Selling a painting involves letting go. For me, letting go of a painting involves trading a piece of me for the ability to continue to create more paintings. In the studio, I get in touch with myself more deeply than anywhere else. Painting in the studio is about who I am as a person. How I see in the studio is different than how I see when out on-the-spot painting. Outside I allow the landscape to dictate how my paintings need to be, while in the studio, I listen to my paintings as they speak to me. In the studio, my soul has a voice in how the painting grows.
For me, art is more than a way of making a living. For real artists, what we do is more than simply painting a picture. Sounds a bit elitist, but there are those who need to paint and then those who find painting a simple way of making a living. I cannot say who is a real artist or who is simply painting because they can. There are times when I see paintings that reveal the hand which painted them. Boring brushwork reveals a hand that had no real connection to a subject. There are other telltale signs of the difference in paintings by an artist and those simply painting for the money.
I, for one, find it difficult to let go of some paintings. I give my all to each and every painting. A few, mostly those done in the studio, involving subjects close to my heart are hard to let go of, though not always my best works. Sometimes my best works are done without my soul getting involved. Those are easy to let go of. Then there are also those that mean a lot to me, I’d find it difficult to let go of, and are less desirable to buyers and collectors. Sometimes working in the studio is quite difficult with all the decisions I need to make. What to paint, what size to paint, what colors to use, who to hire and will they be reliable? While I find going out to paint simpler, while others find it hard work.
Been thinking a lot about my garden these days. Zinnias, daylilies, and my roses are on my list of flowers I hope to have for painting. Been turning more of the garden over to flowers, not just for subjects to paint but for the visitors I enjoy. Butterflies, bees, and a variety of birds are the visitors my mother always planted for. A red sunflower always brought a menagerie of bees and butterflies. Setting up my easel in my backyard always brings me rewards, not always good paintings, but simple joys seeing nature at work. Sometimes mixed feelings, though, when I see a baby rabbit appear then promptly cut off the tulip blossom I had plans for…
Though I love seeing my garden in full bloom and do do some painting out among the lilacs and daffodils, my real reward comes when I take my flowers into my studio where I work them into my still-life compositions which I so enjoy. It’s their color and shapes I love working with, arranging them in such a way as to create interesting shapes that demand drawing and a sense of design. In the studio, I can add the background that will provide a sense of place and mystery. When seeing one of my still-life paintings people will wonder just where is my studio? A silhouette of a city may be the setting for a bouquet of rover mums while another will have a weathered barn adding to the mystery. I love the rich dark backgrounds many artists use for their set-ups, but for me, I like a bit more of a story for my still-life paintings. The idea of my paintings containing stories is my way of keeping interest in each of my works. All my paintings have stories. Friends give me potted plants and cut flowers, which carry stories of those who gifted them to me for my studio window. Anne, who is a master gardener, has allowed me into her garden to paint models among her creation of ponds, blue bottles, and her array of blooms. In the studio I’ll recall what she told me about the flowers she sent home with me and I will relive my visits with Anne.
Paintings don’t always come about without a struggle and some self-doubt. Sometimes the struggle can affect life outside the studio. I’ve written about this before, but then I was not experiencing the struggle. Today I am having difficulties with a large painting and asking myself all the questions my friends and teachers have asked over the years when I expressed those difficulties we all run into. Actually, I’ve been asking these questions for a couple weeks now…
The vision I had when I began this painting was quite strong. The brush work has been causing all the problems. I love variety of texture in my art and I bring that texture to a painting through brushwork. The brush work I started with disappointed me so I had to scrape it off which produced an effect that changed my original concept. Seeing the concept in a new light confused me. I am proud of my ability to hold onto a concept through to the completion of each painting – which is not always the case. I get frustrated when I lose sight of my original vision. Outside elements affect my work, sometimes for the good – sometimes for the bad. I let the political state of affairs into my studio and painting the things I love became a struggle…
Luckily I had time with Jordan and Josephine to clear up my vision and put life straight again. A 14-month-old holds a lot of power, they can push out all that is troubling. Keeping Josephine near is my net saving me from those tumbles into darkness. Paintings of Jordan and Josephine and all those I love to surround me in my studio keeping my mind in a good place.
Every morning he rises at dawn, packs a lunch, and heads out I-80 to scout locations. The strange thing is he takes no camera -just a compass. How is it a photographer works with a compass and no camera? His camera only records his work. The compass is his tool for helping him with his actual work.
Finding an interesting subject, a barn, farmhouse, or a store in a small rural town, he sets about working. First, he studies his chosen subject from every angle marking a pencil sketch with points from his compass. His photos are all black and whites, color is a distraction for him. His true subject is the light and how it creates moods. The isolated farm structures act as characters in a play. Long rays of light lead into stories of time and history. Generations of one family living off the same land for years told in black and white photos are his creations.
When the time is right the camera will accompany him. When the camera comes along the day begins at 2 or 3 AM so as to arrive at his subject before the sun begins to light his story. His compass has told him where to set his camera. He shoots several shots moving slightly right and left. His story safely locked in his camera as he heads home.
The artist with the camera is much like the painter who searches for a story for his canvas. The painter deals with color much like the photographer deals with light. Many painters get lost in the subject and miss the narrative of the light. Light can spark a memory or lead one to dream. The artist knows how to use all these elements to tell his story. In the studio or out on a dusty road painting, artists use all the elements at their disposal to tell their story.
The July sun fills my studio with light and shadows. I place my subjects to take full advantage of these interesting patterns. With the light constantly changing time becomes a factor. Sometimes I have minutes to capture a sliver of light moving across my model and I have to decide just where I want it in my painting. Light is always an interesting challenge for me. Capturing it at just the right moment to enhance feelings – happening in my studio or out on that dusty road.
My mind seems to fill with things to say and do while painting, always forming new images to put to canvas.
Three White Roses
Working on a 30 x 40 painting of three ladies enjoying some shade on a hot summer day. For me, this painting is a way of enjoying the cool spot I’m creating on my canvas. I enjoy the company of the ladies even though I’m working from photos on my computer. Recalling conversations brings life into my process. Whenever I have a model I photograph them in different poses in between periods of painting them from life. I’ve selected three photos, that I believe when put together will make the painting I see in my head. When I have the scene laid out, I’ll hire a model to come in so I can tweak the figures in the scene. The painting will take at least two weeks – maybe longer.
I’m pleased and excited at how the painting is going when one of my students gives me these beautiful white roses, puts them in a blue mason jar and sets them on my windowsill. I thank her and return to my painting of the three ladies. The roses are behind me as I work, the sun comes out for the first time in two weeks pulling my attention away from my ladies… The roses are lit in the most beautiful way. I should not have turned around. Looked at my painting of the ladies then back at the roses and I’m split between continuing or capturing the new scene behind me. The roses won’t hold but the three ladies I have locked in my computer.
I have to weigh my thoughts with continuing on with the one painting or starting a new one. A little painting should satisfy me and my excitement for the three ladies is strong enough so I push my easel away and pull over another to do the roses. Even a small painting will take me a couple days. I look at the ladies and what I have, I feel safe starting the roses. My interest is very high with both paintings. Like baby birds, both paintings need my attention. With the three ladies, I simply have to look it over every once in a while. The roses, however, are opening as I paint them and the light is changing, While I deal with these two paintings demanding my attention other paintings are there forming in my head. Paintings drift around in there growing till I have to release them.
This is how it is with me. For now, the roses have my full attention.
Someone asking “Have you ever had a real job?” is different than someone telling you to “Get a real job”. Who is doing the asking and who is doing the telling is important. The other day over my morning coffee three of my friends, one an artist, asked if I had ever had a real job. I’ve been asked this question a dozen times over the last 50 years. Yes, I had a real job from the time I was 10 till I was 21. From paper boy to dishwasher, to janitor. I’ve never been told to get a real job, not because I was successful out of the gate, but because I was willing to live without things – like heat and healthy food at times. I cannot image a total stranger telling someone to “get a real job”. I heard the great Paul Harvey tell an artist asking for advice to “get a real job” and that was the last time I ever listened to Paul Harvey.
By definition, a job is a regular position of paid employment. There are artists who work as employees of ad agencies, so those artists have jobs, but those who are classified as “Fine Artist” seldom have a steady income so most people see them as jobless. Some Fine Artists like Vincent Van Gogh had his brother Theo to take care of him. Several of my friends have wives who are the bread winners. A few have parents who aid in their lifestyle.
So when my friends ask if I’ve ever had a real job I answered I am a small businessman, have been for 50 years. In the studio I’m an artist, out of the studio I’m a businessman running a business that produces art, I am employee and employer. So later that day on Facebook I come upon a post of a picture of torn pieces of paper strewn about on someone floor. Someone had told an artist to get a real job and in a fit, this artist ripped up his sketchbook. There were a lot of great comments encouraging him to continue with his dream of being an artist. I began posting a comment of encouragement also, then I wondered what kind of a person would tell this artist to get a real job? What was the whole story here? If it were a total stranger I doubt he’d rip up a sketchbook.
I deleted my comment and for the rest of the day I thought about this posting. Over the years I’ve heard many like stories. One was of a friend who’s wife became extremely ill and could no longer work. When they could no longer afford a winter coat for their daughter the wife begged him to get a real job. A few of us got together and gave him money but that turn out to be a band-aid. His wife and daughter ended up living with his parents. He struggled for a couple more years before getting one of those “real jobs” and becoming a part-time artist.
Sometimes even a nice comment on Facebook can do more harm than good. Sometimes comments can be taken the wrong way especially coming from another country. One comment from a person with poor English was taken so wrong that 20 people tore into this poor soul just for trying to compliment an artist on her work. I tell my students to sit down, relax, and think about criticism given to them. Ask who is giving it, where the person giving the critique is coming from art wise, and is the critique taking you in the direction you want to go?
I’ve talked before about “the wall”, but not the different reasons for hitting it. Sometimes it’s just not knowing your subject well enough, sometimes it’s a change of direction, and sometimes it’s losing interest in the subject or the painting itself.
A friend told me he loses interest in his art if it takes more than an hour or two to complete. For him, time is the wall. This is not a bad thing, it’s good that he recognizes this aspect of how he has to work to maintain the quality he needs in his work. He has excellent drawing skills and a great sense of design. He limits his palette to just the essential colors, his mixing of colors is quite masterful. He has prepared himself quite well for doing his work in the amount of time he has before his interest fades. He avoids the wall by completing his painting quickly. He accepts whatever he ends up with, good or bad, he moves on to his next piece.
To overcome this short interest span he spends time drawing and painting the human figure from life. This practice helps with his quick study of all subjects he wishes to tackle. Though he may devote only an hour or two to doing a painting of an old truck, he has spent hours honing his drawing skills and his observational skills drawing from a live model. Each one of us artists must recognize our own pitfalls that build our walls and focus on ways to overcome them.
Time for some is that wall, but for some, it is not a factor at all. Whether we take a couple hours to complete a piece or a year to complete a piece each artist needs to work through their own wall or find ways around it. Subjects maybe incompatible with our medium resulting in a loss of vision for our finished piece. We fight and fight forcing ourselves to work through blindly not knowing what the real problem is. Are the colors we laid out right? How well do we know our medium? Are the brushes right for the ground we are working on?
The more we learn the less we seem to know.