Friday, November 28, 2008

commerce and magic

70 Louisa Street 16" x 20"

I'm pretty sure Jo-Anne's late son, Shawn, was looking over my shoulder, guiding my hand, while I painted this one. I've had a rough week but the one thing that went off without a hitch and gave me great joy was this painting. The experience was almost otherworldly and, as a pragmatist and cynic, I mean that with the utmost sincerity. I also listened to the signs (not to mention the direct orders :) and went with the mysterious feeling of an autumn twilight. I suspect my process posts are getting a little old by now, but if you're curious to see it unfold, go here.

Meanwhile, Tracy Helgeson has been giving artists like myself a little boost with her new blog The Fine Art Department. Check out this very generous service of hers and maybe do a little Christmas shoppin' as you cruise the aisles.

Seeing Tracy's blog for selling small originals and, the next day, Angela Rockett's, also spurred me to try something similar. I did try this a couple of years ago but got distracted by Etsy. I have since learned that I don't seem to have the ... um ... temperament (not to mention the right product) to flog prints, so I'm trying the small originals thing again. Check it out here.

Winter is an etching,
spring a watercolour,
summer an oil painting,
and autumn a mosaic of them all
(Stanley Horowitz)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


My artist friend was overwhelmed at the intelligent and varied feedback about the framing question last post. Thank you, blogging friends! She read everything and considered all the angles and decided to take a middle-ground approach when responding to the gallerist's edict. There's no question that the gallery is exploiting the artist and, in the process, alienating her. On the other hand, they appear to be making decisions out of economic fear, which is clouding their ability to look at the bigger picture. Since the artist knew she couldn't agree with the gallery's terms she decided to offer a third option that would be less expensive for her and require the gallery to pony up a little, too. She asked them to ship her the artwork, still framed, and she would then attempt to exchange the faulty frame for a new one, in effect taking the problem back to the manufacturer. She will then reframe the artwork and ship it back with a carefully drafted Statement of Condition (and Returns Policy) for signature. Future shipments of artwork (if she decides to continue the relationship) would also include the document.

And while on the subject of resolving problems, I have been working on a very special house portrait, but it started out badly. It was built in 1906 in Kitchener, Ontario, and has had many lives and incarnations over the past century, its latest being a sort of halfway house, and it is truly a beauty. Jo-Anne's happiest memories are from that house so I knew I wanted to get it right, but the photos I had were really difficult to work from so, after laying down the underpainting, I sent the image to Jo-Anne and cried for help. She responded by sending her husband to Kitchener to take more photos of it, now that the leaves have dropped, and digging up/scanning a couple of photos of it from when they lived there 20 years ago (when a number of the details were different). I then decided to take an unorthodox approach and, rather than sanding down, re-gessoing and starting again, I put down a wash combining dioxazine violet and pthalo blue, and re-drew the basic outline of the house in white conte over the top. As you can see the original underpainting appears like a ghost beneath the surface, much like the way the house has changed but remained the same house over the decades. The final painting will have very subtle references to the original.

It's going really well now. Sometimes it's like the house is painting itself and I can hardly wait to finish the duties in My Other Life so I can get back to it. Stay tuned for the final product; I only have about a day's work left.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

on the horns of a dilemma

Today an artist friend asked for some advice on the artist-gallery relationship. I didn't have an answer for her because I only seem to be able to see it from the point-of-view of the artist who's struggling both to survive financially and to avoid being exploited (something I've had some experience with). So I told her I'd post about it and see if I could get feedback from (a) other artists, (b) gallerists and (c) potential buyers of art from a gallery.

Here's the scenario: The gallery in question sold one of the artist's framed paintings in the summer. This past week the client returned the painting to the gallery as she'd noticed a small dent in the glass, a manufacturer's glitch, that neither the artist nor the gallery owner had noticed. The frame is not a custom frame but a good quality pre-made frame available at a popular chain store. The gallerist then contacted the artist giving her two options: (a)
pay to have the glass replaced at a glass business near the gallery at a cost higher than the original frame or (b) ship a new frame to the gallery. The gallery placed the responsibility on the shoulders of the artist and did not offer to either absorb or split the cost.

Consider the following:
  • art galleries take works on consignment at absolutely no cost to them
  • the next time the owner delivered art to clients in a nearby city (three hours' drive) they could have exchanged the original frame at another branch of the frame retailer at no cost
  • though her art is priced at the low end of the gallery spectrum, her work has been very popular and done well for the gallery since it opened less than a year ago
I understand that the gallery might take the position that they were delivered a faulty product, but that product sold at benefit to them and since the artist/gallery relationship can be a bit of a minefield at times, I'd think they'd want to do what's right in order to protect that relationship. But, like I said, I'm only good at looking at one side of the question and would love to help my friend with some really objective feedback. Help?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

rudy's thinkin' stuff

And I thought I was pushing it when my 000 paintbrush was down to about five hairs and I was using it to paint the final details on a 6" x 6" panel! At least I don't have one of Lewis Carroll's fictional characters floating around my respiratory tract.

Rudy has two other great links to check out. All bloggers must go here and have their blogs analyzed. I'm ISTP (a mechanic) or the independent, problem-solving type of blogger. And while on brain function, this article isn't a huge surprise to me, magpie that I am. I always feel calmer and more focused after walking on the local trails and managed to squeeze that in before the rain started today. Phew.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

a special vancouver special

My blogging has been sporadic lately as I try to catch up on my commissions and gallery work (and ignore all the ideas that keep popping into my head for new work), not to mention the fact that I'd totally forgotten how time-consuming a puppy can be! I haven't spent any more time running or swimming or working out -- less actually -- but I've been burning off enough extra energy every week that I've actually dropped a few pounds. Cowabunga! I wonder if there's a weight loss marketing strategy in this?

Anyway, I just finished my latest house painting and it was an interesting process, as it always is. Marc contacted me last spring about commissioning a portrait of the west side house he shares with his partner, Jeff, but the minute I heard the words Vancouver Special my heart sank. This is Vancouver's mid/late-century answer to ugly, affordable housing:

But when I saw the actual house I was delighted. They have renovated it very nicely and Jeff's gardens are lovely (though mostly obscured in the portrait). The one problem I could foresee was a lack of colour in the grey house in mostly green surroundings. Nothing a little obnoxiously vivid underpainting and extra flowers won't fix!

In the final stages I repainted the lime-green background foliage with a more subdued jade green as it was all just a bit too much for the eye. Then I added some detail under the deck after talking with Marc. Since I photographed his house on a sunny May day the camera compressed everything in the shadows and highlights and I couldn't remember what was down there so I had left it blank. As for the dragon at the gate, that's Marcel, their bloodthirsty (but fluffy) terrier.

Marc and Jeff's House
" x 14" acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

it's still autumn

For those of you (especially if you live in Winterpeg) who got all freaked out at my mention of winter last post, rest assured it's still fall ... for now.
mountain magic

The above drawing comes from a photo I took at Lindeman Lake a year ago.
This photo was taken the same day. As you can see, Zappa and our friends' Lab, Simon, had endless fun that day as only two goofy boydogs can. Less than three months later 10 year old Zappa was dead from cancer. Three days ago I drew this picture and within 24 hours Simon, only eight years old, also died of what looks like the same form of cancer. I like to think they're in doggie heaven now, playing humping games to their hearts' content.

But back to winter and the short, dark days of SAD-generated slumps here on the Pacific Northwest coast. Today was a preview, standing in the pouring rain for our local Remembrance Day service. It was a sobering moment for many reasons. I don't suffer from SAD, but I have my own struggles with an unusual form of depression so it got me thinking of the months ahead and how to keep the lid clamped tightly shut on that sneaky devil. Naturally, the link between creativity and mental illness (or, more melodramatically, 'genius and madness') is a favourite theme with me, and I recently came across this article by
Hara Estroff Marano. It basically pooh-poohs the idea that madness can actually cause creativity by explaining that being successful in a creative field actually requires a lot of hard graft:

Discipline is not a hallmark of minds in the throes of emotional distress. "Despite the carefree air that many creative people effect," says Csikszentmihalyi, "most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not."

Marano has some interesting insights that nevertheless explain the prevalence of depression amongst crazies like us:

...some forms of emotional distress are more common among writers, artists and musicians. Serious depression strikes artists ten times more often than it does the general population. The link, however, is not creativity. Artists are more likely to be self-reflective and to ruminate, to mull things over. And that thinking style—as opposed to creativity itself—is a hallmark of depression and commonly leads to it.

So that's the theory on what causes high incidents of depression amongst artists from The Inside, but feedback from The Outside can also play a role apparently:

It's entirely possible, Weisberg notes, that the elevated rates of mental disorders among artistic geniuses comes about as a result of the creative lifestyle, which hardly provides emotional stability. Many artists struggle against poverty and public indifference in their lifetime. And if they do indeed produce works that are acclaimed, they could succumb to the overwhelming pressure to live up to their earlier successes.

Just reading this reminds me how long it took for me to admit in public that I was no longer a teacher but now one of those penniless freaks who inhaled paint fumes in my basement. But now: yes. Life is good.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

winter is on its way

These small drawings are for Effusion Gallery's upcoming Small Works exhibition, November 22nd - December 31st.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

jury duty

Recently I had my first experience in jurying an exhibition at the FCA's Federation Gallery on Granville Island. I'd been looking forward to this since earning signature status with the FCA and was rewarded by a huge range of work for this show, Artist Choice. There were 260 entries for approximately 70 exhibition spaces. As is the procedure with every FCA show, two senior members and one associate member are required to jury. It was actually pretty great to be on the other side for once! What I found most striking about the initial weeding-out process was the clear delineation between so-called 'acceptable' and 'unacceptable'. Judging art must be one of the world's most subjective exercises, yet all three of us were fairly consistent in our ability to agree on the yeas and nays. It took us only two hours to go through all the slides and choose those that would be exhibited.

Yesterday Mila, the gallery manager, hung the show and today my co-jurors and I reconvened to decide on awards. Just as I hadn't been expecting to agree so readily on which work would hang, today I didn't think it would be hard at all to decide on awards. In the end it wasn't, actually, but that was mostly because I could see that my more senior partners were still in pretty strong agreement on what they liked and didn't like, and I was odd man out. But rather than take four hours and almost come to blows over who was the bestest (as Mila explained had happened during a recent jurying process), I thought it better to acquiesce and get back to the car before Jesse started regarding the steering wheel as a lunch entree prospect.

The whole process got me thinking about the future of the FCA, and the push by some in positions of authority to stop it from sliding into an irrelevant, elitist group of elderly, conservative artists and art lovers. It looks to be heading that way, which is one of the reasons I've paused many times in my involvement as I represent a slightly different 'dynamic', but maybe I should take a different approach and get more involved. Bureaucracy has always been something I've had serious problems with, but maybe breaking through the compromises requires more involvement by those with a different vision. Anyway, check out the show here.

Just thinkin' out loud. Maybe I should raise my kids/dogs and make more art first. Here are some photos I took from behind the wheel at stop lights on my way home from the gallery while Jesse made mincemeat of the floor mat behind me.