Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Soul of a Painting

The Chestnut Group (Plein Air Painters for the Land) is working on paintings of plantations and battlefields just now, in preparation for a fundraiser for these historic monuments. Yesterday was a perfect day to paint, and I took a trip to Franklin to paint at Carnton Plantation.

This plantation has an especially beautiful garden, with a row of handmade trellisses and arbors covered in grapevines. It also has a formal area of plantings "on axis" to the garden gate and the huge double antebellum porch on the mansion. As I stood in the center of the garden, I was captivated by a row of pear trees espaliered onto arches over the path.

One of the arches perfectly framed the garden gate, leading up to the house which reared its impressive bulk behind the delicate plantings. Nice contrast of bulk and delicacy, light and shadow; frames within frames, and all in all a very promising composition.

After setting  up my easel and doing the preliminary value study, I snapped a shot of the scene just in case I needed reference for details later. I usually don't wind up using my reference photos, but it seems to be a good idea to do diligence.

This particular mansion has an especially bloody history. The family who lived there was caught in a horrific battle. Hundreds of wounded soldiers were brought into the house. The floors were soaked with blood. The family buried 1500 dead.

As I painted, I kept reflecting on that history. The very ground cried out to me. The great house and the delicate plantings took on a melancholy air which was not dispelled by the gentle May sunshine. The painting itself turned out to be moody, even a little stormy. 

When I got back to the studio, I took a look at my reference snapshot. In the photo, I see only a pretty garden and house. In other words, the film failed to capture the ghosts. 

This is why it is so very important for us as artists to go through the rigors of our work, and to paint from life. When painting from life, our hearts and souls go into the picture. We can't help but tell the story of what went on beneath the surface. Here are the two images; see for yourself:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Artist Self Promotion

This morning I served on a panel, along with Meg Nordmann of NashvilleArts Magazine, Beth Inglish of Binglish Art, and Cathleen Windham of the Chestnut Group. My contribution mostly had to do with how to make ourselves do the necessary self promotion! Here is what I said:  

The biggest problem I have had with self promotion (and I think this is true for many artists) is my own reticence. I'm a private person, my art is close to my heart, and I'm not inclined to blow my own horn.
Yet how can anyone know about our beautiful art if we don't tell them?

For years, I used to go about my painting and then work myself up to a big, heart-racing, adrenaline-filled promotional effort like putting a stamp on the application to a juried show. A few weeks later the rejection notice would arrive, I would be despondent, and it would be a LONG time before I could work up the courage to do that again!

I've concluded that the best way for me to deal with self-promotion is to think of it as just another chore, like mowing the lawn or cleaning the toilet, and put self-promotional chores on the calendar so they will get done regularly. 

Once every quarter, I send out my workshop information, since I teach on a quarterly basis.  That gets sent to my snail mail and email lists, and published online on my website and Facebook. Plaza also sends it out to their mailing list. My own mailing list started with six people. Every time anyone expresses interest in my workshops, I add their name.

Once a month I enter a juried exhibit (receiving the rejection slips happens about once a month too!)

Once a month I spend some time researching advertising venues and
working with those costs.

Once a month I send out something to a magazine for free submission.

Once a month I feature the work of one of my students on Facebook.

Several times a week I post something on Facebook or my blog.

My gallery relationships are like friendships. These are people I keep up with casually, calling on the phone, sending an email or dropping by. When I have new work, I send an email to the out of town galleries, or I bring it in to Richland. Sometimes I will have a nice bound printed book made up to send to my out of town galleries so they have something to show their clients. 

I'm about to expand to some more galleries, now that the recession is easing up. To do this, I will first research galleries which carry work that may be complemented by what I do, but not quite like what I do.Then I'll send some samples, either in a printed book or by email. To find new galleries will take the same kind of persistence that the other promotion takes, as most galleries will tell me they are “not taking on new artists just now.”

Self promotion can be difficult for us sensetive artist types, and to grit my teeth, close my eyes and just make it a regular chore seems to work for me better than anything else I've tried. Hope this helps!