Of Prudence and Preference

December 15th, 2017

In this month that too often turns into Frenetic-Shopping Season, it’s important to trust our own taste and judgment about what to choose.  We can be unconsciously and unduly influenced by the hype of advertising and salespeople, especially when shopping for merchandise with which we may feel insufficiently knowledgeable, such as artwork.

Art is one area in which uninformed buyers can easily be duped into “investing” in works of little intrinsic value or merit.  But how can you protect yourself?

While traveling earlier this month, I was reminded of how easily an uninformed shopper can be misled.  At a so-called “plein-air” gallery, the displayed paintings were, to my eye, obviously painted from photographic reference material rather than ala prima style, en plein air.

What’s the difference, and why does it matter, you may ask.   These are valid questions.  “En plein air” is the French term for painting outdoors, on location.  It involves contending with the natural elements:  heat, cold, humidity, rain, snow, wind, insects and other wildlife, and all their associated discomforts and inconveniences.  It also means that the light is continuously changing as the sun moves and alters the position of shadows.  So plein air work is often done comparatively quickly, without the refinements an artist is more likely to take time for in the studio.  Animals, human figures, and details are more often suggested with quick, minimal, but carefully considered brush strokes than with fine detailing and highly rendered brushwork.  So the overall appearance often tends to be rougher and more “painterly” than studio work.  But the immediacy of the ala-prima (all-in-one-go) approach also imbues it with a sense of liveliness and personality that is difficult to reproduce in the studio.

Whether or not it’s actually worked en plein air makes no difference to its intrinsic value; but some collectors prefer the smaller sizes and spur-of-the-moment quality that typifies plein air work.  If you like the painting, it shouldn’t matter in what manner or under what conditions it was painted, but don’t be misled by an inaccurate representation of the work.

Another gallery I visited sold beautifully executed watercolor images but didn’t openly specify that the merchandise were prints rather than original watercolors.  Typically, prints are priced considerably lower than original watercolors because any number of copies may be made from a single original image, and can be made in a variety of sizes.  This means that the same image may be sold to a number of different buyers for a variety of purposes.  For the artist, the sheer quantity of sales can make up for the lower price of the prints.  But the inks used may not precisely match the original colors and are often subject to more rapid fading than most professional-quality watercolor pigments would be.  And the buyer does not have the exclusivity of owning the original painting, which is what most fine-art collectors prefer.  If you see multiple copies of the same image, or notice it in more than one size, or if the price seems unusually low, you can be pretty sure that you’re looking at prints rather than originals.  And that’s fine if you don’t feel strongly about owning an original.  But you should be aware of the differences before you decide to buy.

Prints of oil paintings, of course, usually lack the impasto texture typical of oils.  Even these, though, may be reproduced on canvas and may be “enhanced” in key areas with an impasto gel to simulate the surface textures and brushwork of the original painting.  Look for inconsistent surface textures and for textures that do not align with the direction of the underlying brushwork, as shown below.  These prints have their place, but if you buy one, let it be a conscious, informed decision rather than a misguided mistake.

Inconsistent surface textures indicating gel enhancement over a print of an oil painting.

Inconsistent surface textures indicating gel enhancement over a print on canvas.

“Limited edition” prints usually show a number, such as 83/250, in a lower corner of the trim edge.  This means that it is print #83 out of a limited print run of only 250 total prints, after which no more would be made (traditionally, the metal plate used would be destroyed).  This designation used to be more important than it is now because it was used to indicate how comparatively crisp the manually pulled print was likely to be when taken from a metal plate.  This plate would wear down a bit with each print taken from it, gradually losing its crispness and clarity.  So the lower the first number, the higher the quality was likely to be.  This is still a valid designation for etchings and some other art forms, such as wood-block prints. But most reproductions of paintings today are not manually pulled from this kind of plate but are more often gicleés (sprayed ink) or other computer-type printouts, which make the size of print runs and the relative position within the run virtually meaningless.

So, especially if you lack confidence when shopping for artwork, whenever you choose art, don’t think in terms of its financial investment value (which is always a high risk, whatever salespeople might try to tell you about the demand for some high-profile artist’s work), but base your selection instead on what moves you and art that you truly like.

If you can, try to learn the motivation and story behind any specific artwork you are interested in purchasing.  Learn about the artist and what influences might be reflected in the work.  These stories will help you connect with it on an even deeper level than what originally drew you to the work, and will enhance your appreciation of it in the future.  It will also provide you additional information to share with people who admire it in your home or place of business.

In short, there’s no need to be afraid to shop for artwork.  It’s available to suit a broad range of tastes and in a wide range of prices.  Let any thought of “investment” be purely in your pleasure in the artwork, not in some “potential” (but unlikely) increase in monetary value.  So find what you like, and what suits your needs.  Whatever your budget and targeted price range, be discerning when it comes to quality to know what you’re getting.  As my grandmother used to say, “Trust your own good judgment.”

I hope you find exactly what you’re looking for, both in this joyous, if somewhat frenetic holiday season, and throughout 2018.

Please feel free to contact me if you’re interested in learning more about any of my work.  My paintings are currently all originals, not prints or gicleés.  I am always happy to divulge the stories behind my work when requested.

Winnowing the Yield

December 1st, 2017

One of the plights an artist faces is what to do with the vast amount of “product” that accumulates in the studio.  If we are skilled and in demand, much of what we create sells promptly and clears the way for further work.  Although I’m not quite at that point yet, I intend to keep working at it.

As we climb the stairway toward greater success, years’ worth of practice, studies, and still-immature work tends to accumulate, gradually encroaching on the working environment, consuming shelf, drawer, wall, floor, and other storage space until there’s scarcely room to move.  So sometimes we need to glance back down that stairwell to see that though what we achieved at each step succeeded in teaching us something to carry us a step further, that we had not yet reached our destination.  Just as I did in this depiction from several years ago of an unusual natural-wood stairwell configuration.

"Spiral Stair" 11"x15" watercolor (#130702w)

“Spiral Stair”
11″x15″ watercolor (#130702w)

Even knowing that my own work has not always lived up to my hopes or expectations, I often find it difficult to discard what amounts to ideas.  (Surely they could be useful to me sometime in the unforeseen future.)  The problem is that the material accumulation of unsuccessful or unfulfilled “ideas” can interfere with my continuing work in the present and even deter fresher ideas from coming to fruition!

So as we approach the end of another year, it’s time for me to winnow out the chaff—those earlier efforts that reaped no rewards beyond experience (a good enough reason in itself to have painted those pieces) to make room for more mature work.  Three stacks soon accumulated:  discards, salvageables, and keepers.

“Salvageables” fell into several categories—those that require only minor work to bring them up to acceptable standards; those from which I would like to make another attempt of the same subject, usually in a different medium (Oh dear, there are those ideas again!); and those from which I can reuse the canvas or framing materials, if nothing more.

The decisions aren’t easy.  (I can be ridiculously sentimental about some of my work.)  But as a professional, why would I want to waste space on pieces of much lower quality than I can currently produce?  I mustn’t!

Certainly, selling it might bring in a bit of immediate revenue, but it wouldn’t help reinforce the brand quality that I want to project.  So some “tough love” has had to come into play.  And some forthright frankness with myself about what lives up to, or at least approaches, my current level … and what simply doesn’t.

The job of culling the crop isn’t finished yet, and may not be before the end of the year … but hey, … I can already see a little open rack space again!

About FACE

November 15th, 2017

Last week I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Figurative Art Convention & Expo (#FACE17) in Miami.  We were a comparatively small group (350 attendees) but enjoyed a stellar faculty that provided a supportive and inspiring learning experience for all the participants.

Both the conferees and faculty share a deep interest in, and commitment toward, encouraging a resurgence of museum-quality representational artwork, not only in the United States but around the world.  We look forward to increasing the opportunities for training artists in classical methods.  Equally important is reintroducing the public to the inherent beauty of such fine art, and to raise the level of awareness and appreciation for the work and training that goes into it.

We also dream of bringing a high level of realism back and a positive outlook into the contemporary world to displace the negativity so often found in non-representative and “modern” art of the Twentieth Century.

IMG_7280---Daniel-Gerhartz-

Daniel Gerhartz demonstrates and discusses his approach to portraiture.

From the time I rose before 6 o’clock each morning until I collapsed into bed around 11 at night, the days were packed with information and opportunities to make personal, social, and business connections, all in an environment conducive to sharing ideas, encouragement, and enthusiasm with others who have a common passion for uncommon figurative realism.   As word gets out about the success of FACE17, and excitement mounts, next year’s FACE conference is projected to be even larger, with a higher attendance anticipated.

How exciting it was to hear of the rebirth of the atelier – teaching studios in which artists train their students in classical methodology, so they in turn can teach others.  This kind of training has largely been lost during the Twentieth Century, but appears to have made some inroads over the past decade toward a more widespread comeback.

John Coleman at his sculpting demonstration.

John Coleman demonstrates his sculpture techniques.

If you share the vision and desire to see high quality representative art take its rightful place again in museums, art galleries, and schools, there are a few simple ways that you can help.

If you are an artist interested in figurative work, consider attending the next Figurative Art Convention, again expected to be held in Miami, November 7-10, 2018.  Get involved.

Or, even if you are not an artist yourself, invest in an artist who shares that vision, who is reaching for that “unreachable star” of artistic mastery.  As demand for such art increases, galleries will take greater interest in representing those artists, museum curators will more seriously consider acquiring their work, and the movement will increase exponentially.

I’m not suggesting that it necessarily be my work that you acquire (though of course that would be appreciated).  But if you find a high-quality representational painting that moves you, whatever the size, whatever the price, whoever the artist, please give serious consideration to purchasing it for yourself.  The value is not only in your own investment in the painting.  Your investment in that artist will provide encouragement and perhaps financial backing needed to allow him or her to continue.  You will also have acquired a painting that will provide you ongoing pleasure and a continuing reminder of your role in the resurgence of classical art in the new millennium.  And how great is that?

Why art?

November 1st, 2017

Why do I paint? 

The easiest, though not the complete answer is “For me.”

Why?  Because I feel compelled.  Because I enjoy the challenge of depicting the beauties I see in the world around me and to continue to improve my skills through ongoing practice.  Because I increasingly feel that I’ve been called to it, despite the shortcomings I continually identify in my work.  And because I believe that, in its own way, it is a blessing both from and to God and to other people.

Is it for me?  Yes.

Is it for others?  Yes.

Is it to make money?  Not primarily, though I prefer that it should be self-supporting.

"Story Time" by Charlotte Mertz  (10” x10”, pastel on blue-toned paper, #171010sp)

“Story Time” by Charlotte Mertz
(10” x10”, pastel on blue-toned paper, #171010sp)

What, then, is the purpose of my art? 

I draw and paint to express my experience of, and appreciation for, God’s world.  I teach to share with others the pleasure and satisfaction I, myself, find in art and to enhance their own enjoyment and appreciation of it.

It is of little concern to me if my own artwork ever makes waves in this world.  But if it sends out even little ripples that can extend joy and encouragement to others, and if I can open the potential in others to share their own art with the world, I will be happy.  Their artistic pursuits and successes are up to them, not to me.  But if I can prepare the way for them, smooth the road, and introduce them to some of the possibilities of their potential, I will feel I have done my part and served my purpose.

In that case, you might ask, how can I justify charging money for my work, either paintings or teaching?  My response is from Matthew 10:10: “A worker is worthy of his support.” Those who knowingly contribute to my support in willing exchange for my artwork or teaching are more likely to place continuing value on what they receive in return.  This last consideration is not directly supported biblically, though Matthew 10:16 reminds us to be “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” in our dealings with worldly issues. Financial reciprocation is the way of the world in which we conduct our business dealings.

I am open to leading from the Holy Spirit regarding when to set this policy aside (which He does lead me to do, on occasion), and I trust Him to provide appropriately for me, the giver, and to bless the gift for the recipient’s benefit in His own way and time, whether or not I ever become aware of the extent of His blessing.

I hope that my art has been blessing you.  Your pleasure in it brings me pleasure, as well.

If I have taught you anything to enhance your own artwork or the appreciation and understanding of others’ work, the knowledge of that brings me a sense of satisfaction.

I hope you, too, will share your gifts – in whatever form and whatever way the Spirit leads you.

Casting new light on the subject

October 15th, 2017

One of my goals for October is to study the effect of unusually colored light sources.  Such study helps train my eye to see the real colors before me—not just the local color we expect to see but how that color is influenced by the color of the light.   The colors within shadows and reflections are also affected by the unusual color of the light, as well.

"What Shell I Paint"  (watercolor, 10"x8", #171001w)

“What Shell I Paint” (watercolor, 10″x8″ #171001w)

One of the studies I made was of a still life in whites with warm, earth-tone influences.  I used a red bulb to illuminate it so that even highlights on the white satin shone as a pale pink.   The shadows were strongly influenced with turquoise—the complement of the red light cast by this specific bulb.  But because most of the elements of the still life were reflective, bouncing the red light back into the turquoise shadows, the colors of the light and shadow combined into variations of lilac.

Not surprisingly, the red light emphasized the warmth of the warm color spots on the subject, enriching its appearance and enhancing its appeal, while the cool shadow areas provided a contrasting foil.  Incorporating some muted yellows and warm browns helped balance the color harmony, which could otherwise have appeared too “sweet.”