River Arts District

"What are you Working on These Days?"

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!

"I'm just not making the sales I need!"

I’m frustrated. Over and over again, very nice visitors file into my studio at 10:15 - 10:30 AM and ask me “What time do all the other artists show up?” That’s such a good question. And when I answer with “some of them will open at 11:00 I think, and then others — who knows?” they sometimes get short with me. I understand that angst. People travel to Asheville and they make their way down to the River Arts District in the morning and they’re greeted with what looks like a ghost town. At 10:00, I’m one of just a handful of studios open.

What’s frustrating about this is not that I’m the only one around. That’s actually good for me. I sell lots of paintings before noon (maybe because I’M OPEN BEFORE NOON). Sorry for the attitude. :)

What’s frustrating is that some of the artists that are not around are the very ones I hear complaining about sales. “I’m just don’t make the sales I need to make it worth it to be here”. But…if you’re not open, how will you make sales?

So if whoever is reading this is an aspiring artist who would like to do this full time, here’s some advice: Look at creating and selling art as a full time job and have regular (and consistent) hours. Then advertise those hours. I know there are lots of artists who are part time in their craft. I totally get that. That was me for many years. So just make it a goal to be “open” as often as you can. And think about finding other part time artists form a co-op and publicize that you’re open! Invite people to visit. Advertise! If you go in with other artists, that makes all the shared costs a lot more possible.

I really want to see other artists succeed, and that can’t happen if people do not see the artwork they are trying to sell. And if the doors are locked, no one will see the artwork and…hence, no art sales. It’s not rocket science.

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!

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!

new art idea.jpg

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.

Planning for a Second Studio Location!

Asheville art studio.jpg

This winter, I will be doing the preliminary set up for a second art studio…in TEXAS! I love mountains or wild seascapes, so I never, ever thought I’d be excited about being in Texas but here’s the thing…three of my four kids are there and seven of nine grandchildren are there, and Joy and I have the opportunity to set up shop right there with them all. We’ll still be keeping Asheville, North Carolina as our home base, and St.Claire Art studio in the River Arts District will still be open there, but parts of the year (corresponding to slower tourist seasons in Asheville), we’ll be painting in Texas.

I’m excited about two things related to this: first of all, I absolutely love the idea of being close to our family, and second, this opens up new opportunities for galleries in the central U.S. and Rocky Mountain states.

…finding the ear of a gallery owner takes either a personal visit by the artist, or a connection via a third party…

I’ve always wanted to find gallery representation in that part of the country, but being on the east coast, it’s just too far away to realistically explore. And finding the ear of a gallery owner takes either a personal visit by the artist, or a connection via a third party who knows the artist and the gallery owner. This second option happened to me just this summer. There is a gallery Elk River, Michigan (on the north-west coast) that will be carrying my work in the spring and I’m really excited about it! I’ve been to that area and it’s gorgeous — and it’s frequented by tourists. This opportunity came about because a client of mine that lives in that part of Michigan knew a gallery owner and she played matchmaker, and I’m so appreciative whenever that happens because it makes my job so much easier!

So if anyone out there in cyber-land knows of galleries I’d fit into in the central US and Rocky Mountain states, please let me know! This spring, I’ll be ready. :)

Beauty in the Center of the Pit

Let me first say that if someone by chance is reading this blog, you probably already know I’m an oil painter in Asheville’s River Arts District. I paint some abstract pieces (great therapy!) but mostly I paint local landscapes. For the record, my favorite time of the day to depict in a painting is dawn or dusk, because the light is perfect, and my favorite time of the year to depict is probably autumn, because again…the light. I love trying to capture that moment in a day that may only last a couple minutes and then it’s gone — that time when the sun colors the clouds crimson and orange and the world feels like it’s holding it’s breath, waiting for the first cricket to begin it’s song. In short, I love depicting the awesome beauty of this place.

This week though has been really difficult for me and I need to write about it. So this blog entry will really be more like a journal entry. I need to get write this down or I’ll pop.

“I’m not afraid”.

I got a phone call from my 92 year old dad last week and it sounded like he had the flu, so he went to the hospital. As the days of last week slowly ticked by, we found that he has a large tumor in his colon and it’s nearly blocking the whole thing. I know what this means, and my dad does too. I knew he wasn’t going to live forever but “that day” was (in my mind) always off in the future. Grief and fear are really interesting. Most of the time, I steel my heart and I’m fine. But then there are waves that are too large, and they knock me off my feet. My plan was that my dad would live the end moments in my home. But he’s in Dallas and I’m in Asheville and this snuck up on us by surprise. By Tuesday, when they get the biopsy results back, we’ll be able to make a plan. For now, we wait.

Suddenly now, I remember all the ways I disrespected my dad (he wasn’t perfect — surprise!) and caused him pain with my words and my own brokenness, and that regret can be crippling. But when I talk to him now, I can tell none of that matters to him at all. He just loves me and wants me to know he’s not at all afraid. For him, this is the final logical step one has to take to meet his Maker, who loves him, and my dad takes that very seriously. Yesterday (through many tears) I read Psalm 91 to him…

”Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday…”

I was crying but he was encouraged. “I believe that Steve”, he said strongly. So do I.

I don’t know how long he has. Maybe days or weeks? Maybe months or years? No idea. But this is grief and I guess it’s time I become familiar with it and let it become fuel for my creativity as the waves wash over me. What does grief and creating artwork have in common? If done right, I think they are very much connected because they’re both real and honest. I found myself painting some pieces of art this week that I’m really proud of and excited about, not as a diversion from the grief and fear but because of it, propelled along by it. Strange thing.

Alright. I feel better now at least getting that much down. I promise I will not regularly use this blog to vent regarding this. But this was therapeutic.

Thoughts on New Directions, New Possibilities

I'm an oil painter in the River Arts District in Asheville, North Carolina. I love our spot in the Blue Ridge mountains. It's really a fun, dynamic and sometimes crazy little city here in Western North Carolina. I've been painting in a studio in the arts district for almost eight years now and in my current studio for three years this month. It's been amazing. I get to paint and talk to people interested in artwork all day long, five days a week.

It is very much in my personality (maybe it's a basic human tendency??) to think "this will last forever". I love to "pigeon-hole" things so that life looks organized. And as much as I love change, there is something almost intoxicating about the idea of stasis, you know? Predictability can be comforting. The trick for a person with an artistic-adventurous spirit like me to find the line between predictability and unplanned adventure. The balance between predictability and adventure, comfort and fun -- that is the goal.

Sometimes though, so many things can change so very quickly. This season I am entering looks like one of those seasons of change, and from where I sit, it all (thankfully) looks like very good change. There are possibilities of new interesting painting commissions here in Asheville, new painting themes, expansion of my technique with a variety of finishes on my work, expansion of my market with international art galleries and the development of a new part-time art studio in the Dallas area (where three of our four kids live).

So over the next few months, I'm looking forward to sharing my adventures (if they work out) and maybe some disappointments (if my expectations do not work out) but it may be a pretty interesting next several months. In the mean time, I will keep painting, keep my studio doors wide open and totally enjoy the fall season (traditionally the busiest time of our year).

 

SURVEY: GLOSSY OR SATIN

Even before I became a full-time oil painter in Asheville's River Arts District, I was developing a unique way to create a painting using dimension, both in the build-up of the composition and in the finish (which has mostly been using a thick, high-gloss, solar-resistant resin). In fact at this point, I think I'm probably known for that "shiny" resin finish. I like it a lot. It allows me to embed flecks of gold that are essentially "floating" above the surface of the actual painting.

That said, my largest commissions over the last couple of years have been with a satin varnish finish, which leaves all the texture visible (and touchable) and is not nearly as reflective as the high gloss resin. And I'm really liking the results of that finish as well.

Lately, I have more and more people asking about the satin finish and so I'm thinking I need to listen.

And so I'm asking for your brutally honest opinion:

Would you suggest I continue to produce paintings with a high gloss resin finish or would you honestly prefer a softer finish that leaves more of the texture showing and is much less reflective? You won't hurt my feelings either way and on the contrary, you'll really help me decide what direction I need to go now.  (SEE PHOTOS BELOW FOR EXAMPLES OF BOTH)

HIGH GLOSS FINISH USING RESIN

HIGH GLOSS FINISH USING RESIN

SATIN FINISH USING SYNTHETIC (NON-YELLOWING) VARNISH

SATIN FINISH USING SYNTHETIC (NON-YELLOWING) VARNISH

So, what do you think? One or the other, some of both? Mostly one, some of the other? I'm really open to listening. If you could leave your opinion below (so they're all consolidated in one place), that would really be appreciated! Thank you!

Funny Things People Say in an Art Studio

River Arts District, Asheville

Most of the time, being artist in the River Arts District in Asheville is a blast. I mean really -- all of us down here are living out our passion, and making a living doing it! Who could ask for a better job than that? And honestly, about 98% of the people who visit us are super nice people. Some of become regular clients and dear friends of mine. The fact that we artists don't create in a vacuum is one of the huge benefits of our "open studio" business model here in the Arts District. This keeps us socialized (which honestly, is really emotionally healthy) and ithe fact that I can see and hear what I do that resonates with visitors helps me make a living as a painter. 

"How Ready are you to Sell These?"

So honestly, all 220 of us artists in the Arts District love our jobs and we very warmly welcome any visitor who comes in to feel free to chat with us and take a look at our artwork. That said, there is a really funny 2% of studio visitors that either make us laugh or cry. A few weeks ago, one of the artists posted an entry on our River Arts District Facebook page asking for artist contributions to a growing list of "funny things people say when visiting an art studio". I cracked up reading this list and thought others might crack a smile as well. This is what keeps life as an artist entertaining...

Visitor walking out the door:  "But how much can a painting really cost? Paint and boards aren't that expensive"...

Visitor to friend: "We should buy some of these and make these and make them ourselves!”

"How ready to sell this are you?"

"I have a group in China that copies oil paintings like this for a quarter of these prices."

“Does the city pay your rent?"

"Is this your 'real job'? Can you really make a living doing this?"

“My cousin is an artist. You should see his work! He sells his.”

"I've paid less for a car!"

"This piece has been on your website for  over three months...so...I'm going to offer to pay you 50% of the prices..."

"What exactly is this material?" (as they are sticking their finger into wet oil paint)

"Does your job give you insurance? I couldn't take a job without insurance."

Man to girlfriend: “Babe, you could TOTALLY do this!” Man to me: “so HOW do you do this??”

Woman entering and looking around the studio: "Are all the pretty paintings gone?"

Man looking around at the walls: "this must be the stuff that doesn't sell right?"

“So how does it feel to be selling out?”

"It's so sensitively done! I thought for sure the artist was a woman!".

Visitor whispering...“Heck, honey I’ll make you one of those”

"Can you give me a break on sales tax?"

"Do you have any 95% off prices?"

"Did your real job not work out, so now you're here?"

"How long does it take ya to paint one a them things?" (I think they're trying to figure out your hourly wages.)

Visitor showing the artist photos on his phone: "I wouldn't charge you much if you wanted to use any of these photos. Just pay me a commission if your painting sells."

"Oh, the kids make those."

A few weeks ago, a woman came in the studio with her little high strung, fashionably dressed miniature curly haired dog and after a few minutes of browsing she walked quickly up to me and asked where her dog could pee.

"It's a nice little hobby you have here."

"I would love to just play like this all day but... I have a job."

A man came in to our studios, looked around quickly and then asked me where she could find "fine art".

From a woman at a local museum..."I love your work and we're committed to promoting local artists. We'd like to have you paint a 10 ft x 20 ft mural." (Then she explained that the museum would pay for the paint but needed me to donate my time to design and paint it.)

"I absolutely love your work! I always go to the ***** art auction and I always look to see if I can get one of your paintings at a good price."