the afternoon to deliver the painting.  Those same plein air aficionados will tell you that painting when the sun is at it's zenith is hell, as the colors evaporate, and shadows hide under the rocks.  But that also meant standing under a blazing sun for about six or seven hours.  As you can see from the photo above, I do not use an umbrella.  But hey, that's the nature of this particular gig, so you deal with it.

The Land Trust people have figured out that advertising is the key to success.  For weeks in advance, they posted ad's in papers all over the state with maps showing where all the artists would be painting.  On the day of  event, they went around and put signs out to alert folks that here was an artist!  (I kept my sign...)  That meant that folks could go out and find us.  So, I was delighted to have a few visitors stop by.

The first year I think we had about twenty artists and maybe sixty or seventy people attended the auction.  It was held in the back yard of a generous home-owner.  I didn't know the event was something of a summer garden party.  The fine Cape Eliabethians who attended where smartly dressed in cocktail dresses and snappy blazers.  It was a far cry from the BBQ, Beer and Lawn Darts that comprised a lawn party where I grew up as just a country boy from the sticks!  The event has grown to humongous proportions now, as over three hundred tickets were sold, and it was held in a drop-dead gorgeous estate on the ocean.

That first year we stacked our paintings on the patio behind the back door.  This year, we had our own tent for viewing.  Here's the folks checking out the art and planning which one they want to bid the most for:

The whole event was squeezed under enough tent to play a football game.

I will freely admit that I had a sinking feeling about my piece when I saw the quality of the paintings that the other painters presented.  I wasn't at all sure that folks would be interested in owning a painting of a bone-yard showing the ass-end of a church.

The good news is that it sold, so somebody must have liked it!  And a few more pennies gets put in the jar to buy up some more land for all to enjoy.

If you're interested in seeing more (unfuzzy) shots of the event, the folks at CELT invite you to this facebook site.  You can see the great art while you sit around your computer, or BBQ, with a beer... playing some lawn darts...


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Note To Self...

Hey Kev, don' forget-

Clean your palette after every session.  No one has ever snuck into your studio overnight to do it for you.

Same thing with your brushes.  You need to wash them more frequently than you wash your truck.

Make sure the dog isn't under your table when you gesso panels.

Wait until the gesso splatters dry before you pluck them out of the dogs hair.

Stop pussyfooting around--  Go with your first instincts on your pictures!  When that doesn't work, think it through a little more.

Don't sit outside and plein air bright puffy clouds at high noon on a summer day in the same key as you see them.  It's a fools errand.  The tube of white that's as bright as they has yet to be made.

If you're going to include a structure in your picture, either look up at it or down on it.  Nothing is as boring as a dead on shot.

Remember, if you have to choose between truth or art, choose art.

Call your mom more often.

If you think the painting is done, set it aside for at least a week, then look at it again.  You'll probably change your mind.

Stop confusing "Important" with "Big."  It's how you handle the subject, not the size of the picture that determines that.

Details are good, but it's the shape of the nose that identifies a person, not the nose hairs.

Stop worrying about how the painting will look on your website, and start thinking how it will look on someones wall.

Hurry up and get some patience.

Try variegating solid masses of color a little more;  throw in any colors you want as long as they have the same temperature and value.

White wine goes with white meat, red wine goes with red meat, beer goes with everything.

Admire the artists you like, don't copy them.

Don't try to fix a bad design with color.  If it's a worthwhile subject, start over.

Thank people for commenting on your blog more often.

Remember:  If you aim for good and fall short, you get bad.  Aim for great and fall short-- it might be good.  So aim for perfect-- you might get excellence.

Be sure to retire as soon as you achieve perfection!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

What Goes Around Comes Around

There seems to be an ongoing debate these days about the worth of galleries.  To some, galleries are as mysterious, alluring, sexy, and as terrifying as that thirty-five year old divorcee is to a seventeen year old boy.  Others think that galleries are as important as teats on a bull.  I haven't taken any scientific surveys, but it seems like the rabble that are artists are rising up, pitchforks and torches in hand to throw off the mantle that is gallery representation.  In other words, galleries have a bad rep right now.

To tell the truth, it's not like they didn't bring it upon themselves.  For years a gallery was THE place to buy art.  Sure, artists could sell their paintings themselves, and years ago many did from small shops in art-friendly communities.  But those artists died out, and galleries eventually became lords of it all.  It got to be that selling by yourself was the sign of an amateur hack; real artists had gallery representation.  And galleries became the exclusive enclaves where the elite connoisseurs and folks of privilege came to meet and greet over wine and cheese.  Want to get into that club?  Don't call us, we'll call you.  It was a I don't need you, you need me hubris brought on by years of monopolization.  But then came the storm clouds.  After 9-11 the economy slowed down, only to fall off the cliff that is the current recession. 

Sales dried up.  Galleries were dropping out like teeth from a meth-heads mouth.  Many of those that remained open went into full-fledge hide-in-the-bunker survivalist mode; they wouldn't take any new artists because they couldn't sell the ones they had.  (A philosophy that always mystified me:  you won't try to find something that sells in order to hold on to what isn't selling...)  But artists were struggling just as mightily too.  Galleries weren't exclusive clubs anymore, they were lifeboats on the Titanic.  Artists had to look around for other venues, anyplace where they could sell their work.  And that's where the internet came in.

Who needs a brick and mortar store in a fixed location when any one with a computer can view your work from around the globe?  So we all jumped on the internet with our fancy web pages showing our brilliant art and waited for the sales to come pouring in.  Now, some artists do make a fair living from their internet art sales.  But I am going to climb out on a limb here and bet that you don't.  Which is no crime.  The fact of the matter is that all of us artists haven't gone anywhere, we're all just trying a different tact to win the "who sells a painting" game.

But you know what I find rather ironic?  The same internet that was supposed to free us from the bondage of galleries is now being used by artists to attract galleries!  Before, it was, "you must have an internet presence to attract buyers!"  Now, it's "you must have an internet presence to attract galleries!"  But you know what will attract buyers?  A good painting. 

In todays world we have access to every other person on this planet through social media.  Because of that, there has never been a better time than the present for artists to have their work be seen.  Galleries may have a diminished role in making an artist be known, but love 'em or hate 'em, they still are important for sales.  Many galleries are using the same social media that we all use.  And lo-and-behold, alot are even looking for new artists!  So listen, stop bashing the galleries.  Instead of being the gun, now they're a bullet.  We have all kinds of weapons at our disposal to sell paintings.

But no matter how many friends you have on Facebook, or followers on Twitter, the most important thing is making art that people want to buy.




Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Purple Haze

Today was one of those summer days that when you take a shower, you can towel off, but never really dry off.  In other words, a tad humid.  Now, some people dislike this element of summer, but I don't mind.  I'll take the humidity along with the heat.  I lived for a couple of years in the desert South West, so I know about heat.  "Oh, but it's dry heat," I can hear you say.  Okay, which one do you want-- a dry 116 degrees, or a humid 88?  But humidity and it's resultant haze can be useful to landscape painters.

In a few weeks I'll be participating for the fourth year in a row in the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust's wet paint and auction event.  It's for a good cause, and it is extremely well organised and run.  It's been my honor to have been chosen to participate all these years.  I am hoping, however, that this year won't have the same weather as last years. 

You see, about twenty or so painters head out to various locations around the quite lovely and bucolic peninsula that is Cape Elizabeth, Maine and do a plein air painting.  I will tell you right now, that I am not really a tried and true plein air type of guy.  I can have good luck with maybe one or two paintings for every four or five attempts.  The others are brutal.  So what I would do is go to my location beforehand, and start my painting, then show up on the day of the event and finish it on site.  Kind of hedge my bet, you know?  It may not be a true plein air in the technical sense, but I'm sure that the organisers of the event don't care how the painting was done, only that it is done well.  So anyway, last year I was assigned to paint along the rugged, rocky coast at a place called Two Lights State Park.  I was excited.  Visions of a Winslow Homer seascape came to mind.  So, a couple of days before, I slipped down to scope out the site.  I took photos and made sketches, then went back to my studio and started in on the painting.  This is going to be great, I thought.  My best yet.  I was getting cocky.

On the appointed day, me and my beautiful partner Ellen went to the park and set up at my site.  The day was as lovely as a summer day can get in Maine.  The sky was a crisp, bright blue with not a cloud in sight.  The sea a tranquil deep blue with waves that gently nudged the gray rocks of the coastline.  A breeze was blowing from the west.  Oh, my God-- what a freakin' nightmare!  Because I had to wait until the park was open to get in and start painting, the sun was well above the horizon.  And it was dullness as far as the eye could see.  Deep, black shadows hid under the slate gray stones.  The sky was an interminably flat light blue.  The ocean was just as horrifically a boring blue.  And the wind kept trying to knock my easel over. 

I swear it would not have been a problem if there had been some humidity in the air to soften the shadows, push the ocean back into a purple haze, and allow the sky to form some interesting clouds.  Maybe Winslow could've fudged it a little to make an interesting painting.  I could not.

I needed to come up with something else, because my pre-planned painting was a bomb.  I quickly hauled out a blank panel and started in on a new scene, but by now, my brain was becoming a panic stricken piece of mush, and I couldn't seem to pull anything out.  If the year before I had done a good plein air painting for the event, then I was now in the middle of my five bad ones.  Oh, and I had until two o'clock to finish it and get it to the auction site.  What time was it now?  Noon.  Why, oh, why did I ever sign up for this...

So what did I do?  Luckily, I had brought a seascape I had already finished of the same general area with me, (after all, ocean and rocks-- who can say where's where?) and I slapped a few dabs of fresh paint on it and presented it for the auction.  Cheating?  Maybe.  But what would you do? 

So, let's hope that this year won't find me under the same stress.  Is a little stifling heat and unbearable humidity too much to ask for?