I love the idea of plein air painting. What's not to like? Outdoors - nature - fresh air and seeing your surroundings properly. Paying attention and learning so much about art and yourself. So what is the problem? Well there are many excuses too.
I have heard many comments from artists knocking the idea of outdoor painting such as:
-weather is unpredictable
-there is nowhere nice close by
-painting not good enough - might look foolish
-missing the equipment -its expensive
There are many more excuses. They are all weak.
Maybe there is too much misconception about plein air painting. My take on it is simply about getting my references from outdoors (minimum) and trying to get a something down. What does this mean? Consider the impressionsits. They did not set rules about how much of the painting had to be completed outdoors. Many started outdoors and finished the painting in the studio. I have read about arbitrary rules set by plein air groups such as the painting must be 60% complete outdoors before going into the studio. I am not a fan of this. Sure I agree that a sektch and planning session outdoors then painting in studio is not a plein air painting, but it is far preferable to no outdoor planning and references.
My personal challenge is to make sure that what I do started outdoors. This applies to taking a small plein air painting and developing a large studio work from it. Some plein air studies are an end in themselves. Others go on to inspire bigger studion projects. It all part of the idea so lets not get too fussy.
Sometimes I finsh a painting outdoors. Sometimes not. So what? What if you have a great view and stand at the window painting what you see outside? Fine by me. It is about seeing the real world and painting fleeting moments. It trains the mind to focus and react through the paintbrush. Does it guarantee a perferct painting? No but it will spur on your progress. Is it easy? No but it gets easier.
As far a kit is concerned you do not need much. A little aluminium field easel, a fishing tackle case (new please) and a bag will take all your necessary kit. Start in your garden, beach, balcony, but give it a go. Have a look at my painting demo and notes on My Studio page.
So let us not debate plein air painting too much. It is what you make of it and if your thing is painting nature, people outdoors and street scenes then outdoor painting is part of your life.
The challenge? Paint 100 plein air studies in one year. I am using 25cm x 20cm boards (8 x 10 inch). I will be posting pictures of the paintings on My Studio page. Are you up for the challenge? Let me know and if you would like support then I will be happy to comment and give you support. Join in any time and use your favorite medium (I prefer oil but watercolour, acrylic, pastels are great too).
Are you in?
If a list of mankind's greatest achievement is drawn up then the humble book must surely be near the top. Just under the internal combustion engine and anesthetics probably.
On a slow Saturday afternoon with the children yelling at each other and my wife's internal barometer dropping fast to stormy I decided to bundle the lot into the car and head off to Bargain Books. This made everyone very happy. On arrival we all split up and went on our individual treasure hunt looking for that special book.
As I wandered through the aisles I passed that curious section called Esoterica. There are all sorts of books about spiritual wellness. Tai chi, meditation, mystical beliefs and other practices that would have had you tied to a stake a few centuries ago. What stood out after a bit of browsing were the box sets. These attractively packaged sets offer peace, tranquility and enlightenment if you listen to the CD and read the little book that comes with it. Seven steps to nirvana. Find your inner joy in 14 days. All have one thing in common. They emphasise the good things that will happen to you. The carrot that makes us reach for the credit card.
Unfortunately these happy events are too vague to keep us going. What is peace, inner joy and tranquility? It is no wonder that these books and CDs end up in the second hand bookshop practically untouched.
What is it that gets us to do the work that brings us benefits later? Could it be the nasty consequences if we don't crack on with it? Perhaps we would follow the meditation course if the book was titled "Meditate or die Prematurely". There are probably studies on this.
The art section has similar promises of quick results. If you want to learn how to draw quickly and easily then you are spoilt for choice. Some books come with pencils and sketch books too, which will save you time on your journey to drawing excellence. I suggested to my wife that she try one of these drawing books, but she replied that she could already draw like Picasso then started laughing. She can be funny that way.
The world needs more artists, but there is just not enough stick to make it worthwhile for most. You see most folks go to work because if they don't they get fired and then there is no money. This makes the children unhappy. Most of us can endure miserable jobs on this system. But what if our work promised joy, peace and fulfilment. Imagine if we could do the work that made us happy. What if it was all carrot and we did not have to worry about the stick anymore. Oh there would still be things to buy and bills to pay, but instead of making these things central to our system we could focus on what we are passionate about. The obligations would still be met. We would have less debt certainly, because we would not feel the need to fill up our empty lives with junk on credit. This might just work.
I will let you know once I have finished listening to my CD.
Les Demoiselle d'Avignon
Take a look at children's art. Children's art is usually based on what they know. Although colours and proportions may not be accurate they paint what is important to them. Family, pets, their home and friends or special moments. The result is often touching yet spontaneous and expressive.
Adult beginners will often choose subjects they like but know nothing about. For example are you painting Cape wineland scenes when you live on the highveld? This despite you only seeing the winelands perhaps once every few years when on holiday. Or worse yet painting wineland scenes from photos out of magazines.
In case you think I am being judgmental let me confess that I have painted ad lib scenes like this in my early days too. It is natural that we want to paint scenes that we find beautiful. It is okay to practice and painting is better than not painting at all right? But if you want to make real progress you will have to move on to real subjects that you know well. This advice is often told to writers, but applies to painters too.
I see many paintings from beginners that bear no emotional bond with their own experience. The artist is frustrated and uncertain about whether her art is good enough. The artist is not making a breakthrough because the subject is too detached. The personal link is missing and without that emotional connection there is no real art.
Beautiful mountain views of the Rockies will have no resonance with someone living in the karoo for instance. So why paint them? Paint the karoo if you live there. Lets take a moment to consider the impressionists. Those intrepid artists who ventured outdoors with canvas and tubes of paint determined to seek the truth in everday scenes.
What about the abstract artist or expressionist? Yes painting in the studio may make sense, but this could apply to the representational artist too. Consider Van Gogh whose scenes became increasingly expressionist yet were painted in most cases en plein air. He still painted what he saw yet this did not hinder his emotional expression. Gauguin too based his work on scenes and figures he observed first hand. Even Picasso's Les Demoiselle d'Avignon was based on actual women he observed. This did not hinder Picasso painting them in his cubist manner.
If you find yourself painting in a second hand fashion I would like to challenge you to venture outdoors and paint a local scence up close and personal. Another option is to take out your photo album and find scences that resonate with you. That you experienced first hand. Sketch a tight scene, plan the composition then paint it. You will find more pleasure from this and begin to really see the colours and values because they are familiar. You will also discover that more painting opportunities will reveal themselves once you mind and eye start seeking them out.
Paintings benefit from a solid foundation and for me this begins with priming. In this video I show how I go about priming and painting an undercoat. It is basic steps like this that help me and I hope that you can benefit from this too. Future videos will follow the progress of this painting, but will be accessible to newsletter subscribers only. So please join in and register for free. Read more on My Studio page.
landscape by David Hockney
What do you make that gives you real satisfaction? Something that is pure, unselfish and a joy to do? We all have something and it is that which we can fall back on and be content in the knowledge that we have done something of value. Take a moment to think about this folks because we are entering a new world and we will need to keep our focus or risk spinning out of control. What am I talking about? It's called The Cloud and its going to get stormy.
I have been reading Cloud Surfing by Thomas M. Koulopoulos. If you are up to speed with tech developments then you wil know that the cloud is the ephemeral world of computer connectivity that is going to make the present internet seem old school. Call it iternet 2.Oh! The reality is that hyperlinks will make way for an all pervasive connectedness. Like brain neurons do everything together to keep the gajillion processes in our body going at the same time - well the new connectivity aims for that and Koulopoulos reckons it will take ten years for it all to come to pass. Probably less.
Exciting? Scary? Yes to both. How is this relevant to art? We have already seen a significant David Hockney exhibition this year where some the art was created on his ipad. An example is shown above. Whether you like it or not is by the by. Fact is it happens to be art and created by a senior citizen. No disrespect intended - I think Hockney is one of the modern greats. But he has shown that new tech can be used to create art and you do not have to be fourteen years old to do it either (it may help though).
So what are we to do? Trade our brushes in for more bytes? Sell our pets for more bandwidth? Hardly. I am heartened by the belief that an artist's greatest strength is his self-reliance.
It is self-reliance that will see us through all changes because an artist is not fooled by the fashion and whims of society. An artist seeks truth. Contrary to what the X-files would have us believe, the truth is not out there - it is within us.
The Cloud? - bring it on! I have a sneaky suspicion that we will all still need to keep in touch with the truth, our very humanity requires it. For artists the challenge is to see through the hype and create true value. Collectors will appreciate art that is tangible and real when all else seems to be smoke and mirrors.
I am not an old duffer either. I like technology and gadgets like any overgrown boy. But I can honestly say that using oil paints and brushes similar to those that old masters used a few hundred years ago really does it for me. Is art still going to be relevant in the future? To my mind it will be essential. Yes you can have giant digital images on your walls. But go and stand in front of an oil painting done in a painterly style. Notice the brush strokes? The texture of the paint? Why did the artist make that mark there or use that shade of colour? Why do you feel compelled to look and even to touch? There is a communication here that is not generated with motherboards but rather with mother nature. Cavemen knew it and we know it now. Truth is all we have. The world will still need artists. Consider an article by Jeff Goins on this topic.
I read an article in the current Fortune magazine (don't ask) about a book written by the founder of Patagonia clothing, Yvon Chouinard. In the book The Responsible Company Chouinard contends that "we must move toward a post-consumerist economy" where goods are high quality, recyclable and repairable. He puts it well when he says that today "most of what we produce to sell each other is crap".
It seems that we will always need to get our hands on things of lasting quality and value. I am thankful that art will remain one of them.
This follows on my previous article on why you should try selling at art fairs. You have decided to go for it so how can you maximise on the opportunity. If you do not approach the event with intention you will very likely have a long and boring day.
So here are ten suggestions based on personal experience.
1) Attend in person: Sounds obvious, but it is very tempting for studio loving artists to rope in as many helpers as possible to "mind the store". The argument runs along the lines that you are an artist not a saleperson, talking is not your forte and so forth. (I had to get over this issue myself). If you are selling you need sales skills. Folks want to meet the artist and most importantly only you know your art inside and out. Speaking from experience I can attest to becoming a chatterbox about art even though I am a bit of an introvert. Its my passion and its yours too so trust your knowledge.
2) Presentation: A few basic improvements to how you present your work will pay for themselves. Consider the following:
3) Signage: Try to get a sign made professionally. This could be a canvas sign or banner with your name and possibly a logo. It will also describe what you do eg. Malcolm Dewey Fine Art. You may come up with other creative methods, but make sure people can tell at a glance who you are and what you do.
4) Framing: do you need to frame your art? If so then go for it. Too expensive? then frame a few anchor pieces and offer others unframed with a framing option. Price accordingly. Framing helps tremendously so if you go this route do not skimp by using cheap and skinny frames. Its a tricky matter, but there it is. Emphasis the benefits of buying with a frame and you will sell the framed painting. Emphsise the benefits of buying unframed and you could make those a success too.
5) Display Stands: There is no need to buy expensive easels. A bit of basic woodworking can produce basic display easels. Trellis can be used to hang paintings on hooks too. Convert an old wooden ladder into a tiered easel. Be creative and you will save costs and gain positive responses.
6) Quality over quantity. This a balancing act. Too much and a sense of clutter follows. Too little and your stall may look the poorer for it. However quality always comes first. Art fairs do not means you should try selling your lesser quality work.
7) Comfort: If indoors is it necessary or even possible to install better lighting? Maybe a fan will help with comfor in summer? Here are more tips about canopies and tents for your stall.
8) Marketing: This is critical and its all about give and take. Give you business card with your website and phone details. Better still send them your info digitally once you get their contact info. Forget about expensive flyers or brochures - they do not work. Get visitor's contact details then follow up with e-mail to those who expressed interest in you. Run a giveaway for those who give out their contact info. Free gifts or some other benefit such as discounts on art lessons, discount on your next book, paintings you name it. Just do not pass up the opportunity to get future networking links. Make it easy by having a short form vistors can complete. An enlarged scanable qr code prominently displayed? Do your best to prepare your system.
9) Price: Price your art according to its value. Do not compete on price. Your art is unique - show its value and benefits to the collector. Price normally. Give discounts - negotiate, but do not compromise. Here some more tips about pricing your art.
10) Payment: Since your art may be beyond the usual cash amounts carried around you will need to consider electronic payment options. If this is out of the question your other option may be to arrange for payment by electronic transfer and deliver the painting later. Tricky this as sales can fall away very quickly. If technology does not scare you then look into wireless computing whether on laptop, tablet or smart phone. Several online service providers offer credit card processing online. Some require you to have a merchant account with a bank others do not. Research online - try Paygate and Wappoint) It is worth it. Times are changing fast and card scanners are going to be the next big shift in democratising payment options. (look up Square.com to see what lies ahead). Of course there is the traditional merchant account credit card machines from one of the big banks, but that could mean long term costs and much hassle.
Be as self-reliant as possible!
More tips from an art fair veteran.
Do you have tips or experiences to share about your art fair marketing? Please share them by commenting below. Thank you.
Doodle for charity! This is a great initiative for anyone who loves to doodle (and who doesn't?). Have a look at www.1000drawings.co.za and send off your drawing to be auctioned for charity.
I have posted a few paintings lately with autumn as a theme. I may be a bit slow on the uptake since spring is approaching, but you could forgive me since it is still so cold.
I have enjoyed these paintings for their freedom of expression, colours and the use of greys. The last item is a study topic for later since greys are so important for artists to master. It good to just have fun with paint sometimes and this often produces the best results.
What inspires your painting right now?
Art fairs are excellent places to start selling your art. Here's why:
1) Cost of entry is low. Yes lets get this out of the way. The entry fee is low compared to any form of rented space and the outlay on preparing your stand is also low. Nobody expects persian carpets and other decor. However this does not mean that you can get away with a nasty market stand either. More on this in part two.
2) People like to meet the artist. This is just human nature and it is great for you the artist. Believe it or not there is a certain curiosity about artists. This can range from "Who is this master?" to "How do artists make a living?" Whatever the angle meeting and chatting to an artist is usually an interesting experience as we are following an unusual calling.
3)The benefit for the artist is that he can get immediate feedback from visitors, make connections and gain confidence in speaking about art. It is important to be able to articulate your ideas about art without launching into a thesis or getting tongue tied.
4) You may meet a gatekeeper. This is anybody who can get you further access to marketing events or exposure that will benefit your art marketing. This could be a gallery event, newspaper article, corporate commission, art lesson candidates and so on. It is probably unlikely that a big time collector will buy out your stand, but all things are connected. You are starting something that could lead to great things.
5) You start to develop a brand. I assume that you are calling yourself an artist and that you are not apologising for your art. As such it is essential that you develop yourself as a brand. Your name is now associated with art and you can build on this brick by brick. I would strongly suggest that you trade under your own name and not some other name even if it may sound catchy at first. This will save you much hassle later when your business takes off.
6) You will learn about collectors. Yes how people react to art is a lesson in life. Some will not get your art. Others will swoon over it. Most will be interested and appreciative. You will learn how to cope and deal with each of these and more. This will help to build your fortitude for the challenges that lie ahead. No one said it would be easy, but there are also blissful moments that will have you smiling for days. I recall my first market where one moment I had someone laughing at a price I had set for a painting and the next person purchasing two paintings. That is the way it goes. No point in getting upset and no point in compromising either.
7) You will learn to negotiate. Compromise is not negotiation. You will need to negotiate sometimes to make a sale. Prepare for this and accept it as essential. Collectors love to buy art and they love to negotiate. It does not mean they will not respect you, but negotiation is part of the fun. Accept it and prepare your strategy. Oh yes did I metion you will learn about being a saleperson? This is good. You will need this quality throughout your art career whether or not you have a gallery representing you. You are your business so best get educated in the art of the sale too.
8) You may sell a painting or two. Yes you may but it could be at a later date. If you are present and show an interest in people visiting your stand then you have an above average chance of making a sale. You may also be able to follow up with a potential buyer later on.
9) You develop stamina. After a day at a market you will be exhausted. This will give you strength and humility. You will prepare better next time. You will also appreciate getting back to your studio and BE motivated to up your game.
10) You start to gather an all important contact list. More of this in part 2.
Choose an event and prepare for it. Not all market events are equal and it pays to pick and choose the best, however it will give you momentum and that is when things start to happen.
Part Two above:
Call it fate, coincidence or accident. Call it what you want, but it does not change the simple fact. What you think and what you are ready to accept will determine what follows in your life. It is more than karma. It is boundless and all encompassing. Very few of us experience it fully. Some of use comprehend and accept the idea, but do we follow through? Are we ready?
Let me start with a simple example. Like many other artists I happen to possess a library of art books. Some are excellent and are tatty from overuse. Others are barely touched. Then there are all the magazines and e-books about art. I am a voracious reader. You probably are too if you have read this far. I have found that when reading an art book for the second time that I suddenly learn a profound lesson. The flash of realisation. What I missed the first time has become illuminated. I was receptive to the piece of knowledge and I can now apply it. My art in turn will benefit. This process happens almost every time I read a book over again. Pick up an old art book and see for yourself. Receptivity - the answer revealed itself when I needed it most and when I was open to it. This is not an accident.
To be receptive to circumstances or information requires intentional thought. We need to focus our energies and want something to bring it about. We have to believe that the answer will present itself and to do this we must have trust ourselves. Why trust? I suspect that without trust or faith we will never feel worthy of the answer. We may not see it when it is right in front of us. Unworthiness seems like a harsh word. It is, but is it not true? We often just call it self-doubt, but if we doubt ourselves it usually comes from a sense of unworthiness for the good stuff that could happen. Fear of success is perhaps another angle to this condition.
Artists will recognise these issues, but it applies to anything in life that could help us grow. Artists carry the burden of self-doubt from the outset. Even successful artists wrestle with this issue. How we measure success will very likely point to our issues. Lets be honest - if you are "measuring your success" you are trying to overcome self-doubt. I know this about myself too. It could be the number of paintings sold, whether a gallery will represent you, the number of blog readers or whatever. The creativity is not enough when you carry these issues.
Ever wondered why events seems to fall into place when you focus and call for creative solutions to a problem? When you open yourself up to the solutions they tend to happen? Why do strangers you think about happen to call within a day or two bearing an answer? These are not accidents. They are meant to happen and we need to open up to accept the solutions. Do not harbour doubt because a gallery has not called back or a client has passed on a painting. Accept that when you open yourself up to creativity and intuition the solutions will present themselves. They may be right in front of you.
Trust your creativity and focus on it. We are all networked at higher levels than we can imagine.
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