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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Staying in Process...cont'

"Ready for Anything" original oil 6x6"

I received several responses to my last post, all from people saying they were affected by  3/4 painting paralysis. It seems to be quite universal, this making the painting precious once we're getting somewhere with it. The human aspect comes into play, when we like something we want to hold on to it...forever if possible. (Long time.) So then every brushstroke we put down starts to feel like moving away from what we have instead of moving toward something better, and instead of thinking about painting, we’re thinking about not screwing up the painting.

What’s the answer? The best one I have found is daily paintings. Doing lots of small paintings of short duration that don’t have a large time investment or big things riding on the outcome, creates a space for willingness to let it be what it will, to just paint. And I am definitely finding ever so slowly, this attitude is transferring to my larger work. The line between big and small, lots of time invested or little, commercial work or school work, is starting to fade. I am more willing to just keep putting paint down, even on the big guys - consequences be damned.

This past week I was working on a 24"x48" that started going south, and instead of freaking out, I sat down and listened. After a few moments, ever so quietly, the painting said, "I need to be a little bluer over here, oh yes, and lighter. A softer edge down here. And this shape needs some tweaking, don't you think?" Sometimes these things are spoken so softly they are barely a whisper. That's when I need to turn down the volume on my own ideas for the painting, because often it is exactly these that are drowning out what's essential.

PS: I am curious if this is more a female experience than male. Any male readers out there, it would be interesting to know if you share this sense of stress mid-painting as it's sorting itself out, or if you're all just supremely confident from beginning to end...  :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Staying in Process

"Hot Off the Press" original oil 6x6"

It's an ongoing challenge, how to stay in process. How does one avoid being lured out of process by shifting our focus to the end result before the painting is halfway done?

For the longest time I thought paintings should unfold in an undeviating line - beginning, middle, end. That it should be straightforward from start to finish, no detours, no wrong turns, a neat little process ending in a solid painting. Not so. Here's what mostly happens: I start out all excited and inspired, get some paint on the canvas and things are coming together reasonably well, and then the painting starts to go sideways. When that occurs it is remarkable to me how it feels like something is slipping away, how my focus shifts to, "Good God Ethel, what if it doesn't turn out? What if I've wasted all the time spent on it? What if my galleries fire me because I don't have enough paintings this month? What if I'm a total hack?" An imposter, as Robert Genn calls it. Suddenly the whole thing has ceased to be about painting a painting, and become about something else entirely.

After a lot of paintings and a lot of thinking like this, it began to occur to me that unless you're painting by a formula, pretty much EVERY SINGLE PAINTING does this at some point. Goes through the ugly duckling stage while it, not you, is figuring out if it's going to be a swan. It is not a static thing, what's unfolding on the easel, it's something that begins to take on a life of its own, to have its own ideas about the outcome. What's really cool is that it's willing to engage you in the process if you're paying attention, and when you are, that's painting a painting. Whatever the outcome.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Do credentials matter?

"Cherries and Cups" original oil 6x6"

(For purchase info click here)

Juried shows, awards, initials - do they really matter? I believe they do, but not for the reasons one might think.

About 15 years ago, when I had been painting for 5 years and was beginning to gather some steam, I started applying for signature status in some art organizations and entering juried shows. This was really good practice for wrapping my head around rejection (lots of practice). An interesting beast to wrestle with. It sends one to a few crazy places, one of the most interesting being, "Perhaps I should just pack it in." Fortunately the passion to paint soon dispels that nonsense, but after a while I got tired of licking my wounds and decided these things really didn't matter anyway. Who needs them? I'm selling lots of art, life is good, why bother? For the next 10 years, I didn't. And here's what happened. Sales were great, but my art stopped growing. Oh, it grew inevitably from practice - slow, steady, incremental improvement. But it didn't GROW. I became bored with this 'job' of painting.

About 5 years ago, due to some major shifts in what I wanted for my career, I began pursuing these things again. Here's what happened. My art GREW! In huge leaps and bounds, and continues to. The pursuit of these things is good for your resume, good for collectors to know about, good for your sense of peer validation, but here's why it really matters. It keeps raising your bar higher and higher, it makes you strive with every painting to not just paint, but to be the best painter that you can be. It creates within you a standard of excellence that you think about every time you step up to your easel.

Do I still get rejections? You bet. Do they bother me? For about 2 seconds, and then I get on with my quest to explore all the complexities of this journey to paint well, and that's a job that will never fail to captivate me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Heli-painting with Robert Genn

"Little Olive Jar" original oil 6x6"

This was such a challenge! Here's a tip, when painting a jar with an open lid, MEASURE! I had the lid and all it's crazy little details painted before it occurred to me to measure it's width, and it didn't fit the  opening. Needless to say it had to be redone...good practice on all those crazy little details!

On another note, Robert Genn and I will be leading a heli-painting trip in to the Bugaboos (British Columbia) this September. This will be a highly unique, really cool painting adventure. We started taking bookings this morning and already have 6 spots booked (out of 10 available) and almost 50 requests for more info, so check it out now if you're keen!

 For details click here: Heli-painting with Robert Genn.

Update -March 12th -5pm: The trip is now sold out, but there is a waiting list and possibility of adding a second one.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chasing Plein Air

"Spring Outing"- original oil 6x8"

About 3 weeks ago, a couple of artist friends and I decided to go paint plein air. In February. In the mountains. Why? Can't really answer that. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Until we were standing in the forest, 30 minutes into our paintings, FREEEEEZING! I mean feet numb, hands not working, yup, pretty much freezing. Here is a photo of us, but don't let it fool you, we were not having fun:

Liz Wiltzen / Gaye Adams / Sarah Kidner - Feb.20th. 2010

Okay, we were having a pretty good laugh that we were looking for something to set the camera on to take a self-timer picture when Gaye (the least blond one) realized we had 3 plein air boxes mounted on -yes - tripods, right there with us.

Anyway, a wiper that day.

The very next day, Gaye and I headed out once more. Did I mention it was February in the mountains? Yup, froze again, but we did stay out for two paintings worth of punishment. Both wipers.

Fast forward to last week. I headed out again, but now it's March in the mountains. Gaye has gone back home to BC, smart woman. I did ask Sarah to join me. She declined. Not sure why.

It was warmer for sure, and I did two paintings, one REALLY bad, and one not so bad, a keeper. Buoyed on by this, I went back out again the next day for one more kick at the can and painted "Spring Outing". Not a wiper, maybe even some potential to do a bigger studio piece from after some compositional tweaking. Just in the nick of time, because the next day it snowed 20 cms, and the temperature dropped 15 degrees. No more plein air for a while.

Here's what I've learned:

Get out there and paint. Lots of bad ones. Figure out why they're bad. Try not to do that again. Go out some more. Have a strategy. Try and stick to it. If it's not working, abandon it. New strategy - try again.

When it's over, know that a day out painting is worth a week of painting inside (from photos) for skill building, even though you may not be sure why at the time. There's powerful stuff going into the cells, magical stuff that will show up in a painting 6 months from now out of the seemingly clear blue sky. It was those days you froze and painted all those really crappy paintings, it was what you learned then. You just didn't know it at the time.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pricing Art (my two bits)

"Escapee" - original oil 6x6"

I recently received this email from a good friend and fellow artist:

"Ok, age-old question:  how do you price your paintings?  Do you do a per/inch type thing?  Or something else? And how do you even determine your prices? I think my prices are probably too low. But I feel crazy for saying that when I'm not selling anything!!  Help."

I've been asked this question before, it is age-old, and here is where I have settled with it:

Per inch is the norm, and the easiest.  Personally I just did what felt right for a few large to middle sizes and then worked out from there. Not a per inch formula at all. When things are selling well I gradually inch my prices up, when things are slower I go in to a holding pattern. Some artists have a business strategy of increasing 5-10% a year regardless of sales. 

How you determine price is based on many things: 

  • quality relative to other artists you're selling amongst (local market) 
  • time spent overall (how prolific are you) 
  • reputation (awards/juried shows/ signature status in well-respected organizations/magazine articles/workshops taught/demand for your work are all things to consider here)
  • whether you want to sell LOTS or are willing to sell fewer but get paid more for your what you produce. One of the ideas behind pricing lower than quality or time spent might warrant is that hopefully you will sell lots and get a name, while gradually increasing over time. This works well if you're prolific, but if your career path involves continually exploring challenging territory in your effort to grow as an artist, this almost always slows down the flow of commercial output. If you can be prolific while growing, awesome! 
My prices are on the high end of my local market, but I believe they are in line with the quality (as well as 20+ years of painting, and snippets achieved of each of the things I listed under reputation). Those selling larger works for half the price certainly sell more volume than I do, but I believe that things balance out in the end. My personal experience is that continually stretching is a very rewarding path to choose, but also produces many efforts that never wind up in a frame, and my higher price structure gives me some breathing room in this area.

From the beginning I have believed that people value things in part by how they are priced, and will question the value if something is priced low. Other folks, however, snap things up because they are affordable. I have an artist friend who makes 6 figures annually from his art, pumps out a mixed bag of quality (from excellent to not so excellent) but creates and sells tons of work, who says “The only people who care about good art are artists.” I don't think this is entirely true, I believe there are many collectors who recognize and appreciate high quality art, but I have also seen high priced, substandard work sell on a consistent basis, so it's not entirely untrue. Art sells for a lot of different reasons, quality is only one.

You must decide what kind of artist you would like to be, what market you want to go after, and after accounting for all the other factors mentioned, price according to that.

#1 rule, don’t price too high too early, because except in very rare circumstances, it is not a good idea to lower your prices, it suggests a loss of confidence in your work and is not a hit with your collectors.

If you trust your gallery, they can be an asset in helping you set prices, just remember that they have interests besides just you that they will take into consideration when guiding this choice. In all decisions regarding your career, the best advice I can give is do your research, search your heart, and do what will best serve your long term vision for your career. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Merrick" original oil 12x16"

"Genius is actually the eventual public recognition of dozens (or hundreds) of failed attempts at solving a problem. Sometimes we fail in public, often we fail in private, but people who are doing creative work are constantly failing."

This is a recent quote from Seth Godin's blog (he's a marketing guru on the cutting edge of the changing face of how we communicate with each other, and how we choose to buy today - namely social media). This thought found me just after  I had spent 3 days on a 12x16 portrait and then wiped off half the face in frustration, and was headed back to the studio sooooo reluctantly for another crack at it. The thought gave me a good push on my way back in, but after another day spent I felt no further ahead and by now was fully fed up with the piece.

I was trying to get a submission ready for the Portrait Society of America, with only one day left (never a good idea and something I ALWAYS do), and having used up the better part of a week on the first attempt, I was left with a very small window to pull something out of the hat. I got out a new 12x16 panel, chose a different subject, and 8 hours later I had completed this portrait, which came surprisingly easily and was a pleasure to paint.

I believe the 4 prior days spent thrashing around on the first canvas led me to the ease of the next one. Seth says, "Fail often." - like it's a goal to shoot for. I believe what he means is something I've come to believe about mistakes - there aren't any, only progress toward truth. The trick is remembering this while you're in the midst of one.

PS: The model is Merrick, a beautiful young woman whom I have painted from life numerous times. This portrait was done from a photo taken of her while at the studio.