Monday, February 27, 2012

Motivation Monday

What if we artists owned our power?

I am reading a book entitled How to Survive and Prosper as An Artist, Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul, written by Caroll Michels. This notion of artists needing to own their power comes from her introduction to the book.

Caroll gives examples of artists who are badly dealt with by art dealers and others. When counselling artists, she finds that these situations occur because artists are not aware of their bargaining power. She comments that these unnecessary dilemmas and frustrations are created by middlepeople who have usurped power from artists and by artists who allow their power to be usurped.

"Artists, by the fact that they are artists, have power. Artists provide thousands of nonartists with jobs! Examples of nonartists who depend on artists for jobs include dealers, gallery staff, curators, museum staff, art administrators, critics and journalists, corporate art consultants and advisors, federal, state and municipal employees, teachers, framers, accountants, lawyers and art suppliers. Yet more nonartists than artists make a living from art and nonartists make more money from art than artists! This inequity exists because artists, the "employers", individually and collectively have not yet recognized their power." (Caroll Michels)

Did you have a 'well heck yeah', moment when you read the above quote? Are you feeling some righteous anger surging up? Well folks, I say it is time we take back our power!!!!

[Caroll offers a website of helpful resources here (click the highlighted text) and she also has a website.]

Thursday, February 23, 2012

no offence to chimps...

"Picasso, as he so often did, said it best: An artist must be two people – one who knows how to paint, one who knows when to stop. We all know the old anti-abstraction anecdote about the chimpanzee who, given paper and colors, does a creditable “painting” which is subsequently entered into the local art show and wins a prize. What is less well known, is that left alone, the chimp will continue to apply color to the paper until he gets restless, then will roll the paper into a ball and eat it. What of those chimpanzee paintings the popular press loves so often? Ah, they were snatched away from the chimp by a curator at the moment he or she thought they were most ripe and ready. Who then is the artist?"

above written by Henry Geldsahler, from The Business of Art (edited by Lee Caplin)

In defense of animals I do think that they are capable of creative efforts that are beautiful and I have seen my share of bad abstract art done by people. Still, point taken we do need to know when to stop. Humans, like chimps can be guilty of overworking a piece. Yes roll it into a ball (um don't eat it) and don't enter it into a show! :-)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dare we discuss?

It has been a very long time since I have written a dare we discuss post - so let's get chatting...

I am currently reading books on art marketing (more about this in an upcoming post). One of the books has a quote that has started me thinking. Here it is:

"Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don't like - then cultivate it. That's the only part of your work that's individual and worth keeping." Jean Cocteau

Do you agree? Do you do this - that is, seek criticism, analyse it and then go forth capitalizing on the very things that the critic didn't like? I believe that we do need to become aware of what is unique about our art.

But what about when we need to improve and grow? Perhaps an artist has received criticism that if listened to would help an artist become better at their craft. What about the source of the criticism? I think that matters. We all know that judges of a juried exhibition can have different opinions on the art that is being viewed. So, I guess I flip flop on this. I get the point that is being made. Yet I can't say I have done this. I haven't had a critique of my work that was harsh nor revealing. Maybe I should seek one?

Over to you dear readers, what do you think of this notion of listening to first criticisms? Has this worked for you?

(If you have never commented before, please feel welcome to write. I thank you for reading and I am interested in what you think.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

ants in my pants and working upside down

I have resorted to tricks to try to keep motivated - I have been rotating my art and my reference photo. I am now working upside down which has given my brain a new image to fuss with. I was getting rather bored with the old image! This is really becoming more of an abstract piece and now that my brain is no longer processing petal shapes and ideas of flowers (because it is upside down) I imagine this could get even more abstract. I shall try to rein this in as it has gone about as far in that direction as I want. At this point I think the drawing is almost done. Later this afternoon it shall be time to post the work in my studio. I want to look at it for a while to see if the movement and flow are working. This piece went off to an unexpected place and I need to assess if this is a good thing!

And yes I am antsy these days. I am blaming it on the incredibly mild weather we have been having. The goats are frisky and so am I. I have found it hard to sit still and work at my drafting table. I want to be out doing something! So I grab another cup of tea, I get up and put on a different CD, I check my email (well the computer is right in front of me and a girl only has so much discipline) and I look longingly out the window.

This morning was another mild one, with such lovely sunshine. Here is Roosty and some of his girls (If you are new to my blog and you are not sure what a rooster looks like, Roosty is the grey with black markings chicken on the left, a very handsome fellow and I never tire of looking at him).

Yesterday I realized it was time for a change. I turned the barn radio dial from my favourite classical station to an eighties greatest hits sort of channel. This weather calls for some serious dancing and singing in both the barn and the studio. Things were at high volume and rocking during milking time! (not to mention later in the studio) :-)

Once outside, I dawdle and play with the goats, brush them until they are ready for a show ring somewhere and then I reluctantly make my way back to the house. It seems early but yes, spring fever is here!

I shall sign off by sharing this morning's view of chicken bottoms...have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

art history made easy

At the risk of sounding like a public service announcement, have you visited your local library lately?

While a lot of us have given up on TV, I have found a use for the thing - watching interesting and informative DVDs, taken out on loan from my library. My local branch is a small library but it is part of the larger Ottawa library system so the DVD selection changes often.

The DVD on Toulouse-Lautrec was quite enjoyable. I can't say I was very familiar with his body of work and goodness, did the man have a knack for line - his draughting skills were incredible. I learned that his aristocratic family had inbred to keep the family line pure (his grandmothers were sisters) and as a result he suffered congenital health conditions that plagued him all his short life. For a fellow born into aristocracy, I found it odd that he would love the seedy area of Paris known as Montmartre - think of his series of posters for the Moulin Rouge. The poor chap died at 36 from complications brought on by his alcoholism and syphilis. I managed to get a bit of sewing done whilst also getting a wee dose of art history!

Another DVD recently watched, brought me up to speed on Edgar Degas. His love for the ballet dancer's figure is well known but watching the movie made me really think about what it must have been like to be so consumed with a particular body type. I would think that if I was drawn to portraiture, it would be because we humans are so infinitely different - some taller, some shorter, some heavier, some leaner. But his gals were all young with the same figure (more or less). Interesting... I learned that he was a crusty chap, lost his friends, rejected the label of Impressionism, mocked Monet and others for their en plein air landscapes and he never married as he believed that the artist must live alone. Of course it is very sad that at the end of his life his eyesight failed to the point of near blindness, especially cruel for a painter. While I was quite familiar with the paintings by Degas, I knew nothing of his amazing sculptures. Wow!

So if you don't have time to dust off the art history tomes on the book shelf, why not look for some arty DVDs next time you are at the library? If you don't see any, ask the staff. You never know what you might find.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Motivation Monday

When times are tough economically, inevitably the outlook becomes grim and the tone negative and we are all familiar with the starving artist myth. Negativity can drain the life out of our dreams and our enthusiasm. Without either of these, our motivation to do the work vanishes. So today, lets get a hope adjustment.
I am a firm believer in the notion that if someone else is out there doing what you would like to do, then it is possible. There is living proof!

Regardless of the current state of the economy there are artists that are making it. You know this, but maybe it is time for a gentle reminder.

I was recently encouraged by fellow artists. I am a new member on the executive of a Studio Tour. I attended a meeting during which we would be jurying in new artists. One artist arrived a bit late and breathless. She had lost track of time in her studio. Teresa had been up early on a very cold morning, working in her underheated garage/pottery studio with her hands in cold water making pots. The thrill of recent creation was evident in her pumped up energy and when the noon hour meeting was over she was dashing back for more of the same. A cancellation for the upcoming tour occurred due to a date conflict and last week another painter and I headed back to the coordinator's house to critique the work of a replacement applicant. When offered a cup of coffee or tea, Karl replied that no he couldn't stay, he had to get back to his studio and back to work. And he meant it.

I went home, back to my own studio and drafting table and as I sat there colouring away, I noted how I was surrounded by artists who were making it. Karl is a family man who earns his living by painting. Teresa works full time as a potter. I thought of my friend Myra who is a talented silver smith and she is busy year round with jewelry commissions. Then there is my friend Margaret, a single mom of two girls that earns a living painting and teaching art.

It is being done folks. What are these people doing that is so successful? First of all they have their noses to the grindstone and they are doing the work. They don't sit around examining the odds for success, they do the work.  You can't have a good reputation and a great body of art if you don't do the work. And I might also add that these people are doing it their own way. Three of the four artists mentioned do not have websites. Amazing yes, but true. They don't do any social media, no time on Facebook, Twitter, no blogs, nothing for sale on-line, heck Karl barely reads his email! :-) What they do have is body of work behind them that speaks for itself. Over time they have honed their skills and their craft and they have satisfied clients. Word of mouth is often the best form of advertising. Of course these people stay visible, they participate in quality exhibitions and so on but most importantly they each have terrific work ethics, they do the work.

Look around you. I'll bet you will find successful artists (and if you don't know any, may I suggest you get yourself out there and get connected to fellow artists - you might wish to read my posts under Finding Support  - click highlighted text for the link or look in right sidebar for the 'button'). Don't let the doom and gloom of the headlines drag you down and take you out. Yes, people have found themselves unemployed or underemployed, galleries have closed and artists are feeling the pinch. BUT, there are artists out there who are selling their art. Focus on the possibilities. Work hard. You may have to refresh your marketing strategy. It may not be easy but then again, much worth having isn't. So, turn off the news, stay away from the papers, get positive and head to your studio now. Do the work. The bonus is that it simply feels better to be working! Finally, may I suggest that you strive to, by your example, to become someone else's inspiration. Time to pay it forward!

Friday, February 10, 2012

more peony petals...

Guess what? I am working on another peony petal piece! Big surprise right? :-)

The above photo obviously shows the piece as a work in progress. It is about 8.5" x 8.5", so not big, but not a mini either and it is cps on Stonehenge paper. I know the square format is somewhat frowned upon but I don't bother too much with convention, if I like the composition then I blaze ahead. Like my other petal pieces, this has an abstract feel to it. I am drawn to the curves and shapes and really I could be drawing anything that had those shapes. It simply happens that peony petals give me this look and fortunately my flower garden has several varieties for me to work from. Well, of course in February in Ottawa Canada, I am working from photo references. It will be four months before the peonies are up and blowing in the breeze. 

Oh dear...I didn't get very far with my cloud piece (on the primed board, mentioned a few posts back). I gave it about five or ten minutes, felt very bored so it now sits on a table, patiently waiting for me to get re-inspired.
I have abandoned a couple of pieces this winter and I like that. I am determined to continue to build a cohesive, consistent body of work and anything that is not turning out to be my best quality I ditch and work that doesn't build my brand is also not worth my time right now. A series of cloud pieces is still a possibility but for now I am looking forward to doing those lovely Granny Smith apples next.

It has been quite mild here this winter but the temperatures are to drop tonight and over the weekend. Time to bring more wood inside for some roaring fires! I like to bake bread on weekends and make hearty stews. Winter days seem suited for such pursuits. I have an old wooden chair I wish to sand and repaint which I hope to start tomorrow and my fireside reading shall be a gardening book. Have a great weekend everyone and stay warm!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

taking pictures

Photoshoot struggles...To start with I should admit that I realize I could make my life easier by designating an area of my studio as the photoshoot corner. I could install the correct backdrops, buy the right lighting lamps, display tables etc. and poof, I would be good to go regardless of the time of day or the state of the weather. But I don't do this.

Why? Maybe I am  a bit too stubborn for my own good but I really like my studio the way it is and I simply don't want to make a part of it a photoshoot area. Plain and simple. I might have to give up my couch or my fountain or some of my plants :-) ...not going to happen. My heels are dug in and I resort to other options, okay option  - singular.

My other option is of course taking pictures outdoors. What's not to like about natural light? Absolutely nothing! But there are a couple of wee problems - one can only photograph in daylight and during the right light conditions. The tulips above were photographed on a sunny day but there were a few clouds and it was getting quite late in the afternoon. Suddenly the conditions were not good, too dark.

The next day I am back outside, see picture below. First, I had to shovel snow so I could set up my table, a pop up table that I had to get out of my studio closet and lug downstairs. Yet conducting a photoshoot sounds glamorous, no? Humm...

You might recall me mentioning these apples in a previous post. I am planning a simple piece, five apples lined up in a row. And this is where I go off into goofy land...I am taking photos outside, in certain lighting conditions in order to obtain the shadow angles I want and yet I fully expect to not put shadows in my drawing.

So why am I doing this? Simply to hedge my bets. I do not want to get into my piece only to discover that my desire to not use shadows wasn't a good idea after all and I change my mind.The big plus here of course is that the colours of the apples do look their best outside and having a great photo reference will help when I am working in the studio at night and when my real life apples don't look their best.

I have corrected the lighting on this tulip with Photoshop and it helps but as I type the sun is shining, my tulips are still looking fresh enough for a redo and the table is still time to go grab the camera.

Fortunately it is above freezing today as you can't photograph delicate flowers outside in winter. When it is really cold, your blossoms get killed!

But, no I am not converting an area of my studio. I am simply not going to.  :-)

Friday, February 3, 2012

minis and miniature art

Blue Blooded mini, copyright Teresa Mallen, coloured pencil on colourfix paper, 6" w x 2 3/4" h

Here are some minis I have been working on this past week. The piece above and the one below are approximately six inches wide by three inches wide. Both are done in coloured pencil on colourfix paper. I had a lot of fun doing these. If you have been following my blog for a while, the mini above might look a bit familiar. It was inspired by my work entitled  Blue Blooded.

Mini # 2, copyright Teresa Mallen, coloured pencil on colourfix paper, 6 1/2 " w x 3" h

My motivation to create some smaller works started last fall. Some of you might recall that I was working with ink and cps and I was dashing off small works of feathers and fruit and such. I eventually got a bit bored with this so I stopped.

Then last November, I purchased the drawing magazine pictured on the left. The cp portrait on the cover is the art of Kerry Brooks. I was surprised to learn that Kerry not only works quite big but she has also done very detailed, smaller works (3" x 4" for example). 

The seeds of inspiration were sown and I soon started pondering doing some cp minis (as I call them). I must confess previously having an aversion to working small simply because I am not that keen on squishing tons of detail into a tiny area, and well, I like detail! But hey, when the muse beckons... :-)

Mini Rose #1, copyright Teresa Mallen
4  3/4" w x 3  3/4" h, coloured pencil on Stonehenge paper
Miniature Art is a very interesting genre. I find it fascinating that people use magnifying glasses in order to place teeny, tiny brush strokes on intricate originals the size of postage stamps. There are miniature art societies in countries all around the globe.

Of course there was the eruption of ATCs (2.5 x 3.5 inches) onto the art scene a few years back. Millions of artist trading cards were created and swapped. Later many artists transitioned into ACEOs (art cards,editions and orginals), selling these art cards during the Daily Painter craze. I saw an enormous amount of bad art back then as people jumped on the bandwagon of creating quickly and making sales. I am glad this fad seems to be over. I am not knocking the Daily Painters out there, the ones still standing are doing excellent work, just saying I had a thing about those ATCs... :-)

So, to be clear, my intent is not to create miniatures in the formal sense of the word and I am not working ATC size nor am I considering these ACEOs.

Mini Rose # 2, copyright Teresa Mallen
3 3/4" w x 3 1/4 " h, coloured pencil on Stonehenge paper

The roses are in the four inch by three inch range.

When more have been completed, I shall create a sales gallery. These minis shall be offered up for sale matted and unframed so shipping shall be nice and easy. I will of course post about that development when it happens.

For now I am hoping to get some good photo references on those apples I mentioned in a previous post (need a sunny day for good shadows) and in the meantime, I have started a new peony petals piece - another one for the series!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

where botanicals start and the art of gardening

 The weather was absolutely beautiful this past weekend. A perfect mix of mild temperatures and sunshine. Ideal conditions for a winter barn muck-out! Winter gardening is great - no sweltering heat and no bugs. What does mucking out a barn have to do with gardening? Everything! I am making soil folks. Well nature does the work once I spread the stuff around. And that truly is where all botanical art begins. Whether you draw or paint flowers or vegetables, everything gets started in dirt. (I wish to pause to state that despite what it looks like in the picture, I am NOT six months pregnant! Good heavens...due to a unique combination of shadow and pale green turtle neck colour and I don't know what, one might very well get the wrong idea here, there friends, you do not need to email me, it ain't so...)

The art of making dirt isn't complicated stuff. In the picture I am spreading the animal bedding (which contains goat urine and poo, a fabulous natural fertilizer) over an area of my garden. My goal was to lay down a deep mulch, several inches thick. Once this decomposes, we shall be left with what gardeners call black gold - incredibly rich, black soil. We have lived here four years now and we started building this garden from scratch. We expanded the area last summer to include where I am standing. Fruit trees were planted. On my right you can see our wee plum tree. I won't plant in this area in 2012. I will continue to apply a mulch of bedding material from now until spring and then it will be left alone to rot down over the summer.

Like fine art, the art of gardening is an never ending exploration. There is always something new to learn and new techniques to try. I am excited to implement some new methods of growing food in the coming years. Our goal is to grow as much healthy, organic, nutrient dense food as we can - well, all of the veggies we like. We are not creating a market garden...not yet anyway :-) 

Many people are interested in growing their own food and it really is doable - you don't need a farm. You can grow in containers on a balcony or in raised beds in a city backyard. What stops a lot of people is the idea of committing tons of time and hard work. But what if it wasn't all that time consuming or that difficult???? Sound impossible?

You might wish to check out these two writers. I read One Straw Revolution last year, written in 1975 by Masanobu Fukuoka. This formally trained plant pathologist/scientist spent 65 years developing a system of natural farming that would benefit the world. This book is considered one of the founding documents of the alternative food movement. Specifically, the author teaches a common sense, do nothing technique. He did not plow, did not weed and used no agricultural chemicals or prepared fertilizers. What I enjoyed most in learning about his techniques was how after observing nature, what grew well and where, he started growing vegetables under trees! I had thought this was impossible as vegetables needs sunlight to grow, right? But after reading his book, I am inspired to grow food in and around my fruit trees. 

For a lighter take on the whole subject I have another author to recommend. (Mr. Fukuoka's book was translated into English and it does deal with a lot of Japanese gardening stuff that isn't so applicable, i.e. the climate is different and I am not growing rice crops, but it is still worth reading to get the gist of his philosophies)  The next wise soul is, Ruth Stout, who lived from 1884 until 1980. She lived in cities until she was 45 and then following an unexpected move to the country she tried her hand at gardening. She planted her first garden in the spring of 1930 and for many years she used conventional methods. Tired of waiting for her hired plow man to come one spring she stumbled upon a method of garden that has revolutionized the way many of us think about growing food. After adopting her new method, Ruth said, "I never plow, spade, sow a cover crop, harrow, hoe, cultivate, weed, water or irrigate or spray." Sounds very appealing to me. Her method? Year round mulch. Of course if you don't have access to barn muck, mulch can be anything from spoiled or regular hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, sawdust and vegetable matter. Anyone can do this. Even into her late 80s, Ruth continued to grow a years worth of food for two people, doing the work entirely by herself. Ruth's books are a fun read. I have checked out a couple from the library and I am currently reading 'How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back'. Next up is her book entitled 'Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy and the Indolent'. Love that title! Do try to find her youtube videos. Sometimes her videos disappear due to copyright issues but there is one interview currently still available. She is a hoot. I have learned that she used to garden in the nude as she liked the feel of the air on her body, to which I wonder, does Connecticut not have bugs and what about a sun burn? Regardless, I am keeping my clothes on.


Here is what the Christmas trees look like after the goats are done. Notice the stripped bark - we have beaver goats! Eventually, what is left of the trees shall become firewood. The lad on the right is Noah's twin brother, Keeah. His Charlie Chaplin moustache markings are stains from 'beavering' away at the tree trunks. The goats never cease to surprise me.