A common problem many artists have who have been creating for a long time is what to do with the products of their labors. We may exhibit at art shows, a gallery or in places such as restaurants, theatres, offices, etc. For most of us this results in occasional sales while the rest of our output simply accumulates. Eventually storage becomes a problem.
Many people simply don’t think about acquiring original art. It may seem too expensive. They decorate their walls with posters, reproductions and décor purchased at a local hobby store. A question we as artists have to think about is, should original art belong only to the well-to-do or highly educated? Some artists say yes, that giving away original art or selling it at greatly reduced prices reduces the chance for artists to make a living at what they do (which is really not a possibility for most of us.)
I don’t agree. I would like my art to find a home with someone who appreciates it, regardless of their financial status. I keep records and I think I have given away as much as I’ve sold. Some have gone to charity auctions. Many others have gone to individuals, some as appreciation, and others to recognize special occasions. Recently two of my paintings found homes, one to a newly married couple, and the one above as a graduation and engagement present.
When I am giving to individuals, I like to let them choose. I have numerous paintings on the walls in my basement and it is fun for me to watch them try to decide which one they will choose and why they like it, sometimes for reasons that would never occur to me, such as the high school graduate a year ago who chose a painting of a Norwegian Fjord because it reminded him of Narnia. The one above was chosen by an aspiring filmmaker because, he said, he liked the light and shadows, which was what he tried to capture on film.
So I’ll keep on painting and giving but selling one occasionally would be nice too.
Photo of Prairie Tree
Prairie Tree, Acrylic 18″ x 14″
It’s always good to be offered a commission, but it usually involves painting from a photo someone else has taken. Recently I was asked to do a panting from the above photo, which the woman was very enthusiastic about. A friend had let her family stay at their country place while work was being done on their house. What she wanted me to do was to paint from the photo they had taken while there so she could give the painting to their friend.
I said I would do it but I didn’t tell her what I thought of the photo. The tree in the photo was directly in the center, and artists are taught never to put the center of interest in the middle of the painting. Secondly, the size of the foreground was too near the same size as the sky, another no no. Also, the foreground in the photo was so dark that it was difficult to see the vegetation.
The painting above shows how I handled these problems. I moved the tree a bit to one size and shortened the foreground and made it lighter. I thought this preserved the essence of the scene while making it more pleasing to look at. She was a little concerned that the painting did not look exactly like the photo, but did buy it.
I don’t know who she is but I know she is a teenager who shares my love of art. At Christmastime a church group I belong to gets the name of a family who needs gifts at Christmas. Then each member of our group takes one of the names and buys something from their wish list. We’ve done this for a number of years. Sometimes the requests have been for sizes of clothing I can’t easily find or a child will ask for some toy I’ve never heard of and don’t know where to buy it. But this year was different.
A teenaged girl asked for art supplies and canvases and I knew right away that was the person I wanted to shop for. For a low income person wanting to paint, the expense can be daunting. The two high schools in our town have very good art programs so I assumed the girl I was buying for had already been introduced to some basic concepts and wanted to do more. (If she is already enrolled in art classes she was ahead of where I was at that age. My high school offered no art at all.)
I never go shopping on Black Friday but this year I made an exception. Both Hobby Lobby and Michaels had bargains too good to pass up. When my package is delivered she will have a nice surprise. I wish I could know what she will do with it. I discovered art in college and although it has not been a way to earn a living it has enhanced my life considerably over many years. I hope it will do the same for her.
Peppers, Acrylic, 6″ x 6″
As the holiday season approaches, small seems to be in when it comes to paintings. There’s a very practical reason for this, of course. They cost less and when it comes to holiday art shows they are competing in price with items like scarves, earrings and other jewelry. I am in three holiday art shows this year. The Southwind Gallery Miniature show in Topeka asked artists to paint six inch by six inch paintings which the gallery then framed all in the same way. That show just opened and will run during November and December. The Topeka Art Guild Gallery asked artists in their December-January show to contribute art selling for $100 or less, which means that the art will be of small size. The Holiday Art Fair at the Lawrence Art Center in Lawrence on Saturday November 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. did not specify size but when competing with jewelry and other small items I plan on bringing smaller, lower priced paintings.
What can an artist do in a small space? The painting above will be in the Southwind Gallery Miniature show. When I am faced with a small canvas I tend to focus on small items. My other painting in that show is of one water lily. Not as impressive as a whole pond of them but I think there is something to be gained by limiting one’s focus to just one or a few simple objects. I loved all the different colors in that one pepper. Also, if the painting doesn’t work, not so much time and effort have been wasted.
I remember some years ago when I had some paintings in a local gallery, the gallery owner urged me to paint very large paintings. I think they were in style at the time. I was told that art majors at our local university were also encouraged to use large canvases. Well, I tried one that was, I think 48″ x 30.” It took a long time to paint and then the gallery owner didn’t like it. I never tried another one that large. I think smaller paintings have come back and that suits me just fine.
Last year was not a good year for me artistically. There were less places locally to exhibit paintings than there used to be. And no one seemed to be interested in my work. I signed up for Art Walk in October, when people visit local artists at their homes or studios. In addition to the numerous paintings on the walls of my basement gallery, I put out a stack of older work I wanted to get rid of at greatly reduced prices. The only painting I sold all year was one from that stack.
It made me wonder what was the point in painting if all I was doing was piling up art nobody wanted. But for some of us not being creative does not seem to be an option. We are simply programmed to be artists. We can’t help it. The same seems to be true of writers and musicians. So I gave a few paintings as gifts and kept on creating.
Then came more bad luck. My computer stopped working and went away for repairs for almost a month. Computers are vital to just about everyone these days, including artists. I couldn’t add photos of new paintings to those already on the computer or print them. The records of my work were on my computer. And I couldn’t write on my blog or enter art shows that these days have to be done on a computer. When my computer finally returned I found a new Microsoft system on it and even more frustrating a whole new picture system, Adobe Elements 14, that is probably a good system if I could understand how it works.
But then suddenly things began to change for the better. My daughter referred a woman to me who wanted a painting of a dog, now deceased, that had been her husband’s favorite. She provided a photo. I hadn’t done a dog in years but I rashly said yes and agreed to do it in pastels, a medium I don’t usually work in. The result is below. (I wanted to put it above but somehow couldn’t.) The woman was pleased with the portrait of “Benny,” which was to be a gift for her husband.
Several more sales followed. I participated in Art in the Park and sold a painting of a Bradford pear tree. I joined the plein air painters at the Overland Park Arboretum spring event and sold a painting from it. A relative bought a painting to give as a gift. So I guess I’ll just keep on keeping on. The process itself is irresistable.
Dec. 31, 2015
While I’ve been too busy to paint during the holidays, art continues to be a part of my life. And I’ve been learning about a new form that may or may not be something I would consider art. We had a big gathering of relatives here to celebrate Christmas with lots of presents under the tree. Among those were crayons, magic markers and paper for a three year old and a big set of art supplies and sketchbooks for an 11 year old. Both these gifts were requested by their moms and I think it’s great when parents want to encourage creativity in their children.
But then I listened to what several adult women had to say about a new activity for adults, adult coloring books. One had received a book as a gift and had tried it and enjoyed it. Another, who has done some creative art, is buying the books for herself as a form of relaxation after a day on the job. A young woman who works at a senior care facility said a woman of very advanced age who lived in the facility spent many happy hours with such books.
I don’t know what to make of this. It is true that these books are nothing like the coloring books children used to use. The adult version features intricate abstract designs that are filled in with colored pencils. Is this a creative activity? I suppose some would say so. I’m not against people following patterns. Women who sew, quilt, knit or crochet have been doing that for many years and create attractive, creative and useful items. But what does one do with a completed page in a coloring book? Another thought. While both men and women pursue various forms of the arts, I can’t imagine a man using an adult coloring book. But I’ll try to keep an open mind even though I won’t be buying one for myself.
April 12, 2015
Our family celebrated my birthday this past week and are looking forward to celebrating the college graduation of a granddaughter next month. Both of these celebrations can be occasions for gift giving.
One of the ways I make space for new paintings on the walls of my basement gallery is to give paintings to my numerous grandchildren to celebrate academic milestones, such as high school and college graduations. Since my granddaughter, who would soon graduate from college, was scheduled to appear at my birthday dinner I decided to use the occasion to let her pick out a painting as a graduation gift. When I do this I am always surprised at the choice that is made. It is never what I would have expected.
This young woman from Kansas, who had picked out a small painting of a field of sunflowers when she graduated from high school, now chose a 24″ x 30″ rather lurid depiction of sunset over the mountains near Santa Fe. I have good memories of an evening at the outdoor Santa Fe Opera when I took the photo that inspired the painting. However the painting itself is not one of my favorites. I’m glad it has found a good home.
The same evening an 11-year-old grandson brought a gift to me to celebrate my birthday. It was all his own idea. His mom didn’t even know he had brought it. It was, as pictured above, a set of art supplies, crayons, colored pencils, magic markers and watercolors. He later explained that it was his, a gift I suppose, that he had hardly used. He thought I might like it.
As I looked at it later, ideas began to form. I haven’t done much sketching since I began to take photographs years ago. I think part of the reason is that I so love color. The sunset painting is an example of that. But what if I sketched with colored pencils or even crayons or markers? What if I took this box with me the next time I traveled? I can’t walk for as long as I used to. It would be a good excuse to sit down and rest. Grandson, you may have started me in a new artistic direction.
The Sightseers, Acrylic, 18″ x 24″
May 27, 2014
One way for an artist to keep the paintings from overrunning the available wall space is to occasionally give a painting as a gift. Three years ago when a granddaughter was the first of my grandchildren to graduate from high school, I let her choose a painting from among those hanging in my basement gallery as a graduation gift. She was surprised, I think, and chose one of my sunflower paintings. This year her brother graduated from high school. When I told him he could choose a painting as a graduation gift, he surprised me by telling me he had already picked one out. He had never shown any interest in my art that I knew of. Yet because his sister had received a painting he assumed he would too. “I’ve had my eye on it for some time, he said.”
So now that grandson has the above painting. Although he is still living at home, who knows where he and that painting will reside through the years and what sights he will see. I hope he will take that painting with him. And maybe some day when he has children and they ask him about those elk, he will tell them about his artist grandmother who traveled to Glacier National Park and stayed in a great lodge, saw those elk on the terrace, took a photo and turned it into a painting. That would be a good way to be remembered.
Replica of “Madonna of the Rose Garden”
by Stephan Lochner 1410-1451
The hectic Christmas season is over. Cold winter months loom ahead when art will need to be done indoors and there may be more time to be creative. So why not think about Christmas season 2014. Was there a Christmas project you meant to complete this season but ran out of time? Was there a time in the season when you had a great idea for an inspiring piece that could become part of your Christmas decor year after year, but you were too overwhelmed to act on it? If so, January is a great time to plan and begin a seasonal art project.
Some years ago I longed for a poster reproduction of one of the great Madonna paintings from the past to hang above the mantel over our fireplace. I searched in stores selling painting reproductions that could be framed but there were no Madonnas. The first Christmas card I received that year had on it a reproduction of Stephan Lochner’s “Madonna of the Rose Garden.” I knew I had found my Madonna, but wondered how to reproduce it on a larger scale. The painting itself suggested the answer. Artists from northern Europe in the 1400s painted a lot of Madonnas. One thing they all had in common was an emphasis on the draping of cloth. I would reproduce this Madonna in cloth and embroidery.
This was a huge project and as I recall I started in January. I bought stretchers for a 30″ x 24″ piece and attached muslin to it so that I could sew the various cloth pieces to it that I bought at a fabric store. Using tracing paper which I gridded, I traced the design of the Christmas card and then transferred the design to 30″ x 24″ tracing paper. This way I could see where to place the various pieces of cloth and sew them down by hand. The final details I did with embroidery thread. The result is shown above. It is the first item I hang on Dec. 1 and the last I take down on January 1. I love looking at it.
When my eldest daughter was married and they had their own place, she asked me to make a Madonna for her. But being an artist, I wasn’t going to do the same Madonna all over again. So I began to look at Madonnas from northern Europe of the same time period. I found a slide of a Madonna I liked in a museum gift shop and made one for her and her husband as a Christmas gift. She liked it so well that she leaves it hanging in her home all year. Since then I have made Madonnas for two daughters and their husbands and a son and his wife each one different. Two of the Madonnas I found in art books and the last one on the internet.
The slower pace of January awaits. What new creative project will you begin?
Highpoint Corner, acrylic, 12″ x 7″
Of course all artists, me included, are hoping Santa will swoop down and choose one of their pieces for a Christmas gift. The Topeka Art Guild Gallery is making that a little easier by having a big selection of paintings selling for less than $100 in their current show. The show will run through January, so if you receive a monetary gift for Christmas you might want to pay the gallery a visit. The above is one of my contributions to that show. Art is more lasting than the latest electronic game or that trendy piece of clothing that you won’t want to be seen in next year. It is something you an enjoy in your home or office for years to come.
But as artists we can use this season of gift giving to further the cause of art in another way. Think about the people you’ve heard say they have always wanted to paint. Remember the young person who is excited about an art class they are taking in school. And what about the struggling artist who is wondering how to afford the supplies needed to continue. The gift of art supplies may be just the inspiration someone you know will appreciate. A painting is more than just something to hang on the wall. Creating it may give the artist the chance to sit in a beautiful natural setting and really see it in a new way. It may help someone think outside the box. Or it may simply give someone struggling with overwhelming problems a needed respite. We who know the benefits of art can choose in this season to share it with others. It can indeed be the gift that keeps on giving.