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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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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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Learning from Artist Magazines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 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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Too Many Letters…

My Lord of the Rings Book Collection

When I took the photo of my Lord of the Rings Book collection back in October of 2007, I thought how great it would be to be able to paint it.  I knew then that I didn’t possess the skill to pull a painting like this off.  It was the letters that seemed impossible to ‘not’ paint.   Jumping forward three years, having finished this endeavor, I learned that my initial instincts were right.  I spent as much time on the letters or trying to work around them as I did painting everything else in the painting.

My best guess on time invested into ‘The Collector’ is approximately 100 hours.  Worth it? Yes now that I’m done.  During the process as the weeks turned into months I was sick of the painting and wanted it to be over.   I began the painting on June 20th working at the same time I started ‘Liquid Gladiators’.  June 20th!  It is almost December 20th… six months & 100 hours for one piece.  If I was a general that would be a pyrrhic victory wouldn’t it?  Hard to make this a living when it will generate me $1200.00 assuming I sell it.  Well, the hell with the math and time, it’s about the process and this one taught me some things.

First and foremost, letters are a process in and of themselves.  If anything requires ultimate precision it is lettering.  We are so used to typed print: Word, Photoshop, Illustrator, and the perfect text we see in almost everything we read.  I tried to hold myself to that standard with my hand and a paintbrush.  Close was the best effort I could muster.  After staring at the picture with a 0 & 00 round brush trying to paint a font that was maybe 8pt in size things just got blurry and I had to take breaks and take off my glasses due to the strain.  It’s hard to believe that the delimiter of my painting is going to by my eyes and not my willpower.

As much as I pride myself on being a transparent watercolor painter, I had to resort to opaque paint (gouache) to get the job done.  I relied upon this with about half of the books, and used masking for the other half.  White was also used to add in some highlights and it helped to compliment the metallic watercolors I tried out.  Overall I’m happy with my work and based upon early feedback from my friends and people on Facebook, this seems to be a very successful edition to my portfolio.

If I was a digital painter, I think this painting would have further benefited from what you can do with lighting effects.  It is very difficult to simulate sunlight on metallic lettering at such a small scale and make it believable.  The painting is a small step closer to who I am as an artist.  The subject itself speaks some truths about me though the image isn’t very narrative of anything particular unless of course you know me well enough, then I think the revelation manifests.

Hopefully this small step will be a turning point for me in moving my artwork into a more personal, thought provoking direction.  I’ve always had a strong interest in fantasy illustration and really letting my imagination come to life on the 2D.  The Collector skims the surface of a deep ocean of ideas I have.  There will be fantasy paintings in 2011, and I think there will be an audience for them just as I’m sure this painting has already.  Maybe then something deeper will be revealed in my work.  It is December 5th and the Spectrum 17 just hit the shelves and it is a swirling mass of painting ideas wrapped up in one book.  I get the itch to move over to fantasy every time I pick one up.  It is one of my favorite things about December each year.

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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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