Chuck and Geraldine purchased a 24″x 30″ painting of mine in 1973. Chuck, an artist in wood, made a beautiful mahogany box for it and shipped it by Greyhound to John and Annie, Geraldine’s father and stepmother, as an anniversary gift. After John and Annie passed away it was willed back to Chuck and Geraldine. When Chuck suddenly died at a young age Geraldine phoned and wondered what might be the best way to sell the painting. I agreed to give her a hand.
When I opened the mahogany box in my studio, memories flooded out.
The Forest Home, Deer Wood at Norquay was started after a harrowing day where I had been stalked by wolves. Snowshoes only move so fast. When I finally got to my car I was trembling like an aspen. Eventually, while listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons — Winter on the car radio, a deer came daintily down through the snow and stood like a statue. A drawing proceeded. Later, in a motel, I converted the deer to canvas and surrounded it with the forest pattern I had remembered. Sometime later I finished the painting in my studio.
Yesterday, the first thing I did was throw away the frame. The liner was brown and spotty. The outer was full of dents. I cleaned the painting and removed the oily residue–years of cigarette smoke and fly specks. It’s an oil — I re-varnished with Kamar. In a sharp new frame and temporarily on our living-room wall it doesn’t look bad. On the back of the canvas I wrote ‘Cleaned by the artist,’ the date and my initials. I put a small sticker on the stretcher with Geraldine’s name and address. I phoned a dealer and asked if I could include it in my next shipment. From now on he will deal with Geraldine and there will be nothing in it for me. That’s the way I like it. The game is fair.
Geraldine and Chuck’s investment will pay off. The deer will find a new home and begin another life that I will not know of. I will keep Chuck’s beautiful mahogany box.
PS: “Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible is to leave something behind that is immortal. This is the artist’s way of scribbling ‘Kilroy was here’ on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.” (William Faulkner)
Esoterica: Some artists won’t believe that by looking at a 30-year-old painting I could recall the music I was listening to — others will know exactly what I’m talking about. Revisiting older works has its surprises. If the work happens to be bad then you have the warm feeling that you may be getting better. But then there’s the wish that you might buy up the old bad ones to get them off the market. Lots of dough required. Then, perhaps more unpleasantly, are old paintings that happen to be rather good — and there’s that feeling that you’re actually getting worse.
Imprint remains from paintings
by Peter Shulman, Richmondville, New York, USA
I have had thirty-year-old paintings that come back for cleaning. I also occasionally visit museums that have my early pop art fried egg work from the ’60s. I can remember the days I painted these works, what happened those days, what I ate and of course what music was playing and what I was thinking. When we put our souls into a piece, a memory imprint seems always to remain. Now to the present feelings. If the work is bad I am really tempted to improve it. I never do but the temptation is very strong. If the work is good I feel again that wonderful moment where I say to myself “wow I really created this” as you know that feeling is so emotional and physical it makes all the work and struggle worthwhile. With regard to money, sometimes when I see my old work at auction or in museum collections I have mixed emotions about what I sold it for thirty odd years ago and what it is worth now.
Forgot it was hers
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
I would have said I’m one of those artists who can remember every aspect of the moment any painting was done, but experience has proven otherwise. At a party a few months ago, I noticed a lovely little painting on the wall. I crossed the room, to get a closer look at the signature. Mine! I had no memory associated with this painting at all, but judging from the frame and the canvas-stretching style, I probably painted it about thirty years ago. I guess, after thousands of paintings, one or two of them were bound to slip through the cracks of my brain. These days, my assistant Kim makes sure that no painting leaves the studio without a title and a date. Occasionally a collector requests a written description of the circumstances surrounding the creation of one of my paintings — they say this will increase its value in the future. Wouldn’t it be nice if every painting I’d ever done had a little note on the back? Maybe not. A painting is made from paint, not words, after all.
Depth came with time
by Sam Hunter, Simi Valley, CA, USA
Everything I am and do and bring to the table as a student and artist is the result of my journey. And every one of my professors appreciates the contribution I bring to class because it is colored with my life, my humor, my different experiences (I grew up in Europe) and best of all, that wonderful place of being (in the ’40s) where you don’t really give a rat’s patootie about being wrong, unfashionable, or passionate about your point of view. Sure, I wanted to do an art degree at 18 — but I honestly don’t think that I could have made any art that holds a candle to what I do now — I just didn’t have the depth or the dedication. The other thing that bears a good amount of weight here is the discipline of the older student. We want it bad, and have to make many sacrifices and compromises to have it (my list of obstacles includes divorce, bankruptcy, health issues, single parenting, and paying for my son’s education while trying to get my own!) — so we work harder, and thus see more fruit from our labors.
The fun way to learn
by Margot Clayton
The artists I admire the most seem to have a grounding in Commercial Art. My experience with would-be artists who have studied at University seems that most have become derailed by the push to do “their own thing.” They are taught Art History, which is useful, but the knowledge of it can’t seem to produce anything that one would want to hang on the wall. They are not generally taught colour theory or much in the way of painting technique. Educated minds seem to be boggled by the need to be original. If they want to be painters most of them have to buckle down and learn to paint after graduation. The best way to learn anything is to learn from books and experience. It is much more fun and a lot less expensive.
Words were not enough
by Elizabeth Azzolina, Cherry Hill, NJ, USA
About 10 years ago, I lay on my bed with an old pad of paper and a piece of charcoal and sketched a large bunch of roses. I hadn’t drawn or painted in over fifteen years. I had been living in an abusive relationship but had just met a man who opened up my heart. He awoke within me so many wonderful feelings that had died. I had to express to him how I felt and words were not enough. Now I live with that new found love. One day, as I was cleaning the bedroom closet, I noticed a box buried underneath some clothing. There it was, that small, simple painting I drew out of love. As the tears welled up in my eyes, my emotions surged and reminded me of all that I have and how grateful I am for the new beginning. That painting is a reminder that there is always hope!
by Doug MacBean, Toronto, ON, Canada
I cannot seem to agree with the local commercial galleries on the worth of my work. I, like many artists, think my work is worth a certain amount, compared to what exists in the present market. Each gallery seems to have a different set of qualifications. How do other artists deal with the discouragement of gallery owners who want to “start you at the bottom and work up” kind of thinking? If I manage to sell through a commercial gallery at $3,000.00 retail, why should the next gallery not start with that same formula? Do my paintings suddenly become cheaper at one gallery and more expensive at another? I am very confused, and wondering about my worth at this time.
(RG note) All prices ought to be consistent in all galleries. You need to publish a clear price structure that is realistic and firm. If dealers won’t cooperate with your pricing process and price advances, they are too green or ignorant to be in your stable and should be dumped.
Grow every day
by Jamie Lavin, Gardner, KS, USA
The careers of many well-schooled artists were bolstered by the companies that recruited them out of college: Hallmark Cards, Josten’s, and others. These people had abilities far beyond what they were taught; that’s why they were recruited in the first place! Workshops can help, but the fire must burn within and being able to absorb skills whether taught or observed. Charley Lau was considered one of the greatest hitting instructors in Major League Baseball. His hitting skills are still taught today, although he passed away in 1984. He was a gifted communicator, as all of us catchers are! He brought along some great hitters, notably, George Brett and Hal McRae. I like to think of you as a “painting instructor,” but motivation is really what you so wonderfully package and e-mail all of us. I love seeing how words turn into skills, just as demonstrations turn into paintings. All the while, the painter paints. Each stroke can be a dazzling reminder of what is within us all, and though the university route may help your career in a networking sense, I still rather enjoy the mentor/instructor approach. I like having a “batting coach.” Ernst Ulmer in Bonner Springs, Kansas is one of mine; always ready to coach a little; but only when asked. The bottom line is that it’s up to me to find the skills and school is just one of the places. And the museums, where dead artists will “skill you” if you’ll open your eyes and “watch them paint,” by following the brushstrokes. Howard Pyle taught N.C. Wyeth, who in turn taught Andrew Wyeth, and others. He’d left The Drexel Institute and taught small classes himself in Chadds Ford. No big university doors to walk through there either. Grow every day!
(RG note) My letter The Wyeth dynasty and responses are here.
Meditation helps make artist hot
by Peter Wright
We don’t generally keep, sell or give the stinkers away. However, we still make stinkers. At the same time, there is that way of being in the groove. “When you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re not, you’re not.” For me, meditation helps the most to get back where I want to be.
If you want to write
by Jeff Chow
In response to Ana’s letter I just thought I’d mention a book that I found valuable for not only writers but anyone in the arts — If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. It’s perhaps the most inspiring book that I have come across and it’s written in a style that is not exercise based. Just read and be inspired. It includes many quotes from Van Gogh‘s letters. I think the book would be most useful for Ana in finding how to start writing again. Your letters have reminded me how valuable the mastery approach is to art and life.
Cleaning an old painting
by Naomi Shriber
I also have an old oil painting of my deceased husband painted when we were both young and in love (painted in 1972). Through the years, the painting has accumulated a layer of thick tobacco residue and general dust. I’d like to know how you cleaned it. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
(RG note) A great deal depends on the condition of your oil painting. How it was painted and what it was painted on (the support) are also factors. My painting The Forest Home, Deer Wood at Norquay was originally painted (I know, ’cause I painted it) with a fair amount of oil medium in a mainly opaque manner. It was painted on medium quality cotton canvas that was relatively unstained on the back. So I knew that the painting was what is called “healthy.” I took the painting outside and laid it face up on a picnic table and gently wiped the surface with a mild solution of Mr. Clean and water. I tested a bit in the corner first to make sure there would be no flaking. There wasn’t. Then I did the whole thing with a soft clean rag. I’d say that 90 percent of the grime came off within five minutes — the snow in the painting went from yellowish to bluish white so I knew I was on the right track. I then sprayed the canvas with a very light shower from the garden hose to make sure there was not a trace of soap left on it anywhere. Then I propped it up in strong sunlight to dry. The following day I left it in the sun for the whole day — this serves to additionally bleach any areas of linseed oil yellowing (linseed oil “rectifies” in sunlight) that might have taken place over the years. That evening I gave it another very light rub with spirit of turpentine (using a soft bundled towel — rather bumped on than scrubbed) which made sure any of the remaining oxidized varnish was removed. I constantly checked to make sure there was no flaking. The next morning I lightly varnished with Kamar (using the handy spray can) and left it flat to dry.
I wouldn’t have been so aggressive if I didn’t know the painting’s chemistry or if it wasn’t one of mine. If an oil painting happens to be on paper or on a wood panel or other solid support, I would consult with or pass it on to a professional restorer.
RG note dept.
by Robert Genn
I’d like to thank the dozen or so artists who wrote to thank us for the “special” RG noted clickback that Andrew put up last time. Some artists mentioned the value of miscellaneous subject matter, variety, and the odd stuff that we’re sometimes mutually able to coax out of our cortexes. It’s a bit of a quandary for us — whether to enlarge the clickbacks — to accommodate the significantly more material that now comes in — or to try to retain the current size. You might let me know your feelings on “too much.” Thanks for writing.
And The Band Played On
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, 2004.
That includes Moncy Barbour who wrote, “My paintings are my children and some I have raised better than others.”
And also Nana Banana, who wrote, “You may have noticed that Chinese people have 2 of everything. It’s for balance — related to fengshui. Well, I usually duplicate paintings on the same size on canvas panels or at least a photo to document the work that I have been doing. It’s great to organize little albums with all the work.”