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In Search of “White Space”

 

I’ve been working at a hectic pace these last two weeks preparing for a one-day art event called Art Pops! At Everedy Square and Shab Row in Frederick, MD.  Last Saturday was the big day to kick off this event and hopefully make some new connections and sales of my art work. The weeks leading up to this event were jam packed with activity and tasks such as weekly social media marketing campaigns, packaging and pricing my art works for sale, creating an inventory list in Excel, researching how to create an art booth display on Pinterest, etc.  And I learned a lot from this show, such as the importance of making in person connections with people to sell my art, how to read people, etc. In fact, I sold more art work in one day at the art show, then I did from months of posting about my art on Instagram, Facebook, and Etsy, and I am thankful for that.  However, all of this activity really took a toll on my energy and motivation to create art.

In all the business of preparing for the art show, I have really struggled to make time to create new art work. I feel that I have reached the end of my creative resources and knowledge, tapped out, so to speak. It’s been several years since I took an art class, and I haven’t read any new art technique books in several months. And this state of affairs is not like me. I am usually restless when I am not making art or coming up with some new ideas for a series of paintings or drawings. The last few days since the show ended, I have made a concerted effort to at least draw one portrait a day for my drawing challenge which I started back in June called, 100 faces in 100 days. Some days I have made some decent portraits, other days I have really struggled or been disappointed with

the results. If you would like to follow my progress with this project, you can view my 100 faces in 100 days drawing challenge on Instagram. I am listed as jsjschmidt2 on Instagram, and I post almost every day. Pictured are some sketches from this week including Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Sean Connery.

The paintings I wanted to work on, however, are not coming together. Instead of posting the finished product as I had hoped to do this week, I have to take several steps back and ask myself what isn’t working with the composition, values, colors and the drawings in my art work. For example, in my Creative Block: Waiting, watercolor painting, I feel there are too many elements battling for precedence and not enough quiet spaces to allow the viewer to contemplate the scene. The composition feels cluttered and overwhelming and the message of creative block feels “lost” in the muddle. So yesterday, I painted over several spots in the painting with acrylic gesso. And the Civil War soldiers fared no better. So out with the gesso again. I am struggling with the drawing and the tonal values in these acrylic paintings. I have discovered that the acrylic paint dries much darker than it looks when I mix it up and put it on the brush, which is really throwing off the values. So I may re-do the painting in oils after the gesso has “cured.”

The paintings seem to be a type of metaphor for where my life is these days. Overstuffed and empty all at the same time. I feel I have lost the wonder I used to have about making art that keeps me motivated to get into the art studio ever week to see what new ideas I might “cook up.” Meanwhile, I am realizing that my workaholic tendencies are not conducive to making art work. I must create and seek “white space” to re-fill my creative tank, so that I have something to draw from when I go to make art work.  Meanwhile, I will be be seeking out this “white space” in its various forms, whether it is taking a walk, journaling, going to an art gallery, reading an art technique book, etc., to try and regain my sense of wonder for life, and for making art.

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What is Artist’s Block?

This year has been a difficult one with lots of transitions and changes. One of these big changes was my decision to drop out of the Human Services Associate’s degree program at Frederick Community College, in Frederick, MD. I made this decision after 18 months of double mindedness between feeling like I had to finish it because I didn’t have any other solid plans for my career, and feeling tired and unmotivated to complete the class assignments.  I felt really invested in finishing the academic program because I had already put in countless hours writing papers, studying and several fieldwork assignments. I also felt split in half between my desire to be a professional artist, and the need to carve out a definite career path for myself. It was a difficult decision, but I finally decided to drop out after some soul searching and talking with my academic advisor. In addition, the workload that this academic program demanded left very little time for creating art. And if I am 100 percent honest with myself, I have always wanted to take my art to the next level beyond just a hobby. However, I felt unsure of how to pursue this goal after I graduated from McDaniel College with a degree in Art in 2005, and it didn’t seem “practical” to pursue art as anything more than a hobby.  I also faced several professional setbacks with my art work when I got a series of rejection letters, both for art shows and for graduate school art programs.

Lately, I have been learning that incorporating creative time in my schedule is very important to me and my well being. Creating art work has been an outlet for me at various times in my life during stressful moments and personal struggles, especially during my father’s long illness and eventual death in 2011 from heart disease, complicated by a series of strokes and COPD.  Making paintings and drawings in oil, watercolor, pastel, and pencil, has provided me with a safe way to process difficult feelings and emotions. However, over the past few months, making art has been very challenging and more like a test of endurance and skill than the oasis or refuge it used to be. In spite of the difficulties, I have been pressing on with sketches and paintings to prepare for my October art show at the Frederick Coffee Company as Artist of the month, in addition to drawing every day in a drawing challenge I created for myself called 100 faces in 100 days, in which I post drawings of celebrity portraits on Instagram every day. However, the joy I once felt in making art seems to have deserted me.  I’ve been soul searching and asking myself, “What is going on here?” and “ How can I go from feeling like creating art work is my lifeline, to it has become my enemy and tormentor and relentless critic?”  After reading an article, entitled, 7 Types of Creative Block(And what to do About Them), by Mark McGuiness, I think I am beginning to understand that this lack of forwarding motion is the dreaded  Artist’s Block that seems to afflict creative types from a variety of fields such as musicians, writers, and artists.

This article mentioned 7 different types of creative blocks. However, the ones that I related to the most were “ mental block” and the “emotional barrier block.” The mental block is caused by a harsh critical voice which interrupts your creative flow with negative chatter and it often critiques the work in progress with a harsh rush to judgment. McGuiness suggests that artists should be curious and allow themselves to ask the question, “What if?” to break through the negative chatter and open up their minds to new ideas and approaches to making art work.  The second type of block is called an emotional barrier, and it involves the artist’s emotions and may have to do with the artist’s fears of failure or feelings that may be brought up by creating the art work. For me, I have realized that I have a tremendous fear of failure, and it is a subconscious feeling that comes up in the form of procrastination and avoidance when I have a custom art piece to complete or a celebrity portrait, to begin with, my drawing challenge, 100 faces in 100 days. I’ll justify it by looking for inspiration from art books or art work from the internet. Sometimes this is helpful to get me started on my art, and sometimes it isn’t.

This fear bleeds into many areas of my life, whether it is academic pursuits, art, etc. The fear of failure and my performance anxiety is so bad that I have already given up singing in the worship band at my church, and I don’t want to let that happen with my art work also. The only way I have been able to face this fear is to be intentional about doing the drawings or paintings anyway, despite my fears. I also find that setting the kitchen timer for 25 minutes helps me to get going on a drawing or painting because I know I have a limited amount of time in which to work.  It is interesting to note that McGuiness suggests that artists implement routines, and commit to doing their art work. When I started my drawing challenge in June of this year, I had not yet read this article, but the challenge of daily drawing with a pre selected subject that gets posted on Instagram has helped me to be much more productive. As for the fear of failure, it is still there, but I am trying not to let it keep me from doing the thing I love to do most and that is drawing and painting. Perhaps a little bit of fear is a good thing

because it keeps me on my toes and drives me to seek excellence in everything I do.

Pictured is a new work in progress, called Waiting: Creative Block, that is based on a photo collage I created in Adobe Photoshop using several photographic images from different sources. I traced the printed photo collage onto watercolor paper by placing a piece of carbon paper in between the photo collage and the Arches 140 lb watercolor paper, then outlining the image with a black pen. After I had transferred the image, I began painting in a burnt sienna watercolor paint to map out the middle values and darkest values in order to give the painting some basic shapes and to define the composition. More progress photos will be added later as I add in more details, lights, and darks. The piece seemed like a perfect complement to this blog post, because in it I wanted to translate the feeling of being creatively blocked by incorporating images such as a desert, mannequin forms trapped in cages, and plants and pregnancy images as a metaphor for the incubation of ideas and a time of waiting and stillness. Here is a link to the article I read in case you would like to read it: http://99u.com/articles/7088/7-types-of-creative-block-and-what-to-do-about-themThanks for looking!

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Part Two: How do Artists Make Money?

Hello, Friends, last week I posed the question, “Can artists make money from their artwork”? It’s a question I’m sure other artists have asked themselves in the past and certainly one that I have been asking myself lately, and more specifically, “What can I do to make that money”? In last week’s post, I discussed two specific traditional methods, listed on the Art Bistro.com article, How do Artists Make Money? by Valerie Atkisson. Some of the methods listed in this article are: 1.) exhibiting artwork at art galleries and museums, and 2.) Exhibiting artwork at not for profit art galleries. Both methods have pluses and minuses. With the former, the artist may have to submit their work to juried shows, where the competition can be tough, and the entry fees can add up, the more shows that artists apply to. Also, many for-profit galleries take a commission for artworks that are sold, which can be up to 60%, so artists need to price their work accordingly so that they can be sure to make a profit. Source: How do Artists Make Money? by Valerie Akisson, http://artbistro.monster.com/careers/articles/5848-how-do-artists-make-money?page=2.

In a Business of Art Class, I took this January with teacher and Photographer, Rebecca La Chance, at The Artist Angle Gallery, in Frederick, MD; I learned that there are some ways of coping with the competition for art show entries. For example, a guest artist, Bill Watson, taught a class on Artist Branding. One of his points was that before you choose an art gallery to submit artwork too, be sure that your artwork is a good fit for the style of artwork that is exhibited there. For instance, you can visit the art gallery website to review the types of artists and artwork that has already been exhibited, and you can take the time to visit the gallery and get to know the staff there before you decide if you would like to work with them. I think this strategy can help artists to find their target audience of people who are likely to like their artwork and sell it, rather than simply submitting art portfolios to every art gallery in the area without a specific goal. That would be kind of like throwing darts at a dartboard with your eyes closed, not a very effective strategy. It’s kind of like when you are job hunting and you tailor your resume to fit the job description advertisement of jobs you wish to apply for. This can save you a lot of time and headaches to have a targeted plan, and hopefully this method gives you time to create a fantastic portfolio, which I am learning is the foundation I need to build onto first, before getting caught up in the newest craze of how I should be marketing my artwork, etc.  Moreover, your chances of success in this venture should surely increase if you are giving galleries the type of work they already love.

But to return to the topic of,” How do Artists Make Money?” I will reference a few more methods that the Art Bistro.com article mentioned. Another method that artists can utilize to sell their work is to host an open studio event where they can sell their artwork from their studio and invite friends, family, collectors, etc.  (Akisson).Using these method artists can retain 100% of the sales, provided they don’t have a contract with an art gallery limiting how they sell their artwork. (Akisson).  However,  artists  also need to be 100% responsible for marketing their open studio and collecting RSVP, getting refreshments, as well as setting up the show, collecting cash, updating their inventory, deciding on what  payment methods to use, such as cash, check, or credit card payments using Square or a commerce site, such as Etsy or Shopify,  and posting online marketing to advertise their show using Mail Chimp, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media channels to let people, specifically collectors know about an artist’s art show.

I have tried this method of hosting an Open Studio with mixed results. The first show I hosted, I had a great turn out and a lot of art sales from friends and family who attended. I used Facebook’s event page tool and I printed fliers I had made in Photoshop to advertise the art sale which was last July. However, the second Open Studio sale I hosted this past February was very disappointing. Many people did not respond to my invitations even though I made a Facebook page and texted their cell phones, or people said they were coming and didn’t, etc. Only a few people came to the art show and I felt like it was a wasted day with very few sales for so much effort, setting up the art show, making labels for art, marketing the artwork for sale, creating an inventory list, etc. It was a frustrating experience and I don’t think I will be trying this method again, but maybe I will try some other new things instead.

And finally, here is the last method I will discuss today from the Art Bistro article, and that is, selling artwork online. Source: (Akisson, 2014). This particular method seems to get a lot of positive press, especially on websites that talk about how great it is to sell your artwork online, how easy, etc.  To use this method, artists can create online commerce sites with their artwork on websites such as Etsy.com, Art Fire.com, Fine Art America.com, Red Bubble.com, Shopify.com, etc. I am sure there are many more sites, but these are the first examples that come to mind. One thing I learned a few years into setting up my own Etsy site is that I need to take into account the commission taken by Etsy and price my artwork accordingly, so I make a profit from it. However, an advantage of building my own commerce site and selling my artwork directly to others is that there are no gatekeepers who can reject my artwork, although there is usually a subscription fee or other fees associated with membership on the website.  Another thing is that it is not enough for artists to build the Etsy shop and just wait for customers to buy their artwork. In fact, many of the people who buy my artwork are friends and family who have seen my artwork on Facebook or have commissioned artwork from me, not strangers who have visited my website or Etsy store.

Because there are many, many artist commerce shops out there, artists need to advertise their artwork on Facebook, Instagram etc. and make sure that collectors and friends know about their shop so there will be a greater share of online sales. Furthermore, artist commerce sites need to be updated frequently with a variety of artwork, but not so much that buyers don’t recognize your personal art style.

One more thing, I highly recommend is that artists host art shows in person as much as they can, and not just relying on their art website or commerce store to sell their work. It seems to me, base don my own experiences that people want to meet the artist in person and sell the physical artwork before they will buy it. It is also a chance for the artist to build a personal connection with collectors and to find out why they like the artist’s artwork. Sometimes even the best photography will not show details such as texture, etc. of specific mediums like an oil painting or acrylic. However,  it is important to take the best possible photos of your artwork that you can before posting these on your commerce site or artist website. If you aren’t good with photography, take a photography class, or hire a professional photographer so you can present your artwork

photo collage, pregnancy, desert, eye, dress forms, seeds, woman, process, artist's block.
Here is a photo collage I made in Adobe Photoshop which I made by combining various photographs in the Photoshop program. I wanted to illustrate the feeling of artists’ block, which can feel like a time of dormancy. I plan to translate this collage into a watercolor painting soon.

in the best possible light. It is your visual resume and your most effective selling tool to show the world who you are as an artist. Best of luck!

 

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Behind the Scenes, Project Completed

So here I am at the end of a blog series with my 10 x 10-inch painting completed and ready to be displayed at the TAG Squared Box Show in Frederick, MD. It has been a difficult but insightful experience, mustering up the discipline to finish a project when I had little enthusiasm and was suffering from a severe case of artist’s block. So what did I learn in the process?

I learned that there is value in daily studio practice of drawing or painting, even when I don’t feel that spark of inspiration. It is all preparation and practice, polishing up my skills so that when the next flight of inspiration comes, I will be strong in my painting and drawing skills. I also learned that sometimes I have to “look” for that inspiration with a very focused approach, and for me, that was creating a sketchbook of ideas from Google searches, art magazines and especially the well-known idea catalog, Pinterest.  Lastly, I learned that my desire to paint and draw comes from seeing the artwork of others and by pushing myself to do frequent studio practice because it reminds me of why I love to create art. For me, it is the process of making something new, the challenge of translating an abstract idea, such as imagination, into a unnamed-1visual language that gives art meaning. And most importantly, making art is my way of recharging my batteries and stepping back from the busyness and ongoing responsibilities of this life and just be.

My work on this project is done. Next month my piece, There is no Frigate Like a Book, will be on display at The Artists’ Gallery in Frederick, MD for the TAG Squared show. Many other local artists will be participating in the show as well and I look forward to seeing their creations on their 10 x 10-inch birch panels. I hope to see you there!

Don’t Miss TAG Squared
TAG/The Artists Gallery’s 16th Annual Box Show
An art auction featuring over 80 artists all working with a 10″ square panel!
March 3-25, 2017
Opening reception: March 4, 5-9 pm
Closing reception: March 25, 5-9 pm. Bidding closes promptly at 8
TAG is located at 216 N. Market Street, Frederick. MD
Gallery hours: Fri.-Sat. 12-9, Sun. 12-5