by Jen Evenhus, NPS-DP on 10/10/2013 3:33:08 PM1 Comment
Jen Evenhus, NPS-DP
Oranges, pinks, and tantalizing turquoise beckon like sweet popsicles on a hot day. My favorite of course is orange, sweet yet tangy. Turquoise is the perfect blue pretending to be green, cool, crisp, loud. Pink under anything gives it a sassy spirit.
Charcoal now blocks in form, line, movement. Life.
A different hour brings purple, maroon, green to the surface, prying shapes out of nothing at all. More turquoise that is closer to blue than green this time and pink explodes across the sky followed by orange rind orange and just as tart, set right next to a small black hole.
Snow falls. Orchards line up like a fence silhouette under a late sun.
It's just not enough. The skeleton is correct but the soul is empty. She is not speaking to me. Say something! Anything! Scream, whisper - let me hear your soul. She is silent, still.
Scrubbing the layers of false promise, popsicle colors fade along with their sweetness, replaced with mild grays and weak greens.
Surely I can find its soul. If I listen. And wait.
It was not to be. Stiff brush soaked with turp slid across the surface, obliterating the remaining image.
I close the door firmly behind me in frustration. The studio is not my friend today.
Taking my disappointment and frustration out on tall weeds strangling my Irises felt good. My fingers wrap around the unwanted grass, weakening the roots until they give way.
Expectations were not realized this time. A masterpiece, birthed, nurtured, coaxed, did not live. But in dying, perhaps new life will spring. I'll take the paper and cut it in half, or turn it upside down or use it vertically. But I'll have a better plan and take a little more time.
I am not used to failure at this point in my career. But when I do fail, I search for the lesson. I know I want to see emotion in my work. I learned I need more patience. I want more restful areas – grays or neutrals. I learned again that it is OK to fail, even though it doesn't feel very good.
“Arrowhead Bluff” is the painting that resulted after the failure.
A typical blustery day on our mini-ranch in late May finds my hubby, Stan, and me seeking refuge in the studio, talking about my upcoming exhibit and my fast-approaching workshop. He wanders around looking at several pieces sitting on easels. Snapping his fingers in sync with “Sting” wafting out of the corner, he comments on the bold strokes I’ve use on this one, the wonderful composition of another. He asks if I would like him to come with me for the workshop, that he’ll just “hang out” and be there if I need help with anything! Peeking in my storage shelves to view more art, he says he is excited to join together more frames, will be super careful when cleaning the glass, cut the foam core backing and cut the spacers for all the mats. These are his exact words, I swear! “Hon, just leave the framing to me, I know how stressed you get when framing takes you away from your painting. I promise the frames will all have perfect 45’s, there won’t be any smudges on the mats and absolutely no dust on the glass after we shoot those nails in the back. I can even get on the computer and print out your ‘All About Pastels’ label for the back if you want.”
I think I have to pinch myself – how lucky can a girl get!
So I do. Pinch myself.
Bad idea. I pinched myself wide awake. Yup you guessed it. I was having a dream. A dream of what my perfect world would be like. My lover, my friend, talking art with me.Hanging in the studio. I’m pretty sure he was just about to offer to make me tea.
Now don’t get the wrong idea. My husband is wonderful. It’s just that I married a baseball player, not an artist. This handsome man I fell in love with played baseball for the New York Yankees when we were first married. Sports is his life. It has been part of our lives for almost 43 years in one form or another. I love sports as well –watching baseball, basketball, tennis, and for me – riding horses. Art just is not his thing. And that’s OK.
But, I am an artist.
And an artist needs the community of other artists. An artist needs the language of art. We need to think like an artist. We need to be around people who “get” us.
So what does an artist do?
Attend Paint-Outs of course!
I have had more fun, more laughs, created more memories and made more friends than any other time in my life during Paint-Outs. Who wouldn’t want to leave their everyday lives behind for five or six days to join up with old friends and paint every day; to be in communion with each other; to share the bread and wine. Yes, there is a bit of that. Probably more wine than bread.
Wine reminds me of the Lopez Island Paint-Outs of 2007 and 2008.
Navigating my truck through to the open bow of the Ferry, I sit in anticipation, letting the crisp ocean breeze blow through my hair, I look forward to seeing my painting buddies and exploring the island, pastels and easel in hand.
Pulling off the ferry, the first thing I notice is how friendly everyone is. Every car I pass, the driver waves with a two finger salute. I’m thinking, “Do I know him?” “Are they trying to tell me something – do I have a flat tire?” After about 10 cars I start acknowledging each driver as they pass with my own two-finger salute, each time smiling to myself, feeling like a member of an exclusive club.
Home base for our group of 6 was the Captain’s Bay Suite at the Lopez Islander Resort - a separate building with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths – a huge living room/kitchen area that was destined on several occasions to host a critique night with hors d’oeuvres and wine. Other participants stayed in individual rooms or camped. The Islander Resort location is perfect, overlooking Fisherman Bay harbor andstunning sunsets each evening. The restaurant across the road offers delicious cuisine to cap off a long day of painting.
Karen Schroeder, long-time NPS Paint-Out organizer,created a plein air painting schedule for each day, inviting all participants to gather at designated locations, or to go off on our own. We painted at Otis Perkins Park – a peninsula where we could look back across Fisherman’s Bay to the main island. Herons watched artists invade their hunting grounds;Fishing boats chugged slowly in and out of the harbor; distant fields sported recently baled hay -providing ample painting subjects.
A favorite painting spot was Center Church, offering many different vistas –an old farmhouse surrounded by emerald fields full of grazing cattle; a herd of curious sheep came to visit several times; an ancient graveyard full of ornate headstones protecting family secrets; and of course the church itself – a small old-fashioned white church with a steeple.
One of the scheduled painting spots was Shark Reef Park. I should have known better just by the name! Back then I was fairly new toplein air painting, thinking that my set-up of hauling my equipment on a fold-up luggage carrier with wheels would be perfect for whatever I encountered. Karen left off the warning label on our painting schedule that said “beware of thick gnarly roots and deep ankle-breaking ruts in path.” The hike out to Shark Reef Park was challenging to put it mildly, but I kept my eye on the prize. And what a prize! A beautiful, rocky cliff high above a crashing sea provided several vantage points from which to paint. The swirling mist created a unique depth in our paintings, resulting in more than one masterpiece. This is one of the most dramatic locations I’ve ever painted. It’s worth the hike out – just remember to wear good boots, dress in layers, and carry your supplies in a backpack, not on a rolling cart!
Paint-Out participants received a personal invitation to visit the Lopez Island Winery for a wine tasting and to paint in the vineyard, a favorite location of mine with myriad hues in the vine leaves and grapes. The Winery also has a marvelous garden with colorful flowers that attracted more than one artist, and a shabby chic chicken coop, home to several multicolored chickens that are immortalized in some of our paintings.
After a couple days of painting all day long, we learned that we should paint in the mornings, break for a long lunch and rest and then go back out late afternoon to catch better light. So we adopted that plan, enjoying leisure lunches at several cafes and restaurants on the island, or stayed at the suite and made our own lunch, enjoying conversations about painting, materials, family and future Paint-Outs.
Karen Schroeder even arranged to have an exhibit of our paintings at the local gallery after our Paint-Out, so those who were interested could bring frames all ready to slip the finished paintings in, and enter in the show. I framed two of my favorites from the Center Church location, one of which had sheep in it, and left those for the exhibit. I told Pat that anything with sheep in it will sell, and sure enough, that piece did sell for a nice amount, enough to cover the expenses of my Paint-Out. Just an added bonus to a fabulous adventure!
Lopez Island offers these and so many other painting locations. When we go there next, be sure to sign up to join us on this beautiful Island in the San Juans.
Then there was the Camp Casey Paint-Out
It was delightful to discover that this old fort is set snug up against the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Uncertain which building was ours, I slowed my rig as I gazed out over the bright water silhouetting a group of children flying kites bolstered by a strong sea breeze. Squeals of delight reminded me of my childhood when my father built huge box kites of balsa wood and comic papers, setting them free to dance in a serpentine sky.
I soon found our barracks, parked and unloaded. Afterhauling overstuffed suitcases, art supplies, and bags of food up two flights of stairs, I was embarrassed to discover my roommate’s luggage consisted of a single elegant duffle bag along with a modest sized canvas bag for her easel and pastels. Three sets of classy painting khakis and shirts hung on the bar they call a closet. That was it.
Really? When am I going to learn!?
It reminded me of our trip to Italy. I had two huge suitcases and a backpack and a purse! I needed a cart to haul it around at the airport – embarrassing - again!
Oh well, all the extra clothes I brought to Camp Casey did come in handy because the firstwas a tad chilly, so each night thereafter, I went to bed fully clothed, throwing several layers of sweaters on top of the threadbare blanket that was provided.Another lesson. Bring a warm sleeping bag.
Paint-Outs are adventures. Expect to have adventures. Expect things to go wrong. But expect magic too. Expect to learn a ton and to welcome new friendships and strengthen old ones. Expect to create masterpieces. And expect to go away with enough photo reference for years of painting!
This one was no different.
We painted in groups or alone. We visited Lavender Wind Farm – twice. They have a pond. Water lilies and reeds.Lavender.Poppies.There were chickens. A small shop where you could purchase all things lavender, and the dark chocolate lavender ice cream bars they sold were out of this world. I’m going back just to have another!
We painted in a marsh of a thousand subtle colors. We painted at a tiny family-owned winery after pausing fora simple wine tasting.We painted Ebey’sLanding and Keystone Spit Park where a secret path beckoned me further and further through daisy strewn fields framed by the misty orchid horizon.
We gathered at a restaurant for pasta and vino, stories and laughter. Evenings brought us together to enjoy each other’s work, or to watch Barb make pastels, or listen to Karen describe her abstract pastel paintings. We watched a doe and two fawns saunter up the sidewalk right outside our barracks as if they owned the place. Each setting sun invited many to grab our cameras and traipse into the bog to capture dramatic scenery.
Open fields called us each day – with the promise of pure color, perfect compositions and perhaps a sale to a passerby. After painting for several days, I realized why I was a little uncomfortable - I was in foreign territory. Everything was so green! My home is Central Washington - desert to many of you. I am used to painting subtle sage blues, browns, neutrals, golds, deep reds and siennas. Just another challenge during paint-outs - discovering new color combinations, using colors you don’t usually use.
Too soon, our adventure ends. Farewells said. Promises made to keep in touch. Supplies all packed. Masterpieces carefully protected for the journey home. One goes South, another North, yet another East, quickly separated by the shimmering bog we painted just yesterday. I glance around to see for the last time the view of the barracks half hidden by fog rolling in off the Strait.
As miles accumulate on my speedometer, I catch myself laughing spontaneously as I remember each crazy, funny, dangerous, madding, joyful, treasured moment this, and other paint-outs, have given me.
Years later now, I peruse the many paint-out photos and am back in the barracks, way after lights out, telling stories, Pat and Ilaughing hysterically to the chagrin of our barracks neighbors, who I’m sure wished they had chosen a rooma little further down the hall; or I’m back on Lopez sitting on the couch, wine glass in hand, sharing adventures and plans to gather the following year.
We are blessed to belong to an organization like the Northwest Pastel Society that knows the value of gathering as artists.
Every year, NPS organizes a Paint-Out. This year is no exception. The Mazama Ranch House has been reserved for Sept. 25-30. Mazama is on the “dry” side of the mountains in North Central Washington. Watch for more details here on the NPS website and in upcoming online newsletters.
You can call it coincidence. Or fate. It's one of those events that happens to an artist just a very few times in their career; a moment that gives an artist affirmation and encourages them to continue working toward excellence.
Early January 2012, I was contacted by Robert Carsten, Editor of Pastel Society of America’s Pastelagram, to ask if I would like to be one of the featured artists in their Spring 2012 issue.
As you know, as an artist, any time you can get your story and your artwork published, it's a good thing. I was thrilled and accepted immediately. I was even more excited when I realized they wanted to feature my abstract work because my work is definitely evolving in that direction. They provided several questions to give me an idea of what information they might include in the article. I wrote out my answers to questions like: How has being a member of PSA been beneficial to your career; what inspires you; what qualities characterize your work? I answered the questions and sent them several examples of my abstract work and settled back to wait for the issue to arrive hot off the press.
After what seemed like months, I finally had the finished Pastelagram in my hands, flipping through the pages searching for my article. There. There it is. My work in the Pastelagram. I read the article and re-read it. It sounded like me. Like my work. I was pleased.
Fast forward to April 2012
After an evening of pastel painting, I closed up the studio and climbed the stairs, tired, happy, but still longing for something, when I realized . . . girls sometimes just need to refill their spiritual wells. Yes, you guessed it - that means chocolate - dark chocolate. Dove dark chocolate to be exact, and of course I abide by every suggestion written inside the little red foil wrapper, like "Love Every Moment." I do. “Take a deep breath.” I did. “Go to your studio.” I was just there! I made that one up. So I snuggled up on the couch in a warm blanket, welcomed my favorite feline onto my lap and grabbed the remote, bringing the big screen to life. Scanning through the channels I happened upon what looked like a documentary on a family who makes pastels in France. I happily settled in to watch it like someone who had discovered a stash of dark chocolates might settle in for the pleasure of enjoying each decadent bite (word).
Oh, yeh, that someone is me.
The documentary was, of course, all in French. It had subtitles. My fascination with France and speaking French, challenged me to understand what they were saying without looking at the subtitles. OK, I did peek once in a while.
As a child, I shared a bedroom with my two sisters. For several years my grandma Marian taught us French each night, right before lights out. We would lie in bed and listen to her speak French, after which we would each get our turn to practice.
I still have her French books; one has handwritten French notes inside the cover. As a child, I remember seeing them on her bookshelf, waiting for the evening lesson. When she moved up to Canada to be close to her son, my Uncle Peter, the French lesson books were one of the things I was happy to rescue and add to my collection.
While in high school, my favorite classes were the two years of French; and now as an artist, going to France and doing some plein air painting, is high on my bucket list.
As I watched the documentary, slowly unwrapping another smooth dark chocolate, I recall hearing the name Isabelle. I remember thinking how the process of making pastels is a painstaking one, and of course a romantic one, especially when you are a Roché and pastel making is your life.
As the young woman continued telling the story in French, large bowls of color are mixed; scooped out onto a cloth; wrapped and pressed to get water out; small clumps pinched off and weighed, then rolled into sticks; lined up and ends cut off; then logo stamped into the still-soft pastel.
I savor each word of French like each bite of dark chocolate; I savor the colors lined up on tables; the passion of the young woman who I eventually came to know as Isabelle. I am immersed in France, the lifestyle, the sound of French rolling off her tongue, the romance that is pastel painting. My spirit is filled. I yearn to once again be in the studio playing with color.
Fast forward just a few days after watching the documentary
Checking my email is a daily, sometimes hourly, habit I’ve cultivated, usually on my smart phone or iPad. I am certain that there will be fabulous news waiting for me, like: “Jennifer, you have sold three paintings and they are interested in two others.” Or: “Jennifer, your work has received the top prize in the 2012 Pastel Exhibit of Some City and your check for $5,000 will be presented at a special ceremony honoring the award winners.”
What I usually get, though, is a reminder from myself to do more marketing for my art; or a notification from PayPal that they have, once again, taken out my monthly fee for any number of painting sites, or organizations, that I belong to.
Well, this particular evening was different. I scanned the emails and landed on one from Margaret Zayer. I don’t know a Margaret Zayer. But it does say: (lamaisondupastel.com). Why do I recognize that name? I read further:
I recently came by your work in a feature in the Pastelagram and had to follow it up online. I find both your paintings and pastels very engaging, and possessing an energy that’s quite contagious; from your colors, to your strokes, and even how you talk about the work.
I work for La Maison du Pastel (Henri Roche pastels) and both Isabelle and I were wondering, if you hadn’t already tried them, if you would be interested in a small sample of our colors. If you were, it would be a pleasure to send you one.
Again, your work was an unexpected surprise from the publication, and very refreshing to have discovered!
Best regards, Margaret Zayer
La Maison du Pastel
20 rue Rambuteau
Really!? I re-read it several times, thinking back to the documentary I had just recently watched. Was this the same company? How can this be? The name Isabelle, yes, that’s the same name of the young woman speaking beautiful fluent French as she diligently went about lining up hundreds of pastels, side by side, cutting off the ends and stamping each with their logo.
How can it be that the stars actually lined up just right at some point to allow this to happen!? Read this excerpt from another email from Margaret:
. . . We sent out your little sample a couple of days ago, so it will hopefully be arriving in a few.
I don’t remember how Isabelle got to know the Pastelagram, but we sometimes get references from artists we know who have articles published, etc. in various publications. This time, we had placed an ad, which we almost never do. We were flipping through the paper version they had sent us on our commute to Paris, when we stopped at your work.
Paris is quite a beautiful, remarkable city, and France definitely deserves a prolonged stay. If you’re ever considering a visit, we most certainly invite you to come to the shop, if not just for the experience. We have the pleasure of passing Notre Dame on our way there every Thursday…
When I received the envelope postmarked Paris, France, I held it for the longest time, just smiling. This small package just flew across an ocean to find me. The anticipation of what I would find inside was more than I could bear. I gently slipped a knife along one edge and pulled out a small cardboard box with an emblem on top. I breathed in fully the French air set free as I opened the box. A long pink pastel wrapped in Henri Roche paper sat proudly beside 7 small samples of other luscious colors. I held each one, studying the colors. I took out a small piece of LaCarte and smeared some color around, enjoying the feel and the brilliance of each color.
Putting them carefully back in place, I made plans to include these fabulous little treasures in the making of my next masterpiece.
Yes, the stars lined up for this incredible coincidence, or was it fate? I know I plan to indeed visit la Maison du Pastel next time I’m in Paris!
Read further to learn a bit about Isabelle and Margaret and Henri Roché pastels. Visit their website to learn even more: www.lamaisondupastel.com
Henri Roché Pastels
Roché pastels where first produced in 18th Century France, in a workshop that was then known as "La Maison du Pastel." During the 19th century, this workshop dealt with all types of artists materials, including pastels. Around the year 1865, Henri Roché, a chemical engineer, chemist, biologist, and artist, started to produce his own pastels. A student of Pasteur, who also worked with Pastels, Roché was in regular contact with artists such as Degas, Cheret, and Whistler. These artists all submitted their desires for pastels- they should have a wide range of colors, varied, harmonious, luminous, and with an adherence to the support such that no fixative is needed.
In 1878, Henri Roché bought and headed "La Maison du Pastel." He decided to abandon selling other artist's materials, so that he could dedicate himself entirely to pastel.
In 1912, Dr. Henri Roché, Roché's son, started to divide his time between his medical practice and his father's work and research. He moved the workshop to where it still stands today: 20, rue Rambuteau. Dr. Roché nearly lost the shop completely during World War I, and the workshop was looted and occupied by the Germans during WWII. Dr. Roché managed to keep in contact with his artists during the war, and started pastel production again in 1946, with the help of his wife and three daughters.
La Maison du Pastel was taken over by Mrs. Roché after Dr. Roché died in 1948. In 1972, the three daughters took over the business, led by the eldest daughter. When she died in 1999, at the age of 85, the remaining two daughters decided to transfer their skills to their great cousin Isabelle Roché, a young engineer. Fascinated by the history of La Maison du Pastel, Isabelle has since dedicated all of her energy in carrying on the quality of Roché pastels.
After ten years of working alone, Isabelle decides to accept the assistance of a young American student, Margaret Zayer, who is looking for a meaningful experience in the summer of 2010. Having found her place at the atelier, and having developed a strong rapport with Isabelle, she returns during the winter, between her final semesters at college, and finally settles back in France with diploma in hand in July 2011. With a renewed energy, Isabelle and Margaret begin introducing new ranges, achieving a collection of 648 by December 2011. Parallel to this, they launch the "Petits Roché", a limited range of half-sticks. Their ambition remains to slowly bring the Maison back to its original glory, having in mind and at heart, the ability to satisfy the needs of any artists who come to the boutique, with the colours and quality they require.
Jennifer Evenhus is a nationally recognized award-winning artist who uses everyday objects, landscapes, earthscapes, florals and people to create colorful, dynamic art, striving to capture the essence of her subject through simplification and exaggeration.
Jen divides her studio into two work areas: one side for large abstract oils on canvas and small impressionistic oils on panel. The other side is dedicated to the impressionist and abstract pastels she is known for.
Jennifer has exhibited in New York City, Denver, Sacramento, New Orleans, and Seattle to name a few. She is a Master Pastelist in the Pastel Society of America, a DistinquishedPastelist in the Northwest Pastel Society and a signature member in the Pastel Society of the West Coast. She recently had a pastel painting in the Pastel Society of America 40th International Juried Exhibit in New York City.
A past NPS Newsletter Editor, Jen is excited to once again share the wonderful world of pastels through her editorials for the online newsletter.
by Barbara Benedetti Newton on 8/26/2012 9:26:45 PM2 Comments
This is my twelfth and last editorial for Northwest Pastel Society. Thank you NPS for the opportunity to share my thoughts and my thanks to those who have read my words and viewed the accompanying images over the past three years.
In previous editorials I’ve talked about many topics ranging from why I paint to the business of art. This time I will talk about changing mediums. Yes, that’s right…walking away from pastel.
Five months ago, during a Studio cleaning, I came across some of my oil paintings from a brief oil-encounter in 2008. Some were very bad but a few had interesting brush strokes that peaked my interest enough for me to set up an oil painting station and to spend five months exploring oil again by painting small color studies that might become larger paintings. The little studies began to accumulate so I began to auction them off on Daily Paintworks. Every time one sold, it encouraged me to paint another. As I became more comfortable with oil, I attempted a couple larger pieces. I was surprised to see that as my skill level rose, my oil painting began to look similar to my pastel work.
Because I wasn’t using my pastels, I moved them from their long-time space to a new area that is shared with oil paints. But then, while I was painting in oil, the pastels were close by, acting all sad and lonely. I thought of covering them up but that felt disrespectful, so out of guilt I cleaned and arranged them. The act of holding them in my hands again was enough to get me thinking about starting a pastel painting.
When I came across the reference photo for a painting that ended up in the mediocre group earlier this year and was reworked into another painting, I remembered how much I loved that color palette. I decided to cut the interesting ‘heart’ out of the photo to use as my reference for a new pastel painting.
To begin, I taped a piece of pale pink Art Spectrum Colourfix to my pastel easel and applied an oil wash using a large brush and very loose, broad strokes. I imagined that over the next month I could very slowly and carefully paint a little on the pastel each day while I continued the majority of my daily painting in oil. My guilt about neglecting my pastels was relieved.
Yesterday, about 1 PM with pastels in hand, I started at the top of the painting. Aaaah…there is nothing like pastel! At one point, when some of the top section was complete, I took the first of what I imagined would be many step-by-step photos to document how the painting evolved.
Suddenly, it was 4 PM. What happened? The only explanation I have is that I was mesmerized by this awesome medium and blissfully unaware of the passing of time, unaware of the dog circling for a walk, and oblivious to my usual desire to eat in mid afternoon. I stepped back from the easel and there was “Shadowland.” And, unlike oil, it was already DRY!
“Shadowland,” 25 x 18 inches
For me, painting with pastel is a dance between the artist, the paper and a stick of color. The interchange is exhilarating and energizing as well as challenging and exhausting. A drag and lift of the pastel stick creates a sheaf of dried grass; the edge of the pastel touches the paper abruptly for the bent branch and twig. The nuances and subtleties that are possible with pastel are unlike any other medium I have tried. The play of texture against texture is exciting and color combinations as one color is dragged over another are intoxicating.
If you have worked in pastel for quite a while, I highly recommend taking a break from it in pursuit of another medium – perhaps one that uses a brush to interpret large passages of color and form. What I have learned by painting in oil transfers back and adds to my experience with pastel.
I probably won’t put my oil paints away any time soon but pastel is still my primary medium and leaving it for an extended period gave me an appreciation for what I know in my heart and hand and the ability to transfer that knowledge to a piece of paper creating emotions for others to share.
It is 7:30 AM, a sunny May morning a couple days after the NPS 26th International Exhibition awards. I am honored to have received Best of Show from juror Elizabeth Mowry! My congratulations to all who have work in this show; I think it is our strongest show ever.
The focus of this editorial is My Life Changing Habit or, it could be titled Why My Work is Improving. But first, I want to mention what I’ve been doing since my previous editorial. After my last birthday, it occurred to me that if I suddenly were no longer here, there would be a number of mediocre paintings left in my studio. Well, that’s not good! so at the beginning of this year I divided the work in my art database into two categories: OK and Mediocre. I identified 23 paintings as unexceptional.
I think we all know intuitively which is our very best work and I know exactly how my 23 not-great paintings came to be. At some point each year as I am scheduling work for galleries and shows, I realize I am out of my best. That’s when I begin to feel the pressure to produce. I rush to the easel and go to work. My attitude changes and instead of painting calmly and thoughtfully, my self-talk is, “this area is good enough” as I quickly moved on to the next part. This creates mediocre work.
So far this year, I have washed/brushed off 13 of the 23 offenders and started over on paintings that, once re-created, can go right back into their frame. Besides saving money on pastel paper, I don’t have to buy new frames. And, until the painting is excellent, it won’t get framed again. If I don’t have enough really good paintings to submit to all the shows I’d like to enter, I’ll have to skip some this year.
This is the ghost of an original painting on Wallis paper, after the hose-off. The black lines are the charcoal sketch for the new painting.
An oil wash foundation is applied and dries overnight, ready for pastel in the morning.
“Life on the Edge,” 13 x 14 inches, pastel
Now, on to the real point of this editorial:
My Life Changing Event or, How to Paint Better.
Many of us don’t put painting at the top of our priority list. Until this year, I fit painting into my schedule of other duties and activities. This year I made a change and stuck to it until it has become a good habit. At 8:30 a.m. EVERY weekday, I stop what I am doing and start painting. Because of that, I believe my work has improved. Oh, it is 8:30 a.m. now… time to paint.
Next day, 7:40 a.m:
See how that works? I actually STOP whatever I am doing at 8:30 and paint instead. Some days my painting time is not productive per the dictionary definition: ‘achieving or producing a significant amount or result.’ However, if I redefine the word ‘result’ to mean did I learn something? The answer to that is always yes.
If you haven’t tried painting daily at a specific time I encourage you to try it. It has made a big difference in my life. Not only is my work improving, but also my life feels more balanced. When I am being a wife, mother, art organization volunteer and dog walker, I can fully enjoy those activities because I have already had my painting time for that day.
To end this editorial, I want to clear up a friend’s observation made at our opening reception at American Art Company: She mentioned to me my use of iridescent pastel in my painting, “Heartbreak Morning.” I said no, I didn’t use iridescents in that painting and that I never use iridescents.
For me, I suspect iridescent pastels to be similar to iridescent colored pencils – they are not lightfast and are problematic when photographing the work. I was sure that any iridescents that came with my Schmincke set were still in their paper wrappers and stored, away from my work area. Or, so I thought.
The artist who asked me about this knows her stuff so when I got home; I searched the pastels that are laid out by my easel. OMG! There, nestled in the corner of a group of pale lights, was a Schmincke GOLD pastel. Apparently, some of the iridescent DID migrate onto my other sticks as she suggested. I stand corrected. My advice to others is ‘know where your iridescents are at all times!’
Each year just before the holidays, I “close up shop” and put my painting mediums away to use the studio space for family gatherings. It is the time of year when other matters demand my attention. It is also a nice break to clear my head after a year of work. But once the holidays were over, I had a particularly difficult time getting started again in my studio.
In January we spent a week in Hawaii and came home to snow/ice and five days without power. There went two weeks of no painting. I finally made a deal with myself - the first 30 minutes in my studio each morning would be used to “mark art marks” of some kind. I was surprised and pleased when my obligatory half hour quickly turned into two hours and I was actually getting some work done! I found this to be a great way to get back to work after an absence – it might work for you too if you ever get stuck.
Working Larger: Ten years ago my primary medium was slow and tedious colored pencil. When I began working in pastel, one of the great appeals was the spontaneity and speed possible. I was amazed how quickly I could create a pastel painting, especially if it was relatively small and I got hooked on that.
The majority of my pastel work has been relatively small and has been created within the time span of a day or two. There are benefits to working small: pieces are less expensive to frame and to ship. 5 x 7 inch panels are a great size and price for online sales as mentioned in my last editorial. But it takes discipline to say what you want in a small format while retaining freshness. Small work tends to quickly become overworked.
This year, I’ve decided to work larger. I cut several 25 x 25 inches squares from an aging roll of Ersta 500. The paper insisted on rolling-in on itself instead of lying flat so I had it dry mounted onto archival foam core by my local frame shop.
Note here: Foam core is reactive to any moisture in the air and tends to arch instead of lying perfectly flat. This isn’t a problem once it is framed but in hindsight, I would recommend mounting your pastel surface to Gatorboard for a flatter, more rigid painting surface. Beginning a large painting feels to me like a project that requires planning and careful consideration. The mere size of the working surface tells me this is an important work and of course it will also be an investment to frame, and expensive to ship.
When working larger, I work more slowly beginning with a thin oil-wash foundation.
As I apply pastel on top of the foundation, I photograph the work frequently and turn it into grayscale on my computer using PhotoShop Elements to check the values against the reference photo.
I start at the top and work down instead of skipping all over as is my usual method on a smaller painting. As I work each area, I make myself resolve that area 95% before moving on to another area. A painting 25 x 25 inches is like 4 paintings in one, each quadrant is the usual size I work. Here is the completed upper right quadrant 95% complete.
This is the painting 95% complete.
These larger paintings have been a challenge for me and have been a lesson in patience requiring me to change some of my bad habits. I paint from about 8 AM to 10:30 AM when my dog Annie lets me know it is time to go to the dog park.
The afternoon is filled with the business of art, housekeeping, cooking. I try to keep my hands off the painting until the next morning when I hope to have gained some perspective and insight. This painting doesn’t have a title yet and it may change another 5%. Time will tell.
If you are one of the brave souls who routinely work in a larger format, I applaud you. I hope to see you at the NWPS 26th Annual International Open Exhibition. Happy painting!
When I participated in a painting demo recently, observers seemed more interested in talking about the medium of pastel and in any tips and tricks I might have than in watching me work on a painting. So, bits and pieces, tips and tricks is what this editorial will be about.
The tip I’m most excited about right now is Daily Paintworks Gallery online. For $9.95 a month, an artist can post paintings for sale. I sold the first two within 12 hours of posting so I’m pretty pumped about this. The site is very user friendly, both for the artist and for the buyer. For now, I am posting 5x7 inch unframed pastels for a specific price. Later, I may add larger paintings for the auction part of the website. Take a look and consider selling your work there! The website address is http://www.dailypaintworks.com. Select “Artists” in the header, then select the tab that says “The DPW Member Artists,” scroll down to my name and select “gallery” next to my name.
Here is how my little gallery looks today. I will continue to add paintings.
Most artists have many paintings posted, both sold and available.
Another tip/trick is the holder I made for my easel so I can paint all the way to the edge of the Ampersand® panel. I glued three foamcore strips onto another piece of foamcore to form a “U” shaped trough. I slip the panel into this “U” from the open top and put a push-pin in each top corner to keep the panel from falling forward and out of the holder.
I use silver duct-tape to attach the foamcore holder to the backboard of my easel.
I am forever rearranging my pastel working area. My easel is positioned in an alleyway between a built in counter and a big worktable. When I use a reference photo for a painting, I display it on my laptop computer and place the computer on a chair on top of my worktable to keep it up and out of pastel dust. As I’m working, I wipe off pastel sticks on the old bath towel draped across my easel under the aluminum foil tray that is beneath my painting.
The worktable has indoor/outdoor carpeting on part of it for framing art. To keep the carpet free of color when I set pastel sticks on it, I framed a piece of NOT archival foamcore (because it is slick and I can wipe it off with baby wipes) using an old 19 x 20 inch metal frame. These value columns help me to be more thoughtful in my selection of color.
And, a few words about a workshop I took recently with Elizabeth Mowry. I have owned Elizabeth’s books for years, reading bits and pieces here and there; always pleased to revisit images of her art but more importantly for me, to read her words of wisdom. In my limited experience with pastel artists who also teach, I am so pleased when their attitude matches the beauty of their art.
In the workshop, Elizabeth's kind, gentle nature enabled me to paint my best. Knowing she was near and would help me if I needed it, I felt myself slow down and become more thoughtful in the selection of my colors and strokes. Her lack of micro-managing me was interpreted in my brain as her confidence in me. Feeling confident always helps in making choices that work.
At the end of the workshop, I was happy because I felt the painting I completed was one of my best pieces. I began thinking about where I could show it. Then I realized my options were limited because this painting was worked on in a workshop with an instructor, which presents an ethical dilemma. In good conscious I must abide by the “no student work produced under supervision is eligible” when it is listed as a condition in a prospectus.
Another point I’d like to make is about choosing a workshop instructor. Before you sign up, get a feel for an instructor’s style of teaching from others who have studied with that artist. I haven’t taken many workshops but I after this one, I know what it feels like to have an instructor bring out the best in me. Select an instructor whose method of teaching is one that matches your personality so you can be your best-self painter.
I completed “Byway for Another Day” at the workshop. With reference photo in hand, I started at the top and slowly worked my way down. When I approached the yellow area I asked for input from Elizabeth Mowry and she advised a “quiet” yellow.
These August mornings are beginning to feel like Fall. Summer activities are winding down and it is time for me to get back into the studio. I have a stack of spring painting “sandwiches” waiting to be framed so they are first on the agenda.
Sandwiches are the complete painting package that will be slipped into a frame. The top layer is 1/16” standard glass. I order glass by the case in 16x20, 20x24, 24x30 and 26 x 32 inch sizes.
I love a square format painting so most times I have to cut the glass to another size.
The next layer is an archival off-white rag mat, then archival foam core spacers to hold the painting away from the glass and mat. When I mount the foam core spacers to the mat with half-inch ATG tape, I leave a channel between spacers to trap any excess pastel dust, keeping it off the mat and off the glass.
I paint the edges of the spacers with black acrylic paint. This is to ensure the edges of the spacers won’t show (white) when viewing the painting from the front. It would be a good idea to buy black foam core to eliminate this step. The bottom layer is the painting mounted on archival foam core. This completed sandwich is one-half inch deep so I select a frame with a deep enough rabbet to accommodate this thickness.
The frames I use most often are a simple walnut wood frame purchased from Jayeness Moulding. The order number is RD8224 Walnut. I order my frames joined.
Before the sandwich is placed into the frame, I attach the hanger for the wire. Then, I put the sandwich in the frame and secure it with framer’s points about every 3” all the way around.
I use coated wire, felt bumpers, and two-inch brown tape to seal the back. Add the painting label and I’m done! Making a painting sandwich as each painting is completed is a good way to protect a painting until it is framed. However, I am trying to move away from using mat at all and go to a wider, plein air type frame. I think the smaller a painting is, the more it needs a mat to set it off so the first step for me will be to increase the size of my paintings.
Today I am preparing a painting for shipment to the IAPS 18th Juried Exhibit in Albuquerque, NM. Shipping a painting to an exhibit is a bit of a bother and expense but for me, entering shows outside my local area is valuable for the exposure, possible awards and for the opportunity to connect with other artists and organizations.
Those new to pastel may wonder if it is safe to ship pastel work. As a novice I was worried that the pastel surface of my painting would be jarred loose during shipping and would end up ghosting the glass or dirtying the mat. If you take your completed pastel outside and give it a few good whacks before framing, there shouldn't be excess pastel pigment to fall off. Also, always frame with a spacer so the painting surface is kept away from mat and glass and there is a trough for any loose particles of color. (More about framing in a future editorial.)
You'll need a good shipping box. The shipping boxes I use are called Strongbox available from Airfloat Systems, www.airfloatsys.com. A similar box called Artwork Shippers is available from U-Line, www.uline.com. I bought my first Strongbox more than twenty years ago and though I have added three more over the years, the first one is still in use.
I have a various sizes of foam pieces to fit snugly around any size painting (sometimes two paintings in one box). I don't want my art to shift within the box during transit. Protect it the same way you would protect your pastels when going out to paint plein air…think snug foam sandwich. I write my name on every piece of foam and if the placement of the foam pieces is complicated, I take a photo of how I packed it and enclose it with the painting for the person who will repackage it to ship it back to me. To guard against moisture, I always put my art inside a plastic bag before I put it into the shipping box.
I use Scotch® Heavy Duty Shipping and Packaging tape (1.88 in x 54.6 yd roll) dispensed by a tape gun to seal ALL openings on my shipping box. I also put extra tape on every corner and along every outer edge to protect my box from abrasion. I'm sure if I saw how my boxes are handled during transport I would not like it. To transport people, my precious painting is just another awkwardly large box.
Glass or Plexi? Before I began to paint with pastels, I framed all my art with Plexiglas®. Then, my pastels were always framed with glass because I thought static from the plexi would suck the pastel image right off the ground. Occasionally, an exhibit will specify framing with plexi instead of glass so when I found myself accepted into a show with this requirement, I unframed the art and replaced the glass with a piece of plexi that I cleaned first with Kleenmaster Brillianize® Anti-Static plastic cleaner and a soft cloth. It is available online at Amazon and probably also locally. When the painting arrived back from the show I was surprised to find it in perfect condition - no ghost image on the plexi and no pastel dust on the mat. So, now I'm a believer that pastels can be framed with plexi as long as the image is spaced at least ¼" away from the anti-static cleaned plexi.
Insurance I have read that FedEx is the only shipping service that will allow you to insure works under glass. I do use FedEx as my shipper but for many years I have had a separate insurance policy to insure art at shows or while in transit.
Though I ship to numerous shows each year, unless requested, I always frame with glass and have never had a problem with breakage. However, for more peace of mind, there are glass protection products available such as Glass Skin® from Masterpak, www.masterpak-usa.com. If the glass shatters, it remains secured to the Glass Skin and away from your art.
I encourage you to enter your pastels in shows across the United States. Many state or regional pastel societies have open shows (no need to be a member of that organization). Having entries from across the US increases the breadth and depth of these shows and connects us with our peers.
Here it is, February already, and I’ve been doing everything except painting. I’ve been more interested in cleaning and re-organizing my studio.
Part of my studio cleanup was a ruthless culling of art books I no longer use. I listed 36 used books for sale online in my own “store” at Amazon. It’s easy to become a seller so if you have extra books, consider it. Go to the Amazon site for information.
I also gathered together the 4-ply mat board “window” remnants from the mats I’ve cut for framing pastels. I sorted them by size, then cut them into the square format I like to paint on. They range from 11 x 11 to 14 x 14 inches.
To turn the mats into pastel painting surfaces, I laid a dozen of these mat squares out on newspaper and applied a homemade pastel ground mixture to them with a foam roller. The recipe I used was 1 cup water + 1 cup acrylic gesso + 11 heaping tablespoons of marble dust mixed up in a blender.
If you try this, apply one or more coats on both sides of the 4-ply mat boards. Let each piece dry completely between coats and don’t be alarmed when the boards first curl up and then, as they dry, reverse and become concave. When you coat the opposite side, they will do the same thing and then flatten out. I like my boards really flat so when the last coat was nearly dry, I stacked the mat boards with glassine or other slippery paper between each, and laid a piece of heavy glass on top of the stack. The next day they were dry and perfectly flat.
For the final coat, I added some Venetian Red gesso to the mixture to make a raspberry color.
At this point, I had a cleaner studio and a good supply of prepared surfaces but still no real desire to paint. I needed a jump-start for a new year of painting so I went on a photo shoot to the wetlands of my hometown.
Back in my studio, I transferred the reference photos from my camera to my computer and viewed the images on my display. I had a few inspiring shots, but most photos showed muted dead grasses and bare-limbed bushes. As is sometimes true with photo shoots, the resulting photographs aren’t as motivating as actually being there.
Still looking for my jump-start, I set up a little painting station in front of my computer display. I used a 16 x 20 inch pad of Lanaquarelle, 140 lb cold press watercolor paper, my travel palette of watercolors and a couple small brushes.
I spent a couple hours viewing reference photos on my display and creating 2-inch square thumbnail paintings of what I saw until I had a 16 x 20 inch sheet - a total of 35 little images.
Next, I took a photo of the whole sheet and in Photoshop, turned the image into a grayscale and printed it.
I posted my bright idea for a jump-start on my art journal blog, www.bbnewtonartjournal.blogspot.com, and immediately got several nice replies. Contact with fellow artists turned out to be just what I needed to start painting again. I began to paint using the sheet of thumbnailsfor reference without looking at the corresponding photos. I can’t imagine a series of 35 paintings but I am working on number 3 and my bright idea has brought me some new Internet friends.
The approach of the holiday season is the time of year that commission work is most abundant - if that is something you are willing to do. The financial aspect is comforting because as a commission, it is a sure sale but it also has to be a creative “fit.”
Many years ago I produced commission portraits in colored pencil. It is a slow medium and my client list had grown to a 6-month wait. When I finally got around to the portrait of a woman’s husband, I learned he had recently passed away. She now wanted the portrait more than ever and gave me several reference photos. I was pleased with the completed drawing, believing I had captured the likeness I saw in the photo. And, when I delivered the work, she agreed that my painting looked just like the photo.
“But, he didn’t really look like that,” she reminisced. He was more…well, more… more everything of course. I made her suggested changes until she was happy and she went on to purchase more paintings from me (not commissioned portrait work).
Another client gave me a reference photo of her darling chubby-cheeked daughter. I finished her portrait only to learn that the child had a mouth full of bubble gum in the photo and wasn’t really that “fat.” After a couple dozen portraits, I quit doing commission work. I had done my time – I thought.
Last week, the owner of one of my galleries phoned. He reminded me of a pastel painting of mine that he sold in 2004. He went on to tell me that recently a couple came into the gallery asking about it. Six years later and they are still thinking about it, wishing they had purchased it.
“That’s nice,” I commented.
“Well, actually, they are wondering if they could commission you to paint another one?”
“No,” I said, without even a polite pause.
I went on to explain how much my painting style has changed. The gallery owner anticipated my response and acknowledged that of course it wouldn’t look like the same painting. He implied that the couple realized this too and were still interested. I wondered aloud where the reference photo for that painting might be. We ended our phone conversation with the understanding that I would look for the reference photo and think about it. I hung up and promptly, deliberately, put it out of my mind.
A few days later he followed up with an email asking if I had considered the opportunity? I felt guilty so I began looking for the reference photo, searching through two computers and a stack of cds. No photo. Then, as a last resort to clear my conscience and be able to say that I had made every effort, I looked through an old 3-ring binder of painting history. There it was! It is a photo of our side yard tree it’s younger days, ablaze in fall color.
Out of curiosity, I put a new sheet of paper on my easel and with photo in hand, began to block in areas of color. I thought I would just play for a while to see how much resistance I felt to painting the same subject twice. I don’t remember the process of painting this tree the first time, but I was enjoying it now. I didn’t look at images of the previous painting to avoid being influenced in painting the scene a second time. I also painted on the same type of paper (Canson Mi-Teintes) and in the same size (19 x 25 inches).
With big bold strokes I dared something to go very wrong so I could walk away and say I tried. But, nothing bad happened and I ended up with an updated version of a previous painting and an interesting experience.
Now, when I compare the two finished paintings, I see how my work has grown. I am more comfortable with the medium so my work is less labored and more spontaneous. I have learned to eliminate a lot of unnecessary detail that is in the reference photo. I now interpret scenes with more overall light and atmosphere rather than the dramatic spot lighting of my early landscapes.
I have sent the painting off to the gallery. Maybe the clients will like it and maybe not. Either way is okay because I believe this “commission” came to me as I way to reflect on my work. I would not have done this exercise on my own but now that I have, I encourage you to try it!
Original "Drama Queen" 2004, 19 x 25 inches, pastel on Canson Mi-Tienteson Mi-Tientesx
"Drama Queen II" 2010, 19 x 25 inches, pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes
Just as my grandsons will go back to school and tell about what they did over the summer, I want to write about my summer workshop experience with Albert Handell. His work is inspiring, the workshop setting was beautiful and the group of artists was kind and supportive. I even enjoyed standing in the blazing sun and painting plein air for hours. But, as a result of taking the workshop, I have developed a nagging question. Which is more important to me when creating a painting, the process or the product?
Ever since I broke away from the exacting colored pencil work of my past, I have taken joy in making imprecise marks with pastel. My art is moving toward abstraction and I work intuitively, hoping my choices of color, value and composition will come together to form pleasing relationships. When they don't, I hose the pastel off and start again. This has become my method of working and is very exciting to me. My experience with this process is scheduled to appear in The Pastel Journal, October 2010 issue.
My move toward abstraction came about because I was losing interest in painting traditional landscapes. “Pretty pictures” is the way I have come to think of my scenes that are so fully developed that they leave little to the imagination of the viewer. My intent is to create observer participation in my work. We each have a list of artists whose work inspires us. My list includes the work of Mr. Handell because his paintings go well beyond being pretty pictures. I attended his workshop eager to watch how he works, hoping that I could emulate him and regain my interest in painting literal scenes.
He carefully lays out the scene as a graphite drawing before he proceeds to a thoughtful selection of color and value. He seems to spend as much time in preparation for the pastel work as he does in applying the pastel. I noted the differences in the way we work. I just want to get to the color and texture. To paint in the manner he does, I would need to s-l-o-w down in the foundation/bones stage. When I’m not sure what to do, do nothing. Walk away. Turn the painting to the wall for a while if I have to. Be patient. Do not wash it off.
Back in my studio I began my first painting since the workshop and tried to follow his method. My graphite sketch for “Summer Sojourn” was carefully rendered. I was precise with the form of the trees and bushes and I indicated in graphite where my darkest values would be. So far, so good - I felt my painting had good bones for the next step, which for me, is an oil-wash under painting. Usually, I boldly drip, splatter and play with color, letting my foundation suggest my painting, but this time I made an effort to stay with the plan and was careful to not obliterate my graphite drawing. In selecting specific pastels for the painting, I set aside my intuitive process. Instead, I carefully compared hue, value and temperature on a test paper. I was surprised how few colors I really needed. And so, with my limited but adequate palette, I began to paint my scene.
Every stroke and color worked. Because I was painting with a plan, not by trial and error, the painting came together quickly. It was never in any danger of being washed off because it (and I) didn’t go through a phase of uncertainty. I am pleased with the result, and feel I have a successful painting/product. But, the process felt safe and predictable. I didn’t have an exciting, wild-and-crazy fun creative experience. So I wonder: which is more important, the process or the product? My optimistic artist-friend Emily suggests, “Maybe it will all come together [for you] in time, the wild and crazy fun process producing the product. It could happen...”
In the weeks since I attended the workshop, I realize the most important thing I gained is a better understanding of myself.
I can relate to these words I found while skimming a book I am about to read, “The results of artistic expression may bring relief, joy, and harmony, but the process thrives on tension. Conflict and uncertainty are the forces that carry the artist to new and unfamiliar places.”
Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff, excerpt reprinted with permission of the author.
Yesterday I ran into an old friend; a very accomplished colored pencil artist who has worked exclusively in that medium for twenty years. She also still teaches and I find her dedication to the medium admirable.This encounter led me to consider how our paths have diverged. After a dozen years of still lifes in colored pencil I found myself terribly bored so I changed mediums.
At some point, we begin to know a medium so thoroughly there are few surprises. Making more of the same art may become primarily about producing a product rather than about being fulfilled on a creative level. To rekindle our interest in a medium and in our work in general, an adjustment of content, style or process may do the trick. A leap of faith in our work is sometimes the result of a conscious decision or it might come about more slowly by way of artistic evolution. During the period when an artist is searching for a new path to explore, they may find themselves taking risks with their work that they wouldn’t normally consider.
I have loved my years with pastel but I sometimes tire of traditional landscape scenes. I began to look for a new way to express myself. That is why the paintings in my studio are hanging onto the walls for dear life or hiding in their storage areas hoping to go unnoticed by me. But I am finding them one by one… the pastel paintings that are candidates for rework. This rework process has entertained and challenged me for about a year. I unframe old paintings, wash or wipe them off, turn them upside down (or not), contemplate the ghostly image that remains, and paint again. I’m surprised to find myself drifting toward abstraction.
As an example of this process, I’d like to call your attention to the two paintings in the upper right corner of this editorial page. The bottom image, “Red Row” has been posted here since November 2009. For the February 2010 editorial we added the upper image, “Chain of Events.” You may be interested to know that “Chain of Events” is actually “Red Row” turned upside down and reworked into an abstracted landscape. This is one of about twenty paintings I have reworked. It has been great fun and I encourage you to try it if you ever find yourself in need of a break from your regular work. Also, I’m pleased that my abstracted landscape paintings – paintings that began as playful exercises - are being accepted into exhibitions.
And, that brings me to a bit of art business. We are well into the show season and paintings are going out from my inventory for shows across the country. I have a computer database as well as paperwork to document their travels (as explained in my February Editorial) but sometimes all I need is a quick visual. Following is a brief explanation and an image of my easy method for seeing what’s in and what’s away.
Each framed painting is labeled with the painting number (from my database) and the title written on a strip of tape. Most of my paintings are framed in wood frames and it is important to find a tape that doesn’t affect the wood surface by leaving an adhesive residue. The tape I use is one I found as a colored pencil artist; I used it then to border a drawing as I was working on it. It gives a clean edge with that medium and doesn’t damage the paper. It is 3M Safe-Release #2070, 1” x 60 yd rolls. It has a white, paper-like surface to write on.
My system is simple. A piece of this tape is used as the label for the painting. I write in large letters with permanent marker so I can see the label without getting down on my hands and knees – my framed paintings are stored under my counter below my flat files. When paintings go out to a show, I remove the label from the frame and stick it on the wood above the painting area. I can see at a glance which paintings are out. When the painting comes back from the show, the label goes back on the painting and it goes back into storage.
It’s a sunny February day and I can hear the garden calling me. But, that call is just one among many - I also hear the laundry, the papers waiting tax preparation, a dusty house. You may notice that I did not mention my easel calling me. Days can go by and I don’t hear a peep out of it though I’m often thinking, “I should be painting.”
Thinking that I should be painting and wanting to be painting isn’t the same thing. For me, creating art can’t be forced. And why should I be painting instead of doing something/anything else? In this economy, it isn’t because I need to replace work that is flying off the walls of my galleries. Sometimes I am just as happy weed-eating or digging in the dirt as I am in the studio. So throughout the year, I take breaks from painting and don’t feel guilty.
However, if I’m going to continue to exhibit my work, a time will come when I need new paintings. After a few weeks of not painting, I am anxious to get back to the easel because by then, I would rather be painting than anything else. This process of painting for a few weeks then doing other things for a few weeks works well for me and I complete quite a few paintings in a short amount of time. I think they are better paintings than they would be if I tried to paint through the times when I’d rather be doing something else.
In the weeks that I’m not painting, I work on the “business of art.” When the prospectus for a show arrives in my email or US mail box, I don’t want to be caught off-guard and have to scramble to see what work I have available. I have a good system for keeping track of show entries that I recently organized for the coming year. I thought it might be helpful to you to hear about my method, especially if you don’t already have a great system of your own.
I’ll start with the end result and work backward to explain how it works. I have a 3-ring binder labeled “Call for Entries” that is divided into six sections.
1. 2010 Show List
2. Shows to Enter
3. Pending Notification
4. Upcoming Shows
5. Shows in Progress
6. 2010 Shows Complete
Section 1 - 2010 Show List The first page is a show list sheet. It has columns labeled “Show Name,” “Entry Date,” “Notification Date,” “Deliver Date,” and Pick Up Date.” When I receive a call-for-entries notice for a show that I hope to enter, I write information in the corresponding columns on the show list sheet. The final column is labeled “Art Title” and is filled in at the time I am entering the show depending upon which paintings I have available.
Section 2 - Shows to Enter After I fill in the Show List sheet, I print a paper copy of the call-for-entries or prospectus and stick a post-it on the edge. On this tab I write the deadline date for entry.
Section 3 - Pending Notification When I have submitted my entry to the show online or by US mail, I move the completed prospectus/entry form, or a printout of the online entry, to the Pending Notification section. I also keep a copy of the entry fee check or PayPal receipt attached here. On the tab, I write the date the show will send notification of acceptance.
Section 4 – Upcoming Shows If my work has been accepted into a show (yeah!) I move the paperwork to the Upcoming Show section, change the note tab to show the delivery of art date and file in order of delivery date. I also write the delivery date on my Studio calendar. It would be sad to be accepted and then forget to deliver the art!
Section 5 – Shows in Progress After the art has been delivered, all corresponding paperwork is moved to the Shows in Progress section and the note tab is changed to read the pick-up art date. Again, this date is noted on my Studio calendar.
Section 6 – Shows Complete When the show is over, the paperwork moves to a final section at the back of the binder. At the end of the year, all paperwork goes into a manila envelope along with show brochures and any awards I may have received. This makes a complete packet of information to update my resume, website, etc.
If you decide to try my system, I hope it works as well for you as it has for me.
When I was invited to write this editorial, I enthusiastically agreed. At that moment, on that day, I felt full of wisdom and advice. But, remember the saying by Thomas Jefferson, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today?” Well, I should have started typing right then because in the weeks since, I have discarded one topic after another.
First, I wanted to write about why we paint. It is said that through creative expression we clarify and make distinct who we are while filling a need to communicate or express emotion. I soon realized that to fully explore this subject - the time it would take for me to write about it and for you to read it - would be time we could both be painting. I suspect the reason we paint is slightly different for each of us. For me, I paint because there is a void in my life when I don’t.
Then, I thought about addressing how we know when we’re finished with a painting. One of the books I’ve been reading is titled, On Becoming an Artist by Ellen J. Langer. In her book I came across a story about a scene in the movie Pollock where a Life Magazine reporter asks Jackson Pollock how he knows when a painting is finished and Pollock responds, “How do you know when you’re finished making love?” Um…well…for me, a painting is finished when I’ve said what I needed to say.
And then, there is always the question of what to paint – subject and style. Changing subjects or styles is sometimes a matter of evolution/growth of one’s work - moving on from a subject that has been explored to exhaustion. If we follow our hearts, we will be painting exactly what we need to be painting at any given time to progress as our unique selves. What to paint was a hot topic at our house recently.
A few weeks ago, my husband, Jay, sold the inventory of our business and accepted a job with a Seattle company. No more purchasing, accounts payable, or accounts receivable duties for me, I was free to paint full time again! Brimming with excitement about the possible growth of my art both in style and substance, I was just getting into my new book, The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, when Jay brought home a couple of old apothecary bottles.The elderly father of a friend was closing his pharmacy; these bottles sat on a glass shelf in the pharmacy and represented a lifetime of memories. Jay told his friend I would paint a picture of these bottles.
Needless to say, there was an exchange about committing me without asking first. The ensuing discussion finally came down to the fact that Jay was disappointed that I wouldn’t “just do it” and I was disappointed that he didn’t “get” what I do in the studio all day. I was surprised at the passion I felt as I stated the reasons why I would NOT paint those bottles: “I’m not just painting, I’m being. I do that [be me] by painting what I have to paint to say what I have to say at that particular time and in a specific way. If I were to paint on command, that would be called a job. If I’m not painting for myself, but instead, for a market need, then I’m not being true to myself. And, if I’m not being me, who am I?”
Barbara Benedetti Newton,"Bottles"
In the end, I painted the bottles because it would make others happy. And in doing so, there were benefits for me too. If I believe that we paint exactly what we need to be painting at any given time to progress as our unique selves, then it was time for me to paint bottles – or anything that would prompt the surrounding discussion. I had the opportunity to get to know myself better. I now know without a doubt, that of all the roles I fill in a busy life, at the core of me I am an artist - and one with a passion for what I do.