Sunday, December 13, 2009

Claire: book final

Here are the final pages to the mini-book Claire, from The Book of Bartholomew I am producing. I had to partner the pages in an odd order so when I print them out they will line up in the right order. Claire is the sixth book in the first volume of The Book of Bartholomew. I will be working with a few other local artists who will illustrate the stories with me. This process will begin just after the new year and I hope to have the final book complete by October of 2010. We will see how this goes. It looks like a busy 2010.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Illustration: Book Pages

Here are images I have created from my Dominique chicken painting and the chicken illustration featured in the last entry. These images will be the pages on which the story of Claire will be written. The complete illustration will act as a centerfold to the small book. The painting is now the cover of the book. I will share the finished pages with the story on them when I have it done. Hopefully that will be in the next day or two.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Illustration: Chickens Complete

This is the completed pen and ink illustration for the story Claire from The Book of Bartholomew. To see the original sketch click here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Art Question: How Do You Make Time to Make Art?

Time, time, time. How in the world can people work a day job, maintain family and friendships and get artwork done? How is it that some people are more productive than others? I must admit that I get jealous when it looks like someone is far more productive than I am. The jealousy comes from the assumption that they have more time, resource or ability than I do. But I have found that being creative and productive have little to do with time, resource or, especially, ability.

Alright, I lied.

Creativity and productivity have everything to do with resource. But not the resource you would think. Funny note: The Beatles Can't Buy Me Love is playing while I write this. Like love, money can't buy you creativity or productivity. So what is involved in being creative or productive? How do you make time to make art?

Find Satisfaction in Creating
I must first mention the most important aspect needed to be productive and creative: you must find internal satisfaction in the act of creating.

Many people do not find satisfaction in being creative. They try to make art because it was their field of study in school, because they are great art appreciators, someone they admire was an artist or someone told them they have talent. Many people do have talent but can't make a commitment to making art or being creative. If you are not deriving deep satisfaction from making art rethink why you make art. It just might change your life and make you happier. There have been times in my life when I have doubted my desire to be an artist. I have stopped making art for periods of time. But, after a time, I can't help but make something. I can't stop myself from drawing, painting, videoing, etc. It just makes me happy to make something and share it with others. My curse is that I don't like to make practical things, I want to make things that talk about ideas or feelings, not how to decorate your house or how to eat off of attractive plates.

Use Your Creative Energy NOW
Second, if you are creative, if you want to make art, be open to using your creative energy right where you are at - in the present moment. Do not pigeon-hole yourself into being an artist that only paints from 7pm - 10pm every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings. Do not be an artist that is creative after everything else is done. If you approach it that way, your time will continually be eaten up by the things we must do. A young co-worker of mine shared a life motto with me the other day:

You can always sleep when you are dead.

In other words, do what you want now.

In response I have acquired a new life motto myself:
You can always clean your house when you are dead.

Not quite as useful, but it makes me feel good saying it. The deeper meaning of both mottoes is to keep your creative energy at the front of your brain and on the tip of your tongue. Get over the idea of scarcity (where my jealousy comes from) and share yourself and your creativity whenever you can. You will find, if you are always sharing and being in the moment with your creativity, you will get more art done. It takes awhile to get to this point in life. You have to be willing to stumble. But once you are there, you can take time to do the other things in life because you know that your creativity, your ability to make art, is just a moment away. In essence, shift from a project mentality to a creative lifestyle. Give it a shot.

How do you make time to make art? You don't. You make art to mark your time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Illustration: Claire's Chickens

Here are some images of an initial sketch for a chicken illustration I am making for my story about Claire.

The story of Claire is from a series of stories I am writing and illustrating from The Book of Bartholomew. I hope to have the first stage of this book completed by October 2010 when I have a solo exhibit at Homewood Studios.

I will share more as it develops.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Photographing Art: Conclusions

Last week I was searching for a solution to having too much texture and glare in the photos I had been taking of my paintings. I have a small studio and the lights need to be rather close to the work. A gentleman at the camera store suggested I put cheesecloth in front of the lights to help soften the lights. Here are results from some experiments I did with lighting my images while taking photos.

Each set of images was taken once under similar conditions except one with cheesecloth in front of the light, one without cheesecloth. The lights were tungsten lamps. I retouched each image in Photoshop by only increasing the contrast the same amount for each image:+27.

The first two images are with the lights at about 60 degrees in front of the painting. The first is with cheesecloth in front of the lights, the second is without cheesecloth. Although it is hard to tell from these web-images, I feel the one with cheesecloth is slightly more accurate with color. But there still are highlights and glare on the texture of the canvas.

With this second set of images, I moved the lights more to the side of the painting - about 45 degrees to the sides. This removed much of the glare. Again, I found that the image on the left, with the cheesecloth in front of the lights produced a more accurate color and tone to the painting. It is hard to tell in these web images, but the one on the left has more grey in the whites. The one on the right has a little more yellow in the whites and the background is too reddish.

This third set of images shows what happens when I move in more closely to shoot my images. The one on the left is with cheesecloth in front of the lights. The right without cheesecloth. As I move in closer, even with the lights at 45 degrees. more glare happens. I also have to add more contrast as they are more washed out than the shots from farther away. Again, the one with cheesecloth provides slightly more accurate color and contrast.

These last two images are of close-ups taken with a x2 magnifying lens. Again, the left is with cheesecloth in front of the lights, the right without. Again color is better, but there is still some glare as I get closer to the painting to shoot.

So, in conclusion, I found that adding the cheesecloth in front of the lights created more accurate color and warmth/coolness to the images. I found that making sure the lights are at 45 degrees from the painting instead of more in front of the painting cuts down on glare dramatically. I also found that the images look the best when taken from a medium distance (3 feet) instead of taking extreme close-up shots from a few inches away. The most accurate image of all of these is the third image on the page. I will be shooting images of my paintings with that configuration from now on.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oil Painting: Chipping Sparrow

Here is an image of a 4" x 4" oil painting of a chipping sparrow after the first stage. I blocked in the colors and shadows while drawing the bird as best I could. I let it dry for a few days before going back into it and adding details.
This second image is the final painting. Overall, the middle and deep colors were lightened while the lighter areas were darkened. Surface detail was added with a very small brush. I also changed the background color slightly to match the cap better and to smooth out inconsistencies. The beak was tricky in that the original drawing was not off by much, but enough that it felt "added on" instead of being part of the bird's head.

I currently have a couple of chicken paintings and two landscapes hanging at The Grand Hand Gallery for their holiday show. Check out the gallery, it is a wonderful place for holiday shopping.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The End of Fifteen Years of Teaching at Como Zoo and Conservatory

Today was my last time teaching art classes at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, Saint Paul, MN. I began art classes there fifteen years ago, on December 1, 1994. Back then, I would arrive in the evening at the conservatory, unlock the door, turn off the alarm, turn on the lights, set up chairs and teach art. Then I would put away the chairs, turn off the lights, set the alarm, lock the door and go home. In the intervening years an education department was formed, murals were painted, a gallery space was developed, a botanical and zoological arts program evolved, art installations were created by kids and teens, $21 million was given by the State of Minnesota to build an education center and, sadly, today, arts programming has come to an end.

I ran the arts programming and set up the education systems at Como for nine years. The last six years I have continued to teach in the program. For the past year, none of my classes, and many of the classes in the program, have not run. It has been a slow downhill slide since I stopped coordinating the program.

There are many reasons for the demise of a program that once was busting at the seams. I had a public meeting where people were literally throwing checks at me ordering me to offer more botanical arts classes. At one point we were running ten art classes per session. Not bad for a small zoo and conservatory with a fledgling education department.

One highlight was beginning the Botanical Arts and Illustration program with Vera Ming Wong and Marilyn Garber. Although Marilyn left early-on, it was a great experience developing and expanding the program with Vera. This has lead to many other rewarding activities shared over the years.

Today I performed a portfolio review for the last student to achieve botanical arts certification through the program. At the time the botanical arts and illustration program was developed, there were only five botanical art certification programs in the country. Now there are many. The review was with a student who is typical of the students that were in the program. Barb is passionate about art and about plants. She loved the program and took classes for the last five years. Her achievements and friends in the program are important to her.

What could sink a program with devoted students, good attendance, excellent teachers and uniqueness? As I mentioned, there were many factors, but the most outstanding factor to me was that this community of artists, these talented people of passion and devotion, were no longer fostered as a community. As time went by, the program was run by non-artists and became about numbers, not about people. Whenever an arts program doesn't foster a community, it will eventually fail.

Vera was supposed to be there at the portfolio review today but was sick. It seemed fitting to me that I was there alone with a student at the end. Like when it began - just me, unlocking the door, turning on the lights and teaching a class. Today it was just me, walking out the door and going home for the last time.

I want to thank the hundreds of people I have taught, and taught with, through the Como program over the years. You are a beautiful highlight of my life.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Art Lesson: Details and Surface in Oil

This is an 8" x 8" oil painting of one of my friend Meghan's chickens. Meghan has eleven chickens and is my source for all things chicken. I enjoyed painting this piece quite a bit for the following reasons:
- there is a good amount of inconsistent pattern in the feathers
- there is a lot of little detail in the face area
- it is just fun to paint chickens

The feathers in particular were fun for me in that I had to create a changing pattern that was soft and feathery. I layered the black and the greys in the feathers several times to get the pattern I wanted. While building up each layer I would stroke one color into and through the other to get the feel of individual feathers laying over other feathers. Once I was happy with the pattern, I took a dry sable brush and gently stroked over the wet paint on the surface (this technique is actually called feathering) to give a soft feel to the surface. I would stroke mostly in the same direction as the wet paint strokes on the canvas, but would occasionally "feather" at angles to give a more random effect.
Before creating this odd face with skin folds, individual hairs sticking out here and there and areas where it meshes with beak and heavy feathered areas, I first created the skin surface (middle picture). In this earlier stage you can see how I developed the surface of the skin before adding the smaller detail on top of it. In this earlier stage you can also see the body feathers after only one attempt to block in the pattern.
This last image shows some of the detail in the head area. I had to use very small brushes to produce individual feathers. Stroking them on with one stroke did not look good. The feathers looked like paint strokes instead of feathers. So I went back in and painted around the feathers with the skin color. I also stroked over each individual face feather with some grey. Between these two techniques each feather began to feel part of the face instead of being a paint stroke on the face.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Art Question: How Do You Find The Time To Paint?

A question I was recently asked by Cece W. is "How do you find the time to paint?"
Finding time to paint can be very difficult and is probably the #1 reason for people not continuing with art. There are several factors that get in the way of finding time to make art, write or be creative in your own personal way. Schedule and time are always something artists struggle with. Most of us are not making a living from our art and have to split our time with a day job. That day job usually has to be a priority as far as schedule goes. For this blog entry, I am going to focus on the Day Job and how to strategize ways of making your Day Job support your creative activities. (For the sake of this entry, your Day Job may not be a paid position, it may be daily commitments you have that get in the way of your making art)

The Day Job Dilemma
If you have read this blog you know that I work for the City of Saint Paul for my day job. I am very happy with my job; if I have to work for someone else I'm happy it is to make the city I live in more beautiful. But, the truth is, I would rather be making my own work and selling and finding supporters for what I want to do.

My first step is to make my job work for me and support my life activities.

How much do you need to work?
My first question is how much money do I need and can I work less than 40 hours a week and still cover my living costs? I currently work 32 hours a week at my day job. I would be more comfortable financially at 35 hours and would feel downright wealthy at 40 hours. But working 40 hours a week would be too exhausting for me and I would feel emotionally and creatively impoverished. 32 hours seems to be an amount of time that works for me. The one thing I have learned is that you need to ask for what you want. If it makes sense, especially if it is somehow beneficial to your company, many bosses will give it a try. One boss appreciated my skills to get things done so much that she let me rewrite my job description annually.

Perform Similar Activities At Home and At Work
Once in awhile I notice that I am working 24 hours a day, at work and at home, doing similar activities. If I am having to reorganize my studio, I also end up reorganizing my office. If I have to do a lot of work on webpages at work, I end up reworking my personal webpage. Over the years I have noticed that if my mind is working in one mode for half the day it often continues working in that mode the rest of the day. I find that this can make things easier. Instead of having to shift gears between my Day Job and my creative life I can just shift physically, not emotionally or intellectually. Also, performing a similar activity at work stimulates my mind about the similar activity in the studio and will often give me new insight into my artwork.

Do Opposite Activities At Home and At Work
Of course, sometimes you just need to get away from work and anything similar to it. If I need to rest or to blow off some steam, I do it. But otherwise, the act of drawing, painting and creating is so polar opposite to some of my work activities (especially those that involve difficult people) that I make it a place of refuge. I have even figured out which studio activities effect me in which way. I like writing after a hard day at work because it lets my mind escape to another world more efficiently than painting. Painting is relaxing in the sense that I am focused on a real world physical activity with quick results. When I am done writing I feel I have gotten away (escaped) and when I am done painting I feel I have accomplished something (unless, of course, my painting sucks).

Tell People At Your Day Job About Your Art Activities
Telling people at work about what you do in your studio has several benefits.
First: when people understand that you have artistic interests, passions and commitments beyond work they will talk to you, give assignments to you and generally treat you as a creative person. This will create less of a contrast between your two worlds of work and studio and make the transition a little easier.
Second: learning to talk about your art and your activities in a manner that an average non-arts person can understand. Learning how to talk about your art will expand your audience.
And Third: networking. Don't be afraid to use work contacts to meet other artists, dealers or potential buyers/sponsors. We work to make money (resource) so we can do live the life we really want. If your Day Job is going to support what you really want to do, why limit it to only monetary gain? Of course, how you go about using work contacts can be tricky and must be done in an above-board manner. Don't always push it - people will get annoyed with you.

Do NOT Combine Your Day Job With Your Studio Activities
This cuts both ways. You should not be doing your own personal art activities at work and you should not be doing Day Job activities in your studio. The first aspect is obvious. You are not paid to perform your own personal activities at work. Some work environments are casual about this. I had an artist friend who worked at a parking garage so he could sit and journal in between customers. So, in some cases there are some allowances. But, if you work in an environment where it is not welcome, or if you have fellow workers around, I would not recommend it. Co-workers get resentful that you're not working as much as they are, or feel you are taking advantage of the resources and equipment at work. Personally, I might feel so much guilt that when I am in my studio it would eat at me.

Likewise, keep your Day Job out of your studio. It is hard enough to focus on the tasks at hand without bringing your Day Job into the studio. Keep your studio a sacred creative place, or else you might find your precious time getting chipped away.

Oil Painting: Chicken Painting II

This is a 6" x 8" oil painting of a chicken I call Buff. Buff is eating with her friends. I began this painting in a more realistic manner. The way I have started paintings for years - decades. I started to video the painting as it was being made, just like the previous chicken painting I made of a silver-laced Wyanndotte. But the painting wasn't working. It lacked contrast and the shapes were not separating from each other. The shapes, themselves, had no life and seemed off somehow. Don't even ask me about the color - ugh! Dull, dull, dull, dull.

I turned off the video, cleaned out my brushes and walked away. I came back to it yesterday and remembered that I am not painting the old way anymore. Do I want realistic space - no. Do I want mottled and atmospheric color - no. Do I want an element of drawing in the piece - yes. Do I want a sense of the artist's hand - yes. So I decided to draw over the painting. In this manner I could use the color of the original painting but give it more contrast, more life, more character. Tonight I sat down quickly and repainted the color in the faces of the chickens and added some glazing to make the parts of the body "pop" a little more.

I like my finished piece much better. It is more alive, seems consistently handled across the whole painting and has a nice balance between well drawn areas and some areas with more abstracted shapes. I will probably sleep better tonight.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Oil Painting: Rabbits

This is a detail from an oil painting I have been working on for more than a year. The painting is called Rush to Innocence and includes two children in the upper left hand corner of the painting running toward these three rabbits. Why has it taken more than a year? This is one of the first paintings for me going in a new direction. I have let the painting sit and percolate for several weeks at a time before going back in and painting. I have probably put more thinking time into this painting than any I have painted in the last five to ten years.

The star of the painting is Snownose the rabbit who has posed for me a couple of times, along with his brothers. Snownose was rescued by a co-worker. Snownose and his family were living in a garden near a busy road. The mother rabbit was killed by a car and my co-worker, who was tending to the garden, took Snownose and his brothers home and raised them. Rabbits do not usually do well when they don't have their mother to help them, but Snownose and one brother have survived for more than a year now.

It has taken me many trials to make these rabbits right and I'm still not done. The outline of the rabbits was originally closer to the edge than I wanted, so I had to move them all about an inch to the left. Each time I paint them, it seems like their body silhouette changes and becomes more accurate. Which means I was way off at the beginning. This painting will be in my solo show at Homewood Studios in October 2010. Most of the works in that show will be of a new style for me and will be pieces never exhibited before. I am very excited about this opportunity. I am also excited to have made much progress on Rush to Innocence lately and can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Art Exhibit: The Louvre and The Masterpiece

Yesterday I viewed an exhibit at the Minneapolis Art Institute called The Louvre and The Masterpiece. It was a very interesting and educational exhibit of masterpieces from the Louvre Museum in Paris.

It was not a large show, four small galleries, but there were many pieces in each gallery and the quality of the work was outstanding. The exhibit looks at what makes a masterpiece a masterpiece. The Exhibit started with the origins of the term "masterpiece" as being part of the arts and craft guilds in the 1700's. A particular work was submitted to the guild and judged to be of such quality that the artist-craftsperson was considered a Master in their field. It begins with the concept of craftsmanship; an artwork is so technically accomplished that it is apparent to all who view it, especially other artists-craftspeople.

The exhibit also talks about Taste or Style of the times in which an artwork is created. Some masterpieces have not always been considered masterpieces. Or some were considered masterpieces, fell out of favor, and then were re-discovered at a later date.

The exhibit also talks about fakes: artworks that were thought to be the work of a famous artist from long ago, only to be discovered later to be copies or scams. There were several pieces in the exhibit that were fakes. I thought that was fun to see the fakes and learn why the Louvre curators were fooled, or how they discovered a piece was authentic.

Works that stood out for me were:
- Antoine-Louis Barye's gigantic Lion and Serpent bronze sculpture. Very large dramatic lion with a snake under its paw. The lion is well observed and is full of energy and power.
- a Roman statue of Eros which had lost its wings and arms but they have been restored.
- Johannes Vermeer's The Astronomer. Beautiful painting, exquisite!
- Lorenzo Lotte's (?) Christ Carrying the Cross.
- Leonardo DaVinci's Drapery Study. Unbelievably crisp sense of light.

I highly recommend the exhibit if you want to see some great art, but I also recommend seeing the exhibit to understand a little more about what museums are about and how we come to cherish (as a society or as a world) some works more than others. Well worth the entrance fee of $14.

The Louvre and The Masterpiece will be on display at the Minneapolis Art Institute until January 10, 2010.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Art Question: How Are You In So Many Art Shows?

Lisa E. asked me "How do you get into so many art shows?"

There are a few ways to go about getting art shows.

1. Join an organized art group that shows regularly. I am a member of the Minnesota Watercolor Society. This group has two exhibits of member's work each year. One is a juried show, the other is an inclusive show. I assume that I am a good enough artist to get into most juried watercolor shows, so I can count on an average of two shows a year through this group.

2. Join or create a group of artists around a theme and propose shows. This is where my Project Art for Nature membership comes in. Project Art for Nature is a group of twenty artists and illustrators working around the theme of protecting the natural environment. The twenty artists are split into small groups, called pods. The larger group has an annual exhibit at either the Bell Museum or another location. The pods also pursue exhibits in smaller venues. Through my connections, I was able to set up a show for eleven PAN artists at University of Minnesota - Morris this month. Another pod member, Teri Power, lined up a small show in Hammond, WI for January. So, right there, I have three exhibits in the next year through this group. I organized one, other people organized the other two.

3. There are galleries for which you can pay a small fee in order to show. An example of this is my solo exhibit at Homewood Studios in October of 2010. For a very reasonable fee, I will have my work on display for two weeks. It is important in these instances to find a gallery that you are comfortable with and you respect the quality of the work being shown. Also, is the gallery a place where work sells so you can at least make up your fee? I am very comfortable with George, the owner of Homewood Studios, and the art exhibits I have seen there. I have also seen that several pieces in each show sell. There are a few galleries like this in the Twin Cities. Some cost more than others and you have to make sure you are getting what you pay for.

4. How do you get into shows at your traditional gallery with white walls and higher prices for your work? Ssshhhh, that is a secret... Honestly, my best opportunities have come from other people. These gallery owners are seeing new work all the time, either through their own research or people coming in to inquire about a show. Unless your work hits their eye in the perfect manner, they most likely will not take you on without knowing you. That is where a reference is important. I was invited to show at The Grand Hand Gallery because a respected person who was well acquainted with my work had recommended me.

But the two most important aspects for having regular art shows are to:
- Get out there so people can know and see you and your work. You cannot have an art career alone. It takes many people to make your career possible.
- Make work consistently. If you are showing a lot, you need to be creating a lot. You cannot keep showing the same ten pieces over and over again.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Art Question: Is it too late?

Recently, in response to a comment I made on Facebook that I think it is too late for humans; we have so polluted the world that it is hostile to life and that humans are beyond the point of no return, I was asked the following question by R. S.:

"Mark, if it's too late, what are any of us doing rearranging deck chairs on the titanic?"

Is this an art question? Absolutely. This is at the heart of what I do with my art, not in a technical craft-making manner but in a philosophical aesthetic manner. We have not learned our lessons as a species. We have been warned for millennia (literally) that our ego, our greed and our fears will get in the way of our existence, they will be our end. And yet here we are, not on the doorstep, but having walked through the doorway into the kitchen and are bent over looking in the refrigerator for a beer and a leftover boneless BBQ chicken wing cheeseburger. I do not want to partake in this destruction, but by the very nature of my existence in this society, it is inevitable. Can people work hard to create change? YES. Can people pull together to make this a cleaner greener world? YES. Can we save ourselves from the destructive powers we have unleashed on this planet? NO. It is too late for that. And the most amazing part of all this is that after being in existence in our current form for over ten thousand years, we were able to end everything with our actions of only the last one hundred and fifty years. A blink of an eye, really.

So, am I rearranging deck chairs on the titanic? No. Were people in WWII concentration camps wasting their time creating choirs and drawing and painting in their shelters? No. Because our world is ending, should we stop being ourselves, stop doing what we love, stop working with people to make it a better world? No. Were the musicians on the Titanic wrong to be playing as the boat went down? No. They were musicians and gave of their talents to make that horror-filled world a little better? I am a artist and a writer - what else would I do? I will continue to paint and express myself until the end whenever I die, whenever this world dies. I am a community organizer and I will also continue to organize people and communities to make this a better world. Why? Because I want to live in a better world than the one I live in today. Does that mean I will help save everyone from death brought on by our environmental collapse? No, it is beyond that.

Our financial system collapsed last year. Many people, experts and economists, had been predicting it for up to six or eight months before it happened. Yet, most people were taken by surprise. Now, the scientists and experts are telling us that our environmental system is on the verge of collapsing. Are you going to be taken by surprise?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Photographs: Water II

These are four more photos that are in the Project Art for Nature exhibit at the University of Minnesota at Morris starting at the end of this month. This first image is of tree reflections in the water on a sunny day. This is the first colorful water image I have taken and think that I will be exploring the richness of color in reflections in the future. I enjoy the fact that the water is in focus, but in places the reflections are not. This is a very fun piece.

This second photo is of reflections on a rather calm surface of water. If it were not for the dark reflections of pine trees, the ripples would not be visible. The black and white shapes in the water start to express a sense of yin/yang, but the eye is taken out of this by the two yellow sticks floating in the foreground. I also like the little bubbles and detris floating in the foreground. The contrast in the water was so high as evening was approaching, that the debris and bubbles look like a bunch of little dots. I also like that this photo is framed with a white mat. From a short distance the white of the photo starts to bleed into the mat.

These final two photos are of water lily pads on Rainy Lake. People living on Rainy Lake are starting to have problems with ecoli in the water. Every home on the lake pumps its drinking water from the lake. Residents are finding that they have to keep upgrading their filter systems as more development is happening. The evidence of problems is not just in the drinking water but in the lack of blooms on the lilypads. Each year it seems there are fewer and fewer blooms. This photo was taken in mid-to-late August and yet no blooms.
There are such things as indicator species - certain animals that are the first to be affected by pollution. Canaries were used in coal mines to indicate gas leaks. If the canary died, the humans had better leave the cave quickly. Frogs are considered an indicator species. Frogs will become malformed and die sooner than humans in an environment becoming hostile to life. I believe beauty is an indicator species when it comes to the human soul. Beauty will wilt and die in an environment becoming hostile to the human soul. I am serious when I ask "What is beautiful in your life?" I do want to know the answer. I also want to do what I can to create a healthy environment for our souls.

What's beautiful in your life?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Photographs: Water

I have been taking photographs of the Mississippi River as part of Project Art for Nature for the last year and a half. These photos have been resources for my paintings of the Mississippi, but I have come to enjoy the photos so much that I am framing them and hanging them in the PAN exhibit at the University of Minnesota at Morris. Displayed here are three of the seven photos.
Each PAN artist must choose two natural areas in which to work. My first site is the Mississippi River Gorge located between downtown Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul. My second site is the Review Islands on Rainy Lake along the Minnesota/Canada border, a protected grouping of four islands owned by the Oberholtzer Foundation. Both sites are defined by water and have been created by erosion from volumes of water rushing past rock as well as each tiny wave and ripple slowly lapping against shore. These three photos deal with ripples as pattern on the surface of water. One starts to sense the rugged surface of water which grates away the land. There is also a sense of the volume of water underneath this surface that is at work.

I took my photos and did very little in terms of editing or changing them for this exhibit. I just tweeked the contrast a little. They are framed in black metal frames with a ragboard matte. The prints themselves are on matte heavyweight archival paper. I did not want the sheen of photopaper as I felt that a matte paper would communicate the volume and density of the water better.

If you are in the Morris area between October 22 and November 27 please stop in and see the show. There are ten other wonderful artists in the exhibit and it promises to be quite a show.

Monday, September 14, 2009

More Attempts at a Book Cover

I wasn't quite happy with the last cover I had completed (first image) a few days ago, so I spent a couple more hours at it. I looked over the cover design with a friend, Linda, at work and she had some good suggestions and ideas. I tried those out here in the next design. Changes included moving the ground/dirt aspect of the cover to the bottom of the design. We thought this might "ground" that part of the cover a little more and provide more room for the flower image. We both felt the flower seemed a little cramped in the first image. I also made the old photos look more brown instead of reddish - raw sienna instead of burnt sienna.

I eventually went back to the first image and made more subtle changes instead of the big changes. In the second design there was too much room for the flower and it seemed like I had to add branches and leaves to make it fill the space properly.

I liked the white stripe at the bottom of the first design. It frames the photos and keeps them in their place.  So, in my final design I included the stripe and enlarged the photos slightly so the right side fits the edge better. I also moved the photos down a little so there would be more room for the flower.

On the flower I made the leaves smaller which seemed to open up the space for a little longer stem and room for the words "Parenting and Nature."

All in all I am happy and this will be my final design. Now to tweak the book's interior just a little bit more.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Art Question: How do you make paintings that look dimensional?

What a great question from Carol V. How do you make paintings that look so dimensional? The key is contrast and edges.

Why contrast? Contrast is the tool used to create separation of shapes in a painting. Two shapes next to each other that are in great contrast will separate from each other and create a sense of space. Two shapes next to each other that do not have much contrast will not separate from each other and the sense of space between them will be minimized.

What does that mean?

Let's look at this cabbage painting as an example.
The cabbage seems to have volume and shape. Each leaf appears in front or behind another leaf. This is done by overlapping shapes, but it becomes convincing when you use contrast properly.

In the detail of three layers of the leaves, you can see that the leaves in the background are all darker than the leaf in front of them. The leaf in the center of the detail has a white edge at the top that is in contrast to the darker bodies of the background leaves. The central leaf then darkens as it approaches the two leaves in the front, at the bottom. This creates contrast with the lighter edges of the leaves in front. In this manner space is created, by using contrast between shapes.

Of course, contrast can only happen at an edge shared by two shapes. The stronger the contrast, the stronger the edge. There are edges within each leaf created by the veins. But the contrast and edges between the veins and the leaf are softer than the hard edges between two leaves.

This is the main way in which I create a sense of depth or dimension: by carefully creating or diminishing contrast at edges. There are other techniques you can use to enhance a sense of space, but that is for another time. If you check out the images in my gallery, or other paintings, you will begin to notice this wherever there is a strong sense of space.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Evolution of a Book Cover

I am busy trying to finalize the cover for my book Fertile Ground: Parenting and Nature. I completed the first cover a couple of years ago. I altered it for the first printing. Now that I am ready to start marketing the book more aggressively, I wanted a more professional looking cover. Here are images, in chronological order, of the development of the cover. I won't get into details about each design, but the overall design concept is to show that the fertile ground of human experience and nature are what feed and help a child to grow. The final design was influenced by the fact that when I went to the bookstore to look at books about parenting, I discovered that most of them have predominantly white covers. I'm not sure about the reasons for this, but it made me start to think about my own design and how I could improve it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Art Question: What Do I Do When A Painting Is Off to a Bad Start

I have not painted a flower-painting-of-the-month for August and here it is September already. So I thought I would paint a vase of flowers from the Farmer's Market. At the market I didn't see any flowers that grabbed me, but I figured I could do something with what was there. I brought a bunch of flowers home, divided them into groups for three different vases. One I gave to a friend as a house warming gift, the other two I sketched from. I had been at Mallard Island a few weeks back and busy as a bee upon my return, so I had not been in the studio for the last two to three weeks. So, here I sit with a bad start to a painting. I could tell that I haven't been in the studio for awhile; the flow wasn't there, I wasn't sure about my decisions, I seemed to be using the wrong size brushes and I didn't have an overall idea of what I was going to do.

Here is the image of the painting I have begun. Even the composition and concept are weak to me. My attempts at painting were clumsy and ineffective. My color mixing was like flatulence. Very little in this piece is working. By the time I was wrapping up for the evening I felt I was finally starting to have a feel for where this might go. I might be able to save it next time I paint, which I hope will be tomorrow night.

What to do when a painting starts out badly
There are two approaches to take when a painting starts out badly:
1. Walk away from it and come back later with fresh eyes. I actually went over to a friend's house for dinner after my bad start on this piece. Upon my return I had no clue as to how to make it better, but my mind was in a calmer place to make better decisions and to focus. Having not been in my studio for awhile my focus was not there when I started.  It is much easier and better to start out focused then to try to recover later.

2. Work your way through it until something happens that you like.
Once I returned with a better mindset, I was able to doodle with the work until I started to find something that was working for me. I started putting in the dark areas and fixing up some edges. I now feel that I will be able to apply some lines and paint over some wet areas in order to improve it and figure the next steps from there. Most paintings go through a stage of uncertainty that just needs to be worked through - sometimes you have to work really hard.  When the uncertainty is at the start of a painting you have to work even harder.

If I never feel good about a painting, I will wipe it off with a rag and start from the beginning. Most likely, a completely different subject.

The important thing is to come to a place where you are in the moment paying attention to the paint, the color, the object. If you can get to that place while painting you have won 90% of the battle. So much was going through my head while painting that I couldn't paint well. Having some dinner and enjoying some time with a friend and his daughter put me in a better place to pay attention - to paint. Part of the reason I believe I can save this painting is that I have begun to knock the rust from my painting muscles after some time off. I will probably be in a better place from the beginning next time.

Update: The painting was a complete loss. It went nowhere even with some work and I ended up painting something else on the canvas - oh,well.  This canvas helped me get back my focus - a small sacrifice.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Art Question: Do I Have To Make Art Tonight, Mom?

I would like to make some art tonight,... or is it that I feel I need to make art tonight. I have a deadline tonight for submitting work to a fundraiser, I need to complete a flower-painting-of-the-month in the next five days, I have a backhall that is under construction, a kitchen full of tomatoes that need to be canned, statements for an upcoming show that need to be layed-out and printed, a couple of videos to download, five new pages to create on my new website (I hope to unveil in a month), a new book cover to design and a few new projects that I want to be working on.

I just spent an hour and a half downloading pictures from Mallard Island and uploading some of them to a Facebook page. Some of the pictures are here in this entry.

I stopped by The Grand Hand Gallery today to check in on the current exhibit with my work. I worked 8.5 hours today at my day job and am now creating this blog entry.

The choices are so many and the energy is so low. A beer and a good friend seem to be the most appropriate and wished for activity.

Although I am very tired, over-burdened and wondering how to squeeze in any kind of creative activity, what keeps going through my mind is Claire and the idea that this planet, earth, is almost dead. Not dead to it's self, but dead to people. The environment we have created has become toxic to us and many other living things. Claire believes it is already beyond the point of no return. She doesn't believe the planet will die. She believes that we will die. We are killing ourselves through our greed and fears. Isn't it kinda absurd that some of our earliest writings recognize this weakness in ourselves and yet we haven't learned anything in 10,000 years? We have prophecized our own doom, we have laid out how we would bring it about, and yet, 4,000 generations later, we are no longer on the doorstep but have confidently and arrogantly walked through the doorway and into the end. It saddens me greatly. We are the sons of Cain.

Anyone for some ping-pong?