Tip of the Week: Save photos to GIF format

Tip for the non-technical artist: save your photos as GIFs before uploading them. I don't know why none of the photographers I've worked with told me this, but I recently learned about this simple trick that has made my website look markedly better. Converting your JPG to a GIF ensures that your images show up online more true to the original. In Adobe Photoshop you do this by going to File > Save for Web and Devices > Save.

Fun fact: according to Kai Ryssdal of Market Place, GIF is pronounced "Jiff - like the peanut butter"!

Fighting Painter's Block

I  have a confession to make: I haven't painted since December.  Besides the simple examples that I made for my classes, I had done nothing to add to my portfolio. Now that I have the time and am trying to get back into a schedule, I am having some difficulty beginning again. A bit different than writer's block in that I have ideas, but am overwhelmed to the point of paralysis - where to begin? So, I tried a few tricks to get back into the zone. First, I cleaned up and rearranged my studio. A bit like spring cleaning, this seems to get me into the right mindset every time. I also decided that I needed some plants to bring in some life.  I actually get great afternoon sunlight in my studio, but I wanted another source of life that would help keep the creative juices flowing, even at night time.

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Then, since I was still having some fear of taking the plunge -- using any excuse from lack of energy to higher priorities to get out of going back into the studio -- I watched some TED Talks, which I find both interesting and inspiring, even when completely unrelated to my own art. In doing so, I remembered a talk from several years ago by Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity and the creative process that I have found helpful, so thought I would share that with anyone feeling a bit depressed about, or stuck with, their creative output.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA

I also realized that I spend a LOT of time inside these days due to my new desk job (which is actually very inspiring, but inside none-the-less), and that going straight from the office into my studio as getting me down. So I went on a beautiful hike yesterday and enjoyed the fresh spring air and endless greenery. Ah! Just what I needed to clear my head and give me some inspiration.

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So, now I feel well equipped to go into my studio and uphold my end of the bargain, as Liz Gilbert suggests, by simply being present.  I look forward to sharing my new creations with you soon!

Handyman Artist

I have been thinking a lot the last couple of months about what it means to be an artist.  The word has so many connotations and often negative ones, as if people still think becoming an artist is this easy thing that rich, privileged kids get to do for fun.  Well, that hasn't been my experience nor that of any of the artists that I know, so I thought I would so a shout-out to all my hard working artist peers who pour their sweat and blood into being an artist, which requires being a bit of a renaissance (wo)man.  This is installment #1, and is dedicated to my mom, who gifted me my trusty toolbox, my artistic talent and most of my handyman knowledge.  Thanks Mom!

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Almost all the artists I know are very handy, especially the female ones.  Even non-visual artists, particularly those into theater props or costumes.  I find it sort of amusing (and terrifying!) when people ask me what I do as an artist - meaning, do I paint? If so, what?  But there is so much more to it than simply rendering a picture on canvas.  Occasionally people do ask about my process, and I enjoy explaining how I take (amateur) photographs or sketches, collage them together and then create a painting.

And then there's the nuts and bolts part of that question.  The part that makes a hardware store my 2nd most favorite type of store to shop in (after the grocery store and before the art store, which has many, many beautiful and unaffordable things).  As a painter, my first order of business is making my own stretcher bars, stretching and prepping my canvases, and when the painting is complete, attaching the proper materials to hang the piece on different types of walls.  That is pretty standard, but then there is the harder stuff.  Like painting walls between every show at the gallery you work at, or tearing up the old nasty carpet and replacing it with faux wood flooring in the building you are helping renovate for your new art collective.  The stuff that builds your muscles, or as Calvin's dad would say, "builds character."

And this is not necessarily a bad thing!  I know many artists who have worked as house painters, construction workers, home-improvement builders and/or in hardware stores as their day job to support their art.  One often reaps benefits from this type of work: discounts on materials, free use of tools, seasonal work that allows you to work on your art, introduction to cheaper, non-traditional materials that inspire new and more interesting art (not to mention the know-how to make your own home improvements when you do become rich and famous and buy a house!).  All-in-all I think there is a sort of toughness that develops the more serious one is about pursuing art, and this translates into the work, whatever medium it may be (stand-up comedy, musical theater, poetry).  This sort of thing weeds out the people who became art majors in college to study something "easy" from those of us who are (maybe too) serious about our work.

 

New city? No problem. How to break into the art world

Moving to a new city can be the best thing to happen to a creative person - it gets you out of your comfort zone and introduces you to all sorts of new ideas and inspirations.  It can also be a huge task just to break into the art world - either because there's so much it's overwhelming, or because it's so small that it's hard to find.  You have to be a  go-getter to find the opportunities, as I have good reason to know - I move every 1-2 years.   So I've learned a few tricks along the way that may help you to access your new city more quickly and effectively:

1) Showing up is half the battle:Find out where and when the art openings are and go; even if you don't talk to anyone that night, you will start to recognize people and see who's who.  And I'm not just talking about the gallery openings - many cities have open studio tours once or twice a year and/or monthly 1st Thursday/Friday art nights with streets stalls and extended hours at galleries.  These events are a good way to find out about alternative art spaces and collectives. To start you off on a good foot, here's a couple of things to try out if you're in any of these cities:

Austin: E.A.S.T. in November and W.E.S.T. in May + 1st Thursdays on South Congress

Oakland: Art Murmur 1st Fridays around Telegraph and 23rd

San Francisco: Hunter's Point Shipyard Artists Open Studios in November (and sometimes May) + 1st Thursdays in downtown SF

San Jose: Subzero Festival in June + South 1st Friday Art Walk in downtown SJ

2) Get it "from the horse's mouth": I've found out a lot more about the art scene from word of mouth than from the internet. You'll never be able to find everything on your own, whether it's because there's too much or too little information out there, so at point you do need to start talking to people.  The best people to talk to are people who work in non-profit galleries, museums or education facilities because they want to help you out! You can start by asking questions of anyone working at the venue, but then set up an appointment with someone in a specific department. This may seem intimidating at first, but I've learned that most people are a lot more willing to help you out than you would expect given their busy schedules. They appreciate that you scheduled an appointment so it's a win-win situation.

3) Find out who's who: When you are looking at galleries and organizations online, be sure to check out the "Staff" section - this will let you know who you should try and approach at an opening reception, gives you contact info so you can make general inquiries with specific people, and/or gives you a name to address your cover letter to for a job application (a good tip someone gave me). *Sometimes they even list bios of the staff so you can find out other places they previously worked, which can give you talking points and put you on to other places you should check out - this has come in handy for me on several occasions.   

4) Don't just look online: Check out the bulletin board at art stores, cafes, libraries and community shows for upcoming events, classes and venues.  I know going to a library might seem antiquated, but you would be surprised what free programs they offer related to the arts (eg. info sessions on grant writing for artists) and they post opportunities and resources in the community.  Also pick up the local arts newspaper -  it's free and lists shows in all disciplines.

5) Find groups: See if you can join a collective, get a studio in a shared building or check out meetup.com to find free or cheap art classes/groups. The latter simply requires you to create a free profile, and then you can access any number of groups. Even in the groups don't actually turn out to be that great, who knows who you'll meet? I've definitely found some great resources (and made some friends) through random groups that I joined.

6) Park & walk: I've come across some great venues when I've been lost in a new city.  This doesn't usually happen when I'm in the car, but if I'm cycling or walking, I'm going slow enough to look around. Often galleries and artist studios are in the same neighborhoods, so if you find one, you should walk around the area to see if there are others you didn't see online.

And if it all seems overwhelming and like too much work, just remember Thomas Edison's quote: "Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration." Your effort will pay off!

Making of "Shadows"

One of my original ideas for this blog was to post in-progress paintings so people can have a look into my process and/or get painting tips.  Since I haven't been able to paint in awhile, here's a step-by-step guide to an older painting - "Shadows", completed in June. Sketch: I often find that students new to painting want to draw with pencil on their canvas before starting with paint. I never do that. I map out my composition very simply with a brush and some paint like so. You can see how I changed the size of the figure dramatically, not worrying about erasing because I was just going to paint over it anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

Color & Texture: Next, I start blocking in the painting, making adjustments and adding texture as I go. Painting is a very layered process for me, so there are often layers that never see the light of day, but add a richness (both in body/texture and in color) to the final painting.

I have been on this kick where when I use photographic references, I print them out in black and white and then paint my own colors. This has some challenges but also adds a level of mystery and excitement for me, the painter, because I'm letting the painting tell me where to go.

 

 

 

Figure: In this case I painted the figure and her dress in monochromatic colors because I was planning on glazing the colors on later. I purposefully kept her skin very light, while keeping the dress dark because I wanted the glazing to be more subtle on the dress.

 

 

 

 

 

Details: The picture I was working from was a night scene, so all the colors got more bluish in this stage. I also added more detail around the figure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glazing: I finally got to the glazing stage, but by this time had decided I didn't want to glaze any of the skin. I liked that it was fresh looking and yet nostalgic because the burnt sienna base made it look like an old-fashioned tinted photograph.

Critique stage: At this point I felt kind of stuck with the painting, so I went to the art collective I am a part of to get some some constructive criticism from my peers. It's always good to get some outside feedback, to point out glaring errors and/or minor tweaks that make a world of difference.

 

 

 

Final: The suggestions I got were most helpful and definitely helped finish the painting. By darkening a shadow here and changing the direction of a line there, I was able to get a better and more effective painting.

I was also reminded to include reflective light. This means, simply, that if the reddish dress is next to the purple pail, then there should be some purple on the dress and some red on the pail. Likewise, there is some color in the shadow from whatever object is casting the shadow.

Making of "Looking In"

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. You wouldn't know it, but this painting started out as a baaaaddd abstract painting. Apparently it was so bad that I didn't even take a photo of it.  So, having decided it was going nowhere, I started painting this new painting on top:

The good thing about painting over an old painting is that a) your fear of messing up the canvas is gone; and b) you already have a body of paint on there so your new painting has a nice richness to it.

A couple things to note when over painting:

1) While you CAN paint oils over acrylics, you NEVER paint acrylics over oils. Think of it like this: what happens when you mix water and oil? The oil rises to the top. Same with painting, the oil will try to rise to the top, forcing your acrylic paint off (OK, this may only happen over an extended period of time, but if you want your painting to be archival, just say no!).

2) Turn your old painting upside down before you start painting the new one. This helps get rid of the distraction of your first composition and allows you to concentrate on the new one.

 

 

By now you're probably wondering why I take in-process photos of my work. And no, it's not for these mini-tutorials (although they are helpful). Rather, I had a professor who suggested we take photos so that we could mull over the painting while not in the studio. They don't have to be good photos (in fact, this is a very dark shot of the painting), just quick shots even on your phone so that you can see it.

This can also be helpful if you paint over something you like and want to bring it back.

And, I've noticed that looking at your painting on a (camera, phone, or computer) screen changes how you see it. You notice different things, particularly about composition, when it's once removed.

Another good trick is to look at your painting in a mirror -- this means you're seeing it in reverse and it's much easier to see if you've made a terrible perspective mistake or something like that. I use this all the time, I even went out and bought a 5"x6" hand-held mirror from the dollar store expressly for this purpose!

And voila, the final product!

(No, I did not do this painting in only 3 sittings, although it was one of my faster paintings).