Painting Perfection

by admin on November 2, 2012

Many artists get caught up in the idea of painting the ideal scene.  They study the masters, buy the materials, research the classical ideas on compositional balance and then come to a quick stop when a couple days of work don’t stand up to their imaginings.  Their unfinished painting then sits as a glaring reminder of their ineptitude.

Painting requires persistence and faith that eventually you will turn it into something pleasing.  I have rarely not finished a painting I have started.  It has happened that I have virtually painted over the whole thing and begun again but I doggedly persevere.  Even if the end result is nothing special, there is value in having another painting complete.

I always read Robert Genn’s twice-weekly emails about art and painting.  His analysis of two painters really struck a chord with me so I’m sharing it here.

Two Artists
By Robert Genn

Because this is a bit personal, I’m not using their real names. They’re both about 40 years old.

 ”Jack” got a BFA and then an MFA from a Midwestern University. He’s visited many of the major contemporary art museums and follows the work of several “important” contemporary painters. He’s written articles on Philip Guston and others. He subscribes to several art magazines and is “the most knowledgeable art-guy in any discussion.” After university he worked for a while in a commercial art gallery. He sometimes writes me long, well-informed letters. He’s painted eleven large paintings (two unfinished) since leaving school. He’s not represented by any gallery. He thinks you need to move to New York and “get lucky” with a dealer who “really represents you.”

“Jill” took two years of art school and then quit. She pays little attention to other artists. She subscribes to no art magazines but has taken several workshops. Her hobbies include bowling and travelling. At one time she also worked in a commercial art gallery. On two or three occasions she’s written to me. She’s painted “approximately two thousand paintings” since leaving school. She’s represented by four commercial galleries in four, well-separated mid-sized cities.

There’s a great story in David Bayles and Ted Orland’s Art and Fear. Here it is:

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work in the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B” and so on. Those being graded on “quality,” however, needed to produce only one pot–albeit a perfect one–to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busy turning out piles of work–and learning from their mistakes–the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Best regards,


PS: “Artists get better by sharpening their skills or by acquiring new ones; they get better by learning to work, and by learning from their work.” (David Bayles and Ted Orland)

Esoterica: Both subscribers Jack and Jill are thoughtful and enthusiastic artists. Art is central to their lives. And while success and “being able to function as a full time artist” may not be important to some of us, their current situations are quite different. Jack rents an apartment and makes $2150 per month (plus tips and benefits) as an airport porter. Jill works daily in her converted garage in a home she now owns. These days she’s averaging $18,000 per month. She has “no benefits.”


After the Painting is Complete

by admin on August 15, 2012

You’ve peered closely, stood back and snuck around the corner to view your new painting with fresh eyes and finally put the last dab on the canvas. Shew, what a nice feeling. Time to kick up your feet with your favorite beverage? Hardly. Working artists know that finishing a painting triggers a series of additional steps that must be completed before another painting may be contemplated.

First of all, is the painting really finished? Have you signed it? Have the sides of the canvas been painted? Even though I usually use oil paints these days, I use acrylic to paint the sides since it drys quickly and thus makes it easier to move pieces around. You may think that the sides are going to be covered by a frame anyway so why bother, but I believe in maintaining a high level of professionalism for the entire piece. Also, have you written/painted the details on the back? It is recommended that you put the name of the artwork, your name, the medium, your location and the inventory number on the back of the canvas. This will ensure that no matter how far your painting travels or how many frames are changed, it will be clear from whence it came. Adding the date on the work is becoming frowned upon since it hinders older work from being sold in galleries.

Now to get organized. I mentioned the inventory number above. Professional artists are encouraged to produce as many works as possible in order to have a chance at making a living. It becomes a numbers game of having enough work in enough galleries. This also means it can be an organizational headache. As a painter, if you are producing the ideal of two pieces a week and have work in say 10 galleries in different states as well as work in shows, you need a system of keeping up with everything. I have used a spreadsheet, which lists the pertinent information for each painting including date completed, how many hours it took me, price, exhibitions, varnish status, frame cost, gallery and buyer, among other things. The inventory number on this sheet becomes the crutial link to this information for years later, when you have painted a dozen tulips but you need to figure out which one was sold to whom. There are also software programs like Xanadu gallery’s ArtTracker.

Next we move on to Marketing. Most artists just want to stay in their studios and forget about organization and marketing but without these steps, how will anyone know about your art? Photography gets the ball rolling. I have a decent point and shoot camera, which I have used to take pictures for my Web site for years. Until recently, I have taken my paintings five at a time to a professional photographer as well(Joel Conison in Atlanta). Fortunately, my husband now has a super camera which allows me to take 300dpi resolution pictures on my own. Some competitions require 300dpi and one should always keep a high resolution image of your work in case it needs to be replicated down the road.

Manipulating photographs requires proficiency in Photoshop or similar software. I do some brightness/contrast and color adjustments first. Then I save the original size and make standard large, small and extra small versions for my Web site, eNewsletter and printed portfolio pages. The Web site requires that I create a new page for the painting and another for the enlarged version. Having all of the painting data on your spreadsheet can facilitate this process. I happen to know html but there are many sites out there now for maintaining an online portfolio including WordPress.

With the new pages presented on your Web site, now you need to get the word out. I use Constant Contact as my email program. I don’t like to overwhelm my fans with email so I choose to send out new painting announcements every couple of months and show the latest in bulk. I have a template of information that must be updated each time and it often spurs me to update other things on my Web site as well. For example, I wouldn’t want someone clicking on my Events link on the eNewsletter only to find that it is out of date. So, I spend some time adding upcoming show information before sending it out. As a matter of fact, my last email roused me to produce this blog post. Not all of my friends and family members are on my email list, so I also like to post new painting announcements on FaceBook, both on my personal page and Bayberry Fine Art page.

Now that your Web site is in stellar shape and your close fans are sending you accolades regarding your latest work, you need to cast the net wider. There are so many online marketing tools out there now, that it can be daunting but you should make an effort to have a presence on at least some of them. Many email programs help out by automatically posting to Twitter. Additional tools that can earn you more subscribers are sites like Glossom and Pinterest. Glossom lets you make visual collages of your work. I made a collage of all of my greenish paintings, for example. On Pinterest, I made a board for flower paintings and included links to my own work as well as other artists I admire.

So can we get back to painting now??? Well, you might want to make high quality printouts for your portfolio at Kinkos, update your Mobile Marketing site and iPad portfolio and make a run to the framers…or set that all aside for another day so you can get back to the joy of putting paint on canvas. There is always more that can be done but when it comes down to it, you must continue to keep painting as the priority. All the marketing in the world won’t help your business if you don’t have enough to sell.

I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to ask me any questions or post other useful information.


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