Last fall, I made a list of work goals for 2017. It's time for an employee review! Here’s where I stand:
1. Throw my own art show. Yep. This was the big one! It was a great exercise in self-evaluation (not every painting made the cut), self-promotion, testing hanging hardware, and using Excel.
2. Try new materials and substrates. Yep. This year was my foray into water media, which included a small traditional set of watercolors, plus water-soluble crayons and pencils. I’ve tried a number of different papers for these media, as well as different pastel papers and board, and the ever-tricky (for me) gessoed panel for oil paintings.
3. Go outside and do plein-air painting. Weeeelll. I did it once. Just once. BUT. I did start taking long "art walks" around town taking loads of photographs to bring back to the studio. I know. It's not the same at all.
4. Write more. Yep. I’ve written at least a monthly blog post (though trying for two), and I started my monthly newsletter in June.
5. Enter a competition. Yep. And I should get extra points for two. 1) Chicago Pastel Painters Biennial Exhibition 2) Pastel 100 sponsored by Pastel Journal. Results for both come in October.
6. Create a still-life table. Yep. And proud of self for making the poor-man’s version out of foam board and a couple of empty wine boxes (for height).
7. Paint new subjects. Yep. Lots of different kinds of landscapes and still-life items.
8. Paint a self-portrait. Nope. But I came close when I painted a still life of my favorite hat. I know. It's not the same at all.
A couple other tasks popped up along the way, which should have been on the goal list in the first place:
9. Began selling artwork on my web site. This was a natural result after hosting my show. At first I thought I’d sell quietly upon inquiry, but then I noticed all the artwork piling up around the house and the need to sell wasn’t so quiet.
10. Started a newsletter. After deciding to start selling my artwork, marketing became a new component to my practice.
11. Freshened up the studio. How many artist’s does it take to change a light bulb? One. How long does it take her to getting around to doing it? A year and a half. I’ve wanted to switch the overhead bulbs from soft light to daylight forever. I cleared off all the shelves and the table and restocked them according to, but never having read, that organizing book by the Japanese woman, labeled the storage drawers, took inventory, hung pictures, and got a lamp fixed. Yes!
12. Participating in 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge hosted by Leslie Saeta. I’m in the middle of it right now. Do look.
A Look Ahead for 2018
Paint a series
Have a long-range plan of painting scope.
Paint with palette knife again.
Practice, practice, practice.
Two weeks ago I had my first solo art show and sale. In my living room (literally in my salon). Even though I was in complete control of the situation and the guest list, I was a bit nervous. I had been working up to this for two years, building confidence along the way by showing my work incrementally on Instagram and my web site, as well as using the word “artist” to answer the unnerving question, “What do you do?”
I had been talking to my family and friends about what my next career move should be after two years of settling into my studio, and I repeatedly kept saying I wanted to have a show. But how? I don’t have gallery representation, and it’s hard to get it. I’m not dismissing a gallery, but I wanted to have a show when I wanted to have it, and I'm good at throwing parties. I picked up Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work last year, a little book packed with inspiration and concrete reasons why and how one should just show one’s stuff already. It was the push toward self-promotion that I needed. I was also reading about the Impressionists during this time, and I re-read a passage about their big origin exhibition in 1874 in Paris. After years of being rejected from the very conservative Royal Academy of Painting’s annual exhibition (and some being rejected for the show of rejects (the Salon des Refusés)), a group of artists we know very well today made their own damn show. It was nonjuried (no selection committee, no judges) and it was open to anyone. Mon Dieu!
It’s hard to imagine, but the culture of art didn’t include museums and galleries yet, certainly not the way we know them now. Art stayed within the realms of schools (excuse me, “academies”) and wealthy patrons, with dealers working as middlemen. Note: There have always been art critics, and they’re exactly the same today.
Over in America, the art scene was, well, not even a scene yet. But there was an art establishment that was very exclusive. An artist had to be a member of an academic organization to be considered for inclusion in an exhibition. But then again, being an artist was also a fairly respectable occupation. All that was changing in the face of modernism, and Robert Henri did like his Parisian brothers and organized the Armory Show in 1913 for independent artists. The culture of art and artists was changing in favor of the artist, and it continues to do so.
My point being: Throw your own damn show! It’s what all artists and art patrons have been doing for decades in some form. But now, you have all the same tools as the traditional venues to market and sell it yourself. Which leads me to me: My artwork is now available for purchase from my web site. Everything pictured is available unframed. Prices are listed by each photograph. Like it? Send me an e-mail. Want to see something in person first? You can stop by my salon.
I have been pretty good about setting goals, but I haven't given much thought to motivation because I like what I’m doing. I’m motivated by my happiness to paint. Artist and teacher Robert Henri urges us to dig deeper with some simple introspection to think more about the reasons we paint and, in turn, make better artwork. I feel a list coming on!
I happen to be in the midst of writing an artist’s statement—a necessary document for entering competitions and shows—and it’s hard to write about myself. For the last two years I’ve been painting a lot without thinking much about why. I started out wanting to see if I could just sustain the enthusiasm and discipline needed to do this full-time. While I struggle with discipline daily, I can still confidently say "Yep."
I picked up Henri’s The Art Spirit last night to thumb through while watching a Cubs game (Cubs beat Atlanta 4-3), and I came across a passage that pointed directly to this lingering item on my career to-do list. Seemingly simple, but requiring a lot of concentration and time. He said, “Find out what you really like if you can. . . There is nothing more entertaining than to have a frank talk with yourself.” This is just what I needed to think about to help with my artist’s statement, as well as consider my next steps in artmaking. Ok, Self, let’s talk.
Amanda: What do you like about painting, big and small? Also, I’m really proud of you for eating so much fruit this morning.
Amanda: Thank you for noticing. I’m just going to rattle off my answers here.
1. Making art. The feel of the paint, pastel, pencil, etc. on a surface.
2. Problem solving. Getting over a problem (and another and another) leads to euphoric, a-ha moments.
3. I’ll see something with my two eyeballs and feel the need to turn it into a painting. I can’t explain that. A dozen times a day I see something that makes me say to myself, “Could I make that interesting in a painting?” Often the answer is “no,” but I think it all the time.
4. Draghtsmanship. I’m often so pleased with my drawings (this step takes the most work) that I don’t want to paint over them.
5. The harmony that can be achieved with the elements of design. When lines, space, light, color, texture are put together to form something interesting to stare at again and again.
Amanda: Go on.
6. The style between realism and abstraction. It’s the difference between knowing and feeling a subject.
7. Composition above all else. This is usually where a painting starts for me.
8. Juxtaposition and contrast
9. Small moments within a picture
10. An unusual point of view
11. The shape of shadows. Light and dark create immediate drama
Amanda: Wait! “The Shape of Shadows” should be the title of your autobiography!
Amanda: I love it!
12. Blue. I really like the color blue and then adding its complementary colors.
13. Silhouettes because they create great shapes and dark/light contrast.
14. Figures. I’ve always liked to draw/paint people. They have the most unusual lines and bumps. Body parts create great shape of space. I see them as objects instead of as people. That’s why portraiture doesn’t interest me. I’m not interested in the likeness of a person—I’m interested in the shape of a person and the space it fills.
15. Landscapes offer me room to play with abstraction. This is where I loosen up, which is difficult, but I like it.
20. Cats and dogs
22. Water towers
23. A-frame roofs
24. Telephone poles
25. Striped blankets
27. Shirt collars
Amanda: I see that my list can be divided into two sections: stuff and things I can do to stuff. And I have a lot more to say about the latter.
Amanda: Well, you know what Henri would say: The subject of a painting is not the object you’re painting. It is your pleasure in painting the thing.
I thought I would attempt an abstract style with this subject, from a snapshot I took walking through Charleston. That bright pink tree caught my eye, and I wanted to create a picture with a slash of pink to show the arresting nature of that moment I experienced. I did the opposite. I drew with tight perspective and moments of precise detail. However, I did change my technique. I tried something I hadn’t done before: glazing. You use thin layers of paint—darker over lighter--on top of each other. It takes patience and time (also not my style) because you need to let each layer dry completely.
This used to be the typical way to paint a few hundred years ago because of climate and materials. Thin layers worked best with slow-drying oil paints in cool, damp Europe. But I also think thin layers were necessary for the style and purpose of painting then. Painting was the only visual documentation, so realism was important, and that was achieved with viscous paint handled with delicate brushwork.
Fast forward to 2017: I was looking for a way to create large areas of monochromatic shadow that looked rich and deep instead of muddy. I got out my reference book, The Painter’s Handbook (Mark David Gottsegen) to see if glazing was the answer. I tried to figure out what transparent colors I had in my paint box (it’s not just written on the tube—thankfully Mr. Gottsegen made a chart in his book), and I gave it a try. I drew the details of the foreground buildings with burnt sienna. Let it dry. Then I went over the whole foreground with a light wash (using a paper towel) of the same color. Let it dry. I created a second wash mixing Hansa yellow light, burnt sienna, and a teeny bit of black. I applied it with a wide brush then used a paper towel to rub away some areas to make them lighter. I was surprised at how well the technique gave the effect I wanted, especially on the left building. What I didn’t realize when I started is that the look I needed for my shadows was luminous, but that’s exactly what I got.
I was sick a couple weeks ago and took it as opportunity to watch art movies that no one else in my household would ever watch with me: Peggy Guggenheim, Art Addict (2015) and A Model for Matisse (2005). They were fine little documentaries that you might yawn over if forced to watch them in your art history class, but I was more than happy to watch them by choice on my couch that week. There were a couple of great little nuggets from each one that made them extra satisfying.
In Peggy’s movie there was a bit of old film from a “meeting” (more like just smoking and gabbing) of some soon-to-be-important artists. Willem de Kooning said that in his daily life he’d catch a glimpse of something and feel like he had to paint it. “I’m very interested in painting that, this frozen glimpse. That’s a wonderful sensation to slip into this glimpse. I’m a slipping glimpser.” Me, too! I’ll notice something in a quick moment, and I’ll want to remember it as a painting. But I don’t always know how. It’s not a full scene I want to record, but rather a feeling that comes from a glimpse. For example, the above photo from a stroll through Charleston was an attempt to capture a glimpse. That bright pink flowering tree exploding between these dark, worn structures obviously stopped me in my tracks. It's a terrible photograph, but I wanted to bring it back to my studio to try to remember how startling it was and make something from it. Maybe, like De Kooning, abstraction is the answer.
The Matisse film was about the creation of the chapel he designed in Vence, France, but my favorite part was at the beginning in an interview with the woman who inspired the chapel. They first met when she, Monique Bourgeois, was his caretaker while he was convalescing after surgery from intestinal cancer. (He had posted an ad for a “young and pretty night nurse” at the local nursing school. In her words, “Well, I was very young.”) They became friends and he soon asked her to pose for him. After the first sitting, he asked her opinion of the portrait. She didn’t like it all, didn’t think it looked like her, and she told him so. His response: “If I wanted something that captures reality, I’d take a photograph.” HA! I love that response because it speaks to the artistic difference between photography and painting. There is something about using paint that transmutes a subject to something beyond representation. The physical qualities of paint are an obvious factor, but the more important one is that every painter's hand is unique, every one takes their liberties, even when working from a photographic reference. I know I do. I’ll make the colors brighter, shadows darker, etc., and that’s what makes it MY interpretation of a scene. This reminds me of a quote from Robert Henri: “Don’t try to paint good landscapes. Try to paint canvases that show how interesting a landscape looks to you—your pleasure in the thing.”
Later is what?
After settling into various desk jobs, I always said I'd get back to painting later in life, and later is now. Again means that I tried once before. I decided to write about my painting endeavor, too, as a learning tool, an accountability tool, and to stay sharp in case I have to go back to a desk job. Again.
I love periodicals, and if I weren't trying to devote more time to painting I'd mail paper copies. Sign up here, and I'll conveniently send it (blog posts, sales, and new work) by e-mail instead.