Thoughts on New Directions, New Possibilities

I'm an oil painter in the River Arts District in Asheville, North Carolina. I love our spot in the Blue Ridge mountains. It's really a fun, dynamic and sometimes crazy little city here in Western North Carolina. I've been painting in a studio in the arts district for almost eight years now and in my current studio for three years this month. It's been amazing. I get to paint and talk to people interested in artwork all day long, five days a week.

It is very much in my personality (maybe it's a basic human tendency??) to think "this will last forever". I love to "pigeon-hole" things so that life looks organized. And as much as I love change, there is something almost intoxicating about the idea of stasis, you know? Predictability can be comforting. The trick for a person with an artistic-adventurous spirit like me to find the line between predictability and unplanned adventure. The balance between predictability and adventure, comfort and fun -- that is the goal.

Sometimes though, so many things can change so very quickly. This season I am entering looks like one of those seasons of change, and from where I sit, it all (thankfully) looks like very good change. There are possibilities of new interesting painting commissions here in Asheville, new painting themes, expansion of my technique with a variety of finishes on my work, expansion of my market with international art galleries and the development of a new part-time art studio in the Dallas area (where three of our four kids live).

So over the next few months, I'm looking forward to sharing my adventures (if they work out) and maybe some disappointments (if my expectations do not work out) but it may be a pretty interesting next several months. In the mean time, I will keep painting, keep my studio doors wide open and totally enjoy the fall season (traditionally the busiest time of our year).

 

SURVEY: GLOSSY OR SATIN

Even before I became a full-time oil painter in Asheville's River Arts District, I was developing a unique way to create a painting using dimension, both in the build-up of the composition and in the finish (which has mostly been using a thick, high-gloss, solar-resistant resin). In fact at this point, I think I'm probably known for that "shiny" resin finish. I like it a lot. It allows me to embed flecks of gold that are essentially "floating" above the surface of the actual painting.

That said, my largest commissions over the last couple of years have been with a satin varnish finish, which leaves all the texture visible (and touchable) and is not nearly as reflective as the high gloss resin. And I'm really liking the results of that finish as well.

Lately, I have more and more people asking about the satin finish and so I'm thinking I need to listen.

And so I'm asking for your brutally honest opinion:

Would you suggest I continue to produce paintings with a high gloss resin finish or would you honestly prefer a softer finish that leaves more of the texture showing and is much less reflective? You won't hurt my feelings either way and on the contrary, you'll really help me decide what direction I need to go now.  (SEE PHOTOS BELOW FOR EXAMPLES OF BOTH)

 HIGH GLOSS FINISH USING RESIN

HIGH GLOSS FINISH USING RESIN

 SATIN FINISH USING SYNTHETIC (NON-YELLOWING) VARNISH

SATIN FINISH USING SYNTHETIC (NON-YELLOWING) VARNISH

So, what do you think? One or the other, some of both? Mostly one, some of the other? I'm really open to listening. If you could leave your opinion below (so they're all consolidated in one place), that would really be appreciated! Thank you!

Regarding Commissioning a Painting

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I received a super nice email from a potential client a week or so ago. They'd visited my art studio / gallery in Asheville's River Arts District and liked my work. It sounded like they were looking for a specific size but didn't really want to commission something. They wrote:

"I am a bit hesitant at the idea of a commission, because I want the artwork to reflect your vision, not mine."

That struck me in two ways. First of all, it's over-the-top respectful, so bravo possible future client! You won me over! But second, it sort of implies an assumption about how I work: "If the subject matter for the painting comes spontaneously from the artist's head and heart, it will give the artist more joy and the end result will be a better painting." I'm not familiar with the way other artists work and their motivation behind everything they do, so maybe that assumption is accurate for some people, but it is not at all descriptive of me. So I responded:

"I understand and appreciate what you said about commissions, but honestly, commissions and artists have gone hand-in-hand for centuries (over half of  what I paint are commissions). I just really love painting, and I am immersed and emotionally invested into every piece. In other words, it’s not like I give my all to some idea I choose and give half-hearted attention to an idea someone else chooses. In fact, some of the most challenging and exciting paintings I’ve ever done were commissioned by a client. I love every project I assign myself or is assigned to me. I just really like creating."

Every artist I know LOVES commissions. Commissioning a painting give us artists the chance to create something different. Most of what I paint is what I know will sell here in my art gallery in Asheville: Blue Ridge Mountain landscapes, trees in various seasons, local waterfalls, i.e. things that people purchase to remind them of their vacation in Asheville, North Carolina. However, I've been commissioned to paint a Venice, Italy canal, the Canadian Rocky Mountains, a seaport town at sunset in New Zealand, the Alps, and a shrimp boat on a coastal river just to name a few. A couple just came into my art studio yesterday and showed me a really beautiful photo of the view off their back deck and asked, "Can you paint that?" Yep. :)

If you absolutely love doing what you do, then commissioning a painting is fodder for previously unplanned for joy!

The result of a client commissioning a painting is that I'm often entertained and challenged by some new idea I'd not thought of painting before, or I can enjoy painting something (like the Canadian Rocky mountains) that would take a long time to sell here in Asheville where people are mostly looking for Appalachain scenes. Bottom line is that commissions and artists have a long history and that's part of how we stay in business. And if you absolutely love doing what you do (and I do!), then commissioning a painting is fodder for previously unplanned for joy!

That's just how I roll.

On the Brink of a Huge Failure

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It's Sunday, and traditionally a day of rest. And it IS restful today for me, but last Sunday...my head was in a very different place, and that place was not at all pretty. I was basically a basket case. Let me explain...

A couple months ago, my son (who was visiting Maui with his wife at the time) emailed me from Lahaina and says "Dad, there's a gallery owner over here that wants you to contact him!". I was not familiar with the gallery (or Lahaina for that matter) but apparently, because Hawaii does not charge sales tax for artwork purchased, it's become an art destination. And apparently, some the THE top-dollar galleries in the world are on Front Street running through the town of Lahaina. So, I contacted the owner of the gallery and ended up sending him two of my paintings. They are now hanging on his gallery wall there. But he then asked for three more pieces ASAP. Understand, these three paintings (of water lilies) have GOT to be amazing. Awesome. Unrivaled. Because, if this gallery picks me up as one of their artists...that's a total game-changer for me. It makes what I consider now as the artistic "big leagues" look like the pee-wee league. It's absolutely amazing (and humbling) that my paintings are even being considered for representation there.

So all that to say, these paintings are potentially VERY important. And last Saturday afternoon when I left the studio, they looked horrible.

The paintings had turned the corner.

I didn't sleep many hours at all that night. So after church on Sunday morning, Joy was okay with us heading over to the studio to look that these paintings with fresh eyes. To be honest, they actually looked a bit better than I'd remembered from the night before. So we prayed, and asked for artistic and creative insight. And we looked at these paintings afresh and figured out what to do next. I spent about an hour that Sunday afternoon a week ago implementing the ideas we came up with and...when I left that afternoon to enjoy the rest of my "day of rest" at home, I left a bit encouraged. The paintings had turned the corner. 

So now a week later, I honestly think these three paintings may well leave my studio as my favorite pieces I've ever done. Imagine that. How ironic it was I was really thinking I'd failed just one week ago.

There's a moral to this story I think. Maybe it's up to you to apply it to your own life and situation right now. Your input at this point would be awesome! I'd love to hear what you think!

"The Trail That Never Ends"

Appalachian Trail.jpg

About a month ago, I had some really nice visitors to my studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. They spent some time looking at all my landscape oil paintings and approached me as I was painting at my work station up front. They asked me if I ever did commissions (I LOVE COMMISSIONS!) and after talking them through the process, they gave me a photo of theirs which was taken somewhere along the Appalachian Trail. I was excited to be able to honestly say I’ve now tackled the A.T. 

“it just kept going and going and going...”

This trail is infamous and wonderful. One friend of mine tried to hike it a few years ago and the main complaint was “it just kept going and going and going”. Yes. It goes on forever. 

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,180+ mile long public footpath that traverses the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. Conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, it criss-crosses through twelve states along the eastern seaboard.

Completing the entire 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike; only about one in four makes it all the way. A typical thru-hiker takes 5 to 7 months to hike the entire A.T.

I’ve not actually hiked much of the A.T. but some of my very favorite vistas are on the trial: Max Patch and Roan Mountain. If you’re in North Carolina (or…Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine), it’s definitely worth exploring. And in the meantime, enjoy the painting!

Inspration Begets Inspiration

I received a wonderful gift the other day...a poem. This wasn't just any poem though. This poem, entitled "Portal" was written by a client of mine who had recently purchased one of my paintings and apparently, the painting (my creative expression) inspired his own creative expression (the poem). I love that!

As an artist in the River Arts District, I deal with so many really great people. They're perusing Asheville's various art galleries and art studios because they enjoy art and want to meet the artists. Art becomes the common ground between strangers here, and even if we differ in regards to background, race, religion, or politics, we can come together with art. Art is magical that way I think.

I love the idea of one genre of creative expression inspiring another, so that creativity bounces from one head/heart to the next and how far it eventually goes? Who knows, but it's exciting the think about. As far back as our exploration of history goes, creative expression has always been linked to the homo sapien. I really like that!

So without any further written expression on my part, let's get to the written expression that inspired this particular blog post:

 

Portal

By Ray Griffin

29 May 2018, Asheville, North Carolina

 

The day has been quite unsettled

with shifting clouds and continual gentle rains.  

I, too, am restless as I sit on pier’s edge.  

The Sangiovese soothes my senses

as descending clouds begin to encroach

upon lake’s placid domain.  

 

All is quiet

except for the occasional call of the loon.  

I skip-a-stone

across water’s surface

just to create movement and sound

upon its liquid sheet of glass.  

I relish the moment.

My eyes follow the ripples

until they disappear into the misty void.

 

The fog thickens

as the sole cry of a hawk, unseen,

pierces the silence

echoing off of the nearby mountains.

 

I take my bottle, drinking from its neck,

and settle into my red canoe.  

Slowly, I paddle towards the morphing void.  

As I pass through its edge 

the pier disappears.

 

I place the paddle at my feet. 

The eerie quietness of the moment

is disturbed only by the gentle lapping

of the lake upon my craft.  

I am adrift in my thoughts... 

 

Sol briefly

pierces storm’s grey veil

pathway

though opacity

provides for poetic transparency

Rejuvenating Creativity!

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As primarily a landscape painter, I'm repeatedly asked how I get inspired. Really? I live in an absolutely gorgeous part of the country! How could I not get inspired? Creative inspiration is all around me. Other artists live here, constantly creating (over 220 of them within a square mile of where I'm sitting). Asheville is full of amazingly creative restaurants, buskers, craft breweries and (last but oh not least)...nature. Quiet, peaceful and restorative nature. So, if you take just a bit of time, inspiration is really easy here. 

Yesterday, I made time. It was my day off (thanks Ruth for keeping the studio open for me!) and I needed to slow down and breathe a little. It being high tourist season, I've been really busy with commissions and paintings for my own studio here in Asheville's River Arts District. I love the pace this time of year but after several weeks of "pedal to the medal" frantic painting, I really needed a breather. And my gosh, I got one yesterday. 

Yesterday morning, I'd read about a trail I'd not tried before "the "Bust your Butt" trail. I couldn't resist it with a name like that.

I packed my lunch into my camelback, put on my hiking shoes and drove 3000 feet up! Nearly to Mt. Mitchell (highest point east of the Rockies), it was a pleasant 71 degrees (compared to 85 degrees back home in Asheville). Yesterday morning, I'd read about a trail I'd not tried before "the "Bust your Butt" trail. I couldn't resist it with a name like that. I soon found out why it got that name. It was a real workout. But here and there, I had to stop walking and just stand still and listen. Nothing. Really -- nothing at all. Silence. Some clouds enveloped the mountaintop and I walked through silence in the woods. Oh my gosh, "this is where good introverts go when they die!" I thought. Awesome. 

I've written before about the concept of "inhaling" in order to be able to create (or exhale). See my blog on that topic if you're interested. Why did it take me so long to slow down? I think I'd actually get more done if I made myself do this more often! 

This was definitely a very pleasant afternoon of "inhaling". I can't wait to get back to painting today. I'm so ready. 

A Word About Accolades

BEST ARTIST AWARD.jpg

Since it's Sunday and my "day of rest" in which I can enjoy some down time to think and relax, I was mulling over this past week at my art studio. There were moments of listening to critique and moments of listening to praise. I've written previous blogs about some of the critique artists can get, and learning how to gracefully listen to that critique (without punching someone) is a useful skill. But there is one skill infinitely more important to master and that is how to deal with praise. Not dealing with praise correctly, I think, can destroy creativity and ruin a life and I'm not being overly dramatic when I say that. I'm speaking from personal experience. 

When I was a kid, art was the only thing I did well. I was teased a lot and easily crumbled emotionally. But I found that if I created something artistically, the same people that teased me earlier would praise me. So...I wanted to be the best at art. And the insidious thing about it was that this determination was unrecognized by me (or anyone else) as being dangerous at all. What's wrong with wanting to be really great at something? We praise people who have grit like that. But I didn't just want to be great. I wanted to be greatest. And because I probably had some natural abilities in art, and because I applied myself to the extreme to creative endeavors, I was consistently the best artist in all my school classes and life was sweet. Until...

When I entered high school, I met a guy that toppled me from my throne: John Howarth. John was a nice guy and popular. But I kept my distance. I did not like John Howarth, because he ruined life for me. He was the first person I met that was a much better artist than I was, and for the next three years, I was forced to deal with being "second best" (which to me, felt like utter failure).

Thankfully, I can honestly say I learned something from that whole experience. I learned that praise is addictive. It's nice but the more you get, the more you need. It's never enough. I learned that I was USING my art and my abilities to create and bolster a sometimes sagging self image. But I came to believe that creative ability was not given to me as a means to an end. I firmly believe that art is a joy in and of itself. It is the gift, not the means to the gift. And interestingly enough, I can look back at my high school years and the emotional-spiritual processing going on in me and can see that that was a real turning point for me, and my creativity radically increased. When I stopped using art to get attention and "be someone" and simply enjoyed art, creativity opened almost unbidden, like a flower in my hand.

So, I feel sorry for people who are criticized. Unasked for critique especially is difficult to hear and not become instantly defensive. But I'm terrified of people who can't bear to not be "the best". I've been nearly destroyed by people like that. But I'm probably scared of them because I was just like that, so it's like looking in a mirror if I can be honest (and it's my blog, so that's my prerogative). They say that the things that bug you the most about someone else are probably your own weakest areas. I have found that to be true.

So for what it's worth, here's some advice:

If you're criticized for something you do, don't let criticism crush you. Listen to it. I mean, there may be some helpful nuggets of truth mixed in with all the garbage, so sort out the critique like someone sifting through a latrine for a wedding ring dropped into it.

If you're praised for something you do, just enjoy the praise for what it is in the moment it's given. Don't live off it or for it, and don't make adulation and attention that thing you need to base your life on. Personally, I need something much more stable and eternal for something that important. That's just my opinion. Happy Sunday!

Where it Began

 "Autumn Reflections", April 2012

"Autumn Reflections", April 2012

When I was a kid, I used love to look through my grandparent's old photo album. In it, were scary photos of dead ancestors -- dressed very smart, unsmiling, staring into the camera. Something about the thought that "I am related to these people -- this is where I came from" kept drawing me back to that old book of ancient photos.

I thought of that memory just the other day, as I looked back at the first first photos I posted on my (then brand new) Facebook page. Wow. I cringed and laughed out loud. I found myself staring at the very first painting I had shared back in 2012, "Autumn Reflections". This was one of the very early "landscape" pieces I had done using my new technique I called "Dialuminism" ("Light Passing Through"). See, when I started working with painting atop aluminum leaf and finishing with resin, I was doing all abstracts. Separately, I was painting small quasi-impressionistic landscape scenes, but I really wanted to figure out how to paint landscapes using the tools of dialuminism but I had no idea how to coax the materials and ingredients to create what I wanted to create. The painting I'm showing here was my first attempt at a landscape. I had so much fun with it (and these new reflective landscapes were SELLING!), that I quit doing my more typical oil painted landscapes and jumped head long into my technique, using dialuminism for every piece I did. It became my trademark.

I enjoy seeing where I come from. I was all about ancestors long before ancestor.com. I like seeing progression. It's fun. And I thought it would be entertaining to share that progression with other people. I hope you're enjoying the ride as much as I am!

 "Until Tomorrow", July 2018

"Until Tomorrow", July 2018

Funny Things People Say in an Art Studio

River Arts District, Asheville

Most of the time, being artist in the River Arts District in Asheville is a blast. I mean really -- all of us down here are living out our passion, and making a living doing it! Who could ask for a better job than that? And honestly, about 98% of the people who visit us are super nice people. Some of become regular clients and dear friends of mine. The fact that we artists don't create in a vacuum is one of the huge benefits of our "open studio" business model here in the Arts District. This keeps us socialized (which honestly, is really emotionally healthy) and ithe fact that I can see and hear what I do that resonates with visitors helps me make a living as a painter. 

"How Ready are you to Sell These?"

So honestly, all 220 of us artists in the Arts District love our jobs and we very warmly welcome any visitor who comes in to feel free to chat with us and take a look at our artwork. That said, there is a really funny 2% of studio visitors that either make us laugh or cry. A few weeks ago, one of the artists posted an entry on our River Arts District Facebook page asking for artist contributions to a growing list of "funny things people say when visiting an art studio". I cracked up reading this list and thought others might crack a smile as well. This is what keeps life as an artist entertaining...

Visitor walking out the door:  "But how much can a painting really cost? Paint and boards aren't that expensive"...

Visitor to friend: "We should buy some of these and make these and make them ourselves!”

"How ready to sell this are you?"

"I have a group in China that copies oil paintings like this for a quarter of these prices."

“Does the city pay your rent?"

"Is this your 'real job'? Can you really make a living doing this?"

“My cousin is an artist. You should see his work! He sells his.”

"I've paid less for a car!"

"This piece has been on your website for  over three months...so...I'm going to offer to pay you 50% of the prices..."

"What exactly is this material?" (as they are sticking their finger into wet oil paint)

"Does your job give you insurance? I couldn't take a job without insurance."

Man to girlfriend: “Babe, you could TOTALLY do this!” Man to me: “so HOW do you do this??”

Woman entering and looking around the studio: "Are all the pretty paintings gone?"

Man looking around at the walls: "this must be the stuff that doesn't sell right?"

“So how does it feel to be selling out?”

"It's so sensitively done! I thought for sure the artist was a woman!".

Visitor whispering...“Heck, honey I’ll make you one of those”

"Can you give me a break on sales tax?"

"Do you have any 95% off prices?"

"Did your real job not work out, so now you're here?"

"How long does it take ya to paint one a them things?" (I think they're trying to figure out your hourly wages.)

Visitor showing the artist photos on his phone: "I wouldn't charge you much if you wanted to use any of these photos. Just pay me a commission if your painting sells."

"Oh, the kids make those."

A few weeks ago, a woman came in the studio with her little high strung, fashionably dressed miniature curly haired dog and after a few minutes of browsing she walked quickly up to me and asked where her dog could pee.

"It's a nice little hobby you have here."

"I would love to just play like this all day but... I have a job."

A man came in to our studios, looked around quickly and then asked me where she could find "fine art".

From a woman at a local museum..."I love your work and we're committed to promoting local artists. We'd like to have you paint a 10 ft x 20 ft mural." (Then she explained that the museum would pay for the paint but needed me to donate my time to design and paint it.)

"I absolutely love your work! I always go to the ***** art auction and I always look to see if I can get one of your paintings at a good price."