For the Love of Art

October 1st, 2016

In the past several weeks I’ve been exploring the question of “success.”  What do I really want?  What is my ultimate purpose?  I’ve repeatedly been advised to discover my own definition of success rather than accepting the assumption that it’s the same as other artists’.  I was surprised, as I dug deeper, to realize that my definition of success includes a sense of joy and satisfaction that has little to do with sales or financial gain.

Certainly sales and income are both inducements to continue and a means to support my pursuit of painting.  But I find greater joy and satisfaction in teaching, mentoring, and sharing my love of art and understanding of artistic principles with others who want to learn.

I enjoy teaching others painting skills and artistic appreciation.  Totally aside from my own drive to continually improve, the act of teaching motivates me to continue striving to hone my skills and to achieve greater understanding of artistic principles.

This blog and my monthly newsletter also provide outreach arms to those of you with whom I may have no other personal contact.  They also remind me to work regularly enough to identify and develop topics of potential interest to my readers.  (Though if any of you would like to suggest a topic, I’m open to that, as well.)

Teaching in-person classes helps me to establish clear goals not only for student learning but also for my own studies, since it requires that I stay well ahead of most of my students and at the very least remain on a conversant par with the most advanced of them.  By providing deadlines of scheduled class meeting times during “high season” in our largely seasonal community, teaching also ensures that I work consistently without slacking off, even when I may be tempted to postpone studio work to socialize in other ways.  Despite spending so much time in my studio, by teaching I also have the opportunity to get to know artistically inclined neighbors, both old and new, with whom I might not otherwise have crossed paths.

So, to me, success means finding joy and satisfaction in teaching, mentoring, and encouraging other artists while continuing to improve my own skills.  Pricing of both my classes and my artwork is more to establish a sense of value and respect for myself and my art than to earn an income.

Do you find this surprising?  Fair or not, the value of both art and services are usually perceived by the general public on a financial basis.  Students who do not need to pay for classes tend to attend class irregularly, granting higher priority to other interests and momentary whims, whereas those who have paid for classes are more inclined to attend regularly, apply themselves more assiduously, and express greater respect and attention to the instructor and the course content.

Similarly, artwork that is given or sold at unrealistically low prices garners less respect or appreciation than work that has been priced to reflect the artist’s skill level in comparison to that of other artists of similar experience or achievement.  So sales both help to cover incurred expenses and provide positive assurance to others of the intrinsic value of my artwork, while helping to establish my credentials for potential students.

Of course I like to be paid for my work.  Who wouldn’t welcome this kind of positive feedback and encouragement?  Sales that support my work are lovely, but they are only a secondary goal.  My sense of real success is much more closely related to my pleasure in helping others find satisfaction in their own art, as I have found satisfaction in mine.

Inventory Issues

September 15th, 2016

Last month I needed to replace my computer.  You know what that involves:  not only relearning the upgraded operating system and all its “wonderful” new whistles and bells and figuring out how to find and reconfigure everything to suit my taste, but either moving or replacing all those important programs (oh excuse me; they’re called “apps” now!) that we rely on so much for all our everyday tasks.  Oh yes, and migrating all our indispensable files to the new machine.  If we’re lucky it takes only a few days out of our lives to make the transition.  If things don’t go so smoothly, … well, we won’t go there.

One of the important programs I needed to migrate over was my art inventory.  No, I don’t keep it on a spreadsheet, though I’m beginning to see the advantage of using one.  Instead, I’m using an old program called Art Tracker, for which I never had adequate documentation and for which support is no longer available.  It’s okay for basic inventory, and over the past six years I’ve learned to use it sufficiently if not entirely efficiently.

The immediate problem the transition raised was that the art images are not embedded but are linked to their location elsewhere on the computer.  And when the pathways to those locations change, the links get broken.  Needless to say, changing computers changed the pathways.  So I’ve had to relink images for my entire art inventory (many, many years’ worth), one by one.  Despite having my images well organized, reestablishing the linkage has taken hours to complete.

I’m now convinced that I need to upgrade my inventory software before changing computers again.  But what can I upgrade it to?

I’m not comfortable with working in a spreadsheet format, and am not sure how to develop one specifically for my art inventory needs, but I may eventually resort to that as an alternative.  Of the dedicated inventory programs I researched, none seems to offer the features I want for what I’m willing to pay.  (Sure, freeware would be nice, but I can’t realistically expect that.)  There are some cloud and on-line possibilities, but I’d prefer to have the program directly on my computer so I can access it and make quick changes or additions without having to depend on Internet access.  And it needs to be geared specifically for an artist’s inventory to include images and applicable information in an easy-to-use-and-search format.

If you know of such a program, please let me know!  Also, please indicate whether you have actually used it, and what you consider its pros and cons.  I would appreciate any suggestions.

Why do I paint?

September 1st, 2016

The subject of this blog is the simple and basic question, “Why do I paint at all?”

From an academic standpoint, sometimes the reason I paint is as simple as satisfying my own drive to address a challenging subject in a way that will effectively express my feelings about it.   Other times, I may repeat a subject to explore it from different perspectives, in different seasons or lighting conditions, or in different mediums.  I may work alongside other artists, either in person or online, to compare our approaches to the same general subject matter.  Sometimes it’s to play and experiment with new materials, a different technique, or to push myself to the next level.  And sometimes it’s to create an illustration for the purpose of teaching others.

In Class - quick sketch (#160103-w)

In Class – quick sketch (#160103-w)

After all, why do we undertake the study of any special interest?  Primarily because it does interest us and fulfills our desire to continue learning, testing and improving our understanding and skills, whether it’s painting, music, mathematics, or a sport.  Because simply doing it brings us satisfaction even as we strive for an ever-elusive “next level” of competence.

So why do I paint?  Because I want to!  It’s fun.  It gives me pleasure and satisfaction.  And it makes me observe my environment more closely than I ever did before.

Subject Selection

August 15th, 2016

The question for today’s blog poses an even more challenging exploration than the question of medium, discussed in my previous entry.

Why do I select the subject matter I do?   And how does that relate to who I am?  The truth is that I am drawn to such a wide variety of subject matter that it’s difficult to find the commonalities that will help me answer that question.

My personality is such that I like people to get to the point.  So I try to get to the point, myself.  And it holds true for painting, too, which is probably why my work tends to retain a certain degree of realism, concentrating on the focal area and merely suggesting, to varying degrees, the supporting information.  Fun and innovation are fine, but I try to be as considerate of my viewers as I want others to be of me, incorporating fun that my viewers can relate to and enjoy along with me.

What interests me in a subject?  I’m drawn to subjects that allude to universality more than specifics and that trigger the viewer’s imagination.  I like to use landscapes that, though usually of real places from my own life experience, may suggest similar locales from the viewer’s personal or vicarious experiences—allowing an armchair traveler, for instance, to liken it to something he or she has read about, even if not having experienced something similar in person.

Winter Point (#160711-o)

Winter Point (#160711-o)

I like to depict a sense of timelessness or indications of passing time more than modernity.  Graceful, organic lines appeal to me more than architectural angularity.

When considering light, I look for translucence, side-lit and back-lit subjects, or a glow of color that enlivens an otherwise unexceptional subject.   And I like the “language” and added dimensionality of reflections.

Gulf Beach (#150206-w)

Gulf Beach (#150206-w)

When my subjects are people or animals, I look for the gesture—a sense of action or dynamic tension that suggests the figure’s unique identity, what the subject is doing, or something about the subject’s character or personality.  In faces, I look for something interesting or characteristic in proportions, features, or expression that will help to define the subject for the viewer—more than the eye alone might normally notice.

Bailey (#081201-w)

Bailey (#081201-w)

To me, these things are beautiful and worth drawing attention to, and I want to express their value for my viewers’ consideration and appreciation.

Happy Mediums

August 1st, 2016

In order to maintain consistency and quality, I must continually review and evaluate not only my work but my motivation for painting.  I’m going to be raising some questions through the next few blogs to help me think through what I am doing and why I make the choices I do.  The questions I’ll be exploring in today’s blog are “What do I love about the mediums I choose?” and “How do I select which one to use for a project?”

As you may have guessed already, my two favorite mediums are watercolor and oils.  These paints have extremely different characteristics and methods for application, so what is it that draws me to each?

What do I love about watercolor?  As I’ve written previously, I love the flow and spontaneity of watercolor, the challenge of permitting it to “do its thing” while controlling its parameters.  I enjoy its transparency and the ease of taking it with me when I travel.  It is a wonderful medium for allowing the underlying paper to reflect the brilliance of sunshine and other light passages.  Darks become a counterpoint to those light passages for the sake of contrast, and even they can exhibit transparent, colorful undertones.

Dawn of a New Day (#160704w)

Dawn of a New Day (#160704w)

So what about oils, which behave so very differently?  In fact, it is those very differences from watercolor that draw me to oils.  What I like most is the control they allow me to maintain over the colors as I mix them on the palette.  There is much less guesswork in achieving and maintaining desired values, and in creating the desired blends of hues for repeated use throughout the composition than there is with watercolor.  Oils tend to stay put when I position them on the canvas, rather than running wildly when they contact an adjacent wet passage.   This is still a comparatively new medium for me, so much of my current work is experimental and investigative to develop my skills and to understand its use more thoroughly.

Morning Calm (#160705o)

Morning Calm (#160705o)

Why do I choose one medium or another for a specific project?  My selection of watercolor or oils for any specific painting depends not only on the subject matter and on what I want to do with it but on my purpose for the painting.  My mood at that time also plays a role in my selection, as well as my momentary sense of play or desire for control over my work.  Sometimes I approach the same subject in both watercolor and oils, as I did in the paintings above, to explore possibilities, to compare the outcome, or as a challenge to myself to overcome perceived difficulties or expectations.

Because watercolor begins with light tones and oils begin with darks, using both mediums forces me to think through how the composition could be constructed most effectively, where and how the basic design structure can be strengthened and how the desired effects might be enhanced.  It requires thorough preplanning, which ultimately ensures better overall work in either medium.