creativity

Making the Most of Mistakes

Step One: Texture Application

Step One: Texture Application

As a full-time artist residing in Asheville, North Carolina with an open art studio in the River Arts District, I am pretty much used to hearing every question about my artwork that I can imagine. That said, one question from a young artist just the other day caught me by surprise: “Do you ever make a mistake with your artwork, and if so, how do you not just get completely discouraged?”

Oh my gosh, my whole technique and process was built on top of mistake after mistake. Even the subject matters I paint are informed by past mistakes. Yes, if you’re a creative person, mistakes can be unnerving. That’s because we want to be perfect. I want something beautiful and brilliant to just flow out of me naturally, with little effort. I also want to fly, but neither scenario is possible. If you are a person who has given yourself to honing your create craft, then you know the little irritating secret: mistakes are our friends. The whole notion that “there are no mistakes with art” is utter nonsense. Progress is built because of mistakes, not in spite of them. (And yes, you may quote me.)

Just yesterday, one such mistake happened with a new idea I’ve been working on. I have upcoming “sail” artwork in the making. I say “upcoming” because I’m still in the experimental stages of developing it. I say “sail” because they will bow out from the wall rather than lay flat against the wall. Why would I do this? Oh, just because I think it could be really cool! But a couple months ago, I applied a flexible medium for texture to my 1/8” flexible panel and yesterday, I unwrapped a set of them (after about six weeks of being wrapped in brown paper to protect it) and realized that the flexible texture is not sticking to the panel. I stared at it with angst (naturally) and immediately went into the problem-solving mode. Either texture material is wrong, or the panel itself is the wrong material. So tomorrow, I will begin another prototype and trash the first one.

…keeping a playful heart when dealing with adversity is the key to ultimate success…

Do I feel frustrated? Depressed? Like a failure? NO! This is exciting. Seriously, I love this because eventually, I’ll figure it out. It’s really not rocket science, it just requires experimenting and playing. And play is fun.

So the moral of this story (which probably applies to everyone (artists and non-artists alike) is this: Getting something right the first time does not matter like you think it does. I think that keeping a playful heart when dealing with adversity is the key to ultimate success with whatever we’re trying to accomplish. And who knows, with enough creativity and playful experimenting, we really WILL fly.

Preliminary Photos of my "Sails" Prototypes

So (drum roll please), I’m ready for the “soft” unveiling of my “sails” experiment. Normally, I’d wait until I finish a painting to take it’s completion photos, and these three prototypes are still technically pre-completed, as they still need a layer of resin and edges cleaned up. That said, I couldn’t wait any longer to at least post some photos of the pieces. Usually, when I experiment with something, some things go right and some things go wrong, so you shape an idea into what it will be. This time though, there was no shaping…it just all happened exactly to plan. Trust me…that’s unusual.

This project posed some challenges though. First, I had to find a substrate that would easily bend. Then I had to find a material I can use for the texture the would also flex. Once I figured this out though, the rest was easy.

I’m really happy with these, and I think the possibilities are really exciting. These prototypes are only about 20” tall, but what if they were 4’ tall? The panels here are all mounted in two parallel hardwood tracks, but what if they’ were mounted at different angles? What if they overlapped each other? Sorry, this is how my mind works. The “what if’s” never stop until I try it and see.

Back to work for now. More to come.

”Azure Sails”

”Azure Sails”

“Aegean Sails”

“Aegean Sails”

“Crimson Sails”

“Crimson Sails”

The Benefits of Slowing Down

I’m a hopeless “creative”. I love to invent things in my mind. I love to imagine. I can’t help myself. I’ve been doing it all my life. Thankfully, I’m no longer in a job position that requires multitasking. I stink at multitasking. Give me just one thing to focus on and I’m very happy, thank you.

Because I am now a full time artist with an open studio in Asheville, North Carolina, I can focus all day long, every day, and so…I love my job. However, I’ve found that giving constant vent to creativity is both enlivening and draining. I’ve written about this before, but slowing down and “drinking in” is really important for keeping life and joy in my craft. I am realizing that during the really busy autumn season, I ran and ran and ran and didn’t really slow down until now.

Although this winter season is still full of commission projects (thankfully), because I’m taking a break from Asheville per se, I’m finding more time to take walks, stare at walls and let creativity be breathed into life again. As much as I enjoy the actual creating processes, I’m so thankful for the time to slow down and dream. It’s absolutely necessary and I know that but I usually put it off far too long because I love painting so much! What a problem to have, right?

The first photos of my new projects will be posted shortly, but not today. I’m resting. :)

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

In thinking about one year closing and another just beginning, I guess I'm not alone in getting a bit introspective regarding the accomplishments of this past year, and excited about the possibilities of the next. So to just get these things out of my head and on virtual paper, I’ll take advantage of this blog and record my thoughts and dreams here. So, in looking back…

2018 was very good to us. Here are some of the highlights:

1) Individual customer base grew to the highest level to date. See, there are basically three ways I sell paintings: individual clients who are purchasing artwork for their home during their trip to Asheville, sales from art galleries that represent me, and corporate / institutional jobs (public art, art installations, things like that). So the fact that more individual sales happened in 2018 is really, really encouraging.

2) Earlier last spring, I came up with a new method of creating an abstract painting. It involves applying texture to the canvas and then applying the metallic leaf, then drizzling resin over the entire piece in a random design or grid. Then when the resin sets, I add the paint in the "resin valleys" and then finish it all off with more layers of resin.

3) Just at the tail end of the year, I came up with a new form of installation art which will literally billow out from the wall. I've tested individual elements of the idea and so far, each test has worked awesomely. In the next few weeks, I'll be working on three prototypes. These will just be 20" x 24" pieces, but if this works (and I'm very positive about it so far), this concept could be accomplished with 4' tall panels, or eight foot tall panels, extending to whatever length desired to fill up the space.

And here are some of the things on my wish list for 2019:

1) Find more key galleries around the country that would represent me. This would result in "spreading out the sales" and income sources so that most does not just depend on Asheville, North Carolina. This seems wise. It would also be fun more me because I could expand the landscape themes I could paint.

2) Locate and work with more interior designers so that my corporate work would grow. These are really fun projects just because of the possible scale of them.

3) Develop and market my new "sail-form" art panels (see point three above). In my head, these could be really cool because the surface reflecting the light and holding the paint layers would be bent, so the colors would differ greatly from top to bottom and/or side to side. That could be really interesting.

I'm really, really grateful that I can now make a living doing what I absolutely love to do. This is something I never want to take for granted. And I'm really excited about dreaming together with my wife Joy regarding goals and ideas and possibilities for the next year. You never know the ride a year (or even a day) can take you on, but I'm ready to take a deep breath and dive right in! Wooo hooo!

Percolating Creativity

asheville river arts district.JPG

I love it when this happens. I’m consumed with this new concept for artwork. I’ve now got all my “ingredients” together to fabricate three prototypes and then…if…it…works, I’ll release them into the world. Pardon the drama. I’m excited.

Two blog posts ago, I mentioned that I was thinking about a new concept for artwork…a “sail” shape that would billow out from the wall. I’ve figured out how to make it secure and stay in place and hold the shape I dictate, so that’s good (see my last post “So then” for more info on that). But what’s blowing my brain is that there is so much I could potentially DO with this. I’m thinking of boring holes in the sail shapes, creating voids. I’m thinking of playing with strips with or instead of (in some cases) the sail shapes and bending them around each other (like a bent wood sculpture does). But the surface of all component sheets would be texturized with a flexible agent, covered with my metallic leaf, paint and one layer of resin. These shapes will be luminous and not contained to a single plain.

The next step will happen after the holidays, and that’s the fabrication of the first prototype. If that works (and per my experimentation, I’m pretty sure it will work now), my next post will include photos of all the prototypes.

In my Asheville art studio, I will probably always paint mostly landscape paintings (and that’s because I love painting landscapes!) but I do really enjoy creating abstract art as well. These would in a sense be abstract. The colors will be simple, but because the surface will be reflecting light through my paint, AND because as the surface bends and each inch of the surface catches light differently than the next, I’m thinking the result will be something visually rich, graceful and dynamic.

Well, that’s the plan. :)

We’ll see what happens. Stay tuned!

Claude: My Creative Hero and Muse

“Cliff at Varengeville”, 1882

“Cliff at Varengeville”, 1882

As an oil painter, one of the questions I’m often asked at my Asheville studio is “What or who inspired you to paint like this?” That’s a really good question because my creative process is like a good stew simmering in a crock pot or all day: a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a handful of this and gobs of that.

When it comes to my art process, “Gobs of that” come from one man: Claude Monet. Monet was in my opinion, the ultimate genius. What he did with light and color was unheard of and brand new. And it cracks me up…the Parisian “respectable” art society wanted nothing to do with this new brash style of painting. “The texture is too unrefined — it’s just a mess of brush strokes". “The colors are too bright — completely unrealistic.” It’s really hard to understand any time in history when Monet’s artwork was seen as anything but magical, but there you have it. We are a species that naturally distrusts anything novel, anything new (even if it’s an improvement over the accepted standard"). Monet broke the conventional rules (no doubt about it) and he created brand new rules which formed the backbone of his new style he called “Impressionism”. Why the title “Impressionism”? Because his goal was not to capture a photo-realistic copy of nature onto a canvas. His goal was to capture the “impression” of the place; to capture the emotional and visual impact of a landscape onto a canvas. How to you capture an emotion in a visual manner? Look at any of Monet’s artwork…that’s how.

“The texture is too unrefined — it’s just a mess of brush strokes". “The colors are too bright — completely unrealistic.”

What he did with color was unheard of at the time. Take a look at the red cliffs in the detail photo below.

Asheville fine art painting.jpg

In the past, rendering shadows on a red rock cliff was fairly standard…you take the red color of the rock and add darker pigment (black or umber to it). Take a look at the shadows though. See any black? No, they’re blue (the complimentary color of the warm reds and gold colors used in the depiction of the cliff. When set side by side, the complimentary colors buzz…they pop, vibrate. It’s a color riot on the canvas and something about it, although not realistic looking, to me looks better than realistic.

That “better than realistic” quality is what I aim for in every single painting I produce. My free use of complimentary color and my mad use of texture — that all came from one man named Claude. Monet was a genius and what he captured with the texture and color he employed is still an awesome thing to behold. It’s humbling to me. I’m pretty sure I could never be where I am and doing what I’m doing if it weren’t for the fact that he did it all before me. Thanks Claude!


Lessons I've Learned as an Artist

I love my job. I really love it. I’m a painter in Asheville, North Carolina and have an open studio in the River Arts District. I work around 200 other artists (within a square mile) and share a very precious comradery with them. Every day, I walk the three miles to the studio and gear up to the tasks of the day, and then walk three miles home to unwind. My life is awesome right now.

This lifestyle and occupation niche is really rewarding but doesn’t come without challenges and lessons to be learned. Actually, I’ve learned a whole lot as a result of being a full time artist with an open studio:

1) Learn to be patient with tactile visitors

People love to touch my artwork. It’s not enough to look at it, they have to touch it. And they don’t just touch finished pieces. Every time I step away from my work table, I have to put up several “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH” signs around my work (because it’s wet paint!). Otherwise, I can come back and see foreign fingerprints. I can let this frustrate me (and it has) or insult me (and it does) but my work inspires curiosity and when I remember that fact, it makes it much easier to just deal with the inconvenience of painting over a fingerprint. Inspiring curiosity is an amazing thing and (when my head is in the right place), that makes me smile. That’s what this is all about.

2) Learn to be patient with people’s questions

Every day, I have to answer exactly the same questions multiple times and honestly, it’s exhausting sometimes. The artwork I do is something no one else is doing and while I love that fact, my artwork baffles some people. Before they even look around the studio, some folks have come over to me and almost demanded “So what is that? What’s your process? How do you do this?” I want to say “Why are you worried about HOW I do this? DO YOU LIKE IT?” And that’s because that’s really all I care about. When Joy and I go out to dinner downtown and have an awesome main course, I do not go back to the kitchen and ask the chef “What is this sauce? How did you make it?!” I would never even think of asking. I’m just consumed with “I really love this sauce” or “this doesn’t taste right” and that’s all. So this area frankly baffles me. But…again, if artwork inspires curiosity and ignites questions in the mind of the viewer, is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. It can be exhausting for me as the artist involved here, but I think it’s a very good thing. I don’t want my artwork to look like everyone else’s work. I do want it to be unique. So I’ve learned to be okay (most of the time anyway) with the hundreds of times a week I’m asked this question and try to answer it with a genuine smile (because when they ask, that means my artwork has done it’s job: inspired curiosity).

3) Listen well

I love my business model. Because I work right in the middle of public setting, I get to hear all the comments people make to each other. And this is really helpful. I come up with all sorts of ideas for artwork, but I honestly don’t know if they’re all good ideas until I hang the artwork on the wall and listen to people. This can be humbling, but so helpful. This is my job, and because of that, I can’t afford to be “angsty” and put my artwork up on the wall with the attitude that if people don’t appreciate it, there’s something wrong with them. That attitude won’t fly here. I put up an idea and I know pretty quickly if it was a good idea or not. I can hear some artist say, “Okay, he’s a sell-out”. I disagree. If I want to make a living selling hot dogs, I’d better make sure people enjoy my hot dogs, right? Get some focus groups together and do blind taste tests and see what sells. I’m not saying that an artist should just abandon the passion inside and paint only what people want. But if a respect for people and their interests and tastes is not part of the equation, that artist will not be able to create full time. Unless it’s a hobby, art needs to sell and if it’s not, it’s either too expensive, or the quality is lacking or it’s not executed with the right (popular) color palette, etc. All these things need to be factored into the production of a painting that (hopefully) will one day sell.

That’s probably enough for this blog entry. I’ve got more to say so…this will be continued.

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:

Large.jpg
Medium.jpg
Small.jpg

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!

"A Personal History"

Asheville artists.jpg

One of the things that I’m always interested in finding out about something is it’s origins…how did it become the way it is? What were the steps that, when put together, created what I see? I would have absolutely loved to have seen the huge block of marble Michelangelo used to create his David. When I saw David last year, I was completely awestruck. But it would have been so fascinating to actually see the transformation from a hunk of marble into the awesome sculpture standing now in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, Italy.

I bring this up, because in my Asheville art studio, one of the questions I routinely get from visitors is also about origins, and it goes something like this: “Have you always been an artist?”

So I’d like to address that question here. The simple answer is “yes, I’ve always been an artist” (as far back as I can remember anyway). Very early on, I think art was about the only thing my stay-at-home mom could give me to do that would keep me quietly occupied for several hours. Boredom has always been my nemesis, and artwork most often was the cure. So by the time I entered grade school, I was pretty good at it. And it’s a good thing. Remember that awkward kid that was always the last chosen for the football or baseball or basketball team in grade school? Well HELLO! That was me! I clearly remember the coach having to end the argument between the two team captains about who had me on their team last. Ouch.

Art became my savior…That’s not a good thing.

Day after day, for many years, I clearly felt like I was not wanted and not good or acceptable as a person…except when it was time for art class. The same guys that would reject me on the football field would come around my desk and ask “how did you DO that?” At that point somewhere early in first grade, art became my savior.

That’s not a good thing. It turned out that art was a fickle and demanding savior. See, all was well as long as I was the best artist in my class, and I was…until high school. Ugh. In high school, there was a guy named John Howarth and John Howarth was a better artist than I was. And he was good looking and popular and just an all around great guy. I can say nothing negative about him, except that he dethroned me. I didn’t know how to handle not being the best. That period of time was horrible for me. Eventually, I found another (and ultimate) savior that was not fickle, but that is another story. What happened at this point in time though was I realized that I was using art for myself. I was using it to make me feel worth something.

Eventually, finding a much more dependable savior let art off the hook. At that point, art became something I could just enjoy. Art became a gift to me, and I could then give it to others. If this was not the case, I could never have developed the art genre I work with now. If being the best at art was still prime, I would be paranoid of failure and of making any mistake. But as I said, art is off the hook. Me failing doesn’t matter in the least. I can just start over, having learned from it. I’m smiling right now because that sounds like such a platitude! But it’s really not at all. It’s what frees me to create with joy and abandon. My theory is that if I make a mistake with art, I want it to be a really big one. I may belly-flop, but it’ll be memorable!

In my next blog entry, I’ll address another “origins” question I’m asked often: “How did you stumble across this type of artwork?” Hint: I didn’t stumble. I sculpted it. More on that later.

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.