Wednesday, March 15, 2017

News so Good it Made Me Cry...

This week I found out that "A Fleeting Moment" was selected as a finalist in the Portrait Society's international competition!

This is a really big deal... for me, anyway. :-) I've applied to the competition every year for the last eight years, but never made the cut of the final 20 or 25, although I have gotten top 40 two years in a row. The Portrait Society's annual conference is one of the biggest highlights of my year. Last year they honored me with a place on the faculty, and this year, I not only return as faculty, but also as a first-time finalist. My painting is one of only 23 works chosen from 2000+ entries and the work this year is... well, incredible.

When I got off the phone after receiving the good news, I had tears of joy running down my face. I have worked so hard for this and feel incredibly grateful!

I'll be borrowing the portrait back from my collector, and bringing it with me to display in Atlanta next month at the four-day conference and compete for top prizes. Most finalists exhibit work that is large-scale and costs a fortune to ship. My painting is only 8x6 inches... I can carry it onto the plane!

They asked me to describe my inspiration behind this painting, and here's what I wrote: "The subject is my greatest muse, my 2-year-old daughter Cecelia. She had been dressed up for a special occasion but instead of mingling with the crowd, she wanted to be outside, exploring the surrounding neighborhood. I watched as she flitted like a butterfly from door to door, but for a split second, she stopped and stared off contemplatively. Everyone tells me that these early years pass by in an instant. It was this concept, wrapped up in the immediacy of a single moment, that I hoped to capture in the painting. The portrait itself is but a wisp, a moment's breath conveyed through its small size, loose brushwork, and simple design."

I knew this piece had a chance at the competition when my good friend, world-class artist Quang Ho, had nothing critical to say about it. He described it simply as, "A big little painting."

Thank you, Portrait Society of America! I am truly honored and grateful!

"A Fleeting Moment" - 8x6" - Private Collection
2017 Finalist in the PSOA's International Competition

P.S. There will be a limited number of copies of my book, "The Wait and the Reward," available for sale at the conference. I will be doing a book signing on Saturday, April 22, from 12:30-1. Anyone who purchases my book and comes to the book signing will receive a signed limited edition print of this painting, "A Fleeting Moment" (only 12 prints available).  So please stop by!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Recent Happenings

Where has the year gone already? My goal was to live this year with intention and yet somehow, blogging ended up getting cut from the list of priorities... unintentionally. I will try my best to give a recap of the last month, as I happened to be extremely busy but with all good things.

Vacation in Cancun
In mid-February, Steve and I spent a short weekend vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, and for the first time in my life I realized there is a difference between "traveling" and "going on vacation." This was actually a vacation! But, I brought my painting stuff along anyway. I'm really glad I did. Painting waves, palm trees, and sunrises turned out to be a joyous pastime. Even better: the weather was perfect, and my office attire was a swim suit!

While Steve kept a safe distance from the local wildlife, I was utterly delighted by all the iguanas that sunned themselves each day by the beach. Next time I come back I will have to paint them.

Painting waves: the ultimate challenge. If you think a person sitting for a portrait doesn't hold still, well... just try painting the ocean!

Since this was an international trip, I decided not to worry about using solvent, which would be very hard to find locally. I used walnut oil to thin my paint while I worked, then cleaned my brushes with linseed oil soap when I finished for the day.

Above: my last painting of the vacation: a sunrise over the ocean, 8x10". I had to finish this one in the studio, since the sunrise happened so quickly. But I managed a good block-in and it didn't take long to bring the finished painting together.

Workshop in Georgetown, TX
February 17-19 took me back to the familiar and friendly state of Texas, where I taught a 3-day workshop in the small town of Georgetown, outside of Austin. I had a wonderful group of students and models, and the Georgetown Art Center proved to be an excellent venue. I'm already looking forward to coming back!

Happenings in Denver
February blessed us with a couple of really beautiful 70-degree days. On one of those days, my dear friend and fellow artist, Adrienne Stein, and I collaborated with one of our favorite models to paint on location at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Sydney is a fantastic model and will be showing up in many of my upcoming works. Sadly for us, she is moving off to France, so we have tried to work with her as often as possible before she leaves! I've said this before... the best models always move away. :-(

A new painting of Sydney, 24x16", "Flora" (available)

In addition to lots (dozens!) of independent projects I have going on, I'm thrilled to say that I'm now working with three new art galleries around the country: Cecil Byrne Gallery in Charleston, SC, TwoTen Fine Art in San Antonio, TX, and Saks Galleries in Denver. My painting "Among the Hydrangeas" received special recognition in Cecil Byrne's recent "Bringing Beauty Back" exhibition and is currently available through the gallery. I am working on some brand new figurative works for Saks Galleries' upcoming spring show, opening May 12. So lots of exciting things in the works!

Finally... I always greatly look forward to the annual "Art of the Portrait" conference hosted by the Portrait Society of America. This year they have asked me back on faculty and given me lots of exciting things to do, including painting in the Face-Off demo, announcing on the main stage, giving portfolio critiques, book signing (for my book "The Wait and the Reward"), and participating in a panel discussion about managing a successful career, as well as a break-out session called "Doing Your Visual Homework." If you are a figurative artist, this event is a must. They are not paying me to participate - I simply LOVE going each year and learning from other artists. Now I'm thrilled that I can give back and be a part of the fun. :-) So I hope you'll join us next month in Atlanta.

Photo of me from last last year, painting in the "Face-Off" demo at the Portrait Society of America

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Conference Insider" for the Portrait Society of America

As promised, here is the article I've been working on for the Portrait Society. I think it's worth sharing beyond the audience of the PSOA. :-)

When I was asked to write an edition of the Portrait Society's Conference Insider, I had to think for a moment about what I have to offer as a member of this year's faculty. I could discuss my working methods, studio habits, or some other aspect of art making, but I realized that sometimes the best I can do is simply provide an affirmative nod to my fellow artists that yes-you got this. All technique, creative processes, and art knowledge aside (I know you're working hard on those already!), we artists are really heart-centric creatures who find ourselves needing encouragement on a regular basis.
On Saturday, April 22 at the conference, from 7:30-8:30 a.m., I will be part of a panel hosted by the Cecilia Beaux Forum in which we discuss "establishing and managing a successful art career," and I hope you will join us as we talk in depth about our experiences. For those of you who decide to sleep in instead, I offer here some thoughts about my own personal journey, and I hope it is of some benefit to you.
A couple of days before writing this, I presented a question to the Facebook universe asking, "What does success look like to you?" The hundreds of answers that rolled in were diverse and insightful.
"With success comes responsibility: teaching, passing on what we've been given."
"Feeling true happiness and satisfaction to the depth of your soul. The source and tactical steps differ for each individual, where many of the basic needs are common to all, while higher-level needs become increasingly individualized."
"True, honest effort."
"Freedom to live life on your terms, not to be confused with accumulating wealth."
"Setting goals, reaching them and setting new ones."
"Having work that is creative, satisfying, and contributes to society."
"Doing what feeds your soul."
"The idea of success is not only different for every person, but every person has different concepts of success in different aspects of their life. There's career success, personal life success, and even success or failure with a particular piece you're working on! Additionally, life has shown me that what I believe is success or failure in a situation may end up not being the case at all!"
Girl with Dreadlocks (3-hr alla prima)
12x10", oil on linen panel 
The answers went on and on (thank you to everyone who responded!). My conclusion was that success is an attitude or mindset, not something quantifiable. Success should not be your driving force. It can easily consume you, to a point where the integrity of your life and work are compromised. It can also give a false sense of security and become an idol. And, if you are too busy comparing yourself to the successes of others, you risk losing your authenticity, and your idea of success will become distorted. Success to me is finding a healthy balance between pursuing and achieving my goals, and being at peace with myself and others. It means honoring my Creator by pursuing excellence (not necessarily perfection) in all aspects of life.
For me it was never a question whether or not I would succeed, it was just a matter of how hard I was willing to work in order to get there, and I found my version of "success" by setting goals. One of my goals as a kid was to someday paint presidential portraits (I've since changed my mind about that)...  Another goal I had, which was recently realized, was to paint in the Face-Off at the Portrait Society and be considered a peer by the artists I've always looked up to.
Crystal Standing (3-hr Alla Prima)
16x8", oil on linen panel
Given that I grew up in a very small town in rural Wisconsin amidst a culture of hunting and gathering, with parents who supported me but couldn't afford to send me to a fancy art school, well... the odds weren't exactly in my favor.  I was self taught until college, at which point I took on seasonal jobs to pay for school and worked hard to earn scholarships. I graduated from Hillsdale College in 2007, held a "normal" job for about a year, got married, and moved to Texas in 2008 for my husband's job in engineering. His income was steady enough that I was able to simply paint, and not worry about finding full or part-time work. This came with the caveat, of course, that I would not waste any time. I still remember the first day my husband left for work at his new job, and I sat alone with my little French easel in the giant, empty space that was supposed to be my studio. A few of my college paintings sat up against the walls, but otherwise, I had nothing to show for my claim of being a "serious artist." I began to paint anyway. I painted every single day. I started off with still lifes, and on days that weren't outrageously hot I would venture outdoors for plein air. I took commissions whenever possible, even the difficult ones, and used the funds to purchase more supplies (and better quality ones, too!).  I found a life portrait group to attend every week. I began making friends with other artists, and attending workshops and events, such as the Portrait Society, in order to continue educating myself. I found that these 3-4 day events, several times a year, were exactly what I needed to propel forward. I would come home from each event, my head bursting with newfound knowledge, and the things I learned kept me busy for months at a time. It was a period of great challenges and self discovery. 
Enchanted Blossoms, 20 x 20", oil on linen
I was 23. Nearly ten years later, I have come to realize that "challenges" and "self discovery" are things I'll be faced with for the rest of my life, and that's okay.
In 2014, I had a baby girl, Cecelia (named after the great Cecilia Beaux, of course!). Having a child obviously throws a wrench into things. Many women artists choose not to have children because they don't believe it's compatible with their art. At its worst, motherhood causes you to question everything you're doing, while at its best it elevates your work to heights you never imagined possible. I learned to embrace both extremes for what they could do to help me grow, but I also chose not to dwell too long at the bottom. I will be the first to tell you that motherhood made me a better artist.

Finding one's place in this expansive world of creative talent is not easy, especially as the work just keeps getting better and better. So I keep coming back to painting what I know: the world around me, the people I love-and realizing that maybe it's not popular or trendy right now but it's honest. I have learned to embrace my own unique story in all its beauty and ugliness and its moments of pain and bliss.
So... any advice I have on getting established in one's art career, I offer from my own personal experience. It may or may not work for you, but it's something to consider. Here is a basic and ever-growing checklist of things that have helped me become a modestly successful artist (by the definition I've outlined above). 
  1. Banish fear.  If I could change anything about my path as an artist, it would be to have seized more opportunities... to be less shy when approaching and meeting other artists, to ask more questions, and to stop being so darn afraid! Don't allow fear to control your decision making, or worse... cause you NOT to make a decision. The greatest misfortune of all is to look back on your work and wonder what might have happened if you had seized the day instead of holding back out of fear. Fear causes us to miss opportunities.
  2. Stop worrying about what people think. I'm still working on this one!
  3. Spend as much time at the easel as you can, even if you don't feel like it.
  4. Have a critical eye for your work. If something bothers you, don't let it slide. Does it have impact? (Visual or emotional or preferably both?) How does it read from across the room?
  5. Don't be afraid to take on commissions. Many times we're scared to put ourselves out there, but commissions are the perfect opportunity to get paid to learn. Obviously they can be extremely challenging, but they are invaluable for adding to your technical and creative repertoire. Every commission that I've taken-or actually, every painting that I've done-whether bad or good, has led up to where I am today. For example, I never anticipated that I would become a mom, but previously to that I painted many children, and they were great practice for the work I do now.
  6. Get rid of the extras. I had to learn to let go of a lot of things that were sucking up my painting time, including TV, extraneous commitments, and even some toxic relationships that were holding me back.
  7. Have a strong support system/network. Much of our success depends on the support and belief of others: parents, mentors, friends, spouses, children, peers, etc.
  8. Take care of yourself. Eat right, exercise. Strengthen your mind and heart through Scripture reading, meditation, etc. Spend quality time with your loved ones.
  9. Paint or draw from life as often as possible. We may not be professional athletes, but if we want to be professional ARTISTS we have got to be at the top of our game, and life drawing is essentially the practice of artistic calisthenics.
  10. Don't spend all of your energy on things that will help you make money. If your primary focus is on the quality of your work, money will follow eventually.
  11. Become comfortable with promoting yourself and your work. In this day and age, no one is going to do that for you.
Anna and her daughter, Cecelia, in Anna's studio in Westminster, Colorado

One more thing: the "appearance" of success is very different from real success, and also very dangerous. It's easy to see all the perfectly curated posts on social media and find yourself wondering, "Why doesn't my life and art look that good?"  I can guarantee that every single one of those artists has bad painting days, moments of self doubt, and days where they don't paint at all. Don't worry about it. At the end of the day, it is always about the work.  Pick up your brush and keep giving it your all, and you will reap the hard-earned benefits of a life defined by the pursuit of excellence. 


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Goals for 2017 (like, ones I can actually accomplish!)

Happy New Year! 2017 is well under way, and it already looks promising. There's something about New Year's that gives me a renewed sense of optimism. Perhaps with the stress of the holidays, it's just nice to get back into a routine and have some moments of stillness to clear my mind and think about the year ahead.

As I sit here typing, my studio is a mess but it's messy with purpose. To my left is a still life setup that happened "accidentally" on my taberet. A wooden mannequin, which acted for years as nothing more than a useless studio prop, has now become the whimsical subject of my next still life experiment, along with all the paints, solvent jars, and miscellaneous items that happened to be sitting there when the idea came to me. Paint tubes lie scattered on every available flat surface near my easel for easy access. To the right are several large cardboard boxes; having recently housed some brand new frames, they will soon to be repurposed for shipping art to upcoming shows. Freshly sized and primed canvases of various sizes lean up against the studio walls to dry, while others, now fully cured, await their turn for one of my many upcoming painting projects. I like to think that my studio is a place of constant change and motion - just as one project is wrapping up, another is beginning. For me it is a place of great comfort but also great challenges - where the hard work takes place!

As I reviewed my art-related goals for last year, I realized that some of them were ridiculous. I should never have made them "goals," because they were simply beyond my control. Some things, like winning competitions or landing big commissions, are the result of someone else's judgment or control. Other things happen because you end up being at the right place at the right time. So... this year I'm going to try to get better at "going with the flow", working at things that are within my power to change, and leaving the rest to God.

Here are a couple goals that are definitely attainable:

- Paint outdoors more often (I've already gone out once this year - yay! See below).

- Finish what I start. I am a chronic non-finisher. Just visit my studio some time and you'll see how many studies and abandoned works there are collecting dust on the shelves.

- Teach more, and mentor someone. I'm really looking forward to this. I'll be working one-on-one with a mentee that I've been paired with through the Portrait Society's Cecilia Beaux Forum. Additionally, I've got a workshop scheduled for Feb. 17-19 in Georgetown, TX, and will hopefully be adding more workshops to the roster as the year progresses.

- Make art that is meaningful. If I don't believe in what I'm doing, it will not resonate with the viewers. I have to be completely "into" what I'm doing. If not, I should stop wasting my time and move on to something better.

Up until this point, I've been so success-driven that I've lost sight of the things that make life enjoyable. I'm going to focus less on material success and spend more time living in the moment and living with complete intention. That might mean intentionally saying no to certain things, while giving the things I say "yes" to, 100%. Speaking of success... you can read my thoughts on that in my next upcoming blog post. ;-) Stay tuned.

Above: my last 3-hour life study of 2016.  I tried to go out with a bang. ;-)

Above: 8x8 plein air study, oil on panel

I am already meeting my goal of painting outdoors! Last weekend I went out while the snow was still fresh and painted at a nearby park. Here in Denver, you have to get out there right away after a blizzard, because it will be completely melted within a few days. Still... it was pretty cold (about 30 degrees). I wore toe warmers in my boots and attached sticky hand warmers to my sleeves at my wrists. That seemed to work pretty well.

Oh, and one last goal for 2017. I will try to post more often on this blog! :-)

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.

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