Monday, January 28, 2013

What Inspires?

I received an email request from a young student of art named Rosie today, and my reply became something I thought I'd like to share. Here's her email to me, and my reply:

Hello, I am year 11 student at the Kings Academy, and I am currently studying gcse art there and the topic I'm doing is based on close ups. When I came across some of your work it inspired me to base my work on animals. I would like it if you found the time to help me, my question to you is, what inspired you? Why did you choose to base your work on what you did? Thank you for your time, I really appreciate you took your time to read this.

Hi Rosie,

I'm glad you found my work inspiring!

I consider myself one of the lucky people who can find inspiration in almost anything. In fact I frequently wish I could live several lives just to have enough time to paint everything I've ever thought about painting. My current and recent subject matter evolved as a result of a lot of things, but mostly from some specific advice of an experienced artist mentor, and a lucky client purchase.

The artist Sara Eyestone gives the advice in a 'business of art' workshop: to work in a series. She says pick a subject/genre and a consistent dimensional size (ie: 2/3 ratio rectangle, or a square, etc) and create at least 20 paintings in this similar theme. This way, when you have an exhibit, it will all look great hung in the same room of a gallery, or at an art fair. And since the dimensions are the same, you can choose the best 12 and print a calendar.

Well, I hadn't yet really chosen my subject for a series when a large (24x24) longhorn painting sold to a client at an art fair. I told him about another cow painting the same size that I had at a gallery in a nearby town. He went to see it that same weekend, and bought it. (These were the first cow paintings I had ever done!)

Well, then I thought, "I'll have to paint more cows!" And I've been painting cows for the past 3 years or more. Being a practical sort of business-person as well as an artist, I do find that my subject matter is driven by what sells. But I do believe that choosing a specific subject or genre and creating a unified body of work creates an appeal with clients, looks much better at shows and fairs, and can also indicate a seriousness of purpose as a dedicated artist that more serious collectors will appreciate.

I haven't limited my subjects to just animals; I also do portraits and landscapes. I do like to work in series whenever I can, especially when working small (you can see a lot of my 'mini-series' of small paintings throughout by blog posts of the past 2 years) I've done seagulls, sunsets, ranch roads, Renaissance portraits, small watercolor road sketches, etc... and of course, the 5x7 cows and other animals - over 200 now!

I believe what specifically led to the small cow 'portraits' was the continued sales of cow paintings, and the knowledge that smaller, less expensive paintings are what sell better. I had first tried a couple of 6x8 cow paintings, but to work that small with the entire body didn't appeal to me, so, being a portrait artist by nature, I settled in to doing some 4x6's of just the 'portrait' area of the cow - head and chest. These migrated to 5x7's and stuck! At some art fairs I would paint new ones at my easel to pass the time, and would sell them almost before they were finished! Nothing like instant sales to inspire more paintings!

A funny thing happens when you commit to one subject for such a length of time and through so many paintings. What began as a business decision because of good sales, became slowly over time a real fascination with the cow. I've learned more about cows (like what breeds are what) since I've been painting them than I ever knew before. And there's something about them, their curiosity, their various personalities (Longhorns will ignore you; large herds of Brahmans are skittish; small mixed herds are the best because they're friendly and curious.) And since I take all my own reference photos, my experience of 'being there' watching, observing and learning has been able to add something to my experience of painting them over these years.

Well, maybe this is more than you needed, but I hope it helps! Good luck with your art!


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years Resolution - First Do the Work!

       An artist friend of mine sent me a nice New Years email to compliment my 'pencil work' from recent posts of portrait drawings, and was asking for a bit of advice on how to draw so well. She really answered her own question by admitting she needed to draw/paint more and had set a new resolution for herself to paint at least 3 days a week.

       In replying to her email, I found myself in just the right mood to get out some good advice, so I thought I'd use it to help with my own goal of posting more often and share it here! It's nothing I haven't said before in conversation, and you've probably heard variations of the same advice, but I believe it's human nature to need to hear certain things over and over before they start to sink in...

Hi friend,

Great to hear from you!

Yes the 'pencil work' is all about years of doing it... One project I've left half-done from earlier last year is to scan in all my photos of portrait drawings from '85-'92, from my pre-digital era, and combine those with the images I have in my computer from '93-present, and create a time-lapse kind of fast slide-show zipping through all the hundreds and see how long the video would be at one image per half-second or something. And those would just be the ones I actually took a picture of... I estimate that's only about 25% of all the ones I've done, and that's not counting the profile sketches in amusement parks from '86-'97. =O

So, yes, the BEST goal you could possibly set for yourself and KEEP is to paint/draw/do art every day, or at least 3 days/week. But I gotta tell ya, when I'm away from the easel a few days or more, it takes me a day to get back 'into' the swing if it, so your second and more consecutive days of painting will be more successful most likely!! The subsequent days are also easier and more exciting BECAUSE the work looks better, so keep at it, when your first paintings of the year look icky, just see them as 'practice' and keep going!!

An amazing thing happens when you COMMIT to painting/drawing every day (or at least creating several small paintings a week) -- it gets addictive! I think an important part of the process is to POST them (at least speaking from the standpoint of a 'daily painter and online blog poster') When I'm actually able to post an image on my blog for a week or two of consecutive days, I almost physically miss it when I have to skip a day for whatever reason, I get VERY disappointed in myself, and it's mostly about breaking that good 'run' of posts. The posting almost becomes the end goal, and the painting enough to create 7 things per week to post just becomes the 'assignment' I give myself so that I can do the posting! 

In a strange way, this attitude makes the painting easier because instead of getting to the studio and moaning about "what do I want to paint today?" it's more like "it doesn't matter what I paint, I just need seven things to post this week, and If I can get 3 done today, and 4 done tomorrow, I'll have the rest of the week free!"

Ha, I do think that way, but realistically, I'll get 2 small paintings done, then break for lunch, then get tied up on the computer, then it will be time to take Audrey to her gym class, then it will be dinner time, etc etc. So life does intrude, it's a fact. 

But as I was told by artist Sara Eyestone in one of her Art Marketing workshops, "First thing is, you must DO THE WORK!" She says to fill out your schedule in a datebook, put in all the immovable obligations, classes, appointments, 'real job' work, meals, etc, and put 'paint' or 'studio' in everywhere else. Be flexible whenever possible; delegate some chores, push dinner back an hour so you can get an extra hour in the 'studio' that day, etc. But most of all, stick with it! Make painting a habit! For some people, putting it on the calendar makes it real, so this works.

Happy New Year and Just Do It!

Thanks for reading, and please share!

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