Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Variations: Nothing Is New

In college, one of my instructors told us students that there was nothing new under the sun. We were reinventing things because we didn’t know that they existed. A critical look at a lot of the devices of war that Leonardo designed were not new devices rather larger versions of something that was already in use. . The Egyptians knew how to do electroplating and the ancient Greeks knew about the atom.

In the world of a friend, who is an engineer, he calls it tinkering and adjusting. In my world as a painter I call it making variations on a theme. Sometimes it is just a few variations, sometimes there are no variations, and sometimes it becomes an obsession, but then I do have an obsession disorder (OCD). For some unknown reason, there are certain images, compositions, subjects, or whatever that catch my attention and I keep returning to it over and over again.

The last few days I did a couple of small paintings. They were done alla prima. They were okay but I am still not happy with the finished results. I started going through my image files and art books looking for color variations and made notes on a small sketch that I made of the subject I am working on. The notes kept growing so now I will end up doing 9-12 variations.

When I work on variations like this I make a master drawing. Redrawing something once or twice is okay but 12+ times, I don’t think so. The master is just a very simple contour drawing that I draw over the lines using a sharpie marker. With this I can lay the master on my light box and trace out the drawing as often as I want with little effort. When I do this I usually prepare at least 6 sheets just to make it worth the effort. Set up and prep work usually takes more time than the actual painting.

Right now I need this extra time. I am busy outside working on the house. Yesterday I started rebuilding a retaining wall and will hopefully finish today. My hands are stiff from working with a wrecking bar, sledgehammer, shovel, and wheeling endless loads of soil with my old wheelbarrow.

This piece is a continuing variations theme that I have been work on over the years. When I get stuck creatively or my brain is just too tired to work I go back to a variation. It is like visiting with an old friend. This piece has the wonderfully creative title of 2 Barns Series. It is oil on paper. It measures 13” X 20”. This particular variation was completed in March 2006.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rejection: Part 2

Yesterday I drove to the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) to pick up the 2 paintings that I had rejected from a juried competition. Fred, who is one of the main volunteers for this competition, was there behind the check-in desk. He sat there shaking his head saying, “I don’t get it.” Fred liked the 2 paintings and so did anyone else who saw them, with one exception, the judge. Fred and I visited for a bit and discussed juried competitions. Fred also had both of the pieces that he entered rejected. Fred does these beautiful wooden bowls that are turned on a lathe and the top rim has the natural edge of the wood. He also does printmaking. They are simple and stunning.

As I’ve always known, competitions are a crapshoot. Who knows, maybe that day the judge only wanted pieces with analogous colors, or works done on paper, or whatever mood he might have been in that day. The day was beautiful and sunny so I enjoyed the drive. I forgot my camera so I wasn’t able to get a couple of reference shots of a barn for my image file. Once I got home, I photographed the paintings and made the necessary color corrections. Tomorrow I will email the jpegs to 3 galleries that handle my work

Early afternoon I worked on making modifications to the display panels I’ve previously built for doing art fairs. I need to make 4 more half-width panels to help add stability to the display when everything is set up. I’m becoming as bad as an engineer friend of mine with my tinkering and fine-tuning. I spent the rest of the day preparing paper and some small panels for new work, mostly studies. After laying out the drawings for 4 more pieces I started work on a small (10” X 12.5”) color study using oil and oil pastels and ended up finishing it.

Today I’ll glue some small paintings on paper down to panels and get them ready to frame (I sealed the panels yesterday). I’ve got 5 of those then I’ll work on the next color study. Maybe it’ll be another alla prima day. I’ve also posted another close-up of another molding I started making. It’s so easy it’s almost sinful. I took a piece of glass beading (this is trim that is used to hold glass window panes into the window frame) put some glue on it and tacked it down with my brad gun. Cut the miters, glue it and paint it. Done!

The 2 paintings are both oil on panel. The hilly landscape that is viewed from above looking down is from my Emmaus Road Series. It measures 24” X 48”. Playing off influence from Wolf Kahn, the other is titled Red Glow (for obvious reasons) and measures 30” X 48”. Both paintings were done this year.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More Framing Stuff

As well as making my own frames, I also make my own molding. It is a little more time consuming but it saves a lot of money. I have also found out that no matter how I frame a piece, half of the time I am asked how much the painting is without the frame. Since I am now making standard size panels, it is easier for me to pull a frame off and be able to reuse it.

I like frames that have a clean and simple look. There was a particular molding that was made back in the 1960’s, that I liked a lot, but I just can’t find it anymore. I also like frames that give a floating look to the painting. Floater styles frames are making a comeback but they are still too expense for my taste. I priced one out from a molding catalogue the other day. For an 18 X 24 frame it would’ve cost about $36.00 plus shipping. Making it myself, the wood costs me $4.50. Adding the glue, nails and paint brings it up to about $6.50 plus my time.

For this frame I used a piece of 1” X 2” clear pine. I then cut the rabbet out; you can see this in the small sample piece that is with the primed frame. To set up my table saw and do this takes me about 15 minutes. Usually I’ll run about 6 lengths at once, just to save time. The most time is spent in the set-up. Next I’ll cut the rails to size. I have a chop saw for this. That being done I glue up the corners and let them sit in my framer’s vices until dry. If the frame is going to be painted I’ll use a brad nailer on the corners. If the frame is going to have a natural finish, I use a bottom pinner. Next I’ll sand the assembled frame and then either give it an oil finish or prime it for painting. I’ll usually give it 2 coats of primer or 3 coats of an oil finish.

After I let the primer dry overnight I’ll spray paint the top with a metallic gold paint, using 2-3 coats, and let that dry overnight. I’ll then use a delicate surface painters tape and mask off the gold and burnish it down. I will then spray the inside rabbet and sides of the frame with a satin finish black paint using 3 light coats letting it dry in between so that I don’t get any running. When it’s dry, I’ll drop the painting in and secure it from the back.

After that it’s just a matter of putting on the hanging wire and bumpers. The painting has my initials on the front. On the back, with a sharpie marker, I write the title, below that I add the copyright symbol and print my name and the date, and below that I use my signature. I also take some double stick tape and affix my business card to the back. If the piece is matted and has glass I will also put a dust seal on the back. For oils on panel, I just leave it.

This painting is oil on a hardwood panel that has been cradled. It measures 14” X 11” and I just finished it last week. It has the highly creative title (I hate naming paintings) of Pear With Sienna Background.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Unrealistic Expectations: The Nude Figure

I have always enjoyed drawing the human figure. I really cannot think of a more beautifal subject. It is such a shame that our society and culture put such unrealistic demands 0n what the ideal body should look like, especially when it comes to women. I have 2 daughters. They are both wonderful, intelligent, creative young women. Over the years they have both sufered from having bad self images of their bodies. As a father, they do not believe me when I tell them that there is no such thing as a perfect (or ideal) body.

Bodies, there are only 2 basic models, male and female. The rest is all a variation on a theme. I come from an Eastern European heritage. I will never be the tall, lean person I used to want to be. I am built like a peasant, a tree stump, or a fire plug, take your pick. My body was made for physical labor and I have good physical strength.

If I had it to do over, I would raise my children as nudists. Nudists have very few problems with body self image. They can see,literally, and they know that everyone is different, not better, just different. They are also a lot more mellow and a lot friendlier than other people. It is rather hard to be pretentious when you are standing there naked and don't have the outward trappings, such as expensive clothes, to show others how successful or wonderful you are, you only have yourself.

So, how do I know this? Well, I am a nudist. A lifetime ago, when my wife and I were young and living in California, we used to go to nude beaches. The freedom felt wonderful and there is no greater joy than skinny dipping. Well, maybe there are greater joys but you know what I mean. Regretfully, here in Michigan, with all of its coastlines on these beautiful Great Lakes, there are no nude beaches. How sad, how disappointing. But we discovered nudist resorts. There are some very beautiful nudist resorts in this country. Nude recreation is one of the fastest growing industries in this country. The people who go to them tend to be better educated and have a much more tolerant view of life and others.

This last October, my wife and I were at a nudist resort in Kissimmee, FL, just outside of Orlando. We were there because they had an art fair. This was the second year that the Cypress Cove Resort had this event. It is not to often, as an artist, that I can find a venue to exhibit my paintings of nudes. The people who came to the fair were not just nudists, there were also textiles (a nudist term for non-nudists). The resort opened their gates to the general public. The artists got a larger group of viewers and the resort got a chance to market themselves to people that might never have thought of visiting a nudist resort. It also gave the public a chance to see that as nudists, we are just like them. We have the same interests and concerns only we do it without clothing. And believe me, when it is hot and humid this is a real benefit. Our youngest daughter (she is 22) came with us on this trip and was surprised to find that she was not self-conscious and how much she enjoyed herself.

This summer, I will be doing another art fair at a nudist resort. This time it is here in Michigan at the Turtle Lake Resort in Union City, MI. I am looking forward to it. I will have a chance to educate people about why it is important to have art in their life and why the nude human form is not obscene. We can do things with the body that are obscene but nudity itself is a reflection of the creator. As Oscar Wilde said, if God had wanted me to be nude, I would've been born that way!

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Last week I submitted work to different regional competions. This week I receved the notification cards back. Rejected! I submitted 2 paintings to each of the regionals and all were rejected. These are both regionals that I have been in the last 2 years. My wife is taking this very personally. Maybe because she chose the paintings that were submitted.

For me it is more like, yeah, well so, when can I pick up my stuff? I know that jurors will select work based on their own likes and dislikes and not necessarily the quality of the work. Maybe I don't especially care because I have a lot going on right now and I am enjoying life. When I was a young man it was far more difficult. In order to help ease the pain of rejection I would, along with my artist friends, staple the rejection notices up on the studio wall and then proceed to drink way too much beer. The collection of notices became like an icon on the wall. Stack some empty beer cans on the floor and before you knew it, I had an altar to the arts gods.

So, Ive got some frames to finish making and about 6 paintings that I am working on. The weather is getting nice and I'm getting work done on the outside of the house. We are targeting mid-July to get our house on the market. I spend more and more time, in my head, dreaming about our move to the SW.

Both of these pieces are done on Strathmore paper using a combination of Caran D'Ache Neo-Pastel II artist crayons and oil pastels. They are matted with a single white mat, the glazing is plexi and the frames are made by me. They are a simple profile with a natural finish. The wood is poplar.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Busy Week

This has been a very busy week for me. I have been busy getting pieces ready to drop off for competitions and exhibit. I started the week by going to my local lumber yard and buying lengths of 1" X 2" poplar. I then proceed to cut them into frame moulding. After that I cut the rails to size and assembled them. Next comes sanding and then putting on the finish. It's a lot of work but saves a substantial amount of money. If I were to buy the least expense frame I could, usually a metal frame, I would've spent about $25.00 per frame. Making it myself, from scratch, it costs me about $6.00 per frame. And right now, I have more time than money. I then went on to mount the pieces, cut the mats and glazing, and put the whole thing together. I framed 6 pieces total.

Last night I dropped 4 of them off to a new gallery. I don't know how well it will go but it's worth a try. I also dropped 2 pieces off at the Muskegon Museum of Art for their annual Regional Competition. I've been in the show the last 2 years. Very little sells there but the show has prestige in this area. I also picked up a painting that I had there that was part of an invitational.

Today, I drive into Grand Rapids, MI, about 22 miles East of here, and drop off 2 pieces for the annual competition called Celebration. I have also been in this show the last 2 years. Much more work sells out of this show. Plus the show get good coverage from the local press and a lot of people come to view the exhibit. After that I can take it easy.

I have also been busy building and preparing my panels. Even though I make my own frames I am making the panels standard frame sizes, in case I need to buy a store bought frame. I have also been preparing paper for doing more oil pastels. It's just nice to put the brushes down and do my version of coloring. The image area is being sized so when I mat them, they will fit into a standard size frame. Or more importantly, use standard size materials and help me to reduce waste which reduces my costs. Then I will take a break and do some work on the house, now that our weather is getting nice and I can work outside without getting frostbite.