Creative Sincerity

There are a lot of reasons I love the movie La La Land. The visuals are beautiful. The music is lovely. The story is charming, and the performances are fantastic. But I was really impressed by the depiction of a creative life and the sincerity of the artistic pursuit shown.

It can be hard to figure out what is most important in one's art as the years go by. I used to feel pressure to have a thesis about my paintings that would make them more relevant to the art world, and I worried that I should push myself in that direction. My work seemed unimportant because it was only about my own interests and experiences. But after 22 years of painting, I've come to realize that my art should primarily be about my interests. My paintings are an extension of me and I can be proud of each of them for different reasons.

Once in a while in a series of paintings I might explore a broad idea like childhood, or family life, or life in a working harbor. But often I'm just struck by something visual and want to make a painting to describe my interest. Some of the plein air work is done incredibly quickly, but those paintings are the ones that can surprise me with a lively brushstroke or color interaction that I wasn't expecting. These paintings are about capturing a fleeting effect of light, color, or atmosphere. The larger studio landscapes let me dig into more subtle color surprises. With two little kids at home I really enjoy painting scenes that describe how kids play and interact, while also finding visual excitement in the light and color of these paintings. Some of my still life paintings are about exciting color and pattern. Others are about capturing interrupted moments, like a craft project with the kids, or a game night, or a lazy Sunday morning. 

The common thread in all of these paintings is me. My paintings are about me and my varied interests. The paintings are about my interest in capturing light, harmonizing color, being a parent, and looking for moments of beauty as I experience the world. I might not be able to sum that up in an artist's statement, and I know my work will be relevant to some and not important to others. That's ok with me. My paintings need to be honest to my own interest. Whether my interests are wide ranging or narrow and shortsighted, all I can ask is that my paintings describe that interest in a more sincere and interesting way than any artist's statement does. 

As I think about La La Land, I'm struck by how single minded the main characters are with their art. I love the depiction of an artist's life; the struggle with how to make money in a creative pursuit, how to balance a personal relationship with an obsession with art, trying to describe your own excitement for jazz/dance/acting/painting to someone else, how to handle both success and failure. An underlying theme of the whole movie is following your art. The movie is about creative people, but is also a lovely expression in itself. It's a gentle reminder to keep plugging away and looking for beauty and surprise. It's a reminder that romance and nostalgia and honesty are not bad words, but fine pursuits. It also reminds me that it's ok to be selfish in some parts of my life, particularly my art. 

The Angel's Game

Recently I started reading a new book, The Angel's Game, by Luis Ruiz Zafon. The very first paragraph caught me totally off guard. It cuts right to the core struggle of making art for a living. Selling paintings is a blessing, but sometimes it's a mixed blessing. As an artist I don't want commerce muddying my motivation. Here are those first few sentences from the book:

"A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that will surely outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price." 

It's pretty much impossible to be a purist in making art. I would have to create in a vacuum if I want to avoid getting wrapped up in other people's expectations. A friend will offer an opinion, or a client may offer to buy one painting over another. It's hard, but I try to keep those voices out of my head when I paint. I wouldn't give up my life selling paintings and "working" on my art every day, but it can be challenging keeping art and commerce separate in my head. I try to paint only what's most interesting to me. I try to work from the heart.

Making art for a living is a messy business, but the one thing I do take advantage of is the motivation to get in the studio and paint. Whether I feel motivated or not, I do some painting. As Chuck Close says, "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work." It's a nice feeling to go into the studio inspired, but there are plenty of days when I find  inspiration where it's not expected. The most important thing I can do is just show up and paint. Painting for a living pushes me to paint on my least inspired days, so money's influence isn't all bad. 

It's a balancing act, but if I keep my eye on what's important I feel like I can stay on the right side of the line. 

Maryland Workshop in March

I just got home from a week in California teaching a great group of students. We had tons of fun working on our plein air paintings, and improving the color in our work. Now I'm back home and already looking forward to my next class, which will be at Chesapeake Fine Art Studio on the eastern shore of Maryland in March. Almost all of my classes focus on painting the landscape on site, because that's how I learned the most in my own work. Plein air painting demands a speed, gesture, simplicity and honesty. Painting the landscape on site allows us to see an incredibly rich variety of hues, and I love sharing my own excitement about those colors. In my last few workshops I've increased my focus on how I use color when painting. I want my paintings to tell the story of what I'm most excited about. In recent years, that is often an interest in color relationships, and how they create the glow of a sunny day, or can interact in subtle harmonies in overcast light. As I focus on these ideas in my own paintings, I like to explore them with my workshops. As Charles Hawthorne said, "The right spots of color will tell you more about the appearance, the likeness of a person, than features or good drawing. Make it so that I could recognize the subject from color alone, for color is also a likeness. Remember no amount of drawing will pull you out if your colors are not true. The spot of color that a model makes against the landscape has much more to do with his character than you imagine. Do that and you have something to work with." 

This class will be a great opportunity to refocus your plein air painting skills as we get ready for spring and summer, and spending more time working outside in fresh air. If you would like to join us, the class is March 23-26 and will cost $750. The studio phone number is 410-200-8019

2017 Workshops

I'm teaching a few workshops in the coming year. These classes will focus on painting the landscape on location. We will work on careful observation of color, creating more dynamic paintings, and using clean and purposeful paint application. The key to better plein air painting is learning to simplify a complex landscape, using rich color and a painterly brushstroke. We will start each day with a discussion of a different lesson and a morning exercise designed around that lesson. Each afternoon will be used for painting time while I work with students one-on-one. This class will be a fun way to expand upon your painting skills and understanding in a beautiful environment. 

These classes are always fun for me. I have a great time getting to know the students and talking shop with them all week. We share ideas and work hard. It's great to see my students focus on their paintings and make improvements during our time together. 

I teach one class in Rockland, ME, each year, but it's sold out and the waiting list is full. So my workshops in California and Maryland are the only options to take a class in 2017.

I'll be teaching at the Debra Huse Gallery on Balboa Island in southern California Feb 1-4. $600. Email:  Phone: 949-723-6171

 I'll also be teaching at the Chesapeake Fine Art Studio on Kent Island, MD March 23-26. $750.  Phone: 410-200-8019