Thursday, January 29, 2009

Something Completely Different - DONE!

I made a few teeny tiny adjustments to the Monhegan painting - mainly cleaning up some lines on the boats and making the water sparkle a bit more. The next step is to wait for it to dry so I can sign and varnish it, then frame it and ship it.

Normally when I do a commission I send the client photos of the painting in a couple of different frames so that they can choose which they prefer. I'll typically pick out a dark frame, and some sort of gold frame. Seems like the dark frames are in style here in the Rocky Mountains, but not everyone loves them. However, this particular painting looked horrible in a gold frame, so I only gave the client this option. It's a custom frame from Front Range Frames (I use frames with this finish for most of my paintings these days):

Oh - this painting is 22x28", oil on gessobord panel as usual. Not sure I mentioned the size before.

For a commission, this was a ton of fun to paint. Now I need to plan a painting trip to Maine!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Something Completely Different - PART II

Thanks to everyone from Maine who commented on the first part of this demo. It was good to hear that I'm not completely off track in my depiction of this landscape!!

When I stopped yesterday, I had painted the sky, buildings, and rocky parts of the Monhegan Island painting. Next up was blocking in the two boats and the water. I started off by painting in the general shape of each boat with thinned paint, mainly to block in the major shapes and values. I also started to place some of the darker values in the water. If you look closely, you can see that I decided to move the boats up a bit from where I had originally sketched them, and adjusted the size of the sailboat to be more accurate.

Next, I used a thin wash of paint to indicate the general value and color of the water. It doesn't look that great, but this was mainly so I could judge if the value and color of the boats were accurate and working with the rest of the painting as a whole. Without the water painted in, the boats were off by themselves in a big white area, and it was hard to judge how they worked with the painting as a whole.

At this point I have to apologize for forgetting to take progress photos for a few hours! Once the water and boats were blocked in, I went in with thicker paint and painted the boats, and defined the water and reflections more accurately. I used a tiny brush and palette knife to indicate some of the details on the sailboat. Once the water was done, the shape of the foreground rocks was distracting, so I made some changes to the rocks. I also cooled down the foreground grasses a bit - it doesn't show well in these photos, but the reds I had originally blocked in were detracting from the overall harmony of the painting.

So, that's pretty much where I stopped. I made some final adjustments to the boats, and sent this photo to the collector for approval:

Sorry for the glare on the lobster boat and foreground rocks. This one was a bugger to photograph without any glare on the wet paint.

At this point, I'm waiting for the painting to dry so I can go back in and clean up some of the lines on the boats and touch up some things that are bugging me about the water and foreground. These should all be minor changes, but once they're done I'll photograph it again in its frame and post it here as done.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Something Completely Different - PART I

The last two demos that I posted here were of aspen trees, so I thought it would be nice to mix things up a bit and post some in-progress shots of something different than my usual subject matter. I've been working on a commission of a scene from Monhegan Island, Maine, and since it's got some elements in it that are new to me, I thought it would be fun to talk through some of it here.

First of all, when I do commissions I typically insist on using my own on-location studies, sketches, and photographs. Rarely do I agree to do a commission from a collector's photos, unless I see them ahead of time and know I can work from them, and also know that the collector will allow me to call the shots artistically. I've worked with this particular client before, and know that he's willing to let me make the decisions that I need to make to paint a good painting. In this case, he sent me a CD with around 500 images from the island, and essentially let me go through the images and come up with a painting based on what I thought would be the most fun to paint.

After looking through the photos, I was drawn to a grouping of pictures of a sailboat and lobster boat in the late afternoon. The light in the photos wasn't optimal (skies too light, rocks and buildings too dark), but I loved the way the evening light was hitting the boats and water and knew I could make something of it with some tweaking.

I haven't actually been to Monhegan Island before, but I've spent some time in Maine, and a lot of time in Nova Scotia, so the landscape wasn't completely foreign to me. I remember spending an evening down by one of the bays in Nova Scotia with fading light and fog rolling in, and these pictures reminded me of that kind of evening. As I painted this, I kept that memory in my head, and exaggerated the colors in the landscape to set a similar mood. The photos were used to compose the image, but I relied more on memory and feeling when it came to making decisions about color and lighting.

So, the first thing I did was sketch out the general composition with charcoal. I haven't painted buildings in a long time, and I'm not sure I've ever painted boats, so I just wanted to indicate the size of everything before starting in with the paint. I wanted to move the horizon line up, move the buildings over a bit, and give the boats a bit more space, so the sketch allowed me to work out some of those issues.

Once the sketch was done, I started in on the sky. Since I wasn't copying the photo, I felt that the best way to set the mood for the piece was to get the sky painted in the color and value I wanted, and use that as a measure for everything else. From this point on, I was constantly asking myself if what I was painting was lighter or darker, or warmer or cooler than the sky. These decisions are important, because I didn't have a field study and the photo wasn't good enough to allow me to copy color and value.

I'm not following my sketch exactly at this point. If you look closely at where the sky is painted around the main building, you can see that I've chosen to move it to the right and decrease the amount of space between the two buildings. I felt like it was a bit distracting to have a big space there.

Once the sky was done and some of my darkest dark blocked in, I started to paint the dock and the buildings in the background. I was finishing as I went, putting on each brushstroke with the intent to leave it as it was. The dock and the buildings are old and weathered, so I had to make a conscious effort to make them look that way (lines aren't straight, posts are uneven, nothing is too smooth).

Once the buildings were finished, I moved on to the rocks and grass in the foreground. This part was a bit challenging because I kept wanting to paint the rocks like "Colorado" rocks. I had to remember that the rocks along the coast are a different color and shape than what I'm used to. Also, since the reference photo was very dark in this area, I had to pay attention and really compare my values and color temperature with the parts of the painting that were already complete.

I think I'll leave it there for now since this post is getting long. I'll post the rest tomorrow!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Defining Interest

"Study - Sundown"
Oil on Panel

$125 + shipping

One of the things I've been working on for the past few months is defining what each painting I do is about. I have a tendency (especially with larger works) to gravitate towards scenes that have it all - mountains, a stream, some trees, a field, wildflowers! And while that can be okay if it's done well, sometimes it results in paintings that have a bit of an identity crisis (is it a painting of a mountain, a painting of a stream, a painting of wildflowers?).

I'm trying to make sure that I ask myself what I'm drawn to every time I start a new painting. Am I interested in the light on the mountain? The scale of the mountain? The reflections in the water? I answer that question first, and then I work to make sure that every decision I make in the painting serves to highlight that thing that drew me to the scene in the first place. That way, the foreground stream doesn't end up drawing attention from the mountains that caught my interest, or the trees don't pull the eye away from the reflections in the lake, or the clouds don't steal the show from the mountains.

Asking these questions means I can't copy what's in front of me. Sometimes I have to change the way the light is hitting a part of the landscape, change the size or location of a clump of trees, or exaggerate the scale of that mountain I'm interested in. These decisions are a lot easier to make if I know what I'm after, and I don't find myself getting off track as much as I used to when I'm painting outside.

The study above is from one of those places that just begs the artist to paint everything. Monarch Lake is a small lake with a dramatic mountain backdrop, and sometimes it's hard to decide what to paint. The reflections can be beautiful on a calm day, the mountains can be dramatic in the afternoon, and the trees are interesting on their own. I did this quick study after I had painted another in the same spot. The sun was going down and it was hitting the mountains so that the early season snow was just glowing. I wanted to keep the trees and water in the painting for compositional reasons, but I wanted to make sure that they were downplayed enough to make that snow the star of the show.

Doing a study like this can be invaluable when preparing for a larger painting. If I hadn't done this study, I probably would have done a larger painting without thinking through some of the decisions I made here, and it could have been a large-scale failure. Doing a small study allowed me to take some risks and change some things that I might not have tried on a larger panel. Finished, it's a good indicator of whether a larger painting would or would not work, and a good guide to use when making that larger painting.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This and That

Oil on Panel

Sorry I haven't been posting much lately - life seems to have gotten in the way. I've been working on two paintings for show entries, a 22x28" commission, and finishing up my mentorship. In the meantime Aspen got a nasty stomach flu that kept me out of the studio most of last week, and then we went down to Denver for part of the weekend which meant more time away from the studio. But I'm back on track now - got the show entries done and I'm making some headway on the commission. Actually, the commission has been a lot of fun for me, as it's a bit different than my usual Rocky Mountain scenery (I'm planning to post a demo this weekend or next week).

While we were down in Denver, we took Aspen to the National Western Stock Show so she could see the cows and other animals, and I snuck off and spent some time looking at the paintings in the Coors Western Art Show. I was supposed to go the opening of the show a couple weeks ago, but they closed the pass for wind that
day and I got stuck in the mountains - I was pretty bummed out to miss it.

Anyhow, the nice thing about going later is that there are way less people looking at the art than the opening (always packed), so I could study paintings as long as I wanted. I was a bit sad to see that a lot of good paintings in the show didn't sell this year, but there were some beautiful paintings to look at by some of the best painters in the West.

My favorite painting in the show was Len Chmiel's "An Elegance of Erosion" - it doesn't show that well on his website, but it was so subtle that I could have stared at it all day. Skip Whitcomb was the featured artist this year, and he's one of my favorite painters so of course I loved his work. My favorite of his was the painting "Fraser Valley Ranch", mainly because the Fraser Valley is home to me, and he captured the local landscape so well. Other favorites were some small gems by Matt Smith, and a great looking body of work by Glenn Dean. Anyhow, the show was worth braving the weekend crowds to see.

Well, that's all I've got. Once I finish this commission I'm working on, I'll post some in progress pictures here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Making a Living

"Jackson Lake December"
Oil on Panel

There's been a bit of discussion over at Escape from Cubicle Nation about whether or not creative types are doomed to be "starving artists" for eternity. When I read the initial post, I immediately jumped in with my opinion that it's actually quite possible for artists to make a living selling their art, and that believing the myth that it's impossible is quite likely to be the downfall of many a talented artist.

I know a lot of artists who live off of their art, and I guess I just feel like a combination of really good work, serious discipline, and a whole lot of marketing effort can indeed pay off for artists. It may not be easy, but it's possible, and I think that difficulty is what makes it necessary us to find mentors who have been there and can guide us through what works and what doesn't. Of course, not everyone agrees with me! Maybe I'm naive about this, but I'd like to think that my naivete, and my unfailing belief that I can make a living at this, are necessary components of my success.

Anyhow, go check out the original post and the following comments, then come back here and tell me what you think. Is it possible to make a comfortable living from fine art alone? Don't we need to first believe it's possible in order to make it a reality? Am I out of touch (and selling out) because I paint landscapes?

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Comfort Zone

"New Year's Day, Lake Granby"
Oil on Panel

I stumbled across an old post from Clint Watson's blog the other day, titled, "Be the Outside Zebra by Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone," and it got me thinking about comfort and security, and how sometimes you have to do what you don't want to do to get where you want to be.

I readily admit that I'm a "security freak" at heart. I gravitate toward the stable - I like having a stable job, a stable family, reserves in the bank for a rainy day, etc etc.

The funny thing is, when I look back at my life so far, the only decisions I would make differently if I did things over again are those decisions that I made to maintain my comfort zone.

I went to engineering school instead of art school because it would land me a good job out of college. I majored in Chemical Engineering because I knew the average salary out of school was good. I accepted a job in Houston with big oil because I wanted to have a job lined up before Christmas of my senior year (!?!?). The list goes on... (Disclaimer: this is not to say that I really truly regret those decisions - they've actually served me really well - but that's another post!)

When I look at the pivotal moments in my life this far - those that have made the most positive impact - they are all the result of big decisions I made that took me out of my comfort zone (way out of my comfort zone). These are the decisions that kept me up at 3 am, worrying whether I was making a big mistake.

There was the time I quit my high-paying job with big oil in Houston to take a lower paying but more fulfilling environmental engineering job in Colorado. There was the day I found out I was pregnant with Aspen, which happened to be the same day I got into my first gallery - a sign I took that it was time to give up engineering. There was the day I told my bosses that I wouldn't be coming back to work, that I was going to do the art thing full time. There was the day Nate quit his sales job to build houses, so that he could be at home to spend more time as a family. And there was the night Nate and I sat up late, drinking tea and watching the snow fall outside his parents house in Granby, and decided we could move to the mountains, that nothing was stopping us.

None of those decisions were comfortable for me, but they sort of had a domino effect. The first one wasn't that big of a move outside of the comfort zone, but it gave me the courage to make the next big decision. And that next decision gave me the the courage to make the next. And once I made a few of those decisions, taking control of my life became sort of addictive. So now here I am, living a life I used to joke about eight years ago, because it seemed so improbable. I used to tell my coworkers at Exxon that I was going to work five years, then quit to have kids and drive around and paint in the mountains. I wasn't really serious at the time (I had never painted a landscape, for starters), but I made it, didn't I?

That's not to say that I don't still embrace my inner security freak, and that it doesn't work for me sometimes. I didn't move back to Colorado until I had a job lined up. I didn't quit engineering until I knew I could make money with my art. We didn't do the self-employed thing until we had a certain amount of reserve in the bank to carry us through the hard times. I didn't move to the mountains until Nate had already built three houses up here. And I still have my moments where I look at the daily news and wonder if we're completely crazy for trying to make it this way in this type of economy.

But I know that being uncomfortable is one of the best ways to get where I want to be, so I'm committing myself to leaving the comfort zone every once in a while, in my life, and in my art.

So, what would make you happy? Would getting there be uncomfortable? Is it worth it?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Y'all Know How I Love Goals!!

"Trinchera Morning"
Oil on Panel

I freaking love New Year’s! Not the whole New Year’s Eve party thing (I’d rather be asleep at midnight, honestly), but the whole idea that it’s a new YEAR, with a fresh, clean slate, and oodles of potential!

There’s something totally appealing to me about the idea of packaging my life into neat one-year long increments, and measuring my progress against time. I think it must be the analytical engineering side of me, ignoring the fact that sometime life is messy and that the most important things in life aren’t measurable.

So this year, I’m going to do my “resolutions” in two different ways. To satisfy the numbers-driven engineer in me, I’m going to set some goals for the year like I always do. These are things that I can measure and status and use to make me feel like I’m making progress. To satisfy the sensitive artist in me, I’m going to follow the suggestion of Christine Kane and choose a word to live by in 2009 (inspired by Lisa Call’s successful year in 2008).

So, I’ll start with the goals. Last year I made a commitment to status these here on the blog once per month throughout the year. It kept me on track but felt like overkill after a while, so this year I’m going to commit to reporting my status quarterly. Anyhow, in 2009 I would like to:

1. Get comfortable with working larger.

I really want to get to a point where larger paintings are a more important part of my studio output. At this point, I haven’t worked larger than 30x40”, but I really enjoyed the process of doing some larger paintings this summer. In 2009, I’d like to concentrate on getting more comfortable on a larger scale, and brushing up on all of the skills necessary to successfully complete a large painting from a small study. I’d like to complete at least 10 30x40” paintings, 2 36x48” paintings, and 1-2 40x60” paintings.

2. Find one out of state gallery to show my work.

This is pretty self-explanatory. I’m extremely grateful to be working with four galleries in Colorado right now, but that’s pretty much the upper limit of what I’m comfortable with in the state. Right now all of my galleries are in resort towns and sell mostly to tourist and second-home clientele, so I don’t feel as though they are competing with each other, but I don’t think I can do much more in Colorado without my galleries encroaching on each other. So, I need to expand my representation out of state. Specifically, I’d like to be able to place my work in one of the larger western art markets – Santa Fe, Jackson Hole, Scottsdale…

3. 10 commissions/studio sales.

I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am to have such great galleries representing my work, and pretty much every decision I make in this business begs the question, “Will this affect my gallery relationships?” As such, I don’t sell much from my studio (I’m not a natural salesperson), but I’ve realized this year that I really love the interaction that comes from working one-on-one with a loyal client, and that sometimes I miss out on that relationship when I’m depending 100% on my galleries to sell my work. So this year I’d like to increase my commission business, just to increase the amount that I get to work with collectors. I rarely do commissions through my galleries, so I think this is a way to increase studio business without stepping on toes, and simultaneously make my art business more people-oriented.

4. Increase my yearly profit 25% over 2008.

Self-explanatory. I have a dollar amount that I would like to reach this year which would be about 25% more than what I made in 2008. Ambitious, but achievable.

5. Branding - update website and associated materials.

I’d like to do a better job at branding my business this year. That’s going to entail an update of my website template/design by someone more qualified at design than me. I love using FineArtStudioOnline for my site, and intend to maintain my site through FASO, but I need to figure out a way to give it a facelift and some individuality (I can find tens of other artists using the same template as me) while maintaining the functionality that I love. Once this is done, I need to get business cards, letterhead, and notecards that match my site design.

6. Get/stay active!!

I don’t think I’m going to make any big fitness related goals this year. I live in the mountains now, and I just want to maintain enough of an active lifestyle that I get to be outdoors on a regular basis, and that I’m in shape enough to be enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, etc. without my fitness limiting me. So I’ll aim to workout a few times a week, but it’s nothing competitive.

So, those are my goals for 2009. Just enough to keep the engineer in me on track and happy!

For the side of me that knows that life is often more nebulous than all of my plans would have me believe, I’m choosing a word to live by in 2009, and that word is “open”. I thought long and hard about what I want this year to be about, and what I think has held me back in the past, and I came to the conclusion that I don’t want to be reserved in 2009 - I want to be open.

I want to be open to new experiences, new adventures, and big changes. I want to be open to God’s guidance in my life. And I want to be open to people and relationships. I want new people I meet to see me for who I am – present myself openly, rather than holding back like I so often do.

So, there it is – 2009 holds a lot of hope and possibility, and I plan to make it a good one!!