Tag Archives: Art Studio

First Salvos

Sitting back at my command post, ‘the studio’, I ponder over my mental battle plan for this year.  Spread out on my table in front of me is the arsenal I will use.   My first offensive opens with a 22” x 30” still life watercolor.  Flanking this rests an assortment of Kolinsky Kayak brushes (See Paul Jackson if you want a set), two Tom Lynch porcelain palettes well oiled and ready, each loaded with Winsor & Newton Artist Watercolors.  Nestled between the painting and the paint rests three large vessels of water.  The rest of the room is a mess: receipts everywhere, extra paints, folders, notepads, sketchbooks, pencils and just about everything else that has something or another to due with the business of making art.

Late last year, I began to formulate how 2011 would be a more successful year for me.  This meant I needed to produce qualitatively better paintings, which exhibited something more than a journeyman’s grasp of mechanics.  All my paintings are personal, but sometimes I think they are lifeless and don’t hold the attention of a viewer near as long as someone who paints more compelling subjects.  We’ll see how that goes this year.  My first painting, “Reflections in History” is hopefully a step in that direction.

Other elements of my battle plan are to schedule myself three times as many festivals, and participate in several national shows.  I didn’t get into the AWS National, but I am waiting on jury results for the Missouri Watercolor National, the Transparent Watercolor Societies’ National, and Splash 13.  Later next month I will be sending something down to the Louisiana Watercolor Societies National show and later this year my art will hit the jury’s of the IWS and the NWS.   That’s seven contents that I can think of.  I fully expect to get into three maybe four, which would be three or four more than I was accepted in last year.  2010 was a year of member shows for me.  I tried the MOWS and TWSA National’s last year and didn’t make the jury cuts.  I’ll keep painting, and keep entering… eventually something will give and my persistence will pay off!

In Progress image of my first painting of 2011

So far I’m on schedule.  I will have this new painting done in the next week tops, and I will move onto two other pieces and start my drawing commissions finally.  I wanted to get more into the process of this painting I’m working on now, but that will have to wait until my next post.  For now, you will have to settle for a photo.


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New Resolutions

I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions now for several days and wanted to try again to meet my own expectations for the coming year.  Last year I made a resolution to paint one painting a month and read one new book a month.  Both were met with marginal success.  I managed only three books, but I did get nine paintings done, ranging from small illustrative paintings, a Christmas Card and five larger full scale works.  Not bad actually, in light of the fact that one painting took me nearly six months to complete.

So, what is on my plate for 2011?  Well again I want to paint no less than 12 paintings and read as many books.  Also… I need to start drawing again, and I plan on keeping a daily journal, which means I need to draw every day.  Ambitious? Perhaps.  Manageable? Yes if I stay focused and keep my paintings down to a 16″ x 20″ size or smaller.  On top of this, I received a new commission from a good friend who is a writer.  I get to paint the cover of his unpublished novel which will hopefully see the bookstore shelves someday.  The other commission is one that I’ve been sitting on for a long long time.  This is a drawing project that will span about 12 individual pieces of work based solely on mythology subjects.  It will help me get me back to my drawing roots.  I am not 100% sure the customer is still waiting on me, but I’m going to complete the first drawing and present it to him and go from there.  Hopefully it will re-spark his initial interests and get me back into a good drawing regimen.

My first painting of the year will be my third book painting, comprised of three from my own collection.  I am looking forward to starting it and spent a lot of time planning the piece.  The books were carefully chosen and I played with the composition quite a bit before I settled on the image I liked most.  In addition this painting will be documented via  time lapse photography, which will narrate the painting from its pale beginnings to the colorful end.  I believe I will have something unique to draw people into my festival tent when the time comes.  I plan on purchasing a digital picture frame so I can play the images in a fast loop during my art shows.


Books Painting #3

1st Painting of 2011 (Reference Photo)

This year should be pretty exciting and busy.  I want to attend about 6 to 8 art festivals.  I learned a lot in the first four I did last year and I hope my business keeps growing in 2011.  I am going to give my studio until November 2011 to start paying for itself or I am going to pack up and move home and figure out a way to paint there.  This will be difficult given we really don’t have a room for me to work in nor the storage space I need.

Lastly, I am waiting to hear back from the American Watercolor Society, Splash 13 and the Missiouri Watercolor Society on my exhibition entries.  It would be pretty amazing to make the cut for the Splash Book and get into one of the nations premier watercolor exhibitions.  More later…


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In the Doldrums…

Making art and selling art are two different animals requiring a vastly different array of skills and time commitments.  I’ve learned this the hard way since attending my first festival back in the spring.  Generally I have felt ill prepared for all of them, frantic on getting my tent setup, and the hundred other steps it takes to be ready for the first ‘customer’ to roam into the tent.  Things have improved each time, yet I know I have not reached the level of efficiency and presentation I want to be at.  2011 will be the real test for me.  I hope to get into around a dozen shows, which will require careful planning with my day job, my family and vacation plans for the year.

I work full time as a network engineer and do all this art stuff after hours.  It cuts deep into my time at home, my family and our budget.  Most of the time I feel that I that I’ve shot my wad on all these startup expenses: Flourish Tent, Happy Feet Tent Weights, Frames, Mats, a Mat Cutter, Bags, Prints etc.  It probably has cost me somewhere around $5,000.00 give or take a few and I have barely dented into that with sales.  Sitting in a tent with all your ‘gear’ hanging out for everyone to peruse for two days can get discouraging, especially when the vast majority pass through without a even a notion to look at all the art and prints available to them.  Doubt sinks in, slowly at first, but it gets reaffirmed with every passing customer and often I find myself asking: “Why are you even here?”.  “You should not have spent all that money on this, you should have just stayed home”.   These thoughts lurk in the back of my mind more often than I would like, and as I continue spending money, I worry more and more about getting something in return for my time and effort, and the sacrifices my family  has had to endure in order for me to have this hobby.  So I’m out there in the heat, at my second outdoor festival and its about as slow as molasses in winter.  Saturday was dead and I sold one small print which paid for my lunch.  Sunday seemed better, the heat ebbed and there was a nice breeze rolling in, which brought a lot more people out, but still sales were sparse and I was ready to return home still in the red.  I had just three hours left until I could pack up and go home.

Then the most unlikely thing happened at the Washington Art Festival.  While I was out strolling the art show taking a break watching people pass by, my youngest son watched my tent.  Robert is a better salesman than me apparently.  When I came back from my 10-15 minute walk, he said: “Dad there was some people that came in and they really liked your artwork, I think they were close to buying something”.  I said, “Really?” and then dismissed it, since all I had moved up until that point was about four or five 5” x 7” matted prints.

About an hour passed and this time Robert was roaming around and I was tending my wares when a couple strolled in.  I said hi and smiled and tried to give them space to look around without pressure (which is my policy).  After about fifteen seconds they turned and said to me, “We want to buy a painting.” I asked them if they had something in mind, and they pointed to the Original of ‘Liquid Gladiators’, a watercolor I just finished no less than a month prior.  BOOM!  I went from zero to hero in one sale.  It made the show for me and really felt good that a couple that purchased my first non-commission original didn’t know me from Adam.  Then I remembered why I decided to do all this, and all the doubt and pessimism washed away in an instant.  Robert was electric when he walked back in as I was ringing them up.   He is my best fan and it gives me the deepest sense of humility and gratitude when I hear him praise me and pat me on the back saying, “I told you so Dad!”  He smiled like the Cheshire cat for at least ten to fifteen minutes and wanted to call mom right away to tell her.  I managed to keep the lid on it until Jenny showed up to help tear down a few hours later.  I guess that is how art festivals work, moments of feast and famine.

No risk, no reward, right?   I have to remember that, and also keep telling myself I’m on the ten-year career plan.  Ten years left until I can retire from ISU and have the security of health insurance until I’m dead.  In that time, in order to walk away from the 9-5 I have to build this art business up to a level that I can support myself comfortably as long as I wish to keep painting and doing festivals.  I think I’ll know by next year whether this is a fantasy or realistically attainable.  Perhaps something else will happen along the way that will open more doors for me to accelerate my plan.  There are tons of contests I’d like to enter.  Maybe I’ll place in something, and get some coverage in one of the art magazines I subscribe to.  Time will tell.  I think art works like a pebble rolling down a mountain.  If it gets some momentum it can turn into an avalanche.

In progress photo

Right now, I’m in the middle of repainting the studio and getting some track lighting hung so I can finally open my doors to the public.  It really is a nice place and even with all the buildings lack of updates, it does have character and the location is the best in the county as far as art studios go.  I just need to get open… like yesterday.   Aside from the studio, I have my last art festival coming up: http://www.lincolnillinois.com/ABF.aspx I had hoped to get ‘The Collector” finished up but I’m having doubts.  I need to mat another 30-40 prints still, and put in another twenty hours on the painting.  It really is turning out well I just seem to be avoiding it for some reason.  I don’t think I will get prints of it ready in time even if I were to finish it by Wednesday.  So maybe I’ll just get it scanned and worry about prints later and just focus myself on painting.

My wife is heading out Tuesday evening for her 40th birthday.  I tried to surprise her with a  trip to the island of Anguilla, but it proved futile.  She found out like she always does and I realize I would have had to have laundered money; like drug dealer, into a friends account in order to pay for it without her knowing.  Then there was the passport thing, which sorta blew it as well.  So she is out in a few days, and my kids start their first week of school tomorrow.  My plate is full this week and there will be no reprieve until next Monday.  Until then, I have lots to do, and little time to do it.

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Catching Up

Just a quick note here is all I have time for at the moment. Last weekend was busy with the Washington Art Festival, which ended up being a good show for me, though there were evident signs of a struggling economy going on.

Art has been sort of on a stand still over the last week, in lieu of matting prints and preparing for shows. I have one left for the season coming up at the end of this month so I’m going to try to finish the books painting. I have a frame ready so if I can get this done over the weekend, I will have time to get it scanned and have a few prints run off.

I’m also going to open up my studio to the public, keeping hours in the evenings and some on the weekends. I’m hoping since the students are moving in at ISU here that there will be a huge influx of parents looking for something to do in the downtown area where my studio is at. It would be nice to get my place open for others to see. More later, work calls..

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Self-Imposed Deadlines

Have I gone commercial before really opening my doors ‘officially’? Some would argue yes, “John you’re a sell out.”

Sometimes I feel that my desire to be a successful artist has pushed the cart in front of the horse.  For the most part art has been an expensive hobby, though I admit I have seen some successes, yet with the taste I have had I know for certain it’s far from where I would need to be to walk away from my 9-5 job.  I’ve really only had one career in life; so far, and I have enjoyed the field I work in and the people I work with. Yet I don’t love my job, nor do I live to work.  I would like to live as an artist some day soon.  Without self-imposed deadlines and goals, I don’t think I could ever achieve that end.  I’m 40 years old already, and I should have come to this realization when I was 20 but life took me in other directions.

To date, I’ve painted about ten serious watercolor paintings and approximately an equal amount of graphite illustrations since deciding art was something I wanted to pursue.  I’ve been through 27 hours of higher education art classes spanning from community college work to masters level classes, collectively spread out over three different educational institutions.  I’ve found a master painter whom I’ve had the good fortune to learn from and I have built up a wealth of knowledge about the industry in the last four years.  I’ve sought out the advice of other artists, read books, subscribed to magazines and have had a lot of encouragement from my family and friends.  Yet with all that knowledge and support, it comes down to the time commitments required to keep painting watercolors.

You might ask yourself, where the hell am I going with all this, so it comes to this:  the art festival season is about to go into high gear and in order to really get my feet wet and find out whether this hobby has some financial merit, I need to be prepared professionally to present my wares to the public.  The next show is a mere 23 days away, and it’s the hometown show.  A lot is riding on it, as it will be my first real display of work to the public.  Sugar Creek Arts festival, which is run by the McLean County Arts Center is a great art venue.  It draws 1000’s of people annually and is a quality juried show.   Presently I have but seven originals, my tent and prints to sell.  I want to have three additional new paintings done in the next 20 days.  That leaves me a mere seven days for each and little to no time to get prints made let alone the framing taking care of.  Despite this I think I have a good shot at it but I need to focus.

Another caveat to all this is the mounting expense of operating a working art studio.  I quickly out grew my basement and have been working out of a 2nd floor, well lit studio space for a few years now.  I had anticipated being open to the public long ago but I just didn’t pull things together.  I’m out of time now and the art really has to start providing income to cover my desire to remain in the studio and participate in the festival circuit.  If opening the studio up in the evenings, or participating as a vendor in the three festivals I have scheduled for 2010 produces little to no return on my time or investment, I must abandon the studio and return home and figure out how to work out some space to paint from.   I’ll remain vigilant to the festival circuit and expand this to about eight to ten summer shows in 2011.  I’ll know for certain by then whether this would be art career was launched precipitously.  In the end, I’ll know at least I gave it a good try and will have done so without regret.    I was planning on publishing two new images of the two paintings I’m working on, and explaining the process but I need to get back to the painting instead of typing.  So it will have to wait until my next update.   I will post the images I guess so you can at least see the early stages.



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In Between Paintings

Cleaning between paintings is something I usually do.  It seems as my paintings progress, the area around it digresses into a clutter.  After I have pulled the finished painting off of my board and table I wipe down the area, run some water over my porcelain palettes, add fresh water to all my jars, add some paint, clean the brushes and re-organize the table so I can find my notes, mail and have an area to eat lunch at while I’m working.  After all that I finally get to sit down the next blank sheet of paper and start working.  Before I actually put the first drop of water down on the paper the logistics of stretching paper has to happen.

I figured since there is a handful of people reading my blog, I would explain some of the things I have learned outside of the technical mechanics of my art.  Often I have found myself staring at photos of other artists work areas.  It is almost like a puzzle that tells me a little bit about the artist that isn’t often gleaned from their work or some how to book. Often and artists work area is scantly covered and the photos in books or on their websites leave a lot to be desired.  Alas I digress, back to stretching…

Stretching paper seemed easy enough back when I first started doing it in 2007.  Since then I have gone through several generations of how I do this.  I remember the first time I stretched a big painting, I used this brown packing tape that had glue on one side.  All you needed to do was add water and lay it down.  Well that was a one-time mistake I’ll never make again. Getting it off was impossible and I think I tore a layer or two of paper off in places and left most of the brown tape down in others.  It more or less ruined the picture.  Next time around I used painters blue tape, which worked great but when it got wet it came up and I lost my edge, but I’ll get back to that.  Next I tried masking tape, which had much more tack to it than blue tape but it too would pull up paper if you are not careful removing it.  Better yet, masking tape if left down long enough will leave a residue of glue on the edges of your paper, which made it sticky.  I’ve been told using a heat gun or blow dryer to warm up the tape before pulling it up takes care of the glue residue problem, but I have yet to test that theory.

After much trial and error I have come to a solution of using both 3M blue painters tape & masking tape and it has worked very well so far.  Before I can actually stretch anything it has to be soak and wet.  Spraying your paper down with a water bottle isn’t good enough, especially if your using heavy weight paper.  I take a big Arches 30” x 40” 270LB sheet into the bathroom and lay it down on the floor of the shower and turn cold water on it for about 2-3 minutes then flip it over.  Then I’ll pull the paper out carefully, trying not to put any creases in it and carry it down the hall, dripping wet into my studio.  I lay the wet paper down on one of my boards face up. Face up for this paper means the Arches logo embossed on the corner is readable.  Then I’ll use my hand and just flatten out the paper as best I can from the middle to the edges trying to push out any air pockets.  Inevitably they form and can be problematic if they are large or elongated.  90% of the time these surface bumps and waves flatten out nicely once the paper is dry, so don’t worry if you are seeing them when the paper is still drying.  Next I use a staple gun with ½” staples that have the pointed tips on them and I go around about 1”-1.5” in from the outside edge and drive in staples around the perimeter of the paper every 4”-5” inches.  That is about it for stretching, I don’t bother taping yet since the paper is wet.  The staples are important and it’s their job to hold the paper down until its completely dry.  If the staples are not driven in all the way or are loose the paper will pull up and you will have a ridge or better yet a curling outside edge to your paper, or both.  Trying to tape down curling edges is difficult and it’s a slow battle that 270LB paper usually wins.  Besides, taping off the edges so they are completely flat against the board and covered is a waste of good tape.  Leave the edges of the paper exposed and slightly raised will avoid adding surface tension against the staples and to the inside of the painting, which can cause the middle of the paper to bow up.  All you really need is a nice clean edge to contain your pigment.

So once the paper is dry I take it over to my painting table and lay it down.  Some things I also think about is the actually picture size.  As an artist it is good to make artwork that fits into standard frames: 11” x 14”, 16” x 20”, 24” x 36” etc.  So what you tape off here will be filling the hole of your matting once framed.  If you want to put your picture in a 24” x 36” frame, then one must account for three to four inches of matting and probably a two inch frame on all sides.  If you don’t your matting won’t be equal on all sides which may not matter to some but it does to me.  If I have 24” on the short side of a painting, I will lose or plan on losing a total of ten inches, six for the matting, three inches per side, and two more inches per side for the frame.  So now what I tape off should be 14” wide, not 24”.  This will make a huge difference in cost to you if you don’t do all your own framing.  Custom framing is expensive and I personally can’t afford it.  So my short side is done by taping off 14” (top to bottom).  Next I’ll figure on losing the same distance on the wide horizontal side, so instead of 36” I’m down to 26”.  So now my painting is 14” x 26”.  Seems like a lot of real estate gone but in the end if you mat and frame it up, that picture will be quite large on a wall.

Finally back to the taping part.  So I have my measurements and I begin to lay down some 3M painters blue 1” wide tape to form my outside edge of what I paint.  I ensure it is square and I take a minute to knead it down real good onto the paper.  Next I use a piece or two of masking tape per side and go right over the top of the blue tape all the way to the papers edge leaving about a ¼” of blue tape showing.  This give the blue tape the added strength it needs to stay down yet I don’t have the problem of leaving glue down that masking tape often does.  I also try to ensure that the blue tape is on the inside of all the staples, so it lies perfectly flat.  After I drop down the masking tape I’m ready to go.

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