Friday Faves – 11/7/14

Favorite Painting:

“Still Glides the Stream and Shall Forever Glide” – Arthur Streeton, 1890

I love this painting. What else is there to say? Composition, light, color. It’s all done right, but it’s also unexpected. And what a title – I had to double check to make sure that’s really what the painting was named, hehe…

Favorite Words: 


(Click to see larger)

Favorite Video:

Okay, so this song is a little bit top 40 for my tastes – that’s my disclaimer. BUT! It lives on my ipod because it always gives me a boost when I’m running, and the video is definitely worth a watch. This kid is awesome:

 

Why You Should Paint from Your OWN Photos

The reason I’m a landscape painter is mainly this – I feel most at home when I am outside.

I thrive on finding new views, new places. I hike and mountain bike hundreds of miles a month looking for inspiration, and there’s nothing better than finding myself in the right spot at the right time to get a new idea for a painting.

Getting out there is a HUGE part of my job. It’s a big part of the job for any landscape painter. To do good landscape paintings, I spend a ridiculous amount of time on the trail looking for just the right thing to get me excited to paint, painting on location, or simply sitting still and watching the way the light hits at certain times of day. Putting in a lot of mileage is quite literally part of my job description. And spending hours just taking it all in helps me understand what’s going on out there, so that I can bring it into the studio with me when I paint.

I post a lot of pictures on Facebook, because I like to see other people’s photos from their adventures, and I like to share when I see something awesome. I get countless requests from strangers to paint from my photos when I post them, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I tell most people I don’t really mind, but would prefer that they not sell or post publicly anything they paint from one of my photos. It’s not a huge deal to me personally, but I don’t like the implications. I’m not a professional photographer, but a lot of people are, and I think people need to understand that working from other people’s photos sets a bit of a dangerous precedent where we assume that it’s okay to use the hard work of others to profit from our art.

But the biggest reason I would prefer people not paint from my photos is because in doing so, they are stunting their own growth as an artist.

I firmly believe that the best paintings are those that are informed by our own personal experiences. Matt Smith paints the desert like a master because he lives and breathes it. David Kassan is one of my favorite figurative painters, and his paintings are absolutely transcendent when he paints his family members. Edward Theodore Compton and his son, Edward Harrison Compton, were masters at painting mountains, after spending much of their lives climbing the peaks they painted. To be our best as artists, we can’t forget the emotional component of our art. In realist painting, connection with our subject can be just as important as technique.

One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, puts it this way:

“When you love something like reading – or drawing or music or nature – it surrounds with a sense of connection to something great. If you are lucky enough to know this, then your search for meaning involves whatever that Something is. It’s an alchemical blend of affinity and focus that takes place within that feels as close as we ever get to “home.” It’s like pulling into our own train station after a long trip – joy, relief, a pleasant exhaustion”

“If a writer or artist created from a place of truth and spirit and generosity, then I may be able to enter and ride this person’s train back to my own station. It’s the same with beautiful music and art. Beauty is meaning.”

– Anne Lamott, “Stitches”

So, do I think you can have a meaningful connection to one of my photos? Maybe. Perhaps it’s just pretty, or the colors get you in the gut, and you see that it would make a nice painting. But you weren’t there. You didn’t watch the clouds roll in and realize you’d better get yourself back down the mountain quickly. You didn’t watch the red light march its way down that peak across the valley as the sun went down. And you didn’t stand there in the cold, leaves swirling around your ankles, and experience that awesome evening at the end of fall. So when you paint from that photo, you’re already starting at a disadvantage.

When I started out painting landscapes, I was terrible at gathering reference. I didn’t know how to take good photos of different lighting conditions. I didn’t know the best time of day to look at different scenes. I wasn’t great at composition. I didn’t know how to use photoshop and plein air studies to get the information I needed to paint in the studio. I didn’t know how to edit the scene I saw in front of me to make a good painting. I spent YEARS figuring this stuff out… And I’m still figuring it out!

Gathering and using reference material is an important skill in my toolbag as an artist, and it’s one that everyone needs to develop on their own. If you are mostly working from other people’s awesome photos that you find on the internet, chances are you aren’t developing this skill. You’re shortchanging yourself by not having to work on composition, or lighting, or concept. When I teach workshops, 80% of what I teach is concept. If you’re simply copying someone’s photo, you just missed out of 80% of what I consider important in a painting.

You need to get outside. You need to learn how to really SEE. And you need to learn how to edit when you paint. Ultimately, you do this by gathering your own reference materials.

So here’s the deal… If you have to paint from that photo on the internet, for starters, PLEASE do it legally! Ask permission first. Just because something is posted on the internet does NOT mean that it is public property. That photographer still owns the copyright to that image, even if it’s on Facebook (yes, the terms of Facebook make you sign your life away and give FB the right to use your images as they please, but this DOES NOT mean that your friends have the same right to use your images – you still own the copyright!!). And be aware that many people who are actual photographers will not take your request lightly. This is their job, their lifeblood, and that photo they posted is the culmination of years of working at their art form. They woke up in the dark and headed out in the cold to get that one shot of an awesome sunrise. They hiked around for hours trying to find the right vantage point for that shot of some horses. That photo took more work than you think.

Some of them might very well be insulted at your request. This doesn’t mean that they are not generous or caring people. Those images are their artistic property – they are their business and their income. They are well within their rights to ask you for a fee to use their images.

Most importantly, I encourage you to work from your own reference materials. Learn how to take great photos yourself. Get out there and paint on location. And more than anything, get yourself OUTSIDE!!

It doesn’t matter where you live – beauty is everywhere, and part of being a landscape painter is training yourself to find it, see it, and communicate it to others. If you train yourself to see that beauty on your own, your art will grow in leaps and bounds. You will be a better painter.

So, get yourself outside, breathe it all in, then go forth with that connection and be awesome!

More on Rejection

“Epilogue”
Oil on Panel
12×16″
2014

Chances are, if you’re trying to make it as an artist, you’re well acquainted with rejection. 

You’ve entered your favorite painting into a juried show and gotten an emphatic NO… That gallery that would be the perfect fit just isn’t interested in taking on more artists… The museum show you’re dying to break into just doesn’t think your work is quite there yet…

It’s the worst, isn’t it?

Sure, there might be a couple of superstars out there who have made it big without suffering rejection, but if there are, I haven’t met them. Chances are, most of your favorite painters have been rejected more than you think. After all:

“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried” 

                                                         – Stephen McCranie

I wanted to talk about a couple of different topics related to rejection here, just because I find they come up a lot in conversation with my students and friends.

The Positive Side of Rejection

We live in this age of social media where we’re constantly bombarded by people’s announcements of their show acceptances, new galleries, even sales. I love seeing people’s success on display – it’s inspiring – but it doesn’t show the whole story. For every acceptance that an artist is posting on Facebook, they probably have quite a few rejections as well. But rejection doesn’t sell, so no one’s talking about it. No one wants to talk about it. 

I do, because I think it’s part of the whole picture.

A while back, I posted a picture of my many juried show rejections in an attempt to be transparent and encouraging. I get emails every once in a while from people who think I’m crazy to put my rejections out there in public in front of everyone, and suggest I take that post down. Personally, I think that’s bunk – I have a strong resume, I work with great galleries, my paintings are selling well. I work hard to build my brand and increase the value of my work, but I see no need to pretend I’ve never been rejected.

Without rejection, I wouldn’t be the painter I am today. It’s what spurs me on to improve. It’s the honest feedback I need that tells me every once in a while that I’m still not where I want to be.

When you get rejected, USE IT.

Don’t get bitter, don’t get mad, don’t give up on entering shows. Spend a day wallowing in your dejectedness, then focus your energy on transforming that feeling into something positive. Use all of that energy you might use being bitter, and instead go hit the studio and analyze your paintings. Think hard. Figure out what you need to improve. If you can’t figure it out, ask someone you respect to give you a critique. Then, go to work. Paint until you’ve figured it out. It might take a while, and it might be frustrating, but paint until your paintings are better.

This is one of the most important skills you can have as an artist. Take that negative input, and use it as a catalyst to make better paintings. It will make you a better painter, I promise.

Embrace rejection for the gift it can be.

The Numbers Game

I was invited to be on the jury for a couple of national shows this year, and jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to see what jurying looks like from the other side, and quite frankly – it was eye-opening. I will never feel quite so sensitive about being rejected from a big show again, and for that I’m extremely grateful for the experience. I wanted to share some behind the scenes info to give you an idea of what you’re up  against when you enter a big show, in hopes that it might help you process the outcome a little bit differently in the future.

First, when you enter a big national show, there are usually thousands of entries, and only a small percentage get accepted. I know you know that already, but I want to put it into perspective for you with some real numbers, from a real show.

The first show I juried this year had 2,200 entries. In the first round, the jurors basically said “yes” or “no” to each painting. The 500 paintings with the most “yes” votes made it onto round two of jurying. In round two, the jurors scored each painting on a scale, and their scores were then averaged to determine the top 200 paintings for the show.

When I ranked the top 500 for round two, I was amazed at the quality of the work submitted. When I looked at my final scoring summary, I had given over 350 paintings scores that I considered high enough to say, “this painting absolutely deserves to be in the show!” Only 200 of those got in. If you do the math, over 40% of the paintings I considered good enough for the show didn’t make the cut. When I saw the final show, I was bummed that some of my favorite paintings had not made it (the jury’s results are averaged).

What does that mean to you?

Well, you might enter your best painting, and it might indeed be good enough to be in the show, but it might not make the cut anyway. There just isn’t enough space for all of the good paintings to make it. The higher the caliber of the show, the more this is true.

The takeaway? Work to make your paintings so good that they can’t be rejected. Not just good, but GREAT.

Out of those 500, I gave about 25 the highest possible score. To me, those paintings were an absolute, no questions asked, emphatic YES! They were modern masterpieces.

It’s the same thing with galleries. Yeah, you get rejected when your work isn’t strong enough. But sometimes you’re the person who gets rejected because they already have too many landscape painters, or they have another person who uses thick paint, or they simply don’t have space for another painter.

Approach it the same way – make your paintings so good that they can’t be rejected. Not just good, but GREAT. I don’t know a gallery out there that wouldn’t jump at the chance to carry someone that they consider to be a master. They’ll make room, if you’re all that. So get to work, and try to BE all that.

Don’t focus on that other artist they carry who isn’t as good as you, or that person who got into the show with their best painting even though the rest of their work is awful. Focus on YOU. Focus on your WORK. And get better.

The Moral of the Story?

We all get rejected, I promise. It’s what we do with it, that determines where we go.

Go forth, be positive, and USE IT.

My #1 Book Recommendation

A lot of artists give book recommendations at the bottom of their supply lists when they give workshops. Carlson’s landscape book, Payne’s composition, that sort of thing. I thought about doing the same when I started teaching workshops this year, but I left them off, figuring I’d just be recommending all of the same books as everyone else.

The one book I never tire of recommending to artists has nothing to do with painting at all, and more to do with the act of stepping up to the easel.

We all know people who love art, but never paint.

Why?

Because they have a day job. Family gets in the way. They don’t have a studio, or their studio sucks. It’s hard to paint well when life is stressful. They have an unsupportive spouse. They’re fighting health problems. Etc etc.

These are all completely valid excuses. I get it. I really do.

But here’s the deal – if you want to be an artist, you have to MAKE ART. And the best way to make good art, is to make lots of it. I have a friend who tells his workshop students, “Keep your brushes wet!” A good reminder that you should be painting all the time. ALL THE TIME.

All the knowledge in the world about how to paint isn’t going to help you if you never actually paint. And believe it or not, the actual act of getting yourself to the easel is often the hardest part. And surprisingly, this is the part that a lot of people skip over when they teach people how to paint.

So, here’s the deal. => The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. <= Read it.

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.  

Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced the vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what resistance is.” 

                                                   – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art


If you know that art is your true calling but can’t seem to make yourself paint more than every once in a while, do yourself a favor and buy this book. The first two sections of the book deal with what Pressfield terms “Resistance” – that invisible power that seems to constantly keep you from stepping up to the easel – and how to squelch it and make art.

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.” 

                                                                   – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

I’ve got kids, and a crazy schedule, and sometimes life just gets in the way. And sometimes when I find that my painting time is slipping, I’ll flip through the pages of this book just to remind myself to get back at it. My copy is a little bit worn.

So, read this book, and keep your brushes wet. MAKE ART, so you can learn to make good art.

Happy painting!

Friday Faves – 6/27/14

Favorite Painting:

Beach of the Seine Near Giverny (Mist)” – Claude Monet, 1897

So, this is the first painting I ever saw that gave me goosebumps.

It’s not a famous Monet, maybe not his best painting, but I love it for the emotion. I remember wandering around the Chicago Art Institute in college and stumbling on this painting, and just standing there with goosebumps, taking it all in. It was maybe the first time I realized just how moving two dimensional art can be. There’s something about a great piece that can stir your soul.

I wrote this blog post a few months ago about what the big goal is with my work, and it spurred an interesting conversation on Facebook about works of art that had really impacted people – the type of work you see once in a blue moon that gives you goosebumps, or brings tears to your eyes.

So, I want to know, what was the first work of art you ever saw that had that effect on you? When was the first time you remember standing in a museum or a gallery or wherever else, with the hair on the back of your neck standing up because you saw a piece that was just so good that it hit you in the gut? Post in the comments on Facebook or here – I want to know!

Favorite Quote:

“Believe me, success isn’t some ancient secret that you find bottled up in some black market for a really high price. It’s out there. It’s formulaic. It’s a hefty dose of patience with a bucketload of just doing the work combined with self-confidence. You can do the work and wait – but if you step up to the line without thinking you can do it – you’ve just waited and wasted a lot of time. But if you step up to the line with a confident mind and trusting legs – chances are you’ll surprise yourself.” 
– Elizabeth Waterstraat

This quote comes from a triathlon blog I used to read – the whole post is a good read if you have the time. I’ve had it filed away in my favorites for a while. 
Whether you’re talking about sports or art or even just work, it’s so true. Patience + Work + Confidence. You have to have all three of those things to make it. I come across great artists who lack confidence in their work, I come across artists who have a boatload of talent but don’t do the work, and I know quite a few who get impatient with the seemingly glacial pace of their growing career. I am all of those three sometimes.
Favorite Music:
I’m posting this one more for the video than the song. Watch this – if it doesn’t make you want to go hang out in Wyoming for a while, I don’t know what will. Some seriously beautiful footage of the Tetons and Yellowstone, with a good soundtrack! (Can someone remind me again WHY I’m not going to paint the Tetons this July????? Regretting that decision a bit right now…)