Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bug Bitten and Sunburnt

"Sunset Over Byers Peak"
Oil on Panel

This week is officially arts week in Winter Park, and the main event up here in Grand County is the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters paint out and show. The plein air event is an invite only type of thing, and I've been bugging the powers that be to get me on the list for a while. I made it onto the alternate list, and I lucked out Monday and got a spot when someone didn't show.

So, I'm pretty excited - I've wanted to do this show for a while. It's a good group of artists, I already know it's at a good gallery (they do a great job selling my work!), and when you have a toddler it's definitely more convenient to participate in an event like this if it's in your own backyard.

The only drawback? Getting into the show Monday meant finishing seven (good) paintings on location in just a few days. So, I've been in a plein air painting frenzy for the past two and a half days, and it'll continue with more painting tomorrow, the show opening on Friday, quickdraw on Saturday morning (eek - hate these!!), and a couple more events on Saturday afternoon.

All in all, it's been a busy few days, but it's been great to get back outside with my pochade box and paint with some other great painters. The painting above is the one I just turned in for the show preview - it's a little bit simple, as are all of my plein air paintings - guess that's my style! I've painted this scene a couple of times before, and I knew it would be a great sunset scene.

Anyhow, if you're in the area (or live in Denver and want to drive a bit to see some good art), the show opens Friday evening at Elk Horn Gallery in Winter Park. Visit the RMPAP website for more info on the official schedule.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to head out to my studio and sign, varnish, and frame some paintings. The work doesn't end!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Working from Photos

"Last Light on the Pass"
Oil on Panel

I really wish I could paint on location more often than I do, but having a toddler makes it necessary to work from photo references in the studio. The problem is that even a good camera can't see as well as the human eye, especially in the light conditions that tend to make for good paintings. I try to remedy this by spending a lot of time outdoors just observing things, and taking notes about scenes that I think might make good paintings.

This particular painting is one I just finished, and I worked from a pretty terrible photo so I thought it might be a good example. We were driving down from Rollins Pass at dusk last week when I saw these trees on the side of the road with alpenglow on the continental divide behind them. I didn't have my painting stuff with me, and Aspen needed to get home and go to bed, so I had to settle for snapping a bad photo from the window and driving home. Here's the photo:

It's blurry and washed out, and no amount of photoshopping would bring the colors back to how saturated they were in real life. When I shot the photo, I made some notes about the colors on the mountain and trees, and tried to make a mental picture of the mood of the scene. Then I made sure that I started the painting within a couple of days so that I wouldn't forget.

When I did the painting, I used the photo as reference mainly for the composition, but pushed the color based on my memory and my notes. I also defined the shape of the mountains in the background better, since they're fuzzy in the photo. I look at these particular hills every day, so I know every nook and cranny and could paint them from memory if I had to. I also took the liberty of adding some knots to the aspen tree to make it clearly the center of interest.

One risk I took here was putting the center of interest almost directly in the center of the painting. I wasn't sure about it, but I think it works?

On a totally unrelated note, I apologize in advance for the fact that my blog posts are probably going to be fewer and shorter for the next six months. I'm officially getting my butt whipped into shape with the mentorship program I'm doing, and keeping up the business and learning as much as I can in the next six months are my priority. I'll still post here, but I'll probably be less wordy (might be a good thing!). In the end, I'm hoping I'll have more to say, and that my paintings will be that much better - in the meantime, I've got my head down and it's time for hard work!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Getting OLDer

"September Gold"
Oil on Panel

I've been doing a lot of larger aspen paintings lately. I love the way they look in all seasons, and it's sort of fun to work on a series of them all at once. A few months ago, I would have shuddered at the thought of painting a 30 inch tall tree trunk, but I'm making some progress as I paint more of these. Practice, practice, practice...

In other news, tomorrow is my birthday - I'm turning the big 3-0!! I would have thought that turning thirty would kind of freak me out, but I'm actually just sort of content about it. After all, I have the cutest kid in the world, I live in the mountains, and I'm an artist. If you asked me ten years ago what I wanted to accomplish in life, those would be my big ticket items. Can't complain about that, right? I still feel a bit old though... Thirty just sounds so much older than twenty-nine!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

"Rainy Day Aspens"
Oil on Panel

I know I say this a lot, but things have been crazy busy lately. When things are busy, it's always a good thing from a business standpoint, so I can't complain, but it's leaving me with very little free time!

It's tourist season in the Colorado Rockies, which is prime selling time for the galleries in mountain resort towns, meaning that I feel the need to keep them all stocked as well as I can for the next couple of months. That means no finished paintings sitting in the studio gathering dust. It also means I'm framing and sending things out the door a few days after I finish them. Which means a bit of added stress and a lot of me running around acting frazzled all the time... Making a living as an artist can be hard work!

In addition, I'm doing a mentorship program with painter Jay Moore for the next six months, which means I'm driving down to Denver every other Monday, and doing lots of homework in the two week periods in between. There are seven other artists in the program, and I can already tell it's going to be a HUGE learning opportunity for me, so I'm totally excited. I'm also a tad bit overwhelmed trying to figure out how the heck I'm going to find time to do everything.

I usually have two full days to paint while Aspen is in daycare, plus another half or full day that she spends playing with Grandma. I do a lot of my business stuff/framing/painting prep during her naptimes on other days and after she goes to bed every night so that I can spend her awake hours with her. Now I'm going to be using a lot of that time doing work for the mentorship. I think I'm going to be cutting out all of my wasted TV/reading/relaxing time for the next few months...

I'm also trying to figure out some new framing options. I usually use ready-made frames, but I'm getting to a point where they're a bit cheap for my price level, and other artists at my level are using custom frames. It's presentation issue, and I love the quality of a good custom frame, but I'm a procrastinator at heart, and tend to order frames at the last minute, making ordering custom difficult since the wait is often close to four weeks. I'm starting to realize that I need to bite the bullet and start to build a bit of an inventory of standard size custom frames, so that I have them when I need them. I'm crazy cheap, so shelling out the bucks for a bunch of frames is a stretch for me, but I've got to do it at this point.

So, I'm a little bit overwhelmed right now, but also excited because I feel like the next few months will be a good push to take my work to a new level. It'll be a lot of work, but it'll be worth it in the end, and luckily I happen to love my job so it should be fun along the way.

In other news, Aspen has learned the word "paint" and likes to come out to my studio and paint on my paintings (of course, I only let her do this in the beginning stages). Every time she walks by the door, she says, "Mommy paint!" - cute, no?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

June Goals Update

"The End of August"
Oil on Panel

YAWN - I am officially sick of checking on the status of my goals... The commitment to revisit them each month this year has really kept me on track, but it sure is getting old! Anyhow, we're halfway through 2008 now, so I guess looking at them again is a good thing and here I go:

1. Get my work into three more galleries.

Two down, one to go, and I'm taking a break from the gallery search for the summer.

2. Complete 100 paintings.

Painted five this month. I was focusing on completing some larger paintings, so I didn't really care about quantity - I was just feeling like I needed to push my work a little bit, and working bigger is where I wanted to go. That makes 46 down, 54 to go.

3. Sell enough work to pay our mortgage.

Done so far. Although we sold the house in Denver so I guess I don't officially have a mortgage to pay right now (we're renting while we build the house up here)!

4. Update painting database and financial records monthly.

Done. I'm finding that this is really important now that I have more galleries - it's good to be on top of the database so I know where everything is.

5. Race in a minimum of three 5k's.

A friend and I ran in a local 5 mile race today, which was a big confidence booster. I had to take a couple of walk breaks since I'm not really up to running 5 miles at this point (a 5k would have been a better length), but my time was decent and I'm making progress!

Maybe I'm getting bored with statusing these goals because I'm actually making decent progress? I don't know... Anyhow, we've had a tiring two days of fun in the sun for July 4th, so I'm going to go to sleep now at 8 pm. Does that make me old?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Taking the Leap - Revisited

"Meadow Creek Spring"
Oil on Panel

WARNING: long, rambling post ahead... Sorry!!

Nate and I took a long walk in the woods last night, and while we were talking we realized that this week marks a year since we became a self-employed family!! I've been at it longer than he has, since I quit my job when I had Aspen a year and a half ago, but when he quit his corporate job a year ago it upped the ante for my art business. My art officially became one of the ways that we pay the bills, and we both embarked together on this crazy journey that we like to think of as following our dreams.

I'll admit that there have been ups and downs, and I've had my moments of lying awake at 3:00 in the morning wondering what the heck we've done, but I don't have any regrets, and I'd do it all over again if I had to. I've been a bit stressed out lately, mostly because the news is so negative these days - in my darkest moments I wonder if we made the right decision to do all of this. In all of my other moments, I KNOW it was the right decision.

I've been slowly going through the archives of this blog and categorizing my posts, and it's been a really positive experience to look back over the past few years and see where I've come from. When I started this blog two and a half years ago, I was lead process engineer on an $800 million scrubber project for an oil-sands refinery in Canada. I was frazzled with the stress of being in charge of the process design phase of such a huge project (hello - those are my initials on every drawing and calculation!), managing people for the first time, and dealing with the pressure of being the only female engineering lead on the project, not to mention the youngest by about twenty years. My life was defined by my climb up the corporate ladder, and I was heading for a nice job in project management. I made a lot more money than I do now, and I was completely miserable.

For reference, here I am, enjoying the scenery in the middle of an oil sands mine in Ft. MacMurray, Alberta (and this was a day with a GOOD view - normally I was sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer):

Actually, if you REALLY want to see how far I've come to get to this point, maybe I should rewind to my days working for big oil down in Texas. Here I am getting ready to inspect some equipment during a chemical plant shutdown in Baton Rouge, Louisiana - you know your job sucks when the chemicals are so dangerous that you have to dress like this:

Of course, we also spent a lot of time being really bored in the construction trailers, which was also not the best way to spend a day:

I was working for ExxonMobil at the time, and my job (when I wasn't inspecting equipment), was to design computer programs that would optimize the amount of money the plant would make on a given day, depending on things like oil prices, chemical sale prices, etc etc. It was incredibly unfulfilling, and I hated Houston, so we moved back to Colorado and I got a job designing pollution control systems for coal-fired power plants. More my style, but I still wasn't happy, and I started this blog to rant a bit about my job and talk about some of the things that made me happy, and it morphed into the art blog it is today.

When I look back at the girl I was then, I'm thankful that I was able to see how unhappy I was, and that I knew exactly what I really wanted to be doing. Before I got pregnant with Aspen, I had decided that I wanted to try and make it as an artist, and I started to get serious about taking the right steps to make it work. I think I first started talking about taking the leap in the two posts here and here. At the end of the first post where I talked about making a career change, I said the following:

"I don’t want to play it safe forever. I don’t want to have a long list of excuses someday. I’d rather aim for brilliance and fail than say I never tried for fear of exiting my comfort zone. I want to move forward - I want to choose experience over excuses."

When I read those words the other day, I was in the midst of a stressful day and they immediately gave me a sense of peace. I realized that over the past year and a half I've left the comfort zone and challenged myself, and I've had more wonderful experiences than I can count. I love my job with every inch of my being, and I'm content with my life. I have a beautiful, sweet daughter, a wonderful husband, and I'm living where I want to live. I'm surrounded by beauty every day, and I'm following the dream I've had since I was a child to be an artist. And in following that dream (and working with Nate to achieve his), I feel like I'm being the best role model I can possibly be as a mother. I'm blessed to have this opportunity, and I'm going to try my hardest to do my best at what I truly believe I'm meant to be doing.

Now, isn't it a good thing that I have this blog to remind me where I've come from? Nothing like a little reminder of my past life to move me from a place of stress to a place of peace!