artistic expression

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

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).

St.Claire Art Opening at the AC Hotel, Asheville

The rooftop of the AC Hotel, Asheville, North Carolina

The rooftop of the AC Hotel, Asheville, North Carolina

As a full-time artist, I hear a lot about the importance of "self-promotion", "putting yourself out there", and "getting noticed". And as I've been doing this art gig full-time for some years now, it's occurring to me that it's a really easy thing to start believing that success is measured by how much attention I get. That sounds really arrogant. Let me explain what I mean.

A few months ago, I was asked to have my artwork displayed at the roof-top bar of the AC Hotel in downtown Asheville in August. This is a real honor, as this hotel is truly amazing. Honestly, going to the art opening and reception, I will be so out of my league. But there's something really intriguing about "schmoozing" with the elite. If you do it enough, you begin to believe you are part of "the" crowd. I remember when I was an "emerging" artist, I'd look at more accomplished artists and see what they were doing to promote their work and my head would swim. "How do they get all this attention? What do you have to do to get that?" are questions that continually ran around in my head.

…”self-promotion" is different than "art-promotion".

One is toxic and the other in not.

In the last couple days, I've been doing a lot of planning for this upcoming art opening at the AC (which is August 15th by the way) and it occurred to me that this is a fine thing to do, and it's necessary for an artist to promote their artwork (if you want it to sell). But "self-promotion" is different than "art-promotion". One is toxic and the other in not. I really do want people to value and enjoy my artwork. That feels awesome, and I do seek that. But having what I do valued and validated can NOT be confused with having my person valued and validated. If "I" am seeking value and validation with the attention "I" get, then I become really ugly. Everything becomes about self-promotion, and whatever attention I get will never be enough. Not really. And because of that, I'd always be looking for more and bigger and better ways of self-promotion. The bigger the event, the more attention I garner for my work, the more valuable I'll feel as a person.

I've decided to repudiate all that. What if value is not found in doing the big things that get all the attention, but in doing little things well…by adding beauty to the mundane chores of life? When I look out at a local mountainside, I see beauty everywhere: in wildflowers that will be wilted next week, in small pebbles with pink crystals in them that maybe no one will ever (EVER) notice again, in the random cardinal flying overhead, in the sound of the breeze through the leaves. Beauty in nature completely permeates the mundane. My faith tells me I'm created in the image of God, and if God infused even the mundane with beauty, then maybe that's how I reflect that Image. Maybe as a creator myself, maybe THAT'S the "biggest" thing I can do to express who and what I really am. This means that maybe by adding beauty to the smallest of things: to washing the dishes for my wife, to smiling at the person in front of me at the grocery store, to letting someone cut in front of me on the freeway, to playing with my grandchildren, to doing things no one will notice or care much about...maybe THOSE small things are really the biggest, most satisfying things that "real" life is all about.

So I'll got to this art opening at the AC Hotel, and I'm sure it'll be a lot of fun. But I'm there to promote my art, not myself. Now excuse me. I'm going to do the dishes. :)

"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.


The Best Complement I've Ever Received

A couple weeks ago, a woman from New Jersey entered my art studio in Asheville’s River Arts District and unknowingly paid me just about the highest compliment anyone could give me, exclaiming to her husband, “Oh, this guy’s artwork reminds me of Monet. It’s like neo-impressionism!” (I didn’t even know that was a word!) Compared to some of the things people say (like, “I think these are photos he’s somehow dipping into glass”), this comment made me smile deep inside. Monet has long been my hero. What he did with his oil paint was magical. The color variations, the light, the texture and the compositions of his work are (in my opinion) second to none.

Art studio.jpg

The Story Behind the Series

One of my all time favorite series of paintings he did has to be the Poplar series from the summer and fall of 1891. If you’re not familiar with this series, there’s kind of a fun story behind them. It seems the trees were growing in a marsh on the banks of the Epte River, just south of Monet’s home in Giverny, France. Each day he painted, he got into his small boat and rowed upstream to his floating painting studio (for the record, I would love a floating painting studio!) that was moored there in the river, with the poplars in the background, planted in a single row by the waters edge, forming a graceful S-curve with the river. According to the story, when he was about half done with the series, the trees were put up for auction and were about to be purchased by a lumber merchant. Undaunted, Monet decided to purchase the trees himself so he could finish his paintings. Upon completion, he did sell them to the lumber merchant who had wanted them in the first place, and I assume they were turned into pencils or furniture not long after that. 

oil painting.jpg

I love this story because it hints at a familiar obsessiveness about creating. The thought of him thinking “well, I’ll just buy the trees so I can finish my paintings!” just cracks me up but I love it and I’m so glad he bought those poplar trees. I do wish I could visit the Epte River and see that line of poplars now. The trees themselves may be long gone but they will live forever in his work. 

"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!

"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!