Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Things other than art worth writing about

Painting with my Dad, Maurice Jarre and dreams of Grand Prix

I’ve never been a big concert goer, but music has been a big part of my life, especially when I paint.  As a child when I was stuck home on a sick day or something I often would head over to my dad’s record collection, and listen to his music, instead of watching TV.  This is where my love of soundtracks started.  Albums like the Molly Maguires, Zulu, and Maurice Jarre’s Grand Prix were always some of my favorites.

Grand Prix

Some of the LP’s had a few pages and photos of the films they were scored for.  It was just enough to spark the imagination, yet a far cry from how spoiled society is nowadays with just about everything online.  I think it was a simpler more elegant time then, or I’d like to believe that at least.

I think I’ve tracked more hours listening to soundtracks than perhaps any other style of music.  It’s all instrumental and it sort of carries me away to places, times and things I would day dream about.  When I paint, the first thing that usually happens is getting some music playing after I prep everything to get started: beverage, fresh water, wet brushes and juicing up the palette.  More often than not, Grand Prix gets played, and I drift away at times, imagining I’m one of the famous Formula 1 drivers of the 60’s, when racing was pure and UN-commercialized.

Actually I’m listening to Grand Prix right now.  🙂


Therein lies an immortal tie to my father; his music, embedded in me.  He didn’t go out of his way to bestow his taste in music on me, most of the time he would put his old school headphones on and spend hours changing records and listening.  His music was always there, and even though there was no Thriller or Pink Floyd album in his collection, there was an abundance of soundtrack LP’s and hundreds of 45’s from his era of music growing up.  I wonder if he knows how much I listened to his records?  He worked a lot of nights in the insurance business then so I didn’t see him as much when I was little.

When I look back at photos from then I really appreciate what family memories I still have of those moments captured in old images.  Moreover I see myself in my dad, raising kids and doing the best you can with the cards you have been dealt.  So now when Grand Prix plays, I get a mix of those youthful dreams of racing, and fond memories of my dad’s records, our times together and the gift of youth that has washed away from both of us as the years have gone by.

He doesn’t know any of this of course as I have only seen him once in the last decade and we have only spoken a few times in recent years.

So I will leave you with this, next time you see a new watercolor of mine, know that I was painting with my dad and our music.

Dad & Me

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Kicking the can (still)

Just a few notes to break to engine seize on my blog, after all it’s a new year and I’m still painting!  🙂

I’m currently exploring a new website design.  I’ve reached out to co-workers and that has fallen flat twice now.  So a call; via Facebook, for available web guru’s went out and I think I’ve found the right person.  Anyways I’m excited again about a re-design.  More later on this as things progress.

I’m still struggling with time management, go figure… My nemesis of paintings sits on my desk spiting me to attempt to put the finishing touches on it and I look at it like a tax audit needing my attention.  I’m not happy with this, and I so much wanted it to be a cornerstone piece into sci-fi fantasy art yet I feel I have failed even before its done.

What inspires me lately has been the recent Spectrum 20  It’s the past years best in science fiction & fantasy art.  I sat up last night paging through the book dreaming a bit, ranking each piece with a “I like” or “I don’t like” and at times in awe of the creativity of some of the artists therein.

How awesome would it be to see my own work in that book.

More tidbits later…

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If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.
Sun Tzu


A few weeks back one of my best friends; Daniel Ionson: shared with me an audio book titled: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  My friend is a good writer trying to chisel his way into the novel market.  Danny and I have similar tastes and he has a great eye for books.  Anyways, he told me this Pressfield book hits it on the head, so I said sure send it my way.  [Steven, if you ever read this, I promised myself to buy a real copy of your book.]

Anyways after a few weeks of procrastination, I uploaded it to iTunes and started it just the other day while painting Ionson’s novel cover.  It only took about 30 seconds to realize this book was for me.  The forward by Robert McKee left me wondering where the hell was Pressfield the day I needed his words the most: when I decided to enlist instead of exploring art school with any real conviction.

As I listened the prose carried into my soul like one of Caesars speeches to his legionnaires.  Chapter one hit me like a laser guided bullet.  The words were as right as rain.  I wasn’t just listening and painting, I was soaking Pressfield in like a dry sponge does water.  I will admit I’m only about 25 minutes into the audio book but I feel like I’m better informed and educated to fight the battles ahead that will assure me art success.  If you follow my blog and are too wondering what it is I’m exactly talking about with this Pressfield book, simply open another browser window, and paste this link in:

You will thank me later.  🙂

So what I have decided after taking in just a piece of Pressfied’s The War of Art, is to find an artist retreat somewhere, off the grid with NO internet, NO cell, NO TV!  Nothing but my paints and paper.  I’m going to find out what I’m capable of as a full time painter.  Call it an extreme artist makeover.  I’m hoping to find a scenic quiet place with a great view away from the world.  That is my self motivational kickoff to turning a new leaf.

Any location suggestions with vacancy maybe late next spring or early summer?

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A Day In The Life

    “I read the news today, boy
    About a lucky man who made the grade” 

John Lennon

There is a false sense of security one can wrap themselves in when accolades start coming your way.  This year has been very good to me in the awards department.  I pulled in $1650.00 in prize money in three out of four juried shows I attended.

Lincoln Art Festival Best of Show

Lincoln Art Festival Best of Show

Make no mistake, winning awards is great, they are confidence builders and nice annotations to the art resume.  They don’t equate to sales; 2012 was far better for me.  I think of what new paintings I had showing compared to last year: only four small 5″ x 7″ marble paintings and one 5″ x 7″ fruit.  The latter was only on display for my last show in Lincoln Illinois.  Ultimately I feel my booth presentation improvements have helped considerably.  It’s a bit easier to spruce up a tent than it is to churn out 20 new paintings.  Consistency  and uniformity in frames, mat quality and cutting as well as professional signage are all important elements to having a good both presentation.  Yes the art is what matters most.  I feel as if I am riding on the coat tails of my older paintings.  Why?  Let me explain.

Working a full time day job sometimes makes painting after hours seem like a second job.  Often I get home and simply don’t feel like painting.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t want to paint, I just don’t feel motivated to start after working all day.  Ever feel like that?  Yes I know, the picture isn’t going to paint itself, you’re right.  I want to paint but I simply don’t start.  I’m sure there is some pill for that.

Don’t let me fool you, I don’t dig ditches, throw trash or haul bricks all day.  I don’t even walk uphill to work.  Quite the opposite actually.  Rather I sit on my ass in a shared office, doing a tech job that isn’t very fulfilling.  It’s a paycheck; a good one, but one that I do because I must.  I am one of those guys who works to live, not vice versa.  I wish I liked my job, but I don’t.

Ultimately my art must be able to completely replace my 9-5 income, before I quit my daily grind.  I guess that’s my dream, to wake up being my own boss, and yes, get paid for it.  Sounds ambitious right?  Perhaps, but who wants to work a long day and not get paid?  Wouldn’t you rather do something you love to do and make good money at it? Isn’t that the dream, getting paid doing what you love.

Staying motivated is the key.  Having discipline to work regardless of motivation is the answer.  Regardless of talent hard work is the difference between success and failure.  There are no less than 20-30 paintings in my head that are worth painting.  How long is it going to take?  I don’t know, but none of them will get finished unless I get my butt in front of my stretched paper and start.  I have to make the grade, by my standards.  I’m lucky to have accomplished what I have since taking up the brush back in 2006.  Right now I feel like my output is sitting at a D.  So I’ll leave you with a bullet point list of helpful thoughts.

  • Paint at least two hours a night, five days a week
  • Sketch Daily
  • Blog twice a week
  • Start using a art calendar
  • Read more art related material
  • Have short term, mid term and long term goals written out
  • Take a workshop from another artist
  • Open my Amazon store front
  • Sync my FB/Blog and website with updates
  • Get my website redesigned using a WordPress theme
  • Daily Painter
  • Seek out quality galleries

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Art that is Personal

Conveying something personal in my art has been one of the most challenging parts of painting.  I’ve learned, albeit slowly,  that mechanics and craft aren’t everything.  Connecting your creations to the viewer is another skill altogether.  I think the artists at the top of heap are masters of both mechanic and the transcendent.  Art has as many meanings to people as there are opinions in this world, however there are some things that I think are universal.

People want a narrative, a story or something they can relate to.   That is why music, movies and books are constants in entertainment.  Before there were words, or instruments there were pictures.  The pictures that have a narrative to them as well as fine craftsmanship and uniqueness become timeless.  Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s David or his work in The Sistine Chapel are fine examples of a narrative that transcends the artist and becomes something greater.

I’m going to tangent here, but I hope in the end all this will tie together.  I’ve been writing down ideas I get for future paintings.  Right now the list is up to fifteen, and will probably grow.  I’ve found this helps a great deal when I am sitting down debating what to start next.  There is a trend developing in the list and that contains the human element.  If you go back to my previous blog post about Learning from Artist Magazines, I mentioned that the largest chunk of award wining paintings were portraits.  My list has six ideas that incorporate the figure or portrait in some fashion.  The last entry on the list was about this lucid dream I had the other day:

It was a bright summer day and I was lounging in a park near a small stream.  The grass was a lush green and the sun was bright that afternoon.  There were trees and birds and bugs flying about their business.  I think I was with someone but I don’t recall because I never saw them, but I was as I am now.

Ahead maybe a half a blocks distance, just down stream, was a young couple walking with their small boy.   He must have been five or six tops.  The trio glowed in the summer sun and were happy.  As they drew near I recognized them to be my parents but they were young and vibrant and smiling.  It felt so real and I just watched them walking.  The little boy broke out ahead of them towards me, a bit wobbly in his step.  He wore what I thought was a little boy scouts outfit, with the bandana around the neck and a tan shirt but there were no patches or anything.  Khaki shorts and brown sandals hugged his chubby legs and feet and he had the most curious look.  He stepped right up to my feet, and smiled.

I lay there looking at myself as a child.  It was surreal.  I glanced back up to my mom, who could not have been a day older than thirty.  She gave me a short motherly stare; as if she was reading my mind, and smiled, knowing somehow, without a word spoken between us, that little Johnny would remain innocent of the situation.  I smiled and cast my gaze back upon the boy in front of me.  He said to me, “My name is John.. as he smiled revealing a missing front tooth.  I replied, “That’s my name too”.  We talked for a few minutes, and there was a desire for me to tell him some words of wisdom about us, but in the end I could not bring myself to spoil it.  Moments later the trio: my Mom, Dad and me said goodbye and walked away just as they had come.  The scene passed…  I woke up.  I remembered this with such clarity.  It was one of the most unique dreams I’ve ever had, and I really wish I could go back to it.

This will be my first self-portrait attempt in watercolor.  This scene… It’s perfect in every way and I can’t begin to describe the feeling I had inside the dream, and just thinking about it brings a range of emotions and thoughts about my life or what could have been had dreams become reality.

I’m not a portrait painter yet.  I’m a still life painter for the most part.  Just as I desired to do complex still life work when I first started, I quickly realized that I had to learn to walk with watercolor before I could run.  Some subjects were beyond my ability.  I very much want to jump feet first into this self portrait, but I need some time to hone the art of portraits to a level that my still life work presently resides.  Anything less and I will be disappointed.

Ultimately, I want to incorporate more into my still life work and begin to paint people.  I see surrealism around the corner, and by the time I work through my list of fifteen, I think my art will begin to speak to a wider audience.  Maybe one of my paintings, will transcend my time here and speak to future generations in a way my earlier work was unable to do.  Time will tell.

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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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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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The Deep Pensive

Today was as ordinary as any other December day I suppose.  I went to work, went through the routines of the day and packed up at 4:30.  As I strolled to my car I began to drift out, leaving work at work.  It has always been easy for me to check out mentally from the daily grind.  Often music triggers this, and it has the ability to carry me to places I wish I could go:  distant shores, serene forests, lush mountains and places I’ve often read about in fiction or movies I’ve seen.

I long to be free from the mundane struggles that consume so many hours of our lives.  The older I get it seems that technology itself is a struggle, in that it seems to take up a bigger and bigger role in my life.  It is as if technology has become a pervasive necessity to everyone, with its hooks cutting deep.  Technology is inescapable really, and practically everywhere we go throughout our day, it’s there.   It is ironic in a sense, my view of technology now as opposed to say even two to three years ago.  I’ve become a technology whore, and it feels like I’m drowning in it.  Eight hours a day my job submerges me in it.  On top of the job, add to every waking hour: on the fly emails, text messaging, alerts, streaming music, social networking, twitter, smart phones, online gaming, cable, satellite, DSL, Ethernet, PC’s, printers, laptops, ipods, ipads, and you have more or less defined ½ the civilized world by the objects they use.  You see as much as I’d really like to check out, I can’t.

Even as I type this, in the coffee shop downstairs from my art studio, more people are sitting with laptops (myself included) than not.  What are they all doing? Blogging like me? Facebooking, surfing?  What they are not doing is talking, rather they are texting because they are plugged in.  “The Matrix has you…” really makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?  Perhaps I’m being negative and judgmental, but for me I think I would be far more productive as an artist with most of these technology trappings gone.   I could live without cable TV, a smart phone, my laptop, and hell even the internet.  Yes it would be hard, but I bet would have met my 2010 New Years resolution to paint twelve new paintings and read twelve books.  I managed to finish four new paintings and I am on my third book, so I’m achieving 25% of my goals, which if we were in school would be an F.

I don’t even remember what it was like to not be reachable 24/7.  How the hell did we survive the past 2000 years without instant communication anywhere we happen to be at?   When is the last time you had a moment of solitude, without your phone handy, the TV on or anything?  Can you think of a time in the last month that you went anywhere in public and didn’t see someone texting or talking on their phone?  When is the last time your wrote a letter, yes actually wrote a letter and mailed it with a stamp?

What is my point?  I guess it would be to try unpluging for a day, which may be harder than fasting for a day.  Well as hard as that seems, not painting for even a few days makes me feel as if I’m wasting away, procrastinating.  I guess that makes art as integral to my being as technology is to society today.  All I need is some good old fashion pigment, paper, water and some brushes and yes some good Vangelis music.  Before long I’ll find myself in the deep pensive, painting and ‘checked out’ from everything and everyone.

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Thoughts about the studio

Well it’s been almost a month since my last post here.  I’ve finally opened the studio up to the public.  If I had to guess, I think I’ve had the sign down on the sidewalk half a dozen times and have had two people come up over the course of the last week or two.  I think being up stairs is a big deterrent for people.

Ok, I’m trying to write this while I’m watching the Bears implode… Cutler is out after 9 sacks in the first half and Todd Collins got hit hard too, and is out.  Seems we are doomed to lose to the Giants.

Back to this art stuff.  I had a chance to attend the Itaska Art & Wine Festival, but I opted not to go.  There were some red flags I was concerned about:  the jury fee was waved, and the organizers were taking applicants up to the week of the show and I really didn’t feel like spending ~$500.00 just to get up there and show for three days.  A fine artist I met at the Lincoln show attended and I’m hoping to hear back from her about the show.

I worked on some smaller pieces for a fundraiser a few of my friends organize.  They turned out fair enough; I spent only about two hours on each, including matting them.   I hope they generate some money for the American Cancer Society.  This sort of set me back on resuming work on “The Collector” until today.

Oh I almost forgot, I decided on short notice last Wednesday to enter into the Illinois Watercolor Societies Members show.  That required me to take a painting up to Chicago for hand delivery to the American Academy of Art up on Michigan Ave.  So I grabbed ‘Reading Time’ and took the train up on Friday AM and got back later that evening.  It was nice to meet the President of the IWS, Tony Armendariz.

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Five Questions

Another artist I have been following since finding her online is Crystal Cook.  She does a wonderful job blogging about her work and has some great talent in watercolors.  Her Five Questions seem fun, and after that long ‘Uncreative’ in the watercolor category,  I thought it would be good to answer these.  I’ve tagged her in this link at the bottom so that you read her answers as well as mine, and if you care, post up the same five questions on your blog and link my blog and Crystals, you can proliferate the fun. 🙂
Where were you five years ago?

I was busy working on projects inside our new home that we purchased.  We were several months settled in and had lots to do.  I wasn’t doing any artwork and had not even thought about going back to the university to take some art classes.

Where would you like to be five years from now?

I would like to see my son off to a good college , and my daughter and youngest son enjoying their high school years very much.  I’d hope to be established with my art to the point it can pay for itself.  It would be nice to have made signature status with the MoWs, TWSA and have a well rounded festival circuit to attend yearly.

What is/was on your to do list today?

Finish this painting, take some new photos of some still life ideas I have and get to work on the next painting after I go see Robin Hood with my boys.

What five snacks do you enjoy?

1. Kettle Krinkle cut sea salt & pepper chips

2. Mandarin Oranges & Pineapple over Cottage Cheese

3. Dark Chocolate

4. Oranges

5. A good apple with some peanut butter

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?

1. I would quit my job tomorrow and paint full time.

2. Pay off all my/wifes debts: student loans, house, college funds, retirements etc..

3. Travel the world for a year with my family.

4. Find a nice home in some scenic mountainside away from the grind of city life

5. I would give money to select friends, family, in particular my sister her children and my parents.  In that I would build a 50M Aquatic center for swimming, a new Gymnasium for St. Mary’s school, and setup some scholarships for Fine Arts and studio programs to help younger artists realize their dreams.

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