process

Lessons I've Learned as an Artist

oil painters.jpg

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).

"How do you decide what to paint?"

One of the questions I regularly get asked from visitors to my art studio in Asheville is “where do you get all these ideas to paint? Have you been to all these places?” My answer varies but basically, I explain that no, I have not necessarily been to all these places, though I have been to some of them and I’m always taking photos. “Oh,” they’ll respond, “so you work from photos then?” Yes. About half the things I paint are inspired by photos I’ve taken or received from a client. I find I especially lean on a photo if it’s a commissioned piece of art from someone who has something specific in mind. The rest of what I paint basically reflect the happy places in my head.

“Because this is my job, I have to paint

mostly what I think people will purchase…”

Because I’m a full-time artist, I need my work to sell so I’m always listening to the people that visit my studio (even when they’re whispering to each other — yes, I can hear you sometimes!). This is SUPER helpful to me because I know what is really resonating with people. When I paint something new and hang it on the wall and it gets a ton of attention, loud sirens and blinking red lights go off in my head: PAINT MORE LIKE THIS! So I do. Because this is my job, I have to paint mostly what I think people will purchase in my River Arts District art studio by visitors coming to Asheville for a vacation. So most of my paintings are local or generic scenes. That said, I’m most excited right now about two really impractical pieces of art I started thinking about last winter: A 3’ x 6’ single crashing wave and a 3’ x 5’ scene featuring a composition of towering, jagged Himalyan mountain peaks.

What does a crashing wave or jagged mountains have to do with Asheville, North Carolina? Nothing. “Don’t you want these to sell?” you ask. Well, yes I want them to sell but I don’t care if these two sell or not. See, every now and then, I think it’s important that you express something really personal and distinctly “you”, whether or not anyone else ever appreciates it. Maybe these paintings won’t sell, and that’s okay. That said, these two are thankfully getting a ton of attention as I’m working on them, so that’s really encouraging. I’ll post the completion photos here when the time comes.

Close up of silver leaf wave.

Close up of silver leaf wave.

Interior shot of my wave (with the first layer of paint) and the mountain scene.

Interior shot of my wave (with the first layer of paint) and the mountain scene.

One of my All-Time Heroes

artistic expression asheville.jpeg

When we were living in Orlando, Florida, we discovered a museum in Winter Park that turned out to be a complete surprise to me. The Morse Museum houses the largest single collection of Tiffany stained glass anywhere in the world. To be honest, I had no real interest in stained glass at the time, and to me, I associated the name “Tiffany” with expensive jewelry. But from the moment I entered this museum, I was completely blown away by the unbelievable beauty of the glass. This was pure art and I was completely unprepared by the beauty of it all.

One of the things about being a full-time artist with an open art studio, is that you hear all sorts of comments from visitors to Asheville’s River Arts District. Thankfully, most of the comments I get are really kind and very encouraging. Some comments are not very kind though, and honestly even if I get one negative comment out of a hundred, that one comment can bother me. But what would it do to the emotional nature of an artist if he or she never really made a profit from their lifetime of art-creating and if a lot of their creations were simply unnoticed or completely unappreciated? I know I’d crumble.

Art Inspiration.jpg

But this is exactly what I appreciate about Louis Comfort Tiffany as a man. He produced countless stained glass windows and lamps and he never did make a profit. How can you keep producing and actually improving in your creativity and your craft and not be making a profit? I have no idea, but that’s exactly what Tiffany did. Don’t get me wrong, some people recognized the incredible beauty of what this man was creating, but not nearly enough. There are stories about how people would purchase his stained glass windows at auction and pull out the glass and discard it, keeping only the leading so they could sell it. Unbelievable.

How can you keep producing and actually improving in your creativity and your craft and not be making a profit?

And in 1902, President Roosevelt had all the Tiffany windows in the White House removed (because they looked so “dated”).

The fact that this incredible artist/craftsman was able to forge on and keep going, and keep growing and keep creating his art is absolutely amazing to me. But this all just really makes me sad to think he never really was appreciated. That he did not rely on being appreciated says a whole lot about him. He is my hero.


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.

Progress!

I was bored yesterday and read one of my old blogs. I’m laughing at myself right now! I mean, how bored does a person have to get to re-read their own blogs?? Actually, I was just checking my post “Looking Back and Looking Ahead” and I was kind of excited. It’s just over a month ago I wrote that post, and I’ve already started tackling the goals I listed.

I mentioned first that I wanted to get into more art galleries. That’s important, because although I have an art studio in Asheville’s River Arts District, having your work in other places increased the chance that something will sell. It just makes sense. I do have a gallery (Hanni Gallery) in Harbor Springs, Michigan that I’ll sending my work to and I’m curious about it. It’s in a great location. I’ve been to that part of the state and it’s really beautiful and draws lots of tourists. So we’ll see.

I’ve also had several art galleries recommended to me in Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas. I’ll be headed back out to my Texas studio soon and will be visiting galleries while I’m there.

The next point on my “goals” list had to do with connecting with designers and art reps. I do have a good lead in Dallas that a client of mine in Asheville (an art consultant) recommended I contact, so I’ll reach out to them while I’m there as well. But I’m really searching for art consultants that can connect me to corporate art opportunities. So I only have one lead so far, but that’s a start anyway.

The last point on my “goals” list had to do with finishing my “sails” paintings and I’ve nearly done that and I’m really excited about the potential there. I just last night poured a single layer of resin on three of the panels and when I checked this morning, though the piece was sealed and high gloss, it was still flexible enough for it to do what I want it to do (billow out from the wall). I’ll be hanging all three of my prototypes on my Asheville studio wall in early March and then I want to start working on a larger piece with multiple, overlapping panels. Isn’t this fun?

This winter has been amazing so far. More sales and more commissions than I’ve ever had. I am so, so thankful for peoples interest in my work. It’s so humbling and gratifying, and it enables me to keep dreaming and scheming and planning and creating (i.e. doing all the things I love to do). Enough for now. I should really get back to painting…

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!

new art idea.jpg

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!