Sunday, November 2, 2014

Value and Temperature (Or How Do I Choose My Colors?)

       I've recently had a few inquiries about how I use color or how I choose my colors in my paintings. This might seem like a simple question, but the simplest sounding questions are often the most complex. Here's one of the first inquiries I had on this topic:

Hi Rita, I am looking forward to your demo for PSST in. January. Can you tell me what you plan to cover in the mini-workshop and at what level? I don't need a basic course but would be interested in leaning more about how you use color in your work. Thanks so much! Kathy

Hi Kathy,

Thanks for asking! I tailor my workshops to whoever is there, from beginner to advanced. In my 30+ years of using pastel, I've learned just about all the technical ins and outs. I teach best with demos, where I explain what I'm doing as I do it (usually) and then answer questions throughout the rest of the workshop and one-on-one advice.

I can give you a head-start tip on "color" by saying that I've gotten so good (in others' opinions) with color by not thinking in terms of color (hue), but of value and temperature. "Value is more important than color" is one of my mantras that I learned from several other experienced artists, and I like to add "...and temperature" (cooler or warmer) because really, if you have the value and the temperature correct in all areas of your painting, the whole thing will work regardless of color. Even if you only have value correct it will work, but with temperature I'm able to achieve that feeling of intense warm light in my current work. (I was gratified to hear in a recent workshop I took from Clayton Beck III, that he's a strong proponent of 'value and temperature' in his work and in his teaching!)

"Is This Seat Taken?" in grayscale (value scale)

"Is This Seat Taken?"
 But in contrast to that, my more recent workshop with Casey Klahn taught me that it's ok for color to have nothing to do with value or temperature, but to love color for it's own sake. Although I believe he has an innate master's grasp of value, he seems to put more emphasis on the playful and instinctual use of color, and his work accentuates intensity vs. neutrality, plus an amazing compositional genius!

(Can you tell I love learning too! ;)
Well, sorry for the long response. Look forward to meeting you in January!

To add to that, It has taken me the last twelve years of conscious effort improving my artwork (beyond the ordinary effort of copying someone's photo of their grandkids) to understand the importance of value and temperature on the effect of light and color. Honestly it's only been the last five years or so that I've even been aware of this relationship enough to use it and enhance these effects in my work.

To put it in basic terms, "Value" means the relative lightness or darkness of a color. "Temperature" means how warm or cool the color is. For example, the warm colors are red and yellow (think 'fire' and 'sun') so the warmest color really is orange (red and yellow combined.) The coolest color (think ice, or arctic water) is blue. All the colors between these are what I call 'neutral', for lack of a better term for a color that is in between warm and cool. 

Picture a color wheel:
You see that orange and blue are compliments (meaning they are on opposite sides of the wheel.) All the colors closer to the orange are warmer, and all the colors closer to the blue are cooler. Blue-green is cooler than yellow-green. Red-orange is warmer than red-violet. Etc.

This gets more vague as the colors get in to true neutrals (greyed colors) meaning colors that have been toned down with their compliment (Aak! I can't even find a decent color wheel online that shows this!) but if you remember that any color that is a green or a violet is going to be cooler than any reds or yellows, and warmer than any blues. THIS is why I LOVE greens and violets! They are SO beautiful in shadows, where there's reflected warm light shining into cool shadow colors. They can be warm (compared to cooler blues) or cool (compared to warmer reds or yellows.)

Having worked so long with subjects that are in sunlight, I'm used to working with the "warm light, cool shadows" precept. There is also the "cool light, warm shadows" scheme, which is prevalent among artist who prefer north light windows in studio work, or overcast, cloudy light outdoors, which will frequently be a cooler light. There's enough of that subject for another book, so I won't elaborate here! (One of my paintings "Marjoram" does illustrate this cool light/warm shadows concept pretty well) :

Reflected light, if you noticed the mention above, is another subject worth a long post of it's own!

Here's a pic of Maggie Price's pastel box, arranged by an x/y value/temerature scale. This is the photo I took to arrange my own box the same way
Notice the cool colors at the bottom and the warm colors towards the top.

Here's my own new studio set of Terry Ludwigs in my Mike Mahon box. I like my warm colors on the bottom and cool colors at the top. Violets and greens are in between, mixed up by how relatively cool or warm they are. If you see some that look out of place, it's because I organized this by value first, each row, then by temperature. Plus I have my Diane Townsend Terrage pastels in the seams of the foam inserts, and my Great American Artworks iridescents at the far right. For travel I use my Heilman box (like Maggie's) where I have my colors laying down flat and arranged a lot like hers!

Let me know if this helps you! :)


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ren Faire Portraits and How I Find Collectors

Renaissance Portraits Sold
Recently I had an inquiry from a fellow artist about my Renaissance Portrait Series and how I find collectors for them. Here's what she asked:

"Rita, I love your Renaissance Faire portrait series and I was wondering if you've ever had a show that focuses specifically on these paintings. I paint Ren Faire portraits, too, but I've been having a tough time selling them. If you wouldn't mind, can you tell me how you get the word out about these paintings and how you find collectors for this subject matter? I see you've won numerous awards for these paintings. Do you usually sell them at the shows where they're being exhibited? I would appreciate any suggestions you can give me. 
Thanks so much!"
~ Sharon Matisoff

My reply was long and wandering, but contained so much varied marketing advice I decide to use it for a Journal Post!

Hi Sharon,

(Good questions! Difficult answers! You may want to read in installments, lol!)

I've been lucky I guess. The Renaissance Portrait series started for me as a couple of paintings that I whipped out for a "People and Places" show at my local art league in 2009, and then one of them was awarded and sold from that show; the other was accepted to the PSA annual and was awarded and sold there! So I said "I need to do more like that!" (Most of my series have been prompted and encouraged by 'buyer participation', ha!)

I like to do the small format (eg: 8x6, as are all my Ren Ports are) because 1) cheaper to ship to shows and 2) easier to sell because many buyers are low on wall space, or 'traveling', or can't afford thousands on a big painting but will spend 900-1000 on an exquisite award-winner.

I also usually do the portrait/figurative work for exhibits and competitions because I feel like portraits have an edge with judges because of the human factor. Most people, even artists (mistakenly or not) still believe that the human portrait is the most difficult thing to draw/paint. And I believe that all other things being equal, an excellent painting that is a portrait will win out over an excellent painting that is a landscape or still life.

Anyway, I've kind of gotten sidetracked! I have done most of them for specific shows, but some I've just painted first and then decided what to do with them. 4 have sold at exhibits. 4 have sold at art fairs. One was sold at an art demo, and one was donated to a silent auction. One was purchased off my website by a long-distance client in NYC. But all this has been over the last 5 years, so it's slow, but ongoing. I still have 7 (and one in the works) and am deciding what shows to send each to next.

In the beginning (after the first 2 sales) I did have fantasies of doing, like, 50, and having a show, but I can't bring myself to hold on to each new one long enough to do the 40-something more of them that I would need. Plus,18 in five years is not very prolific (compared to the 300+ 5x7 cows etc that I've done!) Besides, I remember something Robert Genn said about rarity and value. But I still have that plan in the back of my mind, alongside a couple dozen others!

As far as 'finding collectors', it's a long, slow process that builds up and can occasionally snowball every now and then. But it's also akin to investing in a volatile stock market, so the most important rule is 'don't put all your eggs in one basket'. I really can't pinpoint any one thing that says "This is where my clients come from" but these are some of the things I do (in no particular order):

- Keep track of all buyers in a database that you can print address labels from (I use WorkingArtist), for occasional postcards for shows and other mailings. Also get email addresses when possible, and permission to add them to your e-news list.  

- I've done fine art fairs and festivals, about 3-5 per year, since about 2006. These are the best way to sell lots of paintings fast and gather lots of client data. ( is a good source)

- I have artwork in 5 galleries in south Texas, two of which sell fairly regularly (maybe $3k each per year, my intake) the other 3 range from not much to a few hundred bucks, but I keep them because the owners are nice and because YOU NEVER KNOW!

- I've also been lucky in being invited as one of the 50 Featured Members on, right before they decided not to invite anyone else, and instead opened it up to general membership. This has brought me an average of $5k per year through the auctions, and has also found me a couple of clients who went on to purchase  larger work off of my website!

- Get on Facebook (if you're not already) and find all new clients on FB if possible, within a week of each sale. Send a message thanking them again for the purchase. Join FB groups having to do with your medium and genre (PSA has a group page, etc)

- Get accounts/pages in every other social media site out there that is popular (currently Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, and maybe others I'm not into yet)

- Post all new art to your blog, website, and all social media sites, daily if possible. This is a habit that is slow to show results but can pay off big in the long run.

- I learned from Carol Marine, a prominent Daily Painter, that it's also important to leave comments on others artwork on blogs and social media like FB. This is networking and making yourself known. (It's also fun to meet new artists and connect, I've made a few good friends this way)

- I send one email each month to everyone on my list, outlining my schedule for that month and any news of awards, shows, workshops, etc. (I also post this newsletter to my FB page, and Twitter.) (I use Constant Contact, but FASO has a newsletter capability as well.)

- I've taken what I call a "Bio-Building" approach to my career since 2002. I work to improve my work, to enter competitions to win awards, to 'build' my bio up with impressive data, in order to impress the buyers into buying my work! (from the look of your resume, you understand this concept! ;)

- I enter competitions, online, magazines, and gallery shows (mostly pastel societies) as many as I can afford and the best work that I have to send. (I keep a list w/ deadlines and show dates.) Being in a show each month also gives me news to brag about, even if I don't win anything. (This also keeps my work constantly improving because I'm very competitive and I like to win!)

- I make a point to take at least one really good workshop each year, sometimes 2 or 3. And every other year, go to a convention (pastel, portrait, oil painters, plein air, caricature, whatever helps me improve my work!) I've also made valuable friends and connections at these, and learned a lot.

- Join any and all art organizations near you, and go to meetings, and get involved to the limit of your available time. I spent 5 years as membership chair for my local art league. Now I still have a variety of valuable friends there who have a wealth of experience creating, showing and selling their art. And among all the emails I get from various associations, there's always a paint out, or a trip, or a demo, or exhibit, that I can take advantage of if I have the time.

- There have been 3 workshops/seminars I've taken that have helped my career more than any others:  
  1. Sarah Eyestone taught a "Business of Art" workshop when she lived in San Antonio. The most important mantras I picked up from her is "First you have to do the work!" and "Work in a series!" 
  2. In Carol Marine's workshop I learned that to "Paint Daily" is a magic mantra, and one that supersedes and essentially incorporates both of Sarah's quotes. When you paint daily (and by that I mean complete one small painting a day) you ARE 'doing the work', and you usually MUST 'work in a series' or at least several small series, in order to come up with enough subject matter for 30 days a month.  (Disclaimer: I've only averaged 17 paintings per month since 2011. 30 paintings per month is still a goal of mine!) 
  3. The 3rd most valuable advice I learned was to never underestimate the power of social media, which was a strong point of the "Marketing Boot Camp" given by Eric Rhodes, editor of Plein Air Magazine, at the 1st annual Plein Air Convention. His main message was that no one is going to know who you are or what your art is unless YOU TELL THEM! (And that people buy 'brands' because they're familiar... so learn how to 'brand yourself'!)

- Oh, and for the last few years I've been giving workshops; about 1-4 workshops per year, in various places around Texas, and 2 so far in Kansas. I really enjoy teaching other adults about pastel, and sometimes the workshop students will buy the demos ;) This also grows your mailing/email lists.

OK, I know it sounds like I've got a lot of miscellaneous advice, and not a lot of "How do I find collectors", and sorry for writing a book here, but really, there's such a variety of pathways to finding buyers and selling artwork, and each path will work differently for different artists and different personalities. I'm sure I'm not even taking advantage of ALL of the ways that exist. Just the ones that I've wandered into or learned about along the way.

To sum it up, I like a quote I found somewhere (FB I think!) by Maya Angelou “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don't make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can't take their eyes off you.”

It's true, but it's not a quick fix...

Hope all this helps!


Renaissance Portraits Available

2015 update: "Elfling" is now sold as well! (I better get to work on a new one... ;)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Why Paint Small?

Recently I had an inquiry from a blog follower about my work. "Wow beautiful work Rita! I've been following you for quite a while now. Just curious, why do you work on such a small scale?"

I replied:

Hi friend,

My goodness! You asked the best question! I put this off for a day to think of how best to answer it, and also because this is an excellent blog topic for my Art Journal so if I answer it well I can turn it into a post. (multitasking - yea!)

First I'd like to recommend some light reading of 2 of my older posts:

These talk a bit about painting frequently, how I started doing cows and painting small. But to specifically answer your question the best way is to make a list. There are so many excellent reasons for painting small that even the list has lists. The reasons spawn more reasons...
  1. Small is cheap.
  2. Small is fast.
  3. Small is small.
  4. Small uses less materials so is more economical ("cheap" #1).
  5. Because it's more economical you can charge less ("cheap" #2).
  6. The low prices attract more buyers.
  7. Acquiring more buyers grows your client base, and your email list.
  8. You can connect with your new clients on FB and potentially attract all of their friends.
  9. Because small paintings cost less, some clients buy several at a time.
  10. Some of the small-buying clients will also like to buy your large work.
  11. Because small is fast, they take less of your valuable time, so are more economical ("cheap #1). Etc, etc.
  12. Because small is small, mistakes are less stressful.
  13. Because small is fast, mistakes are quicker to fix.
  14. Because small is fast, failed paintings are easier to shrug off, and quicker to learn from.
  15. Because small is fast, you can paint more of them.
  16. The more you paint, the better you get!! (This should be Number ONE!!)
  17. As your work improves, more people like it and want to buy it.
  18. (And because the small ones are cheap, they can!)
  19. As your work improves, failed paintings are less frequent.
  20. Many art-buyers have no room on their walls for large work.
  21. Many buyers (at fairs and galleries) are traveling and want something they can carry.
  22. The more you paint, the more paintings you have.
  23. The more paintings you have, the more frequently you can post on social media.
  24. The more paintings you have, the more paintings you can sell.
  25. Painting small makes it easier to paint every day.
  26. Painting small is addictive.

All of the items on this list are true and from my own experience. None are made up or borrowed from anyone else, but you might hear other artists have the same advice because they've learned it too!

I could keep adding on to some of these - especially about the social media! But that one might need it's own post...

Let me know if this is helpful! ;)


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Klahn Regeneration of my old landscape

Casey Klahn came to Texas last weekend and gave a pastel workshop like no other! He's a Modernist and a Colorist in the nature of Henri Matisse and Wolf Kahn. He creates works of art with amazing visual power that perfectly straddle the line between abstract and representational.
(I tried to decide which site of his to link his name to, but there are too many! Just Google his name, or connect with him on Facebook.)

One of his demos on the weekend was to resolve another artist's work with his own colorist solution. I volunteered an old landscape of mine...
(See Casey's post about this project HERE.)

 First, he scrubbed off parts of it, scribbled in some colors, and sprayed a little fixative...

 After some more intuitive colors, he decided he liked it better without the bottom third.

The entire finished painting
His original crop

His final crop
It's hard to decide which I like best. Luckily, I bought it, so can view whatever part I want. (Maybe I'll make some interchangeable mats. Hmmm...)


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