Saturday, February 28, 2015

Formula for Success

Well, I am beginning to find a fairly accurate formula for which of my works sell more than others after all these years.

However, don't be fooled.  I enjoy painting either of these themes and may eventually combine the two into paintings of sexy mountain men with painted faces holding a Victorian shotgun.  But for the time, I am leaning towards simply expanding my series of woman with painted faces.  The model for this piece is Kate's sister Jill, who, as a plastic surgeon doing her residency, has plenty of down-time to model.  I tried to document more of the beginning stages of painting, which I tend to forget to do, hence why Kate's step by step typically kick mine in the proverbial groin.  The painting needs perhaps one more day of work from the last documented image. 


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oh Really? Creepy Dolls Don't Sell?

I heard from one of my galleries that "Poison" has sold.

Everyone--artists, galleries, and laypeople alike--have ideas about what's "sellable" and what's not.  There are certain things that we take for granted are going to be a hard sale (for example creepy dolls), and things that we take for granted are going to be an easy sale (pretty young women looking all pretty and young).  Even I had thought that the above painting, in spite of its bantam weight price tag, would be a struggle to sell.  It just goes to show that you can't know what will sell and what won't, so it's important to just paint what you want to paint.  At the very least, even if the painting doesn't sell, you will satisfied with being true to your artistic vision.

I'm a sucker for making unsellable paintings.  I mean, I made this unsellable painting too.  Creepy doll missing an arm, again with the bird wings, ratty quilt, obscure symbolism.

Oh but, wait, it sold too.  Perhaps it's time to launch a series dedicated to dismembered dolls with bird wings?  The painting above is called "Icarus Ascending."  It is 27.5x17" and was painted on one of my home prepared dibond panels.  The influences that inspired it come from all directions and can be read about in the PDF below if you're interested.

The only really new thing about my approach with this painting is that I tried out the use of a grid to get the set up drawn out.  I assembled some very large stretcher bars, carefully marked off ticks along each side, and strung the stretcher bars with thread to make a grid.  I hung this up in front of the still life set up and drew a grid on my drawing paper too.  It went very quickly--about five times a fast.  And I can say that with authority because I actually had to draw this exact set up twice--once in my old home studio, and then again when I packed up and moved into my temporary studio while our new studio was being built.  It was a pain to have to disassemble and restart a still life, but it gave me the motivation to come up with a better way of drawing out a large set up.  Small ones are easy, but I find large ones just drag out.  Of course, the grid is just there to help.  It's not the boss of me.  After plotting out the set up I had to take the grid down and give the whole drawing a critical look compared to the set up.  Following a grid mindlessly can lead to stupid mistakes.

Below are some in progress shots.  My temporary studio was my parents' basement, hence the concrete walls and dim lighting.  It was kind of hard to get any work done while I was there because it was so easy to just wander upstairs and sit down in front of the wood stove and have my parents pour hot chocolate into me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

International Artist Magazine Article

I am the last person in the world to see my own article in International Artist Magazine, so this hardly merits a blog post, except, YAY ME.

Now I don't know what it is with IAM and Canada.  I think the magazines get sent on donkey back over the Rockies and then upriver with a team of coureurs du bois, and then floated across to Vancouver Island strapped to driftwood raft.  But MAYBE I'm just searching for explanations of why I get this magazine a month later than everyone else.

Emily and Paul's mum has told me that they will be bringing in their copy of the magazine to school for show and tell.  *blush*

My Uncanny costar Teresa also had an article in the same magazine.  It was almost like a reunion except...oh, sorry Dave.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Open Letter to an Art Student

Dear Art Student,

You find yourself now standing at the beginning of a long and arduous road, struck through with joyful milestones, confusing side tours, and misguiding road signage.  You will learn much and create some nice work (which you will hate within the year, but love again in five years when you can look back upon "Past You" with some affectionate condescension only made possible by the passage of time and the acquisition of greater skill).  People will ask you how you plan to make money, what your fall-back is, and, if you're a woman, what your husband does for a living.  But at this important moment of lacing up your boots and swinging that rucksack on your back, I would like to share some words of wisdom, words that I can spit out at any art student with certain confidence that they apply:

Your brushes suck.

Your brushes really, really suck.

You have, like, ten brushes.  I have almost two hundred, and I still some days don't have the right brush for what I want to do.  But it's not just that you only have ten brushes and not a single one of them is the right size for the thing you want to paint.  It's that your brushes really, really, totally suck in every way possible.  I ask myself a lot of questions when I teach students.  Is this actually a brush or a chopstick with some lint stuck to it?  Did you use this one to scrub out the grouting in your shower?  Is this filbert homemade out of Great Aunt Tabitha's chin hairs?  And how did you acquire hand-me-down brushes?  How does that happen?  Did someone say, "Oh, I heard you were an artist, and I have this ratty old homemade chin hair brush in my purse that I used to clean my bathroom with.  Want it?"  Does that happen?

Your brushes are specimens of the worst that the world of art supplies has to offer.

If your brushes were food, they would be store brand spam discounted for dings in the can.

If your brushes were a car, they would be a belly-dragging Chevy Cobalt on loan from your older brother.

If your brushes were a haircut, it would be the bowl cut your mom gave you in the second grade.

Your brush bridges the gap between you and the canvas.  Your brush is the extension of your very fingers.  Your brush needs to be capable of transmitting every nuance that your eye detects.  Did you know that when you use a tool, your brain rewires to accommodate it as if were one of your own limbs?  I don't want my brain to rewire to accommodate crap.

A poor craftsman blames his tools.  Said no artist ever.

Are you not worth two hundred dollars in new brushes?

Because here's a secret: the quickest and easiest way to become a better painter overnight is to get yourself some good brushes.  I promise.  If you don't understand what's so important about a good brush, it's because you've never had a good brush.  Really, you're an innocent.  You're the victim here.  You need to know that there's simply more out there, waiting for you.  And it pains me to watch you chase paint around instead of actually painting.  There's a rich and vibrant world of sable, and mongoose, and long-handles, and cat's tongues.  Chungking.  Egbert.  Someday these words will cause your heart to speed up.  But for some reason right now, you don't think brushes are important.  You will shell out hundreds on paints and canvases.  You ask me what special mediums I use.  You rifle through artist forums for Old Master Secrets.  In the meantime, I'm here with an pitying heart, waiting for you to come around.  I am your voice of reason, echoing unheard like a phantom siren call luring you across the stormy waters of your mis-allocated student art supply budget.  And my siren song is this:  Nice brushes: get them already.

An Art Teacher

Friday, February 6, 2015

Kicking it new school

I am often asked what school, if any, a person should attend in order to pursue a career as a professional realist oil painter.  To start, lets just knock any college or university out of the running, so we don't have to go into some long winded rant about modernism or how their professors are stupid faces etc, etc.  Let's just say college is great if you want to study at a place that offers a sports team, drunken karaoke parties, and a 3 credit course on snorkeling.  So, this leaves academies and ateliers up for discussion.  But which one is the right for you?  (I was thinking of just leaving the article finished here to make it all existential but I guess I'll answer the question)

The short answer is I don't have an answer.  It's really up to each individual student and what they hope to achieve.  If you ask most people which place is your best option, they will simply rant and rave about whatever school they attended because they drank the proverbial cool aid of artistic dogma, and therefore their school is the bestest ever.  However, just because this was their experience doesn't mean you will have the same experience.  Only way to find the right one is to do your own research (and by research I don't mean posting questions in the comments section of this article).

What to look for?

I would say, first and foremost, is an ideal location.  Expensive cities are expensive, and uprooting and moving to a new city isn't all that easy and definitely not all that cost effective.  If cost is not a factor, then give me some money and stop being selfish.  There are so many academies and ateliers nowadays that you can't throw a stone without hitting one.  Most of these schools are listed on the Art Renewal Center's website, but not every single one of them is, so make yourself familiar with Google to find the rest.  I know, this is hard.  Another important factor to consider is whether the aesthetic that is being taught at the school agrees with or conflicts with your own vision for your future work. If you want to be a photorealist, don't go to a painterly school and vice versa.  You should admire the work of the students and teachers who are there. Most likely, how and what you want to eventually paint like will be built on this foundation.  Next, the environment of the school and the overall warm fuzziness of its ambiance is integral to having a positive education.  All it takes is a couple bad seeds to ruin the environment of a school.  Don't believe me, go read "The No Asshole Rule."  You may be at the school for a long time in order to complete the program, so make sure you get along with everyone, students and teachers alike.  Some schools out there get pretty pretentious and lack a good hearty amount of "that's what she said" jokes integrated into their teaching pedagogy.  If you want to find out what the environment of a school is really like, go visit and talk to the people there.  Corner a student and pester them with questions when the teacher isn't there.  A good school will have the same energy as a good episode of "Saved by the Bell."  Another vetting strategy in choosing your school: do some research to see the success rate of how many of their students and graduates go on to make a career of it.  A school producing a lot of pros will brag about the success of their alumni somewhere on their website.  Lastly, do they have a built in all you can eat Panda Garden buffet.  I have yet to see a school like this, but you bet I would have gone there had it existed.

Things you may not get.

Any program will only offer you the basics of how to make a realistic picture and may not delve into how to sell an art (though some touch on this).  Business is its own separate entity that has to be learned with time and dedication just like anything else, and you can't really fault a school for not teaching this stuff.  They're busy running a school.  That's the business they know, and besides, the art market is changing so fast it's hard to keep up with it.  Your art career really starts after you leave any school and your student work is just that, student work, and is not really intended for sale (I am referring to Bargue copies, figure drawing, etc).  DO NOT approach a gallery with this stuff or your career might suffer coming out of the gates.  Going from student to professional is a hard transition, so get ready for it, and no school out there will do this for you. A second issue of concern is the fact that most schools offer very little in the way of full scholarships and grants, (though they do exist.)  However, if you think about it, most of them are small business that simply cannot afford this luxury.  But there may be other options. Some schools will trade tuition in return for services like modeling, cleaning, monitoring, and possibly teaching beginner students.  Now although these jobs suck compared to being something awesome like an assassin for hire, they may be your only option, especially if you are traveling abroad to study and have no legal status to work.  Lastly, if your expectations aren't realistic for what you are going to learn, you will most likely be disappointed.  Any program out there guarantees nothing if you aren't willing to put the work in on your end.  There are no magical secrets taught at these places, just a system of drawing and painting that takes time to master and excel at and not all students are created equal.  For a rounded education, you should be reading stacks of books about art, supplementing your studies with your own projects, and seeking out other learning opportunities.

In the end, I am not going to make suggestions on where you should or shouldn't go.  Keep in mind my training was eclectic and I never actually graduated a program because my mumma said I ain't none too smart...  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Workshop in San Francisco

I had a great time teaching my still life workshop at the Sadie Valeri Atelier earlier this month.  For those not in the know, SVA is a privately run school in San Francisco that teaches a rigorous drawing and oil painting program.  Here are some photos from the workshop.

Me demoing on a still life painting of a doll passed out with a bottle.  My second drunk doll painting in four months.  That doll, by the way, is really old, but doesn't it look like something some Etsy hipster would make out of recycled organic cotton rags?  It's kind of perfect.

Dave tagged along for the trip to San Francisco.  He painted a little still life and tattooed Sadie's husband Nowell with an awesome octopus.  Below, some of the still life paintings from the workshop:

By Anne

By Rachel

By Christina Davis, teacher at SVA

By Christina
Thank you to all my students for painting with me for a week!  And thank you to Sadie and Nowell for hosting me.  It was a lovely space to teach in.  Check out this massive skylight:

Sa-weeet.  If I lived in San Francisco I would definitely be taking some workshops there myself.  There is a figure workshop in June run by Carl Dobsky and if plane tickets grew on trees, I'd be there.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Uncalendar Review

I have a type of dyslexia that affects my perception of time (because if my husband gets to chalk everything up to ADHD, then I get to have time dyslexia).  So me giving advice on time management is like a blind man giving advice on interior decorating.  But this planner is the closest I've ever gotten to fitting in with normal grown ups who effortlessly serve dinner at the same time each day.

The "Uncalendar" is a flexible, all-in-one planner for people like me who have a schedule that is all over the place and a huge variety of tasks to complete.  I think it was designed for students and business owners, but it's ideal for artists (in spite of the less than beautiful colour palette).  As you will see, each page has an assortment of blank fields for you to enter your information into, allowing you to make sense of the chaos in whatever way suits you best.  And, since you fill in the dates yourself, you can start one at any time, even half-way through January.

I start off my Uncalendar by writing up a list of goals for the next three years.  I have many more goals written for 2015 than for 2016 and 2017, as can be expected.  These goals have to be measurable and specific.  "Teach more workshops" is unachievable.  "Teach three workshops in the US and four out of my home studio" is.

The Uncalendar has all sorts of advice on how to use the different fields in the planner.  Some of it is kind of useful, but after a year of use I've developed my own system.

1.  My To Do List.  This is the backbone of my day.  I usually write this out the night before or the first thing in the morning.  As I complete each task, I get to cross it out and, if it's something that I might want to remember, I enter it in area 2, which is the weekly schedule.
2. Weekly Schedule.  In addition to entering appointments here,  I might want to keep track of when I made that phone call to my gallery, or when I mailed out that parcel.  I LOVE that there are no hours printed out for you.  Not everyone's day starts at 8am and runs until 6pm.  Mine doesn't.  You can see that there are five bands of colour going across the weekdays of the daily log.  I can use these to enter specific information.  The yellow across the top is where deadlines go.  The blue near the bottom is planned meals for the week.  You can use them however you want.
3. My Weekly To Do List.  These are tasks that need to be completed this week.  I take items from here to put into my daily to do list.  I will often put items in this box several weeks or months in advance.  If I know that a competition deadline is coming up, I might write "Enter competition" a week before the deadline.  At the end of every week, I sit an brainstorm what to put into next week's to do list.
4. Goal Action.  Every weekend I think about what I can do in the coming week to act upon my list of the year's goals (the one I glued in).  My goals are numbered, so I place my action for the week next to the corresponding number in this box.  This is where I break down my goals into baby steps and make small but steady progress.  I don't work on all my goals in the same week, but I usually make progress on about a third of them.
5. Daily Habit Graph.  I use this graph to remind myself to perform small tasks daily.  Ideally I would like these tasks to become habits, and I don't want to have to waste time and space rewriting them every day.  These habits include: taking my vitamins, practicing my French, and exercising everyday.  Last year my list of habits was longer but I successfully ingrained some and now they are being left off.
6. Main Focuses.  I use these three fields to list my three main focuses of the week: my main studio project, my main office project, and my next blog post.

There are some unused fields in this picture.  I do come up with other uses from time to time.  And yeah, I colour code everything.  Green ink for financial stuff, pink for personal, turquoise for studio, purple for office...

Above is a week from last year's book.  I think the most useful thing I do with my Uncalendar is I use little pagemarker post it notes (the pink ones above) to write out the next ten or so steps of any given painting project I'm working on.  These steps will say something like "Mass in background," "First pass left hand," "Fix hair."  After I write them out, I place them on the days of the week in a realistic fashion, making my plan of attack for the week.  If I'm working with a tight deadline, I will make post it notes for every single step of the painting and figure out a way to fit them all in before the deadline (it's taken a lot of self-awareness to get to a point where I can reasonably predict how long a step is going to take, and how many different steps the painting can be broken down into).  Once the task has been completed I tape it in place (FIST PUMP!), but if I come into the studio one morning and realize that I can't complete the day's task for unforeseen reasons (the paint is still tacky, my house is on fire) then I can reshuffle my post it notes, still keeping my eye on the deadline.  If you take anything away from this long navel-gazing planner-porn post, it's the post it note trick.  It.  Works.  Take it from someone who was never able to meet a painting deadline in her life.

Towards the back of the planner is a regular grid calendar so that I can see my month in a glance.  This is the repository of birthdays, vacation dates, and deadlines.  I also like to use the blank column on the left to jot down my big projects.  I use post it notes to notate anything coming up that as of yet does not have a specific date.

One of my favorite aspects of the Uncalendar is the list/graph section in the back.  There are pages and pages that you can turn into just about anything.  I kept a reading list and a new recipe list.  Above in the top left box is my list of painting that had to be completed for The Uncanny.  As I completed each one, I entered all the relevant information (pricing, dimensions) so that it would all be in one place for the fifty times I need to drag it out.  Below that is a progress bar in which I kept track of my online sales, comparing them against a goal I had set for myself (I reached it, although I stopped filling out the graph.  I ended up getting one big sale that took me over the finish line.).  I found using the progress bar to chart my progress so helpful that this year I'm using progress bars to help me with six of my yearly goals.  On the right I was supposed to be keeping a master list of all artwork I created in 2014, but then I got bogged down with existential questions about what actually counted as a finished piece of artwork.

And yes, Time Dyslexia makes me like that guy from Memento, except instead of trying to piece together my past with photos, I'm trying to piece together my future with post-it notes.
I don't know if I'd say the Uncalendar has helped with time management, per se (that is, I will never be able to stick to a schedule to accomplish anything, hours and minutes are still meaningless units of measurement to me, and supper is still being served sometime between 4pm and midnight),  but it has enabled me to have a clear outlook at all times on what is happening in my life and in this way it has allowed be to be far more productive and effective.  It has given me a huge sense of control over my days and, by acting as a measuring stick, a profound sense of accomplishment.  Because at the end of the year, a good planner is really just a tabulation of every kick ass thing you did that year.

(Because people have asked: as far as I know, the only place to get an Uncalendar is directly from the website.  If you are in Canada there will be an absurd shipping charge automatically calculated in checkout, so call them up on the phone to get a more reasonable rate.)