Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Picking an Image to Paint

I started my "Forgotten Memories" series at the beginning of 2009. In the past three years that I have been painting from old photographs, I have had some pieces turn out nice and others that have turned out not as nice. It has taken me two and a half years to finally figure out which photographs will translate as a good painting and which won't.

Most of this process was trial and error. I would pick an image that looked great on the photo, but for some reason, the painting looked flat and the person looked "cartoony". There were other images that I thought just wouldn't work; I didn't like the pose, the image seemed too weird, etc. Sometimes I was right and the painting looked horrible. Other times, the painting would unexpectedly be one of my best pieces. As I said, it took me a long time to figure out what would work and why. Here is what I have found:

This image didn't have much contrast
and because of it, her face looks flat.
1. Contrast: Since I don't work in color, subtlities are lost, especially in the face. I find that if a face does not have much contrast, the person ends up looking flat and "cartoony". The same is true for the rest of the body. High contrast is very important when working in black (or in my case, raw umber) and white.

This image had great contrast and shadows.
 It's one of my favorite paintings that I have done.
2. Shadows: Good, strong shadows make for a more interesting painting. As I said previously, contrast is important and nothing says contrast better than some good shadows. If part of the face or body is covered in shadow or if there are cast shadows from limbs or the background, then the image has more of a narrative. The people look more realistic in these cases. The more realistic the image, the greater chance of a viewer connecting with the work.

This image is a good one for a couple
of reason: it's not a generic pose and the
girl on top is partially cropped out
of the photo.
3. Interest: Posed photos are less interesting than snapshots when the subject is unaware of the camera. There are a TON of posed, generic photos but when you find one that is a random snapshot AND has contrast with shadow, then you've hit the jackpot. These aren't as easy to find though.

Also, interesting crops, which I can contribute to when I compose my painting, give way to better negative space. The negative space is just as important as the image itself and can make or break a composition. Sometimes it's hard to image the figures without the background, especially if it is a busy one.

These are the basics of what makes a good painting. Now sometimes it's hard to tell, even with all three components, if the painting will be a "winner". Case in point: my current painting. I didn't think it would make a good piece although it had all the requirements for one. I just couldn't "see" what the painting would look like, mostly because the background seemed to be getting in the way. I drew the image and then let it sit in my studio for awhile before I even attempted to paint it. Turns out, I LOVE this piece. I was so inspired by it that the underpainting only took 4 hours to finish. I am still working on it but I think when it's done, it will probably be one of my better paintings.

This is where I left it after working on it today...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

When Panic Sets In

I recently figured out that due to upcoming shows and deadlines, I would need to paint an average of 5 paintings per month for the next four months. Now for those of you who don't paint and don't understand what this means, it's a SHIT-LOAD OF PAINTINGS to get done. I am going to be chained to my easel for awhile.
I got this underpainting done in about four hours.
The panel is 36"x24". I didn't think I would like
this image much, but I'm really liking it now. By taking
the background out, it really made the image stronger.

I was in a panic. How would I get this all done? When would I have time to paint? What am I going to paint? It took a large bag of bar-b-que chips and a Hagen Daz ice cream bar before I was able to calm myself down a little and be able to get some sleep. I was still slightly panicky the next day. Reminding myself to breathe, I can do this, and breathe some more, helped. More than one person told me to "take it one painting at a time". That's all you can do, really, one painting at a time. Letting panic take over and paralyze you isn't going to help. So when I finally calmed down, I went to work.

This seems to be my norm. I realize I have a ton of paintings to get done in a short amount of time. I panic. I get over panic. I go into my studio and get to work, kick some painting ass, and get it all done in time. Next batch of deadlines comes up and I start all over again. Knowing that I've done this before doesn't seem to stop the panic from setting in. I guess it's just something I have to go through and then get over before I can really hunker down and really get to work. It's happened often enough that I finally can see this is my pattern. Is it a fun pattern to go through? Hell no, but it's apparently the way I'm wired.  Fortunately my husband already knew this was a pattern and knows what to do before full-blown panic attack sets in. (Thanks babe for the chips and ice cream!)

Now that I am past my panic mode and I am in work mode, I had a GREAT painting day yesterday. It was one of those days where everything seemed to be going right. I finished the underpainting of my latest piece in about 4 hours and it looked great! I was on fire! I am hoping the next four months goes this way because if it does, twenty paintings in four months should be no problem.

I finished this piece and it is now ready to wax. The panel
is 24"x24".

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Make No Apologies

I finished the underpainting of this one today 
I was recently talking to an artist friend who was starting to second guess her decision to be a full-time artist. Apparently her family and friends were starting to wonder when she would stop with this hobby of hers and get a "real job". It was time to be an adult and a productive member of society and you couldn't do that while being an artist, right? Art is a hobby, it's not a career choice. Nobody can support themselves on art alone. Blah, blah, blah.

Now as a working artist, I've heard these comments, and more, from my own family (not so much from friends...mostly because they are usually artists too), as I am sure most of you have also. Some people don't seem to understand why anyone would give up the security of a "real job" and subject themselves to a subjective and critical art world, especially in this economy. It doesn't seem like a plausible career choice and they don't understand when someone they know makes this decision. Because of this, they feel the need to make comments that can start to wear us down and even second guess ourselves.

As artists, we have to have thick skins. A thick skin is required in order to get over rejections and criticism, but perhaps even more damaging is the doubt and fear we hear from our friends and family about our career choice. These are the people who love us and if they don't think we can make it as artists, then surely we can't, right? WRONG. Our friends and family may mean well but that doesn't mean they know more than we do. They don't understand the passion it takes to be an artist.

I worked on the water a little more today. It's still looking
like sand. I think I will let this "rest" for awhile and work on the woman
while I contemplate how to make the water look like actual water. 
With enough determination, motivation, hard work, and talent it is possible to make a living as an artist. People are doing it even in this economy. You just can't make any apologies to ANYONE for wanting to create art. You can't be afraid to put yourself out there.  You need to work hard and create often. Art may not be a conventional way to make a living, but it is possible. It can be done and I'm going to do it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Three-Day Weekend

I LOVE three-day weekends! I have had them for the past two weeks due to Martin Luther King Day and Lunar New Year (that's San Francisco Unified for ya!). I can get so much more work done when I can spend more than one full day painting. I get into a groove, my painting mojo starts flowing, and I can paint for three FULL days. Who wouldn't love that? We really should consider having a four-day work week with a three-day weekend all the time. I think more than a few of us would appreciate it.

Here's what I worked on today...

I was really sad to leave the studio without this underpainting
 done....but I had a long-awaited massage appointment. I'll get it done tomorrow.

Can you tell she is playing in the waves? Yeah, I know. Needs more work.
 It's still in the underpainting stage so there's still hope that it will look like water.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

It Comes with the Job

For the past three days I haven't had much time to paint. I have been at the studio, I have worked on art, but none of it consisted of me actually picking up a paint brush and applying paint to a panel. This is the life of a working artist. Sometimes you don't get to actually paint.

These last few days I have had to deal with both FedEx and UPS dropping off artwork without a signature and leaving them on doorsteps (FedEx leaving work at a gallery doorstep and UPS leaving work on mine). This caused a tremendous amount of panic and worry on my part about paintings being stolen and cracking while sitting outside in the cold. Two pieces were damaged this way and because of this, I needed to find someone who could repair the work, which was in the East Coast. Coordinating this across the country was no easy task. It took a lot of emailing, phone calls, and keeping fingers crossed, but I did find someone who was able to repair my work over the weekend and return it to the gallery on Monday (THANK YOU Lynette Haggard and Laura Schiff Bean!).

I got very little done on this painting...
Since UPS left three boxes of paintings on my doorstep, I had to race home as soon as I could and retrieve the work. Once I lugged the large boxes back to my studio, unpacking and examining them was next on my agenda. Six of the 12 returned pieces were going to be included in a designer's showcase (along with 4 other of my pieces that were packed and picked up the day before) so I needed to repack them after I lightly fused and polished each pieces. Inventory sheets also needed to be written up and emailed to the appropriate places. My website then needed to be updated so that each painting had the correct asterisk detailing where you could find the work.

The next day included coordinating with my art rep and another artist so that I could pick up this artist's work and deliver those pieces, along with mine, in time for the designers to install the work for the showcase. The work was picked up and dropped off and I headed home in order to write and send out my latest newsletter which announced my new gallery representation and that I was participating in the Affordable Art Fair this weekend. Email addresses were updated, the newsletter was sent out, and I was done.

During these three busy days my painting was left untouched. Poor little painting...

Sometimes this happens. The business of art gets in the way of painting. Frankly, there is so much that needs to get done when your are a working artist which has NOTHING to do with actually producing artwork, that you are bound to have a few days like these...on a regular basis (although hopefully without the FedEx or UPS drama!). It comes with the job and you just have to deal with it. I know most of us would rather just sit in our studios happily painting away while someone else deals with this stuff, but you can't survive as a business person (and let's face it, art IS a business) unless these tasks get done. If you're lucky, you have an art assistant or an intern, but even with help, some things you just have to do yourself.  It's a fact of life.

These last three days were hectic but now things have calmed down again and I can get back to the part that I enjoy: painting.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Gallery in Boston!

I am so happy to finally be able to announce that you can now find my work at Lanoue Fine Art is Boston, Massachusetts! They currently have my latest four paintings so if you are in the area, stop by and take a look.

In other news, here's an update of what I have been working on:
This one is coming along... I should be done with this soon.

While I was waiting for paint to dry, I started this one.
She's in the ocean reaching down, touching the waves in
case you couldn't figure out what was happening.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Birthday Eve

It's not even 10am on the eve of my birthday and my husband and I were woken up about 45 minutes ago to a commotion in our neighbor's apartment. Since we have paper thin walls, we could pretty much here everything once we turned off the white noise machine (we could hear a lot with the machine on too). Our neighbor, who judging from the noise we would hear periodically, was dying from a VERY painful disease. Apparently he died this morning and the family did not get to see him before he passed. The anguished family, who were screaming and crying out while banging on the walls, were the ones that woke us up. We had never met this neighbor since we had different entrances and because he was sick, never left his room, but we did listen to him moan loudly for the past several months. It's sad to hear through the walls that he died, and even sadder to hear that the family did not get to say their goodbyes. Their mournful regret was pretty painful to hear.

My newest painting that I started two days ago. It's a 24"x30" panel.
So why am I telling you about this? My post today was going to be about how every year, around my birthday, I go through a phase of beating myself up for not being who I expected to be by this time. I would compare myself to others who were further in their careers or had things I wanted, like a house, a happy marriage, perhaps even some children. I was really good at making myself feel like I didn't "measure up". I guess this is part of what makes me so ambitious and drives me to achieve so much, wanting to "measure up", but what I had accomplished was never enough. My achievements were never enough. I never "measured up" to the image of who I was supposed to be in my head.

It's a horrible thing to do: compare oneself to others. I'm sure I'm not the only one who does it. I'm sure even successful people, every once in awhile, compare themselves to someone they don't feel that they can ever "measure up" to. It's human nature, at least I'd like to believe that's where it comes from. Maybe I am wrong and it's just the way I think. I have been wrong before (but don't tell my husband that!).

I finished the underpainting today, after I wrote this post...
At any rate, this is the first year I am not beating myself up for not measuring up. I have a great marriage with a wonderful husband and my career is sky-rocketing. Could I have more sales and a new house instead of an apartment? Sure, and I still want those things, along with other things I haven't talked about. But for the first time in a very long time, I'm pretty content on where I am in my life. I do wish I wasn't getting so old, but it's not tearing my apart inside like it used to. I am happy and with happiness comes contentment at where one is in life. It's a good feeling.

Listening to my neighbor dying and hearing how anguished his family was also put things into perspective. It's a sombering way to wake up but it made me think, on this eve before my birthday, that I am lucky to be alive and surrounded by people who love me. Rest in peace neighbor guy.

I started this one today also while waiting for paint to dry.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

First Painting of 2012 Started

It's a new year and a new painting has been started. Usually it takes me a few weeks to get back into the swing of things and start painting again. Family obligations, errands, and the all-consuming activities during the holidays can make it difficult to get to the studio. In addition, I'm usually in a holiday funk around this time of year, which can make being creative hard. But this year, who has time to take a few weeks off? Not me. I was busy painting and trying meet deadlines during the holidays and didn't have time to get in a funk. Yay!

Here is the latest painting, which I have worked on for two days so far. It is still in progress but I'm thinking another two sessions and it will be done. The painting is 30"x30". I seem to be painting larger now. 16"x16" panels are now starting to feel too small and the smallest I NOW want to work in is 24"x 24". I remember back when that size seemed so big and my favorite size was 12"x 12". Funny how things have changed.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 in Review

One of the last three paintings of 2011.
 "Polka Dot Umbrella", 24"x24"
This blog post probably should have been written and posted while it was still 2011, but life tends to get in the way sometimes, and this year, instead of beating myself up for things that I can't control, I have decided to just go with the flow. So now, instead of having this done last year, I am just now getting to taking a look back at my year.

I think it's important to always take a look back and see how you did at the end of the year. As artists, and really just as human beings, we tend to get down on ourselves for what we didn't accomplish. We forget to look back and celebrate what we did do and how far we have come. We need to look at all of our accomplishments, big and small, because each of these is part of our growth and shapes us as artists. I try to remember that the journey is just as important as the end goal.

Thinking back, the beginning of 2011 seems so long ago. The pieces that I painted back then seem like they are at least two years old, until I look at the back of the panel and see that in fact, they are only a few months old. I think it's because my skills and confidence have grown so much in the past year. Painting A LOT can do that to you. Looking back, I painted a little over 60 paintings. That's roughly one painting per week! It's true what "they" say: you must paint and keep painting a lot to improve your skills.

I finished this, along with the other two pieces, on Saturday.
I wanted to make sure that all the pieces I started in 2011
were finished in 2011.
"Inner Tube and Cape", 30"x30"
Part of the reason I painted so much last year is because I had many commitments to galleries. I started the year with 5 places showing my work. By May I had decided two of the galleries weren't right for me. I was panicked at first about leaving them, thinking that I somehow NEEDED them, even if the situation wasn't perfect. I learned a lot during those months and found that I didn't need to have subpar treatment of me or my work and to trust that other galleries would want to show my paintings. So I left those galleries and ended up replacing them with FIVE others and have a sixth in the works. Holy crap! Looking back, when I finally did a count, that blew my mind. It took reviewing my year to see how HUGE that was and how lucky I am to have so many people believe in my work.

I finally finished the shadow on this one. I still didn't figure
 out why the raw umber goes randomly from cool
 to warm sometimes. Adding white really didn't affect it,
 like some suggested. I still got warm and cool shades of
beige. I guess it's just going to be one of my 
painting mysteries I'll need to solve in 2012!
"Third Wheel", 40"x30"
Another accomplishment for me was FINALLY taking a painting class. Having majored in liberal studies and getting my masters degree in math education, I don't have the art background that I would have liked to of had. It's not that I need an art degree, but I do love learning and wanted to learn how to paint in color, using old master techniques. Even if I don't paint this way in my daily life, I learned so much and I can see that my paintings have improved. I don't ever want to get stagnant in what I do. I want to continually learn and improve my skills so that my work never becomes boring to me or my viewer.

There were other accomplishments last year, like getting my show reviewed in three magazines, showing my paintings in some great shows, and presenting at an encaustic conference. There were also some non-art related accomplishments that I am very pleased about. So I didn't meet some of my goals for the year. That happens.  Overall, I think 2011 turned out to be a pretty great year. As I sit and make my "list of things to do in 2012", I think that 2012 will be an even better year with so many great things in the horizon.

Thank you so much for your continual support of me and my paintings. Happy new year everyone! May you have many wonderful accomplishments in the coming year.

This one finally got waxed this weekend too.
"Beach Babes", 30"x40"