Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Year in Review

Looking back on another year, the chair in front of my easel is showing a lot of wear. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs… from having the Woodson Museum add my Birds In Art painting “Shimmer” to their permanent collection, to a crippling mid-summer sales slump that had me looking for a “real” job (I know! It was really that bad). Not only was 2011 my most prolific year painting, it also ended as my best year for sales… which isn’t saying much, but it’s been a slow steady improvement from one year to the next… and that’s always encouraging.

  • The plein air workshop I attended in September taught by Jim Coe has been a springboard for my art. My color choices are more adventurous. I’m getting more comfortable working with oils. And of course, I’m loving painting outdoors! I’ll be doing more of that in 2012.

  • The fly fishing bug of my youth has bitten me once again. I’m finding the hours I spend on trout streams even more enjoyable than I did when I was a youngster. It’s also led me to some interesting and beautiful places I would have otherwise passed by.

  • Both the Southeastern Wildlife Expo and the Waterfowl Festival were sparkling successes for me. These shows give this old hermit a chance to make new friends, catch up with the old ones, and sell a painting or two. I really look forward to those events and hope to be a fixture there for the foreseeable future.

  • Many thanks to Phillepe at the Lord Nelson’s Gallery in Gettysburg for taking a chance on me. I hope this is the beginning of a long and prosperous partnership.

  • There were occasions when I found myself in out-of-the-way places with the most remarkable people. An extended road trip with master carver Larry Barth is high on that list. I also spent a morning waist-deep in a Maryland swamp, duck hunting with sculptors Paul Rhymer and Walter Matia. Nice J

  • And lastly, I’d like to thank all the folks that take a moment out of their day to occasionally read this blog. The popularity has been humbling. Hats off to you.

So as the book closes on yet another year, I file it away for happy reflection. At the same time, I scan an especially ambitious list of goals for 2012. It looks like the coming year will be a wild one! Stay tuned…

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Barred Owl Project

Here's a little tease of a fairly large painting I'm working on. The image above is a 6" square from a 12x24 composition. It's been one of those pieces that seems to have a mind of its own. I've never used this much cadmium orange in a painting before and it was a little scary to smear so much of it on the board. Still a long way to go, but I'm starting to like this one :)
Merry Christmas everyone!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Edge of Autumn" 9x12 acrylic

A couple of years ago, I was poking around along the edge of a local stream. It was one of those walks I take with no real purpose in mind. I mentally noted the critter tracks in the stream-side mud and turned over the occasional rock to see what might be living underneath. The morning air held onto the humidity of summer, but there was just a hint of coolness… perhaps a tease leading up to the pleasant weather of fall. With no place in particular to be for the rest of the day, I stopped to sit on a log for a few minutes and take in my surroundings. Somewhat lost in the reflections and slowly drifting leaves, I was snapped back to consciousness by the clatter of deliberate footfalls on the nearby streambed cobble. Much to my delight, a young whitetail buck appeared on the far bank. His polished antlers were nearly white, sporting 7 distinct points. He was quite close when he finally noticed me sitting there and studied me intently… ready to bolt if I moved a muscle. I stayed still and avoided eye contact as he stared me down from no more than 50 feet. After a few minutes, he apparently surmised I wasn’t much of a threat and with a flick of his tail, continued upstream. As he passed through a shaft of sunlight, he paused briefly as if to watch one of the many crimson leaves slowly floating by. I was taken by the brilliant shine on his antler tines. He looked back at me to make sure I hadn’t moved, then disappeared up the wooded stream bank and out of sight.

While the buck in this painting is much larger than the 7-point I saw that morning, this painting was inspired by that early October encounter.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Quizzical" 6x4 acrylic

I love the way this lady cardinal cocked her head to the side. She certainly has some personality. It's good to stay fresh doing these occasional minis while I'm pushing larger paintings forward.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Talent... or Skill?

When someone tells me that I’m “talented,” I know it’s a term of admiration… though unknowingly misguided. Don’t admire my talent, for it is such a small part of what I do. Admire my dedication, skill, and sacrifice. Those are the qualities of which I’m most proud.

It starts out innocent enough. Someone at a show or exhibit will be gushing over my work, tossing complements about like rice at a wedding (no one throws rice anymore, do they?) and all but making me squirm with at having to say “thank you” so many times. Then the words come out that make my blood boil. “I wish I had your talent. This must come naturally to you.” Really? Like I eat a couple of tubes of paint for breakfast every morning and crap out finished 12x16 canvas later the same night (never mind how painful that might be. Or the fact that if it were physically possible to “shit out a painting”, the “important” galleries in London, LA, and New York would be fighting over my so-called “art.” But I digress). And I know they mean nothing hurtful by these words, so I just smile and nod hoping they don’t notice my white knuckles as I grind a fist into my leg. If they only knew the mind-boggling stack of past failures it took to get here and the paralyzing knowledge that there are many more failures to come... the years of study and frustration to achieve a level of competence where I wouldn’t throw up at the thought of showing my work in public... the amount of research and planning it takes before I ever dip a brush in paint.

I love what I do, but there is no “magic” in the process. It’s simply work. Not the kind of work you do with a wrench or shovel. I’ve done plenty of that in my time. And not unpleasant work, but a continual task of study, experimentation, evaluation, and then application of a learned knowledge. It’s a skill… not a talent. The magic happens when someone stands in front of a painting and says something like, “I’ve been there” or “I can almost smell that water.” Now that’s magic!

I don’t deny that it’s possible (maybe even necessary) talent may play a part in the stages of artistic development. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an obsession with drawing. Still, I didn’t understand much about it until I started studying the work and teachings of others who were highly skilled at the craft. To dismiss what any skilled craftsman or woman does as some whimsical gift by a higher power is an insult (though it’s almost never intended that way).

There will always be folks that disagree with me on this subject (though very few of them are professional artists), and that’s okay. I’m not really hoping to change anyone’s mind. These merely the ramblings of my own tormented mind (discussed in an earlier post). It’s fine that there is some mystery to art. It adds an element of romantic notion to what I do. But I’d much rather that romance be directed toward the finished piece than any mistaken enchantment in its creation.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Pine Run" 6x8 acrylic

I've been on a bit of a roll lately. This little landscape study came together nicely and takes me back to that overcast afternoon of trout fishing. There's nothing quite like being on a stream in October when the leaves are changing. I'll be starting another new painting this afternoon. I need to keep working while things are going so well!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"James Creek Winter" 8x16 acrylic

When I compose winter scenes, I'm always very aware of the abstract graphic elements created by the snow. In this piece, I like the way everything seems to flow from the upper left corner of the composition to the junco and beyond. The lighter reflections and the large mass of snow in the right side of the painting comfortably direct the viewer's eye back toward the subject.