Understanding Art 101


As an artist with an open studio in Asheville, North Carolina, I am around artwork and people all day long. People from all over the country visit me, check out my paintings and sometimes chat with me. Oftentimes, we talk about the types of artwork they like and don't like and they ask a lot of questions to try to understand my specific technique. I love these conversations. I love talking about art and help people appreciate the artwork they're seeing. My passion is that people at least appreciate (if not enjoy) all the artwork they see, whether it's from the ancient Greeks, Renaissance masters or modern abstract.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a studio visitor about different art styles and artistic periods and he admitted that he did not understand most art at all. That conversation got me thinking, and because of that, I decided to write a blog series based on a lecture I've given several times on the subject of "understanding art" because I think that's important. Understanding art does not mean you have to enjoy it or like the art at all. Understanding the art involves understanding the world view of the artist. This is crucial because knowing the world view of a person (their comprehensive conception of the world) helps us interpret what that persons says and does. 

So, for the next few weeks, I'm going to talk about chronological periods of world views and how those views affected the arts and culture. The world views I will cover include theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, modernism, new-age pantheism, and post-modernism. Sound exciting? Maybe I'm a geek but I think it's fascinating! Knowing a bit about these world views and knowing where a person is coming from helps us to better appreciate and understand that person. Who doesn't want to do a better job of that? 


The Organ Mountains

 "The Organ Mountains" (45" x 49")

"The Organ Mountains" (45" x 49")

This painting epitomizes my very favorite thing about painting a commission: I literally get to paint scenes from all over the world! This just completed piece "The Organ Mountains" is depicting a mountain range just east of Las Cruces, New Mexico. They were named the "organ" mountains because the jagged peaks reminded early settlers of a pipe organ (so the story goes). 

Planning for this painting began last December when a very nice local couple were visiting my art studio in Asheville's River Arts District. They liked my technique and asked if I ever did commission work. I love that question. I explained that "YES!" I do commissions and that they comprise over half of all I paint at this point. So they pulled out their iPhone and showed me photos of these incredible desert mountains and I was totally hooked. After agreeing to the size, they sent me several photos they liked, which I kind of combined together, i.e. I took the composition of the mountain range in one of the photos and sketched my composition based on that photo. But it was dark and the coloring was off, so I used the lighting and coloring of a second painting and vegetation from a third photo. After I completed the sketch, texturized it and applied the metallic leaf, I colorized it with multiple layers of oil paint and called in my clients to take a look. They asked if I could insert a massive cumulus cloud above the mountains, and insert an ocotillo plant and some yucca's (all cacti indigenous to that region). A week later, I completed the painting, applied the gold to the edges  and poured the resin. 

I love the American South West. I've spent a lot of time exploring the area but it's so, SO vast, there's no way anyone could see it all in a lifetime. If you like very wide open spaces and dramatic geology, the west is definitely worth a visit (and definitely worth commissioning a painting I might add). 

"Remember...there are no mistakes with art"


I hear some crazy things sometimes. It just cracks me up what some people say. Just by way of reminder, I work in an open art studio in the River Arts District of Asheville, North Carolina. An "open" art studio means that people can visit from all over the country and all over the world (literally!) and drop in and visit with me and take a look at my artwork displayed on my walls as well as watch me paint.

My work desk/easel is about four feet from the door and so I'm right there. I can hear everything. :)  Here are some snippets of conversations I've heard recently that just made me crack up:

  • "Babe, you could TOTALLY do this art! Ask him how he does it!"
  • "Yeah, it's nice and all but did you see the PRICES!?"
  • a guy to his girlfriend..."First he takes a photo and dips it in the glass..." (really??)

and my recent favorite..."Remember sweetheart, there are NO mistakes in art..."

That last comment is the one comment that makes me cringe actually. What that kind of mindset infers is that there is no such thing as skillfully crafted artwork and poorly done, ugly artwork. Believe me, I've made ugly artwork and I can guarantee there ARE mistakes in art because I've made a whole lot of them. Pay attention here...(I'm about to say something profound)...the freedom to MAKE mistakes with art is what also creates the freedom to innovate. Some of the crazy things I try actually work. Some unequivocally do not, but some do and that is how technique and skill advance.

I can guarantee there ARE mistakes in art because I've made a whole lot of them.

To say there are no mistakes in art is ridiculous. I mean, is art the ONLY thing human beings do that has no standard? I've heard good music and bad music. I've heard good voices and really bad voices. I've read well written books and really poorly written books. I've tasted really good food and really dreadful food. So is the creation of a painting or drawing in a completely unique category that makes it immune from scrutiny? Of course not. There is beautiful, well-crafted art and really bad art. I know this because I've made both.

"...the freedom to MAKE mistakes with art is what also creates the freedom to innovate."

I guess the other reason I don't like that comment is that it reveals some insecurity on my part, and I'm willing to own that. See, if it were true (that there are no mistakes with art) then I'm wasting my time trying to push the limits of what I think I can do with my own art; I'm wasting effort trying to get better and more skillful as an artist if there is no such thing as "better" or "skill" as it relates to art. But I really believe the creation of great art (any art -- painting, ceramics, sculpture, music, food just to name a few) involves developing skill. And skill at learning anything at all involves experimentation and playing with your ingredients and experimentation inevitably involves some failures. That's the human condition and art, if nothing else, is absolutely and completely human.

The Biltmore Estate

 "Autumn Afternoon at the Biltmore" 

"Autumn Afternoon at the Biltmore" 

"Autumn Afternoon at the Biltmore" began with a request from a local couple back in December. They were visiting my Asheville art studio and gallery and it turns out they have season passes to the Biltmore Estate and were describing a scene which featured the narrow road between the reflection pond and the French Broad River. After agreeing on the size and price, they went back to the Biltmore and took photos which became the basis for this piece.

This was a challenging piece in that the composition is not just based on one photo but five. For instance, the boat in the foreground was in a separate photo and the sun burst in the trees was in another photo. The actual roadway has vegetation on the side of the river that pretty much blocks the view of the water so...for this painting, we did a bit of judicious weeding. At the very last minute, Canada geese were added into the reflection pond at the request of my clients and since I have a soft spot in my heart for ducks and geese, I added them happily. Honestly, what I am describing is one of the most important aspects of a commission: I'm not just painting a scene, but assembling a composition based on five photos which encapsulated all the warm memories this couple has of days of wandering and hiking around the Biltmore Estate. The result (I hope) is not just a nice painting but something sentimental. I painted memories in this one and had a great time doing it and the fact that the Biltmore Estate is the subject matter made it even better. 

The first year Joy and I moved to Asheville, we purchased season passes to the Biltmore as well. It's a great way to really enjoy not just the amazing house but the grounds as well. There are literally miles of trails to hike and several gardens to explore such as the formal and informal gardens designed by the amazing landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. If you have the chance to visit Asheville, North Carolina, it's definitely worth saving your pennies to visit. And...if you end up taking an awesome photo during your visit, send it my way! 



How to Make a Living as an Artist (Part 2)

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As I stated in an earlier blog, I was recently asked “How do you make a living as a full-time artist?” And honestly,  I wake up every morning absolutely baffled that I CAN make a living doing what I love doing.

I work here in the mountains of western North Carolina in the town of Asheville,  and largely because of that, I do not do art shows or art festivals. I really don’t go anywhere, because I can't afford to leave my studio.  Basically, I walk to work in Asheville’s River Arts District, unlock the door, turn the lights on, stick the “OPEN” flag out on the side of the building and then I start painting, and people (some locals but mostly tourists) come through my door and look at my artwork and by far, most of my sales come from people who walk in off the street. They are visiting Asheville, heard about the River Arts District and they want to make sure they check that off their “to do when visiting Asheville” list. If I lived practically anywhere else, this business model would not work at all. But because there are now about 220 artists within about one square mile who do this, and who go together on advertising to get the word out, people know about us and they visit (and purchase art!)

 If I didn't have this business model available to me as a real option, I'd probably be in trouble.

So the fact that I can make this business model work is largely due to where I live. But the details as to how the situation in Asheville makes my life as a full-time artist possible -- I don't see why that can't be replicated anywhere else. I really hope it can. There's nothing magical about Asheville (although some locals explain that Asheville is special because of giant crystals under the city. Ground penetrating radar has never detected said crystals, but I digress...

If I didn't have this business model available to me as a real option, I'd probably be in trouble.  Most other full-time artists around the country that I know get their work into as many galleries and art festivals as possible. I truly have all the respect in the world for artists who travel from art festival to art festival and have their work in select and profitable galleries and who make a living that way. I cannot compete with them. I mean, I have found a few galleries that now carry and sell my work but honestly, I make most of my own sales from my Asheville studio. I would love to find more galleries around the country that would represent me, but I honestly don't know how to find them, so I unfortunately cannot be much of a help with any of that.

But because I live where I live, I am literally "piggybacking" off the momentum every other artist here has created. It's symbiotic. Visiting artists have asked "is there even ROOM for another artist here?" and my answer is always "YES!" because it's like gravity -- the more the mass, the more the gravitational pull (i.e. more visitors recognize us as an arts destination) and that's a really good thing for all of us artists.

The other thing the artists do is to have "regular open hours" 

Why is Asheville so special? Well, for one thing, it is a tourist destination in and of itself, and that REALLY helps bring people into the area.  And here, the artists are working together and they are operating their business like a business. Let me explain.

First of all, most artists all rent studio space in the same part of town (not all scattered through the city). The artists have an organization they pay dues to and they (the River Arts District Artists) advertise and promote what's going on here. We have a printed studio guide with a map of where all the studios are, to make it easy for people. 

The other thing the artists do (well, enough of them anyway) is to have "regular open hours". I have my hours posted in our studio guide we pass out and on my studio door...10:00 - 5:00 every day but Sunday. So my studio is not just where I paint. I do paint here, but the public walks through my door every day, watch me paint, and they look at my finished artwork hanging on the wall. So it's kind of a cross between a messy studio and a classy art gallery that's open to the public. THAT is what I (and lots of other artists here) do.  And honestly, the only people I hear around me in the arts district that complain about not making sales are those who can only be here now and then. I totally get it that not everyone can or wants to do this full-time, but if you want to make a living with this more "retail" type art business model, you have to be open.  In other words: You cannot sell your artwork if your studio is locked up and dark.

Let me illustrate this point with a true story.  I was driving through an un-named state a couple years ago and saw a sign "historic arts district" and I thought "Oh COOL! Let's take a few minutes and explore!" So we did. My wife and I found the arts district and were really impressed with the concept. Turns out that the downtown area of this town was dwindling and the city wanted to re-vamp the area. So they sold studio space to several artists for SUPER cheap and even gave $10K per studio for upgrades and interior design.  And artists moved in! But when my wife and I were there (on a Friday), we spent an hour walking around the arts district and only one studio was actually open. If someone opens a hardware store or lighting store or barber shop or coffee shop on Main Street, they would have been there. They would be open. There is probably something I'm missing, but as a visitor, I didn't see how having closed art studios was helping to create a vibrant new downtown. I'll never go back. Not because the town wasn't cool (it was), but because it was a ghost town.

So my suggestion would be that you move to Asheville (I know artists who have done just that for all the above reasons I've mentioned).  But more realistically, I really think that wherever you live, you could try to get artists around you working together (in as close a proximity as possible). You could pool monetary resourses and advertise. Get the word out that you're there. Let the chamber of commerce and tourism office know you're there.  And BE IN THE STUDIO with lights on and door open and OPEN flag out front so people are invited in. That's what we do here and I know it works.

How to Make a Living as an Artist

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I was recently asked “How do you make a living as a full-time artist?” That is the million dollar question for a lot of really creative people out there, and there are so many factors involved in the answer. I’ve seen people become really successful with an art career and some miserably fail. It’s really not rocket science, but there are certain things you should do and some you shouldn’t do that can help or hurt your chances. Let me explain.

A few years ago, a gentleman came into my art studio and told me he was an artist and wanted to talk to me about getting his paintings into my “gallery”. He then proceeded to remove several oil paintings from a cardboard box to show me. I had to explain that this was my studio (where I create and sell) my own art, and not an art gallery per se. And honestly, the level of skill I saw was not something that would inspire sales and sales are the only way an artist can make a career out of creating art.

Just because you want to sell something
doesn’t mean anyone will want to buy it.

I am reminded me of an experience I had when I was four years old. I wanted some money to fund a trip to the store for candy and baseball cards, so I cooked up a scheme involving a handful of rocks. See, I decided I would set up a card table out by the street and make a sign that read “ROCKS FOR SALE”. These were super cool rocks (I thought) and I was sure someone would agree (enough to part with a quarter). No one even stopped to look at these gems-in-the-rough. No one. Important lesson learned: Just because you want to sell something doesn’t necessarily mean anyone will want to buy it.

In my opinion, if someone desires to make a living creating and selling artwork, they need to be willing to seek solid artistic training, critique and learn the basics of promoting their business. 


If you want to create and sell your artwork as a career, get training, and pick your school carefully. Not all art schools or art programs teach actual skills. Visit the school and take a look at the student art and ask yourself a question: “Does this look like something people would actually purchase?” Some of what I see at art colleges look like the students are having a truly cathartic experience creating some really edgy art, but unless that’s combined with real skills learning, how do you make a living with that when you graduate? This is why so many art students graduate and end up flipping burgers. Training is really important. Look, if someone works on my car or repairs my air conditioner or operates on my brain or makes me Beef Wellington at some expensive restaurant downtown, I would absolutely expect they were well trained and have some real ability. Same with art. Same with everything else we do.

I can hear someone say, "So you just dismiss everyone who's self taught? You think we all need art degrees?" And I would answer a definite "no". I basically invented (self-taught) my whole technique I use (with the help of the foundation I received with my training). I'm not discounting the concept of "self-taught" at all. I just think that a person can go a lot farther in any profession we're talking about it if that person got some coaching, and the easiest way to get coaching is school. There are actually "rules" in art that would be really helpful for an aspiring artist to be very familiar with.  Knowledge of those rules will help you create something amazing. When I was a kid, I was bored with normal tomato soup and so...I decided I would experiment with adding orange juice to it. I learned very quickly that certain flavors blend well together and others definitely do not. There are rules. An art degree is definitely not the only way but it's the easiest way. If you don't go that route, try to find a mentor. All I'm saying is that in addition to any possible self-teaching, get trained. Get input from others (and especially experts), which conveniently leads me to my next point:


If an artist has an arrogant personality that doesn't listen to or seek out critique, I don't think that's going to help them move forward. (I have more to say on this subject in an earlier posting if you're interested.) To make a living doing this, you have to listen for criticism and not just TO criticism. Sometimes what an artist wants to paint may be really therapeutic, but won't be sellable. When you look at art creation as a career, you have to find a balance -- it should be both inspiring to you and inspiring to the viewer of your art.  

I’ve had one artist a couple years ago visit my studio and ask if they could make an appointment to ask me for advice as to how to make art his career. That was totally flattering and I liked the fact he asked for an appointment (that was respectful). When you show someone respect, they will be much more likely to help you out with some advice. So seek out other artists and/or gallery owners. If they’re too busy, they’ll tell you, but you may get some really great advice this way. 

The other thing you could do would be to enter your work in juried art shows. If your artwork is consistently rejected or consistently gets attention and/or wins an award, that will be a real gauge as to whether your abilities are what they'd need to be. 


Get professional looking business cards and create a website. The website should have your artist statement, bio and lots of photos of your work, and how to contact you. Do you do commissions? Explain how that works. Don’t be afraid to look at other artist's websites and make notes of what you like and don’t like. If you can’t afford to pay someone to create a website for you, there are DIY website programs out there and they’re fine. Just make it simple and clean and informative. 


After training, critique and creating professional-looking self promo tools, you’re ready to begin actually putting together your career. In my next post, I’ll discuss the variety of ways you might do that and explain what I did (which was a bit less “conventional” than most professional artists out there) but it worked really well for me. 

How do you create when you don't feel creative?

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I get in conversations with interesting visitors to my art studio all the time. And quite often, they ask about "the fuel" for creativity and how it works. I get the impression that a lot of people think that artists are kind of "air heads" -- that we create only on our terms (just when we "feel" like it). I get the impression some people think that if it's "not working" for me as an artist today, if I'm just not feeling "inspired", that I just sit around the house and drink beer and play Legend of Zelda all day long until I "feel" like painting again. 

How do you create something when there's just nothing left inside your head or heart to work with?

But that really doesn't describe the way any of us do anything does it? Sometimes, you just have to do your job even when you don't feel like it, whether you're a heart surgeon, auto mechanic, project manager or yes, even an artist.

People have asked "but how do you create something when you just don't feel creative? How do you create something when there's just nothing left inside your head or heart to work with?

That is a really good question and I'd like to share my own answer. I say "my own" because I am not going to try to speak for any other artist. This is just my own way to deal with that "empty" feeling every full-time artist out there gets. Keep in mind that I don't have the option of just just staying home and playing video games. My wife Joy will not let me. I have hours posted on my art studio door and I am not going to sell artwork if I am not there with the door unlocked. And to pay my mortgage and all my other bills, I have to be selling artwork. So I HAVE to keep creating. But how do you do that when you're running on empty?

Creating is like exhaling...

Don't let the needle get down to the little red "E". Don't get empty. Creating is like exhaling, and unless you inhale, you cannot exhale. The ancient Hebrews pictured God creating the universe with a breath. It's a beautiful, poetic way of putting it. God exhaled and the universe was born. When we write, or paint or cook or whatever you do that can be considered "creative", you are (in a sense) breathing out, taking various ingredients (whether they be Cadmium Red and Thalo Blue oil paint, or puff pastry, beef tenderloin and mushrooms) and with skill, you assemble something that was not there before. That's how creation works. And if you ever get to the point where you feel like you're running on empty and that creative juices have just dried up, it's because you've been exhaling until you're ready to pass out. Don't do that.


I think what "breathing in" looks like for each person will vary. If you're an introvert like me, then breathing in might be just sitting at a window staring at the rain drops hitting the porch, or reading a good book, or praying, or going for a walk, or having a super deep conversation with one or two really close friends. If you're an extrovert, I would assume you might still need to do some of the things I've listed (though I don't know for sure -- you are a sublime mystery to me), but you probably will want to be with more people at one time than I would feel comfortable being) but hey, whatever recharges you and leaves you going home feeling energized....THAT is inhaling.

If a "creative" does not inhale, he or she will eventually stop exhaling. That's just how it works. When I go on vacation and have a huge amount of inhaling time, it's like sucking in too much oxygen -- I can't wait to exhale! And that's when I come up with the big ideas that push my artwork forward several steps all at once. 

So you don't feel creative but need to create?


Inhale. Inhale deeply.

If you inhale, you will have to exhale. It just will happen. I promise.


Gallery Representation in Hendersonville!

I'm super excited to announce that I'm going to be represented in Hendersonville, NC right there on Main Street at the Silver Fox Gallery (508 N. Main Street). I just toured the gallery today with Joy and it's a really wonderful collection of furniture and really exquisite home furnishings (including artwork). If you're in the area, it's most definitely worth a visit. Tell them I sent you!

I'm excited about it for several reasons. First, it'll be great to be represented right there on Main Street (just across from Mast General Store). I've always LOVED Main Street, Hendersonville. It's full of tourists in the summer and it's just a really nice place to walk around, check out galleries, antique stores, grab some ice cream, visit the bakery and go to dinner. There's also a wonderful kids museum just up the street, Hands On! Children's Museum (with grandchildren that visit, we go there often). So anyway, I love the location.

Secondly though, this gallery is very deeply involved with interior design projects (they have on-staff designers) and I've had super great experiences in the past working directly with an interior designer on special custom projects in the past (the Pardee Cancer Center, City Centre project in downtown Asheville and including the main elevator lobby, and the Hilton Garden Inn lobby.

So hello Hendersonville! I'm glad to be a part of what's going on in one of the coolest little towns in North Carolina!

Metalizing the Biltmore Estate

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One of the really great commissions I got this winter is from a local couple with season passes to the Biltmore Estate. They asked me to do a painting from the vantage point of the tree-lined pathway between the reflection pond and the French Broad River. If you look closely, you'll see the Biltmore House up on the hill (mid-way up the piece on the left) as well as a small row-boat in the lower left corner. I don't usually post pieces half way done, but this one just looked too cool not to share it!

I love commissions. They always surprise me. Just about the time I feel like "Oh, that was the most fun commission I've worked on", someone comes visiting my Asheville art studio and asks me, "Hey, can you paint this?" Oh yeah. 

If you're in Asheville and would like to visit the Biltmore House (yes, it really is worth saving your pennies to see), you'll need a whole day to see the house and walk the massive grounds and gardens. 

Okay, enough writing now. I need to paint the Biltmore House now. That'll take a while!

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Four Seasons on the Blue Ridge

 "Four Seasons on the Blue Ridge" (Each panel 10" x 24")

"Four Seasons on the Blue Ridge" (Each panel 10" x 24")

What is it about the theme of the Four Seasons? It's always a winner. When you think about it, it's almost strange because I think most people hate change. We are indeed creatures of habit in nearly everything we do. There's a security in habit, in sameness, in routine. But all the rules are broken with the very popular theme of the Four Seasons (which is all about change!). Maybe we're not as addicted to sameness and routine as they say we are. 

What would it be like if all four of the above panels were winter? Or spring? Boring. It would never sell. But show the same scene as it undergoes the annual metamorphosis from death to life to death again (going out in a blaze of glory) and it immediately gets attention. 

And I suppose you can emphasize different ideas by how you organize the panels. Start with Winter and end with Autumn (as I've organized the panels above), you might emphasize resurrection and growth to maturity (and that maturity is a beautiful thing). Start with Spring and END with Winter, you might emphasize the whole natural life cycle: Birth (with Spring) and ending with death (in Winter). I did not organize the panels that way because by all accounts, I'm getting into the Autumn phase of life and I'd rather not emphasize my impending doom. 

So whether it's my artwork, or Vivaldi's famous "Four Seasons" or any number of takes on the theme, we keep coming back to it...the beauty of the passage of time, and it's new every time it's illustrated. This was a fun project and I think I may come back to it myself from time to time. 

So, if you're visiting Asheville's River Arts District soon, come on by and take a look in person. And you can rearrange the panels to send whatever message you'd like!  Cheers!