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July 2009

Sunday Afternoon at the Lake

Sunday Afternoon at the Lake 

Sunday Afternoon at the Lake
10 x 14, oil on canvas
Sue Smith @ 2009

I've been enjoying the summer weather.  When it's too hot to stay in the studio, we've been going out to find inspiration.  We're extremely fortunate to live so close to the lakes and streams in the Cascade Range - a 30 minute drive and you can be sitting in the shade of tall Ponderosa Pines, enjoying lunch on the "beach" of a high alpine lake.

I recently read Robert Genn's post about hiking to Lake O'Hara and Yoho National Park in British Columbia, including photos of his group scaling the rocks with a 30 x 34 inch canvas.  Our trek was not nearly as strenuous.  True, we've tried to get up to Three Creeks Lake on other occasions and had to turn back due to snow lingering on the narrow road.  Sharp drop-offs, unexpected boulders in the path and a paved road that disintegrates into dirt and gravel discourage reckless exploration.  But once the weather warms up enough to clear the way it is well worth the effort.

This past week we figured - with temperatures in the 90's - the snow was probably gone.  Packing up essentials - food, water, camp chairs, a camera and coffee for the road - we set out, following the well marked road south out of Sisters, Oregon, and headed up into the Cascades.

It was a beautiful drive - even bouncing over the rutted track at 15 miles per hour added to our "adventure."  Three Creeks Lake is beautiful.  Nestled beneath Tam MacArthur Rim, the blue water shimmers in shades of aqua, phthalo and viridian.  Only boats powered by human beings - and not motors - are allowed.  Kids splash in the shallows where the creeks - fed by the glaciers higher up - flow out of the forest.  The beach is as sandy as any at the ocean, with tufts of marsh grass - and really large, ugly bugs.  One of which landed on my shoulder and ended the bucolic mood somewhat abruptly. 

My husband is my fellow adventurer, but he hasn't yet learned to appreciate the several hours of "doing nothing" required while the artist paints the view.  I appreciate that he does the driving, so I compromise and take lots of reference photos instead of lugging out my french easel and paints.  He finds it hilarious that I don't watch where I'm stepping when I'm on the hunt - muddy shoes and ankle-deep water don't register when I'm getting that perfect shot.  Over the years I've learned a few tricks about taking reference photos: a single image never has enough information for a large painting.  The perspective is distorted, the distance between objects is flattened, and if the memory card has enough space don't wish - when you're sitting back at home - that you'd captured the light on that distant tree or the clouds moving in the sky. 

This is one of the things I like best about being an artist - the pure joy of being in the moment.

Don't let everything else get in the way of experiencing it. 


Balloons Don’t Work

Every economic downturn sees the sprouting of balloons: balloons tethered to sidewalk signs, or floating from wires strung post to post.  Balloons battered by breezes and the loss of helium, until, eventually, they fall flat.  Like the current art market


Balloons don’t work.  They don’t attract the consumer’s attention.  They don’t drive business.  Why?  Because they’re passive.  Just hanging out there, bouncing up and down in the breeze, hoping to have an effect on a consumer who doesn’t have the money or the confidence to buy right now. 


The art market has seen such contractions before.  It starts with a downward trend in the stock market, which bleeds into the major art auction houses as speculators and investors start liquidating major purchases.  Soon the slowdown is felt in the major galleries, filtering down to those on Main Street as the entire economy droops.


Looking backward, one can generalize that the auction houses lag nine months behind the stock market.  Which means any rebound will also lag, and be tempered with a new-found cautiousness when it comes to valuation for the work of living artists.  It may be eighteen months to two years before demand for original artwork at all price points begins to rebound.


But you're an artist.  You have to create, can't conceive your life without creating your art. What are the options?  Besides putting out those balloons?


  • Be cautious on how you spend your resources.  Shipping to juried shows can become an unexpected burden when the acceptance letter includes the extra handling charge per box – over and above the pre-paid return shipping costs - you weren’t anticipating.  Try to find out up front what costs might be involved.


  • But do try to get your work out into as many venues as you can afford.  The goal should be to have your work seen by as many people as possible. And don't overlook your mailing list and quarterly postcards to let people know you're still in the game.


  • Network – if you can.  Unfortunately, I’m not very good at it.  I try to network with fellow artists in my local area, but right now everyone seems to be in a protectionist mode.


  • Be understanding if you can’t network – if you can.  When times are tough, we all find it hard not to believe there’s only one spot open on top of the mountain and it might already be taken.


  • If you have gallery relationships, approach them about sharing the cost of a mailing or magazine advertisement.  Propose a solo show where you share costs.  Let them know you are as interested in their survival as you hope they are in yours.


  • Concentrate on your work.  Do the best work you can do now.  Tomorrow, you’ll do even better work.  Be ready with a strong, distinctive body of work when the consumers are finally ready to open their wallets.


  • Believe you can do it.  When circumstances conspire to get in the way of the goal, passion often goes into hiding – at the moment when you need it the most.  Hang on to your passion with both hands.


Links of Interest:


Five Theories on Why the Art Market Can’t Crash…and Why It Will Anyway 


Future Modern  Has the Art Market Peaked?


Art Market Watch 2009 Art Market Rebound?


Jonathan Jones On Art Blog Why the art world should care about the old folks


My Art Space>Blog  Art Market Reflections and Predictions for 2009














The Twitter Trap

Where is the fine line between the Twitter advantage and the Twitter trap, networking versus time wasting?  For some tweets the line is nonexistent.  If their idea of useful content is twenty tweets about how they can help me by purchasing their SEO service they get “un-followed” pretty quickly.

But there are networking advantages to Twitter.  People gravitate toward authenticity, something that can’t be faked. Not the “how I got 20 thousand twitter followers in two days” networking, but connections that evolve into relationships that form serendipitously, or sprout from other cyber-connections.

Often these connections go unrecognized.  It's easy to feel like you’re having a conversation when you’re not. 

So I've listed a small fraction of the authentic, enjoyable and under appreciated artists who make a difference and perhaps don’t know it – artists I would never have met were it not for Twitter and blog comments.


  •  BB Lancton, from Central Texas, writes One Painter's Easel.  Working in both watercolor and colored pencil her sketches capture my imagination.
  • Located in Peoria, Arizona, Kimber Scott – In Progress writes about what inspires her, how she holds herself accountable, and how she fits it all in.
  • The Book Girl writes from Asheville.  She introduced me to the book art of  Andrea Dezsö and needless to say, her blog is a visual feast.
  • Debbie Lamey-Macdonald lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. An artist and teacher, her work captures the immediacy of her environment.  Harry Bell hails from Gateshead, Northeast, United Kingdom. He hooked me with Boogie Street, and not just because it's also the title of one of my favorite Leonard Cohen songs.  I'm not even sure how I found Harry Bell, perhaps through Katherine Tyrrell's Making a Mark, who writes one of the most comprehensive and informative art blogs on the net.
  • Back in Oregon, here are three blogs of note.  James Elmore , writing Canopy Gallery, is developing an artist’s community on the Oregon Coast.  Portland artist, Alison Newey, is new to blogging but her progression of Black and White figurative acrylic paintings is interesting: see it on My Daily Paint . Another Portland artist and arts advocate, Rebecca Shapiro , works in encaustic with luminous results and has been a long-time favorite artist of mine, as we share a similar aesthetic.

 All of these artists are living proof that you can survive as an artist if you want to - it's just a matter of finding the way that works best for you.