Saturday, May 31, 2014

O Sorrow II

Posted by: Kate

I finally varnished and photographed "O Sorrow."

Let's talk about inspiration and influence!  Yeah yeah yeah?  The name for this painting comes from a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.  Who, by the way, was very paintable:

Portrait by Sir John Everett Millais, above.  Below is a wicked photogravure of same portrait:

And below is a portrait by George Frederic Watts:

Another, by Julia Margaret Cameron.  I'm sure Dave would chew off his own right arm to be able to have Tennyson model for his crusty manly-man series:

Oh, and this steaming hot young man with a chiseled jaw and foppish hair is also Alfred Lord Tennyson, as painted by Samuel Laurence:

Tennyson was a prolific and famous poet in his day, being Poet Laureate for much of Queen Victoria's reign.  You can get all the goods on him on wikipedia if you want to know more.  "O Sorrow" comes from a line of his epic elegy, "In Memoriam," a meditation on grief and loss which took him seventeen years to write.  It was inspired by the sudden and devastating death of his closest friend to a brain aneurysm.  And once you learn that brain aneurysms exist, you will never think the same way about that mild prickly headache you sometimes get.

The Victorians were guilty of fetishizing melancholy, for sure, and a lot of Victorian poetry about death and loss can get kind of over the top, but Tennyson is different.  Seriously, read it some day.  There are so many lines I would love to paint from this poem.  Tennyson is one of the most quoted poets for a reason.  The verse that inspired the title of my painting is this:
O Sorrow, cruel fellowship,
O Priestess in the vaults of Death,
O sweet and bitter in a breath,
What whispers from thy lying lip?
'The stars,' she whispers, `blindly run;
A web is wov'n across the sky;
From out waste places comes a cry,
And murmurs from the dying sun:
'And all the phantom, Nature, stands—
With all the music in her tone,
A hollow echo of my own,—
A hollow form with empty hands.'
And shall I take a thing so blind,
Embrace her as my natural good;
Or crush her, like a vice of blood,
Upon the threshold of the mind?
Tennyson is wrestling with whether to allow himself to wallow in his feelings of sorrow or to try to resist them as a mortal vice; he's also dealing with some crisis of faith, which continues throughout the poem (the stars blindly running, instead of according to divine order).

My idea was to paint Sorrow, this "Priestess in the vaults of Death," garbed in widow's weeds, including a thick black veil like that which a mourning woman would have worn in the 19th century.  There was something about the phrase "O Sorrow," that just rang in my head for years after I first read it.  What actually surprised me when I went back to read the poem while writing this post, was realizing that there were a number of details in the verse that I kind of internalized and spat out in the painting without trying to.  Lying lips (her lips are parted as if in speech), blind eyes, empty hands, dying sun...

But we are all, always internalizing the things that draw us, and then regurgitating them back into our own art, usually unintentionally.  That's the fun thing about being an artist.  We get to go out into the world, sample and nibble at the choicest bits, and then create a painting that is basically glorified vomit.  As an artist, you are what you eat; your art is a product of the influences and inspiration you seek out.  If you want to make it sound fancier, Goethe said "We are shaped and fashioned by what we love."  I'd like to share some of the influences that went into this painting, although some of them I hadn't realized until others pointed them out to me.

Mystery drawing by Jean Delville.  If anyone knows the name it goes by, please share in the comments.  I saw this drawing (litho?) at a museum show seven years ago and it stuck in my head like flypaper.  It was a very conscious and intentional source of inspiration.

"La Bella Italiana" Pietro Annigoni.  I'm sure that's where the blue background came from.

Jules Bastien-Lepage
And that's why it's a bad idea to write posts when you're half asleep.  I even had Friant's book right in front of me.  Derp.  The painting above is by Emile Friant and is called "La Douleur".  Thanks Matt.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Posted by: Kate

I'm thrilled to announce that my painting "Israfel" has received Second Place for still life in the ARC Salon!

"Israfel," oil on dibond panel, 50x26", 2013
I worked on this painting for seven months last year and I never mentioned it on the blog.  The reason was because my in progress shots were complete crap--I hadn't upgraded my camera yet, the lighting was very dim, and I couldn't step far back enough from my painting to take a shot.  My studio then was pretty cramped.  I knew I had backed up to my sight-size spot when my spine hit the corner of my drafting table.

And then, when the painting was done, I was kind of burnt out on it.  It immediately sold to a collector who had been expressing interest in my trompe l'oeil work (YESSS!!), and since it was a direct sale I did one of my super fun write ups and certificates of authenticity!  I often make these for paintings before I send them to galleries, but I have the sinking feeling that my galleries don't always show them to clients.  I like to print these out on nice paper, something a bit thicker than normal, and place it in an envelope or a pouch adhered to the backing on the frame.

(A big thank you to Kate Sammons for sending me a copy of her own certificate template.)

The write up reads:
The inspiration for Israfel came from a poem of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe.  A single verse of this poem can be found inscribed on the door to the right of the violin – as if lightly penciled by some long ago graffitist.

If I could dwell
Where Israfel
Hath dwelt, and he where I,
He might not sing so wildly well
A mortal melody,
While a bolder note than this might swell
From my lyre within the sky.

The angel Israfel plays a divine music that is the song of his own heartstrings.  Unlike other artists, he relies on no instrument or medium for expression – that which he has to express pours directly forth from its source.  The poet laments that, being an earthly mortal, he is limited in his own creative expression: his music will always be corrupted by the imperfect instruments of man.  As divine and as true as the inspiration in his heart is, he will never be able to deliver it in its pure and perfect form to the world.  Its earthly manifestation will always be a pale echo of the original inspiration.

The canary represents the angel Israfel with his innate ability to create music.  The violin is our imperfect instrument on earth.  The door forecasts the poet’s eventual passage into the next realm, the one in which he may finally be unlimited in his creative expression like the angel Israfel.

The narrative is close to my heart.  I am perpetually frustrated by how warped and inferior my paintings come out compared to the perfect picture I had in my head at the moment of inspiration.  It's painful and ego-destroying, but it's more than that too.  It sends me into a downward spiral of WHYBOTHER.  My painting "Israfel" itself is quite a bit short of what I had in my head.

I find a lot of similarity between the Israfel poem and the myth of Icarus, the youth who flew too close to the sun so that his wings melted and he plunged to his death.  Both are about little men striving for things greater than they have a right to.  As you've noticed from the title of my bird alla prima series, the Icarus theme is a pet of mine.

And another thing, has anyone thought about the fact that the ONLY art form that doesn't require an instrument or tool of any sort is song?

If I had done a work in progress post, I would have drawn your attention to a few things:
  • The paint chips were applied with a palette knife after the wood grain of the door was finished.  I used impasto medium to beef up my paint.
  • There is a Super. Simple. way to check your lines to make sure they are straight (for instance, those violin strings), and it doesn't involve a ruler or a plumb line: simply line up your eye against the edge of your painting so that you can see the line foreshortened lengthwise.  Any little bobbles will become immediately obvious.
  • The violin was HARD.  It's not presenting itself head on, so it's not perfectly symmetrical.  And yet, it has to seem symmetrical.  Furthermore, there was a ton of lost and found.
  • I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that a full 50% of my time was spent dithering over drawing issues.  Drawing gets exponentially harder the larger the painting.
  • Everything in this painting was done sight size from a set up, but the canary was painted from a photo.  No shame.
  • I acquired said canary as a pet expressly to model for this painting.  I still have him.  He is fabulous.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Huntsman and Herdsman Giclee Prints

Posted by: Kate

Usually my figurative paintings are too large to bother with making prints, but my painting of Paul is just right, and besides, I really want to give a print to the parents and grandparents.  If you are interested in owning a print for $65 plus shipping, you have until June 15 to place an order, after which time the prints will be made and mailed out.  All prints will be signed and numbered.  The print itself is a true to size 11x17" paper giclee print, and I am wildly impressed with the colour matching.  I marched into the shop to view the colour proof with my "hard ass" face already in place so that I could give the technician what for, but the matching was divine.

Please shoot me an email at if interested and I will send you a Paypal invoice.

To read what I had to say about this painting when I first finished it, click here.

Discussion Panel Recap

Posted by: Kate

Considering Dave and I barely made it to our own panel at 7:30 am, I was surprised by the high turn out of attendees, although I have to admit they all looked suspiciously perky and bushy tailed and all that, almost as if they hadn't had three mixed drinks and four beers the night before.

As I mentioned before, Dave and I were asked to preach away on a panel discussion about the application of social media in the art biz.  We had the specific topic of blogging.  Also on the panel were Judy Takács Pendergast, covering Facebook, and Chris Saper, on the subject of self-publishing.  Personally, I learned a lot from both of these ladies.  And thank you, Judy, for making me feel like Facebook isn't a black hole sucking in hours of productive work time and instead a machine of self-promotion.  Time to go catch up on the various kitten fail videos languishing in my notifications bar.

In order to get out of travelling with a stack of printed handouts, I promised to post our panel notes up here on the blog.  Below is a paraphrasing of all the clever and sagacious things we had to say about blogging.  Take it away, Sam:

The purpose of this panel is to discuss ways in which artists can utilize social media to advance their careers.  Simply put, your product plus your image equals your brand.  And using social media is a great way to disseminate your brand.  Both free and easy, it's a way to put both your product and your image out where people can find it.

This is a recent revolution.  In the past, the art market has had strict gatekeepers: galleries, agents, publishers, and curators.  It used to be that if an artist wanted to put their brand out into the world where buyers could see it, they had to rely on a gatekeeper allowing them or helping them to do it.  Today, an artist can use platforms like Facebook, instagram, and Blogspot, to name a few, to make themselves visible and to interact directly with their own market, without a middle-man.  There are many examples of artists who have used free social media programs and applications to build huge followings, which in turn translates into fame, sales, and invitations to Cecilia Beaux Forum Discussion Panels.

Dave and I are here today to talk about blogging specifically. 

For those of you who don’t read blogs  [OKAY I COULD HAVE EDITED THIS OUT FOR YOU GUYZ, BUT SERIOUSLY, SOME PEOPLE DON'T KNOW WHAT A BLOG IS], a blog is a special format of website that serializes your material like a journal.  When I go on my blog and write a post, it is published with the date on which I wrote it.  As time passes, my blog posts become archived according to month and year and all material that is published remains available in chronological order.  I can post as much or as little material as I want, photos, videos, links.  When you use a platform like blogspot, which is very popular, you can also accumulate followers—people who get email notifications whenever you make a post.  Whatever program you use to make your blog, you can track your blog’s popularity by looking at the blog’s statistics.  The stats will tell you how many pageviews you are getting, which posts are the most popular, and where your readership is.  Most of ours is Canadian and American, but we have readers all over the world.

Dave and I started writing our blog in 2011.  It started off as a fun and casual hobby.  Our target audience was our friends and family and private students.  It’s very hard to keep everyone up to date on what you’re doing in the studio, and the blog was a great way to do just that.  Our early posts focused on studio news and works in progress.  At the time we had no idea the profound effect it would have on our careers.

What blogging has done for us:
1.     Created an outlet for us to blow off steam and have fun together.  From the very start, the blog has been for us to enjoy first and foremost.
2.     It involved our families and friends more in our lives and gave them insight into what we do.  Being an artist is very isolating. 
3.     Attracted artist friends.  Friends are important in this industry.  Friends are your life line, for emotional support, professional opportunities, and for technical information.  They say this industry is all about who you know, so this is a great way to meet people.
4.     Created an identity that precedes us wherever we go.  When we come to something like the PSoA conference we are constantly running into people who already know us. 
5.     Attracted art students for workshops and private teaching.  My last workshop was entirely comprised of blog readers.  Each student came with questions about things I had written.  It meant that they came to my workshop knowing exactly what they wanted to learn from me.  Their expectations of what they could learn from me were perfectly accurate.
6.     Attracted small budget art collectors.  Small sales happen on our blog regularly now.  Small studies and drawings that wouldn’t fare well in a gallery sell to blog followers, because they are as interested in the painting process as the paintings themselves.  Our blog has been a great platform for making sales below the thousand dollar mark.  The problem with selling anything below a thousand dollars at a gallery is that there is zero profit margin for the artist by the time you factor out the gallery’s cut, the frame, and the shipping costs (shipping costs are like THIS BIG from Canada).
7.     Attracted large budget art collectors.  Most of our large ticket sales still happen through galleries, but it’s important to remember that the smartphone yielding thirty year-old of today will be the financially secure art collector of tomorrow.  We are counting on the fact that we have readers right now who can’t afford our work, but will be able to in ten or twenty years.  When someone is passionate about your work, they will have their eyes on you for a long time.

The biggest consideration in blogging is subject matter.  Again, blogging is an opportunity to disseminate your brand—your product plus your image.  Most artists should consider making their blog a place where interested parties can go to get studio news and project updates.  Your blog material can be whatever you want it to be.  I’ve seen some very successful blogs that are nothing more than a daily posting of a picture with a caption.  I’ve seen others that have a lengthy written element.  In the end, you should decide what you want the world to see and think of you, and then put that material out there.  Maybe you want your blog to be a place where collectors can gain a greater understanding of your inspiration.  Maybe you want your blog to attract students and help fill your workshops.  Maybe you want your blog to be a publicity machine.  It helps to try out different angles and see what works.  Your stats will tell you what is popular.

Our few years of blogging have taught us a few lessons.

Some blogging rules:
·      Pick a tone and stick to it.  Maybe you are serious.  Maybe you are very personal.  Maybe you are whimsical or maybe you are funny.   People will be going to your blog because they like your tone, so maintain it.  Think carefully about what sort of language you want to use.  Decide if you want to be casual or formal, if you want to use slang.  The choices you make will affect how your readership perceives you and responds to you.  It will affect your image.
·      Proofread.  Mind your spelling and your grammar (ahem, Dave!) Organize your thoughts.  Consider your delivery.  Everything you learned about good writing should go into practice.
·      Be sincere and authentic, but you don’t have to be totally honest about everything.  You don’t need to, and in fact you shouldn’t, put all of yourself out there.  Keep some of yourself for yourself.  Your blog shouldn’t be a really exposing, cathartic experience.
·      Don’t apologize for not updating in a long time.  There is no need, and it looks silly when someone reads back through your archives and every other post starts with, “OMG, soooper sorry I haven’t posted in like forever…”
·      Don’t be self-conscious or insecure.  Some people seem to feel that writing a blog is really egotistical, and that they need to compensate by putting themselves down.  This is bad for your image.  The world needs to think you’re awesome.  You need to think you're awesome.  If you put it in writing that you hate the painting you just did, or that you suck at backgrounds or whatever, you are making a negative affirmation about yourself and it’s not healthy.  Too many people do this when they’re blogging.
·      Quality over quantity, but the right quantity is important too.  Some types of content is easy for readers to digest and you can post more frequently.  If you’re running off a post the length of a Russian novel each time, maybe you shouldn’t update more than once a week.  You don’t want people to stop reading because they simply can’t keep up.  And yet you want to post frequently enough that people don’t forget about you.
·      Make your blog easy to read.  Black text on white background if you have a lot of written material. 
·      Pay attention to your stats to see what subject matter is popular.
Finally, only blog if you love blogging.  It is a big time commitment, and a long-term project.  The whole idea is that you are in this for the long-haul.  If you can’t keep up with a blog, do something else that is more fun for you.  But if you do love writing, and you love talking about art, then you should blog.  You will find it a very rewarding experience, and by creating something to share with the world, you will make friends and create opportunities for yourself.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

To Tattoo or Not Tattoo

Posted by: Dave

As many of you know, I moonlight as a tattoo artist several days a week.  This is something I've been doing for about two years now and it has made an enormous difference in my life, both personally and artistically.  Most artists are acquainted with the fact that it's nearly impossible to make a living from art, and even should someone accomplish this goal, there is no long term stability thanks to the ever changing economy.  Thus, most artists have a part-time job or teach, or come up with other ways to monetize on their art.  Thanks to a few flukes, I stumbled into tattooing.  It uses my art skills and provides me with well-paid work, so that when I do paint, I can focus on making my art great without the concern of sales overriding everything.

I get emailed several times a month from other realist artists and students asking if tattooing is a viable side gig for them, and if so, how to approach getting into the industry. But should one do it?  The tattoo industry is well-known for it's hurly burly, wild west bad assery, so you have to be tough like me.....I kicked some kid's ass once in 6th grade and got detention.  There are more tattoo artist positions out there than art teacher positions, and the compensation is far better ($100-180 per hour, depending on your shop and city).  It's surprisingly economy proof, whereas art sales and teaching decidedly are not, and it's a fun job most of the time.

First and foremost, if you don't like providing customer service then this job is out of the question.  You are not only working with people, but you are up close and personal with them in their physical space.  Now, the social element can be rather enjoyable depending on the client.  Unlike a visit to the dentist, most people are really excited to get tattooed, even though they are in for some pain.  Almost everyone likes the work they receive, and you get to hear their appreciation right away (unlike fine art clients whom I rarely ever hear from).  It is even customary to tip your tattoo artist on top of the hourly rate if a customer is really happy with the work.   However, there is a flip side to this coin.  People can be demanding, have unrealistic expectations, or simply smell like stale McDonalds.  Learning how to deal with these people can take almost as much effort as learning to tattoo.  There is a strategy to it, and part of any business is how you present yourself and how you interact with other individuals.

Secondly.  Being an excellent draughtsman is extremely helpful, but learning how to tattoo is not easy.  You watch people on TV and think "pffft, I can do that, I like, draw way better than that chump/chumpette."  However, tattooing is NOT drawing and painting.  Yes, it utilizes the same principals of art like line, shape, color, value, etc, but putting ink in skin is a very difficult skill to learn.  Common mistakes are overworking tissue, going too deep or shallow, and blow outs.  It is its own art form and should be treated as such.

So, how do you get started?  Are there schools?  Internet night classes?  Well, most people have to seek an apprenticeship under an experienced tattoo artist.  Apprenticeships vary greatly in length and intensity.  If you have a solid art background, it tends to go faster.  However, it does take lots of practice on a machine to gain any real mastery of it; I'm talking years.  Some places will charge for your training while others will have you act as a shop hand in exchange for teaching.   I was lucky enough to start my training under Joshua Carlton, whom many people consider to be the top realist tattoo artist in North America, and I was able to finish my apprenticeship in my home town under Mike Gariepy, in whose shop I now work.  First and foremost, it is important to study with an artist whom you respect, and who has a mutual respect for you (I earned a lot of street cred because I took Taikwondo as a youth so people know I roll hard). However, convincing someone to take you on as an apprentice can be hard.  In many places the market is completely over saturated with tattoo artists.  You have to demonstrate right out of the gates why you are a better canidate for training than others, and having a great drawing and painting portfolio can be one important component.  However, do not assume that because you can draw and paint, this guarantees anything for certain.  You still have to be friendly and likable.  More importantly still, you need to actually be passionate about tattooing.  If you do not enjoy tattooing as an art form, or do not see its validity, then you shouldn't do it.  Tattooing can't be treated like a side job that you do for the paycheck.  In fact, it is difficult to do part time at all and continue to improve.

Of course, there are many drawbacks that I need to talk about. Physically, the job can be taxing.  Not from lots of movement, but lack of it.  You are hunched over for hours on end and it does a number on your back and hand.  In addition, you are working around blood and open tissue, which has to be handled accordingly.  Lastly, everyone will make fun of you if you drive a VW Golf when everyone else has a I heard.....errr.....from a friend......I rode a Vespa once......

So, if anyone out there is looking for resources (or an artist for that matter) visit Tattoo Art Project or Tattoo Now to see what's happening around the world or even in your home town.

And remember, artists can come in all shapes in sizes.  You don't have to feel inadequate if you don't look like me.  It simply amazes people that I have the exact build as Ian McKown.

Monday, May 5, 2014

PSoA 2014

Posted by: Dave

We had so much fun again this year at the PSoA we thought we would rub it in for those who couldn't make it.  The coordinators of this event truly know how to put on an amazing show.  They had top artists, great vendors, seminars, haunted pony rides, all-you-can-eat ice cream buffets, and even an opium den for the down times.  This was the first year we were asked to be presenters on a discussion panel, so we feel like we're moving up in the art world.  In addition,  I also received a certificate of excellence for "Red Sky."  One day, not long from now, all you readers can say "I read Dave's blog before he was a rich and famous thousandaire."  All photos are courtesy of images ripped off from Facebook.

Jeff Hein and me feeling dumb about paints while listening to George O'Hanlon wax poetic about obscure paint chemistry.

Quang "the man with a plan" Ho.

Some works we had on display demonstrating our use of Rublev paints. 

Kate and me presenting stuff about.....blogging.

Also on the panel were Chris Saper and Judy Takacs Pendergast.

But now I have to take a tangent off into left field and talk about the town of Reston, which is where the conference was held.  It was one of the oddest places I have ever been.  If aliens wanted to create a human habitat in their zoo, it would look like Reston.  Every single tree trunk had the same diameter.  Every hedge and shrub was perfectly pruned.  All the buildings and sidewalks and roads looked immaculate and new.  There was one of every type of restaurant, and the broad sampling of stores had no customers in them except for us.  Kate and I debated long and hard whether anyone really lived in Reston, or whether the buildings were actually just cardboard cutouts.  At one point we said out loud, "If people actually lived here, you'd see people walking their dogs."  Five seconds later, six people walking purebred dogs sauntered by, just as if somebody on a walky-talky had given the signal.

Reston.  Perhaps....too perfect?