Thursday, June 29, 2006

Professional Affiliations

My friend, Jan, a plein aire painter, has recently emailed me that she is applying to grad school. Jan and I have often discussed the value of getting an MFA degree. When I had just completed my BFA I had a chance to go right into grad school. Maybe I was just tired of being in school or I didn’t want to take on any more debt. I was also pretty anxious to go out and set up my own studio and to get on with life. As I look back at my decision I have mixed feelings about it.

I have always believed in education just for the sake of learning. Over the years I have kept reading art history, staying current with a lot of art magazines and essays, and read about and practiced new materials and techniques. I had always reasoned that I didn’t need to enroll in grad school to do this. The only benefit, I saw at the time, was that if I wanted to teach, at least on a college level, that the MFA was mandatory. However, just having the MFA was no guarantee of getting a teaching position. I know too many people with MFA’s that work in art supply stores.

As much as I love art, teaching, and showing others how to do what I do it would not have been a good fit. I do not have the temperament to fit into the academic bureaucracy. My OCD makes me a very direct, intense, and concrete person who is way too outspoken. These same qualities (or lack of) would also make me a bad fit for enrolling in a grad program. I have told Jan that if I ever do teach it will be doing volunteer work for schools that don’t have art programs or having classes in my studio. Just recently I did a once-a-week class for a group of people with mental illnesses. They were a wonderful group and I enjoyed myself. I had to stop doing it because I needed the time to work on my house.

So, for now I prefer professional affiliations. I have just become a member of the Oil Pastel Society, in the professional category. In the future I also hope to apply to the Pastel Society of America when finances permit. Once we relocate to New Mexico, I will start to look around to get involved with regional affiliations. To teach privately this will do more for me than an MFA and give me contact with other artists who share similar interests and background.

These 2 pieces were among the paintings I sent to the jury committee of the Oil Pastel Society for entry. The nude is titled “Hands Behind Neck” and measures 27.5” X 19.5”, the landscape is titled “Row Of Pines” and measures 19.5” X 27.5”. Both pieces were done on Strathmore paper, sealed and primed with gesso with powdered pumice added and completed in 2005.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Rework and Recycle

This has been an extremely busy week. There has been little time for painting. Getting our house ready to sell seems to be consuming all of my time and energy. The hope is that it will all pay off. Here in Michigan that is all very iffy. The economy here really sucks. Even as the rest of the country shows some improvement, Michigan still lags behind. A friend of mine just sold her home. It was a very nice Arts and Crafts style house. It took her 6 months to sell it and that is considered good for this area. We are told to plan on having our house on the market for about 18 months at a minimum.

So, I’ve been taking care of all these little projects that I’ve been putting off for awhile. My wife also has a Moving Sale planned for Thursday through Saturday. This sale will be a weekly thing until…whenever. I will be so glad when everything is done and we can just pack what’s left and get on with the next (and probably last) phase of our lives.

All of this means that I’ve got to go through my studio and clean it out. Easier said than done. One of the negative aspects of my OCD is that I am somewhat of a pack rat. If it weren’t for things like moving I might just accumulate things until there was no room left. So I am going through old paintings to see what is worth saving. If I don’t like the image at least the materials, like the support, might be worth saving. When I was in college we were taught to be scrounges. Materials were expensive and our budgets were very limited. That idea (ideal?) has always stayed with me.

So, I found a painting that I wasn’t really thrilled with. There were certain parts that were okay and there were certain parts that I just didn’t care for. I cropped it down and started to repaint it. The final result has more of the feeling of my pastels and that is what I was after. With the oil pastels there is much more of a drawing quality that I like. So much of that gets lost when I translate it into oils.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Another Competition

After having my paintings rejected from the last two juried competitions I entered another one. Like most artists I am just a glutton for punishment. A lot of people see me as being a skeptic or being cynical. This is true, to an extent. The fact that I keep entering competitions after being rejected must say that there is a certain amout of hope in me. The fact that I keep painting after 30 + years of little or no success must also say that I have a sense of hope. Either that or I am a complete idiot. Hmmmm, decisions, decisions, decisions.

Well, this competition was just for landscapes. Most of my paintings are landscapes so this seemed like a good fit. It was also juried by a group so this gave me better odds of having my paintings accepted. This show should give me some pretty good exposure. The exhibit will be shown online and will stay up for one full year. According to this organization, they get about 650,000 hits a month. If that is only half true it is still pretty good. Hopefully a sale or two will come from this.

Both of these paintings are oil on a hardwood panel. They each measure 18" X 24" and have a simple black and gold frame. They were both completed in May, 2006.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Plein Aire Painter

My friend, Jan, is also an artist. We both primarily paint the landscape. I work in my studio and she is primarily a plein aire painter. Over coffee, we have discussed the positives and negatives of both methods.

Jan has talked about how wonderful it is to be potdoors on a beautiful day. To feel the sun on your face and enjoy the gentle breezes. Then, she tells me, there are all the wonderful and subtle sounds. The rustling of the leaves and the sounds of the songbirds. There are also the sweet fragrances of all the plantlife. Jan tells me that the world of the plein aire painter is a world of sensual delight. I agree with her completely.

I know this because just about everyday my wife and I take our four dogs out for a walk. We usualy head over to a state wildlife preserve and go hiking along the trails. Throughout the course of the year we experience this area constantly changing with the seasons. Earlier this Spring we counted 12 swans out on the lakes and ponds. Along the trails, away fom the waters edge, the turtles are coming ashore to dig holes and lay their eggs. The Canadian Geese are leading their young from the nests into the water to instruct them in what it is that they do. And for me it is always a pleasure to see red shouldered black birds. I've told Jan that I really do love the quiet and solitude of these places. Because I go out to them most everyday and then return home to our secluded and wooded acerage, I don't have much need to go out there as an artist.

I do like this area as an inspiration for paintings. In fact, I frequently take my digital camera or sketchbook with me. Because of my painting style, a few quick sketches and field notes are usually all that I need. Besides, lugging 20-30 pounds of painting gear, plus whatever food and drink I may want for the day, over hill and dale is not my idea of fun. Now mind you, I love to go camping. My wife and I spent our honeymoon camping in Yosemite National Park. But a day trip for painting is different.

I remember reading that the French artist, Edgar Degas, used to make fun of those early impressionist artists and their treks out to paint plein aire. While I don't make fun of outdoor painters, like Degas, I enjoy the comforts of my studio. I always have what I need when I need it. If the weather suddenly changes I never have to worry about it. When I want to stop for lunch the kitchen is only a few yards away and there is always coffee available. No, my idea of plein aire painting is to set up one of my easels out back under the shade of a tree and paint there. It is so much more convenient. And it is so much easier to take a break, stretch out on the hammock, and take a nap on a warm Summer day.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Another Framing Method

I was reading another blog the other day and a discussion was going on concerning marketing. Well, I’m sure that everyone has different views on marketing but that is for another time. This discussion did get me thinking about the business side of art. I know artist that think the business end is selling your soul, that art needs to stay about base things such as that. Well, maybe I’m a little too old and a little too tired to think that way. When I was right out of college, I could work at a job all day, come home and paint for hours, and maybe even have time to go out and socialize and party.

After working various jobs for the income, raising 2 daughters, building additions on 2 houses, 26 years of marriage, and still painting, I just don’t have the energy. The idea of doing what I like, painting, and doing the kinds of paintings that I like in a style that I enjoy, and getting paid for it and actually earning a decent living from it sounds mighty good to me. My wife likes the idea, too.

Every Friday morning I meet a friend at McDonald’s for breakfast. He is an engineer by education and temperament and a businessman and entrepreneur by necessity. By that I mean he has a Master’s degree, lots of skills and experience, and in the last 2 years has sent out 350 resumes and still cannot locate a job. A big part of the problem is he has a master’s degree, lots of experience, but he’s over 50! So we discuss ways to take over the world (if you’ve ever seen the cartoon Pinky and the Brain you’d know what I mean).

He has taught me a lot about business in the last few years. You’re not in business to make money but to make a profit being one of the more important things. Profit is not a dirty word or a terrible thing unless you stop being fair, ethical, and honest. So, if I can get my materials at a lower price and still sell my paintings at the same price then tah-dah, I’ve made a better profit! This is a big reason why I not only do my own framing but also make my own frames. It also doesn’t hurt that I get what I want when I want it.

So, this framing method was pretty simple. The painting is an oil pastel that was done on prepared paper. Because it is fairly small, 10” X 12.5”, and the colors are strong and dark in areas; I wanted a border of white around it. One solution would be to frame the piece with a mat and acid free backing and put it in a frame with acrylic glazing. I went with Plan B. Using an archival adhesive, I mounted the painting to a piece of hardwood plywood that had been sealed, trimmed it to size and painted the edges black. I then took a piece of hardboard panel and primed it both front and back (this equalizes the tension on both sides and helps to prevent any warping). I used 3 coats of primer on the front then sanded it lightly using 100 grit sandpaper. I then applied 3 coats of the finish paint using a foam roller to give the surface a very subtle texture. The outer frame is made from scrap that I had from another project. The painting panel was then mounted to the larger backing panel using adhesive silicon caulking. This holds the art firmly in place but it can easily be removed at a later date if so desired. I get a similar result to matting the piece but it cost me less to make so I have a higher profit. Plus there is no glazing between the viewer and the art.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Fat Over Lean?

There are different ways that different artists begin their paintings. A classic method is to stain the entire surface using the main color of your under painting. The next step is to do the entire painting as a tonal study using your only color of choice, white, and black. At this point the paint still stays fairly lean. The under painting shows the artists that there is a balance of darks and lights and that the composition does work. The next phase is where the color starts to develop. The colors are glazed over the under painting, layer after layer, adding color and richness. To glaze the paint is mixed with a painting medium that makes it “fatter” than the previous layers. The final touches are put on with the thickest and most opaque layer of paint. The classic fat over lean.

I don’t do this. I start one of two ways. I will either stain the entire surface a single color; I usually use dioxine purple or mars violet. I like them as colors and they have a high degree of being able to stain the surface using a little bit of paint. It’s all going to be covered by the time I finish so the color is not that important except I think they are fun colors. Then I will do a charcoal drawing or sketch or maybe draw with a brush and thinned paint.

My other starting method is to do a contour drawing on the white prepared surface using charcoal since graphite can leech through to the surface. Then I will fix the drawing. After that I will block in the painting with color. I usually use discord colors but not always. The paint in this layer is thinned with turpentine to speed the drying time. This is the lean phase. After that dries, I jump right in! I go right to the fat layers. Sometimes I will thin the paint with a painting medium so that it will flow better. Other times I will squeeze it out of the tube directly on to my brush or the painting surface. I do most of my color mixing directly on the painting rather than on a palette. At times I also incorporate oil sticks.

I also use this approach with my oil pastels. With the oil pastels I will do a lot of cross-hatching. At times I will blend the colors using my fingers. Other times I will use a brush dipped in painting medium. The oil pastels I use are a high grade and are completely intermixable with oil paint. They can also be dipped directly into the medium before using them. It just makes them melt right into the surface. It is because of both soft and oil pastels that I got into the habit of mixing color directly on the surface of the painting.

When I think that I’m done or I’m sure that I’m mostly completely done, I set it aside to dry. I usually set it somewhere I can see it. I will look at it but not really think about it. This is a time for non-verbal thought, waiting to see if the painting tells me that it is done. Sometimes I will add a few final touches other times I just leave it because it is done. I will use a retouch varnish, on the oils, at this time to protect the surface. I will sometimes use Kamar varnish because it acts like retouch varnish and will permit the painting to completely dry before doing the final varnish. For the oil pastels I give it a coat of the Kamar varnish both for protection and because it gives the colors a wonderful richness.

This painting is titled "Shadow Side". It is an oil pastel done on a sheet of Strathmore paper. The paper has been sealed and gessoed. It measures 10" X 12".