Archive for March, 2020

What’s in a name?

Sunday, March 15th, 2020

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but the wrong title for a painting can stink.

"Zion, Face to Face" by Charlotte Mertz (9"x12" oil, 190701-o)

“Zion, Face to Face” by Charlotte Mertz (9″x12″ oil, 190701-o)

Initially, when seeking a title for this painting, I had been concerned that there might be some question regarding what was casting the canyon wall into shadow. But, by titling this painting “Silhouettes and Shadows” as a clarification, I inadvertently misdirected the viewers’ attention to unlit sections rather than to the sunlit area of the painting that the shadow underscored.

After allowing the painting to rest and resonate with me for some time, I knew that I needed to find a more appropriate title that would both identify Zion National Park as the specific locale the scene depicted and emphasize the lighted portion of the stone wall rather than the supporting features of the shadow and silhouetted trees.

In many instances, artists find it preferable to avoid citing specific locations painted, allowing the viewer to imagine a location based on their own background and experiences.  In the case of a well known or iconic location, however, it is often advantageous to specify it in the title.

In Zion National Park, the names of many of the geological features allude to biblical references.  The new title I selected, “Zion, Face to Face,” specifically cites the name of the park. “Face to Face” may be understood in either of two ways—first by suggesting that the viewer is seeing Zion “in person” through the eyes of the artist, and second by suggesting that the shadow is cast by a second wall facing the one illustrated. In either case, it draws attention to the textured rock face of the canyon wall instead of to the peripheral, shadowed areas.  The phrase “Face to Face” also alludes to a biblical passage in I Corinthians 13:12. For those familiar with the passage, this, in turn, underscores the brilliant light and clarity of the park’s atmosphere.

So the new title, rather detracting from the painting, now contributes to and enhances the intended concept of it.  Can it get any sweeter than that?

The value of comparison

Sunday, March 1st, 2020

Artists are frequently warned, “Don’t compare your work with others.” And, to a degree, that’s good advice. Particularly when we are first learning to paint, we tend to become caught up in trying to be “as good as” someone else and lose sight of how far our own work may have already progressed in relation to where it used to be. The tendency is to try to become “as good as” someone else by doing what they are doing or by adopting their methods or materials, rather than trusting our own voice and hand.

Although it is valuable to learn alternative techniques and extend our understanding and ideas by viewing the work of other artists, we also need to find what works best for our own approach and purposes. By comparing the quality of our early work with that of other artists, we are often (rightly) humbled that ours doesn’t quite measure up, while at the same time we can lose sight of what’s good about our own work. That kind of comparison gives us a challenge to overcome, something to strive for. But by mistakenly adopting methods or “tricks” of other artists, we may become discouraged because their techniques might not work as well for us.

So we need to be careful when making comparisons.

However, as our work advances and we begin to develop confidence in our own methods and style, comparison to the work of other artists can be helpful.  It can give us a more healthy and balanced perspective on how much farther we have to go, in what areas we could benefit from further improvement, and whether our price points may need to be adjusted to align with work at a similar level.

"Getting to the Point," by Charlotte Mertz  (10"x8" watercolor, #190906w)

“Getting to the Point,” by Charlotte Mertz
(10″x8″ watercolor, #190906w)

Showing my painting, “Getting to the Point,” in the National Art Exhibition (on display now until March 25, 2020) at the Visual Arts Center, in Punta Gorda, Florida, has given me just such an opportunity. It was a great honor to have my work juried into this outstanding exhibition. But it also called my attention to some areas that I ought to pay closer attention to:

For one thing, it brought to my attention how much smaller my work tends to be than most of the paintings on display. So I would probably be wise to consider working more consistently in a larger format, at least on any studio paintings, even if I keep them smaller when working en plein air.

I had framed the painting in a professional but simple manner in a way that complemented the subject, but I realized belatedly that a more elaborate presentation would have displayed it in a better light in comparison to the paintings shown nearby.

And my price point was by far the lowest of all the paintings shown, even taking into account the comparative differences of size and medium. Has the time arrived for a price increase? It would appear so. I have been undervaluing my work! (If you want to acquire one of my paintings for yourself, now would be a good time, before my prices increase next month! Contact me.)

So, without comparing the quality of my work (which is already high enough to be juried into a national exhibition), comparison with the other work presented in the show has still taught me a lot. I loved seeing the other artwork in the exhibit, and some of the paintings deeply touched me emotionally. I appreciated the judge’s comments about why she had selected each of the prize winners (a couple of which surprised me, but which I understood when she explained the reasoning behind her selections). The judge, Dawn Emerson, was also kind enough to seek me out to tell me directly what she had particularly liked about my composition, though it had not been awarded one of the cash prizes.

But perhaps most valuable to me was the opportunity to compare my work with other paintings presented in a high-quality exhibition, showing me that I need to revamp my thinking about the business side of my art even as I continue to further develop my painting skills.