inspiration

One of my All-Time Heroes

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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.

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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.


Regarding "Inspiration" vs "Necessity"

A few days ago, a visitor to my art studio was watching me paint for several minutes, asking good questions about what I was doing, and sharing some of her adventures in artistic endeavors. Then she asked me a really good question that I think bears addressing: “What do you do when you have to paint but don’t WANT to paint?” Then she followed up with a related question: “How do you paint when you just don’t feel inspired?”

There are so many ways I can answer those questions. I wrote a blog a while back “How to create when you don’t feel creative” that addresses some of this, but I’ll answer from a different direction here. 

Art is not just born in a moment of whimsy.

It’s not controlled strictly by the emotions…

I’m a full-time artist and I have my studio in an awesome tourist Mecca: Asheville, North Carolina. We get visitors all year long from all over the country (and other countries) who spend the day wandering through the art studios of over 220 artists, looking at the artwork and getting to know the artists. Because this is more than just a hobby for me, we don’t eat if I don’t sell paintings and I won’t sell paintings if I’m not producing them. So I don’t have an option regarding whether or not I’m painting. That’s my job. What if a doctor didn’t show up in an operating room, or an airline pilot didn’t show up at the airport, or an Uber driving didn’t show up in his car or a restaurant owner didn’t show up at the restaurant simply because “they didn’t WANT to show up”?  I’m not different.

Art is not just born in a moment of whimsy. It’s not controlled strictly by the emotions. If it were, then most of the professional artists I know would go out of business. Just like everyone else trying to earn a living, professional artists have to do what they do, do it as best they can, and then hope it sells. 

I can’t answer for any other artist out there, but personally, I’ve never NOT wanted to paint. I love painting because I love imagining (I can’t help it). But the issue of painting when I’m not “inspired” usually just means I have to be quiet, go for a walk, listen to music. Creating involves emptying the creative “tank” inside my head and when that tank gets drained, it’s important to fill it back up again. So I hike. I pray. I think. I listen to leaves rustling in the trees. I try to listen to God. How one “fills up” would probably be a personal thing that varies from artist to artist, but that’s how I do it. 

In short, I don’t have the option of just painting when I’m “inspired”. If my creative tank is empty, it’s because I’m not regularly filling it up and while I sometimes don’t have control of when and how my “tank” is empty, I do have control over how often I am filling it. It takes time. Resting time. Quiet time. My culture would look at that sort of thing is frivolous and unproductive. It is not. For an artist (and I assume everyone?), that replenishing time is absolutely essential, and that’s an element of my culture I try vigorously to take exception to. 

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.

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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. 

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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. 

"Frankenstein-ing" a painting

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One afternoon last autumn, Joy and I had a hankerin’ (Southern for “urge”) to pack a picnic and watch the sunset. So we stopped at the store and grabbed what is now “standard picnic fare”: a roasted chicken, whole wheat rolls, potato salad, a bottle of decent wine and Pim’s (for dessert). It was somewhat cloudy that day but the afternoon seemed clearer than the morning, so this was one of those evenings I wasn’t sure about the weather but it was still worth taking a chance. In short, it was wonderful (but cloudy). We drove up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed south (toward Smoky Mountain National Park). About a half hour drive from Asheville, we found a good west-facing turn out and parked the car and feasted, enjoying the muted sunset and the peace and quiet of the place. I took several photos, always hoping for the sun to break through but alas, that evening the sun was a “no show”.

That’s the really great thing about being an artist: we get to “play God” every now and then…

That’s how it goes sometimes. I had what I thought was a great composition in my photos but just not the perfect lighting because of the clouds. So, in looking at my photos afterwards, I concluded it was the right composition for a painting but the wrong sky. What to do, what to do…

That’s the really great thing about being an artist: we get to “play God” every now and then. It occurred to me that I could use an older photo of a really beautiful sunset I had taken on my walk home from my art studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. The sunset was gorgeous, but the foreground was the French Broad River (nice enough) and the New Belgium brewery (also, nice enough but…uh…not “painting” worthy. So…I decided this was a chance to do a bit of artistic “Frankenstein-ing”: taking a bit of this and a bit of that and combining it into one piece, add 10,000 volts of electricity (just kidding) and VIOLA! IT’S ALIVE! (Just kidding.)

So the photo of the painting you see pictured here is from two very separate experiences I had with nature. One in May of 2017 and one in September 2018. There. Now you know my secrets. I unabashedly (and quite regularly) combine foregrounds, midgrounds and backgrounds of photos I take (or find) and create (with the addition of 10,000 volts of electricity — just kidding) a new and unique piece of art.

That’s how we roll here. That’s how we roll.

So then...

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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!

Recent Projects on my Plate

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My gosh, the life of an artist is so much fun, but can be really busy this time of year! I’m so thankful for that! I’m still amazed I can do what is (for me) the most fun thing I can think of doing and be able to make a living doing it.

Currently, I’ve got twelve paintings in various stages of creation that will end up in my open art studio / gallery in Asheville’s River Arts District. These are mostly local landscapes with a few “generic” themed landscape pieces. When I paint for my studio, I have to consider the fact that visitors are mostly tourists that would like a piece of art to remind them of their trip to Asheville. I’ve learned over the years that venturing too far off the path (of local themed paintings) is not a great idea if I want the art to sell (and I do).

And so far, I have six commissions lined up for a January start date! Here are my assignments:

1) 44” x 72” piece that depicts the view off the back deck of my clients house near the tip of Long Island, NY. This will feature some trees in the foreground, and wetlands with cattails and fishing docks in the mid-ground and the sparkling water of the bay in the background.

2) I have a 24” x 72” piece that is a panorama of woodlands at the tail end of summer, so the trees will be mostly green leafed, but with a hint of gold and rust thrown in here and there.

3) 12” x 35” spray of orchids. This will be fun and challenging because the orchids will be built up and sculpted onto the canvas, then covered with the aluminum leaf and paint.

4) Two 8” x 10” paintings of birch trees during summer and autumn (to go with another two I did last year for this client featuring birch trees in spring and winter) so this will make a complete four seasons group.

5) A 36” x 36” painting depicting a scene from the Netherlands. My clients are using their own photo for this one (I love it when people feel the freedom to do that!)

6) A 24” x 40” painting featuring a scene on the Biltmore Estate of an old oak tree overhanging the French Broad River in autumn.

So that’s what’s on my plate right now. That should be enough to keep me busy and out of trouble for a while anyway! Huge thanks to everyone that has asked for commissions! I’m offering a 20% discount on any commission ordered now but that I can start after the holidays. So if you’d like to own one of my paintings at a discount, now’s the time to inquire about it!

Okay, enough blogging. I obviously have to get back to painting!

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!


Only North Carolina?

“El Capitan” circa 2013

“El Capitan” circa 2013

A few years ago (before I moved to my current studio on Depot Street, I was in the Wedge Building in Asheville’s River Arts District. At that time, I was painting mostly local Western North Carolina mountain scenes — places that were within an hour or two drive from Asheville. I was beginning to sell well (much better than I’d ever thought I would or could) and I was really excited about what I was doing. I was selling artwork to people from the north as far as Maine and south as far as Florida, and from the east coast to the west coast.

Because my clients were from all over North America, the thought occurred to me that maybe I was unnecessarily limiting myself in my subject matter. My musings at the time went like this… “Since my art buyers are coming from literally all over the country, maybe I shouldn’t JUST paint local Western North Carolina landscapes. Maybe I should I branch out and paint some of the iconic scenes from all over the country.” ???

So I spent several months painting some of the most amazing landscapes this country has to offer. The painting I’m featuring on this blog post “El Capitan” is from that series. What I found though was that my sales shriveled to a small fraction of what they were before. Because I am dependent on making the most people happy as possible with my artwork, I gave up painting anything but generic or local North Carolina landscapes and…my sales went back to where they were before my little theme-based experiment. I learned something from that, although I confess I wish I could make a living painting more than JUST my own backyard. I love this part of the country, but this country is so huge and so beautiful — as an artist, I’d love to be able to paint all of it. But as a homeowner, I need to sell my artwork so I can pay my mortgage. So that has been my quandary.

So I write this blog post to ask for the opinions of anyone out there that might feel inclined to share…

1) Would you like to see at least some paintings that were not “North Carolina themed” and, if you could, would you be more inclined to purchase them than local themed paintings?

2) If you answered yes to question 1…What part of the country would you love to see depicted?

3) Do you have a favorite place in your own state that you would love to have depicted in a painting? Or have you visited somewhere in your travels that would make an awesome piece of art?

If the only artwork I can sell here in Asheville is North Carolina themed and generic landscapes, I’m content with that. I’m just wondering if I chose the wrong photos to work from or if the paintings I did back then just weren’t all that great (I hope I’m a better artist now than I was six years ago!). But I’d love your input. I really do listen. So thank you ahead of time for any opinion you have on the matter!

The Price of Being a Landscape Painter

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Being one of Asheville, North Carolina's landscape artists, it's important for me to continually find new things to paint. So Joy and I do a lot of hiking (one of the sacrifices one must make for the job, right?). I love hiking. It's like a divine "re-set" button. And definitely, one of my very favorite places to visit is about an hour drive west of Asheville: Max Patch.

Max match is a 4,600-ft. bald mountain that was cleared and used as pasture in the 1800s. Today, it's a 350-acre tract of wide-open land on a high knob with 360-degree views. It's one of the most spectacular places one can experience in the Blue Ridge mountains.

The Great Smoky Mountains, only 20 miles away, completely dominate the southwest horizon. To the west the terrain drops more than 3,600 ft. into eastern Tennessee. Off in the west rises the dark ridgeline of the Black Mountains, including Mount Mitchell (the highest point this side of the Rocky Mountains. Seemingly endless ridges and peaks and valleys are in every direction you look. It's really  amazing.  Nearly every time we visit, we bring a picnic lunch or dinner consisting of a nice loaf of bread, chicken, and a nice bottle of wine, finished off with Pim's biscuits (cookies). Why Pim's? I don't know. It just seems so festive when we include them. What can I say

Left unmanaged, the field would naturally fill back in with shrubs, and later become peppered with young trees, eventually terminating the cherished 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains and of Mount Mitchell to the east, so from time to time, the Forest Service mows down the grass to keep these incredible vistas open for people to enjoy.

I tell myself that hiking is important to get new ideas for subject matter for my oil paintings. And it is, but honestly, it's so "grounding" to get out in nature and to just be quiet...to listen to God...to listen to the wind and the birds and feel the sunshine on your face. I can't paint without that. And with relatively easy access (when the weather is good), this Blue Ridge mountain bald is the perfect place to enjoy the benefits of hiking in a quick afternoon trip. If you ever visit Asheville, I'd highly recommend the drive up to Max Patch. Just don't forget the Pim's!

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Regarding Commissioning a Painting

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I received a super nice email from a potential client a week or so ago. They'd visited my art studio / gallery in Asheville's River Arts District and liked my work. It sounded like they were looking for a specific size but didn't really want to commission something. They wrote:

"I am a bit hesitant at the idea of a commission, because I want the artwork to reflect your vision, not mine."

That struck me in two ways. First of all, it's over-the-top respectful, so bravo possible future client! You won me over! But second, it sort of implies an assumption about how I work: "If the subject matter for the painting comes spontaneously from the artist's head and heart, it will give the artist more joy and the end result will be a better painting." I'm not familiar with the way other artists work and their motivation behind everything they do, so maybe that assumption is accurate for some people, but it is not at all descriptive of me. So I responded:

"I understand and appreciate what you said about commissions, but honestly, commissions and artists have gone hand-in-hand for centuries (over half of  what I paint are commissions). I just really love painting, and I am immersed and emotionally invested into every piece. In other words, it’s not like I give my all to some idea I choose and give half-hearted attention to an idea someone else chooses. In fact, some of the most challenging and exciting paintings I’ve ever done were commissioned by a client. I love every project I assign myself or is assigned to me. I just really like creating."

Every artist I know LOVES commissions. Commissioning a painting give us artists the chance to create something different. Most of what I paint is what I know will sell here in my art gallery in Asheville: Blue Ridge Mountain landscapes, trees in various seasons, local waterfalls, i.e. things that people purchase to remind them of their vacation in Asheville, North Carolina. However, I've been commissioned to paint a Venice, Italy canal, the Canadian Rocky Mountains, a seaport town at sunset in New Zealand, the Alps, and a shrimp boat on a coastal river just to name a few. A couple just came into my art studio yesterday and showed me a really beautiful photo of the view off their back deck and asked, "Can you paint that?" Yep. :)

If you absolutely love doing what you do, then commissioning a painting is fodder for previously unplanned for joy!

The result of a client commissioning a painting is that I'm often entertained and challenged by some new idea I'd not thought of painting before, or I can enjoy painting something (like the Canadian Rocky mountains) that would take a long time to sell here in Asheville where people are mostly looking for Appalachain scenes. Bottom line is that commissions and artists have a long history and that's part of how we stay in business. And if you absolutely love doing what you do (and I do!), then commissioning a painting is fodder for previously unplanned for joy!

That's just how I roll.