Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 In Review

(Sorry - I was feeling too lazy to dig up a photo of a new painting, so all you get is a gratuitous shot of the mountains from a trail a couple miles from my house. Don't you wish you lived here?)

Well, the year is just about over, so I guess it's time to status my goals one last time for 2009. At the start of the year I set a bunch of goals and told myself I was going to publicly comment on their status every month to keep me on track. Holding myself accountable on a monthly basis really kept me motivated, but by the end of the year I felt like a broken record so I didn't update the last two months. Anyhow, here's the final update!

1. Get my work into three more galleries.

DONE. I started showing at two mountain galleries in early summer, and am also showing my work at the gallery in Ft. Collins where I had my show in October.

2. Complete 100 paintings.

DONE. As of today, I've painted 116 paintings so far this year! I did a lot of small plein air studies during the last half of this year, which helped me reach this goal quickly. I'm really happy that I was able to meet this goal. Pushing myself to produce a lot of paintings has really improved my skills, and given me the confidence that I can supply multiple galleries. Mileage on the brush never hurt anyone!!

3. Sell enough work to pay our mortgage.

DONE. I really wanted to feel like I was contributing to our household finances this year, and I feel like I was able to do that. Since we're both self-employed and don't have a "regular" paycheck, every bit helps!

4. Update painting database and financial records monthly.

DONE. This might have been the most useful goal I set for myself this year, because it forced me to look at my numbers every month and thus hold myself accountable for my progress.

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

Yeah, this didn't happen. I did run one five mile race this summer, so it wasn't a complete failure!! But for the most part, I didn't get back to the fitness level I intended, which is a bit of a bummer. Guess I'll have to try harder next year.

The thing about setting goals at the beginning of the year is that you don't know where life will take you in the year ahead. That's why I love Alyson Stanfield's idea of listing one's accomplishments at year end, as a way to take stock of the things you DID do, regardless of what goals you did or did not meet. So, here are the things I'm proud to have done this year:

  • Participated in Colorado Governor's Art Invitational Show for the first time
  • Had two paintings accepted to the Salon International Show at Greenhouse Gallery
  • Had one painting awarded Jury's Top Fifty at the Salon International show
  • Participated in the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters National show/paint out in August
  • Got invited to submit work to the Mountain Oyster Club show and sale in Tucson
  • Participated in a 6 month mentorship with Jay Moore
  • Met a bunch of great painters through PAAC, RMPAP, this blog, and the mentorship program
  • Moved to the mountains - a life goal that I wasn't quite sure I'd ever get to!!
  • Tripled 2007 profits from my art
  • Doubled number of paintings sold from 2007 to 2008
  • Most important, had fun and maintained balance in my life while doing all of the above!!!

Overall, 2008 has been a good year. I feel like I managed to get my art career back on track after floundering a bit in 2007. I've had a ton of fun living in the mountains, painting for a living, and spending quality time with my husband and daughter - couldn't ask for much more!

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!!!).

Demo - Fall Aspens, Final

"Aspen Gold"
Oil on Panel

No real progress on this one - just wanted to post a better picture of the final painting than the one at the end of the demo. There should be less glare here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Demo - Fall Aspens Part 2

Okay, so when I left off yesterday (see my previous post for the start of this demo), I had just finished blocking in the major shapes and color for this painting. I'm sometimes leary of painting subject matter like this - the aspens are so bright in the fall that it's easy to go too far when painting them. One thing on my mind as I'm working this painting is to make sure that the yellow leaves of the aspens are contrasted by greys in the background and trunks. Without the use of more neutral colors, the leaves wouldn't appear to be as bright as they are, and the whole painting could be overwhelming. Anyhow, so here's where we left off:

Next, I start to work back into the dark knots on the trunk, giving them more shape and adding some darker twigs and branches.

At this point, the aspen foliage is a bit blocky and lacking in dimension, so I start to work back into it, starting by adding some more color to the darker areas, and defining the shape of the trees more accurately.

Next, I add some lighter values to the foliage to give it more dimension and light. At this point, I'm using more paint and using texture to give the leaves some visual interest up close.

The last major area that needs work is the grass in the foreground. As with the other areas, I work into the hillside with darker values first, then lighter values, trying to soften this area a bit so that it doesn't compete with the aspens for interest.

So, that's where I've left the painting at this point. Here are a few closeups (sorry for the glare):

I'd say the painting is about 97% done at this point. Looking at it now, I can see a few things that are bugging me - the lower right hand corner is undefined, and the strong diagonal of the grassy hill is leading the eye right down and out of the painting. There's some funkiness going on in the mid-left. I'll wait a few days and go back in to rework these areas, and I'll post a better final photo then.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Demo - Fall Aspens Part I

Anyone who has been following my blog for awhile or looked over any of my previous painting demos might know that I used to have a pretty analytical studio painting approach that involved painting over a complete and dry oil or acrylic underpainting. Over the past few months, I've done so much plein air painting that I've gotten used to a more direct method of painting, and completely changed my studio technique as a result. I figured I might as well take some progress shots and post a new demo of a current painting.

I was working on a batch of underpaintings one day when it occured to me that I HATED the process of underpainting. So, I stopped doing it. Now I do my studio paintings wet-on-wet, with the exception of minor corrections at the end, and I'm loving the process of painting so much more!

So, I'm trying to get some paintings done for a few spring shows, and for this one I wanted to do something with bright fall aspens. I'm doing this painting on a 24x18" Ampersand gessobord, and using a palette of titanium white, cad yellow lemon, cad yellow light, cad orange, quinacridone red, perm alizarin crimson, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue. To start, I sketch in my composition using a thinned mixture of alizarin, ultramarine, and white.

Once the drawing is done, I block in the yellow foliage of the aspens using paint thinned with mineral spirits. I like to get these in first in a painting like this so that the color is nice and clean from the start. At this point, I'm using a 1" hog bristle brush to keep things nice and basic.

Next, I start to block in the background around the aspens, still using fairly thin paint. I want to reserve thicker paint for later stages of the painting, and leave the background thin so it recedes.

I continue to work forward, using slightly thicker paint as I block in the foliage in the foreground. I'm mainly trying to put down major shapes, colors, and values at this point, still using the 1" brush.

Once the background is blocked in, I start to paint the aspen trunks, first indicating the placement of the dark knots. At this point I switch to a smaller (size 6 or 8) brush so that I can go a bit smaller with my brushstrokes.

Next, I start to paint the darker side of the aspen trunks, trying to make sure I have the values right in comparison to my background, and using different colors and values to indicate the curvature of the trunks. I work with flat bristle brushes (still the size 6-8), and use the side of the brush to block in some of the thinner branches.

Once the darker part of the trunks is complete, I go back in and paint the sunlit side of the aspens. I use a palette knife or small liner brush for the highlights on the background trunks and smaller twigs.

At this point the block-in is complete and I'm ready to start refining different areas of the painting.

This is a good point to stop, so I'll post the rest tomorrow!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Catching Up

"Calm Waters, Endo Valley"
Oil on Panel

Well, I went on vacation for a week and when I returned it was like winter had suddenly come to our little town in the mountains. I'd say we've gotten six inches of snow since dinnertime tonight, and it's still coming down. The good skiing opens up at Mary Jane tomorrow, and it's looking snowy right in time for Christmas!

I love painting in the winter. There's just nothing better than padding into my studio on a snowy day, all cozy in my slippers and sipping a nice cup of tea while I paint. Winter slows me down, and I like having the time to work on larger paintings and try new things in the studio.

I have a bit less pressure to produce for my galleries right now, but I always have a slew of show deadlines in January, so I'm busy working on larger pieces for those, and starting a new commission. I've also got to finish up my work for the mentorship I've been doing the past six months. I've been keeping up with my "homework" for the most part, but I've got a few assignments to redo before I'm done, and I've fallen hopelessly behind on my drawing assignments. One thing I've learned in the last six months of painting "bootcamp" is that I'd much rather paint than draw with a pencil anyday - I procrastinate so badly when it comes to working on paper. Obviously something I need to work on!

Anyhow, it's been two weeks since I picked up a brush and I'm totally excited to lock myself in the studio tomorrow. I'm rested and recharged from vacation, and ready to go!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Yay for Vacation

I'm currently wrapped in a cozy down comforter, watching 30 Rock, and chilling out after a day of doing pretty much nothing here in Jackson Hole. We were itching to go on a road trip, so we figured we'd check out Jackson before the winter crowds hit. So far, we haven't done much - checked out some art galleries, took a drive to check out the tetons, read books by the fire, ate a lot. This is my kind of town - good art and great mountain scenery!

I'm ready to get back to painting though - a week off and I'm ready to get back to work. And I miss my little Aspen. It's nice to have some kid-free time, but I can't wait to see her on Saturday. It's kind of nice to go on vacation and look forward to getting back home. A few years ago, I would have dreaded going home and having to go to work.