Tag Archives: NWS

Busy as a Bee


Well it has been many weeks since I’ve checked in here, so I’m going to cover some ground and get caught up.  Life have been hectic!  Work has been busy and frustrating over the last month or two.  Things at home seem just as busy and in between all of that I manage to squeeze in some art time.  :-\

The Raven painting got shelved… I got so irritated with the center black book that I had to stop before I killed the entire thing.  It’s been sitting facing the wall in timeout at my studio for about as long as I’ve been neglectful of my blog here.  People ask me about it, and I’ve finally got back into the mood to continue work on it.  My time will be split between The Raven and some commission work I’ve started.  I need to dig in and really get some painting done.

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Speaking of art, I was recently invited to speak about my work at the Eaton’s Studio & Gallery http://www.eatonstudiogallery.com/  Herb and his wife Pam have been most generous in giving me the floor during one of their Wednesday Gather at the Gallery meetings.  I enjoyed talking about my art and how things have evolved over the last four to five years for me.  In addition to this opportunity I was able to whip up a few small paintings for the Friends of the Arts 5th Annual fundraiser for the College of Fine Arts at Illinois State University: http://finearts.illinoisstate.edu/support/postcardart.shtml  I donated two small postcard sized watercolors:  ‘Sunglasses‘ and an untitled painting. Both are 4″ x 6″ postcard watercolors.

ImageImageI’ve come to enjoy working smaller, but it is very difficult to develop the details I savor in my larger work.  I have to truncate a lot of the subtle variations in light and color while trying to achieve the effects I love to show.  I was unable to attend the opening so I don’t know who went home with my work, I hope these little paintings find a good frame and a cozy wall or corner to reside in.  I also finished another smaller painting which is the fifth of my fruit series.  I named it “Intermingling”.  I’m pretty satisfied with these smaller pieces but its time to move on to other subjects.  I’ll probably work in more smaller paintings while I hammer away at large works I have to do.

ImageThe first quarter of 2012 has brought me a few festival and exhibition rejections.  This has been the third year I have applied to the Peoria Art Guilds Fine Art Fair. That is $105.00 in application fee’s out the window.  I won’t be applying again, enough is enough.  I don’t know what they are looking for, I wish I did.  I have friends who get into this show year after year.  I have been around long enough to know my craftsmanship and technique is just as strong, my booth shots just as clean and professional looking.   My work should speak for itself…  I didn’t make the Missouri National nor the AWS.  I missed the Transparent Watercolor Societies deadline, so I’ll still keep trying next year.  I think it’s time to send in some portrait type of work instead of the still life subjects I’ve been shopping around the watercolor society shows.  Just ahead is the IWS’s small waters exhibition, the NWS and Watercolor West’s  juried exhibitions.

“Yes John you can apply to all of these shows, you just need to produce some new work!”

Next weekend is the opening of the Illinois Watercolor Societies 28th National Watercolor Exhibition.  My painting “Made in China” was juried in.  I took a little road trip up to The Next Picture Show Gallery in Dixon IL last Sunday to drop it off.  I got a sneak peak of the other paintings and I must say I am pretty impressed.  I have a few favorites I think are going to pull in some awards.  I’ll be in good company for sure.

The SpringBloom Art Festival came and went.  It was in a new venue this year.  It is a small local indoor show I like to attend because it gets me back into the festival mindset.  I re-learn how to put up my erector set of a tent up while I get insights on improving and tweaking my presentation for later shows in the year.  I am thankful for the help my wife Jenny gives me every show.

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Without her and some muscle from Ed and the other kids, setting up and tearing down would be an ordeal.  My festival agenda is spotty at the moment.  I am on a few wait lists and may get moved onto another.  I hope things pan out so I can attend my hometown outdoor festival and perhaps the 4th Street Festival in Bloomington Indiana.  I was close to the wait list in Columbus this year but I’m getting short on time and unless they call soon, I won’t make it there in June.  Time will tell.

By next post, I hope to have finished a new large commission and have resolved the challenges with The Raven.  More to come!

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Art Galleries, are they worth it?


If my blog was one of my kids, it would have died from neglect.  I can’t count the days that I had passing thoughts about writing something insightful or interesting but the moments passed and I guess I just got caught up in the day.  Days fade into weeks, weeks into months and before you know it your online journal is old and dusty.  It is not just being busy that keeps me away from blogging as much as one ‘ought’ to.  The fact is, at times, I don’t think anything I may write is worth reading.  I guess it’s better to say nothing than to just vomit out posts on the basis of being regular.

Regardless I’ll press on from where we left off at the tail end of August,  galleries.  I really don’t have much experience as an artist interacting with the art gallery scene.  Initially I thought galleries to be a waste of commission money, but I have come to learn that a gallery can be worth the money.  Promoting yourself as an artist requires many different hats, all of which require time to wear.  Most painters I know just want to paint and we all wish the rest would just fall into place, but it doesn’t.  To be successful as an artist, you have to be a marketing manager, a publicist, a web designer, blogger, a tax adviser, business manager as well as the crafter.  Good galleries can wear a few of these hats for you.

Galleries and artists have to possess a symbiotic relationship in order for both to be successful.  I  have found such a gallery, The PodIt is co-owned by artists Bekah Berry and Natalie Wetzel.   The Pod opened last July during our local fine art festival which I was showing in.  As it was a good show for me, I know the The Pod did very well and business was booming those first two days.  Since then, I have established an art presence there and become friends with Bekah, Natalie and their great families.  I have even learned a bit more about what a good gallery can do for an artist.  Hold that thought, I’ll get back to this in a minute.

If you are an artist, ask yourself this:  How do I get my art out there to sell?  Online? Festivals? Contests and exhibitions?  If you have read my blog enough, you will know that festivals are the most labor intensive and risky.  The costs an artist bears is considerable and the ROI is as unpredictable as the weather.  How much online sales have you garnered assuming your website/presence is even capable of e-commerce?  Art exhibitions can also be expensive and usually require original work only.  You have to give up a piece for the duration of a show.  Often the exhibitions will take a little cut of your proceeds if your piece sells.  You have to pay to apply, pay to ship and you wait.  Sales during these events are uncommon if not rare and the competition is tough, so having expectations to take home some prize money is a foolish notion.

Exhibitions are a great way to get exposure.  Often they are covered in national circulated magazines and can draw the attention of galleries, collectors and customers.  They are also a great way to meet and greet other artists, patrons and society organizers.  Most nationally ranked shows such as the AWS, NWS & the TWSA are located in very busy venues that get lots of traffic.  Some even have traveling exhibitions where the show is displayed in several large cities around the country.

Now back to the gallery.  Some offer a co-op where you pay for wall space or rent and keep 100% of your proceeds if something sells.  Others take a commission and still some do a combination of both.  Over the long haul I find the renter type of gallery to be cost prohibitive and in some sense counterproductive.  Think about it, a gallery that is a wall rental operation only has to worry about getting the rent check.  They don’t have to know you, your art,  or even really value your craftsmanship.  Their first concern is paying their rent from the rent checks they collect from the artists.  There is less motivation to sell and often the more art this type of gallery can cram in, the better.  I like to call it wall sprawl.  You will know it when you see it.   Art starts inches from the floor and will go inches to the ceiling, around corners and in places that are not really idea for display.  Pushing maximum density comes to mind!

Combination galleries who charge wall rent and also take a commission tend to be even more costly to the artist.  Often the rent and commission fees are cheaper but together they often surpass the other two types of galleries.  If your art sits in a rental gallery for too long, you are more or less giving it away or losing money.  This forces artists to either up their prices to compensate or bring in larger expensive pieces that can afford to depreciate over rental time and still make the artist some money on the back end of a sale.  Given the economy, who wants to add yet another monthly expense?

When I first considered galleries as an option, my first thoughts were, “50%…. really?  The hell with that.”  Then I got myself going with festivals, and found that not only was I putting in travel expenses and the time and costs of showing at a festival, it was hard work and often unrewarding.  Rinse and repeat this process and soon, 50% seems more appealing.  I don’t have to setup a tent, sit in blazing heat for 12-20 hours and hope sales are enough to warrant the effort.  There is far less risk in damaging my art in transit and I don’t have to worry about inclement weather, setup and tear down difficulties, hotels and all the other intangibles that spring up during a festival.

Alternatively I can walk my paintings down to The Pod gallery, and have them nicely displayed in a place that has far more foot traffic than my studio at a cost I can afford.  The best thing is, Natalie and Bekah are honest, friendly and very energetic about my work.  It’s an honor to be included in their repertoire of artists and I know they have my best interests in mind.  Their rates are very fair and they are flexible enough to allow me to call the shots on what art I hang there and for how long.  I’d go as far to say that they have bent over backwards to accommodate me.

I’m fortunate to have such a gallery just a block from where I paint.  Not all artists are so lucky.  The important thing to remember is what works well for me may not for you.  You may find the festival circuit far more appealing, or the rental gallery option.  Just be sure you cover all your bases before you risk your original art to the hands of strangers.  The risks need to be shared, and if you feel your being steered into a deal that puts everything on you, then just say no.  There are always greener pastures to find, just keep looking.

The Collector hanging in The Pod Gallery: Uptown Normal IL.

Made in China hanging in The Pod Gallery: Uptown Normal IL.

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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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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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