Last month was my third time doing a daily-painting challenge, and by now I’ve learned a few things. I’ve always had a theme and materials at the ready so that I wasn’t spending time thinking of what and how to paint each day. This time I took that preparation further to have a more cohesive group of work at the end.
I did this by choosing not only a theme (blue) and tools (palette knife), but also a mood. I started with snow scenes, and as I got into them I found that even when painting activity—sledding, skating—a quietness prevailed. Snow does that to the outdoors—even a city—and we like that about it. So, I went with it. When I didn’t paint snow I kept that feeling of quiet and calm in my still lifes. Using blue helps a lot. Besides thick swaths of many blues, I also used a neutral blue-gray to tint each panel. It made for a good start toward unity.
I always had a panel on deck ready for the next day. I made two a day when I could to take some pressure off of my and my husband’s (yes, both!) birthday weekend. The flu knocked me off my game even more, and since this is now the second February in a row that I’ve been afflicted by this angry virus, I may choose a different month to do this challenge next year.
Last lesson: I should not “hide” a box of Valentine chocolates in a drawer in my studio. They turned into second breakfast too many times.
I was cleaning up my studio in December, and my sister told me that in Japan there’s a word for this year-end tradition called o-soji, "the great clean." We usualy call this a purge, but now that there’s a freaky horror movie with that name, I prefer o-soji. My soji coincided with a studio visit by a new client, and I decided to take it to the next level.
I love throwing things away, it’s practically a hobby, so this was a real treat. I opened every drawer, door, and boxes in drawers to assess and reorganize. I found so much space! I found a box of price tags, a folding stool, and two tubes of paint! The "client" part of this exercise was to pretty up for a visitor. I hung more artwork on my walls, cleared more floor space, bought a plant, and brought in seating for relaxed viewing and chatting. The soji extended through my house because I was going to have to walk Client from my front door through the living room, kitchen, downstairs through the hall, then into the studio. The entire household benefited.
The visit went very well (I’m hired!), and the lasting effect is an even more pleasant space to go to work. Since the visit, I have also added a candy dish, which I highly recommend for a little treat while you're thinking hard on something.
My friend Amy knows that commissions are a little difficult for me because I don’t like someone telling me what to do. (Only a little difficult, Amanda?) So when she asked for one and told me to “surprise” her, I was ever so grateful for her submission to my artistic ego. Was she just indecisive? Or did she trust me? I didn’t care. She gave me a handful of photographs of a landscape special to her family, and I sat down to think about how to knock her socks off.
I started with mood. The landscape is hunting acreage, and I honed in on a photo showing the place in winter—tall skinny bare trees, open grassy field, a small fire pit. It felt quiet, even a little reverential, which I know reflects the relationship between the adult and the children in the image when they share this place. A second photo was full of details that I knew would personalize the piece, including the figures that I wanted to be recognizable. I can get very detailed when working with pens and watercolor, and if I went with this medium, I’d stay small to deliver a sense of intimacy. I drew it in pencil first, then added ink to the foreground. I painted the background and was even happier I’d chosen winter woods because the earthy colors make the bright bits of color in the foreground pop. Those red heads are really working!
I was so confident Amy would like her painting that I captured her reaction on video. She squealed a little. It was great. The painting will be a Christmas gift for her husband, and I asked if she thought he would cry when he opened it. Maybe, she said. I will reveal his reaction in the January newsletter. Fingers crossed! Because when someone cries, you’ve won gift giving.
Goal Update: When I went back to painting three years ago, I wrote down one of my short-term goals was to be in an art fair. This month I did it. I chose the Ravenswood Art Walk for my first one because of its convenience (basically in my neighborhood), it has indoor options (smaller space, no need for tent rental, weatherproof), and it has one of the lowest booth fees on the circuit. It seemed like the least risky investment in time and materials. Afterward, I’m here to tell every artist to try an art fair. Here’s why.
Feedback from visitors. I brought only my best work to the show, so I was confident in the quality of my art. The fair let me hear how people responded to it. I had a few different themes on display: beach, sidewalk gardens, traditional floral still lifes, and water towers. People were very complimentary of my work, and I got to have some good conversations about my art and art in general. I’m happy to chit chat, and I asked everyone who stopped which painting they liked best. There wasn’t a clear favorite, but the comment I liked most was, “Each painting has something that draws me to it.”
Networking with artists. I work alone in my basement studio, and I miss having colleagues, even meetings (kind of). My location in the art fair was a big open room with ten other artists. It was like my office at the Art Institute but without a boss lurking around the corner. We spent two long days together killing time, sharing tools, going on beer runs, and talking about the art-fair circuit. I was the only first-timer, and the other artists were open with their suggestions for where I should try to show. The internet is great and all, but there’s nothing better than talking face to face with people who have the experience I (may) want.
Marketing experiments. I said to a friend that my goals at the fair were to look good (booth-wise) and hand out all my business cards. I also brought a couple of non-art items to sell—buttons and note cards. In my 8 x 6 space, I brought twenty paintings, most of them small, many priced at $100. I brought two large paintings that I knew wouldn’t sell but would look good and get people’s attention. Sure enough, my 22 x 28-inch painting of Montrose Beach was my number one talking point with visitors.
Self-review. I had to edit the group of paintings I’d show, decide on framing, titles, display materials, pricing, and packaging, and keep in mind expenses and logistics of hauling all this stuff to the venue. This being my first art fair, there were many first-time decisions (and expenses) that I won’t need to consider next time. And when is the next time? I don’t know.
You may have noticed that typical reasons, like making money and moving inventory, are not on the list. No, I didn’t sell a lot, but I still call it a successful event for my professional development. I swear.
I told an acquaintance that I had been painting this summer in preparation for an art fair this month. His response surprised me: “I prefer art that is painted from the heart.” His implication didn’t register with me for a moment when I said, “Me, too.” He went on to ask me if I thought artists need to make money. I said, “Everyone needs to make money.” We softly debated (we were at a child’s birthday party, after all) and parted still on good terms, but the conversation had me thinking that more people than I think still have a mythic idea about what it is to be an artist.
Every single person who paints/sculpts/draws/builds/etc. has a hard time calling herself an artist because of how loaded with history and drama the word is. I read that my favorite living artist, Wayne Thiebaud, never liked the word because he doesn’t think he deserves the same title given to the great Rembrandt. (He prefers being called a painter.) I like “painter,” too—it’s specific—but it’s time for artists and nonartists to get over the old, old, artist legends that still dominate public opinion.
I listened to a funny and spot-on podcast episode called “Kill the Genius” (Art Opening(s), May 24, 2018) with Courtney Jordan and Samantha Sanders. They compiled a list of four types of art genius archetypes that hold back the average person from understanding that it is people like them—average—who make art. The two hosts tore apart the list by getting to the heart of each legend. It was inspiring. I’m not going to say Michelangelo was just like me, but that man went to great lengths to control his image, too. AND, he wanted to get paid. And moreover, he knew that the former would influence the latter. $$$$$$
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.
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