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March 2010


I am an explorer at heart, although most of my exploring has been passive, in my thoughts and not in the physical world.  Today I went out into that world.  I walked.  I have not done this for a long while.  Mainly, I would excuse myself on the argument that I was always working, tending to the pressures of daily life.  I sometimes think the function of modern life is to get you to forget there’s something more out there.  We are taught the value in any act must be specific and measurable, that anything that cannot be seen, touched, and described in provable terms is pure speculation and therefore not worth much. Why value the act of the musician as he draws a bow across his instrument when you can just as easily download a digital representation of the sound? Instantaneously, wham! There it is on your ipod, your computer, loaded permanently in your car.  For 99 cents per download.  And not worth much, when all it took was a single click on your mouse, the slightest pressure of your finger to decide, yes, that entertains me in this moment and maybe it will distract me when I’m using it for white noise to drown out the horns blaring and sirens singing into the night.  I find this to be the most distressing aspect of our modern life – the idea that everything is being reduced to an experience consisting of seconds before our attention spans move on.  There is no opportunity to savor.  No chance to go walking out in the world.


I guess this is why I like the aboriginal idea of a walkabout, and I have unabashedly corrupted it for my own artistic purposes.  I think – as an artist - I must periodically go on a walkabout – getting back in touch with my “artist” ancestors – before discovering one that resonates with truth.  I recently read two disparate blog posts – one from David Brickman, an exhibiting artist, art critic and curator based in Albany, NY, and one from the Book Section of the New York Times, by Michiko Kakutani.  Both voiced opinions I could not shed: Brickman, in his review of D. Jack Solomon, speaks to the importance of the artist’s commitment to ideology, while Kakutani reviews Andrew Keen’s provocative book, “The Cult of the Amateur,” whose premise is the internet’s ability to eliminate traditional gatekeepers and replace them with “the wisdom of the crowd.” 


I have to laugh at that – in a black humor kind of way, seeing the “Salon de les Refuses” all over again in webpage after web image after photo bucket of art out there – my own included -  and finding myself, in moments of irrationality, actually longing for the traditions of the Salon.  Not that we don’t have that in the art community, in the form of powerful galleries, museums, arts organizations, and art historians.  But we also have an art world that does not recognize itself anymore.  Maybe it’s because there’s no longer a fabric woven together with strong ideological threads, but an unraveling kinetic sculpture pulled apart by a bored and easily distracted child.  This could just be the effect of the internet.  Or maybe not.   It’s as if we no longer wish to walk out in the world, but prefer, instead, to isolate our days and request that the world come to us in the most impersonal method possible.


I am not courageous.  At least I have not been for most of my life, preferring instead to hide from the embarrassment of my own opinions.  On a good day I will think something brilliant and on another day I will see that someone else thought that same brilliant thought, too.  That’s the way of it.  But I have started walking out into the world.  I have been finding the artistic ideologies that resonate and taking them back into my studio.  I have decided that the function of the artist is not to satisfy the masses but to speak passionately to the few.  It is an egotistically extravagant gesture, anyway, this creation of art, and we probably would stop doing it if we could.  So I guess that realization should mean something.  We should not squander our intention on the lowest possible denominator if we have no real choice about the need to create. 




The Photography Rule You Can Ignore

We've all heard them - the Photography Rules: get it done professionally, and make sure your photograph matches the colors in your painting or sculpture.

This post is about why certain aspects of The Rules are vital, and why you can ignore the rest of it.

Now, I have a wonderful photographer.  I've even posted about him before.  When he photographs my paintings he involves me in the final decision making session, where we look at the painting side-by-side with the computer image and adjust things until we're both satisfied.  Along with this comes constant education on manipulating Photoshop so that when I'm on my own I can create reasonably passable images to post on my website and blogs.

I recently took in two paintings that I'd photographed on my own; as you can see, there are significant differences between my versions and the professional images. I want to suggest the important reasons why this might be so. 

Untitled-1 copy

The images on the left are mine: the images on the right came from Studio 7.  His camera is a Nikon D300, mine is a Sony DSC-W70.  All images are sized the same and at 72 resolution for this comparison. Aside from the fact this his camera is better than mine, capturing detail my camera missed, there might be other causes for the poor images:

My computer monitor may need recalibrating.  This means I may be adjusting photographs for brightness and contrast on a monitor that is calibrated incorrectly, causing my images to appear darker than they actually are. I may be adjusting an image until it looks "right" on my computer, but ultimately reads too washed out on other computers.

I might not have my white balance adjusted correctly.  If your camera allows a white balance adjustment, experiment with it to see how your images change.  My photographer recommended filling the frame completely with something you know to be white under the light source you are using - professionals often use a gray card but that isn't something casual photographers have on hand.  If the white background looks white and not pink or yellow or gray, you are dialed in correctly.

I'm playing around with adjustments in Photoshop too much.  I learned not to do this during my last session.  I first check the histogram to see if I've achieved a bell curve for luminosity, meaning that the surface of the painting was evenly lit.  Then I will go to the Enhance menu, select Adjust Brightness/contrast.  There is a second histogram here and I adjust using the slider.  In my most recent session I learned ways to use the paint brush and Curve, but I've not yet tried to use them on any images.

Now, here is one rule you can ignore - well, kind of:

I must match the color in my photograph to the colors in my painting.

Simply put, this is impossible to do.

Paint is reflective, meaning that light first strikes the surface, bounces back from opaque pigments, penetrates transparent pigments and then bounces back from the substrate through the pigment, before it is perceived by your eye and interpreted by your brain.  The colors in computers, slide transparencies and digital images, are generated by a light source, which means certain colors will be more vivid, and contrasts more apparent because the photographer has removed surface glare with a polarized lens. 

Unfortunately, colors reflected by light will never match the clarity and intensity of colors generated by light.  And the subtle reflected glare, produced by every surface including watercolor paper, affects the way the human eye will perceive color under various lighting conditions.  Pigments are interpreted differently too: your eye "sees" Violet Blue as a light blueish gray, but the camera might interpret it as lavender. 

Artists are also dealing with the thousands of hues perceived by the eye, reduced to what can be suggested with pigments, altered further by what can be reproduced by digital media using Red, Green and Blue, then printed with inks mixing Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.

This means that an artist must often find a "Best Fit" between warm and cool.  In my images above, Winter Path needed adjustments with the Photoshop paint brush tool to emphasize the soft greens on the snow without altering the yellows or reds.  In Row of Autumn Trees, the color of the foreground is slightly warmer than in the Studio 7 photograph -  but the trees are more distinct and true, and the important yellow-green focal point in the background is now evident and providing the interest that was lost in my version.  

So if you are frustrated by paintings that don't get into juried shows or images on your website that appear "different", it might be time to invest in a professional photographer just to see if there's a difference. 

And if you are going to recalibrate your computer monitor - here's a bit of advice from personal experience: write down your current settings before you go messing around with something so vital to an artist.  Just in case you need to reset everything back the way it was. 

I am also pleased to announce that Winter Path and Row of Autumn Trees have both been invited into "WAOWing the Golden State", the 40th Annual 2010 Women Artists of the West national juried exhibition to be held at the Olaf Wieghorst Museum in El Cajon, California.  It was a highly competitive jury with over 420 entries, and I am honored to be included.

WAOWing the Golden State

June 4 through 30, 2010

The Olaf Wieghorst Museum

131 Rea Avenue, El Cajon, CA 92020

Juror: Peggi Kroll Roberts

Is There A New Art Economy?

The cruelest thing about the economy right now is that it creates self doubt. And self doubt is an insidious thing, tempting you to see patterns and competition and fear everywhere.  As time wears us down, we're left wondering if we'll ever sell paintings at the same rate as before...if we're not as good now as we were then...if it's because others are moving into our markets and pushing us aside.  The answer to those questions is a resounding...

And that's the second most cruel thing about the economy right now.  There are no answers.

The thing is, several of the major art buying demographics have dropped out of the market.  The nearing retirement, second home, new to the idea of art collectors are sitting on the sidelines, holding tightly to their wobbling assets.  Large institutional buyers are going for the cheapest solution possible.  Business models like Boundless Gallery are no longer considered profitable. While the supply of art in all forms has been growing exponentially, demand has been running in the opposite direction. More than running.  It's enough to make you wonder if there's a new art economy emerging.

In my book Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist, I talked about scenario planning, looking ahead to possible roadblocks and pre-planning what you could do.   While you are doing this, keep in mind these observations:

  • Everything really has changed.  When supply outstrips demand there are consequences.  Buyers still in the art market are very sophisticated. As a result, the bar for quality and technical ability and artistic identity moves up dramatically, while the tolerance for mediocrity disappears.  
  • Know who you are as an artist.  If you haven't yet found this out, it might be a good idea to really think about why you are creating the things you create.
  • Let go of fear.  Hard to do, but realizing that no one really knows the best thing to do right now should help you take the risk.
  • Honor what you do.   Don't price your work so low you can't even cover your expenses, because you're desperate for sales.  The sales won't come because of price.  They come because of the art.  All your low prices do is devalue your work - and the work of every other artist around you. 


Winter Path, 12x16, oil on linen on panel