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When attempting something difficult, I suspect most people seek advice from experts now and then. I'm no different. A few times a year, I take a batch of nearly completed paintings to the studio of master painter Melissa Weinman for a critique. Below are three new paintings, pictured before the critique and after. Details are in the captions. Click on the first image, then click the arrows to navigate back and forth.
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A few weeks ago I started a cute little painting of a pair of teacups and a teabag. I can't explain why I'm drawn to white ceramic objects and teabags, but these kinds of things make it into my setups every now and then.
As I worked, I copied the objects faithfully, and I invented the background color. I'd been longing to paint with soft lavender and its complement, soft gold. I shared my progress with my Facebook friends, and I asked for help giving the painting a title.
At this stage, I took the little painting to Ruston, Washington, an hour away, to be critiqued by my mentor, master painter Melissa Weinman. She pointed out a number of technical problems in the painting, but called it "a little gem" nonetheless. She has a big heart and a sharp mind.
Back in the studio, I had the pleasure of fiddling with the painting until I was happy with it. The final stages of a painting are always fun. I took the still-slightly-wet painting to my favorite frame place, Jayeness Moulding, a wholesale outlet where I have an account. My little dog, Dudley, accompanied me, like usual. The lady in the shop stuffed him full of cookies and love, and offered me a discount on a beautiful moulding, lavender mother-of-pearl, that looked great with the painting. Was it Dudley, or was it the fact that I had put so much effort into this little painting? I'll never know. She had been saving that moulding for herself, but she let me have it.
Feeling happy and grateful, I drove home with my beautiful frame and a few others I couldn't resist from the shop. A week later, I varnished the painting and photographed it. I fitted the painting into its frame, using techniques I learned from a persnickety framer a few years ago, and to which I adhere.
After posting the photo to Facebook, I was surprised and delighted to receive a message from a fellow artist: she wanted the painting. She had offered ideas for a title. We arranged for her to pick it up a week later.
After signing the papers and paying me, she agreed to photograph the painting in its new home. When I got the photo, I felt strangely fulfilled: this little thing that I'd put so much love and work into was now enlivening someone's home. That's a privilege.
I believe other artists will agree: it feels great to see your work in someone's home, a part of their daily life.
You'll probably remember my marathon of painting as I prepared for the Small Works Sale at Gage Academy of Art. I was fortunate (and delighted) that my mentor bought one of the paintings before it ever made it to the sale. It occurred to me at the time that the appeal of the painting could have been the white-on-white color scheme.
I later learned that during the sale two paintings sold, and—strangely—both featured a mostly white color scheme.
Why was this? Why did people connect to these paintings more than the others? It's striking to me that of all the new works, these were seen as "must have" paintings, and the only things they have in common are the size, the price, and the predominance of white paint. Are people longing for purity, spirituality, something cleaner or higher? Do the paintings seem somehow less cluttered than reality?
Whatever the reason, I'm going to make use of this information, because, apart from what sells, I care about what people care about. So white paint will probably get squeezed out of the tube in greater abundance.
If you're in Seattle, the sale is still on through Friday.
There's nothing like a deadline—it's wonderful and horrible.
Several months ago, during a casual conversation with the exhibition coordinator at my school, she mentioned that she was planning a Small Works sale for the holidays. She intended for that conversation to motivate us obscure students to create small, affordable works that would help us establish reputations for ourselves and make a little money.
It's a great idea. I love the art world's tradition of offering smaller, lower-priced works at the holidays.
Then she mentioned that the works in the show would probably need to be priced at $75 or less. This started me thinking. Could I produce anything that would be priced that low? Drawings? Only if they were unframed. Tiny oil studies? Only if they were unframed. I just couldn't bring myself to submit work that would later appear with my name on it unframed. Plenty of good artists will happily hang unframed works on the wall and let the buyers handle the framing. But I have this persistent image in my head of a buyer coming home with a drawing, and then the drawing sitting on top of the dresser for months, occasionally with socks or jewelry tossed on top of it. Oy vey! When a buyer comes home with a piece of art, the only thing they should have to do is find a hammer and hang the thing. Some buyers know how to frame a piece attractively, and some don't. Some will take care of the framing right away, and some won't. I prefer to do all of that stuff myself, partly out of concern for the buyer's experience, and partly because I want to have control over the framing. I also provide the hanging hardware with the work when I handle the sale myself, just because I imagine most people don't have picture hangers lying around. Buying and hanging artwork should be easy.
As I considered participating in the small works sale, I concluded that the kind of work I produce really can't be priced at less than $100. I decided not to participate. I also have observed that paintings sell a lot better than drawings. People want color. When a drawing sells, it's usually to another artist.
When the Call for Art was issued about three weeks ago, the price ceiling had been raised to $150. Phew. I decided that I would participate after all. Thus started a two-week period of making a painting a day. I produced only eight paintings during this marathon, because the one larger piece took three days instead of one to complete.
The week before the deadline was devoted to (a) letting the paintings dry, (b) getting the paintings critiqued, and (c) buying frames for the paintings. First I ran around town finding frames for each painting, and I really lucked out. I found frames that enhanced each painting and would allow me to keep the prices low. I temporarily framed the paintings, and I took them to my mentor's studio for a critique. She said something I've never heard before: "These two paintings don't need anything." It was a beautiful moment. She made it more beautiful by buying one of them.
I came home and made corrections to the paintings the following day. Two days later I photographed the paintings, framed them, photographed them again, and packaged them for delivery. Yesterday I dropped off the box of little paintings with the submission paperwork, a few hours before the drop-off period ended. It reminded me of my days as an editor when I helped writers along toward their deadlines. I remembered how much I valued and appreciated the writers who managed their workloads well, and how anxious I felt about writers who took on too much and needed regular reminders of their upcoming deadlines to keep them focused on the stories I needed.
Now I'm on the other side of the deadline, I want to be the kind of artist that curators don't worry about. By the time people stroll through the third-floor hall at Gage Academy of Art, looking at hundreds of small works, they may or may not imagine the behind-the-scenes frenzy of activity that led to that point. Probably not. They'll just assess in an instant whether they like each piece. We humans have an amazing capacity to navigate the visual world. We make sense of what we see in a moment. The people who love art and buy it shouldn't have to think about what happens under the hood unless they want to. That's what artists' blogs are for.
As the years go by, I'll probably come to love and anticipate an annual holiday deadline.
I woke up suddenly, worried.
"That little rose painting I started yesterday," I thought, "It's going to cost a fortune to frame."
I got out of bed and walked to the studio. I stood in front of the still-wet underpainting and thought.
I had started the rose painting on an 11" X 11" panel. I had two of these panels on hand, and I had been planning to use them for a diptych. I hadn't really thought through the foolishness of making paintings at nonstandard sizes on a tight budget. Crap!
I have a show scheduled for March, and I need to prepare at least four more paintings, including framing. Many artists decline invitations to show their work because of the cost of framing so much work at once. Contemporary artists will show work unframed, but my work is traditional, and I believe it must be framed. I had been reluctant to accept invitations from two neighborhood businesses to show my work, even though my neighbors on Facebook have been pushing me to show. I explained my reasoning every time the subject came up. I didn't think I was ready, artistically or financially, to put together a solo show.
But something had happened. I had taken about 10 new paintings to the frame shop. I found discontinued frames -- at half price -- for six of the paintings, and they were beautiful. I couldn't believe it. I bought all six frames for $125. If I'd had the paintings custom framed, it would have cost about $700 to $800, and I couldn't have done it.
I have an account at a wholesale moulding shop, and the last frame I bought there cost $115 for a 12" X 12" painting of a pair of chickens. That's a bargain for a custom frame, but it was still out of the question for framing multiple paintings at once. The wholesale moulding shop is popular with traditional artists and art students in Seattle, because you can get a frame for about half what you'd pay at a retail frame shop.
So there I stood on the concrete floor of my studio in flipflops and a bathrobe at 3 a.m., thinking about all of this while looking at the little underpainting of the rose. I started to make a plan.
I was back in the studio, starting a new drawing of the same rose on a large pad of drawing paper, this time in a square marked off at 12" X 12". I was hoping I'd find a ready-made frame at that size.
My husband had gone to work. I'd fed him breakfast and prepared his lunch. I walked back to the studio and refined the drawing, watching the clock and stressing out. I really shouldn't drive to the frame shop until about 9:45. Also, the drawing stage is the hardest part. But I'd done it the day before, so this time, the drawing was looking better.
The frame shop opened, and I was there. I found three matching, beautiful frames at 12" X 12", and they were on sale: buy one, get two free. It was a discontinued style, and one I really liked. I already had a painting framed in that frame. If I bought the three frames, I'd have four. It felt like Christmas Day. I drove home with the three frames feeling relieved and optimistic. My little dog was in the passenger's seat, and I talked to him about the whole ordeal. He just looked at me.
The drawing was finished, the panel was prepared, and I transferred the drawing to the panel.
I finished the underpainting. It was better than the previous day's work. The new color worked better too. I'll use the smaller version to make a color study before finishing the larger one. I have no idea what I'll do with the smaller version. Right now, I don't care.
Lying on the couch, exhausted, but pleased that I was so lucky today. Tomorrow I'd prefer to sleep until the normal 5 a.m.
There's something about feathers. I saw the original painting of these chickens at Melissa Weinman Studio, and I wanted it. I felt like I could reach out and plunge my fingers into the chickens' feathers and feel the texture, feel a chicken squirming, even feel the heat from the sun. Of course, the price of the painting was out of my reach. After a week or two I thought of a solution: what if I made a mastercopy of that painting? THAT would be affordable. It's not all that common to make a mastercopy of a contemporary artist's work -- I usually see art students laboring away in front of reproductions of Rembrandts, Riberas, and Bouguereaus -- but why not? I could have a close facsimile of the painting I desired, AND I would learn a lot in the process of making it. Melissa was pleased that I wanted to copy her painting, and she agreed. Below is Melissa's original painting on the left, and my copy on the right. I suppose it goes into the Portrait category. What a challenge -- and what fun!
Six weeks ago I found an old baseball glove in a beat-up cardboard box that also held some old nails and duct tape. I knew the glove had sentimental value for my husband. He had received it when he was a child, and had played baseball with it for years. I reached for my phone.
"You know that old baseball glove?"
"Maybe it would make a good painting."
"It would be a challenge, but your birthday is coming up, and maybe I could do it."
I couldn't blame him for his lack of enthusiasm. It's not easy to get excited about a painting that doesn't exist yet.
I worked on it for a while, and toward the end of the painting process, Tom started getting excited. He said it was very cool. We agreed that I would include the old Yankee Stadium with its facade in the background, because that's where he attended baseball games while he was growing up. He turned [censored] years old a few days ago, and the painting is now done. Happy birthday, Tommy.
A new painting has a lot of initial steps before painting can begin. In the case of a still life, I determine the setup, explore the composition with sketches, and a make a careful line drawing. When making a line drawing, I need two or three sessions to detect all my mistakes and correct them. Then comes the transfer, a necessary evil.
It's necessary because drawing directly on the panel doesn't work well. So I draw on paper. During the transfer, the proportions of the drawing remain intact, but the grace and feeling are lost. Having invested all that time in the drawing, I hate to lose any of it. I have the option, if I've transferred my drawing with graphite, of working on the transferred drawing to improve it. On the other hand, a graphite transfer is usually completed with ink. Erasing graphite under dried ink leaves smudges on the panel, which I dislike on principle. Inking the drawing leaves heavy ink lines. For an opaque painting, that's no problem.
As I develop my skills, I'm going to want the option of making parts of my underpainting visible in the final painting. That's a good reason to explore other kinds of transfers that don't leave ink lines or smudged graphite behind.
One way I study drawing and painting outside the classroom is to read artists' blogs and watch their demonstration videos. A few months ago I watched a video demonstrating an oil transfer, made by Tacoma artist David Gray. I liked the idea of an oil transfer because the medium on the panel, from the transfer to the final layer, is oil paint -- nothing else. I decided to give it a try.
Why Choose a Graphite Transfer
A few of my painting classmates transferred their drawings to their panels using graphite. Graphite is also a good choice because it's a dry medium, and after the drawing is transferred, it can be refined on the panel. This is a definite advantage.
I decided last month to learn to paint using the Indirect Method. This method comes from 15th-, 16th-, and 17th-century Flanders, so it's also called the Flemish method. After ordering an instructional video (read my review of the video) and watching it several times, I've completed a still-life painting. I tried my best to follow the steps outlined in the video, as shown in the slideshow. I'll continue to learn this method with more complicated paintings, but it's a good first effort, I think.
UPDATE: I sold this painting to an art collector in Shoreline, Washington, who owns two of my earlier paintings. (May 16, 2014)
The first painting I sold, in stages.
Amanda Teicher creates oil paintings in the realist tradition, focusing on landscape and still life.