In this workshop at Painter’s Lodge amateurs rub shoulders with seasoned professionals. Indoors and out artists are able to see what their neighbors are up to. I’ve always noticed that some artists are better able to strategize their paintings. They prepare or “set up” the work for further moves. Rather than just letting the painting evolve they take charge and take control. They’re able to visualize the end-game.
A good example is the one-two knockout method where a painting of strong sun and shadow is first painted in juicy monochrome on a pinkish ground. At the half-way stage the work is glazed with blue which draws the whole thing to darker and generally bluish or neutral tones. Then the sunny areas are popped in with variations of the complementary orange. The effect is a strong and simple composition that holds the eye.
This sort of game-plan plays itself out in countless variations and in all media. I like to compare the method to a gambit of chess where you move up a pawn in order to prepare the way for your castle or other capital piece to strike. Art is a game we play against ourselves. Strategic invention is a powerful tool. Complexity and simplicity go hand in hand. Hard-won knowledge is the key. Perspiration is commonplace. Taste, inspiration and simple surprise are in the equation. Frustration, bad moves and missed opportunities are part of the territory and trying to develop the “right stuff” can be more fun than fun.
Workshops are mind-bending experiences. They are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Students and instructors alike hit the learning curve. Right now, where I sit in this spectacularly messy room, I can hear the universal artistic consciousness lurching and grinding toward individual triumph.
PS: “Artists, while unique in themselves, have a uniform will to create, to invent methods to match visions, and the concentration on artistic goals to be achieved against all obstacles.” (Robert Goldwater)
Esoterica: An artist discovers she can do a soft-pastel drawing on canvas, fix it, neutralize all over with brushy transparent acrylic, then reinforce specific areas with opaque acrylic impasto. Magic. Through personal artistic invention we re-invent ourselves.
The following are selected emails that have come into my laptop while doing this seminar with Stephen Quiller at Painter’s Lodge on Vancouver Island. Thanks for writing.
by Katherine Gordon
I laughed when I read today’s missive about the “end game” of the painting — because of the uncanny timing. I was just pondering this very subject yesterday as I was laying in a large canvas (a green and glowing view of one of Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny from a photo I took last April). I’ve painted for thirty years and taught painting privately for about the last ten. This ability to see ahead and make provision seems to me to be the line of demarcation between painters who have moved into the realm of real mastery and those who still struggle with concept. Seemingly, one must play with the paint and go through the exercises of moving a lot of paint around on the surface before he learns what to expect in terms of opacity/transparency, color admixtures, surface texture and many other issues. Then there comes the famous “aha!” when he can soar and get something that represents his highest best and also something spiritual, beyond what he thought were his abilities. What a moment. The sweet reward for diligence. It is much like chess. Like a rousing game with a worthy adversary. And I do think it is related both to the individual’s ability to conceptualize the abstract (a kind of developed intelligence) and his spiritual clean-ness. Or, as a poet friend of mine, John Allen, put it:
“We must plow incessantly the furrows of to-come
So that the ground lies open to what seed
Is given us. Art coalesces from
Such insubstantial aches to a sharp need
For form, and in the means that we employ
To shape it thus lingers a crazy joy — ”
I also had to laugh about the angst of the students seeing others’ work and how emotionally trying a workshop can be. I spent ten days this past June in Jackson Hole with Scott Christensen, last year’s Prix De West winner. He is an excellent teacher, by the way. After all my life being confident of my painting skills, I was suddenly painting like a neurotic third-grader. (Most third-grade work I’ve seen I liked much better, in fact). I learned much through the seminar and came home with a vastly improved ability, but I was reminded that a structure has to be torn down before it can be rebuilt firmer and stronger. What a painful process that can be: not for the faint of heart! Scott said that usually by the third day students are crying. (all adults, all professional painters). He was only kind, it was our own inner voices that gave us the angst!
by Margot Wille, Germany
Here are some quotations that I thought were appropriate to the letter on strategy. I found them by wandering around in the Resource of Art Quotations.
“Every moment in planning saves three or four in execution.” (Crawford Greenewalt)
“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.” (Victor Hugo)
“I found that if I planned a picture beforehand, it never surprised me, and surprises are my pleasure in painting.” (Ives Tanguy)
“Plan like a turtle; paint like a rabbit.” (Edgar A. Whitney)
(RG note) The Resource of Art Quotations is the largest collection of art-related quotations in the world. It’s about to get a bit larger. Some of our volunteer contributors are currently adding approximately 700 terrific new ones.
by Jean Blades
I suffer from a neurological disease that sometimes does not allow me to paint, or write, or in extreme situations even feed myself anything but finger food. Medicine and rest keep me from permanent damage and I have always pulled out. During these times of inactivity I go crazy with wonderful ideas that I can only envision. Any ideas you can share from your experience to help.
(RG note) Just as persons with limited eyesight find pleasure and knowledge in “talking books,” you might try tape-recording your ideas and images. The activity heightens the powers of visualization and understanding. As you begin to hear what you are saying you will improve the capabilities to hold onto and build enriching concepts. Ideas so generated can often be used at a later date when you’re feeling better. The use of tape for dictation and the verbal construction of ideas and images is an art form in itself.
Think and do
by Jack Underwood, Chicago, Illinois, USA
When watching someone like Stephen Quiller attack a half sheet on location one cannot help but note the use of strategy. There is a formula in spontaneity. What passes for a seemingly natural painting show is actually a series of carefully orchestrated moves, one after then other, that lead to the desired result. It’s a case of a fairly thorough complex of pre-visualizations, systems and methods that have worked in the past — as well as the moment to moment action of “think and do.”
by P L (Pat) Bonham, UK
You mentioned that art workshops are not everyone’s cup of tea. They have never been mine. Artists and would-be-artists who attend these sorts of things are a specific type who may never achieve any form of success — precisely because they become tempted to reduce the activity to a series of recipes. They look to the “guru” to guide them in some magic formula rather than going it alone and digging around in their own artistic souls. Limp cloning and lame clones are the main result. I have always recommended that dedicated artists stay away from workshops.
by Marques Vickers, California, USA
Charles Sherman has identified numerous types of art gallery pricing systems. Major high profile galleries in places like Maui, Beverly Hills and New York City have some of the highest price mark-ups in the world. Sometimes signed and numbered mechanically reproduced posters can be marked up 100 times or more. This means that if the poster costs $10.00 each to produce, it is sometimes sold to the public for as much as $1000.00 or more. The frame might cost another $500.00. The same galleries sometimes mark up an unsigned, un-numbered limited edition etching by a major twentieth artist for a 40-time mark-up. I.e., a Chagall etching that cost the gallery $100.00 might sell for $4000.00 including the frame. The same galleries mark up paintings by artists such as Peter Max, Erte or Alexandra Nechita, by as much as four times or more. This means that if a painting is consigned to a gallery for $10,000.00 it will be sold for $40,000.00 or more. To be fair high profile galleries do have tremendous overhead and some pay $60,000.00 or more a month in rent alone. When it comes to very expensive paintings, $100,000.00 and up, the profit margin does begin to get smaller for high profile galleries. Paintings by 20th century masters that are consigned to galleries for $500,000.00 may sell for $700,000.00. A 10% profit margin ain’t too shabby if a painting is consigned for $9,000,000.00 and sells for $10,000,000. Any gallery or private dealer would be thrilled to have a deal like that. According to Sherman auction houses commonly get 50% for a purchase or sale on very low priced artwork to as little as taking 10% of the hammer price on a purchase. Sometimes an auction house will give 100% of the hammer price to the seller if the artwork is of high quality. Examples of quality auction houses are Sotheby’s, Christies and I.M. Chait in Los Angeles specializing in Asian art. The standard 50% gallery 50% artist isn’t really standard. Many galleries go out of business with this deal. They sometimes will ask the artist to contribute one or two paintings and then it’s a fifty-fifty deal. The straight 50%-50% works best when the artist is of high quality.
Charles Sherman has a lifetime of experience in the world of art. He has served on museum councils, has been an art consultant on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California He has been president of Artists Equity and Visual Artists Guild as an arts activist fighting for artist rights around the world. He is also a qualified fine art appraiser at http://www.fineartappraisal.com/ He’s also an internationally known artist.
(RG note) Marques Vickers publishes an online letter about marketing art on the internet.
by Jane Champagne, Southampton, Ontario, Canada
I was browsing through your book The Painter’s Keys last night in preparation for a workshop I’m teaching, and chanced to look at the introduction. Among the participants in the workshop was Helen Beattie. She was my aunt, mentor, critic, and haven in a family of non-painters. She it was who sent me a small, empty plastic palette one Christmas in the early ’80s, a blank sketchbook, and a note, which read: “I trust you have a brush and know how to use it — Get cracking!” The acerbic Aunt Helen strikes again — you see, I hadn’t painted for 23 years, thinking I’d never be good enough, and she figured I was wrong. She was right. There is no such thing as coincidence. That I should find her name in your book at a time when inspiration has disappeared, when I still haven’t recovered from burn out, and had almost decided to give up painting for teaching, is serendipitous in the extreme. Especially in your newsletter describing workshops so accurately.
Not trying to be perfect
by Don Getz, Ohio, USA
I have just completed a workshop in Maine and the participants were really charged. In spite of the terrorist attacks on the eleventh there was the feeling that good will eventually come of it. Artists can be held up by anything. In response to your newsletter about the struggling young artist, who cannot move on — I find that many artists struggle because they simply try too hard under the stressful conditions in which they place on themselves. The answer is simply to sit back, relax and take a whack at the paper or canvas with a ‘devil may care’ attitude. I do my best when I’m NOT trying to be perfect.
Universal Artistic Consciousness
Do you really think there is such a thing as a Universal Artistic Consciousness? (Several writers)
(RG note) I think there’s something going on. See my letter and responses to Morphic Fields.