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This month I did my annual studio cleanup. Although I keep my workspace fairly neat and organized, after about a year things get out of hand and I have to look again at what to keep and what to toss.
My paintings seem to fall into four categories:
1. Unsuccessful (thankfully, not too many)
2. Appropriate for a gallery
3. Successful, but not appropriate for a particular gallery or art show.
4. Not appropriate for a any gallery or art show or even donations...but I like them.
For paintings in the "unsuccessful" category, it's pretty easy... toss them, making sure that they are shredded with a razor or sawed in pieces with a jigsaw so garbage looters don't retrieve them. This actually happened to a friend of mine. She put a few dud paintings out for garbage pickup, and neighbors came by and started to walk away with them. Don't be dejected that you painted a blooper (see the quote from Matisse in the above title), just get rid of the evidence. You may ask why we should we not give them to a charity for auction purposes? The answer is easy: many people will see that painting and remember it as supposedly representative of what you do. That is not a memory you wish them to have.
It is easy to know what to do with a painting that is appropriate for a gallery. If the gallery has a sufficient supply of your work, hang extras at home and save them for a later date, donate to the particular charity you have chosen to work with, or use as described below. I have also sold paintings from my home and studio walls quite a few times.
I live in a city where Western art (cowboys, Indians, horses, cattle, etc.) is very popular, and some people purchase and collect only paintings of this genre. Additionally, there are many galleries and art shows that hang only Western pieces, so you have to choose your subject matter appropriately for these venues as well. Probably most artists have experienced having a piece rejected for a particular venue, only to have it accepted - and even sold - by another venue. Judges are human, or sometimes it just depends how many pieces of a particular subject matter they have to choose from. Lesson learned: if it is good, but wasn't chosen, just try again.
How about those paintings that were fun to paint, that maybe remind us of a person or an event, or that are the interesting result of an experiment? Sometimes we have an "Aha!" moment. We try something new, either by accident or as an experiment, and we like the results. Or we try a new way to work with materials, or we simply had fun. We may recognize that the creation is not necessarily our very best work, or that it is not suitable for various venues, but we still want to keep that painting, because it marks an awakening of some sort. I keep those paintings so that I can remember that moment and what I learned and so that I can build upon this new learning experience.
Enjoy the process!
"Night Time Rainbow"
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There are several very good reasons why some artists chose to paint from a limited palette, using a small number of paint colors rather than a large assortment of colors. A typical limited palette might include anywhere from three to under ten colors - artist's choice. I use six colors plus white. For the plein air painter, there are fewer tubes to lug around but, even for the studio painter, if you can make do with fewer tubes of paint and still like the results, it can be a good thing.
Working with fewer colors can save money, because good quality paints can be purchased in larger quantities. I have been using Classic Artist Oils in 10-ounce tubes at great prices, which fit into standard caulking guns from the hardware store. I find the texture of this brand of paint to be excellent, but that is certainly a personal decision.
Using a smaller number of paints can result in a more cohesive color scheme, since all colors used for the painting are created from the same small base of colors. (It is here that I have to insert that, since I paint a lot of dancers in costume, I sometimes have to augment my basic six colors with a tube of man-made colors. For example, for the vivid purple ribbons of a Mexican dancer's ruffled dress, I just grab a tube of dioxazine purple. Trying to mix a good purple from a limited palette's red and blue works very well for "purple mountain majesties", but it is too dull for show biz.)
Truth be told, my real reasons for using a limited palette are the following:
1. I have a lousy memory for names, which includes paint color names. I would never remember which little tube of all the existing variations of ochre I used the last time I painted, for example, a palomino horse. With my limited palette, I just take yellow, red, blue and white in varying amounts and make my own ochre.
2.I love the "Mad Scientist" feeling of creating my own color by mixing a "magic potion" from my limited palette. Nearly every color I need I have been able to create from the few colors I have laid out.
Each artist needs to choose which colors work the best for him or her in a limited palette. Below, I have listed my choices, set up as I lay them out on two sides of my palette box, - also a matter of personal preference:
1.Titanium White 2.Sap Green 3.Thalo Green 4.Ultramarine Blue
Reaching for the Stars
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This blog is strictly for visual artists who are not professional photographers - sort of "Art Photography for Dummies", if you will. So, go ahead and laugh if my technical suggestions are simplistic...they work for me. Through trial and error, I have found that 99% of the time I can do an extremely good job photographing my work. The rare exception is when my painting has a very dark background that just wants to show a reflection no matter what I do (actually, I have found that, even in this situation, I can usually get a good image. I just have to take a lot of shots of the painting which I situate in a non-reflecting area such as inside the house, while I stand outside and shoot numerous photos through an open doorway. If that doesn't work I go to a professional photographer).
So here is how this rank amateur photographer photographs her art for competitions, galleries, websites, etc:
1. Have a good camera that takes high resolution digital images. Mine is a Nikon D80. It also has a bracketing feature that, if I hold down the button, will take three images in a row at high, low, and medium exposures. This means I can choose the one that looks the most like my painting. I have found that, most of the time, it is best for me to choose the darkest image, because I can lighten it up with PhotoShop.
2. I go out pretty early in the morning to photograph paintings, but not so early that the sun has not risen over the horizon - that produces images that are too cool in color. I wait until the sun has risen a bit so that the lighting is a bit warmer. If the sun is too high, the light is too warm. Just take a day to photograph a painting at different times of the day to see what works the best for you.
3. Put the painting in a spot that is not in direct sunlight. Don't be stingy - take a lot of images. Move the painting from spot to spot, looking for a location that does not show reflected light on the painting. I have several favorite spots in my front courtyard that seem to work well for me.
4. Square up the painting in the viewfinder the best you can and HOLD THE CAMERA STILL. Fuzzy images look very amateurish.
5. If you do not have PhotoShop or other such program on your computer, I don't know how you would accomplish the rest of what I say. Frankly, the only part of PhotoShop that I use is the "edit" feature - and the least technical part of that feature at that.
6. Learn how to crop your image (you will find the photo will most often not be totally squared off..just fix it!) Also, rotate it, if necessary.
7. My images usually come out a bit too saturated (bright in color) than the painting, but it is easy to reduce the saturation level, and that is usually all I have to do. Occasionally I will need to pump up the color, or add a bit of red, blue, or yellow, but not usually.
8. I always save a full-sized large resolution image and also one that is only 800 on the largest size. The latter size is good for facebook and emailing. The image below "Reaching for the Stars" is the cropped, rotated image, colored as it came from the camera, and the colors are too bright. The image at the top of the blog is what it looks like after reducing the saturation, which also lightened it a bit.
I hope this blog has given you courage to try doing your own photography on your art. Play with it a bit, and you will find it is not so hard and can be done quite quickly...and much more inexpensively!
Color for a Studio
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I felt like a deer in the headlights every time I walked into my art studio. The walls had been painted a glaring primer white by our home's previous owners (the effect compounded by the white berber carpet they had installed), and I lived with it for two years. And I cursed it for two years. Cold white is tough to live with, especially if you are in the business of color, and each stroke of paint I put on my canvas contrasted way too much with my pristine surroundings.
Last weekend I decided to change all that. I canvassed artist friends by email and facebook for suggested color choices, and I got a wide range:
Red - I'm thinking this was from a person who has successfully used this color as a background for displaying art, and who did not have to consider how much hot color can bounce off a red wall, affecting color choices for an artist's canvas.
Blue - See above, except the reflecting color would be very cold.
Sage Green - This was a very popular suggestion, and I have two artist friends whose studios are beautifully toned this color. However, since I seem to use a lot of red in my paintings, I thought using a complementary color might overemphasize that color.
Gray - That could have worked, maybe. Again, my bright colors certainly would have been set off against that color.However, I wanted something a bit richer.
Ochre - This was a possibility, if it were not too bright or too warm.
I googled a few artists' forums discussing this topic and had a "Eureka!" moment. One artist (I tried to find her name again to give her credit but was unsuccessful) said she chose brown. At first that did not seem very appealing, but she explained that she chose a brown that was not too light, not too dark, not too warm, but not too cool...in other words, like the Baby Bear's bed in Red Ridinghood...just right. She went on to say that this brown was a paper bag color. I quickly pulled out my roll of brown wrapping paper that I always mean to put on the back of my paintings to make them look clean and professional, held it up to my studio wall, put a small, framed painting up against it, and it was good.
Off to Lowe's with my wrapping paper swatch, I easily found a paint color that was a pretty close match and a nice brown besides. It was called "Sauteed Mushrooms", and I think that says it all. It just sounds warm and cozy and pleasant to be around, exactly the effect I desired. The lighting for the photos above make the color look pretty warm, but it is actually a kind of taupy-brown, neither warm nor cold. My "weekend project" was completed in eight days, and I am very happy.