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How to Develop Your Artistic Muscles: Make a Sketchbook

A few weeks ago, one of my art fans complimented me on a painting which she had viewed on my Art of Schmidt website, entitled, Phyllis and Dad. She said that she liked the colors, that she admired my talent, and wanted to know the story behind the painting. I told her that the painting was based on a collection of family photos which I had collected and that I always remembered my father as being older than other kid’s fathers. I also shared that this was the first photo I had ever seen of my father taken when he was young. Although I do not know his exact age, as the picture is not dated, I would estimate that he was in his early twenties when this photo was taken of him and his first wife, Phyllis.

I was of course, grateful to hear the compliments about my artwork, but at the same time, I wanted to share that the artwork I post on my website does not come about by magic. It takes a lot of effort.  Furthermore, sometimes more than one version of a painting or drawing is created to lead to the finished product that people see on my website, commerce site, and social media feeds on Facebook and Instagram. In fact, I have to practice on a weekly basis to keep my drawing and painting skills from getting rusty. During this conversation, I shared all of these insights with her and I hastened to add that if I relied solely on my artistic “talent” then it wouldn’t get me very far. Instead, I have found that practicing art is much like practicing a sport or playing an instrument. I believe that in order to get good at any of these disciplines, one needs to practice, a lot, and on a regular basis to maintain a certain level of skill. And sometimes it may require me to make a drawing or painting over and over again until I get it “just right.” In the words of songwriter, Sting: “I will reapply the needle of the record player again and again to the bars of music that seem beyond my analysis, like a safecracker picking a lock, until the prize is mine.” (Sting, Broken Music, dust jacket cover, 2003).

I was thinking about this conversation this week when I was trying to decide what to blog about. While I was pondering this, I wondered how to make this knowledge which I have gained about the need for artists to practice their art, into an applicable blog post that anyone can learn from. According to the author, and textile artist, Bren Boardman, one specific way for artists to stay “in practice” with their craft is to keep a sketchbook. The sketchbook serves as a repository to record their ideas and inspirations, such as “color swatches, quotes, magazine clippings, newspaper cuttings, or reference photos” for artwork in progress. (Boardman, Bren. “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”, https: www.textileartist.org).  Bren Boardman, textile artist, and author of the article, “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”, states that sketchbooks can help artists to develop their ideas for artwork and that using a mind map in their sketchbooks is an effective strategy for fleshing out ideas for new artwork. In her article, she provides some useful tips on how to start a mind map diagram, sort of like the “web” I remember from grade school in which my teachers used to help my fellow students brainstorm new ideas. In Boardman’s mind maps, she starts with a word or phrase that encapsulates her concept for a new artwork and draws connecting branches, which describe her ideas in more detail, sometimes using imagery. To start a mind map, she recommends that you write a word or phrase, with which you can associate, the main idea. (Boardman, Bren. 2013)

In addition, Boardman states that it is helpful to consider what type of sketchbook you would like to create such as a reference sketchbook, where you might “collect color mixing tests, color swatches or samples, or an idea generation sketchbook”; such as creating a mind map which describes the process and ends with the final result. On the other hand, perhaps you might make a sketchbook that would describe a trip or journey. Furthermore, if you still feel overwhelmed by the process of starting a sketchbook, I’m including a list of suggestions that Boardman offers in her article to get you started with the process. For example, you might include: “photos, magazines or prints, magazine or newspaper cuttings, drawings, sketches and doodles, text, poetry, stories, thoughts, thoughts, letters, extracts, statements, words, fabric, threads, wools, beads, buckles, papers of all kinds.” (Boardman, Bren. “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”)

In this blog post, I include my process for adapting  Boardman’s mind map idea and translating it into a project I wanted to create of a genealogical portrait of recording artist, Sting. My inspiration for this project was based on an overworked watercolor painting I made last summer, a portrait by Durer of a man standing in front of a landscape,  and a TV miniseries, entitled, Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, J., on PBS. The segment I took inspiration from was called, “Sting, Sally Field, and Deepak Chopra,” and was filmed in 2014. Gates spoke with each individual in turn and he shared what he had learned about their ancestry through genealogical research. In particular, Gates shared that Sting’s third-great grandparents were lace makers who started a family in Nottingham, England in the 1820s. However, due to the Industrial Revolution, which led to mass production of products and consumer goods, they were forced to seek work elsewhere in Calais, France and in Australia.

I took inspiration from this TV series, a failed watercolor portrait of Sting, and from a sketch by Duerer which featured a portrait of a man and a landscape in the background.  To record my thoughts, I took notes as I watched the TV segment and I re-draw these thoughts in a mind map. I knew I wanted to make a portrait that was different from the typical face front painting or sketch of a person with a wall as background, and that I wanted to let the artwork tell a story about the person. I wanted to use symbols to tell the person’s story so that it would lead the viewer to contemplate the scene and ask questions about what the symbols might mean. After I completed the notes, I set to work looking for images on the internet of Sting, his hometown of Wallsend, England, and some symbols to describe his ancestor’s migration to France and their profession as lace makers. Then I put all the photos together in Adobe Photoshop to create a collage as a reference for the resulting sketch and three value watercolor painting.

Sting watercolor portrait, flat
Original watercolor painting of Sting with English landscape.
Sting mind map final
Mindmap I made based on the TV mini-series, Finding Your Roots, with Sting, Sally Field, and Deepak Chopra.
Tennis-mindmap
Example of mind map from Wikipedia.
portrait-of-caspar-tower-and-a-river-landscape-1520
Portrait of Caspar, Tower and a River Landscape, Albrecht Durer, 1520. This portrait by Durer, influenced the composition for Sting’s biographical portrait.
Sting in Landscape, with symbols, with black and white
Photoshop collage I made with various photographs. I created a black and white image and applied a cut out filter to create a value scale in black and white. 
Sting, pencil sketch
Line sketch based on the Photoshop collage, drawn with pencil on backing board.

Stay tuned for more updates on my painting process of this portrait! Thanks for stopping by!

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What to Do When Your Painting Goes Terribly Wrong

If you are a creative type or if you like to make things, you have probably encountered the moment when the finished product you imagined, does not live up to your expectations. As an artist, I have experienced this frustration more times than I can count. Some paintings and drawings are simply learning projects and are difficult to salvage, while others can be fixed. I know it’s been said that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes, but when I get to a point in a painting or drawing and I realize that the painting or drawing doesn’t look right, it can be really frustrating. I start doubting myself; feel like giving up, or doing something that I am not good at, like cooking or cleaning.  Since I know I am not a good cook, if it doesn’t turn out so well, it’s a waste of ingredients but I don’t feel as emotionally attached to the outcome as I would to a painting or drawing.

I recently read a forum question on the website, www.

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.
Waiting small
My first version of this painting was made with sepia brown watercolor paints. I’m not sure I like this color and the composition feels too busy.
Portrait Collage
Creative Block: Waiting ( with Gesso added). The composition was getting too cluttered so I decided to cover up the distracting elements with acrylic gesso.
Creative block, with color
I painted out the brown watercolor paint to try and make the image more interesting with a limited color palette of yellow orange, red orange, blue, green, peach and blue violet. Still a little too busy with the composition.
Portrait collage
Here is the revision I made after painting out the busier composition with acrylic gesso. I also decided to limit the color palette to turquoise, red-orange, yellow-orange, blue- violet and muted green, with some additions of brown, black and white. I used a soft pastel to draw in the composition after the acrylic paint had dried.
Portrait collage
This is my most up to date version of the acrylic painting, Waiting: Creative Block. Here I have begun painting in the new compositional elements to add depth to the desert landscape, including sand dunes and distant mountains. I also painted in the flesh tones and shadow colors on the figure. A few more details and I hope to be finished with the painting soon!

Wet Canvas.com and the question of the day was,” When should I stop working on a painting?” I was intrigued by the question and wondered how other artists dealt with paintings that don’t go according to plan. I read about a variety of solutions suggested by artists who had hit the wall creatively. Some remedies were familiar to me, like my tendency to put the painting away and stop looking at it for a few days, weeks, months, or even longer. On the other hand, some solutions were not as familiar, such as displaying the painting on an easel in a living room and then taking time to look at it from time to time to diagnose the problem. A favorite technique of mine is to write a list of things I want to change in the painting, be it the drawing, colors, value, edges, etc.  In my case, some of the art work I have abandoned was started about two years ago, and I am just now starting to look at the sketches and Photoshop files.

This week I took some time to work some more on my acrylic painting, Waiting: Creative Block. I realized that there were several things bothering me about it. The composition was one of the biggest glaring errors I noted in this painting. First, I started with revising the composition in Photoshop, taking out some photos while adding others, to try and simplify the painting.  After that, I wrote a written critique and consulted a landscape painting art book, entitled, Paint Landscapes in Acrylic, by Lee Hammond, to search for tutorials on painting skies. Next, I watched a You Tube art tutorial, titled, How to Paint a Desert Tree, Acrylic Painting Lesson, by Schaeffer Art.  My next step was to begin painting out the busier parts of the composition with gesso. After the first two layers of gesso had dried, I started drawing the new composition in with a white Rembrandt soft pastel, using the photo references I had collected to draw in the distant mountains, sand dunes, and sun. My final step was to look in my portrait painting book by Chris Saper, Classic Portrait Painting in Oils, from which I took inspiration for the figure in my painting. I have included the various stages of this painting from the start to my latest revisions on it this week. Thanks for stopping by!

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How to Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done

This week’s topic focuses on a behavior that many can probably relate to, and I include myself in that number. The behavior of which I speak is procrastination. I confess that I seem to have only two settings with regard to task completion, and they are hyper speed and snail speed. At times I am hyper focused and hyper busy on whatever the project at hand may be, such as completing an art project, or writing an artist’s statement, etc.. However, at other times, I start and stop and ultimately avoid the task, if it seems too difficult or unpleasant. At present, I am battling with the dreaded enemy of time, procrastination. I procrastinate on the mundane, such as de-cluttering my studio and organizing hard copy art business files and paper work, to the more critical, like updating my web site, and balancing my checkbook, or finishing a complete body of work that features some sketches and Photoshop collages that illustrate favorite poetry quotes.  As to that later, I have started and stopped the drawings and paintings and Photoshop collages for the poetry illustration project numerous times since I came up with the idea in the summer of 2015.

Lately, I have been trying to finish one work from this series in particular, and it is an acrylic painting, entitled, Waiting: Creative Block. It has been a very challenging art piece to work on in terms of choosing the right composition and color scheme. I am being really stretched beyond my comfort zone with this series, as I have never attempted to illustrate something as ambitious as abstract thoughts and feelings such as creative block, creativity, childhood wonder, overcoming life obstacles, etc.! And though I know the stretching is good for my artistic muscles and that I will be happy with myself for completing the work, I tend to avoid the hard part. And the moment comes when you decide whether to press on despite the difficulty and finish the “run” or you give up.

Other things that I have procrastinated about completing are cataloging and watermarking my art work, getting art work framed and matted for an upcoming art show, writing this blog post, printing out my bookkeeping files for this year’s profit and loss sheet, (what fun!), to name a few. I need to find a balance between procrastination and workaholic tendencies when I don’t take time to rest and regroup. When I am unbalanced, I have very little physical energy or creative energy to finish the art work I start and all the other administrative tasks that I need to do to help support my business and market my art work.  I need to create margin in my schedule so that I can get these things done and set some deadlines for each task so that I am motivated to complete these projects!

One more thing I also need to do now is to not schedule any further art shows, and just take some time to regroup so that there will be time to get these things done, such as finishing the poetry series and updating my web site. To date, I have scheduled 9 art shows this year, and one possible art fair is currently in the works. This leaves me with little time to get these other tasks done, since I often have to get my art ready for distribution by pricing it, framing it, and marketing it on social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, in addition to making print postcards in Photoshop to give out to potential clients, fans, family, and friends. On the other hand, I have gotten to make more sales, more exposure for my art, and have met more people, which is always a good thing!

I wondered what others had to say about procrastination and how to stop doing it, so I listened to a podcast by author and art biz coach, Alyson Stanfield. In a podcast called, Getting Difficult Things Done, Alyson Stanfield and a guest, Cynthia Morris, also a coach, as well as an artist, discussed some strategies to tackle procrastination. Source: Alyson Stanfield, wwww.artbizcoach.com.  One of their main points was to envision how you will feel after you complete a challenging task, rather than settling for feeling good or just having fun.  Another idea that was mentioned in the podcast was the importance of setting deadlines and thinking about how to reward you after completing a difficult task. Alyson shared that one of her dreaded tasks as an art business coach is working on bookkeeping. She tried to start a ritual of doing her books on Monday but found that that was not the way she wanted to start her week. She was helped by some advice that her husband gave her, which was to re-frame her situation by thinking of this task as counting her money. Bookkeeping is definitely not one of my favorite tasks either. On the other hand, I am realizing that by doing my books, I can understand what is working and what isn’t in my business, rather than being in denial about how much spending I am really doing, in relationship to my sales.

In a similar vein, I also looked up goal setting and anti-procrastination strategies on a Google search, and I found an article called, Why Do You Procrastinate, by Margie Warrell, on www.forbes.com. Warell shared that many of us procrastinate on things both large and small, whether it is getting our personal files organized or updating our resume. She discussed the ways in which we avoid doing things that need to get done with excuses such as, “I don’t have the skills for that,” or “It’s too difficult.” I have definitely made those excuses and avoided tackling difficult tasks, like working on my poetry series. But this week, I made the decision to set aside time for creativity and put in some time coming up with solutions to the compositional problems plaguing my Waiting: Creative Block painting. And I could see that this progress from a much-cluttered composition to something more pleasing is going to take time, but that it is well worth the effort. I know it is stretching me as an artist to do more challenging art work that requires different solutions from my older more simple pieces.

In closing, I would like to share some strategies Warrell suggested to avoid the procrastination trap. Here they are in order: 1.) Set a deadline, and write down your goal (s), 2.) Simplify your goal (s) into smaller pieces, 3.) Envision your ideal life, 4.) Get an accountability partner, 5.) Reward your progress, and 6.) Take the first step toward your goal. Source: Why Do You Procrastinate, by Margie Warrell, on www.forbes.com.

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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!