North Carolina

Lessons I've Learned as an Artist

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I love Asheville and I especially love painting in my studio in Asheville in the summer time. Yes, it’s hot and muggy, but there are so many visitors wondering through the River Arts District — it’s really a fun environment to create artwork in! So many people and so many conversations! Some of the questions I’m asked are hysterical, and some are really deep. Last week, I had a couple visiting with me who asked an interesting question. And as I was answering them it occurred to me I should blog about it. The question was “what has being an artist taught you?” That struck me as a really huge (and very personal) question. I could probably write a whole book on that subject, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll condense my thoughts to five points.

  1. Thinking outside the box is what creativity is all about.

When you learn art techniques in school, you study the “masters” of art history and in a sense, you copy their techniques in order to learn them. In a sense, this places each modern artist in a wonderful place...you are standing on the backs of people like Monet, Renoir, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, and on and on back to the first cave painters. You learn the rules (yes, THERE ARE RULES TO ART). Once you learn the techniques and rules, then (the fun part!) you learn how to remix them into something brand new and unique. This is where rules (some of them) are broken. Learning how and when to break the rules...that takes a life time of playing with art and composition.

2. Mistakes are necessary for growth

My whole technique was developed through many (and on-going) experiments. Some of those experiments work out well. Some of them fail completely. How you respond to a mistake is crucial I think, and I would guess this applies to all of life. If you let them crush and discourage you (and I have let mistakes do that), then that's the end of the story. But if the mistake prompts you to ask questions (like, "why did that happen?", "how did that happen?", "how can I make it do this or that?") then a new experiment takes shape. This is play. This is how play works! Very few mistakes in life are utterly crippling. Most of the mistakes we make can and should prompt serious questions, and as we search for answers...play happens and life goes on.

3. Marketing is really important if you want to be a full-time artist

I wish I could paint all day. I wish I didn't have to take the time to work social media (or write blogs :) but that is not possible. If people do not see the work of an artist, they won't appreciate it, and if they don't appreciate it, they won't purchase it, and if they don't purchase it, you can't be a full-time artist (unless you've won the lottery and can blow through the winnings for the rest of your life). Connecting to people and marketing what you do is really important. How to do that best is a complete mystery to me, but I’m learning. I'm not wired that way, but I know people who ARE and I ask for advice or pay them to for their help.


4. Rest and rejuvenation is crucial for creativity

For me, creativity and moments of epiphany happen when I'm quiet. That's why I walk a lot. Almost every day off, we're hiking -- getting out into nature and breathing in the peace and quiet. Being in nature is like a baby being in it's mother's lap. It's just where we belong. Something almost magical happens sometimes when I'm hiking and enjoying the beauty of creation. The experience creates in me a wonder; it takes me back to being like a child. In that place, my own creativity is excited. I have likened all this (quiet time) as "breathing in" and my own creating as "breathing out". One is necessary if you want the other.


5. People are more important than art.

I work in a public forum. People walk into my studio all day long and ask me what I'm working on and inquire about my technique. It's tempting to wish them all away so I can quietly enter "my creative zone" and paint in undistracted peace. But I'm always reminding myself that the people who come into my studio are infinitely more important than any piece of artwork I create. Artwork only lasts so long. People are eternal (that's my belief anyway). And according to my faith system, people are created in the image of God, so if I love God, I should see him in the face of every single person that enters my studio (and treat them accordingly).

"What are you Working on These Days?"

My Happy Mess

My Happy Mess

I had a client come into my art studio last week and he asked what I was working on these days. After I recounted some of the projects I’ve got in process, I thought “Wow, I’m really busy!” Thankfully, this has been a very busy season so far and I have lots on my plate and lots more projects I have in mind. So where to start?

  • I’ve got a three month show coming up in the summer at one of the premier hotel/restaurants in downtown Asheville. This will require 10 to 12 paintings, with more waiting “in the wings” to replace pieces as they sell (thinking positive here). Most of those paintings are completed now and ready for the show.

  • I am finishing up a commission (just completed today actually) for a couple that got married in Maine. The wedding venue had an amazing view of the mountains, so that vista was what I painted for their anniversary present to each other. I love creating a painting that’s not only a nice piece of artwork (hopefully!) but actually means something to the client. This one very definitely means a lot to them. How cool is that?

  • I’m also working on a rather large piece for a client that lives on a mountainside just south of Asheville. The view from their back deck is really spectacular so I’m creating a sunset inspired piece from the viewpoint of their back deck. This one is nearly completed now as well.

  • I just finished up a set of eight new pieces and have started a brand new 8-piece set to get ready for our busy summer season. Most of these paintings are on the smaller size (like 16” x 20” and 18” x 24”) so it’s easier on the wallet (since my prices are determined by the size). Come by this summer and there will be a lot to see!

How boring would life be if the motivation for everything we did was simply because it was practical?”

  • I saved the completely impractical (but really fun) projects for last in this list. This year, I wanted to depict a very large wave crashing on rocks and I just finished the line drawing of that composition on the canvas last week. The other project is a jagged peak of a mountain (up close view). I know…I’m in Asheville and how do I expect to sell a crashing wave (we’re five hours from the ocean and we only get huge waves here when there’s a hurricane) and we’re about a 30 hour drive from the nearest “jagged” mountains. So the reason I’m painting these two is because I want to. I don’t really care if these sell or not. I may end up with these on my own wall and if that’s the case, I’m very much okay with that. How boring would life be if the motivation for everything we did was simply because it was practical?” Seriously, I’d be excited if they don’t sell because I wouldn’t mind ending up with two of my very best pieces (and that’s what I intend to create). That said, if. you like waves and/or mountains, let’s talk. :)

Well, that about sums up the current work load of this Asheville artist. If you’re planning a trip to visit western North Carolina this year, please make sure you include our art studio (in Asheville’s historic River Arts District) in your itinerary. With over 220 artists with open art studios, you could spend a whole day browsing artwork and meeting artists. Cheers!

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.

"Aqueous Dream"

Several months ago, I was asked to create a large installation piece of art for a design showroom in Oklahoma City (30A Home). The place is awesome and amazing and they are displaying one other installation piece (multiple panel art) and several single abstract paintings of mine already.

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This piece was an unexpected challenge. Ha! I have found that the term “unexpected” is usually applied to all my abstract paintings because they seem to have a mind of their own. I tell visitors to my art studio that painting an abstract painting is a bit like raising a teenager: they have their own mind and don’t like to be forced to conform to YOUR will. They have their own plan. It sounds almost metaphysical (sorry) but my job as a painter is to figure out what each abstract paintings “wants” to become. Landscape paintings are totally different. They’re like the super agreeable and responsible first born kid. An abstract piece is, uh….not like that. This particular abstract installation was a particularly challenging painting, in that I painted it twice. I originally had my own idea regarding what I wanted it to look like. So I spent several weeks applying paint and not liking it. So I worked on it more and arm wrestled it into compliance…and..then…

It won. It did not want to be what I wanted it to be. So I killed it. (It’s okay. It’s just a painting. I’m anthropomorphizing it.) So in a fit of rage (not really, but it makes a great story), I covered over every single panel with fresh aluminum leaf and…begun again.

This time, I just picked a color palette and let it have it’s say. And oh my gosh, even after the very first then application of paint, I was so glad I started over. I loved it. There’s got to be a life lesson here. I should write a parenting book I think. Anyway, after several more weeks of simply “listening” to what this piece wanted and complying; gently coercing it to my will here and there JUST A BIT, it turned into something I am so proud of. Wooo Hooo!

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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 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!

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."

 

 

Gallery Representation in Hendersonville!

I'm super excited to announce that I'm going to be represented in Hendersonville, NC right there on Main Street at the Silver Fox Gallery (508 N. Main Street). I just toured the gallery today with Joy and it's a really wonderful collection of furniture and really exquisite home furnishings (including artwork). If you're in the area, it's most definitely worth a visit. Tell them I sent you!

I'm excited about it for several reasons. First, it'll be great to be represented right there on Main Street (just across from Mast General Store). I've always LOVED Main Street, Hendersonville. It's full of tourists in the summer and it's just a really nice place to walk around, check out galleries, antique stores, grab some ice cream, visit the bakery and go to dinner. There's also a wonderful kids museum just up the street, Hands On! Children's Museum (with grandchildren that visit, we go there often). So anyway, I love the location.

Secondly though, this gallery is very deeply involved with interior design projects (they have on-staff designers) and I've had super great experiences in the past working directly with an interior designer on special custom projects in the past (the Pardee Cancer Center, City Centre project in downtown Asheville and including the main elevator lobby, and the Hilton Garden Inn lobby.

So hello Hendersonville! I'm glad to be a part of what's going on in one of the coolest little towns in North Carolina!

Catawba Falls

North Carolina waterfall

I love Catawba Falls. It's a really beautiful waterfall at the end of a (sometimes steep) trail just down the mountain from us in Old Fort, North Carolina. The trail winds along the river and ends at a cliff and this really beautiful waterfall and pool (great for swimming in summer by the way). 

Joy and I discovered Catawba Falls with the help of my daughter Camden. She had hiked here before and told us about the trail so...we had to discover it ourselves. This is one of countless waterfalls within an hour of our home here in Asheville. What an amazing thing it is to be a landscape painter in the River Arts District, so close to so much...uh...landscape! We try to get out and hike every day off (weather and house chores permitting). 

This painting was commissioned by some very nice folks (Asheville locals) who came into my art studio and asked a question I LOVE to get asked: "Do you do commissions? We have a specific photo of a very special place to us". I love that. Of course, I was excited to talk to them about the project (about half of what I sell are commissions). I love commissions for many reasons. They are a pre-paid painting so uh, that's nice. But it's also a great way to not only get a nice piece of art (I'll keep painting it until it IS a nice piece of art) but it's also the opportunity to create something sentimental to the client. I've painted photos from honeymoons and vacations all over the world. 

So...Catawba Falls is done and is to be picked up this week. If you want directions to the trail, just email me or swing by my Asheville studio. Cheers!

Waterfalls Everywhere!

There are a lot of things I learned from my grand experiment of painting a 6' x 8' painting of Cullasaja Falls. One of the things I learned is how to paint a waterfall! I was so happy with the way my giant painting went, I decided to work on a couple of smaller paintings featuring iconic waterfalls of western North Carolina. This first piece (below) depicts Dry Falls, a truly beautiful and majestic waterfall on Hwy. 64 north of Highlands, NC. Actually, Dry Falls is one of six waterfalls on the same river that eventually plunges over Cullasaja Falls. 

If you're in western North Carolina and want an absolutely beautiful drive, head west from Asheville to the town of Highlands. From there, you'll want to head north on a very narrow, windy and wonderful road (Highway 64), you get to the first of six waterfalls, Sequoyah Falls. These falls tumble out of Lake Sequoyah and into the Cullasaja River. A few miles north is Bridalveil Falls followed by Dry Creek Falls, Dry Falls, Bust Your Butt Falls (apparently aptly named) and finally Cullasaja Falls (the subject of the largest single panel painting I've ever completed). 

"Dry Falls" (24" x 32")

"Dry Falls" (24" x 32")