‘Ready-mades’ and ‘nearly-dones’

Dear Artist, “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.

“Bugaboo High”
acrylic painting, 30 x 34 inches
by Robert Genn

“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.

Don Hodgins at Hourglass Lake, Bugaboos

Best regards, Robert 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  

original painting
by Ruth Abrams

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.   Snow courage by Jackie Knott, Fischer, TX, USA  

“Taos Pueblo”
oil painting
by Jackie Knott

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. There are 2 comments for Snow courage by Jackie Knott
From: Anonymous — Apr 18, 2011

Jackie: This is one of the prettiest paintings of Taos Pueblo I have ever seen. The softness, the color, the compositon. I have been there and it feels like I am standing in the plaza again. It is a great work you have done.

From: Anonymous — Apr 19, 2011

at first glance, I thought this was a photo!

  Financial fear by Rachael Gurevitch, Victoria, BC, Canada  

original painting
by Rachael Gurevitch

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
From: Brigitte Nowak — Apr 19, 2011

I feel for Rachael Gurevitch, but agree with Robert: noodle shops sell noodles. Galleries sell paintings. That said, there are always more artists trying to get into galleries than there are galleries available to sell paintings. While Rachael Gurevitch is doing the right thing by applying to galleries, another option, maybe better than noodle shops, are locations like public libraries, some of which display artwork, and churches and community centres. As well, network with local art organizations, share information with members on where they show their work. When approaching galleries, don’t aim for the top tier galleries right off the bat: the artists they represent have earned their prestige over time, and the galleries may be less likely to take on an unknown artist. Try smaller, lesser known galleries, perhaps in smaller urban centres. (Google artists whose work you admire, and see where they show their work.) One downside to gallery representation is that galleries take a hefty commission to cover their out of pocket costs, including staff, rent, insurance, utilities, advertising, etc. Since it is ethical to keep your prices consistent, the gallery prices become your defacto selling price, whether your work is sold through a gallery or other venue. As far as an acceptable price for your work, remember that when you put a painting ion a wall with a price tag on it, you are making a “product” for sale. The price becomes what the market will accept. Good luck.

From: Darla — Apr 19, 2011

The problem with the noodle shop is not that it sells food, but that it sells low-priced food, attracting customers with little disposable money. Maybe you could try displaying paintings in more upscale restaurants. That said, you can always raise prices later. Sometimes that can make your paintings sell BETTER.

From: Sarah — Apr 19, 2011

Robert and the other commenters are right. Most people don’t buy art on a whim the way they might purchase an attractive magazine. So shoppers at the noodle place don’t have the mind set that they’re going to buy art. It’s a challenge for most artists to sell, and I wonder if you might search on-line for free marketing advice. Good luck.

From: tikwheats — Apr 19, 2011

Yes, noodles are low-end, however, when I lived in Santa Barbara having ones paintings is restaurants was very desireable and as hard to get into, almost, as the local art association with all their crappy rules. Personally, I always pay attention to the art is restaurants and like to see them promote local artists.

  Copyright overlays 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.   Funny name by Karen Evans, Clemmons, NC, USA  

“Old Salem Garden”
oil painting
by Karen Evans

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.     There are 3 comments for Funny name by Karen Evans
From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Apr 19, 2011

Well I am gobsmacked. There I was, thinking, this guy has the gen alright, so that’s how you pronounce his name. ;-) One learns something new every day.

From: Anonymous — Apr 19, 2011

I’m astonished!

From: another anonymous — Apr 19, 2011

Sorry I’ so dense but I don’t get it! You mean Genn is pronounced like “gone gonn’. I don’t know what else to do with gobsmacked!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for ‘Ready-mades’ and ‘nearly-dones’

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Apr 14, 2011

90% of my paintings go through the “nearly-done” stage. I find it’s best to bring them close to completion, then stop, as fatigue creeps in. The break could be 15 minutes or 3 days. A fresh eye and renewed energy caps it off nicely.

From: Jackie Knott — Apr 15, 2011

Every time I see a painter go to such extremes to capture the beauty of winter scenes I tip my hat to you all. 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 …. ” “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.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Apr 15, 2011

I have heard so much of the beauty of the scenery in British Columbia especially the Rockies and the lakes. We went to Calgary in the seventies and went to Banff but did not go to B.C. and it was shortsightedness on our part. I love traveling and we have been to most parts of Canada. The Maritimes have a different allure than the west. The flower pots of the Bay of Fundy can be viewed from different stand points and you get a different perspective from these stand points. I started painting it last month from my photos at different places and now I am conflicted on how to finish it so I have set them aside for two weeks now. I would like to put some people that were down below sightseeing and taking pictures that were included in the photos but a few only to show the depth as well as heights of these rock formations in comparison to human figure. I have hesitated of doing so. So there is my painting waiting! Thanks for the letter it gave me some pointers.

From: Lorrene Baum-Davis — Apr 16, 2011

Ha…. I have so many nearly done jewelry works, well, I cannot count. If they are not completed after one year, I send the pieces off to the refiner to give me a check to buy more silver… which, with todays’ prices, won’t get me much. Now I am choosing to re-work them. But, those ready-mades give me a high that no drug can match.

From: Ramon Chu — Apr 18, 2011

There is no substitute for thinking things out in advance. The quick sketch is invaluable in heading off those unpleasant lineups, etc. that you mention. Not that it is the be all and end all, but it goes a long way toward later satisfaction. The business of art is full of self delusion. That which is thought to be good by the maker can be substandard to the casual viewer. You need every forward looking ploy that is at your disposal.

From: Dirk Hendry — Apr 18, 2011

Yes the idea of voraciously inhaling the world with your eyes, making it a feast, a la Ray Bradbury, and getting the most of this gift is the basis of good art. Painters of sensitivity are blessed in this way and they are seldom disappointed wherever they go. We should never be bored, but, curiously, we sometimes are.

     Featured Workshop: Robert Genn and Liz Wiltzen in the Bugaboos
041911_robert-genn Robert Genn and Liz Wiltzen in the Bugaboos   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.

Shades of Winter

oil painting by Katherine Kean, Tujunga, CA, USA

  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.”    

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