Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Don't Get Mired!

     I wanted to talk to you today about something that might seem trivial, but can actually impact your painting in a huge way.  Have you ever considered switching up your brush selection?  Too many watercolorists (in my humble opinion) get mired in a rut of using the same three brushes.  I know there is a sense of security in familiar brushes, but don’t get stuck with playing it safe with your “tried and trues”.
     We’ve discussed some of my favorites in the past, but let’s go a bit more in-depth.  Let’s look at some brushes you might not have considered.
     ROUNDS – Let’s get our Rounds on the table right off the bat.  We all have our favorites and 95% of our painting is probably done with some type of round.  My favorites are Winsor & Newton Series 7s and Silver Brush Co. Black Velvets.  These are my most used, “workhorse” brushes and I am guilty, like most, of leaning on them too often.  They’re a must, but let’s look at an opportunity to use a different brush.

     CAT’S TONGUE – I discussed the Cat’s Tongue in an earlier posting.  This has become a staple in my paint box.  The Cat’s Tongue allows the artist to produce a wide range of paint applications.  Fine cut-ins and larger washes can be done with the same brush.  I find it particularly useful for painting backgrounds around foreground images.  The Cat’s Tongue also charges up with a lot of water, which I find a plus.
     My next favorite brush is a LANGNICKEL 5590 Sable Flat.  Richard Schmid made these brushes famous when he used them for his oil paintings, but the Sable charges up nicely for watercolor work, too.  They last forever when used as a watercolor brush and are relatively affordable.  When you want a flat hard edge, the Langnickel fits the bill.  I also like to buy cheap synthetic flats in small sizes, for doing small details like rope work.
     My final suggestion for a change in your brush inventory falls into the Round Category.  These brushes are made differently and have an interesting look.  Typically, the ferrule is wrapped with plastic and wire.  The brush is full-bodied, and holds a lot of water.  It makes a large, round stroke and I find it particularly useful for foliage and plein aire painting.  I actually have two favorites that I prefer:  the Isabey #0 Onyx in Kolinsky Sable, and Winsor & Newton Series 250 Squirrel brushes in sizes 2 and 3.  
     Give these brushes a try and see if they don’t change up your technique and add a new dimension to your paintings.  Good luck!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Idol Worship

     Well, the best part has passed.  My favorite part of American Idol is watching the privileged, coddled ninnies being told they can’t sing.  We’ve discussed this point before, but it bears repeating.  If you can’t self-critique your own craft, you’re doomed to a career of mediocrity.
     The scenarios are all generally the same:  a clueless 15-year-old steps up to the mike, with years of Mom telling them they have some kind of gift.  After falling flat and being told, “singing isn’t your thing”, the 15-year-old begs, whines, stammers, lashes out and then runs crying to Mommy.  And so, where does that leave them?

Norman Rockwell's Art Critic 

     I personally feel being able to self-critique is the strongest fundamental act that we as artists can engage in.  Think about it.  The very nature of painting and drawing requires a constant scrutiny of the process.  Is this the right color note?  Am I putting it in the right place?  Is this the shape I’m seeing in my subject?  The very process of creating is a series of self-critiques.
     The culmination of all these previous critiques is a finished painting, which itself will receive scrutiny.  What can we do as artists to perpetuate quality?  For one thing, we can have a strong group of honest peers who are interested in furthering our craft with their advice and instruction.  Let them speak honestly about your efforts and leave your ego at the door.
     But the real power we possess is our own honesty.  When that small, still voice says it’s garbage and you know in your heart it is, then start the process of evaluating your work.   Is it a drawing problem?  Is the color wrong (value, hue, chroma)?
     By asking these questions, we can find where we strayed and fix the problem.  Painting is nothing more than correcting a series of mistakes until there is nothing left to fix.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Throw Some Curve Balls!

      I bought this month’s American Art Collector magazine, and as usual, it’s interesting to see what is going on in the world of art.  I had two thoughts after perusing the entire issue:
     #1) Most artists have a distinct niche
     #2) I like leaving the niche every so often

     Let’s look at #1.  From the moment we start painting for ourselves, we try to make a statement.  We basically paint what motivates and excites us as artists.  I have enjoyed painting working cowboys for the past 16 years.  The cowboy genre has been good to me, and as long as I find motivation from ranch people, I will continue to tell that story.
     But every so often, it’s nice to take a different road.  This, in my opinion, is artistically healthy for several reasons.  If for nothing else, absence makes the heart grow fonder, even in art and subject matter.
     Over my career I’ve veered into several different subject matters that were all satisfying, and continue to be.  

Out Of Utopia

Here is a small list of detours I’ve taken:
1)     Fly-fishing
2)     Montana landscapes (specific to Manhattan, Montana)
3)     Rooster fighting (I enjoyed roaming around the characters that are drawn to this underworld
4)     Argentina Gauchos
5)     Still lifes inspired by Chardin and Daly (Flowers, teacups, thistles, the sky’s the limit)
6)     Dog portraits (specific to working dogs I’ve known)
7)     Fly portraits (I find hand-tied flies from the “old school days” fascinating
8)     Family portraits
9)     Even a tack room (extremely satisfying, but detailed)

Memories Of Afghanistan 

     I can hear you now, “But, Mark, everyone says I need a hook, a niche, a box I can be put in that the gallery can sell.”  This is the same old song and dance.  Everyone will know if your painting has been painted for you, or for the check---it comes through loud and clear! If you are painting from the heart (something that genuinely moves you) that comes through even louder and with much more clarity.
     This week I can add my first nocturne to my efforts.  Night scenes in watercolor are difficult and my effort was no different.  But it was satisfying and I’m happy with my final painting.  In the end I painted 95% of the painting with two colors, but that remaining 5% made the painting.  It was a thrill and rewarding!

Waiting For The Night Guard

     You may be more comfortable winding up your two-finger fastball that has never let you down.  But every now and then, it doesn’t hurt to keep them on their toes.  Throw the curve!

Friday, February 4, 2011

An Artful Conversation

     I spent last Saturday hunting quail at the King Ranch with my friend, painter Mikel Donahue.  Mikel has been on a roll, and his artistic hot streak seems to be only picking up more steam. 

Fellow artist George Northup on the hunt.

     Our conversation started with what art shows we were doing, which seems to be a hot topic when artists get together.  However, we moved to the real meat of the conversation and started a great discussion on self-marketing. 
     It’s nice to have common ground with a peer.  Mike is a fantastic artist and we share a similar background, having come to Fine Art after years of being thrashed in the stocks of Illustration.  The drawing part isn’t so bad.  It’s the dealing with clients, deadlines and trying to get paid, that makes being a hired pencil so bad.  Thirty—Sixty---Ninety days and I still can’t get paid!

Mikel and George sit atop our hunting rig.

     We traded war stories and came to a joint and unanimous decision.  Illustration was a great foundation, but its heyday is over and we have moved on, both now deeply ensconced in Fine Art.
     Mikel’s success has been rapid and significant.  Most would be jealous of his short track record and list of accomplishments.  But these achievements are built on impeccable technique and years of toiling at his craft.  He’s paid his dues, even though his Fine Art career is just beginning.
     We both recognize that we are in the midst of a major paradigm shift in the art market.  The galleries of Santa Fe and Scottsdale are, by the measure of most artists, in serious decline.  It’s hard to get a real pulse of what’s actually going on.  Artists say one thing, gallery owners something different.  Everyone has their own spin.  Much of selling your art is projecting a professional image and no doubt it is important, but it would be nice to encapsulate how the economy is affecting the art world, and know how to play it.

Libation Station

     Mikel makes a good point about quality, his point being that good art, at a good price, will attract a buyer.  I agree wholeheartedly.
     Another major point we covered was how most successful artists have a supportive spouse.  I’m not talking about the high five and “have a good show” type of support.  I’m speaking of someone who is on the rope, helping pull this art train further down the track. 
     Sometimes it’s not feasible, but all things being equal, an artist with a spouse in the game, has a better chance at making the climb.  Mikel and I are lucky in this regard.  Pam and Kristi have skin in this game and we both acknowledge we’re better off for it.
     My last point may be redundant, but the time is coming when being a full-time artist means you are in charge of your own marketing.  I know many artists start to turn pale and zone out when selling their own work is mentioned.  But if you’re not going to make your own sales, who is?  Mikel and I discussed this at length and have only our experience to draw from, but the Internet, Facebook, and New Media are the future. 

Good art friends Mikel (left) and George (right).
Both class acts!

     I heard Tony Robbins marketing a new sales gig on the radio and he flatly states that not embracing the web properly, will put you out of business.  Again, I wholeheartedly agree.  It’s a brave new art world out there, and the artist must actively seek a market for his work. 
     I want to close by saying that time spent with other artists is a favorite pastime of mine.  I always learn something I’m not doing, or something I can do better.  Mikel, thanks for a memorable hunt.  Thanks for pursuing quality, and thanks for hogging the top of the hunting rig.  Paybacks are a bitch!