The more I go at this game the more I realize it’s a business of making adjustments. Many adjustments are pretty darned minor — even trivial. It seems to me it’s the trivial stuff that makes the difference. For example, the distant light in the late afternoon — a strip on the horizon — yellow to orange as first painted, then gold to cool white, then, I think finally, to a high-key mauve toward a touch of yellow ochre. It’s a matter of looking — and seeing, as if laying coloured gels over the work-in-progress in order to find the possibilities and extract a bit of artistic truth.
I try to think of a single sentence that sums up what we do — a sentence that will be good for all seasons: “It’s simply a matter of putting the right colour in the right place,” I think. “Shade,” or “hue,” or “shape,” might be inserted to replace “colour.” Unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult, maybe impossible, to pull it off the first time around.
Making adjustments is the nature of all art-making. While recipe-type planning is useful — art is, in the end, a matter of thinking and processing on your feet. “What could be?” is the basic question. This way quality lies. I mean, life is making adjustments — in order to extract potential — the opportunities, the epiphanies, the sensible fun. Simplify. Keep clean. Hold hands. See the big picture. Avoid the high-maintenance traffic. It all means making adjustments.
Now here’s the catch. In life and art, you should try to make it look easy. Yep, that’s the trick. Cover up your labor.
Right now, a valued artist-friend is going down a gallery wall looking closely at my string of 11 x 14’s. “Economy” he tells me. “You have economy in your strokes.” I see my wall as a comedy of errors, a parade of toil, like a clothesline of old tee-shirts, full of holes. I don’t think my friend sees the stuff that’s underneath. He misses the tears and the hidden history. Some of those little works have been adjusted so many times they were wincing when they went into their frames.
PS: “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.” (Michelangelo)
Esoterica: How many times have we been advised, “Leave your options open.” This is valuable advice in art-making. Set up and go about your work in a way that change is forever possible. There’s nothing worse than committing to some detail that is impossible to move or difficult to stylistically echo or imbed somewhere else in the work. Think holistically. Let the painting tell you what it needs. Adjust.
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
Seeing the “etheric” color
by Bernard F. Pracko II, Broomfield, CO, USA
Along with “artistic truth” I also find it is a matter of “clear sight.” Seeing what is there, beyond the visual experience. Years ago a friend of mine took a “class in seeing color” from Henry Henche in Provincetown, RI. One object was to go from seeing the obvious perceived color, and train the eye (senses) to pick up the “true” color, and the reflected colors onto the color one was seeing, and paint that. One further step, I propose, is to disregard the color one is visually seeing, and paint the color which is sensed/perceived. This color may be very far from the visually seen color, and perhaps represents, on “another plane,” the “nature” of the visual object(s). Or, perhaps it represents an etheric interpretation of the painter.
Fix before you submit
by David Lloyd Glover, West Hollywood, CA, USA
As painters we have the good fortune of being able to “right our wrongs” without being noticed. Pity the poor pianist who slips a note, a singer who goes off pitch and actor who muffs a line and for all the world to see! They work in such pain to make it look effortless and we can achieve that illusion in complete privacy. So take advantage of that wonderful opportunity of ours and fix it before you submit it. Remember that once it is in the frame and on the gallery wall it’s too darn late.
by Jim Pescott
I agree with your thought about placing colour in the right place. My work is done solely with dots (I call it dotallism) and placing colour in the right spot is a significant issue. I often find the painting tells me what to do but on occasion I forget to listen…or don’t understand. And then the trouble starts in my efforts to, as you suggest, make it look easy. All in good time.
by Linda Saccoccio (Radha) Santa Barbara, CA, USA
In Zen Buddhism, it is called, “Right Action,” this accuracy in each situation. It is the place of appropriateness that flows when we are completely present. I like to trust this to come forward when I paint and also in all of my life.
Correcting in the “other dimension”
by Barbara Coffey
I have a problem adjusting after the excitement is over. I do plein air work and try to catch the light which leaves me one hour and a half or at best, two. After that, I am exhausted and I lose interest in adjusting when I get home. I try to correct everything on the spot when I am in this “other dimension.” I can’t seem to get back to that world in my apartment. Yes, I will make a few changes, but it is not exciting anymore and I sometimes ruin the piece. If I do a painting from a slide in my apartment I am fine and toil over it a lot longer. I go back each day and adjust. I never lose interest because the picture I am painting from the slide is still in front of me on the projection screen. I wonder if this is common?
Ways with watercolour
by Dave Edwards, Blyth, Northumberland, UK
I really value the Resource of Art Quotations that is on your site. This is a great source of encouragement. I’m making the transition from pen and ink to watercolour and would value some tips on smoothly blending colours together so there is no obvious join. Any advice?
Paints in underwear
by V. P. Guzmann, Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Hey man, you talk so much about what’s important, like such things as the kind of chair an artist sits on as being a thing for building creativity. Have you or your readers thought at all about the clothes that we wear while painting? I think it’s good to wear loose, minimal clothing in the studio. To this end I have become the founder of ISUP, “The International Society of Underwear Painters.” We do not paint on our underwear (although sometimes paint gets on it), we paint in our underwear. Older styles of light sport clothes are good too. Our human bodies act more freely in these garments and artwork becomes more of a workout that takes in the whole body. The result is blood flowing more freely to our brains and creativity becoming more excellent.
(RG note) In a cursory search we were not able to find any evidence of the ISUP on the internet.
Question of slide fees
by Sandie Witbeck, Taos, NM, USA
I have a question… as I begin to look about for places to exhibit my work in this down’ market… I see that 99.7% of the competitions, exhibitions, shows, etc. all have ‘slide fees.’ Some are 2 for $10, some are $15 for 1, and attached to that is a demand for membership $25 or $35 etc… so if an artist sends 5 slides, the check could be a minimum of $50…
Is this support for the artists, or is this support for museums and jurors at the expense of the mostly already struggling artist? Isn’t this backwards? Is there a way around this practice? Maybe sending the ubiquitous 10 slide package to the juror/s separately at a different time. Does it work to build a list of jurors and their respective addresses for reasons other than the specific competition or exhibition?
(RG note) Very often part of the slide fees go toward the prizes offered. They also go to juror’s fees and general administration, which in some cases can be pretty hefty. But it’s a business, and you, the artist, are their customers. Some of these contests may be valuable to an emerging artist — many aren’t worth a plugged nickel. You’ve got to check them out with other artists who may have entered previously. Just remember that there are about 12 million people worldwide who have paints and call themselves painters. Can you see the potential? In many ways I’m the wrong guy to ask about this. I don’t enter contests. In my experience, getting professional commercial dealers to believe in you and represent you is by far the most sensible and least destructive way to become an independent and successful creator.
There is of course a general trend away from slides as the medium of choice. Many contests are offering the option (sometimes cheaper) of submitting online. This is the way it’s going, both for art contests and gallery applications.
Working with a disability
by Laura Carberry
I developed severe arthritis in my knees and was in a car accident which affected one knee quite badly — so for the past 4 years I have been doctored to death. Throughout this I painted when I could and tried to show, but it was a struggle and now too painful to consider. My “talent” still needs further development, but I am caught in this catch 22 situation. How do I market my work and become “known” and can I develop at the same rate as I would have had I not had the accident. I really don’t want 450 paintings sitting in my basement 10 years from now. I sell from my studio but that is small potatoes to what I had hoped to do. I have considered the web but think unless you have a bit of a name and are already in galleries, I’m not sure it works. A good site costs a lot to develop. I know you can attach yourself to various groups but I know people who have done this and sales are minimal if at all. The exposure might be good but not a total solution. Any suggestions?
(RG note) It’s difficult to struggle through pain, but many have done it and it can make an artist better and stronger. If there is any way to empower others to handle your work, please give this option some thought. With regard to a website — this need not be an expensive proposition — it needs to be a properly planned proposition. A month set aside to go through the business of having your own — a “stand-alone” site, and the fee to a competent webmaster, could be time and money well spent. Please take a look at a previous letter and responses, The dealer-friendly website.
Needs a feeling of confidence
by Helen Pan
I immigrated from China three years ago. I was business consultant there. It was so tough when I start to find job here. My mother is artist and I started to paint from when I was child. I visited some galleries and decided to pursue my artist dream. I had my first art show at my home last year and sold some pieces. This year I focus on attending Juried show and find right gallery to carry my work. I have been accepted by three Juried show till now. And two galleries started to carry my work. I always ask myself if I am doing right thing (being artist). I should say art brings me so much joy and happiness. But the big question is: Can I make a living by it? My husband and I just bought our first home. He works full time to support me. Lots of times I feel I’m so frustrated that I can’t make money support family. I feel so guilty… I was capable enough to support myself when I was in China. Now I feel I’m nobody. I feel so depressed and upset. I’m so sorry for being like this. I want to find back my confidence.
(RG note) If there was a pill or a potion for confidence I would love to offer it to you. Daily, I think about artists who are in similar situations. Please send me some examples of your work and I’ll try to give you some private mentoring. We’ll publish a second, illustrated letter from you and see what other artists have to say.
by John Ferrie
My studio begins at the art supply store. I imagine all the paintings trapped inside those tubes of paint. I am inspired by the marvelous papers and giant bolts of unprimed canvases. What my budget allows does not dictate what I paint, but it is often a steering guide. I usually have a commission or a series of paintings in mind. My studio is in my home, so is my gallery. Although it often looks like a bomb went off, the set up is very precise. The paints are all layered out neatly, the brushes are all separated into different glass jars (a brush, no matter how tattered or dried out and crusty is rarely thrown away). A clean brush and clear water is crucial to the beginning of a painting (the water is not changed until a piece is finished). My massive work table is covered with paper and then thick layers of paints either dripped on or smeared from old paint remains. There are sketches and photographs of inspiration scattered and pinned up everywhere. The canvas area is always best stacked with primed and ready canvases in various shapes, the more I have the more secure I feel. Painting is production time for me. I paint with acrylic paint and every colour is mixed in small plastic cups. I reuse the cups until the cup is full of old dried up paint. These cups are also used to prop a painting up off the table. Through several sketches and drawings, I have a very good idea of what I want to communicate. It is the rest of my life that I spend wondering for ideas. Hence a large painting can be started and finished within a week. Once a painting is complete, it is ceremoniously carried down and placed on the floor in the gallery. It will go back up two or three more times for touch ups until I am completely satisfied. Then it is wired, hung and waiting for the client or public for viewing.
These sorts of procedures of making art are what make every artist unique in their own right. I often tell artists, in promotional seminars, that quality products make good art. I had a gallery once ask me what the “antiquitous quality” of my work was. I was like “…the what?…” That is to say that nobody wants a piece of art that fades in the sun or disappears due to different conditions. I always stipulate to my clients that they are not allowed to buy any art unless they love it. Whether it is done by a peasant on the street or a museum quality artist, the client has to live with it. But better to have some quality to the work. Cookies never seem to be cool enough in my house for me to paint on them. But that is just me…
All I know of Painting
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville FL, USA
all I know of painting
wouldn’t take very long to tell…
my methods, my materials
to paint is to be in the space between
what I know of reality
and what the paint can do
the best painting
happens easily, after effort
seems almost an accident,
occurs without control
when something intangible within me
that perceives no difference between reality and idea
or paint and picture
or subject and object…
something within me
plays like a dolphin
riding along the edge of perception
as if it were a wave
oil painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.