Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hello, I'll Be Your Waiter This Evening.......Even Though I Am A Highly Talented and Skilled Artist

The Soul Stirrers  Oil on canvas  30" x 40" to sustain oneself as an artist? Lots of're an artist....get creative. Sure, there is always the gallery approach, which I have minimal experience with at this point, so somebody else feel free to write in about that. (It is a goal of mine...) I enter shows that are I think are appropriate venues for my paintings. Most recently, I was in the 115th Annual Open Exhibition at the Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club in NYC, along with my colleague and friend, Lea Colie Wight, and an alumna of Incamminati, Diane Rappissi. The painting that I entered was an allegory entitled "The Soul Stirrers", which I painted totally free from thinking "Will This Sell?" (it hasn't so far...) , and I was in love with its process the entire time. Not to mention that I completely believe in this piece.

I am only speaking from my own personal experience, but every time that I have been totally gone on a painting, it has sold at one time or another. Also, I am not ashamed to mention that I have made a small fortune on Ebay...with works that I could let go of at very low prices.....but I sold a bunch! I held onto all my work, and discovered that when I would throw things out, people would invariably pick them out of the trash. Idea.....hmmmm.....why shouldn't I get some money for them? A business man/friend commented on what a great idea this learn about marketing and selling, and you end up with cash in the you can get rid of a lot of art school studies. Go ahead....look me up, I'm on there right now.....mind you will not find "The Soul Stirrers" on there. Prepare yourself for some work, though, which brings me to another point.

Work. work, work!!!! I have known Nelson Shanks for over twenty years, and have had the opportunity of observing him in action. The man works it. You gotta. Nowadays I say yes to every opportunity to sell, I can't afford not to. Need a portrait of your favorite pet that has been dead for five years? All you've got is the photo? You got it. Do the best that you can, and if all else fails put the skills learned and acquired to work. Maybe at best it is just practice, but it will probably beat waiting tables.....which I did for a decade.....quit one day right after I clocked in because the temperamental bartender snarled at me. Harvey Pekar chose to work in the USPostal Service because he liked the regular hours, the weekly paychecks, and the benefits. He would go home and do his real life's work at night.

My advice: Take on whatever comes your way, no matter how small or big.....I feel like that is a way of saying "Thank-you", and a way to open windows that opens other windows, that opens french doors looking out onto a breath-taking veranda that overlooks a stunning garden with a tree-covered path that leads to a sun-kissed meadow…….well, you get the point….
Time for me to go……time to hear from some others.

Monday, November 7, 2011

How To Paint

Oops…..sorry….I hope you didn’t think that this was going to be a cheap discourse on how to do a sketch of Obama….or how to draw eyes perfectly each time.
I was thinking more about how to get truly meaningful results from one’s work by staying, as Michael Grimaldi says, "get jazzed" about the process. Same guy said "If you really, really want to paint flowers, then paint flowers…..if you are painting flowers because you think that they will sell….wrong reason to paint."

I was also thinking about how to paint things that others would be interested in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty well-known for not being a people-pleaser. I would like to think that my work actually reflects that, that I have a unique way of seeing things, and expressing them. I had a lot of great teachers infuse that into my head, my being.

I have a very fond memory of talking with one of my instructors, Darren Kingsley, about the difficulties that I was having in his class. I actually whimpered, "I just want to be able to draw like this!", and I melodramatically pointed to one of his drawings that were hanging on the wall. He didn’t pause for even a second with his response. "You never will." That is what he said. And….I took it the wrong way.

For several years I thought that he meant that I would just never be as good as him. I ruminated on this for a couple of years…..and over time came to realize that what he was saying was my work would never look like his for the simple fact that I am not nor ever will be, him. I am me, and if I truly embrace that fact, with the learned skills that I have acquired, my work will have its own distinctive qualities.

I was with a friend once, and we were at a gallery and she was trying to pick the gallery owner’s brain about what sold in that area. Was it seashells? Horses? Seascapes? Maybe…..tomatoes? And the owner replied "Paint what you respond to, and others will respond to those paintings." Wonderfully awesome answer.

How to paint… about with some real intelligence….Yes, of course that means with skills attained in school. But beyond technical mastery, that in itself takes a lo-o-o-ong time to acquire, try to use your own brain to really paint from the heart and soul.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why do we paint?

A friend and colleague of mine once observed that I like to have fun…..that is absolutely the truth. I have often said to students that if you are not having fun, you are doing something wrong. Painting is hard work, but the reason I paint is because I love it, enjoy it, and can’t live without it. The day it stops being fun and rewarding, is the day I will quit, and go get a job at Walmart, as a register clerk!!
Yesterday I found myself saying this to the students in the Level 3 figure painting class that I teach with Leona Shanks. After two years of grueling exercises that include 1-minute gesture drawings, value-studies in charcoal, as well as black and white paint, and a process that has been dubbed “Duo-tone” that utilizes an extremely limited palette, and three semesters of color-study……they are then placed into a figure-painting class, where we teach them to start building paintings…….which is easy…….right???
Along with working in our chosen Incamminati manner of big shapes to small shapes, technical mastery and execution, which gets my total-hands-down-approval, I find myself concerned about the student’s (a.k.a.: the budding painter) ability to have fun. Fun involves the creative process, inventiveness, originality, authenticity, and joy in one’s work, to name a few.
The way that I remedy frustration, despair, and even boredom within the realms of my work is simple: I start standing back and start squinting…..(I said it was simple!) This starts to engage me physically and leads me to getting pumped up about my painting process. We emphasize these two actions all the time here at Incamminati, although, of course we didn’t invent it. The painter, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666), was, and is still, known as Guercino -- "the Squinter”. Nelson (Shanks) has been known to say, “Paint what you see when you squint.”

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri
Feb. 8, 1591 - Dec. 22, 1666

Okay……so painting is supposed to be fun…..says I……it also has to have meaning for me, in order to keep me mentally enthused and involved. Here is where I quote something Leona read in class today from “Baroque and Rococo Art”, c.1964, by Germain Bazin: “The figurative arts of the Baroque period, especially in Italy, are governed by an aesthetic that considered art as a means of expressing the passions of the soul. Psychology made considerable progress in the seventeenth century, and the problems of the passions pre-occupied a number of philosophers. Biologists laid down the first principles of physiognomy, and several artists or critics formulated treatises on expression, one of the most famous of these being by the French painter Charles Le Brun. These treatises indicate how the technique of art should render the various passions-love, suffering, anger, tenderness, joy, fury, warlike ardour, irony, fear, contempt, panic, admiration, tranquility, longing, despair, boldness, etc.” Well….there you have it!

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri
David with the Head of Goliath

There are two other elements that, in my opinion, need to be included in the process of painting: How about truth and beauty? I do not think that these two elements are antiquated. I once did a painting of a crumbled up paper bag that I found interesting and beguiling. Someone thought that it was garbage (the paper bag…not the painting!) and threw it away(again…the paper bag!). Thus, the title of the painting was begat, “Trash.”
So, why paint? I think the above mentioned are some good reasons…..and I would love to hear why others do, and what keep them excited about painting.
I’m going to end this with a favorite quote of mine:
"It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life, and it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps then you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you've had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered." Jim Collins, From Good to Great

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Where are you?

I have had many discussions with artists over the years, especially here at Incamminati, about their personal dialogue with themselves, about themselves, as artists, as persons. Perhaps a few do not struggle with feelings of inadequacy, but there is a good number who do. I have struggled with my own thoughts and feelings about myself and my work. In fact, I'm probably a notable warrior in this vicious battle.

Several things have helped me overcome feelings and thoughts of inadequacy: I heard Richard Schmidt once say that he does not degrade himself or his art...(that was sort of a wake-up call for me!). Having Nelson Shanks tell me to "rise to the challenge of painting..."(never forgot that!). Reading the book "Painting and the Personal Equation," by Charles Woodbury, and landing on the passage where he says to become a better painter, he or she has to change as a person. Lastly, I got completely exhausted from questioning myself and my work. That kind of self-dialogue just doesn’t gets in the way of progress, and it just is not necessary!

I had one student who used to perpetually degrade herself and her art, and I used to tell her over and over that she had to quit doing that. She continued taking my Saturday class, and slowly started to improve. One day I asked her how she had turned this corner, and she just said “I got tired of being so negative.” Hmmmm...

So, the purpose of this entry is to invite others to write in about their own metamorphosis from self-induced slug to self-proclaimed viable and veritable artist. I would love to hear from everyone, and anyone…