Landscapes

Steps Involved with a Painting Commission

Yesterday morning, I was in my “happy place”, finishing up a landscape painting I’m working on featuring the meadows and mountains for western North Carolina. My art studio had had several visitors poking in, looking at the completed artwork I have displayed on my walls and stopping to talk with me while I was working.

Around mid-morning, three women arrived and I remembered two of them from a previous visit. They had come in to talk about steps involved with commissioning a painting. Luckily, they had a laptop filled with some really beautiful photos.

These clients live in beautiful home near the eastern tip of Long Island and their home overlooks a bit of wetland and then a bay (Wickham Creek). They showed me photos of their home and some shots of where the painting would be eventually installed. And then we perused photos of their amazing view during each of the seasons.

So the first question to answer was “what is the subject matter for this piece?”. Over the course of the conversation, they decided on a view of the bay with the foreground being a mix of cattails and various wetland foliage. The problem was that there are trees in the way of the view they desired, but I assured them that that was an easy problem to remedy as an artist (I’ll just remove the trees in the artwork!). And this time of year, with leaves nearly all off the trees, they can just give me a good shot through the trees and that will give me the mid-ground and background for the composition.

Then we discussed time of year to be depicted. Their walls are a “golden retriever yellow, so a sundown would be too warm and winter would be too cool. We decided that a late September view (before the cattails were pruned off) would work great. Blue sky with some clouds maybe? Lush green wetland in the foreground with some early autumn rusts and golds (which tie in with the wall color).

It’s so much fun to sit down and talk through what the client is looking for.

The only thing left to decide was the size, but they were thinking something around 4’ x 6’ or maybe 3’ x 5’, as it is to be a real “statement piece”, hanging above the couch. As soon as they get home, they’ll measure their couch, and then get back to me. In the mean time, I did a little research and found that the average three-cushion couch is 84” long, and based on that, I did the following three plans:

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I’ll forward the photos to them today, so they can start thinking about the proportions that would work best for them. Then we will be ready to start, and about eight weeks later, the painting will be delivered to it’s new Long Island home!

This is how I generally work a commission. It’s so much fun to sit down and talk through what the client is looking for. Sometimes people know exactly what they want, and sometimes we need to talk it through. Either way, it’s really a lot of fun for me as I begin to imagine the completed work. As we talk, the painting begins coming together as we nail down the plan: theme, colors, time of year, time of day, angle of the shot, best size for the space. All of that is great fun for me and I think my clients really enjoyed it too. The result of all that fun will be an awesome piece of art. That’s not bragging — it’s just really hard to go wrong with painting the view of the bay they were showing me. It’s going to be amazing.

As the plans come together and the piece is started, I’ll document the progress here for anyone interested in following along. Cheers!

Commission Confusion

This last week, I had a visitor to my studio in Asheville’s River Arts District who spent quite a bit of time looking at all my paintings I have displayed in my art studio/gallery. They walked around a couple of times, studying each piece. I just assumed they were an artist trying to figure out my technique, so I was politely quiet. :)

I don’t charge any more for commissions and I guarantee you’ll be happy with it…

After several minutes, they left, but then returned about an hour later and went back to a couple of landscape paintings I have hanging near the back of my studio. On my way to my “back of studio workspace (where I do the messy work), I briefly commented that if they had any questions, to be sure to ask. They nodded quietly and continued staring at my painting. That’s fine. After another ten minutes or so, they walked slowly by my front-of-studio workstation and watched me paint. So I got to talking with him just a bit and he said that he REALLY liked a couple of the paintings but was afraid they were both the wrong size for his space. So I recited my standard commissions speech:

“If you would like to commission a painting based on one of the paintings you like, I am very happy to revisit that idea in another size. I can even change it from a summer to an autumn scene or add some sun rays coming across the trees. I don’t charge any more for commissions and I guarantee you’ll be happy with it or I’ll sell it here and paint you another one. And I ship for free, which, since you live in New York, saves you having to pay the NC sales tax…”

“Oh no,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to have you do that.”

I was fine with that, smiled and told him to have a great day and to make sure he comes back again next time he’s in town. But honestly, I don’t understand his reluctance to commission a painting. Did he want a “unique” painting? Or did he not want to spend the money for a “commissioned piece”? Or did he think a commissioned piece wouldn’t have the same “artistic energy” from me as a painting that came “from my own heart”? I didn’t ask because, well, I just never would.

Is it unique?

As far as being a unique painting, each one I do is a unique piece of art. I never just “copy” a painting of mine — I always tweak it so each one is unique, but I feel complete freedom to revisit a favorite theme (look up “Monet Water Lilies” or “Money St.Paul’s Cathedral” and see how many iterations he did of the same theme). If Claude can do it, so can I (that’s my reasoning). And honestly, when I try a new thematic idea and it works, when I have gone back and rework it, the new one always turns out better.

The cost of a commissioning a painting?

I never charge more for a commission. It’s exactly the same price as it would be if I just did it to hang on my studio wall and tried to sell it here.

Is a commissioned painting inferior to a piece that “came from the artists’ heart”?

No. Bottom line is that I just love painting. I don’t care what I paint. And commissioned pieces honestly have always been the most fun because I get to paint ALL SORTS OF THINGS I’d never be able to sell here in my Asheville art studio. For commissions, I’ve painted scenes from Scotland, Canada, the Swiss Alps, New Zealand, the canals of Venice, underwater fish “cyclone”, even a sunset over Antarctica. I absolutely love it when someone says something like “I have probably a crazy idea for a painting…” Right there, they have me hooked. Something new and try!

I hope my studio visitor comes back sometime and sees something he likes. But I would really get excited if he said, “okay, I don’t see exactly what I want so let me try to explain it and see if you can do it.”

I can do it, and I promise I’ll have a blast.

Only North Carolina?

“El Capitan” circa 2013

“El Capitan” circa 2013

A few years ago (before I moved to my current studio on Depot Street, I was in the Wedge Building in Asheville’s River Arts District. At that time, I was painting mostly local Western North Carolina mountain scenes — places that were within an hour or two drive from Asheville. I was beginning to sell well (much better than I’d ever thought I would or could) and I was really excited about what I was doing. I was selling artwork to people from the north as far as Maine and south as far as Florida, and from the east coast to the west coast.

Because my clients were from all over North America, the thought occurred to me that maybe I was unnecessarily limiting myself in my subject matter. My musings at the time went like this… “Since my art buyers are coming from literally all over the country, maybe I shouldn’t JUST paint local Western North Carolina landscapes. Maybe I should I branch out and paint some of the iconic scenes from all over the country.” ???

So I spent several months painting some of the most amazing landscapes this country has to offer. The painting I’m featuring on this blog post “El Capitan” is from that series. What I found though was that my sales shriveled to a small fraction of what they were before. Because I am dependent on making the most people happy as possible with my artwork, I gave up painting anything but generic or local North Carolina landscapes and…my sales went back to where they were before my little theme-based experiment. I learned something from that, although I confess I wish I could make a living painting more than JUST my own backyard. I love this part of the country, but this country is so huge and so beautiful — as an artist, I’d love to be able to paint all of it. But as a homeowner, I need to sell my artwork so I can pay my mortgage. So that has been my quandary.

So I write this blog post to ask for the opinions of anyone out there that might feel inclined to share…

1) Would you like to see at least some paintings that were not “North Carolina themed” and, if you could, would you be more inclined to purchase them than local themed paintings?

2) If you answered yes to question 1…What part of the country would you love to see depicted?

3) Do you have a favorite place in your own state that you would love to have depicted in a painting? Or have you visited somewhere in your travels that would make an awesome piece of art?

If the only artwork I can sell here in Asheville is North Carolina themed and generic landscapes, I’m content with that. I’m just wondering if I chose the wrong photos to work from or if the paintings I did back then just weren’t all that great (I hope I’m a better artist now than I was six years ago!). But I’d love your input. I really do listen. So thank you ahead of time for any opinion you have on the matter!

The Price of Being a Landscape Painter

western north carolina mountains.jpg

Being one of Asheville, North Carolina's landscape artists, it's important for me to continually find new things to paint. So Joy and I do a lot of hiking (one of the sacrifices one must make for the job, right?). I love hiking. It's like a divine "re-set" button. And definitely, one of my very favorite places to visit is about an hour drive west of Asheville: Max Patch.

Max match is a 4,600-ft. bald mountain that was cleared and used as pasture in the 1800s. Today, it's a 350-acre tract of wide-open land on a high knob with 360-degree views. It's one of the most spectacular places one can experience in the Blue Ridge mountains.

The Great Smoky Mountains, only 20 miles away, completely dominate the southwest horizon. To the west the terrain drops more than 3,600 ft. into eastern Tennessee. Off in the west rises the dark ridgeline of the Black Mountains, including Mount Mitchell (the highest point this side of the Rocky Mountains. Seemingly endless ridges and peaks and valleys are in every direction you look. It's really  amazing.  Nearly every time we visit, we bring a picnic lunch or dinner consisting of a nice loaf of bread, chicken, and a nice bottle of wine, finished off with Pim's biscuits (cookies). Why Pim's? I don't know. It just seems so festive when we include them. What can I say

Left unmanaged, the field would naturally fill back in with shrubs, and later become peppered with young trees, eventually terminating the cherished 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains and of Mount Mitchell to the east, so from time to time, the Forest Service mows down the grass to keep these incredible vistas open for people to enjoy.

I tell myself that hiking is important to get new ideas for subject matter for my oil paintings. And it is, but honestly, it's so "grounding" to get out in nature and to just be quiet...to listen to God...to listen to the wind and the birds and feel the sunshine on your face. I can't paint without that. And with relatively easy access (when the weather is good), this Blue Ridge mountain bald is the perfect place to enjoy the benefits of hiking in a quick afternoon trip. If you ever visit Asheville, I'd highly recommend the drive up to Max Patch. Just don't forget the Pim's!

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"The Trail That Never Ends"

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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!

"The Time Between Times"

"Time Between Times" (22" x 34")

"Time Between Times" (22" x 34")

Sometimes when I am trying to get ready to begin a painting, it's difficult to know what I want to paint. I hear other artists say things like "I'm just waiting for inspiration...I'm in a dry season right now." That's not me. I've never been in a dry season. I've never waited for inspiration. If I dive into something (whether or not I feel inspired at the moment), inspiration comes quickly. It's like that inspiring little muse is always there (albeit quiet sometimes) but it can always be coaxed out. Sometimes it's like a pouting little kid that doesn't want to play and is sulking in the corner. And so you say "okay that's fine! I'll play without you" and before long, the kid slinks out of the corner and joins the play. 

So I am not slowed down when I don't feel "inspired". What I'm talking about is when I'm between projects and want to paint...am ready to paint...NEED to paint but I don't know what I SHOULD paint. How to decide...

What I usually do at that point is to look through all my photos in my camera and go to Bing or Google images and start the search for something to inspire my painting. I always tweak the photo so it's not a "copy" (I need the painting to be a unique piece), but I feel free to get inspired by a sunset, sunrise, interesting foreground or general composition of a piece. But the really big thing I'm looking for in a photo is not whether or not it's beautiful. There are lots of beautiful photos that make lousy paintings. I'm looking to create an emotion in the viewer. Manipulative, huh? It's true. 

The above painting is one I just finished this morning, "Time Between Times", and it depicts that five minutes of time between day and night that the world becomes magical with the quality of light and color. I'm looking to create a piece that evokes a sense of awe. I can imagine being there in the scene and thinking "Oh...my...gosh. (long pause) That..is...amazing". If I were standing on the shoreline of this lake at that time of day, I would feel awe. My goal is that I can share that sense of awe with the viewer of my painting. 

So to me, it's not my primary goal to create nice art. That's part of my goal, but utmost in my mind is that I want to elicit emotion (usually a sense of awe or peace or joy, but sometimes sadness and pain). If I can do that, then I've touched on something powerful and that is a very heady thing to try to master. I'll always strive to that end. 

The Art of Dinner (with the Dallas Cowboys)

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On Tuesday, June 5, Omni's Grove Park Inn asked me to be involved in an event called "The Art of Dinner". The way it works is that for a select group of people (the DALLAS COWBOYS actually), the chef from The Grove Park Inn is going to create a five course dinner which is their take gastronomic "interpretation" of my painting (below) entitled "Summer Walks Remembered", a painting inspired by teenage memories of one of the most amazing summers I had as a teenager. 

Back in the day, my parents piled three kids and our dog (a Saint Bernard) into our station wagon and headed up the California coast from Los Angeles. We stopped and camped along the Oregon coast, visited family in the Seattle area and then headed north into Canada. Our eventual goal was Francois Lake, British Columbia to pick up my younger brother who was staying at a friends family cabin on the north shore of this incredible lake. This was true wilderness at the time. I remember one afternoon I went walking by myself up a pathway that led eventually to an upper wheat field that used to be used for livestock when the homestead was a working farm. The pathway was lined with aspen trees and wildflowers. It was one of those places you randomly visit and think "wait, stop. Stop and breathe. Remember this." And I did. The painting I'm bringing with me is based upon that very memory of a beautiful warm summer day in northern British Columbia. 

I have no idea what a gourmet, edible version of my painting will be, but talk about creative! I love it. I'll be there with my painting, explain it, meet the chef and of course the players. What an incredible thing it is to live in Asheville!

Carving Mountains from Scratch

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Having recently completed a set of six new paintings for the gallery that represents me in Charleston, SC (Mitchell-Hill Gallery), I decided I wanted to search for a gallery somewhere in the Rocky Mountain states. There are several ways to hunt down a gallery to represent you, but most of those ways do not work very well. The most common way is to send them an email and ask. But galleries can get over a hundred emails a month from artists and I would assume they just delete most of those emails as they get them. Some galleries actually state on their website what they ask from an artist that wants representation, and an artist following those requests is respectful, and that's a good way to start a relationship.

There are several ways to hunt down a gallery...but most of those ways do not work VERY well.

The other way though is for an artist to enter their work in regional shows, because gallery owners often go to shows to check out the art and shop for new artists to represent. Because my work is so hard to explain in a photo (they are dimensional and reflective), this last route is the way for me to go I think. So I am looking for key shows out west that I can enter a body of work into that would "fit" into that region. So for instance, I am looking to paint more rugged mountains that our Appalachians and Blue Ridge. These new paintings should like like somewhere out west (think Rocky Mountains) rather than western North Carolina or the Asheville vicinity. And I LOVE that challenge. I love painting new themes because that keeps my work fresh and my brain entertained!

So here is the beginning of a painting of Dream Lake (just southwest of Estes Park, Colorado). This is a quintessential Rocky Mountain lake scene, so it's perfect for my purposes. I just began applying modeling compound with my palette knife yesterday, building and carving the scene on my canvas. This is now about ready for the next step (applying aluminum leaf), then painting.

I'm really excited about painting this new body of work. We'll see where it goes! 

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"Trigger Warning"

St.Claire mountain landscape (full view)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 1)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 2)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 3)

After the school shootings at Parkland, Florida and after watching a horrid video (that hit really close to home) showing a black man being totally brutalized by a local white police officer, several of my artist friends were talking and trying to process our grief and rage. This should not be normal. None of this should be normal. As the conversation progressed, we decided we needed to use our artistic voice to challenge our society to call that society to think and reason. This has turned into a multi-venue exhibition of art called "Trigger Warning".

As I said in my earlier blog about this, I wondered what I could do (as a landscape painter) to say something strong about this whole subject (because that's what it deserves). I really felt completely perplexed. But then in the early hours of the morning, the idea regarding what I had to do came to me.

Rather than wax on about what I wanted to say with this, I would like very much to know how it affects you, the reader/viewer. I have not titled this piece. What would you title it? Does this piece bring up any thoughts, emotions or questions? I'd really, seriously like to know. This was one of the most difficult paintings I've ever done (knowing what I was going to do to it to make it say what I wanted it to say). I would be very curious what exactly it's saying to you. Sincere thanks!

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).