Monthly Archives: April 2011

Small Watercolors & Small Steps


Steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.

In spite of myself, good things have come my way.  Reflecting on my last blog post, I can see how it could be construed that I’m bitter, jealous and possess expectations that are, perhaps too unrealistic.  “Who does that @*& Madison think he is?” “He ought to be grateful for even getting into any show!” If you know me beyond what you read on this blog, you quite possibly might agree that I am usually a pessimist but I think most would agree I’m not the jealous type, nor bitter or even too unrealistic.  Ok before you rattle off a bunch of things I am or am not, stop reading and think about this for a minute.

Out of all your friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers and people who you see daily how many of them are artists?  Out of that list, how many are artists who earn a living solely by art?  I know a lot of artists, mainly because I am one.  I’ve read about a lot of them, met some, but I only really know two that earn their livelihood on selling art, and I’m not one of them.  If I were to take that risk and leap, quitting my day job, we would be bankrupt.  Somehow two of the people I’d like to consider my mentors, survive in this economy as artists, and live well doing it.

My persistence or perhaps its stubbornness, led me to these artists whom I’ve learned enough from to keep my course of action straight.  Good advice is hard to come by, and often those wise enough to bestow it are often reluctant for obvious reasons.  Sometimes I hear, and don’t listen, just ask my wife!  Anyhow I’ve enjoyed some good advice from a few friends who have been around the art block a lot longer than I have.  I’ve been told to work smaller and loosen up my style some.   The latter will have to wait a while, but I have begun working on small watercolors.  Initially I steered away from them because I felt it was nearly impossible to render the details in that scale.

So I began a 7” x 12” still life. I mainly used a 000 round but there were times I wend bigger.  I masked off the bottle edges before any paint touched the paper.  I soaked the background and put down a mix of Dioxazine Purple with a touch of Ultramarine Blue in a heavy diluted wash.  I dumped a good portion of salt all over the wash and waited overnight.  Next came the rear orange bottle and I worked forward mostly into the blue and finally the highly refracted small perfume bottle.  I put this painting on my hardly-used Strathmore cold press 140lb block and just used blue painters tape to square off the painting.

7" x 12" Watercolor on Strathmore 140lb BlockWatercolor blocks are great way to go portable with your work.  I took this home and painted at the kitchen table a few times.  All in all I’m happy with the piece.  It has a lot of brilliant color and I think I got some nice things going on with the warms and cools as well as the composition.  “Firestorm” is the first of a triplicate pulled from the same photo reference.  I’m starting the other 7” x 12” tonight and will complete the trio with a larger combination piece that will include both flanking paintings.

Meanwhile I am going to crank out a post card piece of art for the ISU gallery.  It’s a fundraiser to help fund art grants at the school.  It will be good to help the program and maybe give some aspiring art students a little nudge forward.  Well see how much detail I can cram in a 4” x 6”.

The next Festival is Columbus.  It’s huge and will dwarf all the other shows I’ve attended combined.  After Columbus, I will return to Lincoln and hopefully Washington IL and get another shot at Sugar Creek which is my hometown show.  After that maybe Champaign, and Bloomington Indiana.  My schedule thins out by August so I don’t expect much after this.  There are a few exhibitions I’m eyeing as well, like the NWS.  I also sent “The Collector” to the Artist Magazines’ 2011 Annual.  More later.


Filed under Watercolor

Paying to Play

If I’ve learned anything about art festivals it’s this:  Juries are fickle, shows unpredictable and having high expectations, No! Having any expectations is foolish.  The only consistency I have observed is inconsistency.  Last year I applied to six, maybe seven art festivals and about five exhibitions.  I was juried into four festivals and one invitational.  Not bad really, but not great either.  It was my first year doing festivals and I really didn’t know fully what I was getting into and it really wasn’t until the last show rolled around that I really figured out the nuances of showing outdoors and knew exactly what I wanted to do the next year.

I was very energetic back in January, the entire show season was ahead of me.  I made my lists of festival and exhibitions I was going to apply for.  I had a short season of experience and was showing improvements in my painting, so I figured my chances were better than hitting four out of eight festivals and a mere one out of five exhibitions.  I labored off and on for six months on a painting I thought was amazing.  This was going to be my centerpiece for the big art shows I was hoping to get into.

I started in on Zapplication ( ) first rounding up the local shows list first and then extended my tour to places where I could stay with friends.  Columbus Ohio, Bloomington Indiana and Kansas City Missouri were the furthest shows I was looking at.  I reapplied to the watercolor society exhibitions I was a member of, joined  new one and was waiting to join more.

Queue the rollercoaster….

I guess the details aren’t really worth going into, lets just say I keep paying and am not getting much playtime.  The exhibitions and festivals come and go, and I sit and watch, observing the company of artists I am in or not allowed to be in.  I look to see who’s art gets juried in, who win awards, who’s getting coverage in magazines, blogs and other media.  Why? Well it’s in part my way of self-assessment, after all the goal is to reach a sustainable living by 2021.  If my art is good it should start taking me places or at least provide me the opportunity to display my craft either in a festival or show.  Yes I have expectations to present more than 50% of the time, call me crazy.

So there I am in line, waiting for my turn to get on the roller coaster.  I’ve paid for my fee, got my ticket and hand it to the ticket man.   More often than not I have paid to play, yet the gate closes right in front of me, and I am left wondering what it is I did, or could have done to get that last seat on the art ride I’m wanting in on.

The worst thing about all of this festival and show stuff is not knowing why you were excluded or even included.  I guess making it in a show one assumes “They liked my stuff, yay!”  See exhibitions and festivals are not art schools where you get a grade, it’s an opinion you will never know, The opinion of a single juror, or perhaps a team of them.  It’s a flash card moment of exposure to those who decide thumbs up or down.

That is all you get, maybe thirty seconds to a minute.   Most people form an impression within the first five seconds of meeting someone.  I think the same applies to art.  You know immediately if the piece interests you or you like it… for whatever reason.

So I’m at this festival and I spot the the juror for awards.  I saw her coming from a few booths away.  She was slow moving, and it was late in the afternoon as I was one of the last artists to be judged.  I took a cursory glance at my space to make sure everything was in order… and it was.  My art was hanging even, tags nice and visible, I had my business cards out, my booth ID was hung along with all the other little things one needs to have presented in a clean and professional fashion.  So Juror X strolls in, she barely made eye contact with me, and took a 10-15 second drive by, smiled and walked out.  She had already decided who was getting something before she even walked into my tent and just went through the motions to check me off as ‘judged’.  I don’t care if you’re Picasso you can’t assess a dozen paintings in ten seconds, at least fairly.

It’s funny.  I see a lot of the same artists all over the place.  They get into the same shows, frequent the same festivals and many keeping piling up the accolades.  I sense a bit of the Ivory Tower syndrome going on.  Judges who’s paintings are in the shows they jury, the same artists winning nearly 40% of the time they enter certain shows, yes 40% and I’m not exaggerating.  I try to rationalize it all, and I can’t make heads or tails out of any of it.  On a bad day, all this contradicts all the positive things like a tsunami wave cleansing the friends and family  coastline of well wishers and praise.  I feel like an amusement park attendee who lost their ticket.  Oh but the best part of all of it is:  “We encourage you to apply again next year”.. and the year after and so forth and so on.  As Charlie Sheen often says “I’m WINNING!”  HA HA.

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Filed under Random Thoughts