As a fairly traditional, I guess "academic" painter, the methods that I use can sometimes seem restricting and methodical. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy most of the time with the results. It's just that sometimes you get the urge to paint thickly and broadly; you want to slash the paint on like the Van Gogh demon you've always secretly wanted to be. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I'm not in the Sargent-Sorolla-Zorn mode of painting. If you listen real hard to your inner voice, not to be confused with schizo like paranoia, you can figure out that there's a reason that you gravitated to a particular way of painting. Carefully applying paint to a fully mapped out drawing using a carefully mixed palette of values and colors suits me. That's just how it is, and I'm okay with it. I do however, enjoy dabbling in other methods, ones that I have no intention of selling, pressure free slathering, maybe the way that art is occasionally supposed to be.
The "poster" study gives me a chance to step outside of my comfort zone. The idea behind it is to make a miniature version of the painting your about to start. I usually do mine on 6"x8" cheapo canvas boards. I don't want to start thinking of them as precious "masterpieces" because, as I previously stated, the idea is to have some fun, while also figuring out some things that might help me to make a better painting. I'm not about capturing the setup exactly as it appears. Maybe I have a God complex, my wife would say "no maybe's about it!", but I want to arrange the values and colors to capture the inner vision that sparked the idea of the painting in the first place. Right now I'm working a little bit in "back to the future" mode, because I'm making the poster study after already having transferred the final drawing to a larger canvas. What I really should be doing is making several poster studies, trying out a few arrangements, before I start the finished drawing and transfer. This is how the study was traditionally used and it makes a lot of sense. The problem is that in today's world it's just so danged easy to snap a photo of the finished drawing, print it out at 6 x 8 and make a quick poster. I'm at the point in my development now where I need to slow down and do things that will help me get off of this plateau and onto the next level. Spending more time on studies seems like the best way to get there.
In the picture above you can see the poster study and grisaille umber wipe out for my current painting "Gloria Mundi". I decided to limit the poster study to no more than three values for each area. I don't blend the paint, I lay it down in separate value and color patches. I'm looking for the "abstract" quality of the painting as well as composition, color, and tone. I'm not trying to make "art". I love these little color studies but clearly they are an acquired taste. I once had a bunch of them at a solo show, priced very reasonably so that the less wealthy, or as I like to call them "cheapskates" could buy an affordable piece of art; really affordable, as in dirt cheap! I couldn't give them away. Not even one. I guess that's a good thing, because if I start to think of them as too precious, I probably wouldn't be dancing around my studio, blasting "Purple Haze", and letting down what hair I have left!
There are as many different ways to compose a painting, it often seems, as there are stars in the galaxy. Everyone seems quite sure that their way is the best way! We have your "golden sectionistas", your "sight sizers", your "Durer gridians", even your "rule of thirders" (borrowed from photography). Everyone seems to be searching for that easy way to come up with a "great" composition, every time. Then we have the "de-bunkers" who use eye tracking studies and optical science to prove why everyone else's method is a bunch of crap (excuse my English). Honestly, it's enough to make the poor itinerant artist freeze with fear each time they begin a new work.
Well folks, I'm hear to tell you that I have all of the answers and you'll never have to worry again!(Not!!) Although I love to read about all of these various methods, I have to confess, that my own method of composing a picture is quite a bit simpler. I take two L-shaped pieces of cardboard, about four inches in length, then I put them together with paper clips to form a rectangle. Some artists like to draw directly on their canvas, some like to draw on paper and then frame it out afterwards to see which size canvas to use, some like to put the canvas on the floor and wait until it looks interesting enough, with spots and stains, to generate an idea (Walter Murch actually did that!). I start with a canvas which I have traced the size onto a sheet of drawing paper. I then take my home made viewfinder and sight through it while looking at my traced rectangle and adjust it until the dimensions match. I look through my viewfinder at my setup, with one eye closed, like a pirate, it's sometimes helpful to say "arggh, shiver me timbers" while doing this. If I don't like what I see I keep adjusting things until it "feels right". Not very scientific, I know, but I have learned to trust my instincts because I have worked very hard to have them.
Another reason that I start with the traced rectangle is that I use the sides of the rectangle to mark off vertical lines so that they are parallel. Here's another "old weird dude" tip, I never use a ruler for measuring or drawing straight lines. I use a compass to mark off points and then I freehand the connecting lines. I have this idea in my head that the drawing, and subsequently the painting, would look too mechanical, too much like an architectural rendering. I remember Harold Speed in "The Practice and Science of Drawing" saying that a work of art should have a certain amount of "dithering" in it, that perfection wasn't really the goal. I'm sure he would consider me a "dithering" fool! And just to be clear, I want you to know that I'm certain that this method is truly one of the greatest lost tricks of the old masters and I'm currently working on a book with lots of diagrams to prove it. So there!
Ingres is reported to have said that "drawing is the probity of art". My interpretation is that he meant that drawing is truth, and without it a work of art lacks a solid foundation. Whenever I start to feel as if I'm running in place, not advancing as far in my work as I would like, I know that I can go back to the source, drawing, and work my way from there. It's such a simple and basic process, yet profoundly engaging, and often frustrating. My academic training has gotten me away from the "contour line", one shot method, that was emphasized in high school and college, and more towards something fluid; like shaping clay for a sculpture. The nebulous quality of my initial straight line block-in pencil marks, gradually become more refined, and my analytical thought processes undergo a similar refinement. In this way each drawing becomes a new adventure, a self discovery that never seems rote or repetitive.
With the advent of the new year I've decided to push myself a bit harder on the drawing front. I feel like I haven't fully made use of all that drawing has to offer in terms of advancing my art and so I'm determined to increase my focus. Normally I start a painting by making an actual size drawing, sometimes called a "cartoon", and then transferring it to my canvas. This is done on white sketchpad paper. I do spend quite a bit of time on the drawing, and I keep pushing it until I feel it's "canvas ready". I use a mirror often to check for mistakes, and I do a lot of measuring, and cross measuring. So, what else could I do, one might ask? Usually my painting concept is based on a small thumbnail sketch. I'm going to start making larger, slightly more refined sketches, maybe on toned paper, that include a value study as well. I want to use the drawing as a way of working out several possibilities in each arrangement that I set up, so as to arrive at the best solution. I also want to make individual studies of elements in the setup in order to better understand their individual specifics before encompassing them in the harmony of the overall design.
This is the "cartoon" for a painting that I'm currently about to start. At this point I've transferred it to a canvas, but I haven't started to paint it yet. If I were following my new years resolutions, I would not have made this drawing full size and transferred it without having first made some drawing studies and even some painted studies. It's not that I'm not happy with the drawing, I am, and I'm excited to paint it, it's really just a feeling I have that I need to push myself a little harder to not just come up with an idea but to come up with the best version of that idea. I did however make two miniature transfers on 5 x 7 inch panels on which I'll do a black and white and a color poster study. It's not completely what I resolved to do but it's not a total "cheat" on my "New Years Resolutions", so I'll take it and try to do more on the next one (isn't that what resolutions are all about?).
In part one I discussed how I was able to get a gallery to exhibit my work. There are a lot of books out there that will give you the formula for how to go about doing this. These books sell very well, I've bought a few of them myself. The problem is that the methods they give don't really work. If there's one rule in life that always seems to hold true it's that the squeaky wheel always gets the grease. Not the cleanest wheel, or best made wheel, or most unique wheel, THE SQUEAKIEST! So you have to throw away the rule book and get your stuff seen by any means possible. One key ingredient that the books don't mention is chutzpah, it's an old Yiddish word for having a lot of nerve. I'm sure I would be a lot further along in my career if I had more of this essential ingredient. Of course it goes without saying that you have to believe that you are doing good work that is worth being seen and that's saleable. In the first mailing that I sent out I mentioned to the gallery owners that if they put my work on their walls that it wouldn't be there for very long, the stuff would be flying out the door. That got their attention. That's a little bit of chutzpah, I certainly could of been a bit bolder and told them that in person, but I chickened out!
Anytime I hear or read a gallery interview they always say that the biggest no-no is to walk in with your work unannounced. Yet I have read on more than a few occasions of artists walking in and doing just that, and the gallery taking them on. The bottom line is that if your work blows them away they are not going to reject you just because you barged in! They are looking for the next big moneymaker! Sure they don't want it to become a common practice, but it has occasionally happened and worked out for the artist. I have practiced a few sneaky introductions myself. One year I took a letter box at a post office in Soho so that the galleries would think I was a New York City artist. It almost worked. I can remember retrieving my mail and opening a letter from the OK Harris Gallery that started with the line "Congratulations", I almost passed out. But then it went on to say that my work was really first rate and deserving of a gallery, just not his. He went on to list galleries that he thought might like my work but said that he didn't want me to say that he recommended me. "Say what?" Wahh-wahh! Being the naïve do-gooder kid that I was, I didn't use his name and I got nowhere fast. In hindsight I probably should have copied that letter and included it with every packet that I sent. Why not, I worked hard and deserved it. Another method that I tried was in the days of sending slide sheets. Instead of sending slide sheets, I sent a slide sheet folder filled with miniature hand painted versions of twenty of my paintings which I had encased in a slide negative cardboard holder so that at first glance it looked like a sheet of slides. The gallery owner wrote me back a very encouraging letter, I could tell he was impressed, but he didn't commit. Always a brides maid never a bride. I supposed if I didn't have a life that I could have nurtured that relationship like one of those potato plants in middle school science, hoping that it would one day turn into a beautiful flower. Instead, I moved on, and didn't quit. You have to be in this for the long game, and you have to have a thick skin! I have enough rejection letters to insulate my house. I'm a bit like that psychotic rabbit boiler played by Glenn Close " I will not be ignored".
Most of these so called experts also recommend that you have a signature style or theme. Yes, there are artists who paint variations on the same idea over and over again, and do very well for themselves. That could possibly work, but it just sounds so boring!! I had one gallery that was interested in my work tell me that they really loved my painting of a jawbone placed on a book, and could I possibly paint twenty more just like it. Yeah, maybe if I was suicidal and wanted to spend the next year or so contemplating the folly of human existence. Here's the bottom line; do your thing, whatever that is, don't try to figure out what the "next big thing" is. There's an audience and a market out there for good, honest work, finding them is the hard part, but it's also part of the game. Whenever I run a marathon or long race people always ask me "How was it?". I always shrug my shoulders and say "eh", because to me the training leading up to it was the best part, the race itself was kind of anti-climactic. So stop kvetching, get your work out there and enjoy the "hunt".
"How to Get Into A Gallery Without Any Connections Whatsoever!"
"Solo Act" 2016, 16" x 20", oil on panel
I have this feeling that many artists are out there waiting to be discovered. Like Marilyn Monroe sipping a coke in a drugstore, they are waiting for someone to swoop in and give them the artist's life that they have always dreamed of. Galleries and the people connected with them seem out of reach. Everything they read about the do's and don'ts of getting a gallery make it seem impossible without having some kind of inside track. Well I'm hear to tell you, brother's and sister's, it just ain't so. Sure having someone to recommend you would be nice, but what do you do if you're making great work out somewhere in the hinterlands where nobody knows the difference between you and a cold sweat?
I currently have work for sale in four galleries. Some of them I have a consignment deal with, and some of them have added me to their roster. In terms of sales one way doesn't necessarily work better than the other. The bottom line is you want your stuff to sell before your painting in a tiny little corner of your studio with all of your paintings lumbering over you like the ghost of Christmas past. So how did I get these galleries to show my work, without anyone, and I mean no one, not even a sixth degree of Kevin Bacon recommending me? I use the skeet shooting method. Sure it looks real impressive when you see these guys aiming for these clay pigeons and hitting them mid air, until you realize that they are shooting buckshot (scattered pellets) and not hitting them with a single shot. All of the books that I've read say you should choose just a couple of galleries that your interested in and find out everything that you can about them. Go to the gallery, talk with the owners, go to openings, throw dinner parties etc; PLEASE, is that the way AMAZON works? Not according to the barrage of emails I get every day.
I got into my first real gallery about ten years ago. My approach was so low-tech that it amazes me to think about it, even still. At this time artists were still using slides (remember that unholy nightmare), and I found this place that was reasonably priced for getting your work photographed, and the slides were good quality. I then had the slides printed as 5 by 7's and scanned them into my computer. I used the Windows photo printing program, no Photoshop for this buckaroo, and printed a sheet with six of my paintings equally spaced. This is all true I swear! I next printed out labels and a heading for the sheet of paintings and re-scanned the image. I took it to Kinkos (now FedEx) and had a hundred copies made on glossy card stock. I then went through every art magazine I could find (most of them piled up in the bathroom for fine reading) and put together a list of a hundred galleries that I thought I might have the slimmest possible chance of connecting with. I mailed out a packet with my homemade giant postcard, printed resume, and cover letter. I sent them out hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. Like that old commercial used to say "Set it and forget it!". I didn't do any of the things that the "art advisors" recommend. I didn't wait a week and place a follow up call, I didn't email that the packet was sent. I really didn't do anything but wait. Eventually I started to get responses. I heard from six galleries that were somewhat interested. That may not sound like a lot, but remember I was only really looking for one. What happened next? Be sure to learn more in How To Get A Gallery, Part Two. If you like this blog, please follow me and share with your friends. Thanks for reading!
Recently I read an article by an artist who was wondering if it's a mistake for artists to post work in progress shots of their artwork. His feeling was that it was somehow taking away some of the mystery of the work and possibly devaluing it by too much exposure. I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of the social media age, but one of the best things to come of all of this, is the glimpse into the studios and working habits of artists that I admire but will never get a chance to meet. I was able to introduce my work and get accepted into a new gallery, and this came about entirely through social media. So here's a look into the creation of one of my latest, "Admiration", oil on panel, 16" x 20".
My initial concept for this painting was to show how our vision and perceptions of the world around us has been filtered through technology and how eventually we have to bring it back to looking at nature if we want to remove the scales from our eyes. How many times will a realist painter have to hear the compliment that it looks just like a photograph, when what they should be hearing is that it looks perfectly natural! I wanted to paint this one using daylight to add another "natural" element to my concept. Once I had set up the vase of flowers with the wooden bowl, I began to look for other circular forms and shapes to add to the composition. I had recently been talking with some students about the apocryphal story of how Giotto submitted a drawing of a circle to the Pope when he asked for a sample of his work, and how Rembrandt included two circles in the background of his self portrait, as if to say "I'm twice as good as Giotto". Once I added the wooden pulley, and silver bowl, the painting really began to take on a mind of it's own (yes sometimes that really does happen, it's not just artist b.s.) I start my making a careful drawing on paper, sized to the canvas, which I transfer using conte crayon on the back of the drawing. I used to save every drawing that I made, thinking I would need them for the eventual retrospective I was going to have, but my studio is small and I just can't store them, so now I use the originals and don't have to deal with the idiots at the copy center. Here's a shot of the transfer with a wipeout using thinned down raw umber. My wipeouts are kept fairly simple; two values. My theory is that if the painting doesn't grab me with a two value structure, it's not going to grab me with twenty.
My next step is to make a color wash. Most artists thin their paint way down so that it appears almost like a watercolor. I put my paint on thin, but more opaque than a watercolor. I try to get it as much "like" in the color wash pass as I can, so that I can get it even more "like" in the finishing pass. I got this idea from reading Solomon J. Solomon and a workshop I took with Douglas Flynt. I used to make color studies for each painting, and I probably still should, but I've got a lot of ideas in my head, and I'm no "spring chicken" if you get my drift. I paint the color wash very carefully moving from form to form, usually starting with the center of interest and fanning out form there. Here's a shot of the color wash in progress.
Once the color wash is dry it's time for deja-vu all over again (thanks Yogi Berra). I repaint every part of the painting exactly as I did it the first time, except now I'm noticing some things I didn't pick up on before, and I'm thickening up the lights a bit. My goal is to stay with each form, in a Zen like manner, until I'm completely satisfied, working wet into wet. I don't leave myself a back door option of fixing it later. I will occasionally repaint an area, but I never find it to be as satisfying as getting it right the first time. It loses some of the freshness and snappy brush work! I've always worked this way, even before studying at an atelier, and just assumed I was doing it wrong. Now I don't care, this is how I paint, take it or leave it. Below is a shot of the final painting. This is one of those rare instances where the painting comes close to my initial concept. Let's face it, no painting is ever going to be as vivid as that initial bolt of lightning when an idea just pops into your head and you see it clear as day for one fleeting second. I guess that's the windmill that keeps me coming back.
Recently, I've been working on a series of paintings where I complete two paintings, one an 8" x 10", and the other, a 16" x 20", based on the same setup, simultaneously. The first couple that I did, my process was to make a drawing for the 8x10 and then bring it to FedEx to have it enlarged. It was a little tricky at first, but they figured out how to do it. The last painting that I just completed, "Melon Boat", their machine was down, When it's "go time" I can't wait, so I went home and gridded the drawing, and enlarged it the old fashioned way. It's obviously a lot more work and time, and time is money, so for my latest one (see above), I decided to give FedEx another try. I went with my 8x10 drawing, and explained that I would like one copy to be the same exact size, and one copy to be twice as big, 16"x20". Now I'm not a techno, but this doesn't seem to me to be overly complicated. I always bring a tape measure with me to make sure I don't leave with a wrong size image. The manager first made the one to one copy, it was a half inch smaller. Then she attempted the enlargement. It was an inch smaller, and all of the lines were scrambled and pixelated. She then proceeded to lecture me on why it was my fault for asking for something that was impossible, even though I explained to her that I'd had it done there before.
I didn't get into an argument with her, I kept my cool, and drove back home empty handed. I try to be aware sometimes when the universe is trying to teach me an important lesson. I gridded up my drawing and proceeded to enlarge it the hard way, one square at a time. What I did was to setup two easels side by side, both facing the still life, and I made the block-in from the drawing, but I did the finished line work on the larger piece from direct observation of the setup. What I noticed was that as I made the enlarged drawing, I was picking up on some subtleties that had eluded me in the smaller piece, and actually might have been distracting in the smaller work. My original idea for doing these enlargements was to highlight some of the things that I do on the smaller pieces, and also to be able to push my brushwork a bit more. After doing the large drawing I transferred it to a canvas by rubbing the back with conte crayon, and tracing over the lines. I then did a very basic wipe out by covering the canvas with thinned down raw umber, and pulled out the lights with a paper towel. Some artists do a very developed and modeled wipe out, my philosophy is that if it doesn't look good with two simple value separations, it's not going to look good with five. My next step will be to add a thinned down color wash using Liquin, where I will paint each form up to as much of a finish as I can achieve with thinned down paint. Check out Doug Flynt's video (highly recommended) at www.douglasflynt.com for a good demonstration of this process. So Thanks FedEx for screwing up, you gave me the kick in the behind that I was needing!