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.”

Practice and Trying To Do Our Level Best

October 1st, 2017

It’s important to understand artistic principles, but when it comes to painting, the rubber meets the road in the application phase.  There’s a lot to keep in mind in planning and preparing to paint a composition. But even when it’s carefully planned, the execution of a painting is another matter entirely:  Can we stick to the plan?  Can we maintain the dynamic balance as the composition develops?  Can we keep the value range where we intend it?  Does the edgework enhance the sense of perspective?  Is the level of detail appropriate in each area of the composition?  Are hue and saturation variations used to their greatest effect?  …

There will almost certainly be changes made during the painting process.  Some will be intentional; others will be inadvertent.  Regular practice will help an artist recognize and identify which variances are improvements and which are detrimental to the work and should be re-addressed.

Practice is immeasurably valuable to a painter.  Purely mental exercises, from observing and making mental note of the physical world around us, to recognizing how those elements may be used to develop an artistic concept for a composition, are a form of practice.  I find that careful observation is an invaluable skill that can be practiced at all hours, with or without pencil or brush in hand.  And envisioning concepts for paintings can be practiced continually as we talk with other people, become aware of world events, or recognize personal passions.

But active, more concrete practice is crucial both to instill artistic principles in our minds and to incorporate them into our planning stages.  This includes rough sketches, selection of media, value studies, palette planning, color studies, and other carefully considered preliminary work before the final composition is undertaken.

Physical practice is equally crucial for training our intellects to either follow or intentionally deviate from the plans we have made and to train our hands to manipulate our tools masterfully to successfully execute our intentions.

Following our plans necessitates practicing ongoing comparisons among the subject, the preliminary plans and studies, and the ultimate composition.  Even if the subject is not literal but imagined, we must have a clear understanding of the “subject in kind”—that is, a solid anatomical or mechanical understanding of the subject’s form and appearance and how it would move if it were literal.

Training our hands includes practice in developing application techniques and the gradual discovery of our natural style, creating specific types of marks with our implements—whether brushes, palette knives, fingers, or other tools—and in understanding, anticipating, and controlling the consistency and working qualities of our media with all the variations we choose to incorporate.

None of it is easy.  It all takes time and ongoing effort to develop a working understanding, and to exceed and surpass our current level’s “best.”  But it’s worth it.

Am I doing my “level best”?  I wish I could say that I always manage to.  But though I welcome the challenge to get there, I rarely fully succeed and often become discouraged in the attempt, because however far I get, “better” is just a step beyond.  And the better I get, the more difficult the struggle becomes to exceed my current level’s best.