inspiration

"How do you Decide What to Paint?"

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The other day, I had a really nice couple visit my Asheville art studio from northern Ohio. They spent a good deal of time looking at all my work and were obviously connecting with it. That “connection” makes me feel a sense of accomplishment because this is obviously my goal. After a good while perusing my paintings, they came up to my workstation in the front of my studio and asked, “How do you decide what to paint? I feel like I can just walk into each piece. How do you do that?" Oh gosh, I love questions like that. Usually the questions are nit-picky technical questions inquiring about the precise steps involved in my process (I don’t share those by the way) and addressing those questions all day long can be tiring. But THIS question made me smile. This gets to the heart of the matter. A cool technique might be interesting, but unless a painting “draws you in”, that painting will not sell. And as a professional full-time artist, I sorta need my work to sell and so this issue is something in the forefront of my mind as I’m considering what to paint next.

A cool technique might be interesting, but unless a painting “draws you in”, that painting will not sell.

When I have no idea what to paint next, I browse through all my old photos from various hikes and vacations we’ve taken over the years. The thing is, I some really awesome photos in my files that, while they are really nice photos, would make really boring paintings. One of the key things I look for is whether or not I’m “drawn in” to the composition. If you look through my landscape portfolio on this website, you’ll notice I often employ a pathway of some sort, whether it’s a road or footpath or something in between. I do that because that is such a simple way to invite the viewer into a painting: “Come down this pathway and see what’s around the corner!"

If I want to really accentuate the invitation, I’ll throw in a few sun rays. Sun rays are magical. In a dark, silent forest on a long-forgotten footpath, rays of sunlight up ahead beckon you on.

The other issue is that honestly, every painting I dream up is depicting a place I would personaly like to just go and sit (probably by myself) and listen to the sounds of the place. Maybe for all day. That’s what I’m into. I love being in nature and sensing that call to quiet. I really need more of that. And from what I’ve seen in my art studio, that “call to quiet” resonates with a lot of people who visit me and view my artwork.

So, combine a path and a few sun rays into a quiet space like that, and then you have it: a painting you want to walk into. It sounds really easy, right? It’s not! What I’ve explained in a couple of paragraphs here takes hours and days sometimes. But when I find what I’m looking for, I always save that idea and eventually, that idea gives birth to a painting that (if done right) will carry someone to a quiet place in a very busy world. I like to feel like that’s important.

Exploring Austin Galleries, Part 1

We’ve been spending the winter months in Dallas, TX so while there, we really wanted to visit the state capital, Austin (mostly because we heard it was a lot like Asheville). I had a list of galleries we planned to visit and while most of what we saw was really frustrating (see next blog entry), the exception was the Guo Aihe exhibit at the Russell Collection Fine Art Gallery. Understand, I may be unique in the way I view and judge art, but what really grabs me is when I see a painting and wonder “Oh my gosh! How the HECK did they do that?” See, to me, that mystery is what captivates me.

art gallery painting

When Joy and I entered the Russell Collection gallery, we were warmly greeted by a young Chinese man and woman who explained what it was we were looking at. Rather than being pushy salespeople, they were merely informing us and I really appreciated that. Turns out his father comes from a village of artisans in China and he produced all the art on display in this exhibition. When we entered, I thought we were looking at lacquered paintings, but I was wrong. They were each ceramic paintings, glazed with extraordinary color; luminous, shiny, bright (see why I was attracted to them???). I commented about the amazing color and was told that when the color is applied, it’s applied as a ceramic glaze, i.e. EACH color looks like a brick red slurry. How that uniform monotone slurry turns into the intricate coloration I saw in each exquisite piece utterly baffles me. I felt like I was in the presence of greatness, and that I was only a poser. I don’t mean that in a self depecating way but in a (I think) really healthy, humble way. This was really unique to me. I’ve never seen anything at all like this and oh my gosh, if you’re anywhere near Austin, you should visit this gallery.

I am an oil painter in Asheville, North Carolina (which BTW is still way cooler than Austin). I have an open art studio there and meet people from all over the country on a daily basis. And it’s easy to get comfortable and complacent with what I do. But it truly is not often that I see artwork that really causes me to pause and wonder. What I saw in Austin (at the Russell Collection gallery) did. No other gallery hit me this way on this trip, but I’ll spill my angst in my next blog.

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. :)

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

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!

So then...

installation art.jpg

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!