Monthly Archives: May 2011

Reading The Signs

Tracking your own growth and success is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks one can undertake in self-assessment.  If you’re not on a rocket ship to the top of the art world, it can be difficult  to read the signs of success.  Getting outside your own art box can help.

Generally speaking, I tend to underrate my art by being over critical of myself.  By doing this I also tend to diminish others perceptions of my art and me.  Taking compliments used to be as difficult as criticism.  “They are just being nice…” I would say to myself.  Hell I do that, everyone does.  For example, when your girlfriend or wife asks you if they look good wearing the jeans she has on.  A wise man will smile and say “Yes”.  Pause even a moment and you have failed.  Overdo it and become a zealous yes man and you have failed again.

Image from & John BogenschultzDespite the social politeness and courtesies we extend to one another, it has a tendency to fog the lenses a bit, especially when it comes to art.

Lets rewind a little.  2006: I’m 37 and I’m sitting in a evening watercolor class at Heartland Community College.  Nineteen years had passed since I held a paintbrush that wasn’t intended for a wall.  I was the oldest student in the room, I wasn’t sure about much of anything as far as art went.  Was it like riding a bike?  I’d find out in a hurry with another dozen peers to compare to.  Sign number one:  My end of the semester watercolor painting won the best of show at the student art show.  Big deal right?  Not really.  I chalked it up as good luck.  The story goes on… Acceptance into a bachelor’s program three months later, then into a masters program at a fairly prestigious art school twelve months from the day I started at Heartland.  Then comes the first year of art festivals.  Four shows and two originals sold and a best of show to boot.  Yes there were some Dear John’s along the way but considering I was a festival virgin, things went well.

Moving forward to my last blog post two week ago.  I dropped a few names in that post.  It was a huge surprise when I received a thank you email from one of the artists I mentioned.  Small world it seems.  How on earth did he find my blog?  I guess it was the magic of Google.  That means people do read it, and care enough to write – Thanks Dan! –

So my blog is sputtering forward, I’ve been juried into more shows this year, as well as a local Watercolor exhibition hosted by the McLean County Arts Center  Commissions are trickling in, and I’m getting some foot traffic at the studio as well as a sale or two.  Which reminds me that I need to be painting instead of typing.

So if you are reading this and are wondering to yourself  how you are doing as an artist take a bit to reflect on where you were a few years ago and where are you today.  What are the signs telling you?  My signs are telling me that my ship has sailed, and made it out of the bay, ahead is a vast ocean waiting.  Hopefully I’ll be heading into calm waters and red skies.

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Learning from Artist Magazines

I subscribe to a lot of art magazines, probably too many, but I love them.  My favorites are Watercolor Artist, and AA Watercolor.   I rarely read them from cover to cover but I do spot read articles that interest me and I always look at all the artwork.  Someday one of my paintings will be in one of those magazines and maybe I’ll even get some press coverage to boot.

I wanted to share with all of you some observations I put together.  Take from it what you will; it is good information if you are wondering what kind of watercolor artwork is getting recognized nationally.  This is sourced from ‘Watercolor Artist: Feb 2011’ which covered the best paintings of 2010.  Basically it’s a compilation of the top watercolor art societies show winners from across the country.  There were twenty-two paintings listed, so I just started categorizing them by type and size.

The sizes of these paintings varies but the majority; nine, were 22” x 30”.   Seven were larger than this with the largest spanning 40” x 40”.  Six were smaller, again not by much with the smallest at 15” x 30”.  Portraits made up the majority of subjects with six.  Following this were abstracts at four, then images of daily life and landscapes tied with three each.  Trailing behind were two cityscapes and last but not least, a lone still life.  One of the paintings was an abstract portrait, so I counted this in both categories.

What I walked away with is this.  Paint what you want, but go big or go home.  Portraits seem to interest people more than anything because it brings in the human factor and story to a painting.  I honestly liked most of the work, in particular John Salminen’s cityscapes, and Daniel Vangeli’s self portrait.  That year I submitted work to the Missouri and Transparent exhibitions but was turned down.  I met Ken Call up at the Illinois Watercolor Society Members show last fall.  Ken took home top honors at the Louisiana Watercolor exhibition.  Seems to me I’m lurking in the right places and becoming familiar with good artists and show expectations.   I just need to find the right juror who likes what I have to offer.

This year I submitted art to the AWS, TWSA, MoWS, Splash 13 and the Artist Magazine.  I will be sending something to the jury of the NWS and there are a few others I’m eyeing.  From this list I’m showing in the TWSA (Transparent Watercolor Society of America) and hopefully if my luck holds out, I’ll make it into that Artists Magazine exhibition.  The rest turned my work down.  It is progress, albeit slow progress.  If the art festivals I’m in this year all tank , maybe I will redirect some of my energy into other avenues.  Time will tell.

I have a new painting done, three in the works and more news.  Lastly I’ve had some thoughts about expanding into a newer coalition gallery across town.  Stay tuned.

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The Little Art Exhibit

A friend of mine stopped by a few weeks back and asked if I was interested in participating in a little post card art exhibit designed  to raise grant money for art students in need at the university here.  Somewhat enthused I said yes.  We chatted a bit in the studio and as the conversation went on, I became more interested in attending the entire affair.

I had about a week to donate a small post card sized painting so I started rummaging through a lot of my old photos.  One sprang to mind; it was a shot I snatched with my phone that was one of those right time right place photos.  This image has been lurking in the back of my mind since, begging to be brought back to life in watercolor.

Normally I like to work larger, but I had already scaled down to a few 7” x 12” sized paintings and I figured a 4” x 6” would not be too different.  To my surprise, painting this was fun!  There are some interesting techniques to painting small and there is a mastery to be achieved even at this scale.  I’d even argue that smaller art demands more attentiveness and precision.  I got the post card done and turned it in on the last day.  Fast forward to the artist reception.

4" x 6" Watercolor

4" x 6" Watercolor

I was a bit nervous, and didn’t know what to expect.  There were some familiar faces in attendance and it didn’t take too long to get into a mingling mood.  There were 100’s of post cards hanging and I recognized a few and liked about a dozen more.  Two hours later I had strolled the exhibit several times, had a few glasses of wine and even got to vote on my favorites.

Fast forward again to the event opening.  Dressed in business casual, I strolled in last Saturday with a bit more confidence and felt an equal as far as the artist factor goes.  Sixteen of the highest voted pieces were picked out to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.  An entry ticket ran $60.00 but it guaranteed you would walk out with an original piece of art.  In addition there was an open bar and a great selection of Hors d’oeuvres.  I had about ten votes on my little painting, which was well above average but not enough to get on the spotlight auction.

About 100 people attended, there was instrumental live music, plenty of wine and food and things got going once the bidding started on any painting that had more than one claim sticker on it.  The bidding was intoxicating and it was very tempting to just run with it in the excitement.  I had my eye on three pieces, so I put my bid number stickers on all three.   Two of the three had other bid stickers on them, which meant I had to out-bid my competitors.  If you were the lone sticker on a piece it was yours for your ticket price or 50.00 if you had subsequent stickers on additional art.

I had stickers on a figurative watercolor depicting a horses head, a photo of a classic car zoomed in tight on the reflections around the passenger mirror and windows and lastly a vivid landscape crafted by a local artist name Jeff Little.  I lost the bidding war on the horse, was unopposed on the car photo and had more competition on the landscape which was last to be bid on as far as my stickers were concerned.  Jeff Little’s painting finally came up.  He’s a great artist that has been in the craft for a long time.  I am drawn to his work because it is detailed and tight but also displays great color expression and depth.  All his landscapes are well composed, meticulous and very vibrant.

Bidding opened at 60.00 and it jumped very quickly to 100.00.  I opted in around that time and held on till it hit 150.00 before I had to contemplate what the consequences may be for buying art when we didn’t budget for it.  The four glasses of Malbec said to keep bidding, but the “You’re going to get your ass kicked when you get home” told me to put my bid card down and not challenge the 200.00.  Wiser in my old age I had to watch my favorite painting go to another buyer.

The best thing about this was the fact that I met Jeff and got to chat for a spell during the event.  I also met several other people and got to talk to some (yes you Karen!) that I had only been introduced to before.  The Post Card Art show was great, and I’m glad I attended as well as submitted work.  I’ll be back next year for sure, hoping to exceed the $160.00 my picture brought in this year.

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