Sunday Salons Feed

Sunday Salon: Sitting Down With Dale Lang

I received an interesting comment after posting last Sunday's Salon, The Three Stages of Growth.  The author is Dale Lang, originally from the south of Montreal, Quebec, and currently living in Mississauga, just west of Toronto, Ontario.  I responded to her after visiting her website, thanking her for her kind comments about Ancient Artist.  It turns out that she found this blog quite by accident, while researching ancient art.  I can tell you that's probably not so far off for me as I sometimes feel old enough to have painted those antelope in Lascaux.

What followed was a delightful exchange of emails over the next several days.  I  asked if she would be interested in a Sunday Salon, thinking I would have to craft some formal questions, but as our emails progressed I realized that our conversation was far more fascinating. So, with her permission, I am sharing our discussion with all of you.

"Sue...I have been reading your blog for awhile and really enjoy it...but this piece hits so close to my experience that I had to connect to express my gratitude for your sharing.  i so relate to the "what used to be so exciting and promising about creating art has come to a difficult and painful crawl" experience.  I graduated with an art degree in 2004 at 52.  The past 4 years have been about...processing expectations, beliefs and growth,  My struggle kept me from creating but at the same time it also would not let me give up. So in a sense I have been standing still.

The image I feel is of standing in the eye of the storm with chaos and destruction around me.  In that place, with courage, curiosity and determination, I have learned about patience, openness, kindness, willingness and acceptance of who I am.  From that a new way of being has emerged and a new direction for art making has revealed itself.  It is like a rebirth/renaissance/revival of artistic purpose and meaning and it feels sooo much better or maybe that's relief from weathering another of life's little crisis of meaning..."

I responded that I could completely identify with the feeling of being in the eye of the storm, and that I felt like I had been wasting a lot of paint lately.

Dale responded, "Here is another perspective on 'wasting a lot of paint.'  I have come across an exercise in a Buddhist magazine with the following instructions: use oil paint and paint while being mindful and present.  When you feel the image is right or dine, appreciate it and take turpentine and wipe it away.  Begin again and do this process repeatedly.  This develops an experience of detachment and it eventually creates a space where your image making comes from a deeper source.  Aviva gold refers to this as painting from the source.  It also reminds me of 'drawing from the right side of the brain.'  Sometimes I feel like I stand in my own way and find these exercises helpful."

Dale, I am intrigued with your Buddhist exercise.  Have you used it often?  What else have you found out like this? I am always open to learn different perspectives that I haven't encountered through my own wanderings.  i do relate t being mindful and present, but this seems to take things further and I would like to hear more of what you think."

Dldawn Dawn, Archean Series @ Dale Lang

  I have only just set up what I need to do the exercise.  I work mainly in acrylic but for this I will  use water soluble oils and non toxic water soluble turpentine and I gessoed a couple of masonite boards.  So I am ready...but for the moment I am still in the midst (eye of the storm) with a lot of transitions...back injury, my daughter moving back to England, moving my studio up to our cottage for the summer.  when I stay grounded this is all good and exciting.

However, since graduating in 2004 my art practice has tended to fade to the background yet my calling to create has been ever present. 

What do I do when I don't do the thing I want to do?

To get past the frustration and confusion I have had to figure out the place art making has in my life and its place in the world at large.  What I have come to understand through some of my personal challenges is that if I am attached to outcomes and expectations then I find myself desperately holding on to the suffering with both hands. If I can let go and cultivate detachment, then I can experience some peace and calm.  It makes room for better things to happen through really what often happens is that it lets me notice the good things that are in front of me.

Cultivating detachment is not that easy so this exercise is intriguing.  What happens when i am not attached to what I create, when I don't judge, when I just appreciate what appears and then let it go? What rippling effect will this process have in m life?  Since I am questioning how art making fits into my life right now this exercise has the potential to move my investigation from the intellect (which has been spinning its wheels for some time) to something deeper...patience and curiosity...don't leave home without them."

Wow.  I so relate to what you're saying, Dale.  And I'm beginning to see how my fascination with the Elements Series I create stem from these ideas, since it is very much a letting-go process.  when you were in art school, did you emerge with an idea of what art should mean and then over time, realized that your understanding had deepened and changed? 

Dlflow  Flow, Archean Series @ Dale Lang

 "You are right on the money about what happened to me after school. I loved every second of school but found the constant reference to "emerging young artists" disorienting and isolating.  i did "emerge with an idea of what art making should mean" and I am still working out what it means to me, how I fit in and how I can make a contribution.  As far as an art career, I am still working on art practice."

You know, I have dreamed of having a cottage or cabin in the woods or near a lake or river, even the ocean (although that would be 5 hours away) where I could get away and just paint.  i talked to Jo-Ann Sanborn awhile ago and her studio is right along a canal in Florida, where guests could arrive by boat...I live in the middle of the High Desert, not very glamorous...does your art making change when you change studio environments?

I do think your environment influences your subject matter.  For example, my archean series is based n the rock that my cottage studio is built on. In the suburbs I live in a park area with electric hydro structures that were the subject of a photography piece and collage series.  then there is psychological space...when that is good then environmental space isn't as important. 

Dlportal  Portal, Archean Series @ Dale Lang

 The first summers after school I was surprised at how little I got done at my cottage studio.  My home studio is a small room at the end of a one car garage.  the room is a bit claustrophobic so I have some tables set out in the garage, but that space is always encroached upon by lawnmowers and snowblowers and I get frozen out of the garage in the winter.  It is not ideal yet when I was in school and had a project due i would do it in the kitchen if I had to.  In that case, psychological space trumps environmental space...my fantasy studio is a loft in Paris overlooking a park with a cafe, bookstore and cinema close by."

Going back to an earlier comment, you are right about holding on to the suffering and disappointments, and how really urgent issues often demand our attention...yet the call of art making remains so strong and necessary through all this...why, I wonder?  Is it because there is something in the act of creating that grounds us or connects us to a higher spiritual experience? 

"Fundamentally, I feel that art is about communication and I am particularly interested in the first signs of the creative impulse in ancient humans.  As a matter of fact, it was during a search for ancient art that I came across your site and had to laugh when I realized what you meant by ancient artist.  What a relief to find someone else like me!  Don't get me wrong, i love my young artist friends but the experience just isn't the same.

I would agree that the act of creating grounds us or connects us to a higher spiritual experience.  As a visual person, the act of creating images is where I can uniquely express myself and my experience.  When that expression feels difficult it is a sign that my inner and outer world are not aligned."

I then confessed to Dale that I probably had enough material for the interview.

Generous as always, her response was good-natured: "Wow, that was easy...if you had told me I was providing material for an interview I would have reacted like a deer in the headlights,,,I didn't know, I didn't react...pretty cool strategy, Sue...by the way, I have an iMac...

She then gave me a list of shortcuts that solved my "right-click" withdrawal. I even managed to successfully download the images she sent me, get them in the right file, then upload them to typepad.  Yes, I am smiling right now!
Dlsouvenir
Souvenir, Archean Series @ Dale Lang

So Dale, just one more question...are those your feet in the Ascension Triptych photographs?

You can see Dale's work on her website.





Sorry for the many typos - Typepad has been going through "improvements" and the bugs have been getting worse and worse.  Last night I tried to use spell check and the entire post froze up.  I saved it because the last time this happened I lost an entire post and 2 hours of work.    Now it wants to underline everything and I can't make it stop...eeegggaaaddd!!!!


Sunday Salon: Sitting Down With Linda Blondheim

    Linda Blondheim once lamented about her desire for a "Salon" experience, where artists, poets, musicians, and others gathered at the home of a common friend to discuss ideas and share inspirations.  And even though she recently lost her beloved pet, Anchor, she agreed to a Sunday Salon interview with the Ancient Artist.  I know you will enjoy what she has to say.

    Linda is a talented landscape artist living in Florida.  As both a successful gallery artist and workshop teacher, she has gained a wealth of information over the years, some of which she has generously shared here.

First, a brief description of Notan, taken from the book Composition, by Arthur Wesley Dow.

"Notan.  There is no one word in English to express the idea contained in the phrase 'dark-and-light,' I have adopted the Japanese word 'notan' (dark,light).  It seems fitting that we should borrow this art-term from a people who have revealed to us so much of this kind of beauty. 'Chiaroscuro' has a similar but more limited meaning...Darks and lights in harmonic relations - this is Notan, the second structural element of space-art."  pp 113.
LBorangeshopfinal     Orange Shop @ Linda Blondheim 2008

Linda, you have studied the principles of Notan , and apply them to your work.  What drew you to this concept and how do you use it in your painting practice?

    I discovered the study of Notan back in my art school days.  I was lucky to have one of the best design teachers, Jack Nickerson, who made design fascinating for a young art student.  Notan focuses on light and dark, so it is essential for understanding value structure in painting.  For years I used color as a crutch because I really did not understand values.  About two years ago I decided it was time to revisit the learning process of Notan.  It was the best thing I ever did for my own painting technique. My work has improved greatly and oddly enough, my color palette has improved as well. Studying Notan helped me to develop a five value family system which shrinks the normal value range down to five.  It has made handling values so much easier for me.

Have you always been a landscape painter, or did you come to it through different subjects?

    I have been a landscape painter for 30+ years.  i also enjoy still life and florals, and abstract landscape painting.

LBcattleranch5 Cattle Ranch @ Linda Blondheim 2008

Why do you think you are drawn to the landscape?


    The landscape offers so much variety and approach.  It's simplicity is deceptive.  It looks simple but is very complex.  I've always loved the land.  When I was young I fished and hunted all over north central Florida.  I know many farmers and ranchers and have a deep respect for them and their work.  I love dogs, horses, and cattle, and so I feel a deep connection to my work, and the history and culture of people who understand the land.  The South has an agrarian history and my ancestors were farmers and ranchers, so it comes naturally to me to love the land.  Painting these farms, state parks and ranches moves me deeply and they are sacred places to me.

When you are seeking inspiration, what sort of things go through your mind?

    Just about everything I see.  I have never lacked for inspiration.  I am always on a quest for the next painting.  I am a research and study freak. I like to develop palettes and experiment with them.  I like doing Notan exercises, and I like to experiment with lots of different surfaces and mediums.  Each year, I set a study subject for myself and spend time throughout the year working toward completion of the project.  It may be architecture, wave and water patterns, flowers, Notan/values, atmospheric study, backlighting, clouds, etc.  I usually pick something that I am afraid of or that is difficult for me.

LBtomokafinal Tomoka @ Linda Blondheim 2008

What do you consider the most important skill that every painter should develop?


    I like to consider the "Big Three" as the most important skill in landscape painting.  Composition, Values, and Color Mixing.  Those three encompass many techniques and skills, but nothing is more important that those three areas of study.  All of my workshops revolve around those skills in some way.  They are vital in my opinion.

What is the funniest experience you've had as an artist?

    There are many funny stories and a few that I wish to repeat :>)  Most of them revolve around professional paint outs I have been to.  It's one of those things where you had to be there.  Paint outs are a different world for artists.  We are taken out of our regular routine.  They are essentially marathons, where we are working 12 to 15 hours a day, turning out paintings like machines.  At night, we socialize and funny things do happen but I would not want to share them or embarrass other artists.  There was one night when the 'boys' decided to grill dinner and blew up the grill with too much propane.  It went up like a rocket!

What is the most unexpected thing that you've learned as an artist?

    I think it would be that I was surprised at how much maturity helped me to become a better artist.  The idea in this culture is that youth dominates and that older people are marginalized.  That is not the case in the landscape genre'.  Most of the top painters in Florida are over 40 and many are around 60-70.  I didn't even start to get recognition and make a name for myself until I was 50.  I am just starting to learn how to paint and I have many more good years to improve and grow.  Maturity gave me the wisdom to recognize that I needed to improve as a painter.  Maturity has allowed me to let go of my ego and focus on the  important part of being an artist and that is the process of painting.  I no longer focus on my position in the art world.  Now I just paint.

I wanted to follow up on two of the threads in Linda's answers, so I emailed her a few more questions, which she graciously answered.

Can you recommend any books that are particularly good at explaining the fundamentals of Composition, Value, and Color?

    There are three books I can recommend:
    I also recommend for Notan: www.virtualartacademy.com Notan Painting: How to insure success in two minutes.  It's a basic course in Notan for landscape painters and very good.

    I will soon have my first book out based on my Plein Air Monthly Class.  It is designed for groups or individuals with 12 lesson plans and other information based on my research and techniques.  It will be called Plein Air Monthly, self published with blurb.com.  It will be on my web site, lindablondheim.com.

LBFallMarsh Fall Marsh @ Linda Blondheim 2008

Do you have any other words of wisdom?

First, let me way that it is wonderful to be an artist.  But most people are little prepared for what it takes to become a successful artist.  They do not know the huge amount of time that must be spent in marketing and selling.  At least 50% of my time is spent in non-painting activities to promote my art.  The rest of my time is devoted to practicing and researching my work, in order to improve, so that it will be purchased.  Essentially, I am a workaholic. 

The pros I know, who actually survive on art and teaching, work 16 hours a day, as I do.  It takes a great deal of energy, commitment and ingenuity to be a successful artist.  You must be driven and unwilling to fail.  I  have had many hard days in my long career which would have broken others.  If you are a successful artist, it consumes your life.  It's not a job, but rather a way of living.

LBhoneymoonislandpalms Honeymoon Palms @ Linda Blondheim 2008

All images used with permission of the artist.

You can find more information about Linda's art here.  You can read about travels, recipes, and Linda's process of painting on her blog, Linda Blondheim Art Notes.




  

Sunday Salon: When you feel the pain

"I'm stuck, in a rut."
"I'm frustrated and discouraged"
"I'm stressed out; everything's urgent."
"Maybe I just don't have what it takes."

These are a few of the opening sentences in Stephen R. Covey's new book, The 8th Habit, From Effectiveness to Greatness.

If you follow this blog, you know that I read a lot of books, and about 75% of them are not about art. But "Art" doesn't live in a vacuum, apart from the rest of our lives.  What  works and doesn't work in our "real" world is the same sort of stuff that works or doesn't work in our "Art" world.

If we were in our early 20's, our "Art" lives would be different.  We'd have the time and freedom to explore ideas, themes, techniques, and problems with the enthusiasm of one who sees no end in sight.  As we age, though, it's natural that "the end" begins creeping toward our horizon.  I received an email recently from Casey Klahn who explained,

"One thing I've discovered as an older artist is that it is important for me to start "at the top". I am not a school kid, after all!"

I remember feeling times of great urgency, a limited window of opportunity that I was going to miss - and still do.  I remember pushing myself nearly to the point of exhaustion and then feeling frustrated with the results - and still do.  So how do we achieve a sense of balance between the urgency of the Muse and the realization there might not be enough time left to do all we dream about doing?
 

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Believe that there is enough time to do what you are supposed to do.  Once I freed myself from the belief that time was working against me, my life became easier.  I would walk into my studio and not feel the self-imposed pressure to create something that would "sell now!"  In fact, I realized the more I tried to answer that demand of "sell now!" (which was a form of needing to justify what I was doing) the worse my work became - and the more frustrated I felt.
  • Realize that the "top" is only a marker on the spiral, just a "starting point" for the next growth cycle.  I understand where Casey is coming from when he says he needs to start "at the top."  Because we are entering the art market at a mature age, the art market expects a high level of competency.  Our work can't be excused as young and brash, full of passion, short on technique, but loads of potential.  So it's necessary to study artists working at the levels of competency to which we aspire in order to ensure that our work is comparable before we approach the market.
  • Growth requires us to "hate" our work periodically.  I once had an exercise t-shirt that read : "No Pain, No Gain."  I wasn't into pain, so I never saw much gain. Its the same with art.   Being stuck, feeling anxious, frustrated, angry, experiencing the emotional pain of hating what I'm producing - I used to dread it.  I still dread that moment of walking into the studio and looking at the painting I just finished and immediately "hating" it. But I've come to realize these are messages from my unconscious, my artistic soul, telling me, "hey, you gotta move on here!  Your work was fine for where you were last year, but this is Now." 
  • Become your own best mentor.  Be kind to yourself.  When you grow to the point of recognizing there is something missing in your work - rejoice.  It means you've developed your "eye" to the point where you're able to progress, and that you're not suffering from what Robert Genn calls "Kalopsia"  (an interesting read in the click-backs).  And as your own best mentor, take on the responsibility of learning what else you might need to know at this point on the spiral - whether you watch instructional DVD's, read books, draw daily, paint daily -- whatever you do, begin to expand your practice consistently.
  • It's also okay to work within your comfort zone.  Out of curiosity, I started reading art blogs coming out of the New York Art Scene.  I quickly discovered that I didn't belong in that rarefied world of artspeak, critical laceration, bizarre theory, shock art, power plays, movers and shakers, blog wars, hoaxes and non-hoaxes pretending to be hoaxes...okay, too much hyperbole here.  My point is only that it's better to focus energy where you know you want it and not spend it where it drains away your enthusiasm.  Activism, while fondly remembered, might be better left to the young.

So what is Covey's 8th Habit?

The 8th Habit "is to Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Find Theirs" (p. 5).

Interesting, huh?


Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with the Atelier Approach

In my conversations with Slump, he suggested I was "stuck"  because I'd reached the edge of the cliff.  Metaphorically speaking, that is.

"And that cliff would be?" I asked, eyebrows raised for emphasis.

"The one where you're standing on the edge of solid ground -- the painting skills you have -- and you're afraid to step off the cliff -- gaining new painting skills -- because you think you'll crash and burn."

"Ah, the Wiley Coyote Observation," I responded snidely, since Slump had loved Roadrunner cartoons as a kid.

But Slump has thicker skin than I have.  He ignored my immaturity and reminded me I ought to read one of those books I buy instead of just looking at the pretty pictures. 

So I did. 

One of my painting aspirations is to become a fabulous landscape painter.  Well, at least a good one.  But  I've been producing work that's rather ... ho hum.  So, under Slump's continued nagging I pulled out Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice, by Juliette Aristides.

The Atelier Approach was once the gold standard for artist training.  It fell out of favor, but is regaining popularity.  The basic philosophy mentors an artist through lessons from a Master Artist, introducing foundational skills through a curriculum that "naturally builds upon itself during the course of a developing artist's period of study (p. 1)."

I began with the first exercise, studying tonal arrangements.

I know this is a big risk, telling you how I took short cuts, labored over a painting when I knew better, ended up overworking it, making it ugly and just waiting for my husband to pass by and point out these details the way someone points out the obvious to a four year old.  But in the spirit of sharing, I hope my experience will be helpful.

I've had more time recently to devote to painting, and I started working on some new, smaller landscapes.

Dsc02167 Painting One @ Sue Favinger Smith

So here is the first version.  I thought it looked interesting from 20 feet back, lost it's power at 3 feet.  I wasn't sure exactly what was wrong.

I liked the light and place.  I liked the personality of the trees.  My original inspiration had dramatic light to dark contrast, but was a photo and photos aren't very good at revealing what's in the shadows.  I didn't want to just copy.  I also liked the color scheme.  The sky was a mixture of violets and blues, making the yellows glow.

But something just wasn't quite right.

I needed to study the composition through tonal values, and compare it to the tonal values of a "Master Artist."

Best2 I use Photoshop Elements, and have recently incorporated it into my painting routine.  I have a folder marked "Works in Progress" where I save digitals of my painting process.  This is useful as I now have a record of how seemingly small changes effect the overall design. 

I also Photoshop for tonal value analysis.   I convert my painting image to grayscale ( Image > mode > grayscale), where I can actually see the value pattern I've created, without the distraction of color. 

And what I'd created was a very active abstract composition with diagonals converging into the center and vague major masses.  I liked the way the strong verticals added stability and contrast, but I realized my values were closer together than I'd imagined. I also saw several large X's in the composition which I did not like. And it did not have the elegance of design I was after. 

Dsc02179copy Wash at Hudson's @ Don Stone
Here is the grayscale version of a painting I have long admired, by Master Artist Don Stone.  I noticed that he uses his values differently than I do.  I decided to use him as my Master Artist and analyze exactly what his thought processes might be.

I converted Stone's image to grayscale, and then printed both his painting and my own so that I could tape them side by side on my studio wall.  Next, I began to analyze and compare.

Well, it didn't take very long before I just "knew" what to do...

I admit, I like to think I can paint on the fly.  I mean, inspiration has a direct conduit to my fingers, moving my hand way before the old brain catches up. 

So I fiddled... just a little darker here... I dabbed paint rather than putting it on with thought and deliberation...maybe some yellow here...I experimented. (Saying I felt my way would be more accurate). And I became more frustrated as my painting became more of a mess.  Finally, after trying "just one more bit," I had to go to work and leave it for an entire day.

When I came home that night I took one look and realized what I had done. 

You're thinking, "She's going back to Slump, isn't she?"  But you'd be wrong.

What I had done was push past "safety in what I know" into "willing to sacrifice a perfectly mediocre painting to learn something."

This is a very good place to be.

Dsc02187_2 Painting One (left) and Painting Two (right)

In painting one, you can see how I had attempted to unify my darkest value and ended up with a black hole pretty much in the center of the painting.
Oops!
I lost much of my color by over painting and blending too much.
I studied my Master Artist and then wrote down in my notebook what I liked about his work and what I needed to do in my own work.

Like: 

  • Strong value design
  • 3 values

Work on:

  • design first
  • greater value separation
  • more paint on the brush
  • cleaner color
  • mix larger puddles on palette

Then I wrote out my analysis and solutions:

What am I doing wrong?  I'm not completely sure ahead of time about major decisions, so I feel my way, try out things, change and overwork.

My solutions:  I need to spend more time planning the idea, then painting thinly to be sure it works.  I need to plan and mix colors and values, using a limited palette.  I need to apply the paint with as little "fussiness" as possible...put it down in one stroke.  I also did a value sketch from memory, unifying the major masses, and clarifying the 3 value areas.

I painted the second version last night in one go, about 3 hours.  I knew ahead of time how I intended to apply the paint and I had mixed up my colors in large puddles so I would not get caught short and have to mix something up in the middle of things.  The scary part was wondering if I could recreate the freshness in the original composition or if it was gone forever.

Here are the value comparisons.  I am very happy with the unity in the second version, and the defined value pattern. I lost some of the personality in the first set of trees, and I will go back in and strengthen the lighter values in the foreground to capture the sense of light hitting the rolling pathwayDsc02187copy_2. But overall I think that the second version has a more cohesive design and the color is clean.

But more importantly, this exercise reminded me that an artist recognizes when her work isn't up to par and then does something about it.  And I discovered that I can "do it again" and actually "do it better."

Yes, I will study the two new side by side value images, and determine what works in the first and try to apply it in the second.  And yes, I really do wish I hadn't overworked the first painting and destroyed the elegance in the paint application.  But the realization that gives me the most joy is that I've now reached the artistic level where I realize where my work is weak, and I'm developing the skills to make it stronger.

And that's a better place to be than satisfied but unable to see.




Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with Wassily Kandinsky

Today I am sitting down with Wassily Kandinsky...not the Kandinsky...did you think I was that Ancient?  No, I'm sitting down with his pioneering book Concerning The Spiritual In Art, first published in 1914 under the title The Art of Spiritual Harmony, and this is a Sunday Salon with a new twist.  Salons need to be more than a two-person conversation: the interviews are fabulous and I love doing them.  But I can't get to everyone and I want to expand the conversation.  So every now and then I plan on shaking things up a bit and I hope that a lot of you will join in and add your thoughts and comments.

So...the introduction of Kandinsky's first group of essays, titled "About General Aesthetic," reads thus:

"Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions.  It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated."

And my philosophical question open for discussion is this:

How do you think our growing cultural dependency upon technology, such as the internet, and the instantaneous consumption of visual media, influences the art of our age?  How does it influence you in the choices you make as an artist?

I'm pouring a cup of coffee right now and I'm looking forward to tons of comments when I get back...


Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with Shanti Marie

SmedistoToday I am sitting down with Shanti Marie, a versatile artist I think you will enjoy.

Shanti, can you tell us about your artistic background?

As a child I liked painting but seldom had the opportunity.  I love music and wanted to sing or play an instrument when I grew up.  We were very poor and I never to the chance to learn to play an instrument till I was in college.  I always admired artists in general and loved to watch people draw or play music. I didn't have a lot of self-confidence and thought you had to be really good at drawing to be an artist, and I didn't really have drawing skills.  So when I went to college I became a fine arts major thinking perhaps I would be an art history teacher, or perhaps a music teacher

I've always liked teaching.  My last semester in college I was a fiber artist and was having a difficult time finding a job.  I decided to enroll in an additional 13-month business school education.  A newspaper hired me as a manager in the circulation department. I liked the job but still felt a strong desire to do creative projects.  I continued to play music with various groups, and I also sang in a couple of bands.

Like many people who have a creative passion and a full time job, every weekend, I found myself making things or doing creative things to fill this artistic void.  In 1986 I decided to teach myself watercolor, which I found interesting and I thought it would be easy.  I painted on weekends for years painting things for my own home and for family.  Raising a family and working was my life.  Art was my hobby.  I was the typical hardworking stressed out individual trying to find a few moments of painting time between all my other obligations.

In 1996 I decided to work part time and to try to develop my artistic side.  A few years later I decided it was time to promote my work and myself and to join various art groups in my area.  This helped me immensely and I cannot believe all those years I painted alone without any artist friends or support.  I found my art was getting better with their input.  I started to teach several students and later I gave classes for beginners.  This gave me confidence and also helped me in my own art.

I noticed that you use a variety of marketing services to promote the sale of your work: Flicker, Fine Art America, DailyPainters.com, Daily Painters Web Ring, Daily Painters Guild, and your own blogs...from a business stand point, how would you rank these services for effectiveness?Smpinkinprogress

Pink In Progress @ Shanti Marie

The best thing I have done for myself is my daily blog.  The key to making money on a blog is to post often and to give the customers (readers) some reason to come back and check on you, a lesson, an anecdote or just your own silly ramblings to let the readers know you're human and as an artist you struggle too.  On a blog you should give the information about each painting, the price, how to pay, and explain something about the painting, either the process, the problems or the motivation.  Everyone likes to know how an artist works so I take pictures of my work in progress, or I show my work area, my tools, or I write articles about various techniques.  It's more than a point of sales.

My connection with the daily painters group had been the most helpful, since they have a larger audience (5000 per day), and this helps drive traffic to my blog.  I have tried eBay, and many other avenues.  Some work, some don't.  I try things, I see if they work by trying them for a few months, then I either ditch them or keep them.  It's pretty simple, really.  I try to find web sites, which will drive traffic to my work.  There are folks who like my paintings and will buy if they can find me.  Flickr, photobucket, Google, and some of the other search engines bring folks to my blogs with key words and tags, so it's good to understand how these work.  I analyze my blog stats regularly to see what people are looking for and take this into consideration.

I rate daily painters as #1, the photo posting sites as #2 and eBay a distant third.  Then there are the link exchanges, and the others are just a drop in the bucket in terms of numbers.  I get tons of hits from Wordpress because they promote blogs within their own blogosphere.  I recently (within the last two weeks) closed down my eBay store: I have found the warmer months to be slow, the work is not worth the profits, and will reopen in the fall.

I think your koi paintings are fresh and full of movement.  I noticed that you experiment with clay board and watercolor canvas.  How do these surfaces help you express your creative voice?
Smkoi23finished
Koi 23 @ Shanti Marie

I started painting on other surfaces for several reasons.  Probably the biggest reason was the simple fact that I've painted on paper for more than 20 years and wanted to branch out.  I've always liked experimentation and now that I'm confident of my painting skills, I wanted to see what else is out there for the watercolorist.  There is a lot of work in the area of watermedia, which is exciting and fresh and not limited by the traditional restriction of watercolor on paper.  Even our state (South Carolina) watercolor society changed their name to watermedia society and this made me realize that things are changing.

The South Carolina Watercolor Society has always been at the forefront of new artistic avenues and being a part of it was important to me.  I also found that sales of my paintings on clay board, canvas or gessoed masonite were selling for a higher price than the works on paper.  These surfaces are actually easier to paint on once you learn their limitations, and yet give the artist many ways to express an idea.  Without having to plan ahead, and the ability to correct mistakes easily, these surfaces help the artist be more in the moment.  It also allows the artist (especially the new artist) a certain amount of freedom that watercolor on paper can only do after many years of experience.

You wrote an insightful comment regarding the painting "Calmness," where you said, "I'm distilling scenes and not literally painting them."  Can you tell us more about this? How important do you think the Daily Painting process has been to your growth as an artist, and your ability to see the changes in your work?
Smcalmness

Calmness @ Shanti Marie

The daily painting process has speeded up the natural learning process.  Most great painters will tell you the only difference between them and other painters may be the time spent with a brush in hand.  To some degree I have learned this is true.  It has also allowed me to determine what is important to me and thus has solidified my preferences for various techniques, materials, methods, palette and so on...this is basically one's style  When I say I'm distilling a scene, I mean that I do not even try to slavishly render a scene but I try to determine first the mood, then the emotional impact I'm trying to achieve, and the last, what is the one thing about the scene that attracted me.  I then try to paint a scene, which will convey those factors. It may look like the scene but usually it doesn't.  Often the colors will be exaggerated or completely changed.  Sometimes I will throw out everything that is not important to the message and will dramatize the area that I see as the focal point.

What I enjoy most when reading your blog posts is your openness about the artistic process.  In particular, can you tell us more about the story behind  "Evening Newsstand"? Why do you feel it's as important for an artist to "figure out what's wrong with a painting and make it right as it is to do it right from the start"?

Smevening_newsstand Evening Newsstand @ Shanti Marie

I think every painting is an opportunity to learn and to perfect your skills.  Only you can be honest with yourself.  The painting may be successful on one level and not on another.  If you can make these determinations as to what you would do differently next time, you almost don't have to paint the next one - the simple fact that you recognize the problem areas will help you on the next painting.  If you can plan your painting from the first step to the last, you may have a nice painting, but you are not allowing anything new or fresh to enter into the painting.  This interaction is usually what I encourage.  This process of exploration is exciting and what I love about painting.  I allow the piece to evolve and often it will be a better painting in many ways.  This is a personal preference, you have to decide how you want to work and this works for me.  The best part is...both types sell; there is an audience for both types of paintings.

"Evening Newsstand" is a perfect example of a painting that just evolved.  When I decided to paint this piece, I only decided I wanted a predominantly warm painting with some direct and exciting brushwork.  The rest just evolved, at the end, I looked at it, and decided it looked like a street newsstand scene.

What is the most surprising thing that you've discovered on your artistic journey?

Smrosessoft2 Roses Soft @ Shanti Marie

I had to learn to accept work as valuable even if it was an easy painting for me to paint.  I have always measured the value of a painting by the difficulty in the execution.  This no longer applies as I can paint things rather quickly and easily.  I have to remind myself it actually took 20 years plus 30 minutes to paint a painting, not just the 30 minutes.


You can see more of Shanti Marie's work by clicking on the following links:

Shanti Marie's World of Watercolor

A Painting a Day

Daily Painters Art Gallery


Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with Katherine Tyrrell

Today I am sitting down with Katherine Tyrrell, the very knowledgeable and wonderfully generous author of Making a Mark, as well as her other resources and blogs.  Since she works "en plein air" a lot, and I don't, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get feedback from an expert.

    As you know I am a novice when it comes to working "en plein air" and I've got a number of practical questions.  What materials do you carry with you? Do you park your car and walk to the location? What if the view you want is on private property - how do you find out who to ask for permission, or do you settle for a photograph through the "zoom" lens?


First of all thanks for asking me to do this interview.  I'm sure I'm only one of many who've been enjoying your series of Sunday Salon interviews.

Everybody's different and it's not surprising that everybody varies as to their individual preferences around materials and working methods.  My view is it's always best if people work out for themselves what materials they should use for working plein air through a process of trial and error.  It's fine for me to give recommendations but our materials can really be as individual as our drawings.  For example, I'm usually a "kitchen sink artiste" but I admire hugely those who can pare it right down.  What I am happy to do is suggest somethings to think about.


Ktweb_pastelsatwaldenpond_2 Figure 1: The 'kitchen sink artist" pastel painting plein-air - my set up at Walden Pond, Massachusetts September 2006. copyright Katherine Tyrrell

In relation to sketching "plein air" my particular preference is for dry media - I find it a lot simpler to get out pen and pencils then to start painting.  It's easy just to pack a sketchbook a pen and a small pencil case of coloured pencils.  On the other hand when I'm working plein air doing large pastels then the kit can often end up looking like the photo!  In this particular instance, I was trying out a new bag for my pastel boxes and had taken far too much with me given the gradient and state of the path round the pond!
I tend to walk around a lot before settling to work plein air so there's a big emphasis for me on trying to keep things portable.  For those of us who have trouble with mobility and stability at times (like me) then shopping trollies can provide a very welcome way of easily transporting out materials if you have a lot of things to carry!  I bought a wonderful stylish Italian one while in Venice, used it all the time and then brought it home with me!

I have a page on my website called "Advice on Sketching" which includes advice about sketching materials.  It also shows off what I take out for different sorts of sketching expeditions - from the kit for an overseas trip, through to a day out sketching with a backpack and the kit for sketching on a motorbike trip.  It also has a lot more practical information about sketching and includes tips and technique and links to relevant advice in my blog posts plus files of articles for FREE DOWNLOAD for personal and educational use only.  It's organized as follows:

 

  1. Advice on Sketching Toolkits and Materials 
  2. Sketching for Real - a class with assignments
  3. Travels with a Sketchbook - tips and techniques
  4. Starting to Sketch with Coloured Pencils
  5. From sketch to painting - a slideshow of a work in progress
  6. More information about sketching and travels with a sketchbook

Ktweb_kew040506_066_2 Figure 2: Out for the day - sketching with coloured pencils: Sketchbooks (large and small) and coloured pencils in warm and cool colors plus plastic try for pencils in use and pencil sharpener copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I designed the Sketching for Real Class for people who can draw but who are also complete beginners when it comes to sketching.  It takes you from doing 5 minute sketches around your own home to feeling comfortable about sketching in a public place.  In between you get to grips with all the issues to do with being outside - such as the light changing and what sort of materials you need when not in a studio - while initially only going as far as the comfort of your own garden!  I deliberately set it up like this so people could try working out what they wanted to take out with them while still near to home.

I tend to stick to public places if I'm on my own.  My own rule of thumb for being sensible as to location is 'see and been seen'.  If you know your neighborhood really well and know where it's safe for a woman to be on her own then it can be fine venturing further afield and off the beaten track.  Lots of people feel more comfortable going out in a group - although it's much better if this is a group of artists rather than family as the latter tend to get bored.  Luckily my partner is fond of reading so we always make sure he has a good book with him!

I live in London so I travel to lots of places in London by public transport.  This tends to mean lots of sketches of parks, gardens, galleries and cafes in and around London - you can see the results in the online version of my London sketchbook.  You can also read about my various expeditions in my Travels with a Sketchbook in... blog.

Ktweb_bixbybridgebigsur Figure 3: 260 feet up at Bixby Bridge, Big Sur (in fog) - a 10 minute sketch at the cliff edge copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Otherwise, I take the car and get out of London and I often travel by car to sketch when abroad.  For example, in my California sketchbook you can see sketches from my driving trip down Highway 1 from San Francisco to San Diego.  You get better at making instant decisions to pull over...

I advise keeping a sketchbook permanently in the car so you've got something to do it you ever get stuck in traffic but in fact I very rarely sketch from inside the car!  Wind and rain are the main reasons for taking cover.  Which reminds me - always take really good bulldog clips or similar to keep your paper from flapping around in a stiff breeze otherwise it can drive you to distraction!

On the question of photography, my understanding is you can photograph anything you can see while standing in a public place even if you're using a zoom lens.  In other words you may own a property but you don't own it's image.  I've heard of a few people who carry around a copy of the copyright law on that topic - which I guess I've probably saved in the copyright section of my Art Business - Resources for Artists site.

I might see a fantastic subject while I'm driving my car, or I'll go out to paint and not find anything.  When you go to sketch on location, you talk about the importance of "just being there" and "letting your eyes do the work".  What are you looking for, what thoughts and processes do you consider before you begin to sketch?

I was very fortunate when I came back to art after a big break to collect initials after my name.  I was taught by somebody who placed a huge emphasis on learning how to see rather than learning how to make paint.  It's always stayed with me and it's why I now suggest that the main thing that people need to focus on when starting out is learning how to look.

Being a novice at sketching is good - you'll be able to bring a fresh eye to observing a scene - but first you have to train your eye to see.  Observing life and your surroundings - in the home and office or studio -- and looking for compositions while out and about in day to day life can be a huge help to being able to spot a potential subject much more quickly when you do finally get the time to draw plein air.  When doing your errands, try pretending you're actually walking around looking for something to sketch and see what happens.  There is always something - but quite often you won't see it until you've accustomed yourself to a place and walked around a bit.

Figure 4: Umbrian Umbrella Pines (Coloured pencils, 27cm x 35cm)  copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Ktweb_umbrianumbrellapines3 When working plein air, the most important thing is to try and get a sense of the place - while all the time remembering that the way you react to a place is personal to you and what you are interested in.  I guess what I do is unconsciously notice the things which are different and the things which seem to be a 'motif' of the place.  Our personal perspective will always influence this.  For example, I always notice in particular the features which relate to my personal interests - the structure and patterns of the built environment and the natural world - as found in architecture, flowers, trees and 'big views'.  Somebody else might really like lines and textures and they'll find a different set of subject matter to interest them.  Try answer the questions "what do you notice most?" and "What does your eye keep coming back to?"

Buildings are buildings the world over - but they all look slightly different because their style and architectural features vary.  Vegetation may be green in most places, but the shape of the leaves and colors of the green can be different.

In Italy I was very taken with the Umbrella Pine trees. I loved them - they were such an unusual shape.  At the same time of course you have the Lombardy Poplars - very dark blue green and a very slim pencil shape.

Views actually very quite a lot because of the terrain.  Crossing Arizona, what I noticed was a very flat plain with enormous clouds in the distance over some hills - they were the big view.

Often it's a trick of the light which makes something look sensational.  If you have time, get outside at the beginning and end of the day when the light is low and shadows can be very dramatic.  I remember the last time I was in Venice, I was up at 6am on the first morning and was walking across an almost completely empty Piazza San Marco just as the clocks struck 7am.  As I suspected I was finally able to Ktweb_7amsundaymorning see what was there without the constant throngs of people around and about - and the lighting was very dramatic.

Figure 5: 7am Sunday morning (coloured pencils, 8" x 10") copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Seeing wonderful scenes while driving your car is a hazard for most artists.  I have, on occasion, when driving down a quiet country road been known to screech to a stop and then back up and whip out a sketchbook and camera to record the scene very quickly.

I'm a firm believer that making a quick sketch of something really makes you look.  You get a benefit from spending that time looking which just isn't there if you just take a quick snap.  In fact if you just take a photo then you'll probably be looking at that photo and wondering what was it you'd seen in the view as the tones and colours will all look different.  Instead make a note of the place and, most important, the time of day.  It might be worthwhile planning to come back and take another look at the same sort of time. 

By and large though, I lean toward favoring serendipity - an opportunity is always going to pop up when you least expect it and it's usually best to grab it while you can even if you don't have 'enough time'.

If you're traveling to new places or just visiting somewhere new then visual overload can sometimes be a rel problem - I know it certainly was for me on my first visit to Venice.  My blog post on How good is your visual recognition memory? suggests some ways in which you can get to grips with this.

Once you have decided on a location, and found your inspirational idea, how much time do you spend thinking about your composition and how much time actually drawing?  Is one part of that equation more important than the other?

It's usually an inspirational view for me rather than an idea.

I think we need to differentiate between sketching for enjoyment and sketching with producing a definite work in mind. I work up great pictures from sketches I did years ago.  Similarly I can spend a lot of time working on a 'definitive work' on site only to find that it just doesn't work out

I've come to the conclusion that the more pressure you put on yourself the more you will tighten up and produce cliche art and/or complete rubbish! The best work I ever did was on a painting holiday where I started out by giving myself permission to go home without having finished anything.  Only later did I find out that Monet used to produce a massive number of 'starts' when working plein air which he used to finish in the studio.  Now I'm happy if I can get a good 'start' down!

What I do partly depends on how much time I've got.  If I've got 15 minutes I'll probably spend a minute or two looking - because I know I can get a lot down in 10 minutes and can also carry a lot in my head for a short time afterwards.  If I've got a whole morning, then I often walk around for 15 minutes and might then spend another 10-15 minutes trying out different options before settling on one.  Time spent looking is never wasted.  You can continue to work on a piece away from it much more effectively if you've spent a lot of time looking.

What I do now is practice developing my skills, for example around different approaches to composition, at home so I can use them without thinking too much when working plein air.

I wrote about some of the things I do when settling down to sketch in this post Jeanne asked a question about...sketching.

How many sketchbooks have you completed over the years and why do you consider this a valuable resource?

I lost count a long time ago!  I've got the most recent ones (about 15?) in a basket and there's another stack sitting in an inaccessible spot.  I also now take out a portfolio with small and medium size sheets of good art paper so I can do more 'finished' drawings in pen and ink/coloured pencils for sale.

We're all familiar with the notion that we remember times past through sensory experiences of the memory which can be triggered by smells, sights, sounds, or touch.  For me, the value of my sketchbooks is that every time I open one up I'm immediately transported back to that place and time and people.  I think the act of drawing must in some way be responsible for this as I just don't find that photos work in the same way.  You can't put a price on that - they are absolutely invaluable.  My sketchbooks never ever go in the hold baggage when I'm traveling - they always come with me.

I don't find it any surprise at all that most artists who are or were active in their use of sketchbooks while working plein air always tend to keep them.  For example, they've got 300 sketchbooks belonging to Turner sitting in Tate Britain!

I'm actually going to be writing a post next week which touches on a number of the questions you raised in the interview - so thank you for making me think about what I do -- it'll help with writing the post!

links

  • Pastels and pencils

Thank you so much, Katherine! I am not the only Ancient Artist who appreciates your various blogs and resource pages.  I, myself, am a great fan of Turner - I envy your ability to visit those sketchbooks whenever you want.

I am now quite inspired - emboldened !- to go out and try sketching "en plein air" and I hope that you all are too!


Sunday Salon: Sitting Down With Peg Bead

The other day I opened my email and received a message from a fellow artist named Peg Bead. 

Peg wrote, "Hello Sue!  I am writing you from the opposite coast...in Nova Scotia, Canada.  I am also an older artist on the verge of retirement and, for the first time, opening my home studio to the public.  I was reading your article on developing your artistic voice, saw you were in Oregon, and though perhaps we could have some interesting discussions.  I also lived in Oregon myself long ago..."

One thing led to another, and Peg agreed to a Sunday Salon interview.  I know you will enjoy her as much as I have.

Peg, I am looking forward to some interesting discussions with you.  First, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Trinity @ Peg Bead

Pbtrinity_2 I am a self-taught artist with both Celtic and Native roots.  I began painting as a child, influenced by my amateur artist mother.  In my teens, British Columbia artist Zelko Kujundzik helped me attain a fine appreciation of the depth, richness of color and light in the paintings of the old masters.  Most recently, Nova Scotia Artist and Naturalist Laurie Lacey first encouraged me to continue my art as a more professional interest.

I have been told that my work reflects an appreciation for the Natural World that demands something of the viewer.  To me, that is a very high compliment which I strive to uphold and build upon.  After all, a painting is something like a prayer...

You mentioned that, although you have been painting since childhood, you developed your mature style through experience.  For artists starting out, what advice would you give them as they develop their style?

Pbthe_offering_2 The Offering @ Peg Bead

It's been a long journey recognizing myself as an artist.  One night I had an inspiration to do a painting, and I was telling my friend Laurie about it.  He said, "do it", then silently watched me through a very lengthy process.  The next day he brought a frame and put that painting in it.  It was at that moment I felt free from years of encumbrances and fears and saw myself as a legitimate artist.

My advice is do it, do it, do it!  You are already an artist or you would not be inspired to Create.  It took me quite a long time to realize that.

Be fearless and don't procrastinate!

Experiment - try a lot of mediums, but whatever you decide to use, just do it.

Paint for yourself - do what you love, what inspires you, what you know and is meaningful to you.  People will feel your sincerity.

I am interested in learning more about your experiences with opening your studio to the public.  Since I have never done that, what advice can you give me?  What were the surprises?  The pitfalls?

Oh dear!  Well, I am ready this year, but it has been a 5 year journey!  My biggest pitfall was myself yet again, thinking I had to make major improvements to my whole outside and inside space before I opened, and that involved a lot of landscaping, renovations, money and worry! Following my own advice, I finally said just do it!  If it was a shack and the art was great, it would make no difference.  The big surprise was that folks love my place just the way it is!

Although I have in the past and may again someday, I have opted out of placing work in galleries or joining larger artists' associations, as my interest in art is not entirely commercial  I decided to start being known locally first.  As I am in a tourist area, I joined the local tourist Bureau where I can place my brochures, be listed in their guide book, and appear on their web site.  I arranged a newspaper interview previous to a two-week display in a space the town library provides without charge.  I will do another interview during that time announcing my opening, and may also get a radio interview during the display time.

I don't expect anything huge opening to the public, just a few pleasant visits with some folks who appreciate art, and who may be interested enough in my art to keep in touch through a mailing list.  As I'm not officially open until June, check with me later!

I love the design in   The Singer. Can you tell us about this piece?
Pbthe_singer

The Singer @ Peg Bead

Thank you!  Every now and then I like picking up a pencil and doodling.  I have nothing specific in mind, I just start with an interesting line and keep making more by outlining and filling in.  Eventually a shape will suggest itself to be enhanced a bit - and that's what happened here.

Your figures have a very spiritual quality to them that I find intriguing.  What is your inspiration when you begin a painting?

Sky Walker @ Peg Bead

Pbskywalker_2 That is a complicated question to answer...Art to me has a magical element.  I paint what moves me, what evokes a feeling of Reverence, whether seascapes, landscapes, fantasy or portraiture.  These pieces are part of an on-going series I titled Celtic Roots, Native Roots, a theme that depicts a personal vision of the necessary Reverence for Creation shared by peoples long in the past, Tribal peoples who were dependent on Nature for their survival.
These pieces I can only describe as 'painting themselves', like so much of my work does.  Starting with nothing in mind, I did layers of washes until I envisioned what was there, bringing it forward using a wet on wet technique.  I am endlessly fascinated and excited watching them develop.


Can you tell us more about Fisherman's Sunrise?

Fisherman's Sunrise @ Peg Bead

Pbfishermans_sunrise Several years of being on the sea did nothing to diminish the awe of watching the Sunrise every morning or the fascination of light playing on the water.  Every day was different. I painted this piece from a photograph I took of one of those magic mornings.  There had been a storm the night before.  It's not usually good fishing after a storm like that, but the wind had died down and it was beginning to clear by 4 a.m.  When we reached the fishing grounds, the sun broke through the heavy, black clouds and spewed gold all around the clearing sky and across the water, a brilliant path right up to the rail of our boat.

An added bonus -- after I hung the painting, several friends were amazed to see that the gold on the water follows the viewer moving side to side.  Awesome!

Peg Bead lives and paints in Nova Scotia, and  does not yet have a web site in place.  If you would like to contact her directly, please email me and I will pass along your information.  We all look forward to seeing more of Peg's work.


Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with Marsha Robinett

Today I am sitting down with Marsha Robinett, an artist who creates exceptional work in pencil.  Her story is inspiring, and I approached her to find out more about her personal artistic experiences.

Color_correctedthe_fork_and_spoon_c Fork and Spoon @ Marsha Robinett

Marsha, after spending quite some time exploring your blog, website and Squidoo lens, I came away wondering what I could ask that hadn't already been answered on your informative sites.  But...there are still some things the Ancient Artist wants to know.

Like many artists, you talk about art being part of your childhood, but disappearing during many of your adult years.  What was it that reopened your heart and your eyes to the joys of drawing?

Even though I could always be found drawing as a child, this natural ability was never encouraged by my family, and there wasn't any art offered at school.  I grew up in a rural area on a small farm where everyone had work to do.  As I think back, my drawing seemed to be always getting in the way of my "duties" around the home.  My mother had passed away when I was just five and my grandmother stepped in as the mother figure in my life.  She was focused on teaching me to be a good wife and homemaker.

I married young, had a child and fell into being just what my grandmother had taught me to be...a good homemaker.  I did still pick up my pencil now and then and even took a life drawing class at one point...the interest never left, I think it was my focus.   I became a hairdresser and opened a small shop...expanding to a large salon with eight employees.  Now I had a new focus, making a living!

About ten years ago I downsized, moving my salon business to my home.  At this point much had changed in my life.  My daughter was on her own and I found myself single again with time on my hands...and looking at a retirement without anything to retire on!

So, why did this talent reemerge now?  I believe it was God's perfect timing.  I began by doing some loose sketching, then one of my salon customers saw my work and asked for a portrait, and things grew from there.  My salon customers were very encouraging...even to the point of contributing financially toward the purchase of the tent that I use for art fairs.  Many people come into my tent at art fairs saying they drew as children.  I tell them that if God gave them the talent it is still there...He never takes it back.  I also tell them that I didn't want to end up in a nursing home rocking back and forth in my rocking chair saying "I bet I could have done it if I had just tried!"

Mrcolor_correctedsajpg_2 How does working in black and white allow you to express your artistic voice differently than if you worked in color?  Do you have any favorite tool without which you could not draw comfortably?

My drawing style is all about the detail.  Working in black and white allows me to be more intimate with my subject, showing details that would otherwise be lost in color.  Yet as I work, the color is always there in my mind...and I believe it is also in the mind of the viewer.


  Midnight Rose @ Marsha Robinett

I believe my drawings allow the viewer to see the colors of their own imaginations.  For example, "Midnight Rose" was actually a pink rose but the viewer, in their mind, may see a yellow rose.  Then there is "Cracked on Black," when you look at this drawing your mind tells you that the yolk is yellow...yet some see the shell as brown while others see it as white!  Our minds associate colors with certain objects...color doesn't have to be on the paper for us to see it.

Mrcracked_on_blackcolor_correctedsa

As for the tool I could never do without...no hesitation here, it is my Carbon Pencil!  This one pencil can create the softest shadows in a portrait or the deepest darks in the background.  Carbon has a warm undertone to it and when combined with cream toned paper it gives my drawings a tonal warmth and depth not usually seen in black and white art.  This look has become my signature style and it is the carbon pencil that does it.

Cracked on Black @ Marsha Robinett

How do your still lives, such as "Afternoon Tea", speak to your idea of connecting to the story of life?

Mr20071afternoon_teasasmall_final_4 Well now, this is an interesting question.  Just the fact that when asking it you chose this drawing in particular to mention tells me that you and "Afternoon Tea" have already made a connection.  Perhaps you are a tea drinker or have a friend who is...or perhaps you were attracted from an artistic point of view.  I enjoy drawing the familiar.  We all collect things that have meaning in our lives.  For some it's the memory of a special time in their past, for others it's something they enjoy doing yet today.

As an artist I have always believed that there are two stories to be told about each of my drawings...my story, and that of the viewer.  Together they "connect the story of life", together they complete the drawing.

You are a self-taught artist -- meaning that you sought out the type of instruction that held the most value to you.  What would you tell an aspiring artist who didn't know where to start?

The first piece of advice I would give is to take some basic drawing classes...regardless of what medium you are interested in.  Drawing teaches you to see...and there is a tremendous difference between seeing and looking!  Join an art club; I used to travel an hour once a week to attend...what I learned was invaluable.  Get on the web and find artists whose work you admire and ask questions.  If they offer classes, sign up.  Read...go to the library or book store, there are lots of instructional art books by great artists crammed full with information.  There are online communities that will critique your work, join them and submit regularly.  Two that come to mind are Art Papa and Wet Canvas...I'm sure there are others.  Lastly, keep your focus and never doubt your ability.

Art is, by necessity, a solitary experience.  Where do you find your most valuable critical feedback regarding your work?

This has been a challenge.  In the beginning it came from instructors and club members...but at some point I needed to look further.  I started posting my drawings on Art Papa and Wet Canvas.  It was here that I became familiar with Mike Sibley, Armin Mersmann and JD Hillberry.  I simply bit the bullet one day and emailed all three, asking if they world look at my website and critique my work...to my surprise all three said yes! When I am working on a portrait and questioning the likeness I have a couple of friends that I depend on.  After you have looked at something for so long you sometimes loose your ability to "see"...where new eyes can pick up on the discrepancy immediately!

Do you ever produce art you don't like?  Or have a slump, when nothing seems to be working?  If so, how do you get yourself back on track?

Absolutely! I made a pact with myself in the beginning to never throw anything away...today it shows how I have grown, but in the beginning it was just awful.  I've corrected a lot of these issues by never starting the final steps of shading until I am absolutely satisfied with my line drawing.  I've also learned to just walk away, set it up somewhere and look at it for awhile.  If all else fails...I go shopping!

And lastly, where did you learn how to create that terrific Squidoo lens?

I have always been big on research and this is just what I did here.  I did a "how to" search on Squidoo...wish I had kept the links because you aren't the first to ask this question!  I will tell you this, everything you need to know is there.  I also spent some time looking at other lenses...deciding what I liked and didn't like.

I approached the basic layout the same as I do for my blog and website...making sure they knew up front what to expect or learn.  Adding appropriate links to pertinent materials and making sure all were working correctly.  In all my sites I'm very aware to leave white space for the eye to rest...this is as important in print as in art.  Another thing that I think is important is to make sure your text is "scannable"...meaning people rarely read the entire article but instead will scan down, stopping when something catches their eye.  You have to put in "eye catchers" by using bold or italic print at the beginning of new paragraphs of topics.  You're an artist, look at the layout from an artists point of view...you want them to look through your Squidoo Lens or Website and if a link takes them out you want to bring them back.

I would say My Squidoo Lens has been one of the best things I've done to generate hits to my website and blog...and it's free.  If you're interested in developing one and have questions, just ask. 

You can see more of Marsha's work by following the links in this post, including her Starving Artist's Portfolio

As for the Ancient Artist's Squidoo Lens...well, I've gotten as far as signing up.  I guess I've got some research to do.

If you enjoy these posts, please comment or forward them to others who might enjoy them.  And if you are an artist who would like to contribute an interview, I would love to hear from you.  Look for the "Email Me" link in the upper right hand column.


Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with Chaeli Sullivan

This Sunday I am visiting with Chae, whom I discovered through her blog Clay Gallimaufry.  When I approached her for this interview, I admitted that I found her blog thoroughly addicting. Whether following along as she shovels snow (in order to receive an important package from the delivery man) or thinking about her philosophical questions ("Are you more creative if you have your morning coffee in an exceptionally unique cup?"), I find myself refreshed by her unique point of view.  I am so pleased that she agreed to sit down with me for this Sunday Salon.

Chae, you are so grounded in the creative experience, can you tell us a little about your artistic journey?

Csmallme19feb08 Art has always been a passion with me.  As early as grade school I was sketching the ideas the teachers verbalized.  It was my way of memorizing what they said.  Then, the Clark Museum opened in Williamstown, Mass about the time I turned eight.  I was such a regular visitor that each of the guards knew me by name.  They used to tease me about always using the oversized pockets of the oversized khaki coat I wore as a sanctuary for my hands. (What does one do with one's hands when out in public anyway?  It's pretty gauche when they hang limply by one's side!)

Life seemed to steer me, in those early years, toward the theater and music yet, though I love drama, I hate being center-stage.  I freeze.  Born in July and being a Leo meant I was supposed to be a leader, yet after the "on-stage" years, I realized it was less stressful to "lead" people if I pushed from behind!  And it was then, too, that I subconsciously chose to be an observer of life rather than a performer.  Majored in photojournalism and went on to become an editor of three different newspapers as the years progressed.

Your blog is called Clay Gallimaufry, which the dictionary defines as "a jumble of things".  Where did your inspiration come from?

Life is never static.  It moves.  Changes pace.  Changes directions.  Fate has quite a sense of humor and quite a fondness for playing little jokes on the unsuspecting.  One such was my husband's death.  After he passed away my life changed direction as I raised our four small children.  I became a silversmith and a lapidarist. Robert Koeppler, a world renown master silversmith, tutored me.  And too, during these years, I lampworked glass.  Was never quite satisfied with my work (though it sold well) for as always I was striving for creative perfection which was never quite achieved.  Folks would "ooh and aah" in delight over a newly finished piece while I was busy pointing out its flaws!
Csilverjewlry

Silver Jewelry @ Chae Sullivan 2008

Suddenly, I was sixty and aground in a little back-of-the-beyond town.  That was three years ago.  It was supposed to be a rather temporary situation.  A time set aside to touch base with my grown kids (three of whom chose to live here) and form some bonds with my grandchildren.  Yet, life's vagaries imposed a challenge once again.  This time it was clay.  A cheap pastime as I whiled away the emotional hours of re-union.  Or so I thought.

This "pastime" has consumed every available hour for the last three years!   Generally, eighteen hours a day. Six days a week.  I discovered here that: it's not the medium one creates with, it's the act of creation itself which motivates the inner soul.

How do you get into the creative zone, where your attention is focused on the intent?  What is it about clay that allows you to make a deep emotional connection to your art?  (And does it really help creativity if you have your coffee in an "exceptionally unique cup"? Because if so, I'm going to get a dozen!)

When silver was the medium, my intentions were to reinstitute the era of stately elegance, that delicate beauty of the waltz era which seemed to disappear with the introduction of plastics.  As a society, we became reckless with "value", tossing all in the junk heap of new and modern. 

When lampworking, I became transfixed with the concept of light.  Bending light rays through glass with shape and form, creating the illusion of a sparkling mystical Universe and transmitting this joy to others.

Claughingcup4sue"Face Mug" @ Chae Sullivan 2008

With clay, ah with clay, there are more subtleties.  So many more "purposes".  Again with the advent of the "Mart era" (K-Mart, Walmart, etc.) our society has lost several of its most valuable assets: imagination, humor and a sense of playfulness. Our culture has become "plasticized", so sterilized, if you will, and uni-typed, that we've lost our individuality.  It occurred to me, that if everyday functional tableware had more character, perhaps some of this could be ameliorated.

And then too, there's the intelligence factor.  I'm deeply concerned about education in these United States. If our schools can no longer teach the basic reading and math skills, can we not use clay as a medium to re-engage dropout students in the art of learning?  For clay is more than slinging mud.  It is a whole factorium of learning methods of heat (science),history, glazes (chemistry), and then the follow-up of marketing a student's creations (math) and business practices to insure their success (micro economics).  A creative mind is an inquiring mind and leads one well past the limitations of environment.

I love your critters and the face mugs.  What stimulates your imagination?  When you're creating the faces, do you think of someone in particular or do they emerge on their own?

Cteapot4sue "Critter Teapot" @ Chae Sullivan 2008

When creating "critters" or face mugs, I'm generally trying to create an emotion.  Laughter.  Gleefulness.  Perhaps marital harmony.  That moment when you are at the top of your game and life is your oyster!  A visual manifestation of everyday emotions and life expressed in a whimsical fashion.  Trying to say: "Hey!  Lighten up.  This is a universal emotion and you can choose your viewpoint."

There has been a lot of buzz on the Internet about how to achieve artistic success, and yet "success" is so individual to each artist.  What is your creative vision of success?

My creative vision of success?  Is enabling others through a creative process of art which stimulates imagination, a value concept of old-world beauty, and individuality.  Like music, art touches base with the inner creative child of all humanity.

For myself, I create because I cannot not create!  It is an inner basic drive to express and share visually an idealistic world which I know we all live in if we could only envision it.  Art is a method of visualization.  A sharing of all that is grand in the Universe!

Chae, I couldn't have said it better, myself.

Please visit Chae's blog to see more of her work and read more of her thoughts.