Sunday, May 31, 2009

The art business waltz, lesson 4

Tonight's portraits are by another Englishman, Joshua Reynolds, 1723-1792 This is a self portrait. We will return to Josh Reynolds in a later post as he gave an important set of lectures and the published text of those is an important philosophical source for painters. They are the discourses of Joshua Reynolds. Images of course are from, the worlds largest online museum.

I have had a major problem with my computer, I think its a virus but I am not really sure. It is filling forms and pages etc. with equal signs, I couldn't even log on to my g mail or blogger, All the while it makes that little error sound. Might be a hardware problem too, my computer was handed down to me by my 20 yer old daughter, I bought it for her when she was in the 6th grade. Its a PC and it is not very happy. If you have ever had this happen to you or know what this is, let me know. I am typing this into blogger on my daughters nice Mac.

Tonight I will continue with the posts about hunting galleries. Now you have done your research and picked out a couple of galleries you think are a good match for your talents. There are still more things you need to have in place to do this. I have discussed the business card and the bios, You are also going to need a web site.

I didn't build my own because my wife is good at that. She actually builds them for hire so she made mine.There are template programs that will allow you to build your own or perhaps you know someone who does a good job of that who would like to have a painting. I said about galleries, it is like renting an apartment, you know you are going to move. The same is true with web sites. I have had at least a half dozen built. I was the first of my friends to have a web site. My second web site was set up to do e commerce. It had all of the paintings in my inventory on it, and quoted the prices, gave sizes and described framing. It was huge and very nice, but no one bought any art from it. I think people have to stand in front of art in my price bracket and see it in the flesh with the comforting guidance of an art dealer at their elbow. I hear about artists who sell expensive art from their web sites, but it has never worked for me. My website has been an element in lots of sales though, just not the closer.

So I don't recommend you try to build an online store. Build a portfolio site, here is mine. This is the online version of the old folders of slides and paper biography's we used to drag from gallery to gallery. What a nuisance that was.

Your site needs to show a dozen or so of your best paintings. Choose them for quality not variety. You might want to print out a couple of dozen and cut them out into little playing card sized images. Lay the deck of images in front of about ten friends, skipping those who have no interest at all in art and everybody under 25. Ask then to choose the best six images and see which ones keep coming up. You might be surprised which images are the most appealing to people.When you have done this product testing, use these most popular images in the first gallery page of your new site.

Also onto this site goes, yes you guessed it! the short form bio, which comes up under the heading "artist" with a romantic looking picture of you at your easel or smoking a box pressed maduro from Nicaragua. See my site, under artist for example. You need to put your contact information on there and whatever else you think is pertinent. I would however, stay on topic. I would not put your pets, politics or anything else on your site that is not about your art. If you also train anteaters to herd cats, start a second site for that.

The web site URL should be prominently shown on your business card. It also goes onto every thing else you print, like your bios and wherever else it will get seen. You need to have all of these pieces in place and attractively done. If your website is amateurish it might keep a gallery from wanting you. DO THIS STUFF RIGHT.

I am sure you will be relieved to know there is still more stuff you are going to need for this project. Next comes framing. I will address those tomorrow night.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The art business waltz, lesson 3

Tonights post is illustrated by yet another fashionable 18th century portrait painter, Thomas Gainsborough, 1727-1788 Images from

Eric Rhoads the publisher of several art magazines is contemplating resurrecting Plein Air magazine. He has sent out a questionnaire to artists about that possibility. I have provided a link here where you can go and fill it out.

Send me your art for the the next reader critique, my e-mail is If I use your art I will photoshop your signature off of it and I will tell no one whose art I am

The next step in getting your art shown is scouting. You need to have a deep and honest discussion with yourself and figure out where you might begin to show your art. Most of you who are reading this are at the beginning of the process, but there are also lurking out there, established artists who are following along to see if they can glean any useful ideas (I hope so) . I am going to write this for the totally uninitiated though. If this is your first foray into the art scene, you are probably not going to begin by showing at a top flight gallery in a major city. Nor do you want to. You want to cut your teeth out in the bush leagues. You are learning a skill, showing art and dealing with galleries is a learned skill.

The lowest rungs on the ladder are usually the outdoor art fairs, the local art associations and smaller galleries that specialize in inexpensive art. You need to begin here. But keep your eyes open, if you have been painting for a while you might be of interest to a gallery a rung above these. You should begin by investigating these venues. l suggested in an earlier post here
that you should join a local art association if there is a good one around and join a more distant one if there is not. You can ask other artists you meet there about the quality of the various shows in your area. They may be able to tell you about the local gallery scene also. I say local because unless you live in a very rural area there is usually a gallery within 25- 50, miles of you.This does not include non art venues like banks restaurants and dog groomers, those are not places you should show unless you have lots of inventory, and even then is very seldom productive.

If there are outdoor art shows and fairs in your area sign up for a couple. You will need to find out how much display equipment you will need. If they require a tent or any fancy infrastructure you will have to decide how much investment you want to make. Some shows provide a wall for you to hang on.and a table too. For others you will need to rig up a screen of some kind to hang your art on. A little research on line or at the local library will give you an idea of how to make a simple display screen for your art. I always enjoyed doing outdoor shows and you might too. If you price your work right you will probably make money at some of them. If you are able to do a handful over the summer that's a great way to begin showing your art and building experience and confidence. If your area has outdoor shows or weekend festivals I think this is a great place to begin.It is a short term, low buck commitment and it still has all of the elements of the more "uptown" art market. If you sell a few things , and you should price your art low enough so that will happen, it will change your entire attitude on the business end of the art game.

Let me tell you a story about an artist I know. He was a working guy with a wife and a home who was working as a stripper. No not that kind of stripper! Back in the pre digital days there was a job preparing lithographic plates in commercial print shops called a stripper. I am not even sure exactly what they did, but I am pretty certain very few of them are doing it now. For his birthday someone gave him a paint set. It went unopened for a while, but one evening with nothing else to do , he got it out and decided he would copy this poster of a beach in Florida, with palm trees. Hours and hours go by and he is working away having lost all trackof time and his wife is asking him if he intends to stay up all night.The next day after work. its the same thing, and it quickly becomes a compelling hobby for him. After a year or so of this he decides he will do an outdoor art show. He has only one frame and only one painting of which he is proud enough to display. So on the Saturday morning of the show he sets up his little display and posts a ptrice on his painting. Before too long someone buys it. Now that really affects the guy and he spends all of his nights over the course of the week making another seascape, that's what he was making, for the next weekends show. Of course that one sells too. All summer long this is going on, and the next summer when the outdoor show season begins again he is better prepared and is arriving at the show with a little collection of paintings and he's improving and charging a little more for them. Because they are selling, again he is up,till all hours of the night painting. He is dragging himself into work every day looking haggard and probably not functioning as well there as he had in the pre- painting days. A group of his buddies started ragging on him for his all night painting and telling him he needs to get more serious about his job. He angrily tells them " I'm making more money painting pictures at night, then I am doing this dumb job!" And then of course he has hit the tipping point. He asks himself the logical and dangerous question "well then what am I doing working here?" Now he has been painting professionally for many years, but it can be a precarious existence. Sometimes you make money and sometimes you don't. His wife married a tradesman with a good job, she didn't know he was going to morph into an artist. All these years later they have raised a family and they are still together, but I always felt it was an unwelcome surprise for her to have to adjust to the bohemian life.

Here is another Gainsborough. They look a bit different from the previous portrait artists at which we have been looking because he was a generation earlier.

If there are no shows or outdoor festivals near you, or you want to do the gallery thing right away you need to do some research. There is no reason to drive 100 or more miles to find your first gallery, you will do that later, but the place to start out is near where you live. Start walking into galleries and reconnoitering, notice whether the person running the gallery greets you politely, they can leave you alone after that, but they should acknowledge your entrance. If they don't, that's not a good sign.


This is just an information gathering expedition. If you are in a conversation with them and you have talked for a few minutes or if they seem to want to know if you are a collector, then you may tell them then .But don't ask them if you can show them your work.You might say that you are scoping out local galleries to find a place to show. If they ask to see your work that is fine, but galleries have people walking in all day and pestering them to review their portfolios and they get real tired of it. Usually the people who do that, are not of the caliber the gallery shows and the dealers have all had the experience of some wannabe artist they have politely rejected going bonkers at them. The dealers are very apprehensive about going through that again so they dread the whole portfolio showing thing. Visit a number of galleries and compare them . You didn't marry the first girl ( guy, or indeterminate creature ) you met did you?

Take a friend with you and make a day of this effort, go out to lunch and discuss with this person what they think, then go back out for the afternoon and see some more galleries, if there are that many near you. Look for handout art newspapers and guides in the galleries, they may guide you to more galleries that you might not have known about. At the end of this process you will probably have found a gallery or two that look to be likely prospects. Did you notice any art remotely like what you do, in that gallery? If all a gallery shows is photography and you embalm sharks, they might not be right for you.

Look in the appropriate magazines or local papers to see if a gallery is advertising, they should. Even a little galley should have some sort of system of letting people know they are there, even if they are operating on a shoestring budget. Notice other things in those galleries too, what sort of framing seems to be the norm in the gallery. Are there only small pictures shown? If the owner is showing his own work there , does it look like the the art there gets a fair chance to sell, or is it just there as a foil and space holder for what is really only a gallery for the sale of its owners art? How good is the location of the gallery, does it have good signage, etc?

The next step is to find out if you know any of the artists in the gallery. Ask around your art association and perhaps you already have an acquaintance who is in the galley, if you do that's useful. You can ask them what their experience has been with the gallery .

This lady has presence, she looks boldly out of the canvas at us. She is strongly characterized, I will bet it was a speaking likeness of her, although of course we will never know.

All of this is a little like hunting for an apartment. And like an apartment you can almost count on its being a temporary affair. You will probably be in several galleries before you find a good fit.

Go to the openings of the shows and talk top people. Going to openings is a good thing to do anyway. You like parties don't you? Andy Warhol went to almost every opening in New York. If you were a young unknown artist you might be surprised to have Warhol show up at your opening. On one such occasion someone asked Warhol if he would go to just any art opening. He replied" I would go to the opening of a box of saltines!"

Tomorrow we will talk about a web site. You are going to need one.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The art business waltz, lesson 2

Continuing with our theme of fashionable 18th century portrait painters, tonights post will be illustrated with the work of Englishman, George Romney. 1734-1802.
For some of you this old art is quite familiar and for others it it not. If it is not I hope to kindle within you an interest in our wonderful legacy of great art . Images of course provided by

As I mentioned yesterday there are some things you will need to have before you are ready to call on a gallery. The first was a business card and I have discussed that. The second thing you will need is a bio. Actually you are going to need three of them!

  • The first is what I call the short form. This is a two or three paragraph description of who you are and what you do. It should be no longer than a third to a half a sheet of normal paper.You will use this routinely ,whenever you are asked for some short information on yourself this is what you will present. If you are in a show or a paintout event etc. the sponsors should be able to use the short form in their literature, or after your name to describe you. It should also have a picture of you on it, either a headshot or a picture of you working at your easel
  • .Now I am going to tell you something that I think is an error many artists make on their bios. I know you like Sargent and Sorolla and Anders Zorn, but don't put them on your bio. Routinely I see the work of a very average painter reproduced and the text tells me about their love for Sargent (or whomever ) I look at the art and if it isn't pretty damn good , my next thought is, how pretentious to be dropping names of that caliber. Most people who will read your bio don't know who these artists are, so they feel like something just went over their heads when they read that. Those who DO know who Sargent, Zorn and whoever else you admire are, will not see what the relationship you have to those guys, that puts them on your resume. So unless you studied with an artist, don't list him on your bio. Ask yourself what you would hope to accomplish by dropping these names. Make your bio about you.
  • I know you studied with a great teacher, but I would soft pedal that in your bio. People are funny about that. Many of them don't like to think that an artist has to learn how to do what they do, they want to believe it is pure feeling and expression. Your bio is not a good place to tell them they are wrong. Many of them recoil from the word student, they may not want an artist who was ever a student, they want a natural, an original. Most of the buyers and the public know nothing about art. Its too bad but its true. I am sometimes referred to as a member of the Boston school, I never say that in a short form bio, some people think it means I am still in school. Maybe not all of them, but more than I can afford to lose. So mention your training very early in the bio and keep it short. Even if you studied with Emile Gruppe, 99% of the people out there wouldn't know who he was, you might as well tell them you studied with Benjamin Bathurst
  • Do talk about what moves you to paint and use evocative words that create an image in peoples minds of art. Use words like color, light, feeling, expression and nature. Rather than trying to appeal to them with a laundry list of achievements or attempting to link yourself to your artist heroes you want to get them to think of you as the real thing. Don't look like you have something to prove, be interesting and believable as an artist. That's one of the reasons why it is good to show a picture of you at your easel.
  • Sell today, educate tomorrow! The purpose of your sales literature (which is what a bio is) is to sell yourself and your art. Don't try to teach people anything at this point, don't try to bring them "up to speed" on the art world or tell them about art history or deep art theory. Do that later if you must, but after you sell them. This has been hard for me to do myself, as I suppose you can imagine.
  • The short form bio should leave the reader with a feeling that you are a real artist, there's no point in trying to tell them you are a good artist, they will make up their minds for themselves when they see your art.
Notice how restrained the color is in this portrait . We have less and less in our culture which is formal . One of the characteristics of formality is understatement. There's a diagonal movement in her collar and hair that gives a lively look. She looks like she might just turn her head and look at you.

The next of the three bios you will need is what is sometimes called a CV. For a beginning artist that can be a problem. You will have to muddle through as best you can. A C.V. is a list of all your accomplishments in art. Where you studied, shows you have been in. awards you have won, boards of art organizations you have been on, magazine articles about you etc. These are usually arrayed in chronological order. Usually a dealer wants this one. They put it in a binder and wave it at clients who will seldom bother to read it. When asked for a C.V. I bury them in paper. I have been doing this for almost 40 years so I can give them six pages of bulleted facts stacked up year by year back to the 70's.

If you are just starting out you will have to finesse this one. In fact the purpose of a C.V. is to distinguish the long time established players. Put down what you can and hope for the best.Try to emphasize the short form if you can, if they don't specify what kind of resume they want from you, send em the short form, till you have built up your C.V. In a future post I will talk about resume building but that is outside of the topic for tonight.

The last of the three bios is the long form, this is like a short magazine article. Perhaps three or four pages long. This should be your personal story and an exposition of what you are up to in your art. If you can throw in an illustrative or humorous story that's good. The idea is for people to read this and know who you is. A picture of yourself working and a picture of one of your best paintings should probably be on here as well. If you don't have the computer savvy to do this yourself, ask the nearest 10th grader.

If you get into a gallery that has 30 other artists, and on three days of the week that gallery is run by an employee, they ought to be able to read the long form and have enough of a feel for you and your art to talk to customers about you . If you get a call from the local newspaper or a publication the long form is what they get. Journalists love it when you do their job for them. Sometimes an artist will include a copy of the long form in an envelope on the back of a sold painting.

You should be able to make these three forms of your bio on your home computer and store them in your documents, ready to be updated if necessary and then printed out as you need them. print them in Helvetica or Verdana or some other contemporary and neutral typeface. Keep them uncluttered and clean looking and in plastic sleeves if you are going to be leaving them where they will be displayed in the gallery. print them out on quality paper, I like a linen color better than a bright white, I think its looks elegant.

At the bottom or somewhere on each of these documents must be a block of text that gives your address, phone number and e-mail so that people know how to reach you. When you get into a gallery they may want copies of all of these bios with all of these addresses stripped out, so their customers don't go around them and contact you personally. So don't go to the printer and have 1000 of these made. Print out a few at home and print more when you need them to allow you to doctor them for various situations.

Well I hear the anteaters softly whimpering for their kibble, and I want to get up in the morning and finish this picture I am all excited about, so I will end this post here. Tomorrow I will continue with the waltz of commerce.

The art business waltz, lesson 1

Tonight's post is illustrated with the work of Sir Henry Raeburn, 1756-1823, Scottish portrait painter, above is Miss Eleanor Urquhart. image;

I will begin with a few housekeeping items.
I write these posts, often late into the night after painting all day. I put them together as best I can, and then go to bed. The next morning I open them again, and as I drink my morning coffee, I go over what I have written and posted the previous night. Yesterday morning I opened the post and was shocked to find it was full of misspellings and typos. I think there may be gremlins opening up these posts during the night and stirring them about with an electron deconprehensifying stimulus whisk.

I want to let you know that I was not loaded, I know you thought that didn't you? I hold myself to a discipline of writing a post every night, I have written 146 of them in a row without missing a day. What that means, is sometimes I am writing them when I am exhausted and I make more mistakes. So bear with me if you read the blog early in the day, you who read it later, get it after my morning re-edit has healed its errors.

Eric Rhoads the publisher of several art magazines is contemplating resurrecting Plein Air magazine. He has sent out a questionnaire to artists about that possibility. I have provided a link here where you can go and fill it out.

It would be a good thing for the art if this magazine existed again, connecting all of us landscape painters together in a central forum and bringing new attention to the craft.

My e-mail is filling with invites to be a friend on facebook. I have no idea why, I have never even been on facebook. I want to be your freind, but I don't do face book. This blog is enough social networking for me . Forgive me , I'm sorry.

Send me your art for the the next reader critique my e-mail is If I use your art I will photoshop your signature off of it and I will tell no one whose art I am critiquing.

Now, on with tonight's show.
I hear artists say they don't like the business side of art. I have to admit I would rather spend all of my time painting too, but it is a business and I have a wife, and kids in private school, and a mortgage, and various bills, and a lot off overhead, anteater kibble and materials for my art to pay for, so I must make money doing this.

If you really don't want to do art business there is no reason for you to do so. Paint as a hobby and give your paintings to friends and charity auctions, or shingle your house with them. But if you need to recoup the value of your time and materials, or if you want to work towards a time when you can make enough money painting to no longer punch a clock for Mr. Charley, you will need to do the art business waltz. I will tell you all I can about it. I have actually come to enjoy it, some of the time anyway.

These are difficult times in the art world and everybody is scrambling to make things go around. But I think the recession is coming to an end and even if the stock market never goes back to where it was in the past, as the panic subsides, the art market will rebound. Its a better place to be than in real estate. the automobile business, or Guantanamo.

One of you said a dealer you met with was not interested in bringing in new artists. They were being diplomatic. A dealer always wants to bring in a new artist who he believes will make him significant money. You need to make yourself into someone about whom they can reasonably believe that. I am not talking about fooling anybody or pulling a veneer of conceit over who you are now. You need to build your skills, reputation, and presentation.

One of you asked about doing fairs and shows, those are a great way to get started. I told the story of my first outdoor show in this blog a month or two ago.Showing in the venues that you can get into, is a good thing to do. Remember, NEVER PAY TO SHOW YOUR ART. There is a link to a previous post about paying to show your art.

The important thing is to get out into the gallery world and start playing. You stock a gallery, and then you build up another group of paintings and stock another. Over the next handful of posts I will break this down into its different elements, steps and skills.

Detail of John Tait, and his grandson. by Raeburn Look at the authority with which Raeburn has displayed the planes of this head, very simple and very solid. This painting is a lesson in building form and controlling edges.

The art world has its share of wackos and difficult characters. We hear so much in the press about the divas in Hollywood or in the music world. There may be successful but obnoxious creeps at the top of the avant garde art scene in New York, but in the world you and I inhabit, it won't fly, at least not for long. Most of the real artists making a living out there are businesslike and courteous. They are often a little disorganized (or even scattered in my case) but they are not rude or unpleasant to deal with. I do know plenty of wannabes who are, but I can't think of many pros. I would never cut it as a salesman out in the real world, but I do return phone calls, , and do what I say I will do. I am on time and I give my best, even if the results are variable in the making of art.

Before you go to a gallery hoping to show there, you must do some prep work. I will discuss that next. You should have at least six, preferably ten framed and consistent examples of your work. I think it is probably best to show all landscapes, all figures or all still lives, rather than mixing them up, but that is not essential, as long as one clearly predominates as what you do. When you are making art in the studio you may want to be edgy or political, or obscene and that's fine, but when you enter the world of commerce you need to think about whether anybody would want what you are bringing to the gallery. Notice I didn't say everybody. My own work appeals mostly to a subset of collectors who want New England style landscape painting that is within a historical tradition. Thats what I want to make. What do you want to make?

There is nothing more difficult than attempting to predict the buying behavior of customers who you have never met. I think it is a bad idea to paint "for the market". Do what you love and it may come through in your art, and be recognized there by your clients. There are a lot of folks doing high cheese content, commercial dreck. The competition to make something even cheaper and aimed at an even lower level of aesthetic appreciation isn't a race you want to enter. Its really depressing over there. And its a treadmill. If you want to be on a treadmill, keep your day job and preserve your art as something meaningful to you. If you turn your art into a cold hustle for money, will you go back to your day job to give your life meaning?

You will need a web site. It doesn't need to be fancy, but it should display a selection of work of which you are proud. It also needs to have a bio. I will write tomorrow on producing that. You will need a business card. Don't run them off at home on your printer, get 500 of them professionally designed and printed. Here is mine.

This is the first piece of your art people will see and judge you by, so get it right. They aren't particularly expensive, Staples can help to produce yours, or a local printing company. Use a photo of your art, or yourself or even your pet, but do it in color. No drab brown with a stock chop of a palette and brushes.
In the olden days I had a lot of little binders with photographs of my art in clear sleeves that I could hand out to dealers. They were an expensive nuisance. I don't do portfolios anymore. I hand them a card, they go online to my web site and there it all is. And I can update it as I have new paintings, and as my bio needs to be updated.

Here's a detail of Raeburns portrait of David Anderson. The warm and elegant coloring is in keeping with the formal portrait of an important and no doubt wealthy man. He doesn't look like a bloated plutocrat though. I think I would have liked him. We could have smoked a fine box pressed maduro together, and mused about the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Benjamin Bathurst

More tomorrow including bio writing for artists 101.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

About Galleries

Sir Thomas Lawrence 1769-1830, the Calmady children

I am going to carry on with the fashionable 18th and early 19th century portrait painters to illustrate tonights post. The images are, of course, from Artrenewal.ortg.

Well, I have hit on a subject everybody wants to hear about. As it happens I have long experience in dealing with galleries so, I will write about that scene for a while.
I have been in dozens of galleries over the years. I am in a gallery now that I have been in twenty years or so, and I am going into a new gallery this year. I hear about artists who are in a single gallery for most of their career. That certainly has not been my experience. Galleries come and go, dealers retire or die. Sometimes they stop selling my work, or figure out they don't like me, or even decide that I can be replaced with three amateur still life painters.

All of you readers out there who are obsessing about what gallery to be in, I suggest you pick one and try to get your work in it, if they don't take your art, try another. You will probably be in lots of galleries if you spend your life painting. I have heard that employed people trade through jobs a lot these days, it must be like that. Either way you are overthinking this thing.

OK, first, here's how I look at the relationship, it is a symbiotic partnership, I DON'T WORK FOR THEM! In fact if anybody works for anybody, THEY WORK FOR ME! They are a salesman, I am a manufacturer, I fill their pushcart or sample case for them and then turn them loose. They don't own the wares, I do. If they don't sell, I can fire them. Or they can quit. If they don't sell, I don't pay them, its a straight commission job. They are a manufacturers rep, they may represent a number of other manufacturers besides me, so they are employed by those guys also. An independent contractor, like a retail department store owns their merchandise, they are not a rep for the company that makes the merchandise. If I come into a gallery and reclaim the merchandise I own, I have fired them. They may continue to work for other artists but they no longer work for me. Now that puts a different spin on things doesn't it?

It is in our mutual interest to work together and look out for each other. In the last post I spelled out what I expect from a gallery, I am willing to do all I can to help them sell art. I am not real well organized and I don't produce enough to meet the demand from the dealers who would like to have my art but I do my best.I don't try to go around them and sell to their clients keeping them out of the deal

If someone calls me from their area who is probably one of their clients trying to get a better deal, I make a point of telling that client the painting will be the same price from me, as it is in the gallery, so they should buy from the gallery, who will give them good service and advice. I am not going to endanger every sale that a gallery could make for me for the single sale a customer might offer me. I don't show in another gallery within their area. I list their gallery on my web site and I often include their names in my advertising. I will send buyers to them that are from that area. I will do my best to give them enough paintings if they are selling them, and I will make a reasonable effort to make paintings that are of their part of the country as I am a landscape painter. Dealers who sell a painting, get put to the head of the line, they get the next painting I make, that I can give them. Those who pay me immediately, I try to treat with particular dispatch, I always take the best care of them. They are looking out for me, so I try to keep them happy.

Most of the dealers with whom I have done well , have become friends . We talk on the phone and discuss things other than just the business we are doing together. I have been quite close with several of my dealers over the years. Those who have sold well for me, had already become my friends as well as my dealers. This is my own system, There are big dealers who handle lots of artists who haven't got the time for that sort of thing, but I would guess that although they have a lot of artists in their stables, they probably have become friends with their best selling artists. So when I am hunting dealers I look for some one I want to have for a friend. Again this is how I do things, other artists have their own and different ways. So if I walk into the gallery and the dealer is surely or nasty looking or intimidating etc. I take that into account. That doesn't necessarily mean I cross them off my list, but I certainly take it into account.

Some artists have a problem with 50% commissions. While I like a gallery that gets less, I feel that a 50% commission incentivizes a dealer to sell my work. Besides, I don't pay the commission When was it ever my money? It belonged to the client, they handed it to the dealer, he took it from them, bought the painting from me, and handed it to the customer. I had the painting, the sale was what the dealer brought to the transaction. In my opinion selling the art is half the work, and I owned a gallery for about fifteen years, so I have seen both sides of the equation.

I know a few artists who are in such demand that they can negotiate a lower commission from their dealers, and the dealers know that the trick to selling that artists work is getting it. I have had a few dealers go down 5% for me. But I want to move paintings. I tell the dealers "just sell em, I'll make more!" I like to pay commissions, by getting the gallery paid, I get paid. My job is to help them make money. I work at being good at that. Rather than maximize the profit on each piece, I prefer to have both of us moving the art out and making good money. If I only made a few paintings a year I probably couldn't afford this attitude, but I make lots of paintings.

In one of the comments a visitor mentioned some galleries that want a percentage of every sale you make, even if they don't participate in it. I would simply answer," I am in half a dozen galleries, sometimes more, how could I make a living if they all wanted those terms?" But the answer is really this, In a business proposition both parties have to agree on what the terms of the relationship are going to be. There are deal killers for me. I won't enter into a deal like that, so what they want is irrelevant. If a gallery sends me a contract that reads differently than what we have agreed to, I call them up and tell them what I have a problem with, and ask them if I can scratch out part of the contract and return it to them. If we can reach an agreement we both like, we continue in our collaboration. If not, I call ahead and ask them to assemble my work and I go and politely pick it up, I try to be as cheerful and courteous as I can and I shake hands with them, and thank them for their efforts on my behalf. Usually they are pleasant enough as soon as they figure out you are not going to go weird on them. Lots of artists do, and gallery's dread it. Sometimes a year down the road your phone will ring and they will say "we just had Joe Baggadonuts in here, he bought one of your paintings from us last year and we were wondering if you have anything we can show him. Since you were professional in your last dealings with them they will not hesitate to call you. When you walk through their door next, the whole contract negotiation begins again and you hold more cards. They also now look at you as a professional who is pleasant to deal with.

Almost all of the undesirable things that a gallery might want you to do, they will ask you to agree to up front. If you don't like their deal, make a counteroffer, if they don't take it, move on. There are lots of galleries. There didn't used to be, but there sure are now.

Send me your art for the the next reader critique my e-mail is If I use your art I will photoshop your signature off of it and I will tell no one whose art I am critiquing.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dealing with dealers

I am again illustrating tonight's post with the art of Franz Xavier Winterhalter, German portrait painter to the European royalty. Images are courtesy art

I am planning another reader critique. If you would like your art considered for a crit on this blog, e mail it to me at If I use your painting I will photoshop your signature off of it, and I will tell no one whose painting I am critiquing. This has been a regular feature on this blog, and if you would like to see some previous crits , look under "critiques" in my sidebar.

I need to do the photography while I make some painting panels and I will do that early in the coming week so I can show you how I make a painting panel. So tonight I think I will write a little bit about art dealers. I intend to do a number of posts on the business of art and I really haven't written about that much , so this will foreshadow a longer series of posts yet to come.

People ask me how the art business works and I tell them this. "I lend my art to dealers in hopes they will sell it and pay me. Its a consignment business like used clothing" The dealer and I split the price paid for the painting. Years ago the commission on a sale was sometimes as low as 33% but in recent years it has crept up to about 50% and that seems now to be the industry standard.

Some artists I know feel that is unfair and they should receive a larger portion of the proceeds from the sale. I owned a small art gallery in Rockport, Massachusetts for about fifteen years and I know how much work it is. There is lots of overhead for the location, electricity, advertising, insurance, payroll if you have employees, and you have to be there, almost all the time. That's even on days when you don't feel like it. It is a whole lot of work, and when it doesn't make money, all those costs just keep on coming. So I have been on both sides of the equation. Now, I only handled my own work, but if I handled someone else, I would want half.

However, for that 50% I have a number of expectations. Here they are.
  • The gallery needs to have a brick and mortar location with a plate glass window full of art, in a location frequented by likely buyers. I used to get lots of phone calls from corporate art ladies. They would ask me for slides (this was a while ago) of my best paintings and they always seemed to have some important showing coming up right away, so they had to have them ASAP. I used to run around getting the photography together and send it to them. I would never hear from them again, not even a thank you. corporate art ladies, if they haven't got a REAL gallery I don't show with them.
  • I expect a gallery to be open, clean, well lit, and staffed by someone who greets clients in a professional and welcoming manner. Generally I want that person dealing with the clients to be the owner. Remote control owners who aren't there, never seem to sell my art. You can hire someone to be present in the gallery, if a client walks in and points out a painting and says "I want that", they will ring it up. That's not a salesperson, that's a clerk. Clerks don't sell my art, they generally sell the bottom end stuff and their friends paintings. There are exceptions to this but not many. Most of the exceptions are older, and experienced retail sales people.
  • A gallery should advertise, I hope they will advertise my paintings once in a while but no matter who they feature in their advertisements, I want to be in a gallery that has traffic and is known in its area. That takes advertising. In print. In major art magazines, or at least magazines aimed at visitors to the area where the gallery is located.
  • I expect the gallery to handle my art and frames with care, and take responsibility for seeing they are not damaged.
  • I expect the owner of the gallery to be knowledgeable about art and to know what I am about artistically, so they can speak authoritatively to their customers. Most people know zip about art, they go to a dealer looking for an expert they can trust, to guide them through the process of selecting a good painting. So a dealer is selling expertise and integrity.
  • I expect a gallery to pay me promptly. That is a few days after the sale, enough time for the clients check to clear and to know the sale has "stuck'. About half my galleries do this, I stock them first, here's why. Say I just made a great painting, and my wife says to me "while your up dear, you wanna make another 10,000 dollars?" Where am I going to send that special new painting. Now if I have two galleries that have a reasonable chance of selling the picture, which one am I going to give the painting to, the one who will pay me at the end of the coming month, or the gallery that will pay me right away? I have tried to explain this to some dealers and they have said to me that they have so much book keeping to do, that it just isn't practical. The do however want another painting from me right away...that's practical. Their competition, the other gallery knows how things work and they will get my best work and they will get it first. That's not because I am vengeful but because I have got to have the cash flow.
  • I prefer to be in a gallery that carries mostly the kind of art I make. If they are hanging everything from abstract, to marine painting, I don't see how they can value what I do, it is just another sort of product to them. Many of my best dealers have been people who have dealt mostly in dead artists. My work is extremely traditional and often appeals tot the kind of clients they already have. Recently, "dead" art has gone up so much in price that things that used to sell for 10 to 50 thousand dollars are now 50 to 200 thousand dollars. Many dealers have plenty of clients in the first price range, the successful local doctor or businessmen, but they haven't got to many in the second category. They are out there but they are a lot fewer of them. I have often been useful to those dealers by giving them something to sell that isn't quite as expensive. More and more of the dealers of dead art are starting to call up living artists that they wouldn't have been interested in handling a few years ago. Back then they would have said, "come back when your dead, kid!"
This is the Empress Eugenie and her handmaidens. This is the work that made Winterhalters

  • A gallery should be showing my work on their walls. I have closets at home. If I walk into a gallery that has my art and nothing is showing, I reclaim my paintings and go somewhere else. People won't buy what they can't see. So I don't show in galleries that do one man shows often, I want to be in a gallery that shows the works of its stable all the time, if they do one man shows, they need to have enough room so that they can show my art while that show is running.
  • My work should be shown on the premises, that means no lending it out to restaurants or real estate offices. I am not in the business of providing free decoration for restaurants.
Now, lay down with your arms at your sides, and I will be back tomorrow with more.

Canvas size and proportion

Franz Xavier Winterhalter 1805-1873 Madame Rimsky Korsikov

I am illustrating tonight's posts with the art of Franz Winterhalter, who was a fashionable portrait painter to the royalty of 19th century Europe. He has been derided as superficial and overly flattering to his sitters, but I have always enjoyed his technical virtuosity. He paints flawless textures and I like his color. I can't claim he has anything to do within tonight's subject but I like to show art in nearly every post.The images were, of course, provided by our friends over at art renewal .org.

I am going to write tonight about selecting canvas sizes on which to paint .
I suggest that you paint only about six different sizes and stick to stock sizes when you paint. The advantage of stock or common sizes is that you don't necessarily have to have all of your frames custom made, but can instead buy them off the rack. Here are some of the most common stock sizes for frames. Artists specify frames using the height first by the width, they would say for example, 24 by 36. A 36 by 24 is a vertical. My friend from Maine, painter Scott Moore insists "if God had meant for us to paint verticals he would have placed one of our eyes above the other".
Here are the smaller sizes;
  • 5 x 7
  • 8 x1 0
  • 9 x 12
  • 1 1x 14
  • 12 x 16
The most common middle sizes are;
  • 16 x 20
  • 18 x2 4
  • 20 x2 4
The larger sizes are;
  • 24 x 30
  • 24 x 36
  • 30 x 40
If you choose two sizes from each of these categories, one elongated and one more square, you will have six sizes. You should be able to find premade frames for those sizes from almost any supplier. If you want to have custom frames made, by which I mean closed corner 22k. gold frames, you will be happy to be able to put the picture into a ready made frame. That's a good thing for when you send it to a show or gallery where you know your paintings will be stacked by tongue swallowing interns. Here are some sizes that although less common are in routine use in the trade:
  • 14 x 18
  • 22 x 28, Sargents usual non-portrait size
  • 20 x 30
  • 30 x 36
  • Sometimes artists use what are called double squares such as 12 x 24, or 24 x 48, etc. There isnt really a standard size double square, but they are nice for panoramic pictures.

There's another Winterhalter, isn't that lovely? Shes a countess, looks real high maintenance to me.

Artists I know often paint these sizes but you can't generally expect to find a premade frame for these sizes. You will save a lot of headaches by limiting yourself to six sizes. Having interchangeable framing is real handy. I have actually considered this summer only painting three sizes. 16 x 20, 18 x 24, 24 x 30.

Often times the proportion you choose for a painting is a function of how deep the view you are painting is. In the woods I am liable to choose a more square shape. Along the shore where there is a great expanse of distance I am likely to choose a wider shape.
When you hear hucksters on the radio advertising "over the sofa" sized oils, they mean a 24x36. That's a great landscape size just the same..

There's a story I heard concerning painting sizes. A well known artist visited one of his galleries unannounced and his painting wasn't hanging. But his frame was. The unscrupulous dealer had taken the frame he had bought for his own painting and put it on a painting by another artist. After that he often sent galleries odd sizes, instead of a 24 x 36 he would send them a 24 x 34, and that solved that problem!

I should tell you, that I don't quite obey this six size rule myself, I paint 26x29 canvasses. I have done lots of them. That's a size I got from Willard Metcalf. I find it designs really well for me and it has a delicacy of size and shape that I like. I usually have to special order those 29 inch stretchers. I have never seen a 26x29 from anybody else except for Metcalf. Wetcalf was raised in a spiritualist family. That was a common religion in the late 19th century. Often they would hold seances and try to communicate with the dead. They were interested in mystical numerology too. I think this size may have come from Willards interest in numerology, but I don't really know that. But 29 is a prime number and 26 is twice 13, another prime number. I just like the way I can design the shape, maybe it is magic.

Empress Marie Alexandrova of Russia. Love the dress. I wish women dressed that way today. I don't guess its ever coming back though. What fun it must have been for portrait painters then.

I make between 40 and 70 paintings a year, I throw about a third as many more away unfinished because they have some sort of an irredeemable flaw. So if I paint too many sizes it really gets complicated and expensive having many dedicated frames that only fit one painting.
Tomorrow I will talk more about things to paint on.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Edgar Payne, Compostiton of outdoor painting

I am continuing the theme of the last few days of writing short posts on a particular subject rather than a large theme. I will return to another series of related posts soon, after I recover from the massive "Every brushstroke" campaign.

The paintings on this page are by Edgar Payne, the author of a book I want to tell you about.

Some time ago I recommended John Carlsons Guide to landscape painting.Today I am recommending another book. Edgar Paynes composition of outdoor painting.
These two books are the best resources on landscape painting.The east coast artists seem to prefer Carlson and the west coast painters tend to prefer Payne. They are quite different. Carlson is a broad how-to book covering every aspect of landscape painting. The Payne book is largely concerned only with the design of landscape paintings.
He has been an enormous influence on plein air painters in the west and southwest. His work is broad and his color is unusual, You may have heard him referred to on this site in the comments. If you could only own two books on landscape painting these would be the two.

The heart of the Payne book is his explanation of design stems. These are stock compositional arrangements that artists use to assemble paintings,. As I write this is it sounds rather uncreative, but I don't believe you will find it so. They are sort of skeletal armatures that help you think about a paintings design, rather than a template you build a painting within.

Payne draws pages and pages of little thumbnails showing the major design stems that artists have repeatedly used in landscapes. After enumerating these stems, he shows how dozens of artists have used them to create paintings. He also shows a lot of little drawings explaining common design errors.

I have spoken before about what I think makes for a good book on painting. I think the best books are written by fine painters. I think no one can teach you anything about painting that they can't do themselves. Payne was a very good painter and knew why he did things the way he did them.

His prose is a little bit stilted and some passages have to be deciphered as much as read, but it is worth the trouble. You could read this book once a year and benefit by that greatly in your painting. I got my copy out to refer to to write this post and now I believe I will read it again myself.

Soon i will do some posts on design stems for landscape painting. Some of the ideas I will tell you about come from Payne and some from the Rockport school and some just from my own experience.

One of the reasons I am posting this today is that when I was on Amazon this afternoon and contemplating doing a post on the book, I noticed they had only a very few copies left. This book goes in and out of print. Sometimes you can get a copy, sometimes only used copies are available and they are expensive. So it might be a good idea to get one of these while you can. If you miss it though there will be more, hopefully soon.

I am going to do another critique soon. So email me images to crit. I will photoshop your signature off of the paintings and I will tell no one whose paintings I am critiquing. You can send the paintings to me at


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Doing painting demonstrations

Above you see the rubber chicken that I wore out doing painting demonstrations. He actually had a beak at one time but it fell off. He was a very handsome chicken in his day. My beak is also loose .

I have done a lot of painting demonstrations for art associations, churches, schools and workshops.They are a good way to promote yourself and make your name known in your local art community. They often pay, not big money, but if you figure it by the hour it's pretty good. Here are some points to remember ;

  • If the demo is in a distant town, know how to get there and leave an enormous amount of extra time for yourself. If you get there early, go out and get something to eat, or have a book in the car and read in the parking lot of the organization for which you are doing the demo. You must be on time, I have arrived late on one or two occasions. One time I was met with at least a hundred people waiting impatiently for me. I felt really stupid.
  • Bring a drop cloth. You don't want to get paint on the carpeting. Just in case though have a tub of Goop hand cleaner from the auto supply store, in your pack. That will usually get paint out of carpeting or off the lady in the front row.Your easel may be unsteady and slide around on a slick linoleum tile floor and a drop cloth will help with that too. Always bring that dropcloth, they may tell you the floor is tile and its OK , then when you get there its a 19th century Sarouk.
  • Remember that you are the entertainment for the organization for that night. You need to talk while you work, tell interesting stories and be as engaging as you can. I do what nearly amounts to a standup act. I have all sorts of verbal gags and one liners. If you aren't comfortable with being ridiculous ( I am) at least smile, and try to be animated.
  • Usually the organization will have announcements before introducing you. When they do ,you go to the front of the room and thank them all for coming to see you. If you look out and see familiar faces greet a few of them. I begin to set up my easel and I invite them to ask questions as I work. Usually you have amateur painters for an audience and they will ask lots of questions and that gets an interaction going with the audience. It also lets you know what they are interested in hearing about.
  • I begin by telling them this as I put a canvas of middling size, big enough to be seen from the back row, " It takes me about a week to make a finished painting this size, are you willing to sit here until next Thursday?" They will of course laugh and say no, then I tell them "What you will see me do tonight is START a painting, I will have to finish it later".
  • I lay out my palette telling them what each color is and what brushes I use etc.
  • I paint out of my head.I do not get out a photograph to look at. I don't intend to give them the idea that is how paintings are made. I usually just "wing" a seascape, however a version of the last landscape or still life you have been working on works well too.You will still remember enough to start your painting.
  • Now these two things are real important.They will make or break your demo. They are; Keep talking, don't just paint and leave them sitting and watching. You need to keep up a near constant patter. If you have got them asking questions it will help a lot. But most importantly, You paint for ONE HOUR. Never longer. No matter what you have on your easel, after one hour you throw down your brushes and your done!
  • Don't worry about what they think of your painting, audiences of this sort are often very noncritical and are easily impressed. Its mostly about entertainment unless you are playing to a roomful of professionals. Never apologize for your work. Do your best work and let it speak for itself.
  • At the end of the demo some organizations want to auction off your piece. I tell them up front before I agree to do the gig that I will not allow that. Sometimes I will bring a small print and let them auction that. But not my painting. If you look back through my posts and find the one on charity auctions you will read about why I don't.
  • I have a book of photos of my paintings, as I started to paint, I handed it off to someone in the front row and let them pass it around the room as I work.
  • When I have finished as I am packing my easel, generally people will come up and talk to me, and I hand out business cards to possible contacts.
  • They pay me and I drive home exhausted.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My picture files

I can't possibly remember where I saw an image in a magazine nine years ago, that relates to a painting I am working on today. I receive many art magazines and any one picture in a stack of forty art magazines might as well be buried in the back yard. I don't have room to keep all the art magazines to which I have subscriptions . So here's how I deal with both of those problems.

Every couple of months I cut out all of the paintings in the magazines that interest me . I have a little plastic table easel on a ledge in my studio, I throw all of the clippings onto that. Then I can look through them and find the ones that interest me. Often times, I am looking to find the way an artist I admire, solved a problem with which I am confronted.

About twice a year when my little plastic easel is too full to receive any more clippings, I put them into my files. Here's how I do that. I have about ten three ring binders that are kept on my bookshelf. I have a different binder for various categories of images. I have one for Metcalf, I have one for Waugh and one for the California impressionists. I have about three for 19th century painting, divided into Hudson River school, Tonalism and impressionism, and another for Inness. You get the idea.

I trim the images neatly on a mat cutting board with my razor knife and a ruler, being careful not to trim my fingers. The razor knife is the most dangerous tool in my studio. Then I paste them down onto both sides of ordinary printer paper with a gluestick. I might consider acid free archival paper but, I am fifty seven. Besides the pictures themselves are printed on non archival paper. When the sheet is filled with four or more images I slide them into plastic sleeves and put them in my binders. The plastic binders I use come in boxes of 2oo from Staples and they are the medium weight.Then I know where any given sort of painting is anyway.

The binders usually allow you to slip a clipping down into a space on its front. I stick in an image that is typical of the content of the folder.

I don't just cut up magazines I plunder gallery catalogs, auction catalogues and even the occasional postcard. I have many hundreds of images at my fingertips and because they are in the plastic sleeves, they can hang out around my easel with out being damaged by flying paint. I routinelyl sit down with one of my binders and leaf through it, its almost like a stroll through a museum.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Every brushstroke, addendum

Joseph DeCamp, September afternoon image

I received several questions over the course of the day about brushstroke and so I will answer those tonight. Questions are in red, my answers are in black.

1) One thing I was wondering about, maybe you could talk about is...You look to nature to get your impression, look up, mix paint, match value and color, double check and fix it. But when you've shifted the value key in your painting to whatever you're working in, say a very low key, won't the value you want on your paper be different from what you see. So is it all relational, when you stress double checking that one note, it's checking it against your interpretation and rearrangement of the value scheme you see in nature and not necessarily against just what you see? So is there any process or technique to 'shifting' from what you see to what you want to express in your painting.

For most of you , you will be painting the scene in the key it appears to you. I mentioned in an earlier post that I paint in a lowered key. I am automatically transposing the picture in somewhat the same way that a pianist might read a piece of music and play it in a lower key. Because I do it so often I might as well see it that way. I drop it into the lower key without even really having to think about it. So when I look up to double check I see the note and say to myself, I represent that with this. Its a system of correspondence.

If I drop all of the notes the same amount and they all stay in the same relationship to each other. I can still be true to the actual value relationships of nature. In practice though I often put in the highest lights up in the higher key. That gives me a look of light breaking through the painting.

There is no reason for you to start doing this. It is a personal way of doing things and you want to learn the broader knowledge from me rather than how I personally have modified the ideas in my own work.You don't want to take on my stylistic idiosyncrasy.

All sort of possibilities come from making decisions on how the painting should look rather than mindlessly transforming yourself into a meat camera. Decision making makes painting complicated, changing subjects paintable. Even just simplification requires decision making. You have to OBSERVE, THINK, AND THEN DECIDE.

2) When painting outside and you lock in your values and colors first then as the light changes I'd imagine it gets quite hard to not be caught up in what you're seeing. How do you go about relating it all back to what you had seen?

There's the skill that isn't learned in the studio, how to deal with the changing light. I don't follow it throughout the day. I plot my lights and shadows and pretty much leave them alone. The trick here is to make a a picture, rather than transcribing nature. You can decide how the picture should look, and stand by that. You can't decide how nature should look and stand by that, as it is always changing. The trick then, is not to be copying nature to that great an extent, think of what YOUR picture should look like.

Joseph Decamp image

This is a fabulous head. Frank Ordaz is doing a series of posts on painting heads in his blog.. There are some valuable tips in today's post over there and I am sure his subsequent posts will be excellent as well. You can click on the link, Being Frank in my side bar and you will magically be transported all the way across the nation to sunny California.

3) I wonder if you could tell us occasions when these numbered types of brushstrokes should be used---when such brushstrokes are favored by you for example, to achieve a desired effect?

There are two paintings on this post. Both are by the same artist. The lovely portrait of Sally is painted in a more smoothed out refined manner. It does still has brushstrokes in it but they are adapted to the painting of a young girls face. The picture of the early autumn trees is painted in a bold sort of stroke that you probably wouldn't choose for a delicate portrait. I like to paint leaves in little rice like brushstrokes. I like to carve the contours of the earth with larger strokes perhaps from a #4 bristle. I like to paint snow in large planes and pull them together when they are all wet, to do that I like a # 8 or 10.

For clouds and skies I like big flats like a 10 or 12. I can get a bunch of different strokes out of the same brush depending on how I push its blade into my canvas. I can draw with the tip turned sideways or make a broad "slab" by using the flat of the brush.

I like to make sort of lifting, upward curving stroke for fine clouds. I use a #1 flat to paint the branches of trees, where they get finer I use a rigger, when the tips of bare branches blur against the sky I use a #4 to get that. Years of experimentation have made it so I use a number of different strokes to get the look of things out there. If there is one rule to remember though it is this;


That will give you a facile look and make your brushwork look bold and more expressive.

4) I like visible brush strokes for the most part. But having a soft edge on a nice juicy brush stroke is very tricky. If you soften the edge with a finger or another brush, it ruins the boldness!
Is there a good way to get a compromise?

Well there is a trade off there. With practice you should be able to soften a brush stroke a little with a bristle brush without ruining the bold look of it. Some times you can soften just one side or one end of a stroke. It may be that you will decide to leave them hard. But that can be dangerous. Many times I have had a passage that I just couldn't seem to get the way I wanted it , I softened it up and viola. it worked. Hard edges can get you in trouble, a lot more often than soft edges. For most learning painters hard edges are already a problem for them. I suggest you soften the whole thing up, and then selectively restrike some important strokes and leave those hard.

Your brushwork is like your handwriting. If you do a lot of painting it will automatically develop as you find how YOU like to do things. I wouldn't worry overmuch about developing a style of brushwork. That will just happen in time. Do try to use your brushwork in the most descriptive way you can and stay away from the little brushes. Particularly riggers. They will give you riggermortis. Also hold those brushes by the part of the handle opposite the part with the hair on it. That long handle is there to give you power through leverage. Just like on a shovel. Dont hold it way up by the ferule like a pencil. This is important . Don't choke up on that brush handle, it will ruin your brushwork. You want to swing the brush with your arm not your fingers.

I am going to return to the subject of brushwork, using a different approach in some posts yet to come. So you will hear more about these ideas down the road.

The next few posts are going to be on a number of small ideas that will only take a single post to express. I hope.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Every brushstroke 5

  • The brushstroke may obscure the form. Think of this as a basket weave pattern, or a flurry of small strokes. There are times when an artist wants to describe form and there are times to obscure it.The Monet above is painted with a "woven" brushstroke. The shimmering strokes dissolve the edges and give the whole thing a gauzy mysterious beauty. By reducing the focus and subordinating the detail Monet gets poetry, The Monet above has almost no edges at all. Had he tightened it all up , the painting would have been matter of fact.
Treatment is nearly everything. There have been great paintings made of grapes, and bad paintings made of gods.

  • The brushstroke may be a pointille dot. That is a small spot of paint placed usually as an accent, nearly round or squarish in shape, but not greatly elongated. Usually a painting is not made out of these but they are a decorative accent within a painting.
Here is Vermeers, Lacemaker, courtesy of the worlds largest online museum
Pointille is always pointed out in Vermeer, he used it extensively, but plenty of others have as well. It is because of these that some contemporary critics have suggested Vermeer used a camera obscura. That's a sort of primitive camera that captures an image for viewing but not onto film. Perhaps he did. But you can't make a Vermeer by acquiring a camera obscura. Pointille are great for accents. sparkle on water, jewelry, and eyeballs. Pointillism is the practice of making an entire picture out of pointille. Don't.

As I am writing this I realize there are still some sorts of brushstrokes to mention, for instance the slashing quill like brushstroke that Sargent sometimes employed. Here's an example of that in the foreground of his painting of Paul Helleu sketching with his wife.

Oh, and I suppose I could throw in a Seago, for its dragged dry brushstroke over a rough ground that I have pointed out before. Click on it and you should be able to see it large enough so you can see that dragged stroke. I did a number of posts on Seago that go into that in depth. I love that guy!

© The Estate of Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery

I have written extensively on handling edges and you might want to go back and read those posts. But the important thing to get from this post is the idea that you check your edges as you make your brushstrokes.Automatically. Develop the habit so you dfon't have to remember to do it.

Here is the checklist. Every time the brush touches the canvas you must think about the following things.
  • 1) Is this brushstroke in the right place?
  • 2) Is it in the light or is it in the shadow?
  • 3) Is it the right value?
  • 4) Is it the right color?
  • 5) Is it the the right chroma, that is, is it too saturated or is it too grave?
  • 6) Is the temperature of the color correct, is it too warm or is it too cool?
  • 7) Should the brushstroke be be visible or invisible?
  • 8) Should the brushstroke run along, across, or obscure the form?
  • 9) Is the edge painted correctly?
Perhaps you might print that out and tape it to your easel. Try to learn to use this checklist. It will seem like a lot at first, but it will soon become second nature. It sounds harder than it really is.

Well that's enough of that! I will start something new tomorrow.

Edward Seago painting from: Edward Seago, the vintage years by Ron Ranson, available from Amazon .

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Every brushstroke 4

Rembrandt, Self portrait

Tonight I will continue with the series of posts I began last week.Every time the brush hits the canvas there is a list of things you need to know. I started the checklist several posts ago and if you want to catch up,go back and read those entitled Every Brushstroke.

The next point on the list is;
  • Will the brush stroke be visible or invisible? There's the big division. I am not going to spend much time talking about invisible brushwork, it really is a lack of brushwork. I can't show you a picture of it because it is invisible after all. For most of you studio guys invisible is the norm. I can hear you thinking, I don't see any brushstrokes in nature. Outside though, the game is different perhaps there are no brushstrokes, but there certainly is a sort of pixilation. All of the leaves and branches and grass and patches of dirt etc. in the natural world appear as a fabulously complex myriad of dots of different colors like a tapestry. All of those dots are changing all the time, sometimes gradually sometimes rapidly. Pixilation is not the only way to capture the look of nature, but its a good way. It is what Monet and the French impressionists discovered. However there are plenty of passages in Hudson River school painting that have the same technology. A brush stroke is a pixel. It can be a big one or a little one, a slab, like in an Edgar Payne, or a grain of rice shape, like in a Willard Metcalf . I often joke with my buddies that when I lay in a painting that I am throwing hamburger sized chunks.
The point of all of this is,when that brush hits the canvas, you have to know what shape the stroke you are going to make will be and how it will relate to the form that it expresses. Brush stroke is a powerful tool for expressing form, that is the volume and planar structure of an object within your pictorial space. Since they are a construct, they have to be thought up and installed.

When you start thinking and installing, you are making artistic decisions. That leads to style. Brushwork is an element of style.

Below is a Metcalf showing a rice like brush stroke

  • A brushstroke can run with, or along the form. Often this is used to show strength, as perhaps in a leg that is intended to look powerful or tensed. Sometimes a painter will build tree trunks using vertical strokes. They tell nicely against a ground painted in horizontal strokes. Look at the vertical trees on the right side of this Hibbard.
Here's a detail. See the brushstrokes running up the trunks of the trees? It gives a wooden look. Incidentally you probably wouldn't do this to the leg of a beautiful young woman. It would look, well.....wooden.
The kerchief that Rembrandt is wearing at the top of this post above, and the planes of his face are painted with strokes that run with the form and show its planar structure. Below is a Hibbard. Look at the snow in the lower left hand quadrant of the painting. You can see Hibbard building the forms of the snow.

with his brushstroke. See him defining the surfaces of the snow as it turns towards the light, or faces upwards towards the sky. Do you remember me talking in a recent post about walls and floors? Here is an example of that logic.The next thing a brushstroke can do is run around or across (against) the form, like a ring going around or a plane laying horizontally across the surface of an object. Here's an example of that from the Hibbard.

The Rembrandt up top has brushstrokes running against rather than with the forms of the muscles of his face to the left of his nose. That Rembrandt incidentally is a great example of building form with an expressive brushstroke. it looks like it was hewn with an axe.

It is generally best to lay your strokes against the form if you can. It almost always looks better. I guess that's because it shows the breadth ofobjects, and isn't as obvious a way of doing things. So to review, when your brush hits the canvas you need to know if that stroke is going to run with, or against the form.

More of this tomorrow, and then we will take all of this up a level, and talk about passages and what they contain.

Hibbard images from: A.T. Hibbard, Artist in Two Worlds by John L. Cooley
available through the Rockport Art Association, Rockport Massachusetts .