artistic expression

"How do you Decide What to Paint?"

Forgotten+Pathway.jpg

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.

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.

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!

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”

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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Claude: My Creative Hero and Muse

“Cliff at Varengeville”, 1882

“Cliff at Varengeville”, 1882

As an oil painter, one of the questions I’m often asked at my Asheville studio is “What or who inspired you to paint like this?” That’s a really good question because my creative process is like a good stew simmering in a crock pot or all day: a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a handful of this and gobs of that.

When it comes to my art process, “Gobs of that” come from one man: Claude Monet. Monet was in my opinion, the ultimate genius. What he did with light and color was unheard of and brand new. And it cracks me up…the Parisian “respectable” art society wanted nothing to do with this new brash style of painting. “The texture is too unrefined — it’s just a mess of brush strokes". “The colors are too bright — completely unrealistic.” It’s really hard to understand any time in history when Monet’s artwork was seen as anything but magical, but there you have it. We are a species that naturally distrusts anything novel, anything new (even if it’s an improvement over the accepted standard"). Monet broke the conventional rules (no doubt about it) and he created brand new rules which formed the backbone of his new style he called “Impressionism”. Why the title “Impressionism”? Because his goal was not to capture a photo-realistic copy of nature onto a canvas. His goal was to capture the “impression” of the place; to capture the emotional and visual impact of a landscape onto a canvas. How to you capture an emotion in a visual manner? Look at any of Monet’s artwork…that’s how.

“The texture is too unrefined — it’s just a mess of brush strokes". “The colors are too bright — completely unrealistic.”

What he did with color was unheard of at the time. Take a look at the red cliffs in the detail photo below.

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In the past, rendering shadows on a red rock cliff was fairly standard…you take the red color of the rock and add darker pigment (black or umber to it). Take a look at the shadows though. See any black? No, they’re blue (the complimentary color of the warm reds and gold colors used in the depiction of the cliff. When set side by side, the complimentary colors buzz…they pop, vibrate. It’s a color riot on the canvas and something about it, although not realistic looking, to me looks better than realistic.

That “better than realistic” quality is what I aim for in every single painting I produce. My free use of complimentary color and my mad use of texture — that all came from one man named Claude. Monet was a genius and what he captured with the texture and color he employed is still an awesome thing to behold. It’s humbling to me. I’m pretty sure I could never be where I am and doing what I’m doing if it weren’t for the fact that he did it all before me. Thanks Claude!


Lessons I've Learned as an Artist

I love my job. I really love it. I’m a painter in Asheville, North Carolina and have an open studio in the River Arts District. I work around 200 other artists (within a square mile) and share a very precious comradery with them. Every day, I walk the three miles to the studio and gear up to the tasks of the day, and then walk three miles home to unwind. My life is awesome right now.

This lifestyle and occupation niche is really rewarding but doesn’t come without challenges and lessons to be learned. Actually, I’ve learned a whole lot as a result of being a full time artist with an open studio:

1) Learn to be patient with tactile visitors

People love to touch my artwork. It’s not enough to look at it, they have to touch it. And they don’t just touch finished pieces. Every time I step away from my work table, I have to put up several “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH” signs around my work (because it’s wet paint!). Otherwise, I can come back and see foreign fingerprints. I can let this frustrate me (and it has) or insult me (and it does) but my work inspires curiosity and when I remember that fact, it makes it much easier to just deal with the inconvenience of painting over a fingerprint. Inspiring curiosity is an amazing thing and (when my head is in the right place), that makes me smile. That’s what this is all about.

2) Learn to be patient with people’s questions

Every day, I have to answer exactly the same questions multiple times and honestly, it’s exhausting sometimes. The artwork I do is something no one else is doing and while I love that fact, my artwork baffles some people. Before they even look around the studio, some folks have come over to me and almost demanded “So what is that? What’s your process? How do you do this?” I want to say “Why are you worried about HOW I do this? DO YOU LIKE IT?” And that’s because that’s really all I care about. When Joy and I go out to dinner downtown and have an awesome main course, I do not go back to the kitchen and ask the chef “What is this sauce? How did you make it?!” I would never even think of asking. I’m just consumed with “I really love this sauce” or “this doesn’t taste right” and that’s all. So this area frankly baffles me. But…again, if artwork inspires curiosity and ignites questions in the mind of the viewer, is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. It can be exhausting for me as the artist involved here, but I think it’s a very good thing. I don’t want my artwork to look like everyone else’s work. I do want it to be unique. So I’ve learned to be okay (most of the time anyway) with the hundreds of times a week I’m asked this question and try to answer it with a genuine smile (because when they ask, that means my artwork has done it’s job: inspired curiosity).

3) Listen well

I love my business model. Because I work right in the middle of public setting, I get to hear all the comments people make to each other. And this is really helpful. I come up with all sorts of ideas for artwork, but I honestly don’t know if they’re all good ideas until I hang the artwork on the wall and listen to people. This can be humbling, but so helpful. This is my job, and because of that, I can’t afford to be “angsty” and put my artwork up on the wall with the attitude that if people don’t appreciate it, there’s something wrong with them. That attitude won’t fly here. I put up an idea and I know pretty quickly if it was a good idea or not. I can hear some artist say, “Okay, he’s a sell-out”. I disagree. If I want to make a living selling hot dogs, I’d better make sure people enjoy my hot dogs, right? Get some focus groups together and do blind taste tests and see what sells. I’m not saying that an artist should just abandon the passion inside and paint only what people want. But if a respect for people and their interests and tastes is not part of the equation, that artist will not be able to create full time. Unless it’s a hobby, art needs to sell and if it’s not, it’s either too expensive, or the quality is lacking or it’s not executed with the right (popular) color palette, etc. All these things need to be factored into the production of a painting that (hopefully) will one day sell.

That’s probably enough for this blog entry. I’ve got more to say so…this will be continued.

What makes art "Art"?

“Red Triangle”  Francois Pelletier, 2003

“Red Triangle” Francois Pelletier, 2003

Imagine one afternoon not long ago, you were visiting a rather famous art museum. Some of the art, you felt like you understood and you were feeling pretty proud of yourself. And then…you came into the “modern art” wing and and saw there, at the end of a long hallway, the huge master work by French painter Francois Pelletier “The Red Triangle”. Imagine please that this was your first time seeing this piece (maybe it is?). If that was/is the case, what is your visceral reaction? It’s okay to be honest. We’re all friends here. Many people (we’ll call them “Group One”) express that they have felt and received the message Pelletier was trying to convey and others (Group Two) laughed at the people in Group One, so whatever your reaction, you’re probably right.

What makes art “Art”? Do you know? Is there an actual answer anymore? See, what makes art “Art” depends upon several sometimes conflicting assumptions. Is “Art” beautiful? Sometimes, but not always? Is it disturbing? Sometimes but not always? Is it serious, whimsical, deep or meaningless? I know people who would answer with a resounding “YES!” to each of these descriptions of what makes art “Art”. Eventually, you get to the point where everything and anything at all is art if you “think” it is.

But honestly, I think that is only possible because today in western culture, we’re not allowed to have any form of “measurement” when it comes to measuring the value of art. I don’t mean that we’re not given any form of measurement, I mean we’re not “allowed” any. But if that is correct, then art (and artists) really are in a completely unique category.

Imagine you were planning a trip to France and you went to TripAdvisor to see what were the “must see’s” in France. The Louvre had five stars, Eiffel Tower had five stars, the restroom in front of Nortre Dame - five stars, the bus from the Arc de Triomphe to the main train station — five stars. And then you notice that every point of interest, every restaurant, every hotel had five stars. Well of course they do, it’s Paris, right? But seriously, if there was no judgement being exercised by anyone rating on TripAdvisor at all, if everything they rated was given five stars, what sort of help would that be? And do you really think that the bus from the Arc de Triomphe to the main train station “DESERVES” five stars? But “who are you to judge?”

So if there are not standards at all (and our post-modern western civilization tells us there are not), then is there such a thing as real art? Beautiful music? Skillful poetry and prose? Masterfully executed films? If your answer is yes, then how can our post-modern assumptions be correct? And if the answer is no, then how can we live in a world like that? Can you?

I’d love your input on this one. No judging here. This topic is a pretty big one and I will not pretend to be the ultimate authority here. It’s just my blog, that’s all. :)

"A Personal History"

Asheville artists.jpg

One of the things that I’m always interested in finding out about something is it’s origins…how did it become the way it is? What were the steps that, when put together, created what I see? I would have absolutely loved to have seen the huge block of marble Michelangelo used to create his David. When I saw David last year, I was completely awestruck. But it would have been so fascinating to actually see the transformation from a hunk of marble into the awesome sculpture standing now in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, Italy.

I bring this up, because in my Asheville art studio, one of the questions I routinely get from visitors is also about origins, and it goes something like this: “Have you always been an artist?”

So I’d like to address that question here. The simple answer is “yes, I’ve always been an artist” (as far back as I can remember anyway). Very early on, I think art was about the only thing my stay-at-home mom could give me to do that would keep me quietly occupied for several hours. Boredom has always been my nemesis, and artwork most often was the cure. So by the time I entered grade school, I was pretty good at it. And it’s a good thing. Remember that awkward kid that was always the last chosen for the football or baseball or basketball team in grade school? Well HELLO! That was me! I clearly remember the coach having to end the argument between the two team captains about who had me on their team last. Ouch.

Art became my savior…That’s not a good thing.

Day after day, for many years, I clearly felt like I was not wanted and not good or acceptable as a person…except when it was time for art class. The same guys that would reject me on the football field would come around my desk and ask “how did you DO that?” At that point somewhere early in first grade, art became my savior.

That’s not a good thing. It turned out that art was a fickle and demanding savior. See, all was well as long as I was the best artist in my class, and I was…until high school. Ugh. In high school, there was a guy named John Howarth and John Howarth was a better artist than I was. And he was good looking and popular and just an all around great guy. I can say nothing negative about him, except that he dethroned me. I didn’t know how to handle not being the best. That period of time was horrible for me. Eventually, I found another (and ultimate) savior that was not fickle, but that is another story. What happened at this point in time though was I realized that I was using art for myself. I was using it to make me feel worth something.

Eventually, finding a much more dependable savior let art off the hook. At that point, art became something I could just enjoy. Art became a gift to me, and I could then give it to others. If this was not the case, I could never have developed the art genre I work with now. If being the best at art was still prime, I would be paranoid of failure and of making any mistake. But as I said, art is off the hook. Me failing doesn’t matter in the least. I can just start over, having learned from it. I’m smiling right now because that sounds like such a platitude! But it’s really not at all. It’s what frees me to create with joy and abandon. My theory is that if I make a mistake with art, I want it to be a really big one. I may belly-flop, but it’ll be memorable!

In my next blog entry, I’ll address another “origins” question I’m asked often: “How did you stumble across this type of artwork?” Hint: I didn’t stumble. I sculpted it. More on that later.

Commission Confusion

This last week, I had a visitor to my studio in Asheville’s River Arts District who spent quite a bit of time looking at all my paintings I have displayed in my art studio/gallery. They walked around a couple of times, studying each piece. I just assumed they were an artist trying to figure out my technique, so I was politely quiet. :)

I don’t charge any more for commissions and I guarantee you’ll be happy with it…

After several minutes, they left, but then returned about an hour later and went back to a couple of landscape paintings I have hanging near the back of my studio. On my way to my “back of studio workspace (where I do the messy work), I briefly commented that if they had any questions, to be sure to ask. They nodded quietly and continued staring at my painting. That’s fine. After another ten minutes or so, they walked slowly by my front-of-studio workstation and watched me paint. So I got to talking with him just a bit and he said that he REALLY liked a couple of the paintings but was afraid they were both the wrong size for his space. So I recited my standard commissions speech:

“If you would like to commission a painting based on one of the paintings you like, I am very happy to revisit that idea in another size. I can even change it from a summer to an autumn scene or add some sun rays coming across the trees. I don’t charge any more for commissions and I guarantee you’ll be happy with it or I’ll sell it here and paint you another one. And I ship for free, which, since you live in New York, saves you having to pay the NC sales tax…”

“Oh no,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to have you do that.”

I was fine with that, smiled and told him to have a great day and to make sure he comes back again next time he’s in town. But honestly, I don’t understand his reluctance to commission a painting. Did he want a “unique” painting? Or did he not want to spend the money for a “commissioned piece”? Or did he think a commissioned piece wouldn’t have the same “artistic energy” from me as a painting that came “from my own heart”? I didn’t ask because, well, I just never would.

Is it unique?

As far as being a unique painting, each one I do is a unique piece of art. I never just “copy” a painting of mine — I always tweak it so each one is unique, but I feel complete freedom to revisit a favorite theme (look up “Monet Water Lilies” or “Money St.Paul’s Cathedral” and see how many iterations he did of the same theme). If Claude can do it, so can I (that’s my reasoning). And honestly, when I try a new thematic idea and it works, when I have gone back and rework it, the new one always turns out better.

The cost of a commissioning a painting?

I never charge more for a commission. It’s exactly the same price as it would be if I just did it to hang on my studio wall and tried to sell it here.

Is a commissioned painting inferior to a piece that “came from the artists’ heart”?

No. Bottom line is that I just love painting. I don’t care what I paint. And commissioned pieces honestly have always been the most fun because I get to paint ALL SORTS OF THINGS I’d never be able to sell here in my Asheville art studio. For commissions, I’ve painted scenes from Scotland, Canada, the Swiss Alps, New Zealand, the canals of Venice, underwater fish “cyclone”, even a sunset over Antarctica. I absolutely love it when someone says something like “I have probably a crazy idea for a painting…” Right there, they have me hooked. Something new and try!

I hope my studio visitor comes back sometime and sees something he likes. But I would really get excited if he said, “okay, I don’t see exactly what I want so let me try to explain it and see if you can do it.”

I can do it, and I promise I’ll have a blast.