Art & Impermanence

December 31, 2008
flower study, acrylic and pastel on corrugated cardooard, 16x20"

flower study, acrylic and pastel on corrugated cardboard, 16x20"

close up detail

close up detail

This is one of my experiments–acrylic and pastel on corrugated cardboard. There is something about creating a piece on non-archival materials that excites me. The fact that I know it isn’t going to be around forever somehow is very freeing, there is no risk of this piece hanging around for 100 years to haunt me. I’m using recycled materials and won’t be doing any framing or other work to make this indestructible, so I guess in a way I’m lowering my carbon profile. I enjoyed doing it and will enjoy looking at it leaned up against a wall in my studio. One day, most likely if I move, I’ll put the cardboard back in the recycling and that will be the end of it. 🙂

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Choosing Where to Exhibit

December 30, 2008
Kitchen Sink, oil on canvas 2007

Kitchen Sink, an oil on canvas, will be on exhibit in "Reality Check" a group show at Trudy Labell Fine Art, Naples, Florida in January

Deciding where to exhibit your work is something that needs careful consideration. When you first start out, local exhibits, artist co-ops and alternative venues are good places to gain exposure and practice. However, you should constantly aim higher–target national and international juried competitions first, or see if you can become a juried member in a professional organization. As you begin getting your work accepted in these higher end exhibits, don’t be afraid to let the smaller, local stuff go. You will only be able to produce a certain number of best pieces, and these are the ones you need to reserve for your best shows.

One question I get asked a lot is “how do I get my work into a gallery?” First, realize that getting your work into a well-established, commercial gallery is not something that is going to happen overnight, if at all. There is a lot of good work out there and only so many galleries to go around. A commercial gallery needs artists who consistently produce top quality work, deliver it on time and who are professional in demeanor and appearance.  Gallery directors are typcially bombarded with submissions, the last thing they want are phone calls from artists wanting to show their work for consideration. My advice about finding a gallery would be to simply not worry about it, and to try and build professional-level exhibit exposure through well-established clubs and professional organizations first. These are the exhibits the gallery directors often attend on their own to identify new talent. It is how I became associated with one of the galleries that represents me, Trudy Labell Fine Art.

Trudy saw my work in an International Guild of Realism exhibit at a gallery on Cape Cod and invited me and several others in the show to have a group show at her gallery in Florida. Ultimately, I was offered a contract for representation and have been very happy with the relationship. I had no idea anything like this would happen when I put my work in the International Guild of Realism show, but it makes sense that gallery directors would attend shows where they were sure the quality of the work was going to be high. The point is, try and get your work shown in places where curators and gallery directors will be on hand to see what is out there.

Two other organizations that have shows typically attended by critics, fine arts editors, curators and gallery directors are the Salmagundi Club of NYC and the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club also of NYC. Becoming an artist member of these organizations requires jurying into a number of their national shows and/or showing a portfolio of your work. The membership committees are very selective and you might not get in on the first try, but once you are a member, a whole realm of exhibit opportunities opens up.

So start out small, but always have your eye on what’s next. If you seriously want to exhibit your work professionally, you have to keep raising the bar. And once you do have representation, maintain your relationships with galleries carefully and always exhibit only your best work.

Note: “Reality Check”, a group exhibit, will be held at Trudy Labell Fine Art for the month of January. Opening reception is on January 15, for more info go to www.trudylabellfineart.com.


Saving Money on Supplies

December 30, 2008
Flower study, pastel on Richeson paper

Flower study, pastel on Richeson paper

A good way to save money on art supplies is to use what you have on hand first, especially for studies and practice work.  Use up those art supplies sitting in the closet! Over the years, I’ve accumulated a closetful of various supplies: pastels, water colors, ink, charcoal, colored papers, acrylics. I think artists have a tendency to horde this stuff–we see it in the store in its pretty packaging, or maybe it’s on sale,  and it somehow ends up in our studio closet. A good way to avoid this happening is to make a list of only those things that you REALLY need and to order them online. This should help to stem impulse buys.

I use the supplies I have on hand for experimentation. Although I only really exhibit oils (and occassionally a pastel or acrylic), I do a lot of work that is just practice in a wide variety of mediums.

You can also get creative by looking in your recyling–cardboard boxes and paper bags make great surfaces for charcoal and pastel drawings, newspapers are also quite interesting as backgrounds for drawings. While the results are not likely going to be archival, they are great surfaces for creating studies and less permanent works.

If you like working on canvas, I highly recommend Fredrix canvas pads. They are great for doing studies, plein air and other informal paintings. Plus, they are much easier to store and a lot less expensive than working on stretched canvas all the time.

If you work in oils or acrylics, another way you can save is by switching to gallery wrap canvas for your exhibit pieces. Gallery wrap enables you to forego framing–it is especially effective with contemporary themed work. You just paint the edges with black acrylic for a professional finish. Collectors who buy your work can either hang it as is without a frame, or select one that matches their taste.

So next time you need some inspriration, take a look in your supply closet and pull out those water colors you bought 5 years ago and never used, or the pastels, or the Chinese brushes, or…


Pricing

December 28, 2008

Pricing is one of the mysteries of the fine art industry. My students who are beginning to exhibit their work constantly ask me how much they should ask for it. I myself was in a quandry over pricing when I first began exhibiting in small shows and did not have the expertise of a gallery director to point me in the right direction.

Fortunately, another artist suggested a pricing strategy based on what is known as the French formula. The French formula calculates retail price (the price collectors pay) based on size. You simply mulitply the length of the piece by the width and then multiply that number times 4. For example, an 18″ x 24″ painting would look something like this:

18 x 24 = $432

then multiply 432 x 4 = $1728 (retail price, you may round it up for simplicity)

The French formula is a good place to start if you are an emerging artist and your work is of high enough quality that you are accepted into national/international juried exhibitions or have representation with a commercial gallery.

Consistency in Pricing is Key

One of the best things about the French formula is that it is based purely on size, it takes any emotion out of the equation that may stem from your attachment to a particular item. All of the work that you offer for exhibit or sale should be of equal quality–if something is not your best, leave it out of the show instead of offering it for less.

Once you have become established with a gallery or have been exhibiting for several years and are regularly selling your work at the pricing you established with the French formula, you may consider an increase. If you have gallery representation, ask for and listen to their advice–they are best placed to know what the market will bear in terms of their collectors and the demand for your work.

They will also be aware of what other artists work in the gallery is going for–who you hang with can positively (or negatively) affect your sales and your pricing. For example, if I have a $2000 piece in a show and all the other work of similar size and quality (it should all be of similar, professional quality otherwise the gallery is not doing their job) is priced at $7500, that could make collectors question why mine is so much less. It is better to take that out of the equation by having work priced in a closer range to the other work in the show, $5000 would likely be more appropriate in this instance.

Be sure not to increase your pricing too quickly. Collectors who bought your earlier works will be thrilled if they see your pricing inching up.  But too much of a jump to a point where your work stops selling spells disaster for everyone. The last thing you want to have to do is lower your prices as a result of too high of an increase. Imagine being a collector who bought a painting of yours for $2000, and a few months later they see the same size painting priced at $1800! They would not be happy.

So consider increases carefully and only when appropriate–an increase in a difficult economic period is not a good idea. However, neither is discounting–it’s preferable to just wait out the recession than to start lowering prices. Remember, collectors who already own your work don’t want to see it deflate in value.

Studio vs. Gallery Sales

One thing that I believe is very important to maintaining good relationships with your galleries is not to under cut them with discount pricing for studio sales. Personally, I have chosen not to sell work directly to collectors–I don’t want to collect and remit sales tax (or have to pay a CPA to do it for me), I don’t want to haggle over prices and I don’t want to accept credit cards. I am not a gallery owner, I’m a painter.

However, if you do choose to sell your work directly as well as have representation, be sure to offer consistent and equal pricing in both venues. Do not take 50% off your studio with the thinking that you are giving the gallery commission as a discount to your collector. If your work sells for $2000 in the gallery that is what it should sell for in your studio. Besides, you should be thrilled, you get to keep the 50% because you sold it yourself.

Friends & Family

The best advice I can give here is simple–if you can avoid it, don’t sell directly to friends and family. I’m sure this is going to ruffle some feathers, but I believe it needs to be said. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t from time to time give a painting as a gift to someone special, or if you have time and want to do something nice, paint something for someone just for the cost of your materials, etc. The key word here is occassionally. Don’t make this a recurring theme and don’t rely on sales to your friends and family for income. Why?

First, it is not a true measure of your ability to sell in the marketplace. And second, if you put all your efforts into discount commissions, you won’t have time to focus on your work that is for gallery exhibition and sales.

The bottom line is price consistently regardless of economic conditions. Avoid discounting and don’t raise prices too steeply even in a good economic environment. Ultimately, your work will increase in value if the market demand is there.

This is the third in a series of articles on managing your career as an artist in a troubled economy.


Style vs. Formula: Know the Difference

December 27, 2008
Exploring a variety of subject matter can help to keep your work from becoming formulaic.

Exploring a variety of subject matter can help to keep your work from becoming formulaic.

A lot of my students ask me about “developing” a style. Personally, I believe a style is something that is inherent, like your handwriting. To me, style is a result of an artist’s natural way of working. It is something that cannot and should not be forced, rather it should be allowed to evolve.

Evolution of your style is not something that will take place over a short period of time. It is something you will become attuned to and aware of only after you have been painting seriously for several years (at least five). The best way to foster that evolution is to experiment and explore a variety of subjects and mediums. Even if you’ve chosen a primary medium and have developed a following of collectors who are familiar with a specific body of your work, it is still a good idea to continue trying new approaches. This will keep you engaged with your process and allow you to consistently offer work that looks fresh.

While a recognizable style is desirable, a formulaic approach is not–what is the difference? Think of work that looks “cranked out”–like the artist has done this a million times before in the same exact manner. Wouldn’t you be bored creating this way? Odds are if you are bored with your process as an artist, your prospective collectors are going to be equally as bored looking at your work.

Meeting Collector and Gallery Expectations

If you are a professional artist with gallery representation and collectors, you may come to a point where a specific body of your work begins to define you as an artist. For example, most people familiar with my work think of me as an urban landscape painter who works in oil. However, I also paint still lifes, figures, and plein air landscapes and work in a variety of mediums including acrylic, pastel, and charcoal. Why bother with all this if I mainly exhibit and sell urban landscapes in oil?

Because exploring other subjects in a variety of media keeps me engaged with my work. I don’t feel the need to exhibit or sell every single piece of work I produce, on the contrary, I believe only a very small percentage are worthy of exhibition or sale. And in the event that I do come up with a new series that I’d like to introduce, there is nothing holding me back from doing so.  Sure, it might take awhile to generate enough interest to build sales, but most galleries are willing to give something new a try as long as the quality of the work is top notch and they believe they can market it to their base of collectors.

In addition to exploring new subjects and mediums, there is one other thing that I find necessary to stay focused: I can only work on one painting at a time. This doesn’t mean I can’t do small studies or experimental pieces while I’m working on a gallery piece, it just means I can’t work on two exhibition pieces simultaneously.  I find I need to truly be engaged with one painting at a time so that I can focus on it without distraction. Of course, this limits the amount of work that I produce that can be used for exhibition and sales purposes, but that is ok. I’ve found that I would rather produce less work and have it be of higher quality, because this generally translates into acceptance of higher prices per piece. While an economic downturn will definitely affect sales, pricing is something that needs to be managed carefully, I will address this issue in detail in tomorrow’s article.

This is the second in a series of articles on managing your career as an artist in a troubled economy.


Taking Your Work to the Next Level: Learn from Your Mistakes

December 26, 2008
Red Awning - oil on canvas, 2007. Although I was not happy with this painting, it was done at a time when my work was going through a stage of evolution. By focusing on the elements of the piece that I felt were strong, I was able to push my subsequent pieces in a new direction.

"Red Awning" - oil on canvas, 2007. Although I was not happy with this painting, obejctive self-critiquing allowed me to identify its succesful elements. I was then able to use some of these elements to push my subsequent pieces in a new direction.

As I mentioned before the holiday, I plan to have the next couple of articles focus on creating the best product (your paintings) you can, because I believe that is the best way to remain viable as a professional artist in a bad economy. Producing work that is fresh, new and energetic is vital to keeping collectors, curators and gallery directors interested in it. If you constantly produce the same subject in the same style your work quickly becomes formulaic. While an artists’ style should be recongizable, there should be some variation, especially over time, to show growth and evolution.

Growth comes from experimentation, and an awareness of the subtleties of the elements in each piece that you create. To become aware of these subtle changes, you need to learn to objectively critique your own work. Self-critique, when done objectively, can provide you with some of the most valuable feedback you can get:

  • you’ll be able to spot early stylistic shifts that you can focus on pushing further,
  • you’ll identify characteristics that tie inidividual paintings into a cohesive body of work,
  • and you’ll become more aware of the elements that set your work apart and make it unique

To objectively critique your work, you need to provide honest answers to the right questions.  I like to break things down into two categories: general impressions and technical proficiency. Some of the things I ask myself include:

General Impressions

  • Am I pleased with the piece and why or why not?
  • What are its strongest points?
  • What are its weakest points?
  • Does it communicate what I intended? How?
  • How does it relate to the rest of my work in terms of subject, style and direction I wish to go in?

Technical proficiency

  • Have I used brushwork efficiently and effectively?
  • Does the piece have strong color harmony?
  • Is the composition balanced?
  • Is there a sufficient range of values to create depth and dimension?
  • Have I used the medium to its best advantage?

On the painting above, I was not happy with the following items:

  • the format was too tall and narrow, it made the composition feel “squeezed” and the buildings looked distorted
  • there were too many things going on at the same time: too many colors, too much movement–while color and movement are always top elements in my paintings, I didn’t get the balance quite right in this one and it became too busy

Things I liked and chose to carry forward in future paintings included:

  • really loose yet efficient brushwork
  • semi-abstract feeling in the handling of the taxis, figures and buildings, getting a bit further removed from the realism of my earlier work

By focusing in on those elements that were succesful, as well as those that could be improved, I was able to make myself aware of the strengths I wanted to carry forward into subsequent work, as well as to be aware of the areas that I needed to pay attention to in order that they didn’t become repeat offenders.

I think the painting below is a good example of how self-critique builds awareness that can carry forward to future work. Although it is a completely different painting of a different area of NY, the strong elements in the one above can be seen here : loose brushwork and semi-abstract qualities; while I avoided its pitfalls by using a better proportioned format and a more limited palette. The point is, be aware of your mistakes, admit them, and learn from them–then move on to your next painting and use what you’ve learned. That’s how you get to the next level.

SoHo Scaffold - oil on canvas, 2008 - using a better proportioned format and a limited palette, but keeping the loose brushwork and semi-abstract figures and details creates a succesful painting as a result of objective self-critique.

"SoHo Scaffold" - oil on canvas, 2008 - using a better proportioned format and a limited palette, but keeping the loose brushwork and semi-abstract figures and details creates a succesful painting as a result of objective self-critique.


Happy Holidays!!!!

December 24, 2008
ornament study, oil on canvas, about 8x10

ornament study, oil on canvas, about 8x10"

Wow! Today is Christmas Eve, where did the time go? I still have last minute shopping and other stuff to do so I’m going to take a break until Friday.

But first, I’d like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season! I’d also like to say a few special thank yous:

First, to my students here in NJ that have worked with me over the past year. Teaching has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of really nice people and I’ve enjoyed working with each and every one of you.

I feel very fortunate to have three wonderful places to offer my classes: the Somerset Art Association, the NJ Visual Arts Center and the Hunterdon Museum of Art. Norma, Robyn, Gail, Ellen, Dannielle, Vanessa, Heather, and Cara you are all the best, thank you for your support and for making SAA, NJVAC and HAM great places to teach!

I also want to say thanks to Trudy Labell Fine Art and the Michael Ingbar Gallery for another year of great representation and exhibit opportunities.

Last of all, I’m very grateful to the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club for giving me the opportunity to serve on the board this year. It has been a wonderful experience; and to the Salmagundi Club of NYC for all the fabulous exhibit opportunities that seem to be getting better and better each year.

Have a fantastic holiday everyone!