inspiration

New Idea Taking Shape

Contemporary Art

2019 has gone great so far! Even in this “slow” season in Asheville’s River Arts District, art is still being sold (THANK YOU!!) and commissions worked on feverishly. And…there’s even been time for me to develop my new type of artwork: the SAILS. The above photo is the beginning of my new “sail” art idea. This thin panel is shown begin covered with texture. The texture is important because it not only makes the eventual painting more interesting, it catches light and creates shadows. That’s especially important with a piece of artwork that is “abstract” in nature. The challenge with the texture is that it needs to be FLEXIBLE. It’s flexible because eventually, this panel will be permanently set in a flexed position as it attaches to the wall. So I can’t use my “go to” materials (modeling compound and gesso) because they will crack when flexed. But after some experimenting (and several trips to several art supply stores), I landed on the right material.

Panel here is textured and sealed, ready for the metallic leaf application

Panel here is textured and sealed, ready for the metallic leaf application

Initially, was picturing these panels in flexed positions in a vertical or horizontal row. The three prototype pieces i’m working on now all fit into hardwood track that will mount onto the wall. But there is no reason why the finished piece of artwork would HAVE to mount in a row. They could be mounted individually at angles to each other, some mounted concave, some convex. Why not? It’s just a matter of finding the right mounting hardware (which I have by the way). Eventually, I’m seeing this turn into something that would be luminous, undulating and covering a couple dozen feet (or more??) of a wall.

So…between my winter art commission projects, I’m still plodding ahead with this new idea, having a blast, and gratified the idea seems to be working (so far) without a hitch. Fingers crossed…going forward; sailing ahead!

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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

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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!

So then...

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Since the writing of my last blog post, “What if…” I’ve done some experimenting. In short, those experiments have gone really well (!) so I’ve entitled “So then…” That doesn’t always happen, but so far with this particular idea, it has.

See, a couple weeks ago, I woke up (at 2:17 AM) picturing a new type of artwork than I’ve ever done before, and all the tests and experiments I’ve done are remarkably encouraging. I think I’m onto something. Let me explain a bit more at this point…

I’m an oil painter and (not surprisingly) all my paintings are painted on a flat surface. Go to any of the art studios in Asheville’s River Arts District and notice what the painters are painting on. They are painting on flat surfaces. Go to an art museum and notice what all those framed oil paintings are painted on: flat surfaces. Noticing a trend?

But I’m going to paint on a flexible surface that can be bent in an arc shape. I have a furniture maker friend of mine (thank you Asheville Wood!) that is experimenting with me on this project. They are working on the wood runners (think cherry, black walnut, pecan, bamboo) that will be mounted to the wall (no visible attachments) and that will receive the panels of my artwork and keep them in tension, forming an arc out from the wall. That’s what I’m thinking, and so far, it’s working. I’m going now to the next step and actually fabricating a full size panel (rather than a small sample). I’ll cover the panel with flexible texture, Italian aluminum leaf, oil paint and resin. Resin is flexible? Yep. Turns out one or two layers are perfectly flexible and will provide brilliant color.

In theory, the colors I will apply to the panels will alter greatly because the angle of light will vary over the entire piece (because it’s bent in an arc). What’s in my head (and slowly coming to fruition) is a dynamic piece of artwork that can span many feet (either vertically or horizontally).

I’m excited!

People ask me all the time “when did you come up with this type of art?” and I always laugh and tell them I’m still coming up with it! I feel like I’m half artist and half mad scientist, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just too much fun.

The next post on this subject will be photos of the prototype. Fingers crossed!

What if...

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I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night (!) with ideas. I try not to, but I can’t hep it. It just happens. That’s the curse of being “a creative”: you can’t plan (at all) when the muse will sing her song. When she sings, you listen.

So I was listening to my muse a few nights ago and I got excited about a new idea for artwork. All my artwork is flat. Duh. Go to an art museum and look at all the paintings. They…are…flat. But what if they weren’t flat at all? Who made up that rule anyway???

So I’m thinking of an idea I have to play with. It might bomb. I won’t know until I try, but in my head, it looks amazing. I see sail shapes in various configurations on a wall, billowing out into the room. Each sail is luminous, covered with aluminum (reflective) leaf and oil paint. And each sail is coated with a thin layer of resin to bring out and accentuate all the color. And in their billowing glory, they’re mounted in a row. Three of them together? Five? Seven? Three hundred? (just kidding, but still…)

See, this is how I think. It’s really frustrating sometimes. But I guess artists are supposed to be eccentric and unpredictable so I feel okay about this. What I see in my head is really beautiful. I need to play and experiment and this may be an awesome idea that should just remain in my head but I’ll not know that for sure until I try. I purchased all my materials today and I’m starting a new sort of painting after the holidays (between commissions).

Sails. Think sails. I can’t wait to see the result. And…I’ll post the photos whether it turns out well or not.

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.

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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.

"A Personal History"

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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.

Beauty in the Center of the Pit

Let me first say that if someone by chance is reading this blog, you probably already know I’m an oil painter in Asheville’s River Arts District. I paint some abstract pieces (great therapy!) but mostly I paint local landscapes. For the record, my favorite time of the day to depict in a painting is dawn or dusk, because the light is perfect, and my favorite time of the year to depict is probably autumn, because again…the light. I love trying to capture that moment in a day that may only last a couple minutes and then it’s gone — that time when the sun colors the clouds crimson and orange and the world feels like it’s holding it’s breath, waiting for the first cricket to begin it’s song. In short, I love depicting the awesome beauty of this place.

This week though has been really difficult for me and I need to write about it. So this blog entry will really be more like a journal entry. I need to get write this down or I’ll pop.

“I’m not afraid”.

I got a phone call from my 92 year old dad last week and it sounded like he had the flu, so he went to the hospital. As the days of last week slowly ticked by, we found that he has a large tumor in his colon and it’s nearly blocking the whole thing. I know what this means, and my dad does too. I knew he wasn’t going to live forever but “that day” was (in my mind) always off in the future. Grief and fear are really interesting. Most of the time, I steel my heart and I’m fine. But then there are waves that are too large, and they knock me off my feet. My plan was that my dad would live the end moments in my home. But he’s in Dallas and I’m in Asheville and this snuck up on us by surprise. By Tuesday, when they get the biopsy results back, we’ll be able to make a plan. For now, we wait.

Suddenly now, I remember all the ways I disrespected my dad (he wasn’t perfect — surprise!) and caused him pain with my words and my own brokenness, and that regret can be crippling. But when I talk to him now, I can tell none of that matters to him at all. He just loves me and wants me to know he’s not at all afraid. For him, this is the final logical step one has to take to meet his Maker, who loves him, and my dad takes that very seriously. Yesterday (through many tears) I read Psalm 91 to him…

”Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday…”

I was crying but he was encouraged. “I believe that Steve”, he said strongly. So do I.

I don’t know how long he has. Maybe days or weeks? Maybe months or years? No idea. But this is grief and I guess it’s time I become familiar with it and let it become fuel for my creativity as the waves wash over me. What does grief and creating artwork have in common? If done right, I think they are very much connected because they’re both real and honest. I found myself painting some pieces of art this week that I’m really proud of and excited about, not as a diversion from the grief and fear but because of it, propelled along by it. Strange thing.

Alright. I feel better now at least getting that much down. I promise I will not regularly use this blog to vent regarding this. But this was therapeutic.

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!