Saturday, November 26, 2016

Let the Dead Paintings Die

There is great power in the spoken word. As a lover of words - especially beautiful words - I've always known this. But the older I get, the more I realize what a responsibility we have towards what we say or don't say. Words have power to break resolve, crush hopes, or batter one's spirit. They also have the ability to encourage, motivate, and embolden.

Over the years I've been on the receiving end of some wise advice, and several of those conversations will always stand out to me as having changed my life in some way. While I won't burden you with every single life lesson I've learned, I will tell you about one recent conversation that helped tear down a huge mental block I was facing in my art (I've written about some of these mental blocks, or "fences," in this blog post).

It was nearly two months ago. I was one of the hundreds of guests (mostly artists) crowding into Gallery 1261 for the opening reception of Richard Schmid's retrospective show. This show in and of itself should (and will) be the topic of a separate blog post, but to give you an idea of the context, the place was packed and I had to speak at the top of my lungs to be heard by anyone standing more than twelve inches away from me. In this space, I crossed paths with the indomitable Rose Frantzen, one of my all-time favorite artists and someone I greatly admire. We were practically yelling in each other's faces to be heard above the chaos, and yet out of this noise came such wisdom from Rose, I find myself thinking about it still.

I don't remember how it came up, but I was telling her about a commission I had been working on for the past five months and how much of a struggle it was. I had repainted the face four or five times, and each time it only seemed to get worse, not better. Rose, in her unsympathetic but not unkind way, said, "Start over. Let the dead paintings die." She then proceeded to tell me about a commission that she had done from an old black and white photograph. She spent over a hundred hours on this painting, laboring to get every detail exactly perfect. Then, she started a second one and completed it in just six hours. It was different from the first, but no less perfect. She presented the clients with both paintings, not telling them which one she had spent more time on. The clients chose the six-hour painting. Later, they called her and said they also wanted to buy the other one.

I was blown away by Rose's story and realized that this woman does not let fear get to her. I think I'm confident but then after one conversation with someone like Rose, I realize I still have much to learn!

After that, I went home to my studio, and, with some dread, sent the clients an email explaining that I needed to start over and would need some more time. To my surprise and relief, they were very understanding and said they appreciated that I was working so hard to get it right!

I went back to the pose and setting that I had intuitively felt worked the best (but not the one they chose, originally), and started a brand new painting. These paintings were not small, or simple. The portrait was to be 40x30 inches, with an elaborate garden setting and bright sunlight bouncing all around. But I started the new portrait with fresh vigor and felt so much freer to make a great painting, not just a painting of what I thought the clients would want.

I was nearing the finish line when I decided I ought to start a third portrait. The clients were apprehensive about their daughter's stoic expression, which didn't really fit her personality. So I went back to the smile that they were drawn to originally, and started another painting in order to give the clients more options. The lighting was very different in this one, as was the expression, so the two paintings almost had nothing in common except for the subject.

Eventually I presented both paintings to the clients. They sat and deliberated, weighing the pros and cons of each one. We all agreed that I could have painted a hundred paintings of this sweet little girl and they still wouldn't capture every facet of who she is! But a painting tells so much more of a story than a photo does. It captures something deeper, something that grows on you every time you look at it.

Finally, the clients decided they wanted to buy both.

Grit and hard work do pay off, but not unless you have the confidence to carry through. Thank you, Rose, for the words of wisdom and for challenging me to let go of the long hours and miles of canvas in order to make my best work. Now I can deliver my finished portraits in full confidence that I did the absolute best I could do - without regrets. My clients and I are both the better for it!

I hope this post encourages you in some way to keep going. If you've been struggling with a project and it just isn't working, start over! Know that those hours were not in vain, because each time you start fresh, you'll have that wealth of experience from your previous painting to help you make more informed decisions along the way. Happy painting!

Commissioned portrait version #1 - Ended up here (above)

Commissioned portrait #2, 40x30", oil on linen

Commissioned portrait #3, 32x24", oil on linen


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Print or Original?

We all want to own original art, but sometimes prints are more affordable, and perhaps more readily available if the original has already sold. However, nothing compares to original art. Here is a testimonial from someone who bought prints of my work and was very happy with them, but when she got an original, she was compelled to write about the difference. 

"Print or original?

To those reading, I am an artist so I appreciate originals and the creation thereof.  I am also the mother of four children, who will one day soon need braces, and cars, and college tuition.  A couple years ago my daughters modeled for Anna in their ballet attire.  It was a fun for them to have that experience.  I work primarily outdoors en plein air, so a portrait studio was something entirely new!  My girls had a million questions, which Anna answered patiently, and thus becoming an outstanding role model for my girls.  The resulting paintings were so beautiful.  I was delighted to buy giclee prints.  The thought of the originals stayed in the back of my mind, but conflicted with the reality of the cost of raising my children!  The prints were outstanding!  They were... Perfect.  How could the original be that much better?  Now the proud owner of one of those originals, I will happily say, the original is somehow exponentially more beautiful.  It is luminous and brilliant in a way the perfect print was not."

- Juliana Crownover (Sunnyvale, TX)

"Sharing Secrets" (2014) - 20x16 - oil on mounted linen - Private Collection

                                         "Lydia and Tinker Bear" (2014) - 36x24 - oil on linen - Private Collection

                                                    "Innocence" (2014) - 28x12 - oil on linen - Private Collection

Friday, November 11, 2016

On Interruptions and Motion

Recently I began a new series exploring dance and the illusion of motion in my paintings, thanks to a fantastic new model who was willing to collaborate with me. I have been thinking about the word "interruption," and how irksome it can be both in real life and in a work of art. An interruption during a painting session - whether it be from a phone call, a salesperson ringing the doorbell, or a fussy toddler waking from her nap -- often takes what might have been a great moment of inspiration and turns it on its head. You might lose your train of thought entirely and feel creatively derailed. Likewise, a work of art itself can feel like it has been "interrupted." A painting should naturally flow and lead the viewer's eye from one place to another without sending the viewer out of the composition. Visual interruptions are abrupt, large or small elements that don't really belong. This could either be because they are the wrong shape, value, or proportion. Or they could be lines, edges, or diagonals which are too harsh and lead your eye out of the picture. A master artist excels at leading your eye through his or her painting without ever causing you to "leave". The visual elements are composed in such a way that the viewer's attention is held captive, and therefore, it is a successful work of art.

The concept is not a new one to me, but for the last several years, I was so focused on improving my mastery of value and color that sometimes, visual harmony and rhythm weren't considered as carefully as they should have been. In this latest series, I'm trying to be cognizant of the visual path, while exploring more rhythmic freedom of brushwork. It's certainly no coincidence that musical terms can be used so perfectly to describe painting, for the two art forms are very similar. Some notes are slow and melancholy, some are short and staccato - others are soft, others are loud. Then, when you add dancing to the mix, you have the ingredients for even more aesthetic potential!

After reading my last newsletter about these recent dance paintings, someone commented saying, "Wow, you're transforming." I'm glad they noticed. :-) Art should not remain stagnant or in a state of inertia. An artist is constantly changing, experimenting, and pushing themselves to the next level. Hopefully these works are demonstrative of my efforts toward continual growth.

Model: Ashley Holderness of Soul 2 Sole

This last one (below) is of a different model (Kayla Giard of Prestige Dance). I wanted to capture her in the same pose but from different angles. The resulting painting has a clear focal point but it makes you want to turn along with the dancer as she rotates en pointe.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Between Fences and Freedom - New Self Portrait

This summer was one of dramatic highs and lows. It was a summer of scrapping entire projects after hours of time invested, and of learning from my mistakes the hardest way... by having to start over completely (more than once!). It was one of very little productivity and a lot of self doubt and thwarted efforts to paint something of significance. It was one of discovering my own limits and realizing I had imposed those limits on myself. It was a season of learning and growth - the painful kind - with no real breakthroughs except small victories here and there, and a whole lot of realization that sheer willpower and gritting one's teeth doesn't necessarily make your art and life better.

Before I go further... let me clarify something. The struggles mentioned above are not entirely because I'm a mother of a two year old! Cecelia is wonderful and ever the joy and sunshine in my life. But as I reflect back on the last two years and look at where I am now, I can see that I've become a different person, someone who is more self aware, both physically (hello, clean and press! That is one thing I've gotten right... a regular gym routine) and emotionally (learning to set boundaries... more on that later).

My whole life I've been a "yes" person and a people-pleaser. I would constantly strive to keep the peace in all of my relationships, even if it meant giving up my own needs and wants in order to accomplish this. I grew up hearing the golden rule repeated over and over: "Love others as yourself." But somehow I began to believe that meant, "Love others MORE than yourself." I saw it played out in the lives of women I looked up to, who constantly met everyone else's needs before their own... like the mom from "A Christmas Story" who "hadn't had a hot meal for herself in 15 years."

But eventually this kind of life just wears you out and makes you bitter. I think this summer I hit a new kind of tired - one that was very different from the exhausted fog of pregnancy, the sleepless nights with a newborn, or the physical exhaustion from a 10-mile hike.

In short, I realized I couldn't be a great wife and mother (or daughter, sister, friend, etc.), maintain the house, make and sell great art, stay in shape, and juggle everything... by myself.  I needed to break free of my self-imposed chains and allow God and others to work in my life. He did so using a number of invaluable outside sources.

Two of those sources were my dear friends Linda and Laura, who simultaneously recommended I read a book called "Boundaries" by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. This book has changed my life (and is continuing to do so), as I'm learning to build safe boundaries in all applicable areas, including... surprise surprise... my art. I already knew this about myself, that if I had a good painting day, I was elated and on top of the world... but a bad painting day would put me down in the dumps and I'd take everyone I loved down with me.

Additionally, I was relieved of some "mommy duty" when Steve and I agreed to start sending Cece to a Montessori preschool two days a week. Cece absolutely loves it, and it allows me to have some solid working time. The first few weeks felt like a waste, because I was struggling so much with painting anything "good," as I had completely fallen out of a rhythm, and every time I sat down to paint it felt contrived - like I had forgotten how to do it. But gradually I got my 'groove" back, and I'm starting to hit my stride once more.

During my lowest point this summer, I began a self portrait that encompassed the conflicting emotions I was trying to sort through. Ironically (though it was NOT funny at the time!), I made a grave technical mistake on the portrait and ended up having to scrap the whole thing, even after posting a detail of it on social media and getting a lot of positive feedback. However, some of my closest friends saw what was really going on when they noticed the sadness in the painted likeness.

As my creative energy has returned, I have moved the portrait in a different direction from when I started. It's actually a good thing that the first one didn't turn out. I've taken this painting to a better place - one that looks outward with fresh confidence and drive, instead of within towards a grave vulnerability that teeters on the edge of depression.

"Between Fences and Freedom" - 48x22 inches - oil on linen mounted to board

So I think the narrative is fairly straightforward, and most people (women especially) can take away whatever meaning from it they want. But here are some of the things that I wanted to say in this painting.

1) The corset. A splurge of mine while strolling about at the Colorado Renaissance Faire has now become the item of controversy in this new painting. Does the corset represent a thirty-something woman's attempt to hold on to her youth and sensuality, in spite of the utter lack of glamour in everyday life? Or does it represent the impossible standard that women have been held to for centuries? We have been deprived of oxygen and freedom, but I can't emphasize enough that many of those chains are ones that we have placed upon ourselves! This indeed has been my biggest light bulb moment through all of this. It is up to me whether I choose to be free of that which steals my life and breath. Gal. 5:1

2) The vines. Those tangled brambles share a similar purpose to the corset - they attempt to choke and take away from the fullness of one's life. What are the vines in your life? I know what mine are, one of them being those self-imposed limitations I mentioned earlier.

3) The fence. Boundaries, represented by the fence, can be healthy and good, or they can cause us to become jaded when we allow nothing good to come in or out. In my case, I would often allow people and/or things to knock down my fences and walk all over me... I am slowly learning to have a healthier respect for my property.

4) The flock of geese. Symbolically, geese represent journeys and wanderlust, but also faithfulness and family devotion. In former days I traveled the world and left the house whenever I wanted. I loved being able to come and go as I pleased. Now I don't have that freedom, but I know it's only for a time. Right now I'm embracing the second part of that symbol: family.

I'm stoically preparing myself for mixed reviews of this painting. I have already gotten comments from people saying they'd like it better if I looked "happier" or wore a smile, because that's more "becoming". Anyone who knows me, knows that I love to smile and laugh. But that's not what this painting is about - there is more to me than that.

Upon seeing a detail of the face, before she even saw the rest of the setting, one of my artist friends made an incredibly insightful comment that I thought I'd share with the rest of you. She said, "So often, women are told to be sweet, be gentle, be nice. To 'smile!' To bite our tongues, else be called some unfortunate term. Thank you for capturing the steadfast spirit, pushing against the corset and encroaching vines, not softening to society. There are important messages to share - this painting seems to be toeing the edge of something that society might find uncomfortable ("stern," "mad," "ticked"), but that must be said. Keep going!"

Thank you, Erica... for that comment. I have kept going and now I think this painting is ready for the world to see. I haven't done anything this personal since "The Wait and the Reward." But as I discover more and more who I am as an artist, I am coming to to terms with the fact that, like it or not, my work will always be deeply personal. I just hope the message is worth sharing.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Filming a NEW Instructional DVD: "Creating Vibrant Skin Tones"

During the last weekend of July, I made the trek to Salt Lake City, UT to film a new instructional DVD with Bella Muse Productions. This production company is incredibly professional and they did a wonderful job! I'm looking forward to seeing the final result. You can sign up for their emails on their website to get updates on the DVD's release date.

Meanwhile, here are a few fun pics from filming.

A huge thanks to my beautiful model, Caitlin! She was absolutely wonderful to paint!

I so enjoyed working with Elizabeth Robbins, producer and artist extraordinaire. Here we are in front of her gallery in Ogden, UT.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Beauty in the Midst of Chaos

Lately my heart has been heavy. Everywhere I look, families, marriages, and nations -- are becoming divided and falling apart. I feel burdened with a weight I can't possibly bear, because it feels like there is nothing I can do to ease the pain or mend what is torn.

Through the pain I just keep painting. I paint because there is nothing else I can do, at this moment, besides pray. I remember why I am a painter, and most especially a portrait painter: because PEOPLE are what matter. Human beings, with all their flaws, selfish urges, and imperfections... and human beings, with all their strength, passion, beauty, and divine spirit. If only we could show each other unconditional love and respect... the true reflection of the Good and the Beautiful.

But we are flawed. I see it in myself every single day and I just paint on through, as if by painting I'll see the world (and myself) more objectively and somehow rise above the chaos. What is there to lose? It's just paint, and canvas, and time. Not time spent solving the world's problems, but solving little problems, one by one, in order to bring something of beauty to the table.

Enough rambling, though. Here are a few of my latest offerings.

"Study in Yellow," 6x6" - oil on linen panel

"Aspen Grove" (plein air, completed on the Deer Mountain Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park) - 12x9" - oil on linen panel 

"North Light Peonies," 9x12" - oil on linen panel


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Oh Whatever... Just Paint What You Love

I had grand plans of hiking in the mountains over Fourth of July weekend, but instead my daughter came down with a cold and consequently, so did I. Thankfully, I still got some time to paint. So here were my holiday "fireworks," a sketch of some day lilies from our back yard.

"Day Lilies" - 10"x10" oil on gallery wrap linen

I painted these freely and without worrying whether or not they would turn out. I've been slowly learning that the best paintings are done with a positive assumption that they will turn out, no matter what bumps or hiccups they meet along the way.

I've also been re-learning to paint with my canvas and reference photo upside down when I'm doing studio work. Over the weekend I also finished this 12x16 studio piece of my sister in law sitting at her cherry grand piano. Lindsay has such a perfect face that sometimes it's hard to capture her likeness. By flipping the painting sideways and/or upside down, I was able to see her proportions more objectively and therefore get it right.

"Composing Thoughts" - 12x16" - oil on linen

These two paintings are both direct manifestations of subject matter/people/colors/etc. that I love. As hard as I try to objectively separate design from subject matter (see my last post), I simply can't. Perhaps that will still happen eventually, but I have an emotional connection to my paintings, and that's why I create them.

I'm just throwing this out there... but could this emotional connection be because I'm a woman? Take for instance the works of Richard Schmid and his wife Nancy Guzik. Both are world-class painters, whose styles are similar... but different. Richard is one of the people I credit with my choice to become a professional artist. But upon seeing Nancy's work, I happened to relate more to her paintings than Richard's. Why is that? Someone once told me, "Richard loves to paint, Nancy loves what she paints." There is a very important difference there, one which I relate to as a deeply emotional and relational being. Richard's paintings sing with panache and bravado - they test the very limits of what paint is capable of. Nancy's take you to a quieter place and render you breathless with their mastery of color and their sensitivity towards the subject. I relate more to Nancy. Neither are right or wrong... just different.

So as I've been trying to come to terms with what I'm learning from Quang Ho and the many powerful contemporary painters I've been fortunate enough to meet... I realize that I've forgotten what I have to bring to the table.

I don't want to paint like anyone else. I didn't choose this job for the money, fame, or to be in grand museums and written about in art books. I chose art because it's what I was meant to do, and I have a voice of my own... one that is unlike any other's and one that is only mine to share.

Yes, perhaps my work has a feminine touch to it that at its worst might be called indulgent and overly sentimental. But at its best it is sensitive, honest, and relatable... and don't human beings--especially during these trying times--need to relate to one another?

So, I continue the quest to make my artworks powerful and meaningful... while being true to the voice God gave me.  Fellow artists, consider this my encouragement to do the same. :-)
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