Sunday, March 5, 2017

Paint Like Monet

One of my students asked me to show her how to paint like Monet. Now if you know me or my work, you know that I am an abstract painter. But did you know I was classically trained? Yep. Tiny brushes, oil paint, shading, chirascuro and all that cool Renaissance style painting. So I went back into my bag of tricks and made an introductory video on Impressionist style painting.  Below is just a teaser to the full 20 minute video. For the complete video, check it out in my online school. It's a FREE class. Yep, I said FREE! It felt great to get back to my "roots" so to speak. Look for a full course on this topic later this year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Shoot Great Photos of your Artwork!


Place the artwork near a window on a sunny day to get even lighting. 
For quick reference shots, using your smartphone can be just the ticket. For archival images and professional reproductions of my artwork, I always use a qualified photographer.  But for simple things like blog posts, social media posts or just to send an image to someone via email, smartphone shots can do the job. 

Choose a neutral background
I will sometimes shoot an image on my living room carpet. It’s a neutral off-white background and  I shoot from above, if the image is small enough. Easy to crop out the carpet from the photograph.

Shot from overhead using an iPhone 6 (no filters or added lens).

Square up your image
Most smartphone cameras come with a grid for squaring up the image. Use it! If you have a really hard time squaring up the image, get at least one side of your painting lined up flush with a gridline. You can then crop it to square in the resulting photograph. 

Light and Shadow
I’ve found natural light to work the best.  Often I will shoot an image inside, in my living room with the image lying flat under the window. This results in less glare and more even lighting.  The best times to shoot in natural light are between 10 am and 2 pm. The sun is the highest in the sky and won’t put a warm sunset/sunrise glow on your painting.

If you are shooting outside, pick a sunny day and put the painting in the shade. The bounce light from the bright sun will bathe the painting in even light and result in a relatively glare-free photograph. 

Most smartphones now have editing capabilities that are on par with software online but if you want to edit further these are good options. 
  • Picmonkey - free and pretty good online editor.
  • Photoshop - of course the best, paid app.
After cropping the above image.

Read an entire article here on photo editors.

Resizing your photos
Don’t want to bother with how many pixels per inch or DPI? Just resize your image online. There are plenty of places online you can resize your photos.

Take reasonably good pictures and learn to edit them yourself. You’ll save yourself time and money!

Monday, February 13, 2017

It's not plagiarism. It's called "teaching".

Tesia Blackburn
Acrylic on Paper
Recently I stumbled across a blog post by a printmaker who was pretty angry about one of her students working in a similar fashion to the way she worked.  She refers to students making copies of "her" work using the techniques she uses. Now mind you, this is after she taught them to do it. The students paid her for her expertise and she agreed to teach them how to make prints, in the same way she makes prints.  This is printmaking, not painting. In printmaking the processes go back hundreds, if not thousands of years.   Granted, you can use fancy materials or innovative cutting techniques. Maybe even come up with a cool new way to etch without using toxic chemicals (see Keith Howard's innovative techniques for non-toxic etching).  But the bottom line is, you are working on some sort of "plate" (whether you are cutting it, etching it, painting it) and transferring the image to some sort of surface like paper, cloth, aluminum, plastic and so on.

Pretty basic concept, right?  Why is this printmaker going on about being "plagiarized"?  Is it because the students used the same color of ink? Maybe the images are similar? I'm not sure I entirely understand the problem.

Medieval Guilds
Students emulating their masters is a long and honored tradition. In the Middle Ages, students or apprentices, would work in a guild under the knowledgable eye of the master, gaining skill and experience with their craft. It took many years to become a master and not until the apprentice could recreate the master's work perfectly, would they be allowed to move into that honored role.  So we now have works "from the school of..." in museums. Remember in the Middle Ages, artisans were mostly anonymous. There were no big artist egos...yet.

Fast forward to the Renaissance and the Artist with a capital "A" is born. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Caravaggio - we refer to them with one name - like rock stars. And indeed, they were the rock stars of their time.  Stories even refer to Leonardo wearing purple tights. Sounds like Mick Jagger to me.

At any rate, I'm still wondering why the above-mentioned printmaker was so upset.  As a teacher for many, many years I've seen lots of students copy my work. Some of them have even become fairly successful at selling work that resembles mine from a particular period in my career.    I can pick up just about any big glossy art magazine, turn to a given page on a "famous" artist, and find a painting that resembles something one of my students had done. In fact, I recently gave a "blind test" to my advanced painting students. I put two paintings side by side and asked which one was the million dollar painting and which was the one selling online for four hundred bucks.  About half of the class got it wrong.  They simply couldn't tell the difference between an art superstar and a regular working artist.

I love teaching. I love interacting with the students and watching them grow. I love how it impacts my own work - keeps me on my toes technically. I love it when my students are successful and have shows and send me flowers to thank me for helping them. It brings tears to my eyes when I see the light go on for a new student. That a ha! moment when they really get it.

So what's the moral of this story? I'm not sure. But maybe, just maybe, if you are a teacher and you don't want people to copy your work then perhaps you shouldn't teach them how to do it.

By the way, that image up there? That's one of my paintings. Why don't you make a copy of it?

Don't teach people to do what you do if you don't want them to do it. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Create a Gallery Wall in Your Studio

One of the hottest trends in home decor right now is the "gallery wall." What's a gallery wall? It's a collection of prints and paintings all hung on the same wall to create a "gallery" look. Think of the old salon style way of hanging art and you'll get the idea.  I remember seeing pictures of Gertrude Stein's home in Paris with the typical nineteenth century salon style gallery wall.  Yeah, a few Picassos and a couple of Matisses will do nicely, thank you.

Many years ago I sold a framed pastel painting to a wonderful collector here in San Francisco. He asked me to deliver the piece to his home the following day.  I arrived at his home at the top of Twin Peaks and entered the expansive living room filled with light from the huge windows overlooking San Francisco Bay.  On the largest wall in the room there was a gallery wall collection of framed pieces by artists the like of Lichtenstein, Hockney, Picasso and Thiebaud.  A framed Picasso print was resting on the floor, leaving a blank spot on the wall.  The collector looked at me and said, "I thought this would be a good spot for your piece, what do you think?" "Oh, yes, that's perfect," I stammered, looking at the Picasso print that my work had just upstaged.  Take that Pablo!

My beloved dog, Soxx, in the studio circa 2014.
I often set up a gallery wall in my studio for visits from art consultants, potential buyers and during Open Studio sales.  It can greatly enhance the way your work is seen and in fact, can generate sales. Framing and presentation of the work is often seen by the artist as the sole responsibility of the buyer. You could be missing out on sales by overlooking presentation.

Gallery style wall for a visiting art consultant. 
At the left is a typical gallery wall setup that I use for a visiting art consultant.  There's a school of thought that says you should not offer the buyer more than three choices.  I don't think that's the case with wholesale buyers and art consultants fall into that category.  That idea may be true for the single-purchase buyer, but in my experience, a gallery wall presentation works great for art consultants.

By the way, I sold six paintings that day.

And let's not forget online presentation. So many artists are selling online it's difficult to stand out in the crowd. You can take advantage of presentation and staging to sell work online too.  Check out one of my typical online listings here. You'll see that I show the work installed in a typical home setting. I use Adobe Stock Images to create images for  presentation.

Whether it's a gallery wall or a stock photo, use every tool available to present your work in the best fashion. After all, the work deserves it, right?

Friday, August 26, 2016

My Top Three Rules for Abstract Painting

"Lovers on the Sun" Tesia Blackburn 2016
36" x 54" Acrylic on Canvas
When I'm painting, I have one goal in mind - to create an experience for the viewer. By the way, the viewer is me first and everyone else second.  I'm basically painting to make myself happy. If everyone else likes it, cool, but my first goal is to paint for myself.   So before I ever start a painting, I decide what my intention is - what I want the painting to "say."  Now this may seem like so much new age gobbly gook but it's not. It's an actual, action-oriented way of painting that narrows down my focus so I don't get distracted. I stay focused, the painting stays focused and I can accomplish something.

I often hear students stay, when I ask them why they did something in the painting "I don't know, it just happened." This really irritates me.  First of all, unless you have magic painting fairies in your pocket YOU painted this. Take responsibility for it.  Take responsibility for the good and the bad. It's your painting. You did it.

So the first rule is - own it.

Next, even if you are a beginner, have a point of view.  Be able to answer the question, "what do I want the painting to say?" Can you describe the feeling you want to create in one or two words? No? Then you will have a heck of a time getting anywhere because you will have no focus.  Do you want an energetic painting? Somber? Funny? All of these words are descriptive and there are hard and fast design rules about what is and isn't funny, or moody, or heavenly.  Look at El Greco. Are his paintings funny? No. Why not? Explain a painting or two to yourself using words like color, shape and texture and you will soon see that you know the answer. (Hint: it has a lot to do with dark colors). Look at Mark Rothko. Are his paintings moody? Why or why not?  Spend some time with artists you like and want to emulate. Reverse engineer their paintings in your head. You'll soon discover that you know what you want in a painting. Start with a particular point of view and paint a few paintings with that in mind. You can always move on later to anther topic.  But at first, one topic will do.

So the second rule is - have a point of view.

And that brings me to my third and probably most important rule. Keep it simple. I am continually amazed by the plethora of ideas that artists bring to class.  One good idea will keep you working for years.  Look at Sean Scully. One great idea, hundreds of great paintings.  Or Joan Mitchell. Laser focus. One great idea. Many, many great paintings.  It may take some time to find your one great idea, but hang in there. Try out a few ideas, but don't get crazy!  Stay focused and give yourself some limits. Of course you can paint one thing one day and something else the next day, but you'll never know the joy of digging deep into a topic, an idea, and creating a relationship with an idea that will last for years.  It's like a great love affair. The longer you are with that one person, the greater the love becomes.

The third rule? - Keep it simple.

So those are the three big ones for me. What's your take on it?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

StencilGirl Stencil Resist

I'm guest posting over on StencilGirl Talk today. Here's the video in case you missed it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The True Story of How to Clean Your Acrylic Paint Brushes

There's a lot of information out there on the Internet highway, some good, some bad, some so-so. But I don't recall ever seeing The True Story of How to Clean Your Acrylic Paint Brushes. I thought I'd relay it here and put to rest some of the rumors around this ancient myth.

First my pet peeve is the rumor that you should clean your paintbrushes in the palm of your hand. What?  NEVER CLEAN YOUR BRUSHES IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND! Why? Because you are embedding pigment into your skin. Duh.  I see this over and over again. Please don't do this. I believe there was an entire tribe of Ancient Artists who lost the ability to sing falsetto because they intentionally cleaned their paintbrushes in the palm of their hands. But this could be another false rumor.

It is a well known fact that cleaning your paintbrushes under running water will send the Muse screaming from your studio for at least two weeks.  She's really fussy about this one. So beware! NEVER CLEAN YOUR BRUSHES UNDER RUNNING WATER! Why again? Because you are sending paint solids down the drain. Bad for the fishies, bad for your plumbing.

So, how should you clean your brushes? Read on my darlings. This is ancient knowledge, handed down over the generations.  Guard it carefully!

First of all, regard your paintbrushes as the friends and helpers that they are. They are kind and willing to work for you, don't abuse them! Don't beat them up! What did they ever do to you except help you make fabulous art?  Love them and they will serve you well. Until you leave the studio and then they use up all of your cell data and order pizza. But I digress....

Okay, but really....

Number one: Don't let acrylic paint dry on your brush. If you do, kiss the brush goodbye and make a sculpture with it. And feel really, really guilty about killing a paintbrush. They scream you know.

Next, put aside the time to clean your brushes when you paint. Don't just stand them in the water and haul ass out of the door to meet someone at Starbuck's. When you come back your paintbrushes will be a limp, soggy shadow of their former selves and perhaps will be going bald (losing bristles). The bristles of the brush will wick up the water into the ferrule (that metal thingie that holds the bristles in place) and loosen the glue that is also holding the bristles.  Then the paintbrush will lose its hair. Really embarrassing for a paintbrush. Don't put them through this. Their paintbrush friends will point and laugh.

Proper cleaning of your paintbrush:
1. Wipe off all of the paint solids possible from the brush. Use old telephone books (do they still make those?) paper towels, old rags, whatever.  Don't be lazy, really get all of the paint off of the brush. No, that's not enough, do it again.

2. Next, rinse the brush in a BUCKET of water. We will refer to this as Bucket #2. You may want to write this down. You have to keep track of your buckets, you know.  You will have two to three buckets of water so get prepared.

3. Now get a bar of artist's soap like The Masters Hand Soap-4.5 Ounces and rub the brush across that a couple of times. The brush really loves this! If you listen closely you can hear the brush giggle when you do this.

4. Now swish the brush back in the water (Bucket #2) a few times. LOL, swish.

5. Back across the soap. Swish again. Brushes love to swish. They're natural born swishers. It comes from being bunched up in that old peanut butter jar on the studio table. Once they get outta there they swish like crazy!

6. The brush should be fairly clean now. You can examine it with your fingers, but be polite!

7. Now gently lay your brush down on a clean paper towel or bath towel. Perhaps one with the brush's name embroidered on it. Never leave your damp brushes standing upright to dry. It really wrecks their hair! And again, they could lose bristles from the water going down into the ferrule and loosening the glue. It's a lotta work being a paintbrush!

8. Put aside Bucket #2. It may be slightly soapy. That's okay. Use it the next time you clean your brushes.  Once it gets all gunky with paint, pour it off into Bucket #3  that will be reserved for "dirty water". Let this water evaporate. Yes it will take days to evaporate, maybe weeks. But you don't have to stand there and watch it! Go paint something! When the water is all gone, wipe up the sludge that is left behind and put it in the trash.

9. No paint down the sink and no fishies turning Quinacridone Magenta!

10. Keep a bucket of clean water as your first brush "dunking" station. This is Bucket #1.

11. Once Bucket #1 gets too dirty, pour it into Bucket #3 the dreaded "dirty water" bucket. Don't wash your brushes in there! It's for pouroff only! Stories abound among the older brushes about young brushes that mistakenly fell into Bucket #3, never to be seen again. Then came  time to clean out the sludge. And there, laying in the bottom of Bucket #3, the young, foolish, brush -  bristles all gunky, paint chipped off the handle, name no longer readable. Oh the horror!

So Bucket #1 becomes Bucket #2 and Bucket #2 goes into Bucket #3. And then Bucket #2 becomes Bucket #1 - follow? No? Well find an old paintbrush that knows the ropes and have it show you the way.

That's the story the way I heard it. But granted, it was an Ancient Paintbrush that related this tale to me. She had a bit of Matte Medium stuck to her so her memory could have been cloudy. That paintbrush has passed on into the other world, where paintbrushes are always young and clean.

Sometimes, when I'm leaving the studio, after I turn out the lights, I stop at the door and listen. I can hear the brushes singing their Ancient song, summoning the Muse to my studio for the next day.

They can only sing when they're clean you know.