Archive for May, 2011

I am the Mighty Worrier. It’s my one true super power. My Clark Kent disguise is my ability to find humor in most things but my real strength is the ability to fret with the force of 10 megaton bombs. Not about normal things, but about really stupid things. I go into a restaurant and I start looking for the ideal piece of cutlery to use as a star of death in case we get overthrown by ninjas. I keep a laser guided nerf dart gun by the bed in case a burglar comes in because in the dark all he’s gonna know is “laser on my forehead… I should leave”. I never sleep naked because if it comes to wrestling said intruder I can’t have my junk flapping around. I worry about the island of plastic the size of Texas floating somewhere in the Pacific. My super power does serve a purpose, however. When I get on a plane I immediately start the process of angsting over everything from ball lightning to vortexes to furry critters on the wing and thanks to my secret power, these things never happen. Oh the lives I have saved over the years keeping the planes afloat simply by covering all of the worst case scenarios. I should get a medal.

But there was a time, a life changing moment in time, when I stopped worrying and simply did the stupid thing that popped in my head without fear of reprisal or fear of the future, the result being that all the kids in high school saw me differently from that event forward. It change me overnight. In a way I have my physics teacher to thank. Mr. Spoto’s name was perfect for him, he was like a cross between a smart alien on Star Trek and something out of Lord of the Rings, he did not exactly inspire through intimidation, though he was a great guy. In class one day I was called to the chalkboard to solve an equation, it was like one of those dreams that has since repeated over and over again where I’m in class for a test and I realize I never read any of the material and I’m there in my underoos. I had, in fact, not studied the material a lick and was not really sure how I would ever fake my way through proving Plank’s constant. But I did notice two things; one was that the chalk catcher thing was filled with about 2 inches of chalk dust that ran the length of the chalk catcher thing and two was that Mr. Spoto was seated about 3 feet from the far end of the chalk catcher thing. I quickly ran the equation and realized I had no choice but to blow the entire mass of chalk dust onto our little Frodo the Science guy. I took a deep breath and let it go, the whole length, and he disappeared in a blooming cloud of inert dust, I was banished from the dork forest for three days and reemerged triumphant to all of my friends. The rest of my high school life was cake.

As this is essentially an art blog, I’ll bring it around. Worry and fear are the key inhibitors to true creativity. How many people paint a certain way or a certain thing because they see that others have done it? How many people are copying the artists that are copying other artists? A lot. Why? and here’s my theory on that, they fear not being accepted, either socially or economically. History isn’t filled so much with the artists who have solved the same equations the same way every time but who have looked for another way. Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne, Thomas Hart Benton, Damien Hirst (love him or hate him), Tim Hawkinson, Anish Kapoor, Pollock, all the Ashcanners, these are all artists who have come at the thing another way… taking the other path without fear. Think of it this way, if you were the last person standing on earth after the Apocalypse and you happened to live near a fully stocked art store (because, really, who is going to loot an art store at the end of civilization), what would you paint? Now don’t get me wrong, there is no shame in painting the landscape when a million people have done it before you, there’s always something new to say, I get surprised almost every day at the latest new way to put color and form together to interpret a natural setting. Just saying, think about if you only had a little amount of time left and you knew it really mattered… what would you do? I say go for the chalk tray, I’m trying to get back to it myself.


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I wish I could post every Tuesday like clockwork but when a thought pops in to my head, I gotta put it down. This is an extension of the last post, the scrape, toss, save or sell part, but I have to back way up first. About 25 years ago I was on a ski trip in Utah, not Deer Valley but the other one. On a Saturday I wandered downtown to give my legs a break and avoid the weekend crowds. There was an exhibition of paintings in a local gallery so I thought, hey, I’m a painter, I’ll just have a look see. Walking in the door I was presented with a series of small studies with much larger versions done from the little ones hanging alongside. Blew me away. Scott Christensen. Gotta paint with that guy. Maybe a year later I found myself in a workshop with Mr. C and one of the greatest things he did was show an early painting of his that was… not so good. He had the humility to show us one of his first baddies, letting us all know that if he could come this far, that anyone can come that far. Not really that simple as it turns out but it was a really pivotal moment for me. Thank you for that Scott.

Somewhere along the line came the discussion about saving or tossing. Some we save to remind us of where we’ve come from, some we save for the information, some we sell, some we toss and I’ve tossed many. But to carry on the tradition of showing the crappy ones left over, I dug out a few. These were all done during the S.C. workshop maybe 20 years back. The really, really bad ones have already been pitched but I did find these. The top one has always held a warm place in my heart because while everyone was painting trees, I went after the port-o-let, which I thought was funny. It had a kind if butte like quality to it anyway. The rest have a high register on the cringeometer but at least I and you can see that I’ve made a little progress since then. This one looks like a forest of leggos. Clunky and awkward and butt ugly, but the point back then wasn’t the finish it was the doing. Still is. You have to learn how and where to put the notes before you can play the song in your head.

Now for a related story. I will admit it’s kind of a boy story with potty humor, but it relates to this workshop and the above painting. Scott held his workshops in his first house way back when, his studio was where we would meet and could watch him quietly put together a large painting from a study in a mere 4 or 5 hours. Very inspirational. The room was pin-drop quiet and filled with about 20 chairs, each chair filled with a person, Scott up there mixing colors, not saying much. You could hear the next persons nose whistle. By mid-morning I found that I had a searing pain running through my mid-region, apparently the cream chipped buffalo jerky and unwashed tomatillo salsa had created a reaction not unlike when you put baking soda in a coke bottle and screw the lid back on. Scott was mixing away and I was feeling like I was 9 months preggers with a small dragon so I started wondering where the nearest restroom was. There were only two choices, the one at the back of the room not 5 feet from the last row or the one in his bedroom. I was clearly not about to trash the bathroom of a guy whose work I admire and besides his pretty wife was there and how could explain to her my dilemma? I’d rather burst a portion of my intestine. Or I could just march unapologetically back to the echo chamber and just lettergo, coming back into the room to either dead silence or great applause with my hands held high. That’s right, uh huh, who’s the man. Or I could sit there in agony until 4 o’clock and wait for the long buss ride back to the car and the even longer car ride back to the hotel. And which did I do? I spent the day in agony doing the equivalent of keeping a pack of wild dobermans at bay behind an unlatched door, attempting to time the peristaltic convulsions with a clap or a loud cough, occasionally a short song or an emphatic statement of “HEY NOW”.

I guess the lesson there is to not always mistake a lookers on exclamations as just straight out enthusiasm for the work, you just don’t know what’s really behind it.

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That’s my new nom de plume or at least it is for the next few minutes. I’ve been thinking about a bunch of different things from a variety of conversations about painting. It may be a tad rambly and disjointed but walk with me a while and lets chat. It’ll at least give me a chance to post some better shots of the studies I did while out there in Cali-walla. First up is my last, semi-whiny post about flailing in Carmel last week. A bad day there is better than pretty much anything, it’s one of those places that reminds me why I do what I do. I have a drive, a passion, to get that mother nature on canvas, even if  these things have been painted a thousand times before. I want to simply put down in paint that mountain, to borrow from George Mallory, because it’s there. It’s a combination of honoring the beauty that nature has to give and engaging in the honorable pursuit of the art of art, that and to make a few bucks on the side. So maybe I didn’t deliver when it mattered. I showed up and I did my best. So I didn’t win something or make a few bucks, it wasn’t my turn.

Paint outs in general are great training, wonderful learning experiences and a chance to make great new friends. I can’t tell you the number of times I have thought, upon viewing another artists work, “I didn’t know you could do that!”.  The Carmel event, while it has changed over the years, is still a good event if only for the chance to paint the area, an excuse to go there and write it off. It’s more like a sporting event because you have only two days to paint enough decent paintings to hang. It ramps up the adrenaline and makes us really focus on doing good work. Just doesn’t always go that way. I often wonder though about things like the quickdraw, yes they bring in more buyers, people see the work in progress and bond with it like a newborn. But,  at the same time, these people see that it takes only a couple of hours to do what we do. Is that the right message? You and I know it takes a lifetime to pull this stuff off. But it’s like watching eggs boil. See? Only a couple of minutes and they’re done. Forget the fact that it took the chicken a couple of million years to develop a convenient way to deliver our tasty breakfast. I think in a way it cheapens not the work but the process. It takes a little of the mystery out of it.

Also, the events themselves aren’t really a big source of income so much anymore, people come, I think, to get a deal. Some artists price their work down a little, or maybe lower the opening bid such that, with only one bidder, the painting sells for less than its actual value. I like the events that encourage the artists to price the work to it’s full value and they either get it for that or they don’t. Many buyers have told me that they have experienced regret after the fact for not buying a piece because at the time it seemed to expensive. A good painting will stick with you. I know. I think I’m finally getting to the place where, as much as I hate to say it, it’s time to just focus in on doing a serious body of work.  Ever see the big dogs at these events? Not so much anymore. They are doing private shows with Sting and riding in limos with hot Russian escorts and sporting gold lined Javan Tiger fur coats. Yes….maybe it’s time for me to get serious. Right after I finish making this fake license plate that says “SML PNS” that I will stick on the back of whatever Hummer I find at the grocery store parking lot.

The other topic is this…. Scrape, toss, sell or save. I was going to do this as a separate post but I’m trying to come up with enough words to wrap around all these pics. I’ve talked with a number of artists about this, people I really respect, except for that one guy with the outstanding warrant for stealing women’s underwear from Kmart, the guy can paint though. What to do with all of these studies. For me, if someone wants to buy a small plein air study, by all means. I’ll just take a pic and put the study up on the ol compooter screen. But many do the studies just for that purpose, as studies. Then they do larger versions directly from the studies. What that does is allow for another level of interpretation, removed from photos, the artists voice really gets to come out. I never like my photos anyway. So it seems to be the consensus to keep and paint from the good ones. Maybe sell a few here and there when mommy needs new shoes.

What about the ones that suck? Some keep them as a reminder of how far they’ve come. Not me. I paint over them, though I still haven’t found a good solution for that, whatever I use to cover up the paint scat, like baloney in my shoes, it just feels funny. There are people who are drawn to some crudeness in the bad ones and want them, sometimes even for money, but do I really want that crap to show up with my name on it? No.

And what about the ones that are beginning to suck? I’m an hour in to a P.O.S., do I just keep attempting triage or as my mother used to always say “stop touching it!!”. John Burton calls it rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic (and no he’s not the one with the underwear problem). Here’s a lesson I never learn because I want to win. If I have to add a friggin unicorn in the corner to make it work, I will. But I scraped a few last week when I realized it was just unsalvageable and went for a walk to clear my head. Scraping does give power back to the artist.

And speaking of tossing out old work… I have been thinking for years of having a kind of art based burning man thing. Build a tower with old art, maybe a big fort shaped gizmo or some kind of effigy and just let it go up in flames. Better yet would be the proper Viking funeral for all these old illustrations and crappy paintings… a raft built up with piles of art that no one will ever want and send it up in flames. I wonder if I need a permit for a proper Viking funeral on my lake. It would be very cathartic and I think I’m ready for it.

So, now that I’m almost out of pics, I’m saving the other 5 or 6 for the new website that is about to go live… Yay…. I will sum up. It’s okay to suck, it’s okay to scrape, it’s great to use your studies as studies and only sell a few here and there. Paint outs are fun but are they serious? In a way, of course they are,especially the ones held in the museums, but to really get serious, you gotta go it alone. I’m going to get serious. and Quick draws send the wrong message…. still gonna do em. I just won’t be too quick about it.

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Just about to head back from the Carmel Art Festival and it’s been quite the long week. Got here with my friend and fellow painter Don Sondag a week ago. We decided to come out early because there was a rice break in the airfare and to have an extra couple of days to paint out here. From Saturday till the event began on Thursday we did 3 paintings a day, I scraped a few to conserve the canvas. I figured by the time the event started we would be all warmed up but instead I was already whipped having battled 30 mile an hour winds and the wrong choice in canvas for 5 days.
When the event began I had already gone through the spin cycle a bunch and was somewhere between utter despair and getting a job at House of Pancakes. Now don’t get me wrong the scenery here is unbeleivably inspirin, I just felt unworthy of it. Head games. Got skunked in sales and awards. The upside was I got to paint with all my favorite people; John Burton, Don Sondag, Randy Sexton and Jesse Powell. I got a lot of good memories, a few good studies, a few uglies and a case of the bad attitudes oh and a racked up credit card bill but it was all worthwhile. That coastline is spectacular.

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It seemed, according to the stat page, that the story time post was fairly popular, so I’ll put more of those up…. so many wonderful things have happened while I was out painting. I think they are interesting events but there’s a guy I know, he’s nice enough, a Civil War reenacter …. or is it reenactor… anyway, he thinks the CVW is most intensely fascinating. I, however, could care less. Yes, it was a profoundly important war which, for the most part, has ended but somehow no matter what we talk about he steers the conversation quickly to the Battle of Perspicacityville and within seconds my brain snaps shut. Shields up. Uh-oh, warp 5 tachyon boredom missiles, incoming, all power to forward shields. I may say something about tapioca and he deftly segues into the eating habits of the 7th battalion under Commander Cody, the point is, I’m wary about posting what happened in my day unless it is of some kind of relevant interest and that, of course, is subjective. But I’ll post more stuff like that… to me it’s more interesting than a painting, if it doesn’t interest, no harm done. I never really know where to put commas, and colons: they should have a colon checker function. Just sayin.

Anyhooo. This is a bit like a painting of another painting, but it’s a sculpture. It’s a piece called Man carving his own destiny by Albin Polasek. I guess there are no copyright violations here.  I should be pretty well versed in intellectual property infractions having been an illustrator but when we start crossing over from copying paintings and photos into a marble sculpture in a garden, it gets a tad hazy for me. I saw it as a chance to do some figurative work. I even used the sight-size method as best I understand it. I blocked in the drawing and stood back at a distance such that the painting and the sculpture were the exact same size and right next to one another according to my point of view. I took a brush, laid it horizontal and went from checkpoint to checkpoint, head, chest waist, etc. to make sure that I was seeing things correctly. I suppose I’m pointing this out because the guy had a formidable schlong and I don’t want to have that come back to me. I measured and double checked and it was, well, mule-like in dimension. I was going to fuzz out the area, a kind of creative manscape editing but I thought it was sort of funny, what with the mallet and all. So I left this blue man contemplating his good fortune and his destiny.

Oh and I did use a bit of an old illustration/painting trick here. Where the light bouncing off the statue meets the dark of the background, I used a warm transition color to give the feel of photons obscuring the dark background. Also rimmed the other light areas with streaks of red and orange…. gives it some glow. painter of lite.

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Story time

Two posts in one day. I must be avoiding something. More often than not, the thing that is so great about painting is the stuff that happens around the painting; something cool in nature, like the time I came face to face with a herd of friendly elk, or the great people I have come to know, or just being outside and really getting to see and feel nature. But once in a while something happens that is just damn funny.

I had just wrapped up my third day of workshop teaching in Maryland and after a lovely dinner with some of my class, I dropped by the local watering hole to have a nightcap. There I ran in to two artists, one I knew and one I didn’t. Just a couple of guys painting and pallin’ around. Really funny guys too. The two Steves. So we line up at the bar and have a beverage or two and talk about….. wait for it…. art! Yes, that’s pretty much all we ever talk about, well, that and good stories. One of the Steves was dressed with a topcoat and a big scarf wrapped fashionable like around his neck, a beret and a stylin mustache that managed to get most of the beer before he got a chance to swallow it. Also at the bar were a couple of ladies celebrating something and one of them comes up to us and says, maybe because of the dapperness of Steve 2, “what do you guys do?”. Now normally, I’m only too happy to admit that I’m an artist but for some reason I decided to lie. She just had a certain drunk gullability to her that I couldn’t resist. I looked at her straight in the face and told her that we were part of a collective brain trust with several very successful inventions under our belt and that having made our millions we were now practicing a form of full contact ice fishing in the Himalayas and were vying for spots on the Winter Olympic team. A mountain range, by the way, that came to mind because as far as I know they don’t have a lot of lakes there. Much to my surprise, she bought it. And the two Steve’s started adding on more and more ridiculous details about our chalets and our decked out Sikorsky helicopters, which is how we get to the lakes in the Himalayas. One of the Steve’s was also the proud owner of a tall ship in Scotland. Ahhhh it’s good to be rich.

After a while I had to take my leave and felt bad about the lying and fessed up, she was a school teacher and it just didn’t seem right. I had heard the next day that her friends abandoned her and the dapper Steve 2 got to drive a very inebriated lady home to her husband. I think he just sorta dropped her off and squealed outta there. I sort of wished I hadn’t fessed up though, it was a good story.

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Winter Park

I guess I should just go ahead and post a little each day about the most recent paint out. It was a good week of work, I did probably 7 paintings. 2 fairly large ones at 20×20 (like the painting above) and the rest were 12×16 ‘s and 9×12’s. There was a really good turn out at the event Saturday night, in fact it was sold out, maybe 300 people were there.  It seems as if this event has really turned into a thing. The food was great and the wine was free and the weather was about as perfect as you could ask for. The remaining works are still up at the Polasek Museum in Winter Park for the next two weeks, in case anyone is in the area. It’s worth a look. This painting was done in the Antiques on the Avenue shop on Park Ave, it’s a crazy place. The owner is sort of like a hoarder with really good taste, there is literally no place to stand in this store, just narrow goat paths through top notch you-name-it antiques, you  have to keep your arms down at your side as you walk through and if you are wearing a big coat, forget it, you will break something. I have a thing for making busy work and this little shop of hoarders is the place to do it. The owner is super nice and is always happy to have me paint there.

As I said, I have a thing for making chaos make sense, taking mounds of stuff and getting a kind of flow through all the various nicknacks. I didn’t think this one would sell at the event and it didn’t but these do eventually sell and they are a challenge. I’m always at my best when I’m challenged, whether it’s standing in 40 mile an hour winds or freezing rain or tackling the entire contents of a store, it focuses my energy more. Don Sondag and I talked about making it more like a sport (which reminds me of a story I gotta tell you) where you have to run for 10 miles, or in my case, 10 blocks, and do a quick painting and then run for another 10 blocks or whatever and so on.  I’ll put up more as the week goes by but next up is story time.

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