Previous month:
January 2009
Next month:
March 2009

February 2009

What Does it Take to be "Talented"?

What does it take to be talented?

We've all heard that quote, "10% inspiration and 90% perspiration."  One of the most damning criticisms of Modernism is that for most of the past half century, artists were not admired for their skill, but for a demonstrated lack of skill.  I've never gone so far as to believe that, although I have raised an eyebrow once or twice over some of the "art" that purports to call itself "art."  But there is no doubt that American tastes are swinging more toward Realism, and looking for art that relates to the human experience in some way. 

I was listening to this podcast by Juliette Aristides today about how she found her way toward Realism.  While I was listening, I was also looking at one of her books, Classical Painting Atelier - in fact, I credit this book, as well as Classical Drawing Atelier, as the motivator behind my investigation of still life painting. But as I was listening to Ms. Aristides and looking at one of my favorite images in the book, "Skinned Rabbit" by Antonio Lopez Garcia, something she said struck a chord:

    She was asked what it took to be really good as an artist, and recounted an article she'd read about what it took for people to be brilliant in a variety of fields:

  • Study a lot, over 10,000 hours
  • Learn your field well
  • Practice, refine, and constantly challenge yourself

Constantly challenge yourself.

When I am painting, there is always that moment when I start to say "Oh no, this is a mess," when I have to stop myself from wiping everything off in frustration.  I've learned to welcome this moment of fear, because it tells me that I'm not doing just what I know well, that I'm not painting the "easy painting."  I've also learned to push through the doubt and remind myself that I can "pull it off."  The more I do this, the easier it gets.

Today I set up a painting I've wanted to do for awhile but haven't tried it because of the difficulty.  

This is how I usually set up my still life subjects.  I've blogged about this on Sue Smith's Studio, but here is a quick rundown.

I have a utility cart that holds my supplies, and on the top, I stack up boxes to get my materials to the height I want.  The lamp is a very cheap goose neck desk lamp that has a mind of its own.  I've taped two pieces of matboard - one medium gray and one black - together like a hinged book, to set up as a backdrop.  Sometimes I will use a colored cloth for this, but today it was the mats.

In the bottom right corner of this photo you can see the "tool" I use as a viewfinder.  It's a precut mat with several openings, which I can adjust to allow for a square opening when using a square format.  I started by putting tic marks showing the middle and thirds, but the more I paint still life work the less often I need to use this tool.  But it's great when starting out or trying to find a dynamic composition.

DSC03776 This is my subject.  Click on the image for a full size version, which you can download if you like.  If you paint from this, email a photo of your work to me - not larger than 600 px longest side, and I'll post it - we can see all the different points of view. Yes, I admit it is a challenging setup, so put together your own props and have a go at something similar - I'm still happy to post it.

Here is the painting at the end of today's session.  The format I like right now is 6 inches x 6 inches, on gessoed panel.


I'll admit, this is the most challenging set-up I've painted to date, and at several points in the process I was feeling pretty disappointed that I couldn't pull it off.  I'm still not sure if it reads "bird's nest" or not, and the fault could easily be in the props I used -- a man-made "nest" out of woven twigs from the craft store.  But I've been drawn to the interesting shapes and lines ever since I bought it and knew I would paint it someday.  I tried drawing it several times, too, but the result was bad - very bad.  I used a limited palette here, flake white, chromatic black, transparent yellow, yellow ocher, dark red and a brown (sorry, I don't know which ones, probably brown ocher and a cool red)  I may go back into this painting tomorrow.  Or, I might just call it good and move on. 

While I was working on this painting, one of those memories flashed into my mind - I had been working with a new student, and she had reached "the frustration wall."   I said rather flippantly that if she never pushed through her fear, she would never progress, only paint up to what she knew and no further.  She told me she "hated" what I was saying at that moment, but came to realize it was the best advice I'd ever given her. 

I should listen to myself more often, I guess.

How do you challenge yourself?  What "signs" tell you that something good is about to happen?  How do you push yourself beyond the fear?


You're going to live the next 10,000 hours or so anyway, so why not? (That's only 8 hours a day for the next 4.5 years give or take...)

Evolution of a Style

I was cleaning my garage today, which I find necessary to do every so often.  Usually it's in response to an inability to get my car into it's parking spot, but today, it was because I needed to clean out my spare bedroom - company's coming - and the spare bedroom is where I store all that overflow from my studio.

What usually happens when I do this is culling...throwing out things I couldn't part with during the last *cleaning* that I spend time looking at older work and class assignments from 10 years ago.  What I found today actually surprised me in a curious way.

We've talked a lot about artistic style on this blog - it's a wide ranging topic with so many points of view. Where does it come from? Can you invent it, or is it part of your visual language, instinctive?

DSC03723 I found this early gouache painting - probably from a design class, which would put it about 1999 or 2000.  I don't think I even thought I could be a *real artist* at this time.  DSC03724

But today, as I was deciding whether to keep this or throw it away, I noticed something curious, something that has been recurring in my work over the subsequent years...the dots.

Painting-2-sm-copyThis is recent work, early 2008.  Not only are the colors similar, but also the use of the dots.  Copper dots 5 sm The image on the left is poured oil on paper, the image on the right is oil on panel. 

I did not remember doing the gouache assignment when I started working on the Elements series.  In fact, I didn't remember it at all until I found it today stuck between the sheets of a nearly empty drawing tablet.  And while I'm sure  the dots in the design assignment had more to do with a pattern exercise, the dots in the Elements Series have a totally different meaning. 

In the Elements Series, the dots represent something transformed, not what it appears to be, or a spirit journey.  This  symbolism came from my research into aboriginal cave drawings and the various theories around why the original artists made the marks that they did, to either indicate that the image represented a spirit animal, or a pathway symbolizing an evolutionary journey.  While I now consciously use the dots to communicate a meaning, I find myself curious as to whether this mannerism evolved out of a design assignment or if it became part of my visual language only when it held meaning beyond the pattern.  I don't know.  There was a long period of time where there were no dots at all in my abstract work.  DSC03720 copy

This image at the right is a WIP...although I think it's nearly finished.  Yes, there are tiny red dots, but you probably won't see them in this photograph. 

Do you ever wonder where your stylistic tendencies evolve from over time, whether there's a connection simply through successful pieces of art, or if there's something deeper behind the work?  If I had received praise for a design project featuring geometric shapes, would I now be doing large triangles in primary colors, or would I have become a sculptor?  

I don't think it actually matters where the inspiration or motivation evolves from, as much as it matters how you use it in a mindful way.  Painting dots can be a simple exercise in repetition, or it can add depth and meaning to your work.  How do you see it?

Failure isn't always what you think

DSC03660Failure isn't always what you think.  Take, for instance, my failure to correctly order the gessoboard panels I usually use and, instead, ordered clayboard, an extremely absorbent surface that must work wonderfully for the watermedia folks, but not well for oil.  I managed one small landscape, after rubbing out the initial painting, finding myself stuck with the staining, too much paint drag - it was one of those days. 

But painting is at the core of my joie de vivre.  Like the singer who can't stop thinking about the song, I can't seem to put the brush down.  Yes, sometimes I make a fool of myself, but as I age, it's a lot easier to set aside the performance anxiety that plagued my youth. 

My solution was to experiment with ideas others had shared and to see what I could do.  Here is what I used:

7 x 5 clayboard panel

copper leaf

GAC 100 acrylic adhesive

acrylic paint with glazing medium

oil paint with liquin

galkyd lite

I applied the copper leaf by cutting and tearing into small pieces and randomly adhering them to the panel using the GAC 100.  When that was dry, I rubbed the surface with burnt sienna acrylic paint thinned with a glazing liquid to darken the creases and add an aged look. 

The next day I sketched out my image with charcoal, rubbing out what I didn't like. I developed the image using oil paint thinned with liquin.  While the paint was still pliable I scrubbed back areas to let the copper leaf act as a value and to create the aged feel I was after. DSC03655

Why not try this process yourself? 

Who Put the Hole in my Bucket?

Dreamstimefree_3073697 copy

photo credit: Starush,

Who Put the Hole In My Bucket?

So here I am, walking along the beach scooping up pretty shells and bebobs and putting them in my  shiny new bucket with the white stripe.  Picking and putting.  Tucking and saving.  Perfectly happy with my art business until I look in my bucket and discover -- nothing.  Only that big hole.

Is this how it feels right now?  Like someone put a hole in your bucket?

For me, it has been far to easy to focus on the wrong messages during this time of economic uncertainty, even though I know there are positive messages, too. 

Seth Godin, in Seth's Blog, raises the question: Which comes first, the product or the marketing?

 "Well, if you define marketing as advertising, then it's clear you need the product first (Captain Crunch being the only exception I can think of... they made the ads first.)...Marketing is not the same as advertising. Advertising is a tiny slice of what marketing is today, and in fact, it's pretty clear that the marketing has to come before the product, not after."

After reading Seth's post, I had one of those ah-hah moments, realizing I'd slipped into thinking about my "marketing" as if it were advertising.  While I was focusing on solutions,  such as "Who can I send my portfolio packages to now that so many galleries are in limbo", I should have been redefining my idea of marketing in this new economy.

I admit, this is scarcity thinking, something I know to avoid but which creeps in disguised as something else.

This is why I am energized by what Katherine Tyrrell, along with Vivien Blackburn, Tina Mammoser, Jeanette Jobson and others, are doing by forming a limited group of artists all working with a common theme: creating art from water.

Here is the blog description from Watermarks: Creating Art From Water 

 "Watermarks is a small community of artists who make art from water. We like to sketch, draw and/or paint water - the sea, the coastline, beaches, rivers, streams, waterfalls, fountains - in all contexts, styles, genres and media.

 In this blog we will display our works in progress as well as completed art, highlight other artists (past and present) whose art involves water, and discuss various media matters and tips and techniques for creating art out of water"

Isn't this is a perfect example of art marketing, the kind of marketing Seth Godin is talking about in his post?

Watermarks: Creating Art from Water acts as a catalyst for the idea of art created around a common theme, which in turn builds upon a larger body of work that enters the marketplace with gravitas and curiosity.  Much like the Impressionist group did, when they realized  their work as a group carried more weight than what a single artist could generate.

 "...just about every successful product or service is the result of smart marketing thinking first, followed by a great product that makes the marketing story come true."

As this new world economic shift takes place, opportunities open where others disappear.  Maybe there are fewer galleries available to sell our work.  But we're no longer bound by limitations of geographic space.

What ties the Watermark artists together is technology and the use of blogs.  While most of the artists live in England, Jeanette Jobson lives in Canada. The location location location mantra of yesterday has changed:  as an artist, where you live no longer prevents you from participating fully in the idea of forming a group with a common purpose and inspiration. 

Makes me want to do something like this myself.  Doesn't the idea begin to excite you, too?

Sunday Salon: Eva Zeisel, courtesy of Aletta de Wal

I thoroughly enjoyed this TED talk by Eva Zeisel, a ceramic artist who has been working successfully for most of her long and fascinating life.  She is an inspiration to those of us who wonder if there's still time enough left to do what we dream of doing.

My thanks to Aletta de Wal, from ACT, Artist Career Training, for sending me the link to this TED talk so that I could share it with you. You can see what else Aletta has to offer emerging and aspiring artists by following this link to her website.  I've taken a class from Aletta, I receive her newsletters, and I always find new information by exploring her site.