Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On the Move

In case you're wondering why I haven't blogged in awhile, I've been busy moving to a new apartment. Now, my friend Rosemary says that moving is one of Dante's levels of hell, but I'm actually enjoying it. This move, like everything else this year, is proving to be wonderfully cathartic.

I actually started preparing about two months ago. With past moves, I've usually waited til the last minute and then had full-blown emotional meltdowns from the stress so I was determined to do things differently this time. So after finding my new digs, I started collecting boxes and packing up things. When I got down to it, I realized I could pack at least half the stuff in my apartment because I could easily live without it. That gave me pause. If I can live without something for two months, why do I need it at all?

Then came last Saturday, when the movers discovered that yet another slew of boxes (containing stuff I just had to keep in the last move but that I've been living without for the last three years) came out of the storage unit in the basement crawling with mold. Several of the boxes went straight to the trash, and you know what? It turns out that I didn't need that stuff either.

So now I'm sitting in my new living room, barely able to get to the computer desk with all the piles of stuff surrounding me, and I can't wait to open every single box. I'm looking forward to pulling it all out and going through it and sending a good chunk of this stuff on to new lives with friends or strangers or maybe the nearest recycling center or dump. Because I have a new lease on life this year, and it's given me a powerfully new way to look at everything in my life, be it stuff or thoughts or beliefs.

This year I have learned to ask, Is this serving me well? And if not, why am I hanging on to it? And if I'm not ready to let go of it right this minute but I know I should, what do I need to do to prepare myself to let go? It's so easy to go from day to day, not really examining what's stuffed inside our closets, our drawers, our minds, and our hearts. It's so easy to walk the same steps we've always walked before without ever asking if there's a better route. But this year I was forced to stop that, I've been forced to look and listen and change and let go. And I'm so much better for it. I'll be even better for letting go of a lot of this stuff.

When you free up space, there is room for better ways, healthier thoughts, more creativity. I'm clearing a dance floor in my home and within myself, and baby, I'm ready to dance.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Further Thoughts on Rejection

My friend Ruth, a writer, and I often have conversations about our two favorite art forms, writing and painting. We often marvel at the overlaps and similarities... until today. In response to my blog post on rejection yesterday, she commented that this is one place where artists and writers differ a lot. She went on to explain that writers expect rejection. In fact, they welcome it and wear it as their badge of honor. After all, Ruth reminded me, all of the best and most famous writers were repeatedly rejected. Then she added that she looks upon her rejection letters--yes, she's had a few--as her "Certificates of Participation." In the words of Woody Allen, she said, "Ninety percent of life is just showing up." A rejection letter means she showed up. It means she took the courageous step of putting her very personal work out there, and whether it's well received or not, at least she knows she's done something most people never have the guts to do. That's so cool. We artists could take some lessons from those writer types.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thoughts on Rejection

Why do we always take rejection so personally?! We all do it. We automatically assume that if we didn't get the gallery/show/grant/press coverage/whatever that we applied for, it must mean our work is bad. And since our work is a direct reflection of who we are as people, that must mean we're unlikeable or undesirable or whatever. That makes it nearly impossible to not take it personally. Right?

Not true, people!! Having been the rejector quite often, I can tell you from honest experience, it's not true! Let's consider some possible scenarios.

Galleries. First, you have to understand how galleries work. Every single gallery out there has a well-defined group of people--called their target market--who they have nurtured as their customer base. The gallery director knows what those customers want and how much they'll pay for it. He or she is looking for artists whose work will appeal to that target market and bring them into the gallery and inspire them to buy. So among the many possible reasons a gallery director might reject an artist is because a) the artist's work is too different from what is in the gallery and won't appeal to the pre-defined target market (and widening the range of offerings will require too much of an investment of time and money to attract a broader audience), b) the artist's work is too similar to another artist already selling well in the gallery, c) the artist's work is at the wrong price level (either too high or too low) for the target market, or d) the gallery is representing the maximum number of artists they can comfortably handle. Notice how none of these reasons have anything to do with the quality of the artist's work.

Competitions. When a juror selects entries for a competition, he or she is usually curating a show, which means choosing a collective body of work that will look good together. So once the juror has picked out all the best pieces, he or she then has to look at them as a whole. There might be too many landscapes or too many figurative pieces, so good pieces are rejected to strike a better balance. Ditto for styles. Or maybe a really good piece just doesn't fit well with the rest. Or maybe there was a theme for the show, and a really good piece doesn't fit the theme. Notice how none of these reasons have anything to do with the quality of the artist's work.

Magazines and other press coverage. An art magazine editor goes through the exact same curatorial process when selecting artists to feature in future issues, with the extra consideration of what has recently been featured. An editor wants to offer variety, not near repeats. And of course, a major reason editors and producers of all types will reject a proposal is that the artist didn't offer a compelling "hook" or angle for the text part of the article. Notice how none of these reasons have anything to do with the quality of the artist's work.

My friends, in our fast-paced universe, no one is going to take the time to write a personalized note explaining why they rejected you from something. So you'll rarely--if ever--know why you've been rejected. But with so many possibilities, why assume it means your work is bad? Have faith in yourself, keep striving to be the best you can be, and always put your best work out there. 

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Self-Promotion Is Not An Imposition

This past weekend, I spent a lot of time with some artists talking about marketing, especially about the feelings and emotions involved in self-promotion. A few artists expressed concern about overdoing it, which is normal since nobody ever wants to come across as too pushy or arrogant. But one woman even mentioned that she feels like she’s imposing on people when she contacts them to request things like press coverage or gallery representation. While I respect her viewpoint, I encouraged her to look at self-promotion another way: Done right, we’re actually doing editors and gallery directors a service by letting them know we’re available.

Let’s look at things from their point of view:

Newspaper, magazine, and website editors, as well as TV and radio producers, have to find good stories to publish. Finding stories that will engage an audience is hard work. So imagine how happy and appreciative they will be when you send them a proposal about a compelling story – your story – that meets their needs! Your local news media editors will love it when you contact them and say, “I’m a local artist who is doing something really interesting in our community.” Likewise, how-to art magazine editors love it when you contact them and say, “I can write a feature that will teach your readers an exciting new technique I’ve developed.” When you present an editor with a specific, useful idea that will truly be of interest to their audience, you are doing them a favor and saving them a lot of work.

The same is true of gallery directors. They are always looking for new artists whose work they can sell because it will appeal to their existing customer base and attract new customers with similar tastes and interests. So, if you’ve done your homework and think that your work will complement the work already being sold in a specific gallery, you should contact them. A gallery director will be thrilled to meet an artist who is a good fit for the gallery and its customers.

By now, however, you’ve probably deduced that the secret to success is to present the right proposals to the right people. It’s not enough to simply contact every editor and producer with a general request to be featured. You need to see a connection between your story and their audience, and then help the editor or producer see that connection. Similarly, you should not contact every single gallery around, nor should you contact a gallery just because it’s successful and well-known. Be selective and contact only those galleries that are selling work similar to yours in a comparable price range. Then, in your cover letter, explain specifically why your work would be a good fit for that gallery.

In short, you’re not imposing yourself on people when you contact them with professional proposals because they always have the right to say no. Rather, if you’re giving them something they need to accomplish their business goals, you’re doing them a service. Everyone wins.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Goes Around Comes Around

Remember that post from a couple of weeks ago when I wrote that I was irked by artists who teach workshops and classes when they really don't have the credentials? Well, in an ironic twist, I was accused of doing that very same thing this week -- billing myself as a marketing expert teaching a workshop when I really don't have the chops. Huh.

Now that I've had a few days to get over my righteous indignation, I'm ready to think through my feelings on the subject more clearly. One thing I realized is that in all my years, I've rarely seen an artist intentionally take advantage of fellow artists. We can't. We know how hard we have to work, and we just can't stick it to other people who work as hard as we do. 

That made me realize that maybe some of those not-quite-ready-to-teach teachers are actually motivated by the same things I am. It's not the money. They're just so in love with art that they want everyone to have the same great experience by sharing whatever they know, just like I'm excited about marketing (yes, I'm a business geek) and I want to share what I know. I don't claim to be a cutting-edge marketing guru or innovator, but I do know an awful lot about the subject (I've been studying marketing for 25 years and have picked the brains of the most successful artists around to find out how they do it), and I feel like it's my honor and privilege to share what I've learned with my fellow artists. 

Regardless of what the teacher's motives are, it's still up to all students to determine whether they'll get their money's worth out of the experience. Don't commit to something until you've done some research and it feels like a good fit for you. Now, there are some lovely people who are putting their faith in me this weekend, and I'm not letting them leave until they've hammered out the core of their marketing plans and feel capable of implementing them. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Marketing Insight

Wow! I'm doing some research for my upcoming workshop on marketing for artists (see the description to the left for more details), and just came across a surprising new statistic. Remember how marketers used to say it required at least 5 contacts before you captured someone's attention with your marketing? Statistics now show it takes between 9 and 27 messages to capture someone's attention! We're so bombarded with marketing messages that we've become very adept at tuning them out! Good thing there are now more vehicles to deliver those marketing messages than ever.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Choosing the Right Teacher

Do you mind if I share a pet peeve of mine? I really object to artists who hang out their shingles as art instructors when they still have so much to learn themselves. I'm not sure why some artists who have barely passed out of the amateur stage think they have the skills or abilities or right to teach, but I've seen it happen time and again. Since there's nothing we can do to stop them, it's up to the would-be art student to determine who is really a good teacher.

So how do you find a good teacher, someone with real credentials to teach? How can you tell when you yourself know relatively little about art, which is why you're seeking lessons in the first place? I think you should ask the prospective teacher a lot of questions before you sign on for private lessons. Here are some of the things to look for:
  • A formal education is no guarantee that he or she has mastered the craft of painting, but I'd like the teacher to be able to say that he or she has pursued a lot of instruction with other master artists through schools, private lessons, and/or workshops.
  • A lengthy track record of exhibitions, awards, and sales. This shows that peers and other experts have acknowledged that this teacher is a good artist.
  • High quality in other students' work. Have any of this teacher's current or former students gone on to become professionals? How does their work look to you? Case in point: My teacher, Tina Tammaro, has trained so many of us local artists who have become professionals that we were invited to have a huge group show in a gallery. (Even more impressive was that none of our works looked like hers because she helped each of us find our personal voices!)
  • And finally, a true teacher is going to talk about training you in the fundamentals. I would steer clear of any teacher who talks about step-by-step projects, formulas, or anything that sounds like the teacher is trying to make it easy. Learning to paint is not easy, and any teacher who says he or she has found a way to make it so is not really teaching you to paint. Ditto for teachers who focus on helping you to "express yourself."
What else? Do any of you have further thoughts on selecting a worthwhile teacher? Let me hear from you.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Marketing Tip

Like me, I'm sure you've found yourself in a situation where you're talking to a new acquaintance who says he or she would love to see your work. Wouldn't it be great to have several examples at your fingertips to show off on those occasions? Well, here's one easy way I just discovered.

I used a website called Shutterfly ( to make a photo book. It was super easy, not very expensive, and it looks great. Basically, I uploaded a bunch of pictures of my paintings into my private account within Shutterfly. Then I laid them out in a little 5 x 7-inch, 20-page book. There are dozens of different layouts I could choose from for each page, and I also got to choose the background colors, type styles, and borders. In addition to my paintings and bio, I included a few favorite quotes and a poem.

The cost for this size, with shipping and handling, was about $15 for the single copy of the book, so it's probably not something I would give away to potential clients, but it's certainly a nice way to carry a portfolio in my purse. A larger version would also make a great coffee table book (how many artists can say they have their own coffee table books? everyone!) or a fabulous thank-you gift for a repeat collector.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Local Color, The Post-Viewing Discussion

My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Local Color, the art-related movie by George Gallo, last night. One of the things we liked best is that it's about so much more than art. The movie's story line touched on a lot of subjects that would appeal to plenty of non-artists, like the value of mentoring, and parent-child relationship challenges, and the power of love and friendship. Of course, the main theme of the movie, however, was the age old debate over the supremacy of traditional/representational art versus progressive/avant garde art.

The movie takes place in the 1970s, so it was a timely topic of debate then, but sadly some are still debating this very thing today. Or at least they are here in America. Having had the opportunity to see a lot of art and meet a lot of artists from Canada and the UK in particular, I can tell you that artists and the public at large outside of the US laid this debate to rest years ago. Their attitude is this: "There are all kinds of art in the world, and all are equally valid. Within each kind, there is good and bad art, but no one category of art is superior to any other. All artists have the right to make whatever type they prefer, and all people have the right to like whatever appeals to them most." That's why you'll see all kinds of art exhibited together in any kind of group show abroad, unlike American shows which are always very exclusive, one way or another.

So why are Americans still, after nearly a century of debating, still arguing over which is better? One possible reason that comes to mind is the lack of art education here in the U.S. As is often the case, when people start to wade into an area of discussion that they don't know a whole lot about, they cling to whatever "experts" say and hang on absolutes, rather than seeking to further their own understanding by acknowledging they have more to learn. Isn't there some way we could all come to appreciate each other?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Local Color - the Movie!

I just wanted to let everyone in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area know that the movie Local Color is playing at the Carnegie in Covington this coming week. It will be shown on Tuesday, September 8, and Wednesday, September 9. This film has been around for a year or two, but for those of you who don't know about it, it's the story of a young man who wants to learn how to paint in the traditional ways, so he seeks out an elderly reclusive artist for training. Looks like an inspiring story! For more info, go to:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Original Concepts

Early Friday evening: 

"So what visual image would you pick to represent love?," he asked.

"I was thinking of a mother and child," she said.

"That's a cop-out," he quickly answered.

Later that same evening:

"What do you think of that portrait of the young African-American man flipping us the bird?," she asked me.

"Well, I think the artist is trying to comment on the attitudes of youth in America today," I answered, trying to be diplomatic.

"I think it's offensive," she said with total candor.

"Yes, it's supposed to be, but I also think it's a bit cliched," I answered back.

I share these two conversations from my Friday evening because they both touch on an interesting topic: originality. I suspect that most of us try very hard to be original in expressing the values and ideas we hold dear. Yet, more often than not, we fall short of the goal, reaching instead for images that are familiar, expected, cliched, or sentimental. On the other hand, every new work is the artist's own spin.

So how important is originality? Is an image that's not original still valid as a work of art? How do we avoid becoming cliched or sentimental? Is there a way to cultivate a unique vision? Your thoughts? I'd like to start a conversation about this because I'm struggling with this very thing.

Last Saturday Summer Paint-Out

Yesterday saw the last of the summer paint-outs on Saturday mornings. I want to thank my friends Ray, Mike, Monica, Rosemary, and Carol for coming out and joining me on many occasions. You made it so much more fun to be out there, and of course, I treasure your insights and advice.

The plan is really a testament to how effective accountability is. When I started sending out the invites to the summer paint-outs, I specifically did not ask people to RSVP. I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn't get my behind out of bed if I didn't have to, so by not knowing who might show up and wondering whether people were counting on me to be at the scheduled locations, I didn't have any other option but be there. What great discipline! And I'm really thankful for that because I know I would not have painted as much or learned as much without the discipline, and I'd be sitting here regretting every lost opportunity.

Instead I'm sitting here surrounded by about 15 paintings from all the paint-outs. Most of them are pretty bad. Does that matter? Not one bit. It's about the process, not the product.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

O Happy Day!

Many thanks to Nancy Achberger and Ray Hassard, both OPAS members, who arranged for a fantastic day of painting in Historic Milford, Ohio, on the banks of the Little Miami River. We caught a break from the 90+-degree weather we've been having all week, and it was comfortable and beautiful. Cloudy but still a perfect day. More than 40 artists came from all over Ohio and beyond to participate in this one-day paint-out that ended with a wet-paint sale. Congrats to all those who sold their work right off the easel!

In addition to the fun of meeting fellow artists, I had a great time painting the same subject as two other watercolor artists--an old white house surrounded by a fantastic wildflower garden. It's always fascinating to see how each artist puts her (or his!) own unique spin on something. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Having Your Work Critiqued

The past couple of weeks have been very interesting. A friend of a friend asked us to critique her novel, giving me an insider’s look at the creative process in a different form. The thing is, she’s been working on it off and on for the past 15 years. With that much time and effort invested, you really have to admire someone for putting her work of art out there and asking for criticism.

Having your work critiqued is never easy. I think that secretly we all want to hear that our work is fantastic… perfection… inspired and inspiring. So when we hear anything other than pure praise, we can end up feeling deflated, discouraged, embarrassed, or even surprised. For instance: Recently I was visiting my friend Tina’s studio, and our friend Mike walked in and asked why she had included some throw pillows in her newest painting. The “throw pillows” were actually the back of a figure’s head and shoulders! We all laughed—maybe guffawed would be more accurate—and then Tina gritted her teeth and went back to work on that figure.

But if you can get past the emotional strain of a critique from a reliable source (by which I mean someone knowledgeable about art), you’ll probably emerge a much stronger painter for the experience. After all, how else will we ever learn to improve? Do we really want to stay stuck in the same place? Ignorance can be bliss sometimes, but always?

I’ll tell you how I critique my own and other people’s paintings. I start with a simple question based on the assumption that the purpose of art is to communicate: What is the artist trying to tell me? If the answer isn’t immediately clear, there’s a problem. And that’s when I start running through the list of elements (value, color, edges, shape, etc.) and principles (variety, dominance, repetition, etc.) to see if I can identify what’s blocking me from receiving what I believe was the intended message.

So the next time you find your work getting a critique—by request or not—listen attentively. Give yourself time to feel and process any emotions that come up, but then put them aside and apply whatever useful information you’ve received.

On Sunday, I met with the author and the friend, and we spent close to three hours reviewing her novel. At first she listened and took notes, then she began to look away and got a little defensive. When we parted company, there was definitely some tension in the air. But four hours later she was back on the phone, calmly asking us to begin again, to clarify, to respond to her new ideas. ’Atta girl!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Your Palette, Your Way

Some time ago, I posted a short blurb about my favorite color palette: Cad Lemon, Cad Yellow Medium, Cad Red Medium, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, and Titanium White. This is the palette I used a week ago Saturday for this square painting of a little tree out at Miami Whitewater Forest. As always, I was able to achieve a wide range of greens without using any tubed greens that harmonize nicely because they all share a common color, Ultramarine Blue.

But during the week, my best friend and painting teacher, Tina Tammaro, introduced me to another possibility built around the modern color of Phthalo Blue. I have always avoided this color because it's so bright and looked garish when mixed with the other colors on my usual palette. But Tina's been experimenting with a whole different palette of Yellow Ochre, Cad Orange, Indian Red, Phthalo Blue, and Titanium White. What she's discovered, and I think this horizontal painting I did yesterday along the Ohio River illustrates her point, is that you can mix natural looking colors that have a slightly richer feel to them with this palette. We think it's because the dull colors (the Ochre and Indian Red) calm down the Phthalo Blue while allowing it to retain a robust look. I should add that I actually incorporated a little Cad Yellow and Alizarin as well to make the sunlit greens and atmospheric, hazy purples. 

As with so many things in art, there isn't one "right way" to do things. It's all a matter of preference. I'm just throwing these two possibilities out there for you to try. In both cases, the fairly limited palettes helped to retain color harmony. I just think the Phthalo palette looks a little richer and more contemporary than the Ultramarine palette. I think I'm a convert! Tell me what you think if you try these colors.

Monday, August 3, 2009

How to Get Published in a Magazine

A recent e-mail exchange with a fellow artist has inspired me to offer a few tips on how to get published in a magazine. People often think that editors go out and hunt down all those great stories, but that's only true some of the time. A lot of the magazine articles you see were generated by the subjects themselves who took initiative and contacted the editors with their article ideas. In other words, if you're looking to get some publicity in a magazine, don't wait for the opportunity to come to you. Go out and get it!

1. Choose the right magazine for your purpose. Think about what it is you want to promote and to whom, and then choose the magazine that caters to that audience. If you want to sell your art workshops, how-to books, or DVDs to your fellow artists, you want to be in artists' magazines, like American Artist, The Artist's Magazine, and International Artist. If you want to sell more of your paintings, you'll want to be featured in collectors' magazines, like Southwest Art and American Art Collector (although you have to buy an ad to get featured in that second one). And remember that collectors can be found anywhere so broaden your reach to magazines that cater to people who may be interested in your work because of the subject. For example, if you include your favorite sock puppet in every still life, contact toy collectors' magazines.

2. Pitch the story and get a green light before you write (or worse, pay someone else to write) the article. Editors do not want to receive pre-written articles. In fact, they'd prefer to consult with you on the content of your article before it's written. They might even want to have a staff member or freelance writer of their choice write the article. Even if you do end up writing it yourself or hiring someone to write for you, don't invest any time or money into writing the full article until an editor has agreed to publish it when it's done.

3. Write a convincing pitch letter or e-mail. The key to getting published is to convince the editor that a story about you or the group you represent will be great for the magazine's readers. You do this by sending a pitch letter that explains a) the original "angle" or subject that you can provide, b) how the information will benefit the magazine's readers, and c) why your credentials make you worthy of space in the magazine. You do not want to write, "I would love to be featured because I could really use the publicity." The editor already knows that it would benefit you--he or she wants to know what's in it for him or her. The editor's job is to please the readers, not to promote you, so your pitch should be more along the lines of "My journey as an artist is fascinating to collectors" or "I can teach your readers a new technique I've developed." If you want more detailed info on developing an angle and writing a great pitch letter, visit the "writers & writing" section of any bookstore or library where you'll find plenty of examples.

4. Follow the instructions when submitting a proposal. The pitch letter is just one part of an overall proposal package that you'll submit to the editor. Other pieces may include examples of your work and your bio or resume. The important message here is to visit the magazine's website and hunt around until you find their info on Submissions or Proposals or Submission Guidelines or similar. Once you've found their instructions, follow them to a T. If they want it electronically, send it that way. If they want it by snail mail, send it that way. And send everything they ask for and nothing more. If you absolutely can't find any guidelines on their website, check the masthead for the name of the current Managing Editor or Assistant Editor, and send him or her an e-mail asking for submission instructions. Don't contact The Editor, that name at the top of the masthead. Save that for the actual submission.

5. Be patient in waiting for a response. It's not unusual to wait a minimum of three months before you get a response. If you haven't heard by then, send a brief, polite e-mail or make a brief, polite phone call to the Managing Editor or Assistant Editor, asking for a follow-up.

6. If you'd like to contact competing magazines (magazines with the same audience and probably the same readers), do it one at a time. Start with your favorite/most promising one. Only when you've heard a definite "no" should you move on to the next one on your list. And never, ever agree to be featured in competing magazines at roughly the same time. It makes the magazines look bad, which damages your reputation.

Okay, that's all I got. Be proactive. Be patient. Be persistent... And make it fun!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

One-Hour Paintings

Ah, the joys of plein-air painting in Ohio. If the bugs aren't biting, the sky is threatening. But I wouldn't change a thing about it!

It just so happens that my last several Saturday morning paint-outs have coincided with cloudy days, which is what prompted me to paint super fast. All of these are one-hour (or less) paintings. I seem to be able to move faster with the palette knife than with the brush, so I used one of my favorite tools for all of them. It's a great exercise if you've never tried it. It really forces you to focus on your big shapes and get to the essence of your subjects. But I still paid attention to harmonizing the color relationships.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Highs and Lows of Art

You’re cruising through a gallery or someone’s house, and a work of art just makes you stop dead in your tracks. You’re mesmerized. Your heart beats faster. You don’t want to leave the space in the painting because it has moved you and changed you in a moment. Wow – that’s some good art.

Not all works of art have that power, though. Some people have chosen to describe the difference by labeling the powerful kind as “high art,” which makes the pieces that don’t have much lasting impact “low art.” Robert Henri in The Art Spirit defined high and low art this way: “Low art is just telling things, as 'There is the night.' High art gives the feel of the night.”

Now, I recognize that “high art” is a good term to use. It says that the work is superior in its ability to capture the viewer’s attention and to bring them to a new place emotionally, intellectually, or perhaps even spiritually. But somehow—in my mind at least--high art has become synonymous with good art, and low art is synonymous with bad art. The use of these terms has instilled a kind of snobbery in me over the years.

Lately, however, I’ve been questioning this viewpoint, and I’ve decided I want to get away from that kind of judgmental thinking. I want to replace the label “low art” with “decorative art,” and I want to use that term with respect, not disdain. Naturally, I still want to create works that move people, that somehow express what inspired me to paint and in turn inspires viewers. But if I create something that is simply an expression of my own interests or a representation of a favorite subject or an exploration of a great design or a fun and innovative use of a medium, that’s okay, too. It’s wonderful and even preferred to aspire to create high art, but I think there’s plenty of room in the world for decorative art as well. Yes, I know my decorative art won’t be hanging in any museums in a hundred years, and frankly, I’m okay with that.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Saturday Summer Paint-Out Update

I'm really having a great time painting with various friends on locations around Cincinnati. This week my friend Mike and I painted at Burnet Woods, where a little bird decided to help Mike with his painting.  

I'm also really pleased with this week's painting. It's a very unusual composition, and I feel like I captured that excitement of the morning light dancing through the leaves. Fun!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Opportunities and Audiences

Thanks to the Internet, there are now countless opportunities for us to share every thought, idea, and action with others. Believe me when I say, venues like Facebook, Blogger, and websites are so seductive, and you can easily squander (yes, I confess, I've been squandering!) away countless hours with any or all of them. But given that we're artists who want to and should be spending most of our time painting, we have to ask ourselves what we're really accomplishing with these activities. In my opinion, it all comes down to purpose. Who are you trying to communicate with, and why? 

I think it's pretty much understood by now that your website should be your professional presence on the internet. This is an opportunity to show off your work to potential collectors/buyers/customers (call them what you will). And yet, I still come across the occasional artist's website that includes a page about the grandkids. I would recommend keeping the professional stuff and the personal stuff separate, and using something other than your website (like a social networking site) to share all the fun stuff that goes on in your personal life. One other tip: I don't think it's necessary to include every painting you've ever done on your website. Approach your choice of paintings much as you would curate a show -- 20 or 30 of your best pieces ought to do it.

Blogging, Facebooking, and Twittering are different animals, however. The lines between personal and professional can become blurred even more easily... unless you decide up-front what your purpose in using them will be. If your objective is to communicate with buyers, once again, you've got to keep it professional. You'll probably want to stay focused on how and why you create your work, and mostly you'll want to show only your best work. 

Or maybe you want to create a forum (like this little blog right here) in which you can communicate with your fellow artists. If you know your audience is only going to be fellow artists (which is possible with Facebook, which gives you the power to control who sees your page), you might even use it as a forum to solicit feedback and advice. If your purpose is social networking with the possibility of using it to promote something to your fellow artists on occasion, such as a workshop, you can probably also get a little more personal (like me sharing my painting block a while back). But still, the totally personal silly stuff should remain elsewhere. 

Now, if you just wanna have fun, I strongly urge you to restrict that to a Facebook page. All of the other formats allow anyone to have access to the material you put out there. With Facebook, again, you can control who has access to your page, bio stuff, and materials. Restricting the personal to this private forum will allow you to maintain your professional image everywhere else.

My personal decision is to use my website and Twitter to attract potential customers, the blog for artist-to-artist stuff, and my Facebook page for a free-for-all of personal and professional stuff. (Translation: if you want to see pictures of my cats or my recent weekend in St Louis, friend me on Facebook.) If a possible collector should come across my blog, I won't mind because there isn't anything on here that I'd be uncomfortable having anyone see.

Why is it important to keep things categorized like this? I can think of several reasons. First, there is so much stuff out on the internet that you'll still have to promote your website or blog or social networking page if you want people to find you. Therefore, it's a good idea to be clear on who you're going to promote to so that you use the most effective means. It'll also help you deliver what you promised when your viewers/readers -- be they friends or strangers -- arrive at your site or page. And finally, clarity of focus also helps you control how much time you're investing in any or all of these venues.

Communicating through the internet is so fabulous, and I'm convinced that it will be THE art marketing tool of the future. We just have to be smart about how we use it.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

It's a Great Thing

For those of you who are afraid to try painting outside in a public place because you don't want people to watch you work, I gotta tell ya, it's really a great thing. People who stop to look at what we're doing always have kind words. While I was out painting Saturday morning -- with my friends Monica and Rosemary, who both did some great work out there -- an elderly gentleman came up to study my painting. From the few comments he made, I could tell he was an artist, and we proceeded to have a very nice chat. And then he left me with these words: "God bless you and God bless your art. It's a great thing you're doing... great for yourself and great for all who see it." Wow!! That is a moment I will treasure always.

Now about this painting, I'm trying to push myself in some new directions to see where things will lead. I let the painting stay very loose, and I tried to include some big, bold strokes of heavy paint. I always like the way they look in other people's paintings but I'm never really satisfied with how they look in mine. I'm letting this one sit overnight to see how I like it in the morning. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm so honored!

I feel so honored! I've been given an award for my blog by Lori Putnam, which really means a lot to me. My hope -- always -- is that by sharing the information I've gained through my own experiences with so many fellow artists, I can enrich your art experience. And of course, what I receive from you in return is invaluable. Thank you for reading my blog and responding!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Documentary About Art

There's a new documentary about women artists and the quest to achieve work-life balance called Who Does She Think She Is? that looks really interesting. It will be screened here in Cincinnati (well, in Covington KY at the Carnegie Art Center) on June 9 and 10 at 7 pm. Get full details at If you don't live in the area but want more info on other screenings of the film, go to

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fantastic Morning

Had another fantastic morning of painting at Spring Grove, a cemetery! But the place is beautiful and full of great subjects. And it was absolutely perfect painting weather. I'm looking forward to returning there many times. Cincinnati area artists, please join me!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Painting Green

So here is the painting I started last Saturday morning. It started to rain just as I finished my block-in, and I had forgotten my camera so the only other reference I was able to get was a pencil sketch. But I finished the painting on Wednesday night, and I'm actually really happy with it. Maybe not having the real subject to refer to enabled me to focus on bringing out the thing that moved me -- the cool morning backlight casting that dappled shadow below the silhouetted trees.

One thing I'm really happy with in this painting is the variety of greens. I know that painting greens in the landscape can be a big challenge, especially here in the Midwest in the summer where it is nothing but lush greens everywhere. I've asked many artists about working with green, and they've offered many good solutions, but here's what works best for me:

I use a limited palette -- not as limited as Kevin Macpherson's -- but still limited. My palette consists of Cadmium Lemon (cool), Cadmium Yellow Medium (warm), Alizarin Crimson (cool), Cadmium Red Medium (warm), Ultramarine Blue (neutral), and Titanium White (cool). I do not use any pre-mixed tube greens, like Sap or Viridian. With this palette I can mix a huge range of greens, from warm to cool, light to dark, and intense to dull. The advantages are that the greens never get garish, and because all of the greens are mixed from the same root color (the Ultramarine Blue), they always harmonize with each other.  If you're having trouble with your greens, try it - it works!

Great weather predicted for tomorrow morning's paint-out!

A Closer Look at Kevin Macpherson's Painting

Here are some closer, bigger pix of Kevin Macpherson's demo:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Day with Kevin Macpherson

There's nothing more enlightening and inspiring than watching a really talented artist paint, and that's exactly what I got to do today. Kevin Macpherson, the author of two of the best art-instruction books around, was in town (well, in Middletown, close to Cincinnati) for the opening of his exhibition at the Middletown Arts Center. While here, he gave a lecture and a demonstration. He showed us how he translates a small field sketch into a larger studio painting, although some of his students in the audience had fun teasing him about being too chicken to tackle all this Midwestern summer green in a plein-air demo!

One of the most valuable things for me was watching Kevin do his block-in. I tend to do the block-in very quickly, trying to cover the canvas with big shapes as quickly as possible. I try to be accurate with the values but I don't take much care with variations in color and I really don't think about the edges. Kevin takes an entirely different approach. He thinks of a painting as a jigsaw puzzle, and his objective is to lay in each small piece (shape) as accurately as possible in value, color, and edge.

He starts by putting in all of the shadows, and as you can see in the first photo, he allows the shadow shapes to be much larger than they actually are. That's because in the middle phase he goes in and paints in the medium value-shapes negatively. This allows the colors to intermingle, creating entirely new colors right on the canvas. His finished block-in really represents all of the dark and middle values very accurately, including beautiful color and temperature variations. He then goes in and adds all of the lightest shapes, highlights, and details, reworking some edges as needed. Because he's so careful with the very first layer of paint, he doesn't have to go over every shape to create the form--he only needs to add lights where needed. It's a very economic, efficient, and direct way of painting.

I'm really inspired to try his approach, taking greater care right from the start. I'm thinking of using it to re-work the plein-air sketch I started yesterday morning. We got rained out after about 45 minutes but I felt like I was off to a good start with that painting so I'm going to give it another go.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I finally painted! I know there are a million things wrong with this little painting. And I made the classic beginner plein-air painter mistake of painting in the sun without an umbrella, which threw off all of my values. But none of that matters. The point is that I made a commitment to paint today, and I did it! And I was with my friend Ray, which made it even better!! Please join me next Saturday if you can.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Holding Myself Accountable

Okay, so another month has passed, and I still haven't painted. But now I have a plan! I am issuing an invitation to all plein-air painters (and those who want to give it a try) to join me on Saturday mornings for paint-outs throughout the summer, all within the Cincinnati area. Knowing that you'll be counting on me to show up will definitely make me get out there. Keep checking the list to the left for the latest schedule of locations.

Speaking of accountability, have you seen what Marc Hanson has been doing? He made a public commitment through his blog to return to painting from life by painting four plein-air paintings every day for an entire month. And he pulled it off! Be sure to visit his blog (link below in my list of favorite blogs) for a healthy dose of inspiration. 

See you on Saturdays!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lessons from a Master

Every once in a while I have a magical day that reminds me just how fortunate I am. This past Saturday was that kind of day. I belong to a small support group of women artists (we call ourselves Salon 11), and we spent the day in Indianapolis visiting nationally recognized impressionist artist C.W. Mundy. Like so many artists I know, C.W. graciously welcomed us in to his studio and spent the day sharing his best advice on art and the business of art. What an incredible blessing this time was for all of us! We had asked for two hours of his time and he gave us so much more!!

The take-away lessons for me were:

1. Remember who you're painting for. As far as I'm concerned, there are only two right answers to this. C.W. would say that we should all be painting for the glory of our creator, who he calls God but who also goes by many other names and interpretations. For people who don't believe in any kind of "higher power," I think a good answer may also be to paint for yourself. The worst answer, however, is "other people." If you try to paint to please others, you will always fail. While some will love what you do, there will always be others who are indifferent to or critical of your work. Attempting to please others with your work is futile, so paint only for God and/or yourself. A right attitude will save you from a world of hurt and disappointment.

2. Know the "science" of painting. Unless you're strictly a conceptual artist, all artists -- from the most realistic to the most abstract -- are governed by the fundamentals like shape, value, color, edges, variety, unity, and so on. Mastering these offers so many benefits, among them that you will be able to create great work with greater consistency and that you will then have the freedom to explore and experiment without destroying the work. As C.W. said, parameters are not limiting but rather freeing.

3. Invest in yourself. When you've brought the quality of your work up to a consistently high level and you're ready to start selling, be ready to put your own money behind it. It would be great to imagine that a gallery would do this for you, but it's unlikely that they'll do all that could be done. So be ready to pick up the slack: Buy the highest quality frames you can afford. Pay for advertising your own shows. Create and maintain your own exceptionally good website. These steps may require you to get your financial house in order first, but the investment in your career will pay huge dividends in the end.

Many thanks to C.W. Mundy for his generosity, candid answers, and tremendous inspiration and motivation.

Now, what pearls of wisdom do you have to share?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

In the Studio

Well, I'm one step closer to painting again—I cleaned the studio! The only problem is that Remmy thinks the taboret makes a great model stand.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

words of wisdom

"Painting is easy when you don't know how,
but very difficult when you do."
—Edgar Degas

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Crippled By Creative Block?

I confess: For a variety of reasons, I haven’t painted in about a year and a half. I miss it terribly. I often dream vivid, full-color dreams about painting. At the beginning of the year, I told myself I was going to get back into it, but then I had some business to wrap up… and a presentation to research and write… and a book to edit for a friend… and the studio’s a mess and requires a major cleaning… You get the picture. I’m making excuses.

Why? The truth is, I’m afraid to start up again. There’s nothing rational about my fears, but they are real. Why do I have this creative block? Have any of you ever experienced this? Where does it come from? What stops some of us from jumping in to the creative experience we say we love?

Somehow I did find time to attend a recent book signing party for a woman named Anne Paris, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with artists, writers, musicians, and other creative types. She’s just published a book called Standing at Water's Edge: Moving Past Fear, Blocks, and Pitfalls to Discover the Power of Creative Immersion (available from Amazon), in which she explores a number of significant causes and cures for creative block. According to Anne, the best way to get past the block is to simply immerse yourself in the creative process. Pick up your paints and brushes and paint away with abandon, she says. Suspend judgment, she says. Let the ideas and emotions flow, she says.

This sounds great, and I agree completely, but my mind wants to take it one step further. See, for me—and I’m wondering if this is true of any of you out there—I’m always concerned about the outcome. Right now, my block comes from knowing that whatever results from such a flurry of artistic activity will not be good because I’m so rusty. Even when I’ve been painting regularly, though, I’ve had moments when my desire for getting everything just right has held me back from starting something new. You, too?

What’s making me feel better at this point is knowing that there’s another stage that comes after that wonderful immersion “in the zone.” After a frenzied, free-flowing emotional and spiritual release, there arises a new opportunity to go in and revise the work from an analytical or intellectual perspective. That’s the time to edit, adjust, refine. That’s the time to perfect the work… well, at least to make it as good as it can be.

Yes, yes, I know, nobody but me is ever going to see these paintings so why sweat it? Like I said, my fears aren’t rational. But it’s just how I operate, and I suspect I’m not the only one who puts this kind of pressure on myself, am I? But I’m confident I can get past this. I believe it’s possible for the artist part of me to have all the joy and exuberance of the art-making process, while the perfectionist part of me can relax, knowing she’ll have her turn, too.

Now, let’s see how long it takes me to actually get to it. That’ll be my next post!