Saturday, December 20, 2008


Oil on Panel

I’ve mentioned in passing here that I’ve spent the last six months participating in a mentorship program with artist Jay Moore, and I’ve had a bunch of you ask me to share more information about what I’ve been doing, so here it is. Bear with me if this gets really long – I might ramble (not like that’s anything new), because what I’ve been doing is important enough to me that I’ve devoted half a year to it, so I might have a lot to say!

Why I Needed This

I’ve had the occasional friend or family member (and even a couple of artist acquaintances) look at me like I was kind of crazy when I said I was doing this mentorship, so let me start by saying this:

As a professional artist, I’m acutely aware of my shortcomings.

Yes, I have the occasional day where I’ve sold a few paintings or been accepted to a big show, when everything is great and I get this feeling that I’m a decent painter. But most of the time, I’m aware that I have a long way to go to become a great artist, and I know that my pursuit of excellence is one that will be with me my entire life. I think that the death of many artists is complacency, and that those who have long and successful careers as artists always seem to me to have a willingness and desire to seek out learning experiences, no matter their level of competency.

I have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering (which was no easy feat), but my art education has consisted of four 2-3 day workshops and a couple of figure drawing and painting classes. I’m painfully aware that I am lacking in the art education department, no matter how many books I may have read or paintings I have examined. Seeking out learning opportunities is important for me, because I don’t want this to hold me back in my career.

About a year and a half ago, I was just getting the wheels moving on my career as an artist after officially taking the leap when I had Aspen. I felt like I was floundering a bit and seriously needing some guidance from someone who had been where I was. I didn’t want to sign up for another workshop, because I wasn’t interested in learning another artist’s technique, and what I needed was more than I could learn in a week. I wanted to find someone who would mentor me on a more long term basis so we could see what I was learning and build on it, and also cover some more business related topics. I wanted to improve my painting skills, and get some input on some of the new decisions I was having to make about where to go with my art business.

Who I've Been Studying With

I had taken a couple of short workshops with Jay Moore way back when I was just starting to paint. Actually, I took my first workshop ever with him – I had never painted a landscape, and was totally out of my element, but I came away from that first outdoor painting workshop convinced that I was going to drop portrait painting and paint landscapes from that point on. I remembered that at the time he had talked about a six month mentorship program he was doing with more serious artists, which seemed sort of perfect for where I was at last year.

Now here’s the thing – not all artists are good teachers. And I wanted to make sure I was studying with someone who could TEACH, not just paint well. Because I had studied with Jay before, I already knew that he could teach well, and I knew that his teaching method would be good for the level I was at. If you haven’t had a chance to take a workshop with Jay, he’s got some great videos out that teach some of his big ideas about seeing the landscape. He’s not the kind of guy who picks up your paint brush and shows you how to paint a tree, or a rock, or water – he’s more focused on the fundamentals of what makes a good painting than teaching technique, and to me that’s a good thing at this point. I don’t want to learn some other artist’s technique, and have everyone say, “Man, Stacey really paints like _____” – I want to learn how to paint like ME, but make my paintings as good as possible!

So, I called him up and asked if I could do the mentorship. Turned out that he had a five year waiting list for the one-on-one mentorship, and was tossing around the idea of doing the mentorship with a group this year and video-taping the sessions to make an in-depth teaching series. I said “Sign me up!”, and then waited (not so patiently!) for a year until we started.

What It's All About

The six month long mentorship started in July, with a group of artists of different levels meeting every two weeks for a lecture/critique session. In between each session, we have assignments designed to improve skills in different areas, and it’s been fun to do the program as a group and see how each person has different strengths and weaknesses, and learn from each other’s critiques.

The lectures have been videotaped during every session, and Jay is working to put them together with demos of the assignments to make a series of DVDs that will be available for sale toward the end of the summer in 2009. He’s spent 15 years of his career putting together the material for this mentorship, and has put a lot of thought and effort into the concepts that make up the curriculum. Now that I’ve gone through it, I can say it’s been immensely valuable and that I’m glad that he’s been willing to put forth all this effort and share so much of what he knows. I think that a lot of the material we covered is unique for a painting class, yet valuable for any artist. As soon as the videos are released, you all can bet that I’ll be reminding you they’re available, because I know they’ll be really good!

So, every other Monday night, I drive down to Denver, go to class, and drive back the next morning (thanks to a supportive husband who has no problem playing Mr. Mom when I’m gone). And when I get back, I spend the next two weeks juggling my assignments (often 10-20 hours worth of work) with my other painting commitments (galleries, shows) and trying to be a good mom. It hasn’t been easy to get everything done, considering I only have two full days a week to paint and do the rest in the evenings or when Aspen is napping. It was especially rough in August and September when I did the RMPAP plein air show and had to prepare for a three-person show in October. Luckily, things have slowed a bit since then, and I’ve been able to focus more on the mentorship, and a bit less on the studio painting.

The lectures and assignments have run the gamut of topics, from painting and drawing to advertising and dealing with galleries and collectors. I’ve learned a lot about my shortcomings as an artist, and I feel like I have a lot of ideas and knowledge now that are going to help me throughout my career. Some of the specific assignments are things I know I’ll repeat in the future to brush up on certain skills, and a lot of them have helped me come to some important conclusions about my goals and what decisions I need to make to go where I want to go. I’m a little bit stubborn, so I know that a lot of the lessons I’ve learned in the past six months won’t sink in for a while. The cool thing about that is knowing that even when the mentorship is over next month, I won’t stop learning, and I’ll have the tools I need to critique my own work and learn for years to come.

Doing the mentorship has pushed me to do some things that are outside of my comfort zone, which I’m convinced is making me a better painter. I’ve been doing more plein air painting, doing paintings of subject matter and/or compositions that I wouldn’t have considered before, and working on skills that I might not have thought were important. I’m becoming more conscious of things that didn’t even cross my radar screen as being important in a painting before, that seem to have a huge impact for me now. In the end, I haven’t seen my style shift, but I’ve seen my skills improve, and I think I’m going to be a lot more effective at really saying what I want to say with my paintings once all these lessons have some time to sink into my thick skull.

More than anything, I think it’s been helpful to have someone critique my work on a regular basis. Jay doesn’t let things slide, and he can spot a shortcut or laziness from a mile away, so we don’t get away with a lot – I always come away from our Monday night sessions with my head full of new ideas and things to be conscious of. And sometimes what I think is my best work is met with the most criticism, which has actually been great because I haven’t gotten a critique yet that I didn’t agree with once I thought about it. Of course, now my standards are higher, and I find myself groaning when I look at paintings that I thought were good just a few months ago (the cringe factor, magnified)!

The mentorship is over in a few weeks, and I’m kind of sad because it was such a good learning experience, but kind of happy that I’ll have more time to start applying some of what I learned to my studio painting. As it comes to a close, I’m totally glad I’m made the time to do it – it’s been really valuable. As the economy has screeched to a halt over the past few months, it’s become clear to me that we artists need to focus on quality now more than ever, and I think that this has come along at just the right time for me. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in a program like this, and thankful to have found someone so generous with their knowledge to help me on my way (thanks Jay!!!).


  1. Stacey- thanks for the great post! I have to admit I did wonder why you wanted to do this and I was also wondering if you would become a "clone". I have seen that happen so many times (and I know you have seen it too) when an artist works very closely with someone they respect and admire- its almost as if they start to see the world through his/her eyes. I am so happy to hear that Jay's methods have allowed you to be you- only better! Best wishes for a Merry Christmas!

  2. Stacey, I admire your tenacity to do such a mentorship program. What a commitment. Your work is already wonderful, but I do believe that painting is a lifelong learning process for any artist, including all the great masters in history. Even Monet never quit learning. Merry Christmas and a Happy 2009!

  3. Stacey,

    I didn't read your entire post -- it's late here and I'm about to go to bed. But I agree with your comment:

    "I think that the death of many artists is complacency, and that those who have long and successful careers as artists always seem to me to have a willingness and desire to seek out learning experiences, no matter their level of competency."

    I think an artist needs to push him/herself. In fact, I just posted on that subject on my blog. Look up the "Ten Degrees" post and you'll see it. You'll also notice a painting, "Ten Degrees," that is very different for me. Keep at it! I do believe we have to challenge ourselves, and then, challenge even the challenge if possible.

    By the way, I'm sorry for not answering your "tag". I've been so busy, it's been crazy. Maybe I'll do it yet. If I do I don't think I'll tag anyone else, though.


  4. Stacey, this sounds like a really good program for you to do, especially given your "other" background. Very wise of you to recognize what you need, and don't need, at this point in your work.

    I wonder if you have any painter friends nearby that you can swap info with? The internet has helped me A LOT with finding a community to learn from, especially regarding business, but I sure do miss knowing more artists in real life to talk art with. An informal crit group would be so great.....

    My cringe factor used to take effect after a few months, now it is up to a few years, that seems like progress:)

  5. Deborah - I have definitely seen artists become "clones", and I didn't want that to happen. I've been told by a gallery owner before that he could see Jay's influence in my work (this was over a year ago), so I'm cautious about that. I paint the same subject matter, but I do it differently and that's okay, I think...

    Janelle - it has been a lot of work, but totally worth it! I agree that many of the masters were still learning and changing to the end of their lives, so I know it's important.

    Brian - I'm glad you agree that we need to push ourselves. I saw your post the other day and that painting was really beautiful. Don't worry about the tag - I know you've been busy with your small paintings!

    Tracy - I've always been a bit sensitive that I don't have an art degree, so this sort of thing is important to me. I do have a group I plein air paint with on occasion, and have also met some great artists while doing this mentorship, so that's also helpful - it's nice to have contemporaries to swap info and stories with. Most of my artist friends live in Denver, so I don't see them as often as I'd wish though!

  6. You are right. The masters are always students - they never stop learning.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I was not familiar with this process but now you have my mind swimming with the idea.

  8. An extremely excellent post. Your paintings (at least the few I get to see here) are impressive in their design and implementation. With your attitude you most probably never be completely satisfied with most of your work, but for us viewers, they are a real treat. I hope we get to watch your journey. You are a painter.

    Merry Christmas

  9. What a great opportunity Stacey! Sounds like you really learned a lot and will be a better painter for it. Art is such a learning experience, I don't think we ever know it all but it is great that we can continue to learn and continue to become better at what we do. have a great christmas, hope santa treats aspen well!!

  10. That's a very nice piece Stacey. I think that anyone who'd question another's need to study more... needs to study more! :-) Good for you, it can only be a benefit to your life as a painter.

    Painting isn't like your previous 'career'. It's a living breathing lifestyle that is ever present and with you, no matter where else your body is, as I'm sure you are acutely aware with the toddler and all.

    Those of us who do this know how difficult it is to get 'painting' out of our heads, well we can't, can only try... when trying to function as a normal human in all other aspects of our lives.

    Any information from other painters who are doing the same thing, and who might be more experienced in years, or who might have different experiences... who might help us as painters and with our 'painting' lives worth it every time.

    Your work looks like your work. 'Cloning' doesn't seem to be a problem, as Deborah also mentioned. If you paint hard enough from within yourself, you can't help but be you.

    Good job, and good painting to you...

  11. Cara - I wanted to share because I don't think a lot of people study art in a format like this. The five day workshops have become so common that it's hard to find quality instruction in other formats!

    Onpainting - thanks for your vote of confidence =) I probably won't ever be completely satisfied with my work!

    Christine - thanks! I hope you guys have a wonderful Christmas too - isn't this a fun age for the kids? They finally get it...

    Marc - I think you touched on something really important, and that's the need to get out of our own head and be with other artists sometimes. Painting is a very solitary job, and it's very easy to get too wrapped up in one's own experiences and thoughts. The more we get out and learn from those who deal with the same things, the better. I get a lot out of painting with my artist friends, and chatting with folks through the blog-world, but it's really valuable to also get advice and thoughts from someone further along in their career (actually, that's one of the reasons I love to read YOUR blog!).