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How to Get Better at Talking about Art

I remember the exact moment when I knew I was an artist.  It wasn’t as a child.  Art was the friend I set aside when it was time to be a grown-up.  No, it was much later, when I was well over fifty.  I don't know why it took so long.  But in a way, I'm glad that it did. 

We all experience life in ways that prod us toward such realizations.  Eventually, we find ourselves talking about that progress.  When I first got out of art school, I was invested in the philosophical influences I had learned.  I relied on Art Speak, a lot.  I spent most of a decade painting and explaining while eyes would glaze over until I had lost my audience.  And in the end, I lost my confidence.

While the process of learning can be uncomfortable, you can’t always fix your inexperience through art speak.  It is not an effective way to control the impressions people make about your work.  But you can learn how to better engage your audience.  I have discovered at least three keys to effective Art Speak: these insights might be helpful to you.

Key 1:  Start by nurturing the human connections.  People are curious about their attraction to art.  They want the story.  What were you interested in depicting?  Why did you pick that subject?  Through this shared conversation, something interesting happens.  The viewer becomes invested in the work, making their own connections.  It is no longer a work that must be justified.  It becomes a form of collaboration.

Key 2:  Discuss the entire canvas.  The example of developing the entire block in before the focal point applies here.  While it's obvious that your painting is about a child sitting in the shade beneath a tree, by pointing out how the loose abstract in the background helps to describe the dappled light, or the thickness of the paint on the folds of the shirt provide dimension - it's the details that add richness to the visual experience.   At a recent art walk, I enjoyed a long conversation with a group of college students. Their curiosity ranged from questions like ‘what is this about?” to “how did you achieve that and why?”  I finally asked if they were art students.  To my surprise, not a single one had ever taken an art class.  They just found the discussion interesting, seeing the art with new insight. 

Key 3: Be curious about what others see when they look at your work. This isn’t always comfortable for the artist.  I remember standing in front of a self-portrait, listening to someone say it would probably look better upside down.  He was probably right, and he had no idea I was the artist.  But the experience reinforces an important point.  Most people want to connect, but human experiences are not unilaterally universal.  I have always found the best insights this way, realizing that I was too focused on getting something perfectly right when most people saw the work in a different light. 

If there is isolation for the artist when creating work, there is also the need for connection.  At some point, you will be asked to talk about your work.  It may feel awkward to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation, but in the end you are both after the same result. 


How Color Trends Give Emotional Cues

 

January is the month for "Colors of the Year," symbolically defining the trends for the coming months.  As useful as it is to consider new color palettes, emotional cues behind the choices hold the most value.

When Pantone introduced the 2016 colors of the year, they keyed into two themes: persuasive compassion and serene composure. Thematically, the 2017 color marketers are tapping into more energized emotions, and if interpreted right, artists can find new opportunities for work that appeals to the various niches.

Elle Decor uses words such as sophisticated and creative to describe how the consumer sees self identity as defined by personal living spaces.  In the visual examples used, Elle Decor combines furnishings and fine art to define specific moods or emotional cues, from those seeking drama, to atmosphere, or regional identity. 

IMG_1577Elle Decor is not alone in seeing a new trend emerging, based on the consumer's desire for a more optimistic, cozy, comforting, renewing, or elegant new image for 2017.  Pantone, recognized as a standard setter in the design environment, has selected the color Greenery as definitive of the 2017 environment.  Their descriptions of the emotional connections to Greenery include back to nature, spring, renewal, life affirming changes, starting over with a fresh approach. 

Sherwin-Williams has selected "Poised Taupe" as their Color of 2017, calling it a complex neutral intended to communicate the idea of a refuge from the outside world. Ideas such as elegance, graceful patina, earthiness and the authenticity of "a well-lived life" identify the emotions they want associated with this color. 

Benjamin Moore takes it a step further, posting a video showing how their design team drew inspiration from contemporary art events, selecting their deep purple color, called "Shadow," as their entry into the 2017 trend.  Shadow is intended to communicate the combined emotions of nostalgia, morning light filled with optimism, evenings of mystery, romance, magic and "an Old Master palette."

The value here is in the word choices used to sell the colors, and how those define the marketer's view of the 2017 consumer.  Using this analysis, 2017 will see strong enthusiasm for a culture-based environment, where not just colors, or furnishing, but original fine art may play a strong role.  It will be interesting to see if this theory plays out for both galleries and artists alike. 

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IMG_1978 small copyI appreciate the way you have accepted my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day. Please leave your recommendations or suggest it to others who might be interested in the content. 

Image: The Sun, The Moon, and The City.  @2017, SFSmith

 

 

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The Essential Business Skill an Artist Should Develop

What are your greatest art related fears?  For most artists, the fear of unanswered questions is the biggest impediment.  And the primary business skill you need is a strategy to manage that fear.

Some fears are just fears.

But most fears can be managed if you first realize they are actually questions, and then work toward finding the best answers.

Common questions revolve around the worth of your work.  If you don’t fully understand the rational behind what you create, it’s no wonder the work feels without merit.  Organize your thoughts by writing about your history, why you decided to be an artist, what inspires your work.

I thought my mountain was coming this morning. It was near to speaking when suddenly it shifted, sulked, and returned to smallness. It has eluded me again and sits there, puny and dull. Why? (Emily Carr)

Another common fear involves the market and demand for your work.  We fear the answer will be a resounding “No!”  And what could be worse that knowing that?

What could be worse is working for years in a way that will not succeed because you were afraid to face the possibility that one, you had the potential to succeed, but two, you needed to take greater action to achieve that goal. 

I was a loser, most concerned with making a living. It took me 30 years to understand... I had to reinvent a system, find a way out, and set some rules that could work for me and a few others. I guess in the end that's what we all are trying to do. (Maurizio Cattelan)

But the biggest fear, the biggest risk, is saying you are an artist but never, ever succeeding.  Oh, wow, that is so heavy. I mean, really, what could you possibly do that could compete with the likes of the Art History Stars? 

 “Have pity on those who are fearful of taking up a pen, or a paintbrush, or an instrument, or a tool because they are afraid that someone has already done so better than they could…”
Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

  Don't even bother with this fear.  Focus on the questions that have answers.  Build your art business from there.

Know as much as you can about your own work, as an ongoing process, because your ideas change and develop and often come back around in more effective styles.

Know as much as you can about the business expectations of others when dealing with an artist. Small questions about how to ship large work, and larger questions about the money, the accounting, and the marketing responsibilities. There are good resources if you want group classes, but you can also start with your own investigations by going to the galleries, the shipping businesses, the juried shows and asking questions.

Know as much as you can about the standards for excellence in your chosen medium, and what strategies you can use to gain acknowledgement from your peers.  This includes the standards for excellence and styles when approaching galleries, establishing pricing, and producing marketing efforts.

Because there are many different ways to think about what an Art Business is, experts will offer you a broad approach with the easiest solutions: write an artist statement, create a blog, build a website, and submit to shows.  The road you are on does not have easy answers, simple solutions, or common experiences. The terrain changes rapidly and constantly. While you do need a road map of sorts, you also need to take the responsibility for where you are going.  It’s an adventure that can be both fun and terrifyingly.

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IMG_1772 sm copyI appreciate the way you have accepted my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.

 

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Who’s Britain’s best amateur artist? Press Release from Flavours Holidays For New Competition

Information from the great team at Flavours Holidays in Scotland about Their upcoming Big Painting Competition

 

"While there are many painting competitions available for aspiring professional painters in the UK, it is very difficult for amateur artists to exhibit their work. That’s why we’re running our Big Painting Competition – we want to give a platform for these artists to show their artwork and want to find Britain’s best amateur artist!

The competition will open on the 28th September and close on the 31st October. 5 winners will be selected by our art tutors and selected participants will be invited to exhibit their work here in Edinburgh."

For more about the competition: 

 https://www.flavoursholidays.co.uk/competition-terms-and-conditions/

https://www.flavoursholidays.co.uk/blog/flavours-big-painting-competition/ 

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Flavours Painting student in Tuscany

With a team of inspirational art teachers our Italian painting holidays are great for all levels.

Find out more about our painting holidays: https://www.flavoursholidays.co.uk/painting-holidays/

Read what Jenny Eclair wrote in the Daily Mail here

About Flavours

 Our painting holidays offer a unique blend of expert teaching and free time where you can be inspired by Italy’s dramatic colorful landscape. Flavours offers week-long stays in Tuscany, Venice and Sicily with our inspiring painting tutors.

Flavours Holidays - Authentic. Inspiring. Passionate.

 

 


Three Sources of Inspiration

August is Artist Appreciation Month. 

Most of the artists I know list their inspiration sources as either subject matter or style.  We often don't consider the other influences available. There are artists who inspire us through their life experiences.  Others inspire through their innovation.  The primary inspiration for me, though,  comes from the originality and depth of artistic thinking. One significant influence in my present work is Hans Hofmann

Hofmann was a visionary artist and teacher, often described as the leader of the New York School of Abstract-Expressionist Painting: some of his most notable students were Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, and Louise Nevelson.  Those who know my work may be surprised by this.  But I see it as an example of how an artistic philosophy is not limited to a specific style of painting. 

On Movement, by Hofmann

Movement develops from depth sensation.  There are movements into space and movements forward, out of space, both in form and in color.  The product of movement and counter movement is tension.  When tension - working strength - is expressed, it endows the work of art with the living effect of coordinated, though opposing, forces.

~ excerpt from Search for the Real -Hans Hofmann, edited by Sara T. Weeks and Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr.  The M.I.T. Press

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Over There, 12 x 16, Sue Favinger Smith

The Power of Artistic Diversity

Here are some inspiring artists that have recently crossed my path.

Brandon Kidwell.  This Florida photographer describes himself simply as "a husband, father, son brother, friend, part time philosopher and freelance photographer," but his art reaches right to the heart of life. 

Jacob Collins: Seceding From The Photographic Sensibility. This  fascinating 9-part series from At the Confluence Where Painting & Photography Meet is one of the best discussions I've come across in years regarding the interplay between imagery, philosophy, and the intent of art.

Take Five - LINEA, Lessons from five paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, by

As well as these inspiring artists:

Ann Lofquist, with her evocative landscapes.

Pan Yu-laing,with a truly inspiring life story.

And  the artist Patience Brewer, who took her inspiration from a lifetime, followed her passion and developed a thriving business. 

So What About You?

So what about you?  Who inspired you in areas of philosophy, resilience, determination, courage, individuality or innovation?  Write a blog post about it.  Send your links to me and I will post them.  Lets get that conversation going!

 

 

 


Pretty Pictures or Something More?

I attended an event where one of the speakers remarked, “I live in a town of 4000, of which 8000 are artists.” The laughter soon faded as the meaning began to sink in: “There are too many who think they are artists.”  And here we were, aspiring artists, listening to that message from a Master.

Perhaps that’s not a bad idea to consider by those who venture on the artistic path.  By acknowledging that creativity abounds, that each of us brings desire to the table, there are important questions that begged to be asked. 

Does innate talent play a larger role in one's success as an artist than practice, passion, determination and resiliency? I have wondered about this question throughout the more than a decade and a half that I have been writing about art, and I haven’t yet come up with a solid answer.  But what I have done is look to those who have been recognized as “artists” to try to identify what might be unique about them.  And patterns begin to emerge.

They see clearly the end result they want to achieve, and they follow their own direction to get there.  Whether this relates to style, to starting or finishing, to subject matter, what they value most is clarifying their own vision of what it “will look like” when it is finished. 

They have a master's understanding of the tools they use, the historical foundations behind their approach, the mechanics in producing a finished appearance that is both uniquely theirs and uniquely beautiful.

They bring elements that are both personal and universal into the visual message. They know what they are in an intangible way, and it is the underlying support of their painting.

They approach the canvas, paper, clay with a confidence and ease that reveals the level of understanding they have achieved. 

Is this talent? Or a combination of various factors? I found this interview with Daniel Sprick extremely interesting: in it, he said, "One of the things I like to do as an artist is to challenge my own preconceptions."  Between believing in the 10,000 hours concept and grinding out a painting a day - both ideas which may or may not have merit - when do we ever talk about what constitutes substance, authenticity, poetic sensitivity or contemporary relevance except in the vaguest terms?  However you want to articulate it, there is something that some people do that the majority of us have not considered doing.  We can label it as talent, or knowledge and experience, but they are able to produce paintings year after year that impress us.  Call it gravitas, call it courage to produce work that speaks with your own voice, call it an ability to bring life into a flat surface and colored oil - these are conversations more artists should have, something we ought to start amongst ourselves as we search for our own answers. 

An artist needs the craft.  She needs an thorough awareness of art history to better understand the influences that appeal to her.  Seeking out and sharing the sources of information and inspiration, such as the "Liminal Spaces: A Conversation with Daniel Sprick" post by Elana Hagler, and posted on the Painting Perceptions: commentary on perceptual painting blog, can help contribute to the important connections we artists need to make to further our personal understanding of the work we have chosen to do. 

Please share your favorite resources in the comments section below. 

And Thank You for reading today.

"Fall, oil on canvas, SFSmith 2015  IMG_0874 sm copy

 


Color In Your Life Television Show Expanding to include US Artists

 

I don’t usually write posts that sound like a PR campaign, but one mission of this blog is to promote collaboration and artistic support, and occasionally I come across information that is worth sharing. 

In December, I received the following email: "Hi my name is Graeme Stevenson.  I am an Artist and the producer of the TV series: Put some Colour in your life… a series that showcases Artists in their studios…their abilities and also their art…and story as a creator."

I responded with, "Hi  Graeme, I just spent some enjoyable time clicking through your website and watching the videos…I am always interested in quality, and it was a joy to watch the Three Amigos Painting!"

Color In Your Life is a site that delivers, educating artists through instructional videos and promoting their work through a free account.The show is the brainchild of Master Artist Graeme Stevenson.  Originating in the small Australian  town of Murwillumbah, the show has expanded to America, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa. Recently, Stevenson  partnered with FW publications in Ohio to distribute shows through their global networks.  From the website and You Tube channels you can access free instructional videos, and there are 74 US television stations airing the series, including PBS.  Colour In Your Life was “designed to foster creativity and interest in art, and generally highlights one artist in each episode." The show was nominated for a LOGIE Award in 2012. 

According to this media announcement, Stevenson is coming to The United States and planning to "film as many American artists as possible for the series. We know there is a plethora of incredible talent across the pond, and as we go to new heights with the show, we want to go greater distances for artistic skills to share with the world."  Just one more example of artists supporting and promoting other artists.

From the main website , I decided to set up an account as a test, and found it easy to do.  CIYL offers something very much like Facebook dedicated to artists, where you can promote your upcoming workshops, post art images, get feedback, and connect to other artists. Artwork is easy to upload, and although I have not explored the section for artwork for sale, the site offers a nice presentation. 

If you are interested, check out the TV Episodes link.  At the bottom, there are instructions for “Be On The Show.”  No Guarantees, but worth investigation, since the show has plans to come to the States. 

Here are some useful links:

Graeme Stevenson - YouTube videos which include free watercolor painting lessons from Alvaro Castagnet, Plein Air from John Crump, Acrylic from Carole Foster, and many more.

Find out about Color In Your Life here.

Testimonials from artists who have been featured on the show.

Home Page for Color In Your Life, where you can set up a free account.

 

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Just off the Easel

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Stormy Weather, 12 x 18, oil on mounted linen

 

Art should be viewed as a gift.  Knowledge was passed on to me, and I try to pass it on to others.

 To find out more about my book, Ancient Wisdom, Emerging Artist, please click here

And thank you for reading this blog!

~Sue

Please contribute to this discussion by posting your comments. 


Strategies and Outcomes

“Using strategies to force outcomes”, author unknown, is one of those random collections of words that hit home.

I plan out my artistic goals, and I know others do as well.  We each have a vision of success, and it becomes about the “doing” coupled with the “expecting.”  A way of thinking that not only frustrates us but magnifies our fears.  Because all this planning and strategizing and goals met or missed doesn’t help strengthen creativity.  In fact it might accomplish the opposite.

What if we could disengage long enough to put art back into its original form?  If each painting, carving, bit of clay became an object of devotion or entreaty?  The way the shamans in the caves at Lascaux used red, yellow and black to mirror reality and validate their experience?

Because until we tap into honest human experience, we cannot communicate that to others.  And until we understand we hold unique experience, we cannot let go of the expectation of universal acceptance.  We cannot force that outcome. 

It is not the result that holds importance, but the act of creativity itself.  The showing up, the participating in a visual conversation that has gone on for thousands of years and validating a part of human existence that would be lost were it not for you. 

We cannot use strategies and outcomes as the measurement for creative work.

But we can show up.  We can begin each day with a search for our inner truth.  The struggle is not easy but it might just be the only one with meaning.  

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Tide Pool, 11 x 14, oil

A re-emerging theme in my work is water, in part because it is ever changing, yet there is power, energy, and peace in its movement. With each surge something new holds possibility.  With each withdrawal there is reflection.  And the cycle begins again.

Like life. Like art. 

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Feeling like you need to reconnect with your art? 


Technique..or Artistry?

There is an intellectual richness to be found in the creative life.  As well as a lot of paint. I had an opportunity to see the one man show of an artist I have long admired.  Lovely paintings when viewed in the magazines, or online.  They were landscapes, a subject I enjoy painting, so I was one of those patrons who stand back, then close up, then back again - the artist "tire kicker."

In another section of the gallery I found some Russian Impressionists.  Also landscapes.  Painted perhaps in the early 20th century.  Visually I was impressed.  Far more impressed than I felt when viewing the other work.  It wasn't any difference between subject matter or color or size.  It was something about the physical surface of the canvas, the energy in the paint.  The difference between technique, and artistry.

If you think of it in terms of art history, this could be described as the difference between the craftsman and the artist.  That is, an artist who becomes too dependent upon the technique produces work that begins to look automated.  Was this the case with the artist I so admired? Painting after painting was finished with the same brush marks, but the result of this repetition across several walls was the sense of automation, as if the artist had decided to go with what worked.  What was easy.  What the people liked. Look how well I can do this - a modern day version of a Cennini student.

In the 15th century, Florence master Cennino d'Andrea Cennini wrote The Craftsman's Handbook. It was the way they passed along information, from master to student.  A recipe book for things like a violet color in fresco, or how to paint the flesh of a corpse by adding a tint of green.  As a result we were blessed with Renaissance art.  We might say that the idea of art began to change, as it certainly had changed by the time of the Russian paintings I viewed.  Each canvas offered unique energies - same artist, same subject. But to my eye, the problem solving relied on artistic interpretation, and not a repetitious finish. 

What was I seeing?  With the first artist, was it a case of manipulating the paint to achieve an end? With the second artist, was it artistry without letting the technique dominate? I began to ask myself - at what point does technique get in the way?  Was I only noticing the technique because I was looking at painting after painting, seeing the sameness? And I became curious as to the opinions and experiences of other artists, whether they have ever considered such a question. 

So I decided to write about it, wondering if I am too critical.  I think not.  But I am voicing my questions, right or wrong.  Are there artists who achieve success by repeating something that patrons love - but other artists see with disdain?  Because it speaks of laziness,  or worse?  Is there a real difference between technique and artistry?  And if so, how is it defined? We may paint in isolation, but we are not isolationists by design.  Artists have always formed groups where they felt safe discussing controversial ideas. Competition is necessary.  I am one who sees it as a path to growth.  And without having someone to challenge your assumptions then you create within a bubble - and of course, we know how bubbles end.  Not kindly. 

At least if we share ideas, we have a chance.

 

 

 


When Age and Art Converge

Aging is an inevitable part of our personal experience, on both a physical and social level.  How we perceive our ability to express creativity can open us up to new experiences. 

As a mature artist entering the field later in life, I have faced a common insecurity: can I realistically achieve my goals or is it too late?

My position is that you can.  There is no research to indicate that creativity functions differently with age: if anything, it increases.  Where physical stamina may decrease, experience and perceptions allow us to make artistic connections with more ease than a younger artist.  If there is one thing that works to our disadvantage, it is time.

Because the mature artist does not have the 30 or 40 years required for some accomplishments, it becomes important to focus on what, realistically, we can achieve. I advocate a business-like approach, because goal setting, implementing strategies, and establishing routines are business oriented.  But art is unlike any other business.  It can be subjective and competitive.  Despite the internet, there are still powerful gatekeepers and some geographical dependency. Your motivations must be strong to weather the inevitable discouragements and continue with your creative process.  Knowing what your aspirations are will increase your ability to focus on the activities that will get you to your goals.  But your business orientation ends there, or at least assumes a lesser importance compared to the living of your art. 

We are all different as artists, and different, too, in our desires. The time available to us will play a role, but we can’t accurately predict what we will achieve until we try.  This is not a new idea.  While attending a workshop recently, I listened to Rose Frantzen echo similar thoughts in response to the question, what is beauty?  She answered that she didn’t know ahead of time what was beautiful – that she couldn’t always see it until she tried to paint it. 

It was through the act of exploration that the beauty was discovered.

It is through your artistic exploration that a way of living is discovered.

If this way of living can also be labeled an art career, then many artists will be satisfied.

But if it only produces beauty, connects humans in a meaningful way, contributes to the culture, or joins in with a long conversation by artists about their experiences going back to the beginning of time without any of the financial or prestigious recognitions – well, that’s pretty impressive, too. 

Your results will ultimately be defined by you.