Join me....

I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Trade Secrets, part 2

I wish I could figure out how to activate the comments section 
of this blog without making folks “join” anything. 
The response to my question last week about which secrets you share, 
and which you protect, was informative and thoughtful...
and definitely the most I’ve ever received on one post.  
I’ll try to hit some highlights:

In general artists replied that they are a sharing group: they recognize that sharing leads to an exchange of information that is mutually beneficial in the long run.  Self confident artists have no desire to exactly copy some one else’s work and good teachers realize that the signature of their own work has taken years to develop and can’t really be duplicated.  (That said, I do know that there are “copy factories” in China where artists are paid to replicate perfectly the works of well known, translate to very expensive, artists in an attempt to cash in.  Not a lot of us fall in that category.)

There was definitely a parting of the ways when an artist considered their work more of a “product” than a one-off design.  For instance, after my buddy who makes candles perfected a method to guarantee a longer than common burn time (having invested hours of time and loads of money in the testing) she was reluctant, understandably, to broadcast the formula.  Meanwhile she was happy to share ingredient sources, label methods etc with fellow “competitors.” But the “sets it apart” factor was her distinction and she shouldn’t feel guilty about not sharing it.

Ditto, for a specific pattern that can be duplicated....I’ve read stories of several ETSY craftsmen who worked hard to make a niche product only to find the exact same thing (again, mass produced in China) for sale in Target the next year.  Sad.  But a fact of life.

One reader opined that wood turners were not a very sharing group, I cannot attest to experience there; another recalled a family story about an excellent baker who happily shared recipes but always left out a crucial ingredient....thus protecting her status as “the best.” Or totally ruining it, you chose!

So, as usual, there are two sides to every issue.   Austin Kleon’s original question asked us to think about this, personally, from both sides (what is shared, what is not) and evaluate the outcome of each. Perhaps my presentation was a bit more judgmental in tone.

The internet has changed the art game on so many levels.  Just as it makes it easy to research technique it also risks passing off unreliable methods or incomplete formulas.  While many craftsmen depend on the WWW to sell their products, it also exposes them to being copied and undersold.  Several experts in the art business even believe that the internet is responsible for many independently owned galleries closing their doors, seen as the “middle man” their services are needed less and less.  

So where does this discussion bring us? At the risk of putting words in anyone’s mouth I will verbalize my own thoughts: I believe artists and craftsmen need to have a sharing attitude, they need to trade thoughts, ideas, formulas and techniques.  It creates energy, it generates new ideas, it becomes a network of support and mutual admiration.  It is give and take. Here is a new-ish clip of Kleon at SBSW in an interview repeating his "share philosophy." Go all four minutes, he uses b-b-q as an example!

pottery by AmyH

HOWEVER,  I also believe that everyone of us needs to recognize the existence of proprietary information...I can respect that.  If you have spent years developing your signature color (glaze, paint, finish etc) and you only smile when I ask how you mixed that, I need to understand that it is "back to the drawing board" for find my own special, secret ingredient.  If it’s already on the internet, well, why not strike up a conversation and make a new friend? Let's not be rude in our artist conversations.

Here's to sharing art: philosophies, ideas and yes, a few secrets! 


Friday, November 2, 2018

Trade Secrets

"What are the secrets of your trade?
What would you lose by sharing them with others?
What would you gain?

by Austin Kleon)

I love doing the exercises in Kleon's wonderful journal which he refers to as "a notebook for creative kleptomaniacs."  But the question above really spoke to me due to an experience I had yesterday in a booth at a local country fair.  I was so taken aback that I even discussed it with my husband.

I noted a tent display featuring printed leaves that appeared to be similar to what I have done to produce notecards (in fact this is prime gathering time of flora for future steamings) so I went in to have a closer look.  She had lovely things, mostly single leaf prints on paper, matted, framed and identified as to tree species.  Cousins to what I do but not exactly the same.  I was very admiring as I noticed that she had a lovely black color on a few that I never seem to get.  

in process, some leaves still on paper 

So I posed a question:

"Do you treat these leaves with..."
She interrupted me explaining that the leaves are all natural and that what I see is the print she gets.

"Yes," I said.  "I do this same process but I never get that cool black.  Do you dip the leaf..."

....and before I could say "iron bath" she abruptly turned and walked away leaving me chatting to myself.

Why?  I saw no other customer.  I don't think anything I said was an insult.  All I could assume was that she was not into sharing 'trade secrets.'  

leaf prints before drying

What a shame.  I'd have been delighted to share with her how to get the fabulous sumac print seen above (she only showed maples) and I would have had fun telling her about a few failures I experienced as well (thus saving her a similar waste of precious time).  Was she afraid of competition?  Silly, I think, as in a quick glance around the fair and I saw many, many potters and a ton of painters all seemingly offering slightly different work.  Did she believe she had more to lose by chatting with me than to gain?

A pity.

In galloping through so many different art fields I have found that those who share (i.e. those with the self confidence to answer questions and trade techniques) are truly the most accomplished.  Is this because their own attitude promotes the exchange of ideas that enables growth for both parties?  Perhaps so.  Or is it that their kindness in sharing makes people want to do business with them.  Of course.

Art is not rocket-science, it is not a proprietary algorhythm which unlocks the secrets to the universe.  Art always bears the signature of its maker even when the same techniques are used.  Anyone who accomplishes anything creative stands on the shoulders of those who came before them.  It is my experience that those who fail to share will have karma to answer to.

But how do you feel about this topic? I may be all you share your trade secrets: formulas, recipes, techniques or methods? why or why not?

I'll get off my soapbox!


p.s. Where did I spend my money?  Funny, but it was with the women who were showing some cool hats and were tickled when I asked a question about the process.  They were happily explainging how they made them as they proceded to cash! 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Changing the Mood

The connections between color and mood
have long been a subject of debate and
scientific study.  Since I love color I
enjoy these studies and am always game to do a little
experimenting on my own.

Taking the same photo reference I have used in a couple of paintings earlier I decided to see how I could convey a different feeling using composition and color.  These were not going to be large, finished studies but quick draws to see what I could make happen in a crude sort of way.

Here is the barn, alone and on the hill.  Another sketch below moves the barn:
And yet another adds a path:
So these 3 sketches changed the composition and, I thought, already altered the mood of the scene.

On smallish canvases I started with acrylic paints to get something laid in quickly.  These are photographed together but I actually painted them one at a time so as not to confuse my own sense of where they were attempting to go.

Already you can see color differentials; upper R - light, maybe springish, sunshine, below - sense of soltitude but not sad due to blue skies and some foreground energy, lower L - darker, maybe stormy and a road which by-passes the far away barn.

Obviously I did not push the color beyond realism, some folks would get a big nothing from a purple barn in an orange field (besides, I've been there...!) I wanted to see what I could do with local color (i.e. the color as seen in nature).

I did a little bit more work on these canvas in oil, making more changes as I worked.  You be the judge as to how they affect you in ascertaining a certain mood (I think of the barn having its own feelings as does the environment; you may also think about how the scene affects your own mood.)

Above I darkened up the baby blue skies...did a storm threaten?

Here I implied a season by using flower colors, sunshine and cloud shadows on the grass, is the barn still important to the composition?

In the final iteration I worked on a pathway that leads away from the barn and darkened any detail it would have if it were lighter in color.  

All of these are a long way from a finished version, they are crude and very raw, but I enjoyed the exercise of manipulating a photograph and playing artist in creating a different feeling from the same ingredients.  Since I have answered some of my own questions there is no need to complete them...I'll file under "study" and move on.

Look at the art you surround yourself with: are there variations in the moods and colors or do you tend to one direction?  There is no right or wrong's simply a thought.  What I might hang for "healing" would not be what I would choose for "action."  Just another aspect to creating a well planned piece of art.

Colorful wishes,

Friday, October 19, 2018

Marshland Magic

“I have an immoderate passion for water.... but especially for marshes, 
teeming with all that mysterious life of the creatures that haunt them. 
A marsh is a whole world within a world, a different world, 
with a life of its own, with its own permanent denizens,
 its passing visitors, its voices, its sounds, its own strange mystery.” 
― Guy de Maupassant, The House of Madame Tellier and Other Stories

I, too, love the marshes.  It's an acquired taste (for often they are home to mosquitos) but the changing shapes, the tides, the life they support...all of this has fascinated me over the years.  Painting a marsh is pure pleasure.

We found this marshland along the shores of a beach in Louisiana...(and yes, it was home to many giant mosquitos who all bit promptly and in masse at 5:35 pm).  In the daylight and with a slight breeze we enjoyed the walk around and thru them towards the ocean shoreline.  I knew then that I would paint it one day.  Above is how I started.

The dune fence was intriguing as it was a direct sightline into the scene.  The challenge would be for it to take you to the tallest grasses but then to have the eye float over the zig zags of land until it reached the fatherest point where the land touches the sky (and the ocean beyond).  Color and texture would have to do some heavy work.

Above is a detail of the farthest point on the horizon line...I messed with that patch of darker grass until my knees gave out and my eyes blurred.  It could not be unrealistically dark but just enough to make your eye head that way.  Notice all of the texture on the canvas.  While people assume marshes are rather still and silent there is a lot happening beneath the surface water...and ripples do appear when the tides change or the winds pick up.

Marshland Magic
20 x 24, oil, framed and available

Finished.  The grasses are really prominent and give a rather harsh feeling to the landscape...although if you have walked close to "saw grass" you will know exactly how it got that name.  I think it might be interesting to try a similar scene with softer, more muted banks, perhaps during sunset when everything appears hazy and more gentle.  It's fascinating how color and texture can change the entire mood of a painting.  

I am hoping our eastern Carolina marshes were not totally devastated during the is a lot to ask of them to completely filter all of the nasty run off headed their way in such quantities.  The teeming bottom feeders will certainly take a hit and who knows how that will affect the sealife?  Sigh.  Mother Nature gives and she takes.  

Now, back to the studio.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Heavenly Bodies & the Catholic Imagination

If there was one exhibit that has caused me to
look at a piece of art and seek evidence of its earliest influences,
the Catholic Imagination;" a mind-bending
display of clothing, old and new, inspired and informed by 
the Catholic faith.

The Costume Institute within the Met opened its spring 2018 show featuring every imaginable type of fashion/costume/clothing design with any hint of Catholic influence in a magnificent display not only in the New York City museum proper but in its northern gallery "The Cloisters."

To get the impact of seeing these garmets in the surroundings so appropriate to them watch this video narrated by Andrew Bolton, the show's curator.  Bolton had long been thinking about an exhibition encompassing the world's 5 major religions but found that the Catholic input was weighing down the balance, enough so that he decided on a show focusing solely on that influence.

Our jaws hung open as we toured the Clostiers which was the most amazing and appropriate setting for many of the clothes.  Although the collection included pieces by such recognized designers as Valentino, Gaultier, Channel, Dolce & Gabanna, Dior, Alexander McQueen and Versace they were designed over the course of many years and for many different purposes (shows, street wear, cocktail dresses, movies, etc.).  

We saw clothing based upon choir robes, monks attire, priestly vestaments, nuns habits and stained glass as well as biblical stories and elecestastical paintings.  

the shawl worn on the shoulder
placed the baby in the mothers arms per
a stained glass shows reflections of the cloisters gardens

The "provocative nature of the untouchable" was explored in a series of designs inspired by the history of the nuns habits. The main building of the Met had appropriately placed the exhibit pieces in areas that held permanent displays based on the church and its relics.  Did I say relics?  Ah yes, even jewelry was included, much of which was based on relics and symbols of the religion.  Rings, crosses, hats, headpieces....

evening gown with Adam & Eve story beaded on the skirt
the garden of delights?!

a halter style top beaded and
bejeweled with saintly influences

Interestingly the church with a capital C cooperated with the Institute's plans as quite a number of papal robes and mitres were on loan from the Vatican.  We could not photograph these but they were astounding to me (in a negative way) for the amount of precious stones, jewels and hours and hours of tedious hand sewing they represented.  Many were gifts from foreign dignataries but still....

For a fascinating backstory, in better words than mine, check out this article in Vogue Magazine.  

Now back to my opening thought: almost all of the designers represented in this exhibit grew up Catholic, some still very devout, others not so much.  They were not (except in one or two instances) designing for this specific show so their past wormed its way into their art long before someone decided to curate it as such.  Is it because fashion designers are primarily Spanish, French and Italian (and therefore Catholic)? Is it because Catholicism has always employed all of the senses in its various expressions of worship?  Does that faith provide a more fertile ground for young imaginations to flourish?   Or do all of us exhibit, in some way, the early upbringing we had, the early and dramatic experiences we lived through and the first major institutions that shaped our young lives?

Catholic or not, can I find evidence in an aritist's body of work of what his major, life shaping influences were?  It is a very interesting thought and it must be there: latent or obvious.  Unless an artist is an avowed "copier" or an uninterested production marketeer, his or her work should have a trace of all the influences in their life but most especially those of the hugely impressionable years: childhood.  

So think on that the next time you stand before a piece of art and you do not know the artist: can you detect what experiences may have influenced either the painting subject or the style of his work?

This was a fascinating exhibit on many levels.


Friday, October 5, 2018

Landscape Re-Visit

One of the things I observed in studying
Georgia O'Keefe was that she often painted the
same landscape scene over and over again
searching for new ways to present it.
I find this a fascinating way to closely examine the elements.

So I've decided to re-visit some of the photo references I've used in past work and perhaps look at them slightly least in size and color if not a different representation all together.

My Father's World, tobacco barn
24 x 24, oil on cradled board

I love this lonely barn sitting atop a sloping hill with not much else around it. There is a bit of an implied path up to the opening so maybe it is still used for some work. It feels friendly and welcoming of visitors.  This kind of scenery makes me start writing mental stories about all that the place has seen and experienced.  My husband chose it to hang in a small condo we have.  

But a revisit on a larger canvas started out differently:

Note that it is no longer a square shape and that it appears even lonlier as there are no trees planned.  It feels "closed off" as you cannot see sky through the main door. And there is more emphasis on the drop off of the hill in the lower R corner.

Somehow I cannot get away from that red foreground!  I was actually trying to go from yellow around the color wheel through orange on its way to red....ahhh, but the painter loves reds apparently.

There is some amazing depth of texture in this piece which the former lacked.  And the colors are not blended but more abrupt in their changes.  And there is no worn path leading up to the open door while the sky is darker and less cheerful.  It feels sealed up and not welcoming to wanderers.

 24 x 30, oil on canvas, untitled is done!  Not a long way from the first version but changed enough to capture a different feeling.  Somehow the reds to yellows seem so vibrant that this barn feels proud, not lonely or abandoned.  Still standing with dignity (which could be a title?)  

I think my assignment now could be to do it all in blues and grays attempting to get a totally different mood...perhaps one of sorrow or loneliness, a feeling of abandonment and disrepair, aging?

Let's see where that might go.  Hope there are some folks interested in buying barns with personality!! Stand by...and thank you Ms. O'keefe for this exercise in studying the landscape.