Creativity

Of Mountains and Oceans

“Teahupoo Thunder” (36” x 60”)

“Teahupoo Thunder” (36” x 60”)

Last January (over six months ago now), I woke up in the middle of the night with a couple of ideas for two very impractical paintings. As I explained in a previous blog, I don’t usually TRY to paint an impractical subject matter, because impractical ideas are often “hard sells” in Asheville. Because I am a full time painter in the River Arts District, I don’t have the luxury of a “public-opinions-be-damned” sort of attitude. If people don’t like my artwork or can't relate to it, they aren’t going to buy it. Does this make me a “sell out”? I’ll let the reader decide that, but the bank really likes it when I pay my mortgage. Thankfully, most of what I know sells off my walls is an absolute joy to create, so I really am not the “angsty” sort of artist. But every now and then, I just have to paint something whether or not I think it will sell. And thankfully, my wife Joy is wholly supportive of those times because it’s at these points I grow as an artist.

So last winter, I had in my head a view of a crashing wave and a craggy, snow-capped mountain. For the wave, I wanted to depict the violent force of the water slamming into the shoreline. The challenge for the wave was to depict movement and to keep the shapes “soft” and fluid. And I knew I had to apply the white paint LAST because white is a very opaque color of paint and because I’m painting on top of textured metallic leaf, I will ruin a painting if the paint is applied in a manner that blocks the light from penetrating the paint (so it can then bounce back off the metallic background layer). So I worked with varying shades of blues and greens for 90% of the piece, and then finally applied all the white at the very end.

“Top of the World” (48” x 36”)

“Top of the World” (48” x 36”)

For the mountain scene, I combined several photos of the Himalayan mountain peaks because, well…because if you want to do it right, you might as well use the tallest mountains in the world for inspiration, right? This one was a challenge simply because it’s basically shades of just three colors: Blue, black and white.

So…maybe my definition of “impractical” is all washed up.

Both of these pieces are “impractical” as far as my Asheville clientele simply because a couple from Poughkeepsie that are walking down the street to my art studio in Asheville will not talking with each other about “do you think he’ll have any paintings of the ocean or the Himalayas?” People generally want to purchase a painting to remind them of their trip to Asheville, so…these two pieces are in the impractical category.

That’s okay. I can totally live with that. But I have to say, after I hung these on the wall for their grand debut yesterday morning, they got all sorts of really positive attention all day long. So…maybe my definition of “impractical” is all washed up. Honestly, I’d like that very much!

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!

The Big Reveal

“Triskele” (approximately 28” x 32”)

“Triskele” (approximately 28” x 32”)

For months now, I’ve been concocting a new type of artwork. I wanted to create a new type of painting that was dynamic rather than static; a painting that billowed out from the wall rather than lie flat against a wall. I’ve shared the earliest experiments here in an earlier post, the early development of those experiments and some problems I had along the way. Now finally, my first “Sails” piece is hanging in my studio and it’s even better than I’d originally planned.

I had thought I’d just create different shapes of “sails” mounted into a hardwood “rail” top and bottom (see photos below). That was where the first experiment ended and I liked them but had yet another idea that sprouted out of this one: What if the sail shapes overlapped each other and were mounted at different angles? Can I do that? How would you mount them? Ahhh…questions to answer and problems to solve!

Experiment #1: “Vele Bianche” Experiment #2: “Vele Azure”

Experiment #1: “Vele Bianche” Experiment #2: “Vele Azure”

As it turned out, mounting them at different angles to each other was somewhat of a simple problem to solve, and the result is something much more dynamic (in my opinion) and much more visually interesting (again, in my opinion). I can imaging this type of artwork running down a 40’ corridor or across the lobby of a hotel or bank. I can also see these in a contemporary home.

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This is the thing I love about creativity. These are made using exactly the same steps as any of my landscape paintings (though you’d never know it). The only difference is that I’m painting on a flexible panel and I’m mounting it to the wall on slotted rails.

What if the sail shapes overlapped each other and were mounted at different angles? Can I do that?

So my first experiment for 2019 is complete. I have two other experiments to tackle this year (as soon as I finish a few more commissions — they come first). So the next time you’re wondering around the streets of Asheville’s awesome River Arts District, please come and visit my studio, take a look at these pieces and let me know what you think! Cheers!



Exploring Austin Galleries, Part 2

My wife Joy and I delivered a painting recently to some clients of mine in Austin, Texas. It was so nice to see the home my painting would become a part of (it was magnificent by the way!). After the delivery, we spent the day exploring several of the art galleries in town. The first gallery we visited was amazing. If you have not read my post on that visit, please click here first, then return to read the balance of this post, because that post will have a very different tone than this.

When we left that first gallery, I was really excited about what else Austin had to offer. Granted, we did not see every other art gallery in town, but we did see several and honestly, the rest left me feeling really frustrated. I hope it’s okay I say that but it’s really the truth. I know a lot of people who just do not visit art galleries any more because they think they obviously just don’t “get” art (because of some bad experiences with it in the past). If you are one of those people, I get it. If I could do anything, I’d just want to encourage you to keep exploring the art around you. Art is the voice of the culture, and so it’s really important. That said, the voice I heard singing the rest of the day in Austin was pretty off-key, and left me not only discouraged, but really frustrated.

Why frustrated? Well, if you want someone to appreciate your 12” x 18” piece of artwork priced at $8500, don’t make it something that looks like anyone could do it. There. I said it. In my opinion, really great art should wield the power of mystery. It should force you to wonder “Oh my gosh, how did they DO that?”. Over and over again though, the rest of the day in Austin, I was confronted with a lot of art that honestly left me thinking “If I had two hours and the right materials, I could make this myself”. Granted, I am an artist too, but still, if you are going to charge several thousands of dollars for something that I’m pretty sure I could recreate in 120 minutes, something is wrong (isn’t it???).

“With any painting, that skill is what you’re paying for.”

I am an artist in Asheville, North Carolina and I have an open studio there in the River Arts District. People come into and out of my studio all day long and so I hear a lot of comments. There are plenty of people who do not like my artwork (I can hear them making comments since I’m standing right there). So I totally understand that everyone has different taste in art and that’s totally fine. And because of that, some people will value types of art that I do not. But if an artist is going to charge several thousand dollars for a painting, whether I like that style or subject matter, I would hope I’d appreciate the skill involved. With any painting, that skill is what you’re paying for. I don’t like a lot of abstract art. I don’t like cubism. I don’t care for a lot of Pointillism. But I can appreciate the skill involved in the creation of abstract, cubist and pointtalist art. In other words, you don’t need to enjoy ANY type of artwork. But if it’s well-crafted artwork, whether you like it or not, you should be able to appreciate the skill involved.

This is just my opinion, but I feel pretty strongly about it. But if you disagree, that’s fine. And if you disagree strongly enough, I can spend a couple hours creating a mock art piece and charge you $8500. Hmmmm. This could be the start of a new creative direction for me!

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.

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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.