Thoughts, Emotions, Techniques and Inspiration from the Easel by Laura Pollak.
I have a friend that I call when I get down in the dumps and just plain cranky. The first thing she asks me is ‘when was the last time you rode your bicycle?’
On our first date, my wonderful hubby of 36 years, took me on a bike ride. I’ve always loved the freedom and the wind whistling by, not to mention the gorgeous scenery. But just recently, I’ve realized that my ‘creative health’ is very dependent upon how much I exercise.
A couple of months ago, when all my paintings were turning out like doodoo, I kept trying to force myself to get some mental clarity, and everything just went downhill. I felt that exercise was a luxury I couldn’t afford. WRONG!!! Jeff (my hubby( said I needed a bike ride (he was the brunt of my general crankiness, poor guy!)
When I got outside onto my bicycle, I immediately felt the endorphins kick in (sorta like the feeling you get after a great belly laugh or eating chocolate) and a sense of well-being rushed over me. Not to mention the eye candy of the gorgeous scenery of the rolling North Carolina countryside! What was amazing…was that old and long forgotten, happy memories kept popping into my head. AND one after the other, I kept getting new ideas for paintings that I wanted to try. Mental connections were buzzing in my brain! Like little doors opening, rapid fire! Those endorphins were letting my synapses fire and creativity was ablaze!
Now, I try to make exercise a scheduled activity. (I know that most of you already realized this, but I’m a little late to the game.) Yesterday, I rode 35 miles in the morning! Yes, I was tired but my brain sure does feel better. And on days when I can’t take a few hours to ride, a walk in the neighborhood does the trick.
All I’m saying is our brains need to be well oiled, just like our cars. Neither performs well without stomping on the gas and cleaning out the carburetors. So, if you’re in a creative slump, hop on your bike, take a walk or a swim. Watch what happens and let those endorphins kick in!
This month’s Guest Blogger is Alain Picard. See more of his posts on his website www.picardstudio.com
“How do I develop a unique style? Is there an effective way to do this?”
Recently, while I was setting up for a morning workshop demonstration, a student asked me the following question; “How do I develop my own unique style? Is there an effective way to do this?”
I responded to her while arranging my art materials for the morning with a handful of ideas. I want to share them with you now. Here are five ways to cultivate your creative voice.
1. Establish a Rhythm. When you are working toward the development of your own artistic voice, the first pillar to establish is regular working habits. Consistent work will bring you both confidence and momentum in the development of your artistic voice. Take out your calendar and schedule weekly studio time. This is a critical step in the process that should not be ignored. Otherwise, you may end up feeling like a phony and spending valuable energy second guessing yourself. Regular work cultivates the confidence and momentum you need to continue growing.
2. Gain Inspiration. Discovering your own creative voice requires an understanding of what inspires you. So be sure to fill up your inspiration tank! Who’s your favorite artist? What moves you about their work? Describe it, write it down. What is your favorite painting? Do you remember the way you felt when you first saw it? I remember viewing an exhibition by John Singer Sargeant at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when I was 25. It permanently altered my creative journey. Why not try copying a favorite painting, just to understand the artist’s mindset and methodology in the work. This is a process of sensitizing yourself to your own artistic tastes, and then moving toward the subjects, textures, colors, shapes, designs, and even finish quality that moves you. Describe how you want to make others feel when they view your work. It can also be helpful to articulate what kind of art you don’t like, and stay away from it in your work! Try creating a mood board of your favorite colors and paintings, textures and surfaces, subjects and designs, and then hang it in your studio to keep you motivated. Get really clear about what you love, so you are moving toward this in your own personal work.
3. Be An Explorer. Your artistic voice needs space and time to engage in creative play that allows you to explore new territory. This is when you paint just for yourself. Not for the client or the exhibition or the accolades, but for the pure joy of creating. These other motivations can nurture a performance mindset that obscures our true artistic voice. Basically, we are trying to impress people instead of painting what we love. I don’t know about you, but when I’m performing for approval, I put on a mask. I hope you don’t make this mistake the same way I have. Instead, put on your favorite music, turn off Facebook Live, take off the mask and allow yourself to explore your creative passion. Be an explorer for a while instead of a performer. In time, amazing things begin to happen as you cultivate this type of creativity. Honest work emerges. Authentic expression develops. You discover your voice.
4. Get Feedback (from people you trust) It is very difficult to both create and critique your own work toward the development of a unique personal style. As artists, we have a tendency of getting in our own heads. What we often need is the encouragement of others! A great way to do this is to connect with other artists that share your passion and get valuable feedback from them on your work. I joined the CT Pastel Society as a young artist and made wonderful lifelong friends who have encouraged my creative development in powerful ways. Early on, I connected with a few artists at my church. We shared our work with one another, spurring each other on to develop our potential. Not only was I greatly encouraged, but I was able to provide encouragement to others as well. You could be a fantastic source of inspiration to someone else in their own creative development! Here’s the truth, you’ll often be the last one to see the genius in your work. But others will point it out right away. You’ll discount that little painting you made during your personal studio time, thinking, “It’s not even finished, what a mess!” Then your friend will see it and say, “don’t touch it, I love it!” This feedback is invaluable, and creates a trail of breadcrumbs along the way to realizing your own unique style.
5. Be Patient. Your inner creative voice is more like a dove than a peacock early on. It’s not audacious and showy. It’s sensitive, avoids attention and can get scared away easily at first. You need to give yourself time and space to develop naturally, and trust that consistent, honest work will encourage the dove out of its cage. Forcing it is never a good idea. Give yourself permission to research, explore, create, copy, share, review, revise as well as rest and renew your senses. Before long, you’ll find yourself soaring with a unique creative voice of your own.
I hope these five points will encourage you in the development of your own personal style. Don’t give up, keep on painting, and keep pursuing your passion!
It was the summer of 1975 when I was first introduced to the love of my life. I’d just turned 15 andnever experienced such a rush of exhilaration. It was a journey that I happily embarked upon andnever once looked back even for one minute. My life would never the same from that day forward.Looking back I was very fortunate to have started this love affair at such a young age, an age whereI had no preconceived ideas of what to expect. It was a fresh new chapter filled with warmaffection, passion, and an unwavering devotion.
Today, that love affair with pastels is stronger than ever. They still remain vivid, pure and intense, but most of all never change as the years go by. It’s still a thrill when my fingers touch their scrumptious velvety soft surface.
I love the fact that they are always accessible to me at any given moment and best of all I can makechanges anytime without a major commitment. Pastels are always dependable; staying true totheir color once applied to a surface. They never let down me down. Never. I always know what toexpect.
Pastels can be slightly hard or buttery soft, round or square that allow for a wide range of strokes. My favorite way to work with them is to gently layer colors building up to a delicious, rich color combination, and then ever so gently moving the color around with my little finger creating magnificent effects. Plus I let them do the blending sometimes because they know exactly how to create the most beautiful results. Really there are no limitations on what they can accomplish. And don’t get me started on the colors.
Once you get a taste of the hundreds of colors it is easy to become addicted. It’s like going to a candy store and having to choose, it’s impossible to just pick just a few. Impossible. But I love you my beautiful pastels and will never stray to another medium.
The following is a letter from W. Truman Hosner to the PSWC written in 2015. It is timeless and timely since we are back at the Haggin this year, so we share it here.
I extend a sincere note of appreciation to everyone at PSWC who worked so diligently to create the Pastels USA Exhibition at the Haggin Museum in Stockton and to award juror Terri Ford for what must have been a difficult task considering the broad quality level of the work displayed. It was my honor to be accepted into an exhibition of work in a medium that I have loved and used exclusively for nearly 25 years and an even further honor to be among the award recipients.
On my “red-eye” flight into San Francisco from Detroit, I reflected on the world of pastel and how much it has evolved in those 25 years, in a large way thanks to PSWC.
Yet upon my arrival, when I found in the Haggin Museum’s permanent collection a vivid pastel by William Merrit Chase, more alive today than ever, I was reminded of a statement by Pablo Picasso.
Picasso said; “Art does not evolve by itself, the ideas of people change and with them their mode of expression.”
I thought what I was experiencing in the current PSWC exhibition at the Haggin was not an evolution of the medium of pastel, but rather an evolution of the thinking of the artists using it. Pastel in and of itself has always been a mature art form and we need only look back on the work of artists like Chase to realize it.
At the PSWC exhibit I found a group of living artists who no longer should be labeled as “pastelists”. Now they must only be properly considered in a framework of; “painters”-who chose to work in pastel.
In their work is a thinking that has evolved. They use pastel to give significance to the subjects they choose. With the language of pastel they best express their joy of the unexpected, their pleasure of discovery, and their spirits stand ajar to the possibilities of the universe.
Painting will always be more a manner of thinking than a matter of medium.
In conclusion I will share a humorous story about pastel:
I couple of years back I attended a plein air event in southern Indiana. In attendance were a number of “heavy-hitters” from the oil-painting world, very nice fellows I might add. For two evenings in a row at dinner one particular gentleman made a point of quite vociferously asking me in front of his associates, “How are your charcoalscoming?” I patiently bit my tongue by always politely replying; “Quite well, thank you.”
Finally on the third evening, when he once again asked his question, one of his associates gave me my opportunity by joining in and asking: “So, Hosner why don’t you work in oils?”
I slowly looked around the table at my new friends and smiled, and said: “Gentleman . . . why would I want to work in a lesser medium?”
There was a hardy laugh all around, and we all walked away that evening a bit closer.
This week I will be writing a letter of gratitude to Plein Air Magazine thanking them for their contribution of a Full-Page Ad as an award.
Again, -many thanks to PSWC for an exceptional exhibition!
“I don’t want to market my art. I just want to make it.” That’s a statement I’ve heard from many an artist, and I can certainly understand why. You start talking about marketing, and suddenly there’s a huge list of tasks to do, none of which are nearly as fun as standing at the easel with art materials in hand and a gorgeous subject in front of you.
But if you think marketing means engaging in a whole bunch of random activities—posting images on Facebook, sending out newsletters, entering competitions—that don’t seem to lead anywhere, think again. Marketing is about connecting with the people who can help you achieve your art-related goals, and marketing is absolutely essential. Here’s why.
According to Matt Oechsli, author of The Art of Selling to the Affluent (which is a book I strongly recommend), people with means—the people who are most likely to purchase your artwork—no longer make impulse buys. They used to do that up until 10 years ago, but the days of someone walking into a gallery and buying a $2,500 painting, or even a $250 painting, just because they like it are gone.
Today, the buying-and-selling process only happens in the context of a relationship. People only buy things from people or organizations with whom they feel they have a solid, trusting business connection. Additionally, many affluent buyers turn to friends and family members to recommend trusted business partners. In other words, the trust relationship is the foundation for all business transactions, including the sale of art. These days, sales are the outcome of a deliberate process, not a stroke of luck or an impulsive decision.
And so, if you want to be on the selling side of a business transaction, you first have to build trusting relationships with the people who are most likely to be interested in buying your work. And that, my friends, is the very definition of marketing. It’s not about selling. It’s about connecting.
Building a relationship with a potential collector is much like building a relationship with a potential life partner. It has to move through certain stages, otherwise it feels uncomfortable or even forced for one of the two people, which usually causes him or her to back out.
So, how can we make sure we navigate our way through the business relationship-building process in a way that creates trust? It starts with you making the initial move: making your artwork visible in as many places as possible, both online and offline. Your work will catch the eye of some people, who will in turn communicate their interest in you. They might friend you on Facebook or follow you on Instagram or sign up for your e-newsletter or e-mail list. This is their way of giving you permission to continue sharing.
From there, it becomes a little like dating, although it’s admittedly one sided. You’ll use tools like social media and e-newsletters, as well as face-to-face networking opportunities, to reveal more of your work, your personality, your characteristics, and your values to your fans and followers. You might occasionally get to see some of these qualities in them, too, but for the most part it will be you sharing who you are and what you create. The more open you are, the more trust you will build.
Every once in a while, mixed in with your ongoing “getting to know you” messages, you’ll make bolder overtures by offering specific works of art for sale. By this time, because you’ve established a trusting relationship with them, a few of your followers will respond in a positive way. Yay! A sale! But here’s the moral to that story: Although you will nurture many relationships with many fans, only some of them will blossom into artist-collector relationships.
Of course, a single sale is not the endpoint or objective of the relationship. As you continue to cultivate collectors by reaching out, expressing your gratitude, and inviting them to share your journey, they will become repeat customers and even champions for your art.
And just in case you’re wondering, all of this can happen whether you’re selling your work directly to the public or through galleries or both. Again, affluent buyers are no longer content to blindly buy from nameless, faceless artists through a middle man. They want to engage with you, so… engage!
How am I doing? Have I made a persuasive case for relationship building? Have I adequately explained how marketing activities contribute to the process? It’s a whole new world since 2008, and thankfully we have experts like Matt Oechsli to explain how we can succeed in today’s buying-selling environment.
And just as I’m encouraging you to connect with your followers, I’d like to do the same with you! Let’s connect!
In Jennifer King, you’ll find a blend of an entrepreneur’s head for business and an artist’s heart for creating. In addition to being a landscape painter, Jennifer has had a long association with art and artists. She is the former editor of International Artist Magazine, The Artist’s Magazine, and several other noted art publications. Fascinated by the business of art, she spent several years working in an art gallery, and she also returned to school to earn a master’s degree in marketing. Today, she brings all of those interests together in her own business, Connect Artist Marketing, which offers personalized marketing services specifically for artists. Learn more about her individual and monthly service packages at connectartistmarketing.com.
Life happens! Things get in the way. Kids get sick, and parents need our help. Months can go by without standing in front of our easels. And the longer the time away, the scarier it gets to pick up that pastel stick or paintbrush! Then the inner dialogue begins, and what a mean little devil that Negative Nancy can be!
So here are some things that have worked for me to get going again.
First, as corny as it sounds, physical exercises ‘opens my channels.’ It gets rid of my bad energy and lets happy and productive thoughts seep in. Of course, meditation to get yourself grounded and relaxed is another healthy direction.
When you’re ready to get in front of the easel try this simple exercise:
Pick an artist that you love. Whether it’s representational or abstract… just look at their work and decide why you like it.
Take scraps of paper; whether it’s your beloved sanded paper, or even brown craft paper. (You can always use little pieces of paper or paintings that failed and you’ve wiped down leaving a ghosted image.)
Pick up some pastels that have a palette of the person’s work you admire and consciously try NOT TO MAKE A PAINTING!
DO NOT TO COPY THE PAINTING. Just experiment with marks and shapes.
REMEMBER YOUR WARMS AND COOLS AND LIGHTS AND DARKS
Remember that a Concert Pianist doesn’t step out on stage without doing their ‘scales’, warmups and daily practice. These will be your exercises. I even took a workshop with a wonderful artist who closed his eyes in front of the class, took several deep breaths and then started painting. We need to get our brains in the right place!
Continue to work on your warm up project. And take the pressure away, the results will never see the light of day. You are trying to find a new palette of colors that play together nicely. Then look at your values: lights and darks and warms and cools. Try colors you would never reach for and marvel at the interactions!
Have you ever noticed when you’re painting that your stomach goes up in a knot! Be aware of that and make sure you relax and breathe! It’s ONLY PAPER!
Well, last month, I went into a panic. Why? Because all the ‘Shows’ have their entry dates coming up and I had NOTHING to enter. I hadn’t painted since October! Is it smart to paint for shows? I cannot think of anything worse. What crazy pressure! But then again…there is also nothing more motivating.
So, from January 2ndthrough January 27thI painted all day, every day. I came up with a lot of junk., or as a very kind friend said, “They’re not ready for ‘Prime Time’.” Twenty-seven paintings in twenty-five days. Just like fashion photographers…I took a lot of shots hoping somewhere in the mix there would be something worthwhile. Out of all that work came about five paintings that were ‘worthy’ of entering. Every night, I was dreaming about what I’d do next, different ideas, unique palettes, how I might underpaint… you get it. I was on a roll to the point that I could produce two paintings a day! In the GROOVE!
This month, with teaching workshops and gallery exhibits, I’m torn away from my easel yet again, so I have to start my practice of not making paintingsall over again.
Climbing out of a rut can seem impossible, but I can assure you that if you try to just Warm Up, Remember Your Warms and Cools and Lights and Darks, and Breathe, and you’ll get out of your rut and into the GROOVE in no time!
“There are only 3 colors, 10 digits, and 7 notes; it’s what we do with them that’s important.” Jim Rohn
Values are the unsung heroes of great paintings; they are the foundation that color sits upon. Understanding how a range of values affects a painting is easier to understand if you compare values to musical notes. I think of the lighter values as high notes and the darker values as low notes. Just like in music the note by itself is unimportant. It is the intervals between the notes that give them context.
Usually value scales are numbered but I like to think of them as a Do, Re, Me scale.
Musicians need to know the range of notes their instrument will play: Artists need to know how light and how dark their palette will go. Can your palette play all the range of notes you need for your painting? If a painting is all one value it is all one note. You cannot make music with one note, but you can with three. Beautiful design and form can be painted using three values.
This watercolor by John Singer Sargent is made up of three value masses, light, midtone, and dark.
A value range should describe design, light and form, which guides the viewer’s eyes through the painting. Values that do not work are equivalent to a musician playing off key. It is unpleasant to hear notes in a song that are off key. It is confusing to look at a painting where the values are not cohesive.
Compare the two copies of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” with Vermeer’s original to see how important an understanding of value range is.
You can key a painting like you can key music. High key paintings have a value range from light to midtone. Low key paintings are midtone to dark value range and paintings like “Girl with a Pearl Earring” have a full value range from light to dark.
“The White Stuff” is an example of a high key painting. I think of this as a series of high musical notes together- think early Joni Mitchell.
“Goodnight Moon” is an example of a low key painting- think of the first verse of “Old Man River” by Paul Robeson.
If you struggle with values try comparing them to musical notes to fine tune your understanding of their importance in painting.
PASTELS USA Chairman Jerry Boyd did his best Norman Rockwell impersonation at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento. I wonder if those who saw him pose realized that Jerry is such a talented artist in his own right!
Jerry posted on Facebook:
Here I am at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento this afternoon pretending to be Norman Rockwell. If I lost the beard and mustache, procured a pipe, and shed about 50 pounds…I’d look just like him don’t you think? As my granddaughter Sage pointed out, (and something I noticed from the very beginning) in the original painting, why does the image on the canvas appear to be a charcoal drawing when he’s using a brush and palette of oil paint? My only explanation is that the image catches him as he’s about to make the first stroke of paint. I’m still wondering about his choice of brush in his painting because it appears to be a soft watercolor brush.