Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Cringe Factor

"Below the Divide"
Oil on Panel

In her "When Are You Ready" post last month, Lisa Call alluded to the phenomenon where you get to a certain point in your art career and look back and feel embarassed about the work you sold or exhibited previously. I like to call it the "cringe factor", and I'd venture to say that all successful artists feel this way at some point. The way I see it, if you're growing as an artist, you're going to reach a point where the stuff you're doing today is way better than what you did a year ago. It's a sign of growth and improvement, and it's a great way to measure progress.

Does it mean you should hold off on selling your work until you're sure you'll never cringe about it in the future? Absolutely not!! (If that was the case, I wouldn't be able to sell my paintings at all!)

I took my first plein air landscape painting workshop in 2003, and didn't really get into painting landscapes until I took a second workshop in mid-2004. Needless to say, the growth curve has been a little bit steep for me over the past few years. I look back at the paintings I sold when I got into my first gallery, and I can see why they sold, but I also see how much I've improved since then. I have paintings I did for my solo show last November that will probably go in the trash pile when I pick them up from the gallery next week (closing - a whole other story...) - and I only painted them seven months ago!!

Anyhow, one of my favorite ways to see how I'm improving is to tackle a difficult subject more than once, and this painting is one of those subjects. There's something about this location that I just love, but I've painted it three times now trying to get it right. I think it's fun to look at the images of these three paintings and see where I've come from. It gives me some hope about where I'm going!

So, here's version #1:

I painted this in the spring of 2005, roughly three years ago. I exhibited it in my FIRST juried art show ever. Even though it was just a tiny arts council type show, I was so excited to have three paintings accepted that Nate and I went to the opening in Steamboat Springs and had a fancy dinner afterwards to celebrate. I was still doing the corporate engineering job thing, so this was fun! The painting didn't sell, and to tell you the truth, I don't know where it is now. Probably trashed it during our last move? Anyhow, as you can see, it lacks subtlety. The colors are garish and repetitive - not so good. I remember spending hours trying to get that line of blue just right on the water - hehe...

Here's version #2:

I painted this a year later, in the spring of 2006. Same composition, slightly larger canvas. The colors are a bit more pleasant, the water is more realistic, and the brushwork is better. The trees are still a bit repetitive, and I can tell I still have green on my palette because all of the greens are the same. It's a better painting than the last, and it sold quickly. Looking back, I can see what I'd improve, but I also have to try to understand that the collector who bought it saw what they wanted to see in this piece. Hopefully they're still enjoying it.

This is version #3:

I painted it vertically this time to eliminate some of the pines since I wanted to the cliffs to be the center of interest. I'd like to say I've improved a lot in two years. It's subjective, but I do think there's more subtlety and variety in the color and brushwork. I've gotten over my need to always pile on the paint thickly, and started to use thinner paint in certain passages that require some more sensitivity in the edges (this painting probably isn't the best example of that, actually). The trees are better, and I allowed myself to paint the water more loosely so that it wouldn't compete with the center of attention. Overall, I think I did a better job conveying the mood and lighting of this location.

So, the moral of the story is that I may cringe at my older work, but that's a good thing - it means all the hard work is paying off! And I really hope I don't ever get to a point where I'm looking at a painting I did five years ago and thinking it was the best I ever did. As an aside, I had this conversation with a gallery owner once and he was telling me that a well-known painter he represents recently looked at a painting he did the year I was born and said, "That was a damn good painting!" All I have to say is that I can't fathom ever reaching that point, but if I do, it'll be because I'm really old or something. Call me critical, I guess.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Work Work Work

"Last Light, Indian Peaks"
Oil on Panel

This week has been crazy, but good. We finally have our house in Denver under contract, which is great because if everything goes as planned, we'll be able to build on our lot up here this summer. Crossing my fingers that the inspection goes well and that we close next month as expected!

We also realized that to have our house plans approved at the June meeting of the architectural control committee in our neighborhood, we need to have everything submitted by Monday. We've thrown around some ideas for house plans, but haven't actually done anything with them, so we spent the past few days marking up drawings to submit to the factory (Nate builds modular homes). Nate worked from home all day yesterday, finishing the drawings and estimate, and arranging for the survey etc. I have to admit there were a few disagreements on the design front - I told him he's not allowed to have opinions on the functionality of the kitchen or my studio. Hehe...

I still managed to spend some quality time in the studio. Two of the three paintings I've been working on this week are scenes I've painted before. I was halfway through a painting one of them when I realized I had painted a similar thing before - oops!! Luckily, it doesn't look anything like the other version. The other one is a vertical version of a scene I've painted horizontally twice. I just keep thinking I can do it better. Once I photograph it, I'll post all three so you guys can see how terrible I was at painting three years ago!

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to a nice weekend in the mountains. Hopefully the sun will shine and the snow will go away for good - I'm ready for spring!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On Being a Mom

Since it's Mother's Day, I was thinking a little bit about how having Aspen just lifts me up and brightens my life. On anything less than a good day, having a child just makes things better than they would be otherwise. Maybe it has to do with her innocence, I don't know... It's trite to say, but she's just changed my life.

This is all said better by one of my favorite bands...

Well there's far too many questions to ask,
To answer all of them tonight.
For I wear too many masks,
To tell if any of them are wrong or right.
And confusion casts a shadow upon me,
Like a great big cloud in the sky.
And now I pray for rain
Cause it's been so long since I let myself cry.

For so long, I've sang this sad ole song.
And it feels like my time is up.
For she came and landed in my arms
And she filled my half empty cup.
Yes she filled my half empty cup.

Now I look up above me,
And I thank that Great Old God in the sky.
For telling me my cup ain't half empty.
Just took my little girl to show my why.

There you are.
Right in front of me,
A brand new day,
Sunrise Over Sea ,
No longer,
My cup half empty,
Cause there you are...
You're Peaches & Cream to me...

All I know is
All I know and
I love you."

"Peaches & Cream"
John Butler Trio

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Why I Love My Job

"Crater Lake Cliffs"
Oil on Panel

This painting was SO MUCH FUN to do!!

I've been putting off painting these cliffs for the past three years, thinking I wasn't good enough to do them justice. I finally got to the point where I just couldn't resist, and tackled them on a relatively small scale. And I'm so glad I did, because they were so much fun to paint! Everything came together, and this painting actually looked like I wanted it to look.

The funny thing is, as much as I love this painting, I haven't had an enthusiastic response from anyone else who has seen it. So, like I said in my post yesterday, you can never tell which painting will elicit the most response from people.

The cool thing is that it doesn't matter. I always love to paint, but it's the paintings like these, which are challenging and fun, that always keep me coming back for more. I talk a lot about goals and business on this blog, but only because keeping track of those things makes it possible for me to keep on painting as my job. And seriously, I don't think there could be a better job to have!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Another One

"Willow Creek Spring"
Oil on Panel

I have to admit I was surprised at how many people liked the painting I posted last, probably because it just wasn't a favorite of mine. Maybe you were all just being nice? Honestly though, I find that I often have a hard time judging which of my paintings will elicit a response in others.

I think that my opinion of each painting is too tainted by my experience painting it. If I have to do a lot of rework, or I'm uncomfortable with a given subject, I automatically assume others will see my struggle. Conversely, sometimes a painting just paints itself and I fall in love with it immediately, and then I find that others don't care as much for it. So it goes in the subjective world of art!!

This is another little painting I did of a similar scene (and be warned that this photo isn't doing it justice). Same creek, same day, same shadows on the hillside in the background. I've done three paintings of this creek now - I was just completely taken in by the way the shadows were descending down the hillside in the background, and there was such a strong divide between sunlight and shadow. I think this one will look really nice once it's framed, but I'm still not sure I'm 100% happy with it. I do think it's a bit more my style than the other one though.

It's always fun to have the time to work on a series of the same scene. Helps to work the kinks out and really study the subject matter!