Change & artistic style, Part 2.

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An artistic style is made up of many pieces, it isn’t just one thing. It encompasses lots of different elements, attitudes, and aspects of art making. It isn’t the brand of oil paint or specific brush you use that creates your style, although these particular things are, for me at least, visually responsible for the distinct colors and textures apparent in my recent work.

In any case, the tools and mediums you use are just one piece of your style, which also includes a host of other elements that show up and repeat in your work  over time – color palettes and notes, shapes, compositional devices, textures, use of line and specific drawing techniques, subjects, emotion, narrative, and a general feel that’s quite hard to describe but is what makes someone say, who has more than a just passing memory of your work over time, “I know who painted this, it’s (insert name here)”.

Whatever this something is, it will invariably manifest itself in however or whatever it is that will become your new undertaking. And you will have no control over that because it is “you” and all the things that you have been up to this point in your life. And that’s a good thing because it’s something you really won’t have to worry about. But there will most likely be many other things that you will have to concern yourself with, things that might seem a bit risky, at least at the outset.

I painted nothing but florals for more than 12 years, got pretty good at it, was represented and sold works to collectors, was published in several art magazines, gained a bit of a following on social media and Youtube. Then Covid happened and things slowly started going downhill. Lost an exclusive solo showing opportunity, a commission, sales slowed, then stopped, and eventually I parted ways with my gallery manager. It was time to re-evaluate and move on. Actually, I had become less sanguine with regards to my floral works. They were very complicated, labor intensive efforts, taking from 50 – 90 hours each to complete. That included travel time to photograph subject matter, image review and editing back at the studio, preparing panels for painting which included mounting and priming and extended drying times, a detailed drawing which could take up to 6 hours, an underpainting, then 3 to 6 sessions of laborius overpainting and color mixing utilizing a 22-color palette, mostly accomplished with small expensive brushes that wore out quickly and had to be replaced.

Then after drying, a coat of varnish, more drying time, off to the framer, packaging including a heavy-duty cardboard “sandwich” including corner reinforcements, bubblewrap and boxing and a drive to UPS to ship. If more than one work was leaving I often made the 3-plus hour drive to the gallery and back in one day, or paid to stay overnight at a local hotel before returning home.

So I decided to put all the numbers into an Excel spreadsheet and see what the bottom line really was after deducting the 50% commission on gallery sales. It was eye opening to say the least – I was averaging little more than minimum wage on each work sold. It became painfully obvious to me that something had to change since, as the famous quote goes, I would be “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

Tracking material and labor costs minus gallery commission was eye-opening, I was earning minimum wage.

It just wasn’t worth it anymore, even risking never being represented again. It takes years to build a solid mature body of work, one that might attract, even prompt a response from a gallery. At 71 years old and essentially starting over, I knew I would have to find other options to get my work seen and potentially sold, that was OK. I felt that a radical change-up was necessary – subject matter, technique, brushes & medium, panel preparation – all of it. What I really wanted to paint was all around me right here in CT – trees, fields skies and clouds – landscapes! Interestingly enough the first thing I painted when I moved to Connecticut was the local landscape, semi-rural and quite beautiful. I felt that I had assimilated enough of it to be able to produce compelling compositions without the need for any source material than my eyes and mind. No longer did I need or want to rely on photographic source material. I wanted to “invent” and paint my own landscapes and I would do it in way in complete opposition to the way I was used to making artworks.

Here is list of things that would be necessary for me to change:

  • Small, expensive brushes would be replaced with large, inexpensive brushes, most of which would come from the local hardware store.
  • No more expensive paint tubes. A severely restricted palette of no more that 6-colors, perhaps a couple of “special” colors available when and if necessary.
  • No more reliance on photographic source material, image editing, tracing or projection to make a detail drawing, no more underpainting. New works would be completed in one short session.
  • No more mounting expensive linen and priming white to make painting panels. Professional-grade gesso would be just fine.

Developing a restricted color palette in Part 3.

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