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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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Painting the Nitty Gritty

So it has come to the last bit of this painting, and I’m not enjoying the work at this point.  It’s all about precision with letters, and I’ve steered myself into a corner I really would have preferred to avoid.  I believe even now as I write this, that the method I have decided on was the only logical way for me to work in small-scale hand painted letters.  Gouache… yes, I said it.  Technically could I call it watercolor? Yes perhaps, but in the true spirit of the medium I think I’ve committed my first cheat in taking the easy way out.

Having just called myself a cheat for using Gouache over watercolor, I don’t think I could have finished this painting let alone be satisfied with it.  The alternative would have me attempting to preserve the white of the paper by masking the letters out so that I could paint the books as I have.  I pride myself on using transparent watercolor and that alone when I paint.  Perhaps I’m being obtuse as an artist, inflexible, or unwilling to delve into other mediums.  Painting with acrylic or opaque pigments, allows you to work in overlapping layers, covering  mistakes and using white where it’s needed.  Watercolor is a different animal and the white is what you don’t paint, layers are transparent and covering mistakes isn’t possible, all you can do is lift and mask and bring out the Xacto in tough situations. So in a sense there is no going back without consequence.  That makes watercolor more difficult to work with, let alone tame and bend to your will.

War of Jewels Detail

Speaking of gouache over watercolor, lets dive into a section of The Collector.  The War of the Jewels book has been a thorn in my side all the way back when I first put down the initial layers of green.  My taping leaked green pigment under it and spilled into the Naples yellow map.  So I resorted to lifting and scraping and really tore up the paper surface, which will forever distort future washes and layers in those areas.  I managed to hide those small disasters well enough and kept going.   Thirty hours later I decided that the horizontal reflection of light on the binding of this book was not bright enough, so I used a Magic Eraser to lift more and did a decent job not damaging the  paper enough to distort future washes.  I was threatening to turn the area into a greenish-yellow mud, so I gave up and moved onto other sections.  Thirty more hours have thus passed and all the books were done less the lettering.  So I had to return to my nemesis, The War of the Jewels book.

I sat staring at it, and finally busted out a few tubes of Winsor gouache and started in left to right.  Assessing my previous attempt to brighten the sun reflection on the green binding, I found myself wanting.  The book looked good, but I knew it would look better if it was whiter, the problem is the letters are white and the reflection runs right along the top ¼ of most of them, whiting them out.  Decisions… decisions.  I decided with as much time as I’ve committed that I’m just going to put the lettering down and be done with it.  So there I went using white gouache and started painting that thick nasty fast drying crap onto my paper.  It seemed to take forever, like trying to paint with toothpaste.  Water it down too much and it looks like milk, to thick it looks like an oil painters canvas.

@$*%^ it!  I thought to myself, and kept going.  I was pot committed already.  After I finished the letters, I stopped and took the board off the desk and set it up vertical to look at it at some distance.  Too white! God…  This was really giving me a fight but at this juncture my stubbornness and vested time was too great to even consider starting over or walking away.  And yes I have done that before.  Fire & Ice was the 3rd attempt, as was Elizabeth.  Their predecessors were cut into pieces for color testing on the backsides.  I have yet to rip up a painting and not attempt a successor though.  I’m sure it’s bound to happen at some point.

I put the board back down and added in more gouache over the letters to blur them out in the sunlight.  It sort of worked, but after gouache dries it doesn’t look as pleasant to me so I have to fix it again.  I could mask the Jewels book off entirely using tape and hit it with a Magic eraser until I have nothing left in its place but tinged white paper… then I could start from scratch and fix that light reflection as well.  However, I don’t trust the tape or myself enough in isolating the book sufficiently to prevent lifting what is adjacent.  Or, maybe I will get lucky?

The Collector-In Progress

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Chasing Trains

This last weekend was very enjoyable, except the part where I had to wash the entire outside of the house on Sunday. Other than that major choir, I had a great time with my son Robert. We went up to Chicago and spent the evening together. Robert has never ridden on a train, so I decided to drive up to Joliet and take the Chicago Metra up to the city proper and walk to the IWS Members show reception from the train station.

We got a late start out of Bloomington but we still had a spare 30 minutes to get to the Joliet station… until there was a lane closure about ten miles south of our exit. That wiped out the cushion of time we had. After crawling at five miles per hour for what seemed an eternity, we finally broke free of the logjam and had a mere fifteen minutes to get on the train. Unfortunately we were still ten miles away from Joliet. The alternative was to hop back in the car and drive the rest of the way up: dealing with the downtown Chicago traffic and parking.

Lady Luck was with us, that day. I used my phone to GPS us about a block from the train station, which had our train sitting on the overpass as we drove by it. I took the first right after the station and it was a residential street with free parking and space, so I didn’t hesitate. Robert and I flew out of the car as soon as the wheels stopped. I made poor Robert sprint a

bout two and a half blocks. I was ahead of him some trying to get the conductors attention before he got on. Robert and I boarded and sat there out of breath for about twenty minutes as we cooled off from our mad dash.

The rest of the evening was very enjoyable. We pulled into Chicago with a good ten to fifteen minutes before the artists reception started. So we leisurely walked several blocks to the show and spent a few hours mingling about and looking at all the artwork. Several of the paintings I had picked out the week prior won, including on of my favorites by artist Ken Call. His painting won the best of show. I gave Rob the camera and he took quite a few good pictures, including Ken’s so I must include these here. ☺


IWS 2010 Members Best of Show Painting

Deep in thought?

IWS 2010 Members Show Winners




We finally moseyed out and headed to a German restaurant around the block and had a nice dinner at The Berghoff, another first for Robert that night. Finally we boarded the 8:40 train and rolled back to Joliet. It was a bit after ten when we got back to the car and around midnight when I pulled in to the house. It was very difficult to keep awake and I was struggling the closer we got to home.

There is no better way to get to Chicago than a train ride. It takes away all the hassle of traffic and allows you to relax. I just wish there was a better alternative to Amtrak; their prices are not very good, nor is the quality or efficiency of the ride itself. I forgot how much I enjoy the city, and I really would like to spend more time up there, mainly to take pictures for more painting references and to enjoy the plethora of great restaurants and cultural attractions Bloomington seems devoid of. I’d like to close this off with a promise to start talking more about some of the art techniques and processes I have as I work through my paintings.

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Laying the Foundations

It’s lunch now, and I’m sitting here in the studio on a brisk Monday formulating this post in my head.  I just got an email from the Illinois Watercolor Societies’ Tony Armendariz, informing me that my painting ‘Reading Time’ was juried a merchandise award at the 2010 Members Show in Chicago this last Friday.  That is a pretty wonderful thing, but it made me think of how many 1000’s of other artists are competing for attention and recognition just in Illinois alone, let alone the rest of the country.   How can I rise up to be noticed?  I don’t think I have reached far beyond my family and friends as far as my trade name goes in the art world.

Is it luck that some artists become up and coming on the national scene, is it ambition, or perhaps it is pure talent, or could it be knowing the right people at the right time?  I think from where I am standing, looking up from the first rung on the ladder of art success, is that success itself is easy to talk about, difficult to visualize and exceedingly tough to make a reality.  Art has never been a necessity for people, it’s a luxury and in tough economic times, even my art budget suffers.

I believe the ingredients to art success, ought to start with some technical ability first, followed by creativity, discipline, business smarts and last but not least, exposure.  I’m sure there are plenty of ‘closet’ artists out there who are brilliant, yet their work is remains unknown and unappreciated by others because of a lack of exposure.  The art world seems fickle; some artists are embraced by the critics, the masses and even fewer reach fame, all for a variety of reason.  Other artists are overlooked, perhaps undeserving so the question remains why?  I don’t have the answers, so I can only speculate.  There is a wealth of information out there if your willing to look for it, which I have made every attempt to do.  I do think timing as well as knowing the right people along with a bit of luck along the way helps a great deal.

After the twenty year art drought ended for me back four years ago, the notion that I was not good enough began to erode away, but it took four years, a few awards and a lot of compliments from strangers to really break free of that mindset.  Today, on this cool Monday, I no longer think that my work is substandard to my peers, or that I should give up my dreams.  Rather I am beginning to think more positively and pursue opportunities that are sitting there waiting for me.  The AWS and NWS organizations come to mind, as does the plethora of artist magazines who sponsor calls to artists every year.  The watercolor societies I’m already a member of have great shows, which I have been privileged to be part of, at the national and membership levels.  Then there is the festival circuit, which has been a nice revenue generator for me.  Toss in a web site, maybe a good blog, even a studio and the willingness to travel to shows in larger cities and I think I have all the necessary ingredients to continue to grow and take a few more steps up the ladder.  No one is going to promote me other than me, and the notion that some rich patron will sweep me off my feet and carry me to the New York art scene is ridiculous.

Yet, there is still doubt…  When I dropped off my painting to the IWS show Friday, I had the chance to walk the show and view all of the 42 paintings there, and by god many of them were damn good.  I immediately picked out my favorites and knew that ‘winning’ something would be a challenge for anyone in the show.  Yet I felt I was in good company, and had a competitive chance at being noticed.  So when that email from Tony arrived in my inbox, it put a smile on my face.

So now what?  Well I need to paint more as I have already preached about here in the past.  Some paintings come easy, along with the ideas to create them; other times, everything becomes a struggle and it feels as if the work will never get done.  Therein lies the discipline to work through the lulls and keep focused on goals and improving with each piece I paint.  I still remember my New Years resolution to paint one painting a month and read a book a month.  I have failed both, but marginally with the paintings and significantly with the reading.  If by December I can finish another five to six pieces, I will have been successful.  Presently I’m still working on ‘The Collector’, (see below):

In Progress photo of my latest watercolor painting

I’ve considered renaming this to “Lord of the Books’ but it sounds a bit cliché.  What do you think about the names?  Do they matter really?   Post a reply here with your choice of name or if you have another in mind by all means say so.  Wow… that was two posts in two days, what the hell is wrong with me.  >;-]  Maybe I should take a blog break until December!  Just kidding, I’ll be back around here soon.  Cheers.

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