Thursday, June 30, 2011

Background Decisions

For most of you who have seen my work, you know that I don't paint much of the backgrounds, if any of it at all. The backgrounds for me are usually inconsequential to the "memory" I am trying to portray, but every once in awhile, part of the background is necessary in order to "anchor" the figures. Without this "anchor", the images look too much like they are floating aimlessly in space.

In my current painting, I knew it was going to need some of the background in order for the viewer to be able to make sense of what was going on. I just wasn't sure how much or how little I would paint. Today I slowly added the background in order to figure out what was needed.

Here are the figures without any of the background added.
As you can see, the boy looks like he's floating.
The boy's left hand and the man's right hand needs something to rest on.

I added the rocks that the hands were resting on but it didn't seem to be
enough. The boy's feet still needed "anchoring".

Once I added more rocks around the boy's feet, it still didn't feel right.
The space underneath the man's left arm seemed to empty. I figured if I
added some rocks there, it would feel more balanced and then the mesh net
would stand out more.

It was starting to look better. The left side of the painting (next to the boy's right arm)
still didn't feel right. It needed a little more rocks. 

I'm pretty happy with the background now. This is all still in the underpainting
stage so there's plenty of work to do in order to solidify each form and
the rocks, but I'm happy with the composition now. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Back to the Beach

As many of you probably already know, one of the new galleries that now represent me is the JoAnne Artman Gallery in Laguna Beach, California. Laguna Beach is, well, a beach town, so I thought it would be a good idea to paint beach themed images for my upcoming featured artist show in October. It is a theme that I am very familiar with since I did a summer themed show last year for my Portland, Oregon solo show, which included many images of bathing suit clad people. People seem to get a kick at seeing bathing suits from the 40s and 50s and it has always been a popular theme in my paintings.

Here is the latest painting that I started today. It is an image of a father and son looking at tide pools. It is still in a very rough stage but I think it will be a pretty nice piece when completed. The panel is 24" x 30".

I am not sure how much of the background I will include. I am wondering how well the painting will read as a tide pool scene if I don't include some of it. Plus, there's the issue of the boy's left hand looking like it is floating. His hand is actually resting on some rocks but I don't want to include too much of the background since that goes along with my other pieces. It will be interesting to see what happens once the figures are done. I am going to leave the background blank until then so I can see how the figures interact with the  starkness before I make any decisions.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

There are few things that make me feel anxious enough to want to cry. All mother jokes aside, this kind of anxiety doesn't happen often to me, mostly because I am good at staying within my comfort zone. But as we know, if we stay within our comfort zones, we aren't really pushing ourselves to (insert old Army commercial jingle here) "be all that we can be". Having that sense of uneasiness that comes with learning something new and/ or experiencing something unfamiliar is a good thing, if we can get past the knee jerk reaction to run, that is. It is during these times that we know we are really experiencing life and challenging ourselves.

As a self-taught artist, I haven't had many experiences with art that cause that gut-wrenching feeling. I haven't really had to push myself to try something new. My work has been pretty good so far. But, now as I am getting older, and more established, I find that I am craving a more formal education on what I do. I want to push my work farther and see where it will take me and there is only so much a person can teach themselves before they hit a plateau. I feel like I am plateauing and need to get out of my comfort zone and learn something new. It was time to take some classes and workshops.

The first time I took a class with Jeff Schaller, it was an encaustic workshop on painting realistically. Most of us had decided to paint portraits, and I was no different. I felt pretty confident walking into his workshop since I had always been good at art, regardless of the medium. I wasn't counting on the anxiety that ensued after a few hours of failed attempts to paint my self-portrait. I was completely out of my comfort zone and I didn't like it. Had I not carpooled with a friend, I would have left early. I was on the verge of tears and was beating myself up verbally for not being able to master this medium. I was FRUSTRATED.

Fortunately for me, Jeff saw my distress and had me drink a glass of wine to calm down. Then he had me drink another, talked me off the ledge, and sent me back to paint. Once I was able to relax and I realized that I didn't need to paint a masterpiece because this was a learning experience, I was okay. I had never felt this uneasiness with painting because I had never pushed myself to try something new or go beyond what I knew I could do with ease. I didn't know that this anxiety was normal and and probably good for me as an artist. I didn't know that it was all going to be okay, and it was. My painting came out pretty well by the end of the workshop and I was happy that I stuck it out.

My final drawing from this weekend. It's not great,
but I think it's pretty good. 
Another time I felt uneasy and anxious about art was this past weekend. I signed up for a four day anatomical drawing class with Noah Buchanan at the Bay Area Classical Artists Atelier. I figured since I was painting the human form, I should know what it was that I was painting. I thought that this class would help me become a more accurate painter.

The first day of class I was inundated with vocabulary words I had never heard of. Words for the muscles, bones, ligaments, and every bump/crease/ dent were named. My head was swimming with vocabulary as I tried to keep up with the lecture. My anxiety levels were rising and my "fight or flight" instincts were kicking in. Should I run? Should I cry? Should I give up? I am happy to say that I did not do any of these things. I took a deep breath and told myself that I am just out of my comfort zone and it was okay because it meant I was learning something new. I told myself to just absorb what I could and learn as much as possible. The anxiety didn't go away the whole weekend as we delved into more vocabulary and rules for drawing the human form, but it did lessen, and at least I knew this time that this was part of the learning process.

Not surprisingly, I survived the four day class, I learned a lot, and I even had a good time. I know now that not all anxiety is bad. Some anxiety is good for us if it means we are challenging ourselves. I am now anxious to take more classes and continue pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I know this will make me a more informed and better artist. I know I will be better for it. Bring on the next challenge!

Update on my latest painting. 

Detail: After this weekend's class, I now know what I need to adjust in
order to get the legs to look more anatomically correct. Tomorrow I will make the necessary adjustments.

Girl number two needs some more tweaking.
Girl number three is still in underpainting form.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Three Woman on a Beach

Just in case there is still any doubt as to whether or not I actually paint my images (as opposed to using photo transfers or actual photos in my paintings), here's a series of photos from my latest painting that I started on Monday. It is still a work in progress since only the first woman is done, and I am hoping to finish this next week.

I will be taking a break from painting for the next four days. I am starting a four day intensive drawing class with Noah Buchannon tomorrow and I am thinking that after 6 hours of drawing, I may not want to go back into the studio to finish this painting. Because of this, this painting will have to wait until Monday before I can start on it again.

The finished painting will be 30"x40".

The second woman's eyes look weird. I'll fix that and make them
look normal when I start on her next week...then I'll block her eyes.

Underpainting is done.

The first woman is pretty much done.
Her eyes still need to be blocked out.

Detail of the first woman.

Another detail...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Monkey Bar Painting- Work in Progress

"Monkey Bars", 30"x40" WORK IN PROGRESS
I feel like this painting has taken me FOREVER to paint. I started this version of the painting in early June, before I went to Provincetown to present at the encaustic conference. Since that time, I went on vacation for a week in New York, visited family and friends, and then drove to Laguna Beach to visit my new gallery and drop off some work. Now it is two and a half weeks later and I am finally starting to make some progress on this piece since I finally have a block of time to just paint. I am hoping to have it done by tomorrow so that I can start on something new.

I am not a fan of having such a long break between starting and finishing a painting. I feel like the break disrupts my flow, making it hard to get back into the rhythm of things. I try to not start a painting when I know that I won't be able to finish it within a week, or at least get a good chunk of the work done. I would have had enough time to finish this before the conference but then I unexpectedly had to prep and ship 11 panels, which took some time. At any rate, I hope you enjoy this latest piece. It is about 90% done and the next time I post it, it will be waxed and on my website.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Words to Live By

Fellow artist and studio-mate, Scott Inguito, emailed me a link to a blog that had this Ira Glass quote. I wanted to share this with you since I think these are good words for creative people to live by.

For the longest time I didn't think I made "real art". Everyone else was making "real art" but my work just never seemed to be where I wanted it to be. It all seemed forced and derivative of somebody's else's work. It felt unoriginal. I hated most of what I created and the few times I created something I did like, I would find that a week later I started to hate it too. It just didn't look like "real art" to me. (Just so you know what kind of person I am, when I was a musician I went through the same thing. I never seemed to write "real songs".  I am my own worst critic.) I didn't know what would make my art into "real art", I just knew that I wasn't there yet.

It took years of painting and forcing my way past this feeling before I started to like what I created. I'd like to say that I didn't give up, that I painted through this frustration, but that just isn't true. I stopped painting for about six years. During this time, I did make a few attempts at painting again, but I was so dissatisfied with what I was painting that I would quickly put my paint brush down and close the door to my studio, trying to ignore what was past those doors as I walked by it daily. There was no way I would have imagined myself a full-time painter back then. It was an awful feeling, feeling like a "poser", but I didn't know  how to get past this feeling and close that "gap".

This Ira Glass quote really resonated with me and it reminded me of those days when I was so dissatisfied with my art but couldn't really articulate why.  I wish someone back then could have told me that these feelings would pass with time and a lot of painting. I could have saved myself from going through six years without the thing that I was most passionate about. 

There's no point in dwelling in the past and what could have been, though. I am finally at a place where I am painting original work, work that makes me happy, and I have been doing it since the beginning of 2009. It did take A LOT of painting and studio time to get myself here. It also took many days of my wanting to quit and just be a "normal", non-creative person, but I didn't give in to those feelings. I didn't give up. I just kept on painting. 

I don't know what made me stronger and more able to get past those feelings, after-all, I gave in to them and stopped painting for six years. Perhaps it is emotional maturity. Perhaps I have become wiser in my old age. Whatever it was, I know that I am happier now than I have ever been with my work. I still paint pieces that I think aren't very good, but I no longer contemplate quitting being an artist or tell myself that it's not "real art". I feel like I am closer to closing the "gap", although I know that the gap will never be completely closed. Having some dissatisfaction in what we do helps us strive to do better, to explore in our work. I just know that there are less days of dissatisfaction and that makes me feel good. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Friendliness Goes a Long Way

Susie Eley from Susan Eley Fine Art in New York.
It's my last night in New York after spending a week and a half full of eating great food, looking at wonderful art, visiting new places, and eating even more food. At this point, my pants no longer button, I am inspired beyond belief, and I am eager to get back home to start painting again. Did I have a great time? Yes, definitely. But no matter how great of a time I have, or how wonderful the place I visited, I have to say that I am always happy to come home and sleep in my own bed, surrounded by my own things. I guess I really like San Francisco and am happy to call it home.

While in the East Coast, I did have some interesting experiences. One of which was visiting galleries in both Provincetown, MA and in New York City. The Provincetown galleries were a lot smaller (some of them super tiny) than I thought they would be and there was a high concentration of them on one street. I have seen some small spaces in San Francisco, but some of these galleries were even smaller than the smallest. I also wasn't used to the way the work was hung. Most of the work was shown salon style, with MANY paintings on a wall, hung above, below, and next to each other, in order to maximize space. There was also a good amount of work in some galleries that were in what I would describe as "file walls". These "files" were walls that had art on the front and back of each partition and you could flip through the walls as if they were pages in a book (think rugs hanging in a rug store and you'll get a better picture). I can't say that I am big fan of this way of displaying work, although it is pretty ingenious. Everything seemed so cramped and the work had no room to "breathe". When I look at art, I like to see some space between each piece so that I can contemplate what I am looking at without the next image interfering in my thoughts or line of view. I can understand the space issue may dictate the way art is hung, I am not faulting the galleries for that, I am just stating my preference.

David Kidd at Susan Eley Fine Art. I LOVE his work!
I went from Provincetown to New York and gallery hopping in Chelsea. There were SO many galleries to visit and yet I noticed one consistent thing. I don't think a single gallery person acknowledged me while I was there, even when I made a point to say hello. A few managed to raise their head when they heard me walk in, but not a single one said a word. Now, I am not expecting someone to treat me like royalty or to follow me around, but a simple "hello, let me know if you have any questions" would have been nice. I don't know if it was because my husband and I didn't look like art buyers to them, therefore a waste of their time, or if it was because they just couldn't be bothered. Either way, I thought it was rude and presumptuous and would never buy a painting at a place like this, no matter how much I liked the work.

Chase Langford at Susan Eley Fine Art.
Both were beautiful pieces and unfortunately for me, SOLD.
I did manage to visit one gallery that was not in Chelsea. It was, in fact, less than 5 blocks away from where we were staying in the Upper West Side. We stopped by Susan Eley Fine Art on West 90th Street since I knew that Amber George had curated a show there and I wanted to see it while it was still up. The gallery wasn't in a conventional space, in fact it was a converted apartment, but that wasn't all that made it a different experience than what I had in Chelsea. When we walked into the gallery, Susie Eley, the owner of the gallery, introduced herself and welcomed us into the space. She let us know that she was around if we had any questions and then left us to wander around the space, looking at art at our own pace. All of the artists in the space were wonderful. There were so many paintings that we liked. After Susie noticed that we were looking at a particular work for a bit, she came by and talked about the artist whose work we were looking at. She was very knowledgable and friendly, and because of this, in addition to the fact that we loved the painting we were looking at, we bought a piece!

Two paintings by Amber George. I really like that color green.
I don't understand why other gallerists can't be more like this (and this is not the first time I have ranted about this on my blog). I may not look like I have a million dollars to spend on art, but I do buy art, and have bought several pieces from galleries...all galleries that have had friendly, knowledgable people who didn't automatically decide I was a waste of their time. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that friendliness goes a long way. While we were in New Hampshire, my husband and I were very friendly with the woman checking us into our hotel room. We asked her about her day and had a nice conversation. It made all of us participating feel good. Because of this, at least I'd like to believe this is why, she upgraded our room to a suite for FREE. See, people like to be acknowledged and treated like they matter, it's not hard to understand why. I'd like to think a lot more galleries would sell more work to the average person if they would just learn to be a little bit friendlier and act like we weren't wasting their time. They would sell a lot more art to me at least.

Graphite and encaustic pieces by Maria O'Malley.
We bought the bottom painting.

Four paintings by Audrey Phillips at Susan Eley Fine Art.

BTW, if you are in New York, stop by Susan Eley Fine Art to see this show. It is up until the end of June and is a definite worth see. Check out the website for more details.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What a Difference a City Makes

I have lived in San Francisco for about 18 years now, and for the most part, take for granted the luxuries of living in a decently big city. It's not New York, sure, but the arts community here is pretty active and there are a lot of artists, a large amount of them within a few feet of my art studio, and even more within a few blocks. Because of this, I never realized how hard it must be to have an open studios when one does not live in a city like I do.

Robin arranging a grid of 6"x6" paintings.
This past weekend I visited my friend, Robin Luciano Beaty, while she was preparing for her open studios this Saturday. Robin lives in Byfield, MA. Ever heard of the place? Yeah, me neither. She lives about 40 minutes away (according to google maps, which doesn't take into account traffic) from Boston, and while her town is quite quaint, it is pretty isolated from the art world. There are advantages of living "out in the boonies" though. Robin was able to build herself a dream studio to work in, something you can't do in a big city, but unlike me, she doesn't have hundreds of artists within walking distance. If I want an opinion on something I am working on, I walk over less than 15 feet to fellow artist, Lani Tanaka's studio space (one of the many artists in the same warehouse space) and I have instant feedback. When Robin wants feedback, it's a lot more complicated since she would have to drive a good distance for it or get it via phone or email. It's not an ideal situation, but the beautiful studio, and an incredible amount of space, more than makes up for it.

Some of Robin's larger paintings on her studio wall.
Open studios is another world altogether when you don't live in a city! In addition to getting her artwork and space ready, Robin does her own press releases, makes signs to post in the local town in order to direct more traffic to her, and does all of the advertising needed in order to draw a crowd to her space. She doesn't have Artspan (the organization that puts together a beautiful catalog, preview show, postcards, posters, and a ton of other advertising necessities/ events/ etc. needed to make open studios a HUGE San Francisco-wide event in the Fall) to do all of that stuff for her. She doesn't have the built-in clientele of other artists in the same vicinity visiting her studio because they are in the area already or the random patron who just likes to visit large studio spaces and see many artists' works during the same visit.  If she doesn't get this stuff done, then nobody will and the attendance of her event is non-existent. It's a lot of work that takes weeks of planning and organizing, work that most artists (including myself) would just rather not do, but she does this every year. It's not easy, but if you want a successful event, and you don't have other artists to rely on, you just bite the bullet and do it. Just in the two days that I was there, Robin was a whirlwind of activity trying to get things done. Just watching her made me exhausted.

One of my paintings, amongst Robin's work and
other artists she collects, in her studio
It was during this time that I really started to appreciate the advantages I never knew I had just by living in San Francisco. There are committees and organizations (Art Explosion studios, Artspan, Mission Artists United, to name a few) within other committees and organizations that help to make my open studios, along with HUNDREDS of other artists, a success twice a year. I don't have to worry about much of anything other than doing what I do best, which is paint. These organizations make my life as an artist easier and because of this, I extremely grateful to them and all of their hard work. I don't think many of us could pull it off without them.

Before the clean-up...
BTW, if you are in the area, you should really stop by Robin's studio and see the work and space in person. It's pretty damn impressive! Visit her blog for more information on tomorrow's open studio.

One last studio shot...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Public Speaking and Talking About Myself

I feel like it's been a long time since I have posted anything on my blog...It has actually been only a week... a very long and hectic week. Currently, I am sitting in Robin Luciano Beaty's gorgeous studio, taking a break from helping her get ready for her open studios this Saturday, reflecting on the past couple of days.

We just got back yesterday from the Encaustic Conference in Provincetown, where we were since Friday morning.  I was asked to be a presenter at the conference this year, and I was to talk about making the leap into being a full-time artist and my experiences with that whole process. I am used to speaking in public, since I was a math teacher and have been in front of at least 30 teenagers for the past 13 years, but I have to say, that as I watched the artists start to fill the seats in the room I was presenting in, I started to get nervous. Here I was, getting ready to talk about my career and experiences, with my fellow artists, some of which had more advance careers than mine. What if they thought my methods or advice were bad or faulty? What if they were bored with my presentation? What if they asked me hard questions that I didn't know the answer to? It was pretty nerve-wracking for a few minutes before I started.

Well, it turns out, that people liked what I had to say and thought that I was pretty entertaining (I did refrain from doing my "tap dance" that has been known to make an appearance during random times, like, ahem, while there was a quiet moment during my wedding ceremony). I had some free gifts for everyone who attended (magnets with an image of my work on it) and raffled off three of my books I made of my "Forgotten Memories" series, in addition to a tote bag with one of my paintings on it. And while they were all shameless self-promotional items, people love getting free things and seem to appreciate what I had to offer them. The actual presentation was good, no major flubs, and I answered a lot of great questions. If the comments that I got through-out the rest of the conference were any indication, people really liked my presentation and found it informative. Nice! I was even asked back to present next year by Joanne Mattera, conference director, who sat in on my presentation.

While I don't think I have a future in public speaking, I do think it was a good experience, and I can even say it was that it's all over! PHEW!