Saturday, July 28, 2012

Our Shrinking Economy – our Rising Debt

Everything is shrinking! Literally. My income, my stature, the size and quantity of the things I buy and what I can afford. Everything is shrinking but the price.

Like you, I’m paying more for less. My favorite things have gone from 8 oz to 7 oz to 6 oz or less in just a few months. A few packages stayed the same size, but the contents were less. I’m afraid It’s only the beginning!

I purchased some canvases the other day and instead of being .5 inches in depth, they’d shrunk to almost .25. Rather than fitting nicely into a frame or serving as a wrapped canvas painting, they leave gaps and spaces; they look cheap and skimpy.

Many artists are turning to treated hard board or plywood; still, framing is a difficult task. The prices for quality canvases have doubled while the sales price of a finished painting has remained the same. The cost of renting space has gone up to 40% commission. The artist receives 60% barely covering the cost for materials let alone time. Add to that cost a frame, and you see what I mean.

Is it worth it? I don’t know, but it’s what I do. Just when I think the economy is getting better, another one of my favorite businesses, restaurants, or products goes out of business. On the surface, things seem the same, but there’s an undercurrent of unrest. Everything is changing. Stores are being built as others are being boarded up. Hope rises in the midst of fear and failure.

We can only “keep on keeping on,” as my mother used to say. We put one foot in front of the other and hang on, despite the economic climate or the plight of those who risk everything and fail.

Hope is eternal the Bible says. We hope for better things, and we act as if they are possible. It’s how we survive. We hope for a better tomorrow as we wipe the tears of grief from our eyes and move on. What more can we do?

Two paintings featured today: “Sand Cranes at Twilight” and “Release” (with quote by Joseph Campbell) will be on display at Art for ACTS in downtown Fort Myers in August.

Featured Artist:
I’m going to start a new section called “Featured Artist.” There are so many wonderful artists and writers out there that deserve attention that I’m willing to share my space with them. Today, I feature: Ashish Das   If ever there was a second Picasso, he is it! I am amazed with his creative blend of cubism and abstraction. Enjoy the delightful and colorful work of Ashish. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Countdown to a Labor of Love – Mother, Daughter

Here is a preview of my daughter’s book and the illustrations I created for her. A link below will direct you to this fun and exciting book set for release on July 24, 2012.

Life is getting tricky for eleven-year-old Madison Morgan. She’s not interested in boys, fashion, or the latest gossip, unlike her best friend Paige. Since her mom died, her stepfather Henry, who she knows as Dad, has way too many complicated systems around the house but way too little to say about her mom’s death. To top it off, in her first year of middle school, Madison and her new friend Cooper have become the “school project” of a bully named Donald. And all she really wants is a dog to call her own, but all she gets is the parental-brush-off. What is a straight-talking, spunky middle grader going to do? 

Kids from ages nine- to twelve-years-old are sure to get a laugh from every page of Madison Morgan: When Dogs Blog, the middle grade novel by author Pam Torres that charts the sometimes tough, frequently funny days of the wise-cracking, dog-loving Madison. When her dad arrives home with a foster dog, a scrawny brown terrier named Lilly, Madison is amazed to find she has an ability to understand dogs, their emotions, and often their pasts. However, this rare ability also leads her to uncover some extremely harmful activities that are happening right in her very own neighborhood. If she exposes the culprits behind them, she may risk losing Cooper, not to mention destroy her plan to remain invisible at school.

As Madison struggles to feel normal and understand her ability to translate dog-speak, this coming-of-age story shares how one quirky young girl saves the day with the help of her father and their friend Netta at the Last Chance Rescue Shelter. Frank, funny, and full of adventure, Madison Morgan: When Dogs Blog is a must for any middle grader, who is certain to be enthralled by this dog blogger.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ideas that keep coming back Germinate and Grow

Do you ever get an idea in your head that you can’t let go of? I’ve given myself numerous reasons why I shouldn’t follow up:  It’s not something I would normally paint; I don’t want to promote a religion or have others think that I do; It’s a big undertaking, and I’m not sure it will work.

On and on, I reason with myself while the project sits in my mind un-executed. The idea came to me one day as I saw a small shadowy figure on my bathroom floor made from water marks and smears.

“Whirling Dervish,” I thought to myself. Then I had to look it up to be sure I had the right term. At first, I thought it was a Disney character. YouTube educated me as I found several videos of this unique and unusual religious lifestyle.

I also conjured up images of modern day Shriner's who adopted Mason and Muslim symbols in their costuming. Originating in Turkey, the “Whirling Dervish” is a sect of Islam. They are taught to love everything and participate in a physically active meditation of whirling known as Sema or Sama that brings them to a state of ecstasy.

My purpose as an artist is not to judge, but to observe. I was intrigued artistically not only by the challenge of trying to render this scene on canvas, but by the colors I envisioned in my mind. Combining these elements with the Shriner's, I could see various shades of yellow in the background, moving to subdued red orange; using Arabic lettering and other elements imprinted in black on the paint.

What intrigued me the most was the red fez of the Shriner's; the same style as the black or red hats of the Sema. I couldn’t get the red, yellow and white images whirling on a yellow canvas out of my head. The scimitars the Shriner's use also appeared in my first quick sketch (8.5x11 paper is much smaller than actual canvas). Ideas are born in the most unusual ways and if we try to bottle them up, they have a way of bubbling back to the surface.

Curiosity and imagination are compelling tools that often give birth to unique and unusual ideas. Some ideas grow and flourish like a fountain that constantly gurgles and lives. Other ideas never get past a second or third review. They fall by the wayside because there’s no substance for development.

Don’t put a lid on good ideas. If they come back again and again, they are probably “keepers.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Don’t let distractions and loose ends unravel your life!

In a previous blog, I told you that two art galleries had closed in downtown Fort Myers. The good news is that two more have opened in their stead. The art community is not giving up just yet!

As a member of Arts for ACT, I will display two paintings in August. During the month of September, I will present approximately 25 paintings in the middle gallery keeping me busy throughout the summer.

Several paintings are in the works, including one for Christmas to be used in fliers and programs for a church-sponsored “Live Nativity.” Summers are not as quiet as they once were in Fort Myers. Full-time residents work to keep the art community alive during the off season; and with fewer people, more calamities and causes vie for our attention.

Case in point: It’s summer, so why do I feel like I need a vacation? I can’t seem to say “no” to people and programs I love. Before I know it, I’m tied up in so many activities I have difficulty getting to my own projects.

Reminds me of a loose thread I pulled the other day. I thought it would snap and that would be the end of it. Instead, the unraveling began. I pulled it through the fabric to the backside and tried to secure a knot, but the knot popped through the loose weave in an unsightly lump. I poked it through again and tried to tie a bigger knot. Before I knew it, I’d lost control and unraveled enough thread to make a hole.

Life seems like that sometimes. We allow too many loose ends to consume our thoughts and our time. We need to reassess our goals and focus on our priorities before our “best laid plans” are completely undone by inconsequential's.

I realized I’ve allowed myself to “float” through each day rather than follow a plan. I’ve permitted “other things” to keep me from painting. I’m producing less by doing more favors, requests, and work for other people. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in volunteering and serving my church, my community, and my friends. But if I allow that to consume all my spare time, I’ll have little leftover for me.

I was brought up to believe that “creative work” was a waste of time. It’s been a constant struggle between the things I “should” do and the things I want to do. I try to remember that talent and imagination are gifts that must be nurtured and used in order for them to grow. Since these gifts bring joy to others, they are equally important to the requests and assignments others give to us.

My goal for the coming month: stay focused. Schedule time for myself to flourish and bloom. Join me in assessing your own needs and following your dreams!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Love can’t be stored or saved; it’s best when given away!

Vikeholmen Lighthouse II, oil on 16x20 canvas

My dear friend Dorothy baked bread for as long as she was able. “Just like my mother used to make,” she lovingly boasted. Whenever I’d visit, she’d plop a fresh warm loaf in my hands and send me away with a smile and a part of herself.

I loved her recipe. You could make it at night, and let it rise in the refrigerator until the next day. Once, I put too much dough into my Tupperware bowl, and the yeast caused it to bubble up, open the lid, and spill onto my shelves and bottles.

Seeing the mess, made me think of a story about the girl and the porridge. She received a magic soup pot from a woman in the forest who told her what to say to start it cooking and to get it to stop. She would never be hungry again! But when the porridge was cooked, the little girl forgot the magic words to make it stop. The porridge spilled over onto the floor, out the front door, and into the streets of the village.

Love and creativity are like that, too. If you smother the urge, the inspiration, and try to keep it all to yourself it will find other outlets. Like yeast dough spilling from Tupperware or the magic pot bubbling over with soup, creativity (another form of love) spills over with sometimes unexpected consequences.

"Robin Hood" 16x20 acrylic on canvas

My coffee blog a few days ago is a good example. There are people who go to coffee houses and then create art or doodle with their coffee, drawing admiring crowds. These entrepreneurs paint with their fingertips and Stir Styx to create wonderful scenes in the chocolate and whip cream swirls on the top of their coffee. Creativity – you can’t hold it down.

When I lived in Kansas City, our favorite restaurant was Stephenson’s Apple Farm. An old apple cider barn and orchard made room for a wonderful dining spot full of antiques and dried apple dolls. Rather than let those withered apples rot when they fell to the ground, “creative’s” ingeniously made them into dolls. The withered apples became the heads after first carving a simple face into the pulp. As the apple dried, the features twisted unexpectedly into either smiling or snarling faces. 

They were so ugly, they were adorable. Each face had its own personality. Coming from an old Pioneer art form, the dolls attracted many tourists to the restaurant. Of course, their home style brisket, cinnamon apple slices and broccoli cheese casserole didn’t hurt their business either.

(In Progress) bird house; acrylic on 16x20 panel

Some people claim to have no creativity. I don’t believe it! You just haven’t discovered yours yet. What are the things you love? What do you enjoy spending your time doing? In most instances there’s a creative component, whether your joy is cooking, decorating, or having a flare for the dramatic. Capture your love and express it!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Ancient Art of Painting with Coffee (or Tea)

A new LinkedIn Group said “for coffee painters only.” I couldn’t resist. “What is coffee painting?” I asked. One question led to another; and before I knew it, I was hooked!
From India -- Coffee Paintings By Amita & Mira Chudasama

This environmentally safe medium which sounds cutting edge and modern is actually as old as time itself. First used in China, Thailand, and India, coffee and tea as a painting medium has been around for centuries. 

It’s safe, inexpensive and extremely versatile creating wonderful textures and values. But from what I’ve learned, it’s not as easy as it sounds. For enduring quality, the mixture must have the right amounts of coffee or tea, and water. One painter added a few squirts of Elmer’s Glue for consistency and permanency.

The beauty of it all is it gives the artist an opportunity to experiment and to be creative. Used with charcoal, pencil or ink, the results are simply amazing!

My favorite artist uses tea to create wonderful characters that charm and humor us. Brian Kesinger ‘s “Tea Girls” are whimsical, authentic, and creatively crafted. Brian sells his creations on Fine Art America (FAA) and at the following link:

YouTube has helpful videos on coffee painting from a basic “how to” to more complex training pieces.

There are other applications you may find of interest. In my mixed media painting “Lucky Lady” I used an actual playing card burned on the edges. Had I known how delightfully coffee and tea stains make things look old, I would have used the YouTube technique here: Aging/antiquing paper:

Use your imagination and have fun with this truly ancient art.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Economy is getting better! Oh, Really?

Two more galleries in downtown Fort Myers are closing. The monthly Art Walk has been a huge success for shops and restaurants, but it has drawn more art admirers than buyers; a definite sign that the economy is still in a slump.

Some galleries are doing better than others. The ones located on the main thoroughfares adjacent to shops and restaurants are holding their own which indicates it’s all about location, location!

I personally have done better online than I’ve ever done in a show. The audience is larger and more widespread. When you’re in a booth on the street or a gallery, viewers and buyers must come to you. If the weather is bad your audience is limited. If you have a local fan base, you may get “sympathy” buyers who purchase a few cards or prints to butter up your ego, but token sales do not pay the rent.

My major sales have come either from commission or by contact from a buyer who has viewed my artwork online. I don’t have to haul my paintings to a site and worry about scratches or damage. I don’t have to set up a display. I don’t have to battle the wind, the heat or the rain. I’ve met some wonderful people who were looking for something specific and found me through their own personal search.

Don’t get me wrong. If the timing and location are right, I’ll battle the elements with the best of them. But if I had my druthers, I’d take selling online any day. Yes, there is something to be said for personal contact. When a buyer sees and talks with the artist before a purchase, it makes a personal connection that may lead to repeat sales and a friend. However, in our technological savvy world, emails and Skype can do the job just as well.

The most important part of any transaction comes in keeping your word and delivering what you promise. Promptness and follow through trumps the handshake of yesteryear and confirms your professionalism. Then as now, quality still holds the key to repeat business and devoted followers.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Everything’s always about the Money!

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of curious people wanting to know how much I earn as an artist. When I was honored with a feature, including links and recognition, it was the same: “Did you get paid?” Somehow, if I didn’t, I got screwed; forget the advertising and network opportunities.

Yes, it all boils down to money in the end. The difference between an amateur and a professional is not only the amount of time the artist spends working; it’s that he gets paid enough to “quit his day job.”

I haven’t reached that point yet, but that’s not why I paint. I paint because I have to. On a recent vacation, I sketched my daughter-in-law in 30 minutes and she was thrilled with the finished product. I was able to draw from a live model and get some extra practice in my down time. She had an original sketch revealing how others see her. It was a win win situation although not a nickel changed hands between us.

Don’t get me wrong. When I sell an original painting I’m thrilled; not only am I richer, I’ve opened up space for yet another canvas. When I sell prints off of an original, that’s a plus! That’s like interest from the original investment of time and money.

We artists are a little kooky. We think our gift to the world is valuable enough even if we don't get a monetary reward. After all, most of the famous painters of the past didn't receive recognition or recompense until after they died.

We're kooky in another way. We can’t see the sky without envisioning color and brushstrokes. A tree is not just a tree; it’s a series of negative spaces joined by curved and extended lines. The trunk is examined for various color and the grooved lines or smoothness distinctive to each individual species.

At family gatherings I not only see the people I love, I model their faces with imaginary brushstrokes, shapes and color. I spot artistic faces in a crowd, and I’m off and running. I can’t paint or draw all of the finished paintings I’ve created in my head while traveling in a car or bus.

What makes a true professional? Attitude! I am an artist. I am a writer. These two gifts are intertwined in my soul and both are meant to be used. If I make others happy, if I make people think or question their own motives and attitudes in the process, I've been successful whether money changes hands or not!