Saturday, July 23, 2011

Of archiving and file naming

Detail of  "The Potter"  (unfunished)
The last two days have been days off, and have been very hot and humid, up around 100 F.  I was not about to spend my them out in that kind of heat doing yard work, so apart from mowing early one morning, I got to spend most of it doing art “stuff”.  I made a start on the main painting that I am going to enter into the Oil Painters of America Nationals next year.  I got it mostly drawn up with the sky and bay roughly grubbed in.  I am aiming to become a signature member of OPA.  In order to do that, I have to have been accepted into their national exhibition 3 times in 5 years.  There are usually about 3000 entrants, with only a couple of hundred accepted, so the competition is stiff and the work entered must always be excellent.  That is why I am giving myself more than six months for the project.  The works entered have to literally be master pieces.
Other than that most of my art time was spent doing digital archiving.  One thing can lead to another.  We have been offered some free Google advertising.  Our aim will be to get people to come visit our web site. It has sat mostly dormant  for a couple of years.  (see us at ) We are in the process of getting a vastly better site up.  It is much less cluttered and much easier for us to access and regularly change and up date.  So now getting that up has a rocket under it.  In order to get it up, the archive has to be decent and in order.  We have many of copies of pictures of paintings of varying quality all over the place. 
I have put together a database in MS Access in order to pull it all together.  Firstly I had to find the best pictures of every piece of work.  Then I had to rename them all.  To do that I also needed a lot of information about each work.  We are using a naming system that tells you at a glance a lot about the painting.  An example is e200706-00062acb-0140x0180ameq-rr0.jpg.  The name can actually be divided into columns in Excel and translated into understandable information.  The nomenclature of this painting divides up as follows: e the image has a max dimension of 1800 pix. 200706 painting completed June 2007, 00062 is a unique catalogue no., acb the medium is acrylic on canvas board, 0140x0180 the dimensions are 14” high and 18” long, ameq it is of animal/s, namely equestrian, rr it is very realistic, 0 it is the base picture of the completed work.  With all of that in the file name it is easy to do the rest.  Unfortunately it is also tedious.  On the upside I found a recent painting that I had forgotten about. It  needs a little work to complete.  I put it aside when I was making the transition to working with text again.  With just a little work it will become a nice part of my new body of work.  The work, the potter, of a local potter at a festival, is posted above.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Revisiting old paintings that you thought were failing

My unfinished painting of lone tree sunset.  18" x 24", oil on canvas
I was faced with a problem the other day; I had run out of surfaces to paint on. No problem, I just ordered some from Dick Blick. It really is a great way to get supplies when you live an hour or more from the nearest craft store. The prices are also great. Unfortunately I was then left with the problem of how to use precious painting time while I waited the week or so for my canvases to arrive.  I have shelved the beach painting, and was not feeling like working on the portrait, so I dug into my cash of "failures". One of them was started with grand hopes of making an impression at the local Universities group show. The painting was of a very large prominent house at sunset. Everything was going well until I started painting the sun set.

Over the years I have painted quite a few of them and found that they are a most paradoxical subject. On the one hand painting a red and orange sky with some trees silhouetted against it, is one of the easiest ways for a beginner to wow their friends. Conversely, if you want to capture the depth and subtlety of one, it takes a lot of experience and skill to achieve well. I repainted this sky several times. By the time I lost steam all I had was a blue grey under painting. The canvas kicked around in wardrobes and boxes for about 3 years before I finally picked it up to have another go. It is not finished yet. I still have more to do on the house, and have to add text so as to fit it into my current brand, but I am pleased with my progress.

First I managed to capture a real feeling for the thin translucent layer of cloud with the colors of the setting sun glinting off their uneven base. The single tree looked great with the brilliant light silhouetting it. The house though was still a problem. It remained dark and dead, the way it was in the reference picture. Additionally it was  problematic because it added to the paintings imbalance. To compensate I lightened the house, and added lights in some of the windows and on the portico.

It is still a little imbalanced, but I am sure that the positioning of the text will solve that problem. All in all, I am pleased with the results. Over the years I have found that paintings that have sat for a long time, when returned to, become some of my best. If you paint, don't throw paintings away when they aren't working, and don't grudgingly just accept them as evidence of your lack of ability.  Put them away and let the idea rest for a while.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bending rules on muddy colors

A failed attempt
Being reworked
Today was another day at Wal-mart, were I work so that I can avoid the designation, "starving artist".  At one point I was helping a customer with a house paint purchase when we started discussing color.  It turns out that she is a hobby artist.  Of course we got talking.  One of the things that came up was what to do when a painting becomes muddy, or is otherwise not working.  I suggested that in what ever medium you are work, mud can be overcome with a glaze of color applied after the painting has dried.  So called mud is the bane of many artists.  It is caused because, once there is white in a pigment, it can not be turned dark again.  Conversely, when you have a wet underlying dark color and you try and lay a very light color into it, you can't add enough white to make it truly light.  What we call mud is actually the loss of contrast and or the intensity of colors.  There actually is no such thing as a muddy color, because that same color can work well in some other context.  Red is often a problem.  Most red pigment is some what transparent, and dark.  In a black and white picture for instance, red lipstick appears to be  almost black.  If I have a dark color and paint red over it the result will be dark, even if the paint is very thick.  In order to make red bright we could try and add white to it.  Unfortunately that creates pink.  Most beginners are taught to start with dark tones and work towards lights.  Once you lay down a dark don't mess with it too much, and where you want lights either leave the canvas white until you get to that color, or wipe it off.  A thin layer of red over the white canvas, will glow.  To successfully do this in painting a red rose take a lot of practice and control. Glazing is an alternative.  Using the red as an example.  I can get very pressies tones in the area I want to be glowing red.  I don't care that it is in fact a range of pinks.  When the paint is dry, I can lay a thin transparent glaze of red over the top, and reestablish the darks right into that glaze.  It will not turn to mud, because there is no white involved.  Finally I can add some highlights with thick white.  This too will not turn to mud because the glaze is so thin.  Instead of sticking to a rule. I have bent it and used the problem to get a better result.
Sometimes I do paintings that just don't work.  I have to put them aside and come back to them latter.  I have been doing that in the last week.  I have posted before and the (so far) after pictures.  Because I was getting impatient, the first version had some mud in it, and was going far too blue for a fall scene. You tell me if I am getting a better result.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Struggling to defign a "brand / style"

Finally the brand is the style with the other things being much more subtle

Too poster like!
I worked on July 4, then had 3 days off. Artistically it was extremely productive. I mostly finished a painting based on a photo posted on facebook (with permission of course). I also broke through the barrier on a wedding portrait with which I have been blocked for a couple of years! It is now looking great. I still have another 10 hours or so to do on it, but it will work! I also started to rework a painting that failed and am well on the way to making it a success! On the down side, I worked my beach painting into a dead end, and will have to put it aside for a while. I think that the biggest thing though was my struggle with my brand. Everything I was working on started to look like a poster. I do not want to be painting posters. The idea was good, but it just wasn't working. After talking it through I started to see that I was pushing the brand think too far. I was trying to make everything have squares etc. in them. In this case it just didn't work. After 10 attempts, I finally come up with an image that I thought might just work. To get there though I had to find the sea again. I am good at painting water and the sea as well as figures. To this end with great difficulty, had to get rid of some background figures as well. On the one hand I have to let my style develop, but on the other, I have to make it happen with sheer hard work. I would now define it as; figurative representational work that is colorful and beautiful with a combination of looseness and well defined focus. The subjects have aspects of contradiction in them that is brought out by incorporated text into the composition. The text is difficult to decipher in order to demonstrate the need to invest of self to get below surface appearances in life. This is a kind of protest against the trend towards superficiality in society. The deconstruction of the text is also aimed at creating a catalyst to personalized interpretations by the viewer. My painting style is as much a part of the brand as the paintings compositional construction. This has been a huge breakthrough for me, but one that I am sure I will struggle with for some time to come. 

Finally, the portrait showed me that everything will not be about brand.  My portraiture is something that stands on its own, with its own style.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sticking to a Style, i.e. Brand

Sea lions at San Francisco's fisherman's wharf. Outside my current brand!
 On Sunday, I came home from work just bubbling over with ideas for paintings; all of them very interesting wonderful ideas.  I am sure that they would have made great unique paintings, but I was politely informed that they did not conform to my brand.  Very true. 

I am an artist through and through.  As such I am constantly thinking art.  I see color all around me, and am instantly and sub-consciously working out how that would best be represented in a painting, and how I would mix those colors from the pallet of colors I use.  I see a summer forest of almost uniform green, and think how that green differs from the color a camera captures, and how the subtle variation can be exaggerated to make the scene more interesting.  Consciously though think about ideas for the next painting.  As part of that I mentally troll through the thousands of reference pictures I have on my hard drive, and think about things that have been influencing me, whether they be something I have read, or the work of another artist I have seen.  This part of me is what must be brought under control without being made less fertile by adding the thought, ‘how can this be represented in my current brand?’. 
In the past I have gone with my ideas and produced work that was all over the shop.  The exception was when I was at art school and had to produce a cohesive body of work for my thesis.  That body of work ended up getting me on Australian national TV, with a spot on all of the networks nightly news broadcasts, and a 10 minute spot on the national broadcaster.  It is beginning to register with me that in galleries and exhibitions, every successful artist has a unique and recognizable brand that they stick to.  This I too must discipline myself to do.  This year I found a brand that I can develop and use to market myself and must stick to it.  This is not to say that I must start slavishly churning out cookie-cutter paintings, but development must be a gradual process through which the brand its self evolves.

In the meantime, I have dozens of paintings from my ‘all over the shop’ period that I have to do something  with.  I can either change them to fit the brand, or keep them for some future retrospective, after I have established myself and my brand.  At that stage, something outside the box can be quite valuable, but not now.  My website at is  full of such paintings.  I guess I could also sell them on the side, but would that hinder the development of my brand?  What do you think?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Exhibiting in group shows

Fleshing out colors and using masking tape.
For all the emphasis on making things happen, and having a business plan, all of which are very important, I think "happen chance" is right up there with them. In happen chance, Things happen by chance, because you are in the way of that chance when it comes. Last night I went to the opening of the summer groups show at the McGuffey Art Center. There was a lot of very good art, and I was very happy with how my work was hung. I also think that the prices I chose following my gallery crawl in Richmond were right on the mark. Once I was able to join the center as an associate artist, I immediately have some exposure for my work in a place that is actually visited by serious art buyers and fellow artists alike. It also gives me access to a solo in the cycle of members shows. Without that kind of exposure, trying to get work into a good gallery is very challenging. You have to produce and expose. I also saw when visiting the studios of resident artists in the center how important having a "brand" product is, especially in the beginning. At first people are attracted more to the type of work you do than you as an artist. I would love to have a studio in a setting like that where people can regularly come in and see you at work. As with any business though it is tough to get over the hump that allows you to both live and start full time. The first time I did it, I was receiving a small business development grant. In the meantime every hour of painting has to fight with employment home duties and relaxation. I have done some more on my beach painting. I have filled in most of the base colors, and am beginning to develop some areas. I am nowhere near the top layer anywhere yet though. You can see in the picture that I do use masking tap to sharply define discreet areas.
Well my alarm has gone off, so it is time to get ready for work. Catch you latter.