Make the Most Out of Your Plein Air Experience – Enjoy Yourself!

April 30, 2012

Waving to the brigade of NYC fire trucks that passed by during my demo on the Salmagundi balcony, with plein air, you have to just go with the flow.
Photo credit: Joel Graham

This past Saturday, I did a live plein air demo on the balcony of the Salmagundi Club on 5th Avenue in NYC. The demo was videotaped and fed directly into the Club’s parlor room where attendees watched on a large projection screen. The title of my demo was called “Fearless Painting: Plein Air on the Streets of NY” and the purpose was to help take some of the anxiety out of painting in a very public place.

The main idea that I tried to get across was that with urban plein air, you have very little control over your surroundings–lots of distractions in the form of curious onlookers, vehicles, street noise and unexpected events like the brigade of fire trucks that happened to come screaming down 5th Avenue during my demo with their sirens blaring. Because you can’t control what is going on around  you, you have to stay focused on what you are doing and why you are doing it. Hopefully, you choose to paint plein air because you enjoy it, or at least because you like the idea of capturing your subject quickly and want to improve your observation skills by working from life. Plein air is a great way to produce studies that you can later use in your studio paintings. Avoiding it simply because you are afraid of it means you are missing out on an opportunity to hone your skills and build confidence as a painter.

How do you get over that fear? A couple things can help:

  • First, as I said, remember why you are doing it–it is not necessarily to create a master piece, but rather to improve your seeing skills in terms of seeing color, form, value, proportion and perspective. You are doing this for YOU, not for anyone else, so don’t worry what any onlookers may think. They will eventually move on and not even remember that they stopped to look at what you were doing.
  • Second, be organized. Work with a limited palette and don’t bring  more than you need. You can paint discreetly or simply just sketch. If you are just sketching in charcoal, pastel, pencil or marker, you don’t need an easel. You can sit in a cafe or on a park bench and no one will even notice what you are doing.
  • Try to position yourself so that your back is against some sort of obstacle such as a tree, building or wall. People cannot look over your shoulder if you do this, they have to approach you head on, and that is harder to do. If they should come up to you, take the initiative and greet them. It will catch them off guard. Introduce yourself and be friendly, odds are they will be a bit taken aback and leave you alone after a minute of polite conversation.
  • Keep a few sketches you are proud of on hand, or a business card with some of your work on it. That way, you can show them what your work looks like finished, it will also serve to make YOU more confident by having something to show them that you are proud of. Who knows, you might even find that you have a new collector!

Plein air painting, even in an urban setting, does not have to be intimidating. Relax, have fun, and remember you are there for YOU not for anyone else, enjoy yourself!


Plein Air Demo at Salmagundi – April 28

April 23, 2012

I hope you will join me for my plein air demo this Saturday from 1:30 to 3:30 pm at the Salmagundi Club. Watch from the comfort of the parlor room via live video feed as I paint 5th Avenue looking north from the balcony. Call the Club at 212-255-7740 for more information. Hope to see you there.Image

Art Takes Times Square

April 16, 2012

Detail from Taxi, acrylic on board

I almost never participate in art competitions, but this one caught my eye, mainly because it is located in NYC and gives the winners an opportunity to have their work shown on the billboards around Times Square. I will not spend lots of energy promoting my participation in this, my collectors and students will not receive hordes of repeat spam from me asking for their votes.  Instead, I’ve chosen to post my link and try my luck.  Here is a link to the work I have in the competition, you can “Collect Me” if you like what you see:

Also, if you are a New York area artist, and your work seems suited to this venue, you might want to give it a try. Good luck to all! 🙂

Spring Cleaning – Sketches & Studies For Sale Online Until the End of April

April 9, 2012

Magnolia - plein air pastel study

Anyone who paints professionally and teaches creates a lot of work that they probably never do much with. It’s just part of the process–you practice, you create studies for larger works and you do demos–how much of this type of work can you store?

I normally don’t sell my work online. Most work sold online is offered at prices well below what professionals sell their work for in galleries. I primarily sell my work in galleries, on rare occasions, I might sell a study or demo to one of my students, but that’s about it. This spring, I decided to try something for a short period of time. Until the end of April, I’m offering my plein air sketches, a few still lifes, and some demos for sale directly. All are originals (I don’t make prints of my work), and of the same quality as the work I sell in galleries. The only difference is that they are unframed, and many are in pastel, which is a medium I don’t typically offer for sale in gallery exhibitions. I’ve priced them from $75 up to about $300, depending on size and the support they are on (more for larger works on canvas or board, less for smaller works on paper, however nothing is larger than 11×14 in.).

I have sold a nice variety of these to people who normally would not have the budget to purchase my oil paintings. In terms of subject, most are traditional plein air landscapes or still lifes.You might find one or 2 urban studies in pastel, but these I typically reserve as thank you gifts for the collectors who buy my large oil or acrylic paintings. I also retain them to use as references when I am working on my large studio paintings.

If you are interested in browsing through the works I have for sale, you can see them here. I will be adding new ones as I do them or find them in my studio as I continue to do my spring cleaning. However, I will only have this “sale” on until the end of April, so if you see something you like, best to buy it now. 🙂

Keeping it real…(and I’m not talking about painting style)

April 2, 2012

Detail of a current work in progress, oil on canvas

There is a glut of artwork on Facebook, it seems to have become THE PLACE for artists to share and promote their work. It’s free, accessible and easy to use, of course it comes with its drawbacks like tons of spam and having your name added to groups that you don’t want to be added to, but it can be a helpful marketing tool and means to get exposure for your work if you teach and/or exhibit and sell your work professionally. So, how do you get your work noticed? Here is what I find attracts me most to the artists whose work I regularly follow. I’m not a groupie, but I do know good work when I see it and the work I enjoy does have some common threads:

Keep it real.

With all the work being shown on Facebook, I find that there is only a handful of artists whose work I regularly notice and pay any attention to. The work that stands out is unique, original and consistent. It has a clear message and the artist’s hand is obvious in the work.  I know just from the thumbnail that shows up in my newsfeed who the artist is (without seeing their name) and that I am going to be rewarded with something interesting if I click on the link. While the majority of work that falls into this category for me is abstract, there are several representational artists who have taken their work to exciting levels because of its content, not just because they know how to draw and paint. I also find that photographers are very adept at originality, particularly those who have a keen eye for design and composition.

Don’t just follow the crowd.

Conversely, there is a horde of work out there that all looks the same–technically proficient (for the most part), yet lacking in originality. In a recent post, a friend referred to it as “so what?” art, I love that term, because that is exactly how I feel when I see it, so what?!

I recently received a promotional email that featured an interesting “test” where you had to match the artists names to their work, the idea was more interesting than the actual test! While the work shown was top notch in terms of skill, and the artists featured are all well known professionals in their field, I was amazed at how similar all of the paintings looked! I couldn’t possibly have matched the artists to the paintings. That was a revelation to me, it really made me appreciate those artists whose work I see on Facebook and recognize immediately as theirs. They have taken the time to develop their hand and creative eye to a level that their unique vision shines through every time. That is what I want to see when I’m looking at art.

The artists whose work interests me covers a range of styles and media: abstract, representational, photography and 3-dimensional. Most are professionals, but some are new to the game and their talent and creativity shine through  nonetheless.  Most are not as popular as the Facebook “stars”, but that doesn’t matter, good work never goes unnoticed  for very long! 🙂