Monday, January 31, 2011

Letting go of what's precious

Late last fall I spent a day at Schoodic Point and was drawn to the cuts of ledge along the shore road (most people are drawn to the wild surf crashing against the rocks). When I got home I was eager to attack a canvas to express my experience. I had just started working with a galkyd mix medium which gives the paint an incredibly smooth fluidity. I went at it without intention of depicting reality.  I worked fast, splashing paint around and I was very excited with where this took me (top). I immediately photographed it and sent it to my dear friend, painter, and respected art historian/teacher (she looks at art all day long) for her kind but honest critique. I knew there were parts unresolved but I was so in love with some of the passages that I didn't know what to do without ruining those precious parts.  Here's what she said:   

"Wow - great start! I do agree with you that you need some further work at the botton left. I also think you need to resolve the central portion. Remember that I am just viewing a digital shadow of the actual work, but to me, there is a mushy kind of disconnect between the blue/grey foreground and what is going on in the middle and deep distance. Now if you are going for abstraction that is not an issue, and I also think even so the composition reads as top central triangle of blue/pink, slashes of yellowy green meeting in the center and more structured block like forms at the base. I think you could firm up the composition to get a stronger sense of form  no matter which way you are heading with this. As it stands now to me, everything is falling off to the left and I am just longing to get a sense of structure. Does any of this make sense to you?Maybe if you counter the dominant stretch of yellowy green running in from the left downwards with something to pull the energy back into the work?"

Hmmm. My heart sank but I knew she was right. Lack of structure in my work is the biggest criticism I get and something I always struggle with, being so involved in color. But I didn't want to touch it. I didn't want to lose the fluidity, the spontaneity.  But I've also been told by many a teacher and mentor to NOT get attached to parts of a painting and try to work around them. It never works, and I have confirmed that before. So, I let the painting sit for many weeks. I looked at it frequently but separated myself emotionally from what excited me about it. One day, I just knew what it needed and launched in as though it was a whole new painting. (bottom) There is very little of what I loved about the original left, but it is a far superior painting. And I like it more than the original stab. This is what my friend said:   "Oh! Divine, dreamy marvelous beautiful!"

Moral of the story:  don't let anything about painting become precious and untouchable.

Finished painting:  On the Rocks, 14 X 18, oil on canvas panel

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Donating Art...Singing the Blues

It seems there is no "off-season" when it comes to getting asked to donate art for non-profit fundraisers. And while most artists I know, including myself, are active in their communities and generous with their time, it does become difficult when asked so frequently to donate pieces of art.  Here are my two main beefs:

1. Most of the time, the auctions include all kinds of stuff—from trips to heating oil. The art is beautiful and provides a lovely visual backdrop for the event, but the attendees are not primarily art buyers. If they bid on a piece they are hoping to get it for a song...partly because they aren't appreciative of the value.

2. It is expensive to frame a work and often the piece sells for less than the cost of the frame. I feel that I would be better off keeping the work to sell at full price and send a check to the nonprofit for something close to what the piece would bring.

There have been a few events in which the group splits the take with the artist  50/50 or 60/40.  That is helpful in a couple ways. It recognizes the value to the artist, and it encourages artists to donate better work. But this seems to be rare.

I am honoring my donation commitments made so far this year, but would like to outline some criteria for future commitments. Maybe it considers the level of marketing exposure offered; maybe it's purely philanthropic, driven by the cause itself; maybe it considers the quality of the event; or maybe I simply limit donations to "all art" auctions, and write a check to the others. 

I would love to hear how others handle this dilemma. Meanwhile, this is the piece I just donated to our community's Symphony Orchestra fundraiser.  "A Monet Moment,"  8 x 8" oil on panel, framed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Responding and Being in the Moment

I always finish our 8 week pastel sessions with a group project. This time, we had been working hard to get out of our comfort zone, looking at things in a new way, and striving to work more intuitively. So, we finished up with a "painting in the round" sort of exercise. Each student (10) was given a blank sheet of Wallis and was instructed to make some marks with no intention; any color, any style of mark. After 2 minutes each student handed their sheet to the person to their right. That person would then respond to what was on the paper. This continued around the table until the paintings ended up back with the person who started it. The experience was freeing. No ownership. No intention. No wrong or right solution. Each person had his or her own dialogue with what was presented at the moment. Most found it exhilarating and a confidence builder in trusting their intuition. These are a few of my favorites.