“Ready-mades” are those lucky paintings where the composition is pretty well taken care of by Mother Nature. In the Bugaboos, a high mountain range in British Columbia, these sorts of visual blessings are scattered everywhere. Distant patterns of sky and snow can be readily aligned or juxtaposed with strong foreground elements to produce cohesive works. The idea is to dolly the eye like a movie camera, or pan around through the quadrants of the compass. Surrounded by this sort of visual perfection, you still need to watch out for inappropriate lineups, vague forms and unfortunate transitions. Often, just a few inches make a difference.
“Nearly-dones” are those works where you need to stop short when you’re hesitant or you begin to see trouble ahead. Very often, you just need the benefit of a pause or a change. An unresolved passage or area, freed from the tyranny of reality, can later be molded into a stronger presence. It seems nuts, but some passages “heal” on their own, while others recover pleasantly with informed, often minor, surgery. Whether you finish them alla prima or go back into them several times, you need to start with the idea that every work requires unique thinking and unique effort.
And there’s something to be said for “hard earned.” I’ve always appreciated the results from those places that were the most remote or the most difficult to get to. If we had to actually hike to the Bugaboo wonders, it would take all day and we’d use different equipment and another kind of gumption. Guilt prevailed when we were whisked up with all our gear in five minutes — but the guilt didn’t last. The exaltation was beyond joy. You find yourself speechless in the first rush of silence as the helicopter disappears over the ridge. It’s here, in this first silence, that you begin to make your choices. Thinking ahead is good; getting started is better.
Back in the lodge, we line up the “ready-mades” and the “nearly-dones.” Maybe it’s the mountain air that tells us what to do. We are informed by something else, something that has been with us all the time. I don’t think a Zen Master could do a better job than mountains.
PS: “Stuff your eyes with wonder; live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” (Ray Bradbury)
Esoterica: “The Bugaboo Ten,” as we call ourselves, is having an exhibition of Bugaboo work along with a solo of mine at Canada House Gallery in Banff, Alberta on May 7. Some of us are going to the Bugaboos again this September. If you’d like to join us on the mountains, please take a look at the CMH website or call Audrey Frey or Canada House Gallery.
Writing the imaginative way
by George Stephan, London, UK
“Nearly dones” are a viable method in the writing game as well. The tyranny of real life gives the basis of character and place. It’s the imagination of the writer that transforms this reality into something interesting. When D. H. Lawrence was living and writing in New Mexico and before he moved toTuscany, neighbors and friends became agitated when he helped himself to their features, speech and story, then transformed all of it into something else that didn’t match the person at all. This is the job of any artist — to transform reality into something greater (and more interesting).
‘Nearly-dones’ transformed into ‘zingers’
by John A. Scott, Traverse City, MI, USA
I have noticed that sometimes the painting compositions and color choices seem to come from the ether and the results just fall off the end of my brush effortlessly. Those are fun projects and since they seem just right in all respects from the very beginning they require little or no conscious manipulation of the design or subjects. Others are the reverse and require constant wrestling and reworking. A subject that comes to mind is a scene of the mountains and taro fields at the edge of Hanalei, Kaua’i. Virtually the same scene from a different perspective I painted and it worked out happily and with striking results but the scene I want to paint just flat out defies me. It seems like such a straight forward scene with flat foreground, rising middle ground with interesting rising shapes and then several dramatic peaks of the range behind Hanalei in the distance. I have tried it probably five or six times and it still just doesn’t work. I will not give up and take it to be a challenge to get it right but there are some frustrating times for the painter. Fortunately most of the paintings fall closer to the “nearly-dones.” And frequently, I find that if I let the painting dry and I get it out of my mind for a day or so I can go back and see that niggling detail that needs correcting or shape changed slightly, color intensified or dulled. Lots of times it is only later that I see that lines need to be interrupted, tangencies prevented or color lifted to fill out a shape better. These are the little details that make the painting a “zinger” as my instructor of many years would say. An interesting letter by you addressing common painting problems such as too continuous a line (Frank Webb’s 3″rule); tangency rather than overlapping of shapes, lack of center of interest and lines leading the eyes around the painting would be a useful reminder to us all that those little detail errors can sneak into anyone’s work.
‘Ready mades’ in the model
by Ruth Abrams, Toronto, ON, Canada
Each of your letters always seems to arrive with a message specifically tailored to my current painting dilemma! And I don’t even (and probably couldn’t) paint landscape. My particular “found” paintings have always turned out to be the alla prima portraits that emerge when working from a shared model in my painting group (Forest Hill Arts Club, Toronto). But at this stage I want to escape the “tyranny of reality” you describe. I find working in a conceptual way very difficult, as you say, “hard earned.” But that’s the way I want to go. I have started something totally different from my past work (Figurative & Abstract). I am now addressing biblical themes in a non-literal way, hoping to involve passion and ideas from the Kabbalah. It is not exactly going smoothly, but I thank you for your penetrating analyses which arrive twice a week like magic, and help me evaluate my work and my goals.
by Jackie Knott, Fischer, TX, USA
Every time I see a painter go to such extremes to capture the beauty of winter scenes I tip my hat. Painting in the snow with jackets and gloves? Geez. I remember seeing a photo years ago of American master, Clark Hulings, painting in almost Arctic gear to depict the beauty of a Connecticut barn under new snow. I told myself then, “Ain’t no way… ” But, yes, “Ready-mades” surround us in nature. Beauty, symmetry, and proportion are everywhere, usually pretty close to home. I recently took a short jaunt through a deep ravine a hundred yards long that is sixty yards from my house. It occurred to me as I walked, “There are a thousand paintings here.” Now to go back with easel and paints, sure glad I live in south Texas.
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by Rachael Gurevitch, Victoria, BC, Canada
I know you’ve heard the same old sob story a hundred times. I don’t want to complain, but I want to further explore the issues of pricing. Nothing has sold in a couple of months, despite a fabulous location (a downtown noodle shop). We had tried a price list but I didn’t like where it was placed so I went in today and changed the tags. Now each painting has the price beside it instead of a number directing you to the price. When I did this, I also lowered a few of them. I could have lowered them even more. Why? Well, number 1 my day jobs are not providing for me too well. I have the financial fear. I have $20 for the weekend… because I might have another family cancel another day sometime in the future which would make it impossible to pay rent. Blah blah, this is my life, and I take full responsibility for it. I am not looking for anything but equal trade for the quality of work I offer in all my endeavors. Why do I say I could have made the prices lower? Because I feel my art is growing and maturing in step with a youth of people who may not be able to afford more. I think with a mind of a person who said…”I could eat rice and tempeh for a week and buy this $90 painting.” I know I know, I probably just need to get out of this city (artistically). I’ve sent away to galleries all over Canada, and some in the closer States. I am a patient woman… but a hungry one. I know I could sell $60 paintings because people will buy them. While I greatly appreciate those who say I am worth more… warm feelings don’t pay the rent. So is $90 for a 12×24 acceptable or am I ruining my money karma for life. As I am writing this I know only I can make these decisions… but even if you give me some seemingly unrelated advice I am sure it will help. Thank you kindly.
(RG note) Thanks, Rachael. The problem lies in the noodles. Paintings need to be hung in places where noodles are not sold. Further, the idea is to raise prices, not lower them. Noodles make that difficult. Art should be in art galleries or other less commercial-appearing places where they stand a decent chance of getting some respect.
There are 4 comments for Financial fear by Rachael Gurevitch
by Karen Howard, UK
I have been investigating copyright of artwork, and have seen copyright and artists’ details on a number of digital images of pictures. I assume such services can be accessed through the web, but I don’t know how to access them. I am using the digimarc in photoshop at the moment for digital images. I would welcome your comments.
(RG note) Thanks, Karen. I would avoid using watermarks or digimarcs over online images. Anyone who really wants your image can generally remove them (in photoshop) with little trouble. Keeping image sizes small prevents thieves from making big photocopies or pirate giclees. Otherwise, for most artists it’s generally desirable to have your unsullied image passed around.
Whither the red?
by Trevor Hennessey, Canada
I just checked Robert’s Canada House show online. This is for Robert. I think you mentioned this observation before but I find it interesting that every pre-sold painting has one or more areas that have brilliant red highlights. Of the remaining eleven unsold paintings only two of those have any red in them and the red that is there is less emphasized. I admit this is not the only difference, to be honest I prefer the composition of the sold pieces a bit more and their colors are a bit less muted, but is the red coloring my opinion as well? Being from a grey-sky environment, I certainly recognize that I tend to pick brighter more eye-catching pieces for my personal collections.
(RG note) Thanks, Trevor. I’m aware that my winter painting times tend to bring out brighter tones. This winter was particularly dreary, so perhaps that is the reason for the increased red and other warm tones. Perhaps artists crave for what they don’t have. Perhaps red is an atavistic need that comes and goes. But I think it’s got more to do with what I’m fooling around with right now — a sort of equal intensity red (or other strong) counterpoint or negative area against a grayed background. I like the energy that the combination gives.
by Karen Evans, Clemmons, NC, USA
I love reading your inspiring information, not to mention how funny you can be! My question is how do you pronounce your last name? With a hard G? or is it a J? I have been referring your letter to some of my artist friends and wanted to make sure I am pronouncing your name correctly.
(RG note) Thanks, Karen. It’s G as in “Gobsmacked,” not G as in General.
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Shades of Winter
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, 2013.
That includes G. D. D. Dweller of Munich, Germany, who wrote, “To find a ‘ready made’ is very rare. Nature is usually wrong.”
Enjoy the past comments below for ‘Ready-mades’ and ‘nearly-dones’…