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!

About Ice...

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A few months ago, the artists in my building (Pink Dog Creative) on Depot Street in Asheville's River Arts District were asked to consider being a part of an art exhibit which would correspond with the 2018 meeting of ClimateCon, a collaborative gathering of business and science professionals who come together to advance the development of data-driven products and services. This year's meeting is in Asheville (for more info, check out climatecon.com).

So, in thinking about the task of creating a piece of artwork that has something to do with the environment was somewhat challenging. My artwork is nature landscapes mostly so you could say that ALL my artwork has to do with the environment. But I wanted to try something different (because that's more fun).

The Research Begins...

So I was looking on line at "climate change photos" and I saw a photo of a glacier with some craggy mountains and blue sky in the background. I loved the blues in the ice. It almost looked like an abstract painting. So...there was my idea. I painted a glacier. I cut out the mountains and sky and just focused on the ice. And I had a blast.

So as I've painted this piece, I've been doing research on polar ice caps and I've been trying to find an answer (a clear answer would be nice) to the (seemingly) very simple question: "Are the polar ice caps actually melting?" Just so you know what I had to deal with in piecing together a cogent answer to that question...

A Summary of my Vast Scientific Research Follows:

In a NASA article entitled "Mass Gains of Antarctic Ice Sheet Greater than Losses"...

“We’re essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of West Antarctica,” said Jay Zwally, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study, which was published on Oct. 30 in the Journal of Glaciology. “Our main disagreement is for East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica – there, we see an ice gain that exceeds the losses in the other areas.”  Zwally added that his team “measured small height changes over large areas, as well as the large changes observed over smaller areas.”

So, ice is growing!

Well, not so fast. There's more...

Also from NASA, an article entitled "End-of-Summer Arctic Sea Ice Extent is Eighth Lowest on Record",

 Arctic sea ice, the layer of frozen seawater covering much of the Arctic Ocean and neighboring seas, is often referred to as the planet’s air conditioner: its white surface bounces solar energy back to space, cooling the globe. The sea ice cap changes with the season, growing in the autumn and winter and shrinking in the spring and summer. Its minimum summertime extent, which typically occurs in September, has been decreasing, overall, at a rapid pace since the late 1970s due to warming temperatures.
This year, temperatures in the Arctic have been relatively moderate for such high latitudes, even cooler than average in some regions. Still, the 2017 minimum sea ice extent is 610,000 square miles (1.58 million square kilometers) below the 1981-2010 average minimum extent."

So is sea ice growing or shrinking???

According to Forbes,

"Updated data from NASA satellite instruments reveal the Earth’s polar ice caps have not receded at all since the satellite instruments began measuring the ice caps in 1979. Since the end of 2012, moreover, total polar ice extent has largely remained above the post-1979 average. The updated data contradict one of the most frequently asserted global warming claims – that global warming is causing the polar ice caps to recede.

GREAT NEWS! So they're not melting AT ALL!

Oh wait...

According to The Guardian,

The Arctic ice cap melted to hundreds of thousands of square miles below average this summer, according to data released late on Tuesday.

So they're melting? Well yes. And no. It turns out the arctic ice cap is melting (you can see satellite images that clearly show the extent). But the antarctic ice cap is growing AND shrinking, but overall growing.

According to Inside Climate News,

"While Arctic ice is melting at a record pace, a team of NASA-led researchers say they can explain why Antarctic sea ice has been edging in the opposite direction. That paradox has puzzled scientists for years and given climate-change deniers fodder to dispute global warming.
The group found that the icy winds blowing off Antarctica, as well as a powerful ocean current that circles the frozen continent, are much larger factors in the formation and persistence of Antarctic sea ice than changes in temperature.
The mighty Southern Ocean Circumpolar Current prevents warmer ocean water from reaching the Antarctic sea ice zone, helping to isolate the continent. The winds within that ice zone keep the water extremely cold, enabling the sea ice cover to grow in recent years even as global temperatures have risen markedly.
The findings are based on satellite readings of Antarctic sea ice movement and thickness, as well as new, detailed interpretations of charts showing the shape of the sea bottom around Antarctica. They were published online this month in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.
Arctic sea ice and glaciers around the world have been dwindling quickly. And scientists have published dire warnings that several ice shelves in West Antarctica are being undermined by warm currents where they connect to the ocean floor. That melting phenomenon is expected to lead to significant, unavoidable sea rise over centuries.

So, my glacier painting will most certainly not make the polar ice cap grow rather than shrink. But it might get people thinking, talking and debating. And if that's all a piece of artwork does, well then...I can definitely live with that.

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What's Next?

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I really do like this time of year. January is a time for resolutions, right? It's a great time to take stock -- to look back at last year and the year before and see where we've come from, what's worked well, what we need to change in order to where we want to get to this time NEXT year. I love this by the way. I love dreaming and scheming.

Planning and Scheming...

As an artist in Asheville's River Arts District, I really do work right in the middle of the best place to create art right now. I say "right now" because things change (they always do) but for right now, Asheville is unmatched as a location to produce (and sell) art. I have a few galleries around the south that carry some of my artwork, but about 95% of what I sell is sold right from my art studio to folks I've met and enjoyed conversation with. I love this business model. But one of the things I decided to do this year was to put more time into diversifying my sales, by reaching out to other galleries and looking for creative ways to connect with more people. Right now, all my eggs are in one basket really. I open my door and paint. That's my marketing strategy. Because in Asheville, an artist doesn't necessarily have to go around the country setting up their booth at this and that art show in order to sell their art and get exposure. People come here and I get to stay put. But if things change (and as I said, so far when an arts community has existed like this before, it's been a temporary phenomenon), then I could go scrambling if I don't take advantage of this time I have right now.

So, I'm looking for other galleries in good locations and I'm looking into juried art shows around the country.

That's my big goal for 2018. Check back this time next year for a report on how I did!

Mountain Top Experiences

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I'd heard of Roan Mountain for a long time. It's one of those "you have to hike this trial!" sort of places you hear about. I feel a bit like I've cheated myself because I've lived in Asheville, North Carolina for almost ten years and Joy and I have hiked countless trails, but we had not tackled Roan Mountain. And it's kind of odd that we waited so long, because as a landscape painter in the River Arts District, I paint local mountain scenes all the time. Every hike we take, I've got my camera ready and when I get back to my art studio, I start composing the next painting based on the best of the best photos. So hiking and photos go hand-in-hand for me, and they are both a very big part of what I end up painting. So, why did it take this long to discover Roan Mountain for myself? I have no excuses.

It turns out Roan Mountain isn't just a peak (i.e. it's not a singular mountain) but a whole range of bald peaks (no trees on the top) morphing into each other as you walk along Appalachian Trail heading north. So with our hiking poles, Camelbak's and lunch sacks in hand, we trekked from Carver's Gap north. The day was unusually clear and comfortable (I guess that's sort of unusual for that location) and we made good time -- even with all my stops to take photos. Finally, we reached the monument at the top of Grassy Ridge Bald and honestly, this afforded the most spectacular view I'd seen in Western North Carolina. Look one way, and you gaze about a hundred miles into North Carolina. Turn your head to the left, and you gaze about a hundred miles into Tennessee. Absolutely spectacular.

That hike gave me ideas for several paintings for the coming year. What kind of awesome job do I have anyway!? I just realized I can take my gas expenses as a tax write-off!

For more info on Roan Mountain, here's a great link.

The Power of Mystery

I love watching people. Call it voyeuristic but it can be quite entertaining sometimes. I have an "open art studio" in Asheville, which as I've explained in the past, means that anyone can walk in at any time and take a look at my paintings on the wall and watch me work (if they want to). When people enter my studio, my area is just to the left of the door, so I'm right there, and that's my favorite time to pay attention. Oftentimes, the expression on peoples faces is one of complete bafflement. Just last week, a woman strolled in, took a couple second look at the first painting on the wall, screwed up her face and said, "Okay, so what is this? How do you do it?" That made me laugh inside (I love that my artwork baffles people!).

When I began painting and first opened my studio in Asheville, I used to answer these questions in great detail, which, when I think about it now, was really weird I felt compelled to do that. It would be like if you went to a French restaurant and asked the waiter how the chef cooked the Chicken Basquaise and the chef came out, sat down at your table, pulled out the recipe card and went over it all step by step. That was me.

I don't do that anymore simply because I realized that when you de-mystify something, you take power away from it. I don't want to do that. I love what I do -- I put so much of myself into my paintings -- I don't want to take away their power to grab people. I WANT my artwork to baffle people and give them enjoyment. I really want to illicit wonder. So...I WANT people to wonder what the heck they're looking at and I want them to guess how I do the kind of artwork I do, but I walk a fine line. See, I want to be polite and answer their questions and encourage even more questions. But I have to try to figure out how much to answer and what not to say, knowing that the more detailed an explanation I give, the more I deflate the power of the art I'm explaining.

I want my artwork to be truly unique. I've spent almost eighteen years developing something that no one else is doing, and while that's really satisfying, it also is frustrating because I WANT to talk about it. I think what I do is fascinating (most of the time). I have a blast and I think it's probably normal for someone to blab endlessly about what they're excited about. But in my case, I have to know how little is acceptable to say, and then say no more. Mystery gives power, and I want my work to be powerful.

If anyone has any comments, questions or suggestions, that would be awesome, as I'm still figuring this out. :)

Forsyth Park Fountain

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I love it when an Asheville visitor wanders into my art studio and asks if I do commissions. YES! I love commissions. Some commissions I get are awesome. Then there are some that are extraordinary. This request for a painting was in that second category. In Savannah, Georgia, there is really beautiful fountain in Forsyth Park. So rather than retell the story, I'll cut and paste it from the original email I received that began the commission: 

  • My wife and I met on line a little over 8 years ago and our first date / meeting was at the fountain in Forsyth park. She drove from Atlanta and I from Florida. 
  • We met late afternoon. 
  • Probably from the vantage point in the picture you sent, a wedding was taking place.
  • We stopped a watched for awhile.
  • We went to dinner and came back to the park after dark.
  • Impulsively we climbed the fence surrounding the fountain and proceeded to the center.
  • We sat at the base enjoying each other's company while becoming thoroughly drenched.
  • We have been together ever since and hold fond memories of the fountain and our first meeting.
  • My wife thinks that if you consider the different view points that hundreds of online photos can provide, you will capture the essence of what it means to us.

Cool story, huh? I love that! This was a challenge though because (obviously) these people know and love this fountain. I had to get it right! I hope this piece does that magical moment justice. Gosh, I love my job. 

 

Angsty or Terrified?

So last week, as I said in an earlier entry, a husband and wife breezed through my Asheville art studio/gallery without saying a word to me and then left, sitting down on the chairs right outside my door (which was open -- with me working just inside said door). At that point, the man said (loud enough for me to hear) "well I know, but it's ridiculous! I wouldn't pay half what he's asking for that!"

To that man, I would like to say "thank you for your rudeness. You gave me something  to write about in my blog!" Because of that encounter, I began thinking about how best to respond to critique and I am taking this platform to share my thoughts to anyone interested. I have already addressed what I call the "angsty" artist who doesn't care WHAT anyone thinks about their craft (whether it's painting, writing, music or whatever). They do not digest criticism because they immediately deflect it.

The other type of artist I know is not angsty at all. They are frightened and completely insecure, not wanting ANYONE to see their artwork.  Putting their art out there for people to actually see absolutely terrifies them. I tried to teach art students who were the "terrified" type, but found them just as difficult to teach as the arrogant students who would not listen to my advice or instruction. I remember a young woman that was in the class I was teaching. She was working hard on a painting, but when I walked over to her desk to see how it was coming along, she swept it up and hid it from me. "Please don't look! It's a mess! Yours is so much better!" If you can relate to this woman,  may I gently suggest that the "terrified" artist is not that much different from the "angsty" artist? See, neither the angsty or terrified person them allows any criticism or correction -- they just take different emotional roads to the very same end.  Whichever side we fall on, we can be categorized as arrogant.

"Arrogant?" I hear the terrified artist type cry. "I'm not arrogant!" (The angsty artist doesn't see themselves as arrogant either.)

Well, follow me here. The angsty type doesn't listen to any criticism and neither do you. In my opinion, whichever side we fall on, we all think far too much of ourselves. The terrified artists (I was one of you  at once point) think we have to be perfect at what we do and critique is crushing and to be avoided. The angsty artist thinks he's already perfect, and critique is pointless and unnecessary in his mind and is to be avoided. So what's the difference?

Both the angsty and terrified artist (or whatever) types need critique. We need to be okay with correction and advice. When I finish what I think was a great idea and no one pays any attention to it, I may have to conclude that the idea may be great to me, but if the people purchasing art do not agree, I won't be selling that piece. If this is repeated with all my work, then I'm out of a job.

A professional artist has to listen to critique and adjust sometimes. Hopefully as we mature, we begin to know the difference between a good critique and someone just being rude. I think we need to feel the freedom to toss what we think is bad advice. I also think we need to feel the freedom to accept advice with humility, and that's admittedly really hard to do sometimes.

To the "Angsty" Artist...

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Note: This is a continuation of my last entry. I would advise the reader to take a look at that first.

Have you have seen that Food Channel show "Master Chef"? My wife and I are kind of addicted to it and especially the first few weeks are really interesting. The show depicts all these home cooks that are vying for the Master Chef title, which is supposed to mean they are the very best home cook in the country. In the first few weeks though, you inevitably watch some cook who thinks they are God's gift to the culinary world. They innately know it all. It becomes very apparent that they are not listening to Gordon Ramsay's instructions and they will outright argue with him sometimes (I would personally never recommend arguing with Gordon Ramsay). So inevitably, you watch them proudly present what they are convinced is awesome gourmet fare and Chef Ramsay will look at it, look at the cook, look at the dish again and yell "ARE...YOU...KIDDING ME? This looks like a dog vomited up his dinner on this plate!!!" And you can't help but think "YES! Put this guy in his place Gordon!"

See, no one likes an arrogant man or woman and it's refreshing to see them taken down off the pedestal they created in their own mind. But the guy probably has no idea he is arrogant. In his eyes, he's not arrogant, he's just right and Gordon Ramsay is obviously a jerk and everyone who watches the show shakes their head in disgust and embarrassment for people like that.  It's probably wrong to be so entertained by that but I confess, it is entertaining.

What's this have to do with artwork? Well see, if we're the angsty artist type, I think we can learn a lot from this illustration, because if we're in that camp, we can be very much like the arrogant cook who refuses to listen to the instructions and advice of the professional chefs on the show and everyone sees the insecure arrogance (except the arrogant chef, or in our case, the artist).

"But what if we're not that "angsty artist type"? What if we're more the "I'm completely terrified of anyone seeing my creative work" type? Really glad you asked. Read the next entry for my thoughts on that. 

"I woudn't pay HALF of what he's asking!"

I am a professional artist (oil painter) in Asheville, North Carolina. I have an open studio in the River Arts District and the front part of my studio is my art gallery/work area (where my artwork is hanging, and where I do most of my painting). In the back (behind the curtain) is where the messy or secret stuff happens (to get back there,  you have to learn the secret handshake).  So during the day, I'm usually painting just to the right of the doorway out to the street, and I talk to people all day long and answer questions about my work.  So the other day, I had a couple breeze through my studio without saying a word to me, and then leave, planting themselves into the chairs I have just outside my door. Because I work right on the other side of the door, I could very easily hear the man exclaim to his wife, "well I know, but it's ridiculous! I wouldn't pay half what he's asking for that!"

So, if you're an artist, what do you do with comments like that?

I would like to take a few blog entries and share some thoughts that have been developing in my mind. I think it would help me to put these thoughts to virtual paper, and they may (?) help some other artists that struggle with insecurity.

Most artists I know fall into basically two camps: The "angsty" artist and the terrified artist. That first camp (the "angsty" artists) would say, "I don't care WHAT people think of my art! It's MY art and I'll do what I want to do with it and if people like it, fine. If not, I really don't care." If that's where you're coming from, and that singular sentiment describes you, that's fine. My hat's off to you, but you're probably not making a living selling your artwork are you? I say that because when you make your living by selling your artwork, expressing yourself is crucial but...you have to be listening to critique well and sometimes adjust what you do in order to sell your artwork.

Ha! I can hear the angsty artist crying "SELLOUT!" It's about expressing yourself! It's not about making money!" Again, my hat's off to you, but I personally prefer expressing myself AND making a living selling my artwork. What is wrong with listening to critique and evolving your craft as a result? Do you think listening and considering another opinion makes you small and weak? It's really easy to think we already know what we're doing, but input (if we take it in) can actually help shape what we're doing as time goes by, don't you think?

More on the "angsty" artist in my next entry.