inspiration

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.

On the Brink of a Huge Failure

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It's Sunday, and traditionally a day of rest. And it IS restful today for me, but last Sunday...my head was in a very different place, and that place was not at all pretty. I was basically a basket case. Let me explain...

A couple months ago, my son (who was visiting Maui with his wife at the time) emailed me from Lahaina and says "Dad, there's a gallery owner over here that wants you to contact him!". I was not familiar with the gallery (or Lahaina for that matter) but apparently, because Hawaii does not charge sales tax for artwork purchased, it's become an art destination. And apparently, some the THE top-dollar galleries in the world are on Front Street running through the town of Lahaina. So, I contacted the owner of the gallery and ended up sending him two of my paintings. They are now hanging on his gallery wall there. But he then asked for three more pieces ASAP. Understand, these three paintings (of water lilies) have GOT to be amazing. Awesome. Unrivaled. Because, if this gallery picks me up as one of their artists...that's a total game-changer for me. It makes what I consider now as the artistic "big leagues" look like the pee-wee league. It's absolutely amazing (and humbling) that my paintings are even being considered for representation there.

So all that to say, these paintings are potentially VERY important. And last Saturday afternoon when I left the studio, they looked horrible.

The paintings had turned the corner.

I didn't sleep many hours at all that night. So after church on Sunday morning, Joy was okay with us heading over to the studio to look that these paintings with fresh eyes. To be honest, they actually looked a bit better than I'd remembered from the night before. So we prayed, and asked for artistic and creative insight. And we looked at these paintings afresh and figured out what to do next. I spent about an hour that Sunday afternoon a week ago implementing the ideas we came up with and...when I left that afternoon to enjoy the rest of my "day of rest" at home, I left a bit encouraged. The paintings had turned the corner. 

So now a week later, I honestly think these three paintings may well leave my studio as my favorite pieces I've ever done. Imagine that. How ironic it was I was really thinking I'd failed just one week ago.

There's a moral to this story I think. Maybe it's up to you to apply it to your own life and situation right now. Your input at this point would be awesome! I'd love to hear what you think!

Inspration Begets Inspiration

I received a wonderful gift the other day...a poem. This wasn't just any poem though. This poem, entitled "Portal" was written by a client of mine who had recently purchased one of my paintings and apparently, the painting (my creative expression) inspired his own creative expression (the poem). I love that!

As an artist in the River Arts District, I deal with so many really great people. They're perusing Asheville's various art galleries and art studios because they enjoy art and want to meet the artists. Art becomes the common ground between strangers here, and even if we differ in regards to background, race, religion, or politics, we can come together with art. Art is magical that way I think.

I love the idea of one genre of creative expression inspiring another, so that creativity bounces from one head/heart to the next and how far it eventually goes? Who knows, but it's exciting the think about. As far back as our exploration of history goes, creative expression has always been linked to the homo sapien. I really like that!

So without any further written expression on my part, let's get to the written expression that inspired this particular blog post:

 

Portal

By Ray Griffin

29 May 2018, Asheville, North Carolina

 

The day has been quite unsettled

with shifting clouds and continual gentle rains.  

I, too, am restless as I sit on pier’s edge.  

The Sangiovese soothes my senses

as descending clouds begin to encroach

upon lake’s placid domain.  

 

All is quiet

except for the occasional call of the loon.  

I skip-a-stone

across water’s surface

just to create movement and sound

upon its liquid sheet of glass.  

I relish the moment.

My eyes follow the ripples

until they disappear into the misty void.

 

The fog thickens

as the sole cry of a hawk, unseen,

pierces the silence

echoing off of the nearby mountains.

 

I take my bottle, drinking from its neck,

and settle into my red canoe.  

Slowly, I paddle towards the morphing void.  

As I pass through its edge 

the pier disappears.

 

I place the paddle at my feet. 

The eerie quietness of the moment

is disturbed only by the gentle lapping

of the lake upon my craft.  

I am adrift in my thoughts... 

 

Sol briefly

pierces storm’s grey veil

pathway

though opacity

provides for poetic transparency

Rejuvenating Creativity!

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As primarily a landscape painter, I'm repeatedly asked how I get inspired. Really? I live in an absolutely gorgeous part of the country! How could I not get inspired? Creative inspiration is all around me. Other artists live here, constantly creating (over 220 of them within a square mile of where I'm sitting). Asheville is full of amazingly creative restaurants, buskers, craft breweries and (last but oh not least)...nature. Quiet, peaceful and restorative nature. So, if you take just a bit of time, inspiration is really easy here. 

Yesterday, I made time. It was my day off (thanks Ruth for keeping the studio open for me!) and I needed to slow down and breathe a little. It being high tourist season, I've been really busy with commissions and paintings for my own studio here in Asheville's River Arts District. I love the pace this time of year but after several weeks of "pedal to the medal" frantic painting, I really needed a breather. And my gosh, I got one yesterday. 

Yesterday morning, I'd read about a trail I'd not tried before "the "Bust your Butt" trail. I couldn't resist it with a name like that.

I packed my lunch into my camelback, put on my hiking shoes and drove 3000 feet up! Nearly to Mt. Mitchell (highest point east of the Rockies), it was a pleasant 71 degrees (compared to 85 degrees back home in Asheville). Yesterday morning, I'd read about a trail I'd not tried before "the "Bust your Butt" trail. I couldn't resist it with a name like that. I soon found out why it got that name. It was a real workout. But here and there, I had to stop walking and just stand still and listen. Nothing. Really -- nothing at all. Silence. Some clouds enveloped the mountaintop and I walked through silence in the woods. Oh my gosh, "this is where good introverts go when they die!" I thought. Awesome. 

I've written before about the concept of "inhaling" in order to be able to create (or exhale). See my blog on that topic if you're interested. Why did it take me so long to slow down? I think I'd actually get more done if I made myself do this more often! 

This was definitely a very pleasant afternoon of "inhaling". I can't wait to get back to painting today. I'm so ready. 

"The Time Between Times"

"Time Between Times" (22" x 34")

"Time Between Times" (22" x 34")

Sometimes when I am trying to get ready to begin a painting, it's difficult to know what I want to paint. I hear other artists say things like "I'm just waiting for inspiration...I'm in a dry season right now." That's not me. I've never been in a dry season. I've never waited for inspiration. If I dive into something (whether or not I feel inspired at the moment), inspiration comes quickly. It's like that inspiring little muse is always there (albeit quiet sometimes) but it can always be coaxed out. Sometimes it's like a pouting little kid that doesn't want to play and is sulking in the corner. And so you say "okay that's fine! I'll play without you" and before long, the kid slinks out of the corner and joins the play. 

So I am not slowed down when I don't feel "inspired". What I'm talking about is when I'm between projects and want to paint...am ready to paint...NEED to paint but I don't know what I SHOULD paint. How to decide...

What I usually do at that point is to look through all my photos in my camera and go to Bing or Google images and start the search for something to inspire my painting. I always tweak the photo so it's not a "copy" (I need the painting to be a unique piece), but I feel free to get inspired by a sunset, sunrise, interesting foreground or general composition of a piece. But the really big thing I'm looking for in a photo is not whether or not it's beautiful. There are lots of beautiful photos that make lousy paintings. I'm looking to create an emotion in the viewer. Manipulative, huh? It's true. 

The above painting is one I just finished this morning, "Time Between Times", and it depicts that five minutes of time between day and night that the world becomes magical with the quality of light and color. I'm looking to create a piece that evokes a sense of awe. I can imagine being there in the scene and thinking "Oh...my...gosh. (long pause) That..is...amazing". If I were standing on the shoreline of this lake at that time of day, I would feel awe. My goal is that I can share that sense of awe with the viewer of my painting. 

So to me, it's not my primary goal to create nice art. That's part of my goal, but utmost in my mind is that I want to elicit emotion (usually a sense of awe or peace or joy, but sometimes sadness and pain). If I can do that, then I've touched on something powerful and that is a very heady thing to try to master. I'll always strive to that end.