Saturday, October 11, 2008

Costly art

I'm not talking about the price of finished art, I'm talking the poor starving artist needs supplies cost. I'm relatively new to using polymer clay to sculpt and haven't even started to market yet. I'm trying to develop good work habits and I start a new pieces as soon as I finish one. I find that it doesn't take long to go through a few pounds of clay which averages out to about $18. a pound. That's not terribly expensive, I sure put a lot more money into oil paint and oil pastels, plus there was the added cost of supports and framing. 

I've found several ways to reduce the cost. I work in miniature size, I tend towards using only one or two colors and I don't waste one little crumb of material. I keep everything in plastic bags, stored in a can I can seal. But even without the added stress of the current economic times our budget is pretty limited. I can't always run and get new clay when I want to. 

So, what to do? I've applied to be a Polyform tester. I have a little experience since I tested the Shiva Paintstiks, and the bonus to being a tester is that you get to keep the free product you are testing. I'm also thinking of diversifying. 

I've not been much into the bead making aspect of polymer clay, but my Google Reader has pointed me to some really great work and ideas out there. I've done wire wrap jewelry in the past (another costly investment) and with the right product at least I can make enough money to support my sculpting habit.

Creative thinking has to come into play in more than just your artwork, so if you're facing the same issues put your mind into other ways of making money as a sideline.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Using geometric planes in your art

When I was learning to paint portraits I read about using geometric shapes like cones, circles, etc to shape the basic forms. I'm not really wired mathematically and so I never used that process. Mostly I followed the light source to determine the shapes of the face and body.

But over time I found that these shapes crept into my work, especially in the beginning stages before I started creating the mid-tone shadows for softness. I discovered that using grays (as in a grisaille painting or a charcoal sketch) seemed to free up my process...when I wasn't concerned with color I seemed to instinctively block in the planes in much broader strokes.

Here's a piece I did in 2006 of my nephew. It was just meant to be an underdrawing of charcoal but I so liked the drama of the contrasts that I kept it as is (with tons of fixative to hold the powdery charcoal in place).


The piece was 2 x 3 foot, drawn on a toned canvas.  I mainly used the side of the charcoal and just marked the angle lines of the features to keep things lined up. But I did not draw lines at all...mostly because I just wanted to grab the main lights and shadows quickly. There's a bit of freedom in knowing that paint is going over an underdrawing, things can be adjusted later on, and working large is also much more conductive to blocking in shapes, especially if you step back from the easel to take in the overall effect. Negative spaces are equally important as they frame the subject.

I never once consciously thought of cones or circles, I thought of blocks...a block of heavy shadow right here, negative space just there, for the light, but when I stepped back I could see partial elipses, triangles and cones making up the form. Looking back now I see a strength in the shapes, sort of like hewn stone rather than a drawing. 

I've heard a lot that using over large brushes in the beginning of a painting has the same effect. If one were wanting to try this but was afraid of messing up, then they could try to dilute the paint for the beginning stages, it's thin and can be built upon (though not too thin or it will lift later on). Or do like I did and drop it in with charcoal. With a good fixative (I actually used retouch varnish) then it can completely be painted over.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Art and chronic pain

I've sort of been avoiding the subject because I don't want the fact that I have fibromyalgia to control any part of my life and when I dwell on it, that gives it importance I don't want it to have. But just as it affects every aspect of my life, it also affects my art...and not always in bad ways.

In fact, when I was at my worst, painting was about the only thing I could do. It saved my sanity because it's not easy to go from perfectly healthy and active to a painful sedentary lifestyle. Don't get the wrong idea...I'm not whining...many people have worse problems than I do and over the years I've learned to live with it. And there are good periods when I feel almost normal and a lot of chronic conditions don't offer that boon.

Eventually I quit painting because the repetitive action of painting combined with standing at the easel proved too much. I can't sit and paint, it's too close to the canvas to really get a good overall feel. And when I started to dread going into the studio I knew it was over. Eventually though, I did find that I could sit and sculpt and was surprised to find that I had an even greater passion for it than painting.

I still have to pace my work habits around my condition though. The best time to work is in the morning while I still have energy. I'm much better these days than I was a few years ago and I can now get exercise mowing my lawn or doing strength exercises in the winter. I can work after the exercises, but not on a day I mowed. 

Sure, sometimes it's frustrating when I have a piece I really want to work on, but in the long run I'm much more productive if I listen to my body. I take weekends off and when I work I make sure that I get up and move around every so often. I try to remember to sit correctly, though that is hard because I have a tendency to get so involved that I lose track of time and space. 

I moved my work table into the living room so that even on a bad day I can get up and maybe do a few minutes work if I want to. I no longer have issues with depression since I started using Sam-e. I don't really feel any different, I just don't crash anymore. And believe me, that's a HUGE help. So it's just a matter of whether or not my body is up to it or whether I'm sleep deprived, because if a person is too tired then there's just too many mistakes made. 

But most of the time I can work...not the crazy 10 hour days I used to put in, but you'd be amazed what a person can accomplish in just an average of 2-4 hours a day, even if it is split up. And my art keeps me going. I've chosen to do subjects that make me feel good and hopefully do the same for others. I constantly remind myself that I am so lucky in so many things that I can't let one stupid thing bring me down. 

I'm only writing about this because I know there are other artists out there dealing with chronic pain and I know sometimes it's hard to keep going. The first thing I did to pull out of it was to do a self portrait showing myself hard hit by the fibro. I put myself inside the mouth of a t-rex dinosaur, just to show how it was eating me up. But the thing is that instead of looking defeated I looked like I knew I would win past it all. So my art taught me that instead of giving in I could fight back...until that moment I truly didn't think I could because no matter what I did, it had control. 

It took time, but these days it's just something I deal with, no more importance to it than not being able to sit in the sun on a rainy day. It's just the way it is. I did another self portrait about 5 years later...I show my age but I think I caught what is inside of me that got me through.

This might be something others want to explore, just getting a hook on something is 1/2 the value. Sometimes it seems that we have no control over things, but we do have control over ourselves. We can determine what we want to do and find ways around a problem so that we can do it. 

So if you do have a chronic pain problem learn how to work with it and never let it control you, it can be done.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sugar Art

I must say that some of the most impressive and downright gorgeous creations that I've seen lately is sugar art. Last night the food channel had a pastry competition that was held in 2004 for the best pastry chef world title. They had to create two sculptures, one sugar, one chocolate, along with a ton of yummy little edible goodies. 

The favorites were the American, French, Belgian and Japanese. The Americans, led by a French chef living and working here, did win the overall title. But the dark horse that won the artistic expression portion were the Koreans.

To me, sugar art looks like delicate glass. I've always been fascinated by glass, and it's a wonder that it never became my medium. Nothing makes light the star of the show like glass. The chocolate sculptures were impressive, but the sugar art lifted the idea of sculpture to a whole new level.

The Koreans created a ball of color that somehow had a vortex worked into the center...the judges were amazed, I guess no one was paying attention to them when it was created and I was so disappointed to not see how they got the effect. On top of this ball they had a huge fire red was just gorgeous and probably around two feet high. There was another piece on top of that, but honestly I can't remember what it was, even though it too was beautiful. My eyes kept staring at that dragon and the way the light passed through was mesmerizing.
Really, all the sugar pieces were gorgeous...the Belgians even had a 3 foot wide ribbon attached! The pieces all had to be moved to a table to prove that the structure principles were also sound.  

I am not just impressed with the beauty...I am impressed with the skill of the artists. Sugar is an amazingly difficult medium to work with. It's scalding hot to begin with, it has to be cooled to where it is malleable but too much, too fast and it will just crack in two (or twenty) pieces. If poured incorrectly it forms bubbles to mar the clearness, if pulled sugar isn't done right it loses the shine. Humidity affects the setting of it, I've seen pieces just disintegrate during the moving process. 

When I think of pastry chef I think of, well, pastry. I can see where making the best pastry in the world could be considered an art...a craft done to its zenith. But this...they are truly artisans at the top of the art game. Their work is sheer poetry and I saw some representations of things like fire that put me to shame...not only creative but exquisite. 

I tried to find some photos of the Korean entry and didn't have any luck, but here's a link to this year's entries for the same competition. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Choosing subjects in Art

Have you sometimes wondered if your subject matter isn't what people want to buy? I used to think about that when I did portraiture, people will opt to commission a portrait of themselves or family members, but few people want to look at a person they don't know whose eyes follow them around the room.

It doesn't really matter what subject you choose though, not everyone will like your subject matter, even if it's a popular theme. There are as many tastes as there are types of artists, so the important thing to remember is to pick a subject you are passionate about and create it to the best of your ability. And most important, give it your own flavor. 

Some subjects have been done over and over... ballerinas and children playing in the sand are two that come into mind. These themes do seem to be people pleasers, but how do you make yours so that it will be the one chosen from many?

Well, you can give it a fresh twist by focusing on one aspect. It can be a certain mood color, or unusual perspective or focal area. Size, composition, lighting are all areas you can play with.

You can take a clue from gallery owners want several things in the work they offer their clients. One thing that is important is a recognizable style...a consistency in your work. Another is production, they work to build up a demand for an artist's product and while rarity may be a good thing, paucity is not. Certain subjects may be more popular than others but few collectors will want a repetitive subject on their wall (although they may want a lot of pieces from one artist whose work appeals to them). 

The upshot is that you have to find a way to take whatever subject interests you and make it stand out in the crowd. 

Monday, October 6, 2008

Things history teaches us about creating art

It's not so easy coming up with topics on some days...I sort of just blank out lol, so I wait for an inspiration to come along. It came in my email today, a friend sent a photo of a mural in King Tut's tomb, amazed at how the color had remained strong after thousands of years. I think part of it was the fact that the tombs were sealed most of that time and weren't affected by oxidation, pollution and UV rays. But it got me to thinking about the quality of art materials.

There's always a lot of discussion on art forums about using quality materials, some say yes, it's needed for longevity, others say no, cheap gets the same results so why spend so much money. My feelings are that people have taken time over the centuries to share what they have learned the hard way. Certain colors have been proven to be fugitive. Some papers disintegrate. Some finishes crack.

If you want to be an artist, be a good artist. To be a good artist you have to learn your craft. We study technique so that we can learn the best way to communicate. We strive to develop our own style so that we can communicate our own unique way of seeing. Whatever message we send in a work should be a worthy one, hopefully just as relevant in a thousand years as it is now. 

Now there's nothing wrong with communicating in a medium that is transient, as in ice or sand sculpting. There's a certain poignancy in saying beauty sometimes only lasts a moment, so enjoy it while it's here, but collectors aren't paying money for this art either. When a collector buys a piece of art they want to enjoy it for as long as they own it. Perhaps they want to pass it down so their ancestors can also enjoy it. 

Proven quality materials are the way to ensure that your work will last. It's an honesty that you are giving the buyer. Some materials are new to this past century and maybe not proven by the test of time, but we do have chemistry to tell us the expected longevity. 

The thing that struck me looking at the photo of the mural was the craftsmanship. I saw the attention to detail and marveled at the cryptic symbolism. I felt the artist and for a moment I stepped back into a different world. And it's all due to the fact they they obviously used the best materials available (this was a King's tomb after all) and took such pains to preserve it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Art Seasons

I think summer is gone. The thermometer is hanging pretty close to the freezing mark this morning and the wind is howling. We may get some more nice daytime temps, but I don't think there'll be too much temptation to stop working for a nice break outside.

I always seem to be at my most productive in fall and spring, I think the cooler temps sort of pick up my spirits and give me energy. In the summer there's so many other things to do outside and sometimes there's no way I want to turn on the oven, air conditioning or not.

The dead of winter tends to slow me down's not the cold, because it's plenty comfortable inside, but I do believe the lack of natural light really affects me. It is a lot harder to see my work, very critical when I was painting but still so while sculpting...light tells me where my shadows fall. The low light conditions also tend to bring my mood down.

This year I've moved my studio out of the single window bedroom dedicated to it and plopped my draft table and sculpting tools and supplies right in the living room. It's up against the far wall, but I almost wish I'd put it in front of the picture window. The view is too nice, I might end up staring instead of working :D

This does solve several things...I can walk over and pick up a piece to work on any time my eyes fall on it, which means I work a bit more. I have three light Ott bulb that mimics daylight, the corner incandescent light and the light from the window (if I could build a studio from scratch though, I'd have a bank of skylights). And finally, it helps to be in the center of my home hub. I have an open floor plan in this part of the house, so everything is convenient. Rather than not get work done due to distractions I get more done. I also remember to get up and move around more often.

This week I've found another wonderful woodcarver for site of the week. Stefanie Rocknak: Sculptor  is a powerful artist, she works at a very large scale (life size to 12 feet) with the dynamism of an old that I mean that you marvel at the strength and mastery of form. I really enjoy her vision, I hope you will too.

site of the week Stefanie Rocknak: Sculptor