Tuesday, May 28, 2013

“Too much stuff” -- and More!

"Kindred Spirits II" 24x30 acrylic on canvas
Today’s Guest Blogger is Robert Genn*

Recently, Ed Kissane of Wantagh, New York wrote, "I'm constantly fighting a flood of paper that comes into my life. I have a bedroom and a studio and I try to keep the areas clear, but it grows every day like a giant amoeba. I try to downsize but I'm losing. The piles of paper diminish my time at the easel. (Magazines, book reviews, etc.) There is always something to read and once again the creative moments lose out. Any suggestions?"

Thanks, Ed. Whenever I hear this one I think "avoidance system." I once knew a painter who subscribed to all the magazines, including ones in foreign languages he didn't understand. His wholesale subscriptions kept him easel-free for several decades. One day he thought he might paint, but it was too late. That night he subscribed to the big bundle in the sky.

"Moody Blues" 16x20 oil on acrylic underpainting canvas
 For self-employed artists, desire needs to trump distraction. Even regular checks in the mail shouldn't hinder an artist from his self-appointed rounds.

There's something else as well. Too many art magazines may be bad for you. It's great to keep informed of the latest trends in New York, London and Paris, but what about the trending of your own creativity? Too much awareness of what's out there can give an artist a dose of, "What's the use? If everybody else is so wonderful, what chance is there for little old me?"

"Kindred Spirits I" 24x30 acrylic on canvas
How does one act against these common self-destructive tendencies? Taking into account that personal progress may have something to do with available talent or ego-drive, here are a few ideas:

·         Begin work before you're fully awake.
·         Name and claim your own creative processes.
·         Fall in love with your daily work habits.
·         Take time for creative novelty and exploration.

·         Teach yourself the arts of multitask and multi-track.
·         Alternate energetic activity with relaxation and calm.
·         Live in the work of your own making, not that of others.
·         Pencil in projects and set the unconscious mind turning.
·         Have your magazines delivered somewhere else.

The story of individual progress is largely one of moving from the business of being entertained to the business of entertaining yourself. Blessed are those whose main entertainment is their work.

"First Daffodil" 16x20 acrylic on canvas
PS  Esoterica: I'm laptopping you from Yu Yuan (Garden of Peace and Comfort) in Shanghai, China. Koi circle among the yellow and white lotus as a rhododendron drops petals, forming a miniature fleet that moves slowly away on the stillness of the pond. A green heron waits for my thoughts from a nearby rocky ledge, and I'm remembering a kiosk just outside the dragon wall hawking magazines and newspapers printed in Mandarin and Cantonese. Alone in this inner fragrance, I'm considering the nature of passion.
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*(c) Copyright 2013 Robert Genn. If you wish to copy this material to other publications or mail lists, please ask for permission by writing Thanks for your friendship.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Vindication – What Goes Around Comes around

When we moved into our villa, everything was white; the tiled floors, the walls, the cupboards. Over the last few years, we watched the trends go from white to color and from pastel to bright and bold. Through it all, we stoically held our own as we watched our friends slather on reds, golds, teals, and yellows.

Our dark bold furnishings complimented our world of white. I did admire the bright gleam of graceful white flowers and white woodwork against the latest trending colors, but we stood firm on grounds of economics and the fact that our walls were freshly painted when we moved in.

"Blending In" 11x14 acrylic on panel / in barnwood frame
Trends have a way of reaching their peak. People tire of intensity and they long for peace and non-distraction. Enter the new white; not only exhibited on walls and cupboard doors, but in furnishings. The scuffed up well-worn white of yesteryear has been replaced by shiny smooth. We’re back in style! Vindication -- oh, sweet reprieve!

The same holds true for clothes. If you leave them hanging in your closet long enough they will be back in style in a few short years. What goes around does come around. The same holds true for art. Styles and trends cycle; but if you go back far enough, you’ll find some of the same trends with a slight twist.

Today’s trendy art boasts a large following of buyers. It is hip, techie, and speaks to the young at heart. Ignore the trends if you must, or climb on board and take advantage of the upswing; in either case, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Passion, though a bad regulator, is a powerful spring.”

But don’t let your heart or your eyes be fooled. Even though art is trending free and wild, the successful still follow the tried and true rules of color theory and composition. In fact, this is the very reason an artist is able to get away with so much. Knowing what colors to use, how, and when is the key to their popular draw. Rules of composition still apply, perhaps even more so as the subjects and images become more outlandish.

Andy Warhol once said that “rules are meant to be broken.” Knowing how to break them creatively and within the bounds of good art is another matter. Once you know all the rules that govern art, then choosing which one you will break for a given effect is not stupid, it’s creative license.

My own journey has been one of trial and error. I’ve always been a non-conformist of sorts, and my internal creativity screams at sameness, blandness, duplication, or compliance with other people’s rules of beauty or completeness.

We’re told as artists that we should be “loose,” and that we should “fly.” But at the same time, our journey is bound by strict compliance to certain codes of behavior and performance. I don’t know about you, but I get confused. I’m hoping something “clicks” sooner than later! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Certain Behaviors are Imperative to Success; others not so much

(Scenes from Punta Gorda where I participated in an Art Show.)
Don’t underestimate the power of selection. Seemingly insignificant choices made each day can have an enormous affect not only on the present moment, but on future outcomes.

  • Take oversleeping (or under sleeping). Both may have an effect on productivity and performance. If we begin our morning sluggish and late, time constraints put us in a crunch by the end of the day which increases stress. The hours get away from us. We miss deadlines. These delays on a regular basis keep us from achieving our goals and cast tainted shadows on our reputation.

  •  Appetites, or what I like to call “instant gratification,” also include any bodily passion indulged to excess such as over eating, compulsive sexual behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, etc. These uninhibited passions are like road blocks on the pathway to success. We become undisciplined, uninspired, and out of control. No wonder those who reach their pinnacle often let their guard down and fall into oblivion. Appetites, if not contained, can be destructive.

  • Time wasters in disguise like playing games when we should be working, and talking or texting excessively on the phone may eat up hours of time. Watching too much TV or surfing the Internet instead of completing a project or meeting a deadline. Indulging in pastimes that are addictive, such as viewing pornography or gambling may eventually eat up income, time, and could put an end to your career altogether.

  •   “So little Time, too much to do” rings true for many of us. We’re afraid to set limits for our family and friends. We fail to put the “At Work” sign on our door or on our lips. We’re afraid to say “no,” and we get over involved with “busy work” that keeps us from our goals. Especially when you work at home, people think you’re not working. The only way to diffuse this attitude is to extinguish it! Be polite, but observe your policy consistently.
(Beach at St. Armonds)
Sure we all need R&R time. We can’t burn the candle at both ends, although some of us try. We need to have fun. We need to experience pleasure and joy. But when our fun or addiction keeps us from our dreams or life-long goals, we need to examine if their worth it. 
Self control and discipline are not just words our parents invented. They are universal truths that if followed will bring lasting peace and contentment.

(Canal at St. Armonds)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Learning is a Never-Ending Journey

You will never “arrive.” Get that thought out of your head. If you’re not learning, if you’re not growing and adding to your knowledge, you are backsliding.

Sure experience, and technique once mastered, gives you an edge. But if you don’t stay on top of current trends and a changing audience, you become stagnant.

Just ask an artist in their seventies or eighties. You can quickly become irrelevant if you fail to adapt to the changing world around you. Businesses rise and fall when a company fails to keep abreast of current trends and customer demographics. Skills weaken and change if they’re not being used. If you allow yourself to get rusty and out of shape, no amount of salesmanship can pull you from a neglectful slump.

Consider your vocation, your avocation or career as a lifetime endeavor. You never arrive because you’re always striving to become better. Your competition is not with other artists, but with yourself.

This dynamic creates enthusiasm, joy, and satisfaction. Nothing can compare with the feeling of mastering something new. Life is never dull because there’s always the next hurdle to overcome, the next goal to reach, and the excitement of reaching a new level of skill.

Achievers never quit. Their journey is a process not a destination. Discovering new layers of themselves brings them success automatically. Their goal is not fame, but self mastery. When all the elements of success are in place, recognition comes automatically.

Timing is another key. When opportunity strikes, the achiever will reach out and grab it. This is not the time for procrastination or self doubt. The golden ring doesn’t come around often. Be alert to opportunity when it comes. Don’t let fear keep you from reaching out. If you do, there may be no second chances.

The photos in this blog were taken in parts of Snellville and Hiawasee, Georgia.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gum Shoeing Your Way to Success – Rules of Engagement

In years gone by, detectives were referred to as “gum shoes.” The nickname stuck because they wore rubber or crepe soled shoes as they stealthily crept into dark shadows to pursue a suspect.

Gum shoe cops were thorough and diligent. Their persistence didn’t let up until “they had their man.” Failure was not an option. Their stick-to-itiveness led to their success.

When I first stumbled onto the term “gum shoe,” I thought of the time I’d stepped on a glob of bubble gum in a parking lot. Try as I may, that hunk of pink refused to come off of my shoe and followed me in florescent strings across the hot asphalt.

Much like a trail of toilet paper that sticks to your shoe and betrays where you’ve been, the things we do in life, the places we go and the choices we make leave a trail of evidence behind us. Some might call that trail character; others may refer to it as reputation. Our chances for success get better and better as our trail of credits and experience become stronger and more reliable.

Sometimes even with our best efforts we “stick our foot in it.” After all, we’re only human. When I was a kid, I remember how smart and independent I felt at times. A real “know it all,” my mom would say.

One summer I was playing with my older cousins in my aunt’s pasture. They were showing off, stomping on crusty cow pies. They were fearless daredevils, or so I thought. Their secret was to choose only those pies that were “seasoned” or dry.

Well, I wasn’t going to let them out do me. Although I was only five, I began stomping with the best of them. Unfortunately, I was wearing a shiny pair of black patent leather shoes with white stockings and lace cuffs.

My first cow pie, crumbled successfully so I tried another. On the second thrust, my foot sank into warm, mushy green poop right up to and over my pristine lace stockings. Shock and awe crushed my confidence and sent me running to mother for help.

"Puppy Mill discovered" (illustration from Madison Morgan, when Dog's Blog
We all get in over our heads (or our socks) at times. Here’s how to avoid it:

    • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver
    • Know beforehand what your client expects
    • Never assume anything; be specific, and ask questions
    • Plot realistic deadlines and timelines
    • Keep your client updated on progress
    • Evaluate your time and money expenditures carefully
    • Make your aim “customer satisfaction,” your target “repeat business”

Friday, May 10, 2013

Cut Yourself Loose -- Every which Way but Down

You’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again: success is all about networking, networking, networking! The necessity of connecting the seller with the buyer and the advertiser with the consumer goes without saying. Plus your product must be available in as many different locations as possible.

I have an account on Zazzle where I’ve sold several small items and T-shirts from some of my drawings. The earnings are small, but it is gratifying to know that my cartoon characters are used and enjoyed.

Placing your artwork in several venues is not only smart, it’s vital to get your name out there. Making connections with as many people as possible is the only way to move your career along. I show on Etsy, Red Bubble, Fine Art America, and have two more sites in the works in addition to my blog.

Explore different sites, and place your articles and images where you get the most bang for your buck. I find the most difficult part is finding the time to paint or draw each day. Marketing takes a big hunk out of my week, and I’m sure out of yours, too. Without marketing, there are no sales, no exposure.

Like most artists, I have more ideas than I can ever paint. Storage is another problem: how and where to store your canvases and artwork so they are protected from the elements and from close proximity with other images. I’d love to hear your ideas!

 One solution is to have as many of your paintings in galleries and shows as possible. I keep a record of where each image is placed, its cost, and how long the painting will be at that location. Sometimes a venue may be long, such as a placement at a company or a restaurant. At other times, the venue is limited to one month. Keeping your artwork visible and active is essential if you want sales and exposure.

Membership in more than one Art League or with charitable organizations that use art to raise money provides more opportunity for visibility. I got an email a few days ago from one such gallery sponsoring a “membership show” in the coming month. Never let an opportunity slip from your grasp; work harder and smarter in order to have enough artwork in your inventory to participate.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Composition Tips from the Best in the Business

"Moonshines"  24x18 mixed media on canvas

After entering several juried competitions – winning some and losing some. I usually ask for the reason I was turned down, hoping that I’ll learn from my mistakes. One of the comments that threw me for a loop was “the judge said, composition.”

Of course, the reason is never explained. “What was it about my composition,” I ask? “Did the judge give an explanation? No answer. My most recent criticism: “Conflict of color.” Whatever that means? I had to do some research to find out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not always a loser. I have had many paintings accepted into juried galleries or competition. But it still smarts!

I went to  one of my favorite sites. Here’s what they had to say: “Strong composition in a painting can be very intangible . . . if it’s done well, you don’t notice it; you just know that there’s something appealing. When a painting’s composition is done badly, the painting just feels awkward.” Pretty nebulous, if you ask me! Always remember that it’s one judge’s opinion.

"Victims of War" 24x18 mixed media (accepted into juried competition)
 I do know that juried judges go through considerable education to achieve the honor and distinction of judging art shows. I also know that their concepts are hundreds of years old and proven. On the other hand, art trends are constantly changing. What becomes popular, trendy, and saleable, seldom appeals to traditional judges.

It’s nice to have some juried shows under your belt. It looks good on a CV. But it doesn’t necessarily equate with sales and money in the bank.

"Skudeneshavn Norway" 16x20 oil on canvas (SOLD) Prints available
The web link above goes onto provide 10 painting tips for strong compositions. I selected only a few to share with you:
  1. Where’s the focal point? The focal point should draw the viewers eye to it. Remember the rule of thirds? Locate the focal point on one of those intersection spots. Avoid the center. Make certain your eye is not led off the page; bring it back.
  2.  Isolate the key elements in what you want to paint, whether it’s a still life or a landscape piece. Use a view finder, if necessary, to zero in on it. Know what your focal point is and what you’re trying to say.
  3.  Have an odd number of elements: three versus two, five versus four; it adds interest rather than sameness. Space those elements unevenly on your canvas. Trees do not grow in nature the way they are lined up in a Nursery. Always vary the space between your elements/images and vary the angles to add interest. Elements must be definitely apart or definitely overlapped; not just touching. 
  4. Choose your color tones, whether warm or cool, but don’t try to be both. When the judge said one of my paintings had a “conflict of color” was he saying I had used warm and cool colors or was it the wrong choice of color? I will never know. It would be so helpful if a critique were required from the judges.

"Moody Blues" 18x14 oil on canvas
Don't give up on juried shows. Just keep trying and studying the rules of good art. I purposely used both warm and cool colors to accentuate the girls "moody blues" mood. Yes, I broke the rules, and this probably won't get in juried competition. It is trendy and current, however.

The painting below came in third place in a juried show. The judge commented that she would have liked to see more shadows. Yes more shadows would give it a picturesque feel, but I didn’t have a spotlight, and the photograph I worked from was the winner in a contest on my blog. I was still pleased with the third place win.

"With these Hands -- Love" 24x18 oil on canvas, framed

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Teachers should Nurture, Enlighten and Protect their Students

"Egret Reflections" 11x14 oil on canvas SOLD, Prints available

I come from a long line of teachers, and take pride in having five teachers in our family today. I revere teachers and respect their profession. As the mother of six children, I had a lion's share of parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings. Over the years, I've seen good teachers and bad teachers.

Ms. Morrell was my English teacher; a stern spinster, and the butt of jokes and complaints from her students. But without her, I may never have become a writer. She knew her stuff! She was firm, but patient. She insisted on good behavior and was a hard task master when it came to grammar. And she could see past the jeers and bluster of her students.

"Great Egret Cleaning Beak" Drawing by Carol Allen Anfinsen

She encouraged me to enter the school's literary contest and I won. She saw in me what I couldn't see in myself. I remember her to this day, not as the frumpy spinster with the stern look, but for what she taught me: lessons that stayed with me throughout my life

Mr. Holmstead was my History teacher; a fun-loving man who walked a shaky line between likability and control. Somehow he managed; not because of classroom rules or rigid authoritarianism, but through his own charisma and passion for his subject.

Whether you liked history or hated it, you were bound to love how Mr. Holmstead told a story. He captured your attention and made history seem relevant and wondrous. The test questions were easier to remember because of the performance and the theatrics he tied to each fact. Those who thought history was boring were in for a big surprise.

"Maestro" 9x12 Pastel on Bristol
By noon, Mr. Holmstead already had a five o'clock shadow. By the end of the day, his tie had been loosened, his jacket hung on a chair and his sleeves were rolled up. We loved history because he loved history. His teaching was infectious.

And then there are the not-so-great teachers. I met one of them at a parent teacher conference. She was irritated by my energetic son. "He fidgets too much at his desk," I was told.

"And why does he fidget," I asked? Turns out my son finished his work before the other students and then he became a distraction. He even turned over his paper and doodled on the back (imagine that!) making his worksheet messy and dirty (the nerve).

By the time I finished listening, I knew there was nothing I could say or do to change this teacher's mind. I did suggest that she give my son another sheet of paper to doodle on while he waited, but she refused, saying that she didn't have time to cater to one student. Oh the "mind is a terrible thing to waste!" (Negro College Fund Slogan)

Here is the flip side to that story. In my son's sixth grade year, he had a teacher named Mrs. Bush. The children loved her, not because she was lenient or friendly, but because they knew what to expect from her. Her discipline was consistent; her style full of expectation and follow through.

My son was still the same wiggly, talkative child, but she used that enthusiasm to their mutual advantage. When he sat fidgeting after finishing his work, she showed him how to use the classroom camera. He took pictures of designated materials under her supervision. And wouldn't you know, the envious other children began to work harder to finish their work so that they could use the camera
"An Open Book" 16x20 mixed media; Prints available
At one point, during their study of China, Mrs. Bush showed him a tiny picture of a Chinese dragon and challenged him to see what he could do with it. She gave him some brushes and paints and turned him loose on the classroom window. By the end of the day, he had completed a giant, colorful dragon; an exact replica of the original drawing.

That painting amazed not only me, but the entire school. Mrs. Bush saw a glimmer in my son and harnessed his active mind and body; a true modern-day miracle worker. Teachers like this never scream for recognition or pay, but they deserve it. They simply do what they do best: teach children. I say God bless them!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hanging up a Show -- Team Work gets the Job done

The Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers is sponsoring two shows: one for recent recipients of Grants, and the other in the membership hallway, featuring Pan American Alliance members.

The experience requires a good morning and afternoon measuring, grouping similar colors and types of paintings, labeling, and then the actual hanging on the wall. I see the incremental hours slip through my grasp. I have done no painting this week and another blog is due. Is it just me, or does everyone feel the days are moving faster and faster?

I must admit the camaraderie of fellow artists is fun and stimulating. There’s a certain excitement involved in having a show and seeing how spectacular everyone’s work looks on the once bare walls. Sometimes we rub each other the wrong way; there are egos involved. And stress enters in when a painting or a frame is rejected.

But when all is said and done, we rally around the wounded person and try to make amends. After all, it could be anyone of us if the circumstances were turned. Support is vital in the transitional stage between achieving public recognition and putting your toe in the waters of exposure for the first time.

I remember my first show. I didn’t know whether to hang my head in shame because I had the audacity to hang my artwork in a show or go back home without even trying.


Somehow we all get past those beginning hurdles. 

That first compliment or sale changes you forever. For the first time you see the possibilities; the fact that people out there like what you do is secondary to the pride that fills your heart and hooks you for life.

What I thrive on is challenge. It’s not enough for me to “paint pretty pictures.” I have to try something harder and more difficult each time I begin a new painting. If I’m not growing or learning, I’m disinterested. To keep my creative juices flowing and my imagination in over drive, I have to see improvement in my work and master complex subject matter. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail.

We each have our own unique way of motivating ourselves. What works for me may not work for you. The important thing is to keep going. Remember, only those who give up fail.