Three years ago I went to what I called Amanda's Fantasy Art Camp. Two of my childhood friends and I went to a teeny island off of Maine to a retreat led by our high-school art teacher. The limitations and lifestyle on the island were 'camping' as far as I was concerned--we were urged not to flush the toilet in our lodging but once a day to conserve water. Camping!
Anyhoodle, this remarkable trip was a real boost to my art practice, and afterward I dove deep into artmaking and let the art writing go. It was the right thing to do. My painting and my goals have developed so much that I moved into a new studio. 500 square feet!
Three years later--June 2022--I went on my next retreat; this one another fantasy come true. My artist cousin organized a trip to Scotland AND we lodged at Brodie Castle. By this time I had gotten into a strong work routine and also joined a Scottish heritage group, Chicago Scots. This trip seemed like a good time to get back to some art writing, as I could document a special trip not only for myself but also for the benefit of the Chicago group and for my cousin. Clan Brodie!
Note: While I had indeed upgraded from cabin to castle, the toilet situation was pretty much the same. Old pipes!
About me: I paint in the controlled comfort of my studio, and I take my time.
About painting outdoors: It is the opposite of that.
And so, I was nearly trembling with nervousness when I set up my outdoor easel for the FIRST TIME on the painter’s paradise that is Monhegan Island (12 miles off the coast of Maine) for a week-long plein-air painting workshop. (I intended to use it beforehand to get a feel for it, but I, uh, didn’t.) I chose a shady spot with no one around. Then my instructor set up next to me. His wife set up on my other side. I was already discombobulated, now I was anxious. My hands didn’t know where my tools were. Did I bring the right brushes? I’m hungry. After two hours, I could tell that first painting was awful, and I didn’t even try to finish it.
But then! I ate something, threw away the bad painting—literally and mentally—and went out to a different location. By the second time, I was already more confident. Each day we went to a new spot, which meant each day had an element of uncertainty, but any anxiety from that fact turned to excitement. By mid-week I looked and felt (maybe even smelled) like a seasoned outdoor painter, and my friends and I still made “studio time” in our apartment to finish up our outdoor work at the end of each day. We combined both worlds into a happy balance.
You probably think I scoff at the mass-produced printed copies of paintings for sale at the likes of HomeGoods and Target. Surprise—I’m going to start by acknowledging that that stuff has a purpose and a place.
I don’t think I need to make a pitch for why you would want original art over what I’m going to democratically call wall décor, but I will make the pitch that original art is easier to buy than you think. I’ll try to get you over a few common hang-ups I hear from people.
“I’m not an art person.” Yes, you are. I am confident that everyone has seen at least one work of art that has stopped them in their tracks. There has been at least one painting or sculpture that you paused in front of while cruising through a museum. AND: Just because you can’t talk about that painting the way a curator would doesn’t mean you didn’t have some response—and that is what is special about art.
And that response doesn’t have to be existential. It can be happy, calm, silly. Much of the time, those simple feelings are what the artist was trying to capture, too. When someone recently bought a floral still-life of mine, I asked him, “Why did you choose this picture?” His answer: “Um, I like the colors.” Guess what? Me, too! That’s why I painted it.
“Galleries are intimidating.” That’s probably because you think you can’t talk about art. You don’t have to talk about it. That’s the gallery’s job. You just have to like something and point to it. I promise the gallery assistant is happy to have you stop in. Have you ever seen a crowded gallery on a regular day? No. They’re jonesing for visitors. Afraid to ask about the price? First, prices should be clearly visible. If not, ask—you could be pleasantly surprised. Or it’ll be so outrageous you’ll giggle. I’ve done that.
“I don’t have that kind of money.” It’s easier than ever to find something you can afford, because there are so many more options than there used to be (see below). And just like any other purchase that you know could run high, consider your budget, your needs (yes, you need art—are you going to have bare walls?), and your wants.
“I don’t know where to shop.” It’s all around you: art fairs, eBay, Salvation Army, my Web site, my studio, other people’s Web sites, Etsy, garage sales, Instagram, Pinterest, interior designers, cafes, local art centers and schools. And because many of these options allow you to have direct access to the artist, 1) you may pay less and 2) when you talk to the artist you have a better connection to the artwork. Isn’t it fun to have a good story about a purchase?
“I don’t know what to buy.” Buy what you like, and you’ll never go wrong. This art going to be in your house, so you’re the one who is going to look at it every day. You don’t have to “get” it—the artist’s intention, inspiration, or message. If you have a response to something, that’s the piece for you.
Okay, I can’t help it. Here’s my small pitch for original art from someone who likes to buy it, not just make it. What I admire most in original art is being able to see “the artist’s hand”—the texture of the brushstrokes in a painting. Next is the luminosity of paint. When light hits a pigment (the color in the medium), you can see its richness, depth, nuance. A printed copy flattens everything and drains its energy (not in a mystical sense, just in a lively sense). Last, it feels good to support a real person who made something with their hands, heart, and mind.
I Heart Art
I do! I make it, sell it, think about it, look at it, read about it, and (sometimes) I write about it. Join my mailing list, and you'll receive my brief--promise--messages about new work, shows, events, and a little inspiration. Probably a picture of my dog, too.