Friday, December 23, 2016

How To Get Your Work Into A Gallery Part Two

              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 na├»ve 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".

Thursday, December 8, 2016

How To Get Your Work Into A Gallery With Zero Connections

"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!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

"Admiration" Process and Progress Shots

                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.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Hard Way

      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 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!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Other Side of the Fence

           Recently, I was asked to be the sole juror for a local art club's annual members competition. I somewhat reluctantly accepted because I  have had a somewhat contentious history with thirty years of submitting work to juried shows, and I didn't want anyone to be having those same evil thoughts about me! I do have some experience. I've been on the jurying committee of a well known art organization for some time, and I've done a few smaller shows on my own. The good thing about this show was that I could judge from actual work. The awards were to be given out immediately following my jurying so it was a little bit stressful, as all of the artists were there, and I was expected to explain my selections and also to give out some critiques if asked. The work was all pretty good which made choosing the better pieces even more complicated.
        The art club had a form that they wanted me to fill out for the award winners that asked me to expand on things like the use of the elements and principles of art, technique, and expression. After emphasizing the elements and principles of art to high school students for over thirty years I can't tell you how many times I was pleasantly surprised when students would come up with their own solutions. I've come to realize that there are things that go into the creation of a successful work of art besides the standard "rules". I explained to the club members that to my way of thinking all art is essentially abstract and good underlying design structure is important no matter what your means of expression is. What makes a good design is somewhat debatable I guess but it seems to be something that's obvious even to "untrained" eyes. I have occasionally had something pointed out to me as a problem in my painting by a casual stranger, and son of a gun, most of the time they're right. (I really hate that!)
      One of the judging categories was "expression" and I have to say that I find that to be the least important element. In my undergraduate and graduate studies in painting expression was the God before which we all knelt. As I got older and began to re-train myself, I stopped worrying about whether or not I was expressing myself and just tried to make good paintings. I remember bringing some paintings to a gallery owner at the recommendation of one of my instructors. The owner asked me how I would describe my "style". I told her that I was working very hard not to have one. I guess she thought I was a little crazy but eventually she got the idea. More important than "expression" is harmony. Does the work hold together? We've all had those pieces where we love one little section of passage in a work at the expense of the other 70% of surface area. Each art work is a specific entity with it's own rules and logic. What worked in your last painting won't necessarily work in this one, you have to problem solve on a case by case basis. That's one of the things that I love about the process, it never gets boring. It can also make critiquing work somewhat problematic. I told the artists in the club that rather than me pointing out what I think might be "wrong" in their painting or drawing, it would be better if they asked me for advice on how to problem solve something that was troubling them. As I explained, what might be wrong in this work, could be right in the next.
     At the end of the evening we got into a discussion about submitting work digitally to competitions. The biggest problem with digital submissions is that you are using one art form, photography, to stand in for another art form, painting, drawing, sculpture, etc; All of the things that work well in photographs, value contrasts, flattening, perspective exaggerations, can be murder on an image of a painting. As someone who has been judging work digitally, I am often amazed  at the difference between the image and the real thing. One thing that will come through, even in a digital image, is a strong design (going back to my first point). I explained that if you're going to submit work to online competitions sometimes you have to go with the work that looks the best digitally, not necessarily what you see as the best in your studio. I use to pay photographers to photograph my work, but I was never completely satisfied with the results. They were seeing things from the photographers point of view. Once I learned to take my own photos I was able to limit the shortcomings from actual image to digital version as much as I could. The internet has opened up a whole new world for artists, but it's far from perfect. I often think of the Impressionists and their dealings with the official salon juries and wonder what they would have made of today's world of electronic jurying. Perhaps they would have revolted, maybe we should too.
"Behind the Scenes" oil on panel

Monday, April 4, 2016

Necessary Roughness

"Beholden" oil on panel, 16" x 20". This painting is another one in my series that combines cameras with some element of a traditional still life. I have imagined myself as a "crazed" artist who's sole mission in life is to educate the public about the difference between painting from life and painting with the aid of technology; cameras, computers, projectors, etc;. The title refers to the fact that all representational painters are beholden to nature. The camera is beholden to nature. Without light there is no image. The difference between perceptual observation and technical observation seems to be one that not too many artists care about these days. Everyone is bending over backwards to be politically correct and say that it's the end result that counts. I don't think it is. I don't think that an artists process and intent are unimportant. I believe that ultimately it affects the look of the work. Not online of course, but when the work is viewed in person. I honestly don't care that Vermeer supposedly used a projector. The paintings of his that have those white photo droplets and distorted perspectives are my least favorite. I'll take Rembrandt over Vermeer any day.
    When the market for hand drawn illustrations dried up many illustrators found themselves trained for a career that no longer existed. Concurrently a new wave of artists began to appear that were classically trained and working representationally. At first, galleries were eager to embrace these new "traditionalists" but soon found that they worked too slow and were not willing to push their work into slicker looking, more marketable formulas. Illustrators have no such reticence. Part of their training is to crib from any available source and to produce work quickly with an emphasis on high style and facile brushwork. The end result is a kind of strange hybrid of modernist sampled abstract/realism. A typical painting will have a tightly (photographically) rendered face with gradually dissolving brushstrokes, some neon colors thrown in for good measure, and a Clifford Still or Rothko like background. It looks good in glossy magazines and the higher end galleries seem to be eating it up. But really, what's the point? Wasn't the renewed interest in classical realism supposed to be a reaction against the fact that the art world has deemed representational art to be kitsch and not worthy of any attention whatsoever? Someone with an illustration background wouldn't know that. They wouldn't have noticed that in art school they received no training whatsoever, because an illustration major would have received some traditional training because illustrations couldn't ever become fully conceptual and non-objective. How could you sell a product if the viewer couldn't relate?
    I titled this post "necessary roughness" because I am reminded of Harold Speed's admonition in his book on painting that the artist should beware of making work that is too perfect. That a certain amount of "dither" gives character to a work. Many realists that are working from life have decided to combat the problem of the "illustrators takeover" by either rendering work that is so detailed that it seems "hyper real" or by re-inventing cubism with fractured images. In my own work I want to make paintings that look like what they're supposed to represent, but also look like they're painted. Some artists take it as a compliment when someone says their art looks like a photograph, "even better than the real thing". When someone says that to me I want to hit them. If realism is to survive into the future it can not follow the illustrators down the path of impressionism to expressionism to surrealism to abstract expressionism to neo-expressionism. That was not the point of the return to classicism. It wasn't to re-boot modern art history. Realists need to take a deep breath and look to Chardin, and Corot, and Luis Melendez. Perceptual realism will never be a "big hit", it will never be a "fad", it won't ever be accepted by the cognoscenti. Who cares? I'll just keep looking hard and slow and painting away, while ignoring the siren-song "the end justifies the means".

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"True North"

These are what's currently on my easel. As I stated in my last post I've begun to make enlarged versions of smaller paintings. Both of these paintings "True North" 8"x10" and 16" x 20", are shown in progress. They started with transfer drawings (thank God for FedEx), and then I did a raw umber wipeout, a detailed color wash, and I've given a final finish to the bread and the canoe and glass. It might seem strange that I'm painting simultaneously what might seem like a study and a larger version, but both are painted directly from life and the perishable bread has to be completed before it rots. I'm really enjoying this process and I'm thinking of going even larger with the next one. FedEx told me they can enlarge up to 48". Woohoo!